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1776 was a year that began with much promise for the Rebels of the American Colonies. The British had been camped in Boston for months and Washington’s Army had sat frustrated across the river in Cambridge unable to roust the king’s men or their ships of war. But then Colonel Henry Knox, who was a bookseller in Boston before the Revolutionary War began, suggested bringing the cannon’s from the newly captured Fort Ticonderoga through the woods from upper state New York, through snow, over frozen and half frozen rivers, to Boston to tip the balance. Knox pulled off the seemingly impossible while Washington’s men built transportable breastworks and in the middle of the night, the makeshift barriers and the 43 cannons and 14 mortars were hauled to the top of Dorchester Heights and aimed down on the city of Boston. In the words of British Engineer, Archibald Robertson, “A most astonishing night’s work!” In the morning, General Howe began to consider his options. The newly erected fortifications gave him pause and many in his army began to think that an attack would be suicidal. But fate took a hand and a storm of hurricane proportions blew in. By the time the storm had died the American position was truly impregnable. Howe realized he had few options and gave orders for the evacuation of Boston. On St Patrick’s Day, less than two weeks later, all the soldiers and ships of war sailed for Nova Scotia along with many of the loyalist colonials. 

Declaring our Independence

During that long spring, Continental Congress in Philadelphia was busily drafting petitions to the King to put an end to the conflict on amicable and fair terms, but their petitions were ignored or rejected. Common Sense had been published early in the year and widely distributed cementing the resolve of the Sons of Liberty and their followers. That along with Washington’s victory in Boston hurried the tide of revolution and on July 4th, 1776 the Declaration of Independence was passed unanimously.

But then things began to go downhill. Washington's men suffered horrendous defeats in New York at the hands of British and Hessian soldiers. The losses of Forts Washington and Lee had taken a heavy toll to the Patriot cause as many troops were killed or taken prisoner, much needed supplies/munitions were abandoned in the evacuation of the forts, and the belief in the possible achievement of independence was dwindling. Washington’s army was forced to retreat across New Jersey, and the earlier hopes were fast being dashed. Enlistments were down, desertion was high, and funds were low. Men on both sides of the conflict and of all stations and ranks began to question if the Revolution could be ending in the same year in which independence was declared.

Declaring our Independence
Washington Crossing the Delaware
Washington Crossing the Delaware

When Washington and his army approached the Delaware River in Trenton, late in 1776, Washington ordered all boats to be commandeered, especially the big Durham boats and his army crossed into Pennsylvania. As winter set in and the troops found shelter, many felt the campaign season, if not the war, was over. It would have been acceptable for both sides to go into winter quarters to regroup, re-supply, and strategize for the start of the 1777 spring campaign. Most of the British troops returned to New York for the winter, leaving mainly Hessian troops to garrison small outposts in and around Trenton. Washington, fearing his army would not survive in its current state to the next campaign season, decided to make a bold move and attack the Hessian outposts. He planned for the army, including the militia recently connected to the army to divide into three units and cross the Delaware River on December 25, 1776. Armed with the phrase "Victory or Death" the men began to cross the Delaware River around 4:00 pm. The crossing of the River using the Durham boats, ferry boats and other craft took longer than expected as a nor'easter blew up causing sleet and freezing rain to pelt the weary troops. Large ice flows and flood-like conditions hindered the nighttime maneuvers. Colonel Glover's Marbleheaders from Massachusetts steadily rowed the boats back and forth until all of Washington's troops were on the New Jersey side.

Washington his troops marched to Trenton at 4 am, several hours later than intended and losing the cover of darkness. But the attack at 6 am still came as a complete surprise. The Hessians were defeated and approximately 900 of them were captured and brought back to Pennsylvania as prisoners. The Patriot cause was invigorated and pushed the morale of the troops to new heights. The victory gave rise to new enthusiasm in Congress and cemented Washington's role as a leader. 

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    Skye Taylor
    St Augustine, Florida

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