Let’s reflect back on the Christmas Eve of 1776 –
General George Washington’s troops were frigid, ragged, and huddled together; most likely reflecting on their peaceful Christmas mornings of the past with their families. As they camped nearby the freezing Delaware River banks, exhausted and worn out, they could have never imagined what would unfold the next day. I can picture George Washington in his tent that night mulling over his perilous circumstances. Maybe he was praying to Jesus, his Savior, for a miracle! It was a ‘now or never’ moment as he knew his men were getting weaker. Many had already died off to previous conflicts or deserted from fear and sickness. He was due to lose more at the end of the year and it was already starting to look like a loss was coming for the underdogs.
Washington had roughly 2,400 men under his command and they followed his lead. Thank God for George Washington and his willingness to lead in the midst of a dire situation! The Continental Army had everything against them – maybe Washington was crazy enough to believe that’s why his plan might actually work. This truly is a David and Goliath tale. The catchphrase for this secret mission was, ‘Victory or death’. The British did not believe that this small ragtag army would march on Christmas day, let alone across a river in such cruel conditions!
These words printed in a December 19th pamphlet from Thomas Paine were read aloud to the weary men for encouragement:
These are the times that try men’s souls; the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.
Back and forth across the treacherous ice blocked river – loading and unloading; men, horses and cannons. The temperatures were dropping and they ended up falling 3 hours behind the game plan. Mind you, two other teams (under different generals) were sent out to other crossing points, yet failed to accomplish their missions. The long march ahead was a battle of its own as the winter storm raged on. I can picture the red snow-covered trail left behind from many of the soldiers bloody bare-feet as General Washington rode up and down encouraging his men on horseback. The men braved on and attacked the Hessian armies stationed in Trenton with full force. These troops were surprised to see the Colonials attack at 8 in the morning, but they were sober and on guard (in contrast to popular beliefs that state the men were unaware and hung over).
Washington and his men were able to cause the Hessian’s to retreat as some managed to flee while more than half were captured. The battle lasted about an hour and it was a huge victory for the Colonials! This was a bold move for the American cause and it helped shift the tide for the Continental Army. George Washington was the man for the job, but it took the thousands of men that were willing to leave their mostly comfortable (probably not comfortable by todays standards) way of living to fight for something greater! Winter was a challenge for the Pilgrims when they first came to America, but by the grace of God they survived. This too was a critical winter that faced our forefathers, but I believe God intervened yet again.
Right now the town I live in is getting its first Christmas Eve storm in a long time, meaning we will probably have a ‘White Christmas’. I look forward to Christmas mornings and am thankful for all things Christmas; wrapped presents, hot chocolate, flashy coniferous trees, glorious snow…and then I read this story and it just blows my mind! Can you put yourselves in these soldier’s shoes (as noted earlier -most of the men did not have shoes!) that Christmas evening? You wake up Christmas morning and get the orders from Washington. The plan? To cross the icy Delaware river in the middle of the dark night – and march 9 miles in a full-blown east coast sleet, snow and wind storm to strategically fight an army that is better equipped and trained for battle. Sir, yes sir (YIKES!)!
Enjoy this Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with friends and family and reflect on how blessed we are to be here living in the United States of America. I am grateful for great men like George Washington and all those who have served this country wholeheartedly (and who are currently serving), even on days like Christmas. Ultimately, I am thankful for Christ, coming as a babe, to bring freedom from sin to mankind through His birth, death resurrection and return.
Here is a great video on George Washington and the Battle at Trenton called – WINTER PATRIOTS. (Click to watch!)