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The brave men who saved America’s first Christmas


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Partisan politics reigned, inflation soared, and the nation was deeply divided. Chances are you’ll assume that is America in 2023, however this was the US in December 1776. In one of many darkest durations in American historical past, the financial system was in ruins, and Washington’s military had misplaced one battle after one other.  

The temper of the six-month-old nation had deteriorated from optimism to defeat. However on Christmas Day, amid a raging Nor’easter, a small group of soldier-mariners from Marblehead, Massachusetts, conveyed Washington’s military throughout an impassable, ice-filled river, altering the course of historical past. 

Making issues worse, the enlistments for the continental military expired in December and January 1, 1777. If he didn’t need his military to evaporate, Washington must act shortly. The reason for America can be misplaced ceaselessly. The USA can be simply one other group of individuals crushed by the British Empire, which had defeated each inner rebel or problem to their energy.   


Calling upon an intrepid regiment of males from Marblehead to avoid wasting the continental military, Washington settled on a daring plan. The unflappable John Glover and his Marblehead Mariners would lead the assault river crossing the icy Delaware River on Christmas beneath the duvet of darkness. Washington’s military would then march about some 9 miles and assault the Hessian garrison at Trenton. 

Attack on Trenton

Washington crossing the Delaware, close to Trenton, New Jersey, Christmas 1776. (Photograph by: Common Historical past Archive/Common Photographs Group by way of Getty Photographs)

In August, Glover and the Marbleheaders had carried out one other miracle in conveying Washington’s military throughout the East River, rescuing it from annihilation in an “American Dunkirk” on the Battle of Brooklyn.  

Requested if the crossing the Delaware was doable, he confidently reassured Washington “to not be anxious about that as his boys may handle it.” It was all or nothing, and Washington personally chosen the password for the operation: “Victory or Loss of life.” 

Washington additionally ordered two extra teams of American troops to cross the river under Trenton to chop off the enemy’s retreat. These teams, not guided by the Marbleheaders, discovered the icy river impassable, and their efforts to cross the river failed. However the braveness and the nautical expertise of the varied regiment from Marblehead, which included Blacks and Native Individuals, enabled the battle that modified the course of the Revolutionary Battle. 

I inform the Marbleheaders’ beforehand untold story together with the story of America’s founding in my bestselling e-book, “The Indispensables: Marblehead’s Diverse Soldier-Mariners Who Shaped the Country, Formed the Navy, and Rowed Washington Across the Delaware.” The e-book is a Band-of-Brothers-style remedy of this distinctive group of Individuals who modified the course of historical past. 

The military was in pitiful situation. As one American officer remembered, “It could be a horrible evening for the troopers who haven’t any sneakers. Some have tied previous rags round their toes; others are barefoot, however I’ve not heard a person complain.”  

By 11:00 p.m., an enormous storm pelted the lads with snow, sleet and biting wind. For the troops, lots of whom couldn’t swim, falling over the aspect would possible have meant loss of life within the icy currents. 

Regardless of the danger of frostbite and hypothermia, the indefatigable continental military pressed on. Washington led the operation, “I’ve by no means seen Washington so decided as he’s now. He stands on the financial institution of the river, wrapped in his cloak, superintending the touchdown of troops. He’s calm and picked up, however very decided … the storm cuts like a knife.” 

Miraculously, the Individuals didn’t lose a single soldier within the preliminary crossing. However, the storm put them behind. Washington needed everybody over the river by midnight, however his military wasn’t reassembled on the far aspect of the Delaware till almost 4 within the morning. Not figuring out that the 2 different teams had not made it throughout, Washington ordered his exhausted, shivering males to proceed directly on the lengthy march to Trenton.  

Hessian surrender

Colonel Rall surrenders to George Washington at The Battle of Trenton, December 26, 1776, throughout the American Revolutionary Battle. From “The Historical past of Our Nation,” printed 1900. (Photograph by: Common Historical past Archive/Common Photographs Group by way of Getty Photographs)

Via snow and sleet pushed almost horizontal by the punishing winds, the lads and horses trudged via drifts and slid throughout the icy roads. “Their route was simply traced, as there was a little bit snow on the bottom, which was tinged right here and there with blood from the toes of the lads who wore damaged sneakers.”  

Not eager to lose any extra of his troops, Washington shouted encouragement to the lads. Adversity introduced forth his greatest qualities. “Press on! Press on, boys!” he shouted as he rode up and down the road.  

The Individuals arrived on the outskirts of Trenton simply earlier than eight o’clock within the morning. Due to the decreased visibility from the storm, they approached inside 2 hundred yards earlier than the sentries sounded the cry, “Der feind! Heratus! Heratus!” (The enemy! End up! End up!).  

The Hessians, disorganized, fell again from the onslaught that appeared to return from throughout them. Small teams clashed all through the town within the house-to-house preventing.  

After getting into Trenton, Washington’s military shortly captured a number of Hessian artillery items. With kettle drums beating, Hessian commander Col. Johann Rall shouted, “All who’re my grenadiers ahead!”  

By this time, the Individuals had infiltrated the complete metropolis, and marksmen took up safe positions in homes and behind fences the place they might decide off the enemy fighters. One other participant captured the macabre melee: “My blood chill’d to see such horror and misery, blood mingling collectively, the dying groans, and ‘Clothes’ rolled in ‘blood’ the sight was an excessive amount of to bear.”  

Rall tried however didn’t rally his males. He ordered the Hessians to retreat via an orchard to the southeast. At that second, two bullets struck the commander within the aspect. Mortally wounded, he “reeled within the saddle.” His males tried to evade the patriot forces, however the Individuals pursued. On horseback, Washington led the assault, urging the Marylanders and his different troops ahead, shouting, “March on, my courageous fellows, after me!” 

Additional south of Trenton, Glover and his Marblehead troops, appearing on Glover’s initiative, seized the crucial bridge throughout the Assunpink Creek (a tributary of the Delaware River that flows via Trenton).  

Via snow and sleet pushed almost horizontal by the punishing winds, the lads and horses trudged via drifts and slid throughout the icy roads. “Their route was simply traced, as there was a little bit snow on the bottom, which was tinged right here and there with blood from the toes of the lads who wore damaged sneakers.”  


On the time of the battle, the bridge was the Hessians’ foremost route of escape, making it probably the most priceless positions in America. With the bridge within the Marbleheaders’ arms, the Hessians have been doomed. Hit from three sides, the Hessians, now leaderless, lowered their weapons and their flags round 9:00 a.m.  

Phrase of the give up quickly unfold to the continental forces all through Trenton. An enormous shout shook the city because the triumphant Individuals threw their hats into the air and cheered the victory. In brief order, they discovered forty hogsheads of rum and cracked them open. By the point Washington came upon in regards to the alcohol and ordered the casks destroyed, “the troopers drank too freely to confess of Self-discipline or Protection.”  

Washington had supposed to proceed his push ahead and to assault Princeton and New Brunswick after Trenton, however these plans for an additional offensive had been scotched as a result of state of the military. The victorious, drunken males rowed again throughout the icy Delaware.  


Trenton had been a fantastic victory, a part of 10 essential days and two extra battlefield victories, led by a small group of Individuals, together with the Marbleheaders, who would change historical past.  

America’s resolve is at its strongest in its darkest hours. Looming catastrophe spurred Individuals into motion; some even believed such a disaster was essential to inspire individuals. “We require adversity and seem to own a lot of the republican spirit when most depressed,” Physician Benjamin Rush later wrote in a letter to John Adams. “Our republic can not exist lengthy in prosperity.”  


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