This week, we celebrate Independence Day. To many, it is just another day off and/or a long weekend. I believe that it is important to take a look back and see how our country was founded, and remember the beginnings of our nation. America is unique in human history. It is one of the few countries created where government is set up to be subservient to the people. Our country’s founding was nothing short of miraculous. Many of the stories of the revolution prove this.
In the early period of the revolution, the rebels suffered defeat after defeat at the hands of the British. The small continental army was outgunned, out supplied, and outmanned compared to the British Army, which was the most powerful fighting force on earth. Washington was trapped in New York and barely escaped under a thick fog.
The continentals needed a victory desperately. Congress had fled Philadelphia and given Washington complete control. Many of the remaining 2,000-3,000 US soldiers were nearing the end of their enlistment at the end of the year. To make matters worse, they were not getting paid. Supplies were low, and the army was ill-equipped for the winter.
It was with this backdrop that Washington convened a council of his military leaders to plan a surprise attack on Trenton. The British had a group of 15,000 elite Hessian soldiers there. Hessians were German mercenaries. They were very well trained and drilled under Colonel Raul, who got them up at sunrise every morning. Yet, Raul did not drill his troops on Christmas, and he also gave them the next day off.
The attack began with a crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas night. A severe winter storm had set in. Visibility was near zero. Heavy snow and participation hampered the already dangerous crossing, as the army had to master the swift current and dodge chunks of ice in the water. Washington split up the army into three parts. Only one actually made it across. The crossing, which started at midnight, was supposed to be completed and have the continentals in Trenton by 3 AM.
Unknown to Washington, while the crossing was going on, a small group of 50 New Jersey militia decided to raid some of the outskirts of the Hessians. This got the entire Hessians out looking for the attackers. The winter storm was so severe the Hessians decided that no one would be able to attack during the weather, so they went back to bed and called off the standard morning exercises.
Washington’s army trudged on. They faced crossing a 4-foot wide creek, which was usually fairly easy. The winter storm had now caused a torrent of water that was 6 feet deep. General Knox had to dismantle cannon and heavy artillery, and use ropes to lower them down and across the creek. After the crossing, General Sullivan informed Washington that their gunpowder had gotten wet and they may not be able to fire. Several military leaders urged Washington to use the cover of the storm to retreat. Washington ordered the troops to fix bayonets and proceed to take Trenton.
At 8 a.m., Knox’s division fired their cannon and the Hessians were in disarray. About 30 Hessians were killed, another 900 captured and the continentals seized a treasure trove of supplies and ammunition. This represented one of the turning points in the war. The continentals had lost 3 men to hypothermia during the crossing, but none during the battle.
Some today will try to tell you that our nation was not founded in a just way, that the founders exploited those around them, and that there is nothing true about American exceptionalism. True, the founders were not perfect. But they did create the foundation for the most powerful country on earth. They knew the basis was freedom. Freedom to worship God as one wanted. Freedom of speech. Freedom to choose one’s own course in life. Ability to pursue happiness. It was those ideas that our founders fought for. Today, as we tend to have our personal liberties eroded with the promise of greater security, let us not forget our beginnings.
Freedom that we have goes against the natural tendency and desire of man. Human nature desires to control, dominate, and enrich one’s self. These forces are arrayed against liberty. We must never stop fighting for this.