December 2015: George Washington

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 December 2015: George Washington

          December is a key month to celebrate our first president, George Washington. He died on December 14, 1799. Though he missed out on the 19th century by only a few weeks, he did something 16 years earlier that made his name practically immortal. On December 23, 1783, Washington resigned as commander-in-chief of the American forces and went home. Then again, in 1797, he walked away from power, heading home after completing his second term as the first United States president. Both acts stunned aristocratic Europe. It had been 2,500 years since the leader of a powerful nation had willingly resigned. Consequently, Great Britain’s King George III is believed to have said Washington was “the greatest character of the age.”
            And then, on December 26, 1776, there was that little surprise General Washington had for the enemy Hessian troops stationed in the village of Trenton, New Jersey…

 Nearly Defeated

            In late autumn, 1776, Washington was losing the Revolutionary War. His ragtag army had been forced to retreat from New York through New Jersey.         Just a few months earlier, Washington had commanded 20,000 soldiers. Because of a string of defeats and the harsh winter, by the middle of December, he had no more than 700 able bodied men ready to fight. Three-quarters of them were signed up to serve only until the end of the year. In two weeks, the Continental Army could cease to exist.
            Washington was desperate. While he still had an army, he devised a plan to secretly return to New Jersey and attack an outpost of enemy soldiers stationed in the village of Trenton.
The Crossing
            As more soldiers arrived from other parts of the colonies to join Washington, he devised a plan that included a three-pronged attack. By late December, Washington had command of 2,400 soldiers who would cross at McConkey’s Ferry (now Washington Crossing) nine miles north of Trenton. Two additional groups of soldiers would attempt to cross the Delaware at points closer to and south of Trenton. Each of those groups, however, failed at aiding Washington in the Battle of Trenton. A windy ice-choked river kept them from crossing at their locations.
            At McConkey’s Ferry, Washington had hoped to have his army across by midnight, but a howling snow storm that descended on the region prevented that from happening. It would now be impossible to conduct an attack on Trenton in the dark while the enemy was sleeping.
The March
            At about 4:00 a.m. while snow, sleet, and rain lashed at them, the men finally began their march nine miles south to the village of Trenton. Many were without shoes, shivering, exhausted, and soaked to their skin. The column of soldiers stretched more than a mile. The trail of packed snow and ice was red from the wounds of bloodied feet. Washington’s determination to succeed in the attack was deepened by these obstacles and challenges.

The Battle of Trenton
            At about 8:00 a.m., December 26, 1776, the Battle of Trenton began. The enemy Hessian soldiers were quickly defeated by Washington’s soldiers who bravely attacked the Hessians in the streets of Trenton. Washington pressed on with his men, inspiring a level of bravery and fearlessness that had not previously been displayed among the Continental soldiers.
            Within a couple of hours, it was all over. Against all odds and hopes, the exhausted, malnourished, under-clothed brave men of Washington’s army had won a remarkable victory.
            The Battle of Trenton soon became a rallying cry that helped turn the tide of the entire Revolutionary War. There were many more battles, but finally, nearly five years later, in Yorktown, Virginia, Washington won the battle that ended the Revolutionary War.
            The “man of many firsts” could have been a great hero in any age. Who else but George Washington could be so courageous and so excellent at leading an army and a nation while continuing to live the life of a modest gentleman?
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