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This great nation's immense Christmas season peril,

by Oregon Senator Doug Whitsett 12/27/12

This great nation has experienced immense peril during more than one Christmas season. Both war and political upheaval have threatened our survival as a free nation. Each time, when it was their turn to be counted, men and women of equally great valor have risen to the occasion.

History tells us that our fledgling nation experienced its greatest danger during the winter of 1776. George Washington’s five thousand man Continental Army was encamped on the banks of the Delaware River. They were tired, hungry, cold, and disheartened. Their uniforms, boots and equipment were in tatters.

The British counted several hundred warships. Its army of thirty three thousand men was at least five times larger than the Continental Army. Moreover, fully half of Washington’s forces had served their enlisted time and were scheduled to muster out and go home within the next two weeks.

Washington’s Continental Army had lost seven consecutive battles. The British had driven them out of New York and New Jersey so quickly that they were compelled to leave most of their meager supplies behind. They had been forced to retreat all the way to the western bank of the Delaware River.

The local ferrymen and fisherman had helped them escape across the River likely saving the army from capture or surrender. Washington had commandeered all available boats and secured them on the western bank of the river to prevent the British from using them to further pursue his militia.

This was the bleak situation at Christmas Eve when General Washington approached the same ferrymen and fisherman to ask them to take his army back across the Delaware River.

The boatmen were astounded. They told Washington that it was Christmas, it was snowing, and the River was full of floating ice. They advised the General that crossing the River would be very time consuming, difficult, and dangerous.

The General replied that he was aware of those things, but that he needed their help. Recognizing his leadership, the boatmen responded and went to get their ferry boats and fishing dories.

Patrick Henry had published “The Crisis” on December 19th of that year. Washington had portions of that pointed essay read to all of his troops in preparation for the impending battle:

“These are the days that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and the thanks of men and women. Tyranny, like hell is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph”. “Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has the right not only to tax but “to bind us in all cases whatsoever” and if being bound in that manner is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery on earth.”

On Christmas night his continental soldiers boarded the waiting boats and began crossing the ice filled river. Washington boarded one of the first boats to cross and soon realized that the conditions were every bit as treacherous as the boatman had promised.

Yet he persevered and his troops followed. After completing the perilous crossing, they marched through blizzard conditions in the early morning darkness of December 26th toward about twelve hundred Hessian mercenaries garrisoned in Trenton, New Jersey.

The British forces had been celebrating Christmas for more than twenty four hours. They were mostly drunk and their defenses were in disarray. Washington’s surprise attack resulted in the capture of more than one thousand enemy soldiers as well as fatally wounding their commanding officer. The Continental Army suffered fewer than ten casualties.

After the battle, the boatmen ferried the victorious Continental army, and their captives, back across the Delaware. The prisoners were marched through the streets of Philadelphia to demonstrate that the Continental Army could, and had, won a major battle.

The British were infuriated at Washington’s arrogance. They began amassing an overwhelming force to counterattack his position along the River.

Noting the impending attack, Washington went to his boatmen friends one last time. They once again gathered their ferries and dories to carry the troops, cannon and horses back across the River into New Jersey. This crossing was even more difficult and perilous because the River was choked with ice and actually frozen over in places.

That day the Continental Army won a second convincing victory at Trenton against a much superior British force. In the dark of the following night Washington was able to quietly and craftily move most of his troops into positions flanking the British positions. The next morning he attacked the British from behind at Princeton.

The ensuing battle was fierce and the outcome uncertain. Both sides were suffering heavy casualties. During the entire fight it is said that Washington rode his great white horse, fully exposed between the enemy lines, repeatedly rallying his troops and urging them forward, volley after volley. His troops followed him to another pivotal victory.

Neither Washington nor his horse was touched by enemy fire.

Most of Washington’s troops reenlisted following their decisive victories at Trenton and Princeton. Within several weeks, new recruits were pouring into his volunteer Continental Army. Within several months the French had greatly enhanced their efforts on behalf of the Americans. The colonists continued their fight to secure their independence for another seven years.

On Christmas 1776, the bold and decisive actions of General George Washington snatched victory and future independence from the jaws of near certain defeat.

Each succeeding generation of Americans has managed to rise to the occasion when it was their turn to preserve the freedoms that Washington’s army fought to secure.

The ball is now in our court. History will tell how well we performed.

Please remember, if we do not stand up for rural Oregon no one will.

Best Regards,




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