Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Washington's Christmas Crossing

Washington Crossing the Delaware
Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze (1816-1868)

On the evening of December 25, 1776, General George Washington marshaled some 2,400 men on the banks of the Delaware River across from New Jersey. It was a very cold and snowy evening and the river was full of ice. Relying heavily upon the efforts of the 14th Continental Regiment (Col. Glover's Regiment) Washington's small army was ferried across the river. After a difficult crossing the troops were then divided into two commands and then marched over poor roads to the outskirts of the town of Trenton. In the early morning hours of December 26th the Americans launched an attack upon the three Regiments of Hessian soldiers that were garrisoned in the small town.

According to legend the Hessian troops were feeling the ill effects of a night of Christmas revelry and were unable to defend themselves. In fact the Hessian soldiers put up a stiff fight but they were taken by surprise by the attack and were overwhelmed by the Continental forces surrounding them. The Hessian commander, Col. Rall, was mortally wounded in the fighting and died shortly afterwards surrounded by his American captors.

The defeat of the Hessian's at Trenton gave the rebel cause a much needed boost. In a year that began with much promise - the British Army's forced evacuation of Boston - the American Army had suffered a series of defeats. After losing major battles at Brooklyn, Harlem Heights and White Plains and a number of other losses, by December 1776 Thomas Paine's famous words, "these are the times that try men's souls", were especially apt. Although a small victory, it was a victory none the less. Washington's army now had the impetus to go forward into the New Year.

Washington's crossing of the Delaware is recreated every year by some very dedicated Revolutionary War Reenactors at Washington Crossing Historic Park in Pennsylvania on December 25. This event is sponsored by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Here is a story out of Philadelphia about the reenactment and the man portraying Gen. Washington.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Great explosion in Halifax, Nova Scotia

Boston's Official
Christmas Tree

On the morning of December 6, 1917 a French cargo ship loaded with munitions collided in Halifax, Nova Scotia's harbor with another vessel filled with supplies for the war effort (WWI). The resultant explosion killed over 1,900 people and thousands more were wounded. This accidental explosion is still considered one of the greatest man-made non-nuclear explosions ever created.

Relief efforts were marshaled from all over eastern Canada and a special train filled with medical personnel and much needed supplies was sent from Boston to provide further aid. This gesture of goodwill from the people of Boston has never been forgotten in Nova Scotia. For the past 37 years the people of Nova Scotia have been donating a tree to the City of Boston to become the city's official Christmas tree.

These Christmas trees are between 40-50 feet high and are specially chosen from trees grown in Nova Scotia for proper appearance and are donated by private individuals. This years Christmas tree is a 46-foot white spruce which was dedicated in a joint City of Boston/Nova Scotia official lighting ceremony on the Boston Common December 4, 2008.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Boston Tea Party

The Boston Tea Party took place on this date in 1773. Protesting the British tax on tea a well-organized Boston mob took possession of three East India merchant ships docked at Griffin Wharf in Boston Harbor. Disguised as Mohawk Indians the ships were boarded and the cargo of tea was brought up out of the holds of each vessel, un-crated and then dumped into Boston Harbor. The estimated value of the tea, at that time, was over 10,000 pounds.

The Boston Tea Party (a term that only came in use many years afterward) precipitated a major crisis in the relationship between Great Britain and its thirteen North American colonies. Seeking to punish the townspeople of Boston, the busy port was closed and more Regiments of British Regulars were sent to re-establish order. The direct end result of these events was an armed revolt that began some sixteen months later on April 19, 1775.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

First in War, first in Peace...

George Washington died on this date (December 14) in 1799 at his Mt. Vernon, Virginia estate after a brief illness. Of all the men responsible for winning our independence from Great Britain and then creating this nation, George Washington stands head and shoulders above the rest. Without his presence as the commanding General of the Continental Army the army probably would have ceased to exist in 1777. Elected unanimously the first President of the United States he set the example for all others to follow. In this day and age he is not given enough credit as one of our greatest Presidents. (In my mind he tops the list of all American Presidents).

No finer epitaph exists for him, I believe, than the words delivered by fellow soldier and Virginian Henry Lee in his eulogy for George Washington, "First in War, first in Peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen..."