WASHINGTONS PRICELESS CHRISTMAS GIFT
As Christmas approaches each year I recall another December long ago;
a dark and uncertain time in our Nations young history.
As a child I was taught the story of Washington's crossing. As an
adult, I believe this historic event is a memory to be treasured and repeated every Christmas season as we reflect on the
hard-won freedoms granted to us by the Father of our Nation.
In July 1776, the Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence.
During the summer of 1776, the British, after evacuating Boston the
previous winter, arrived in New York Harbor with a force of 100 ships containing 23,000 British troops and 10,000 Germans.
At the time, this was the largest invasion ever landed by a European force.
As the “superpower” nation of it’s day, the British,
commanded by General William Howe, repeatedly defeated the Continental army under George Washington. The Americans were first
driven from Brooklyn, then dislodged from the rest of Long Island, and finally from Manhattan.
But the New York disaster did not end there. The British also seized
most of New Jersey and Rhode Island. And, by December, Howe had driven Washington’s army southward towards the Delaware
River. There was outright panic in Philadelphia.
Washington had now lost most of his original army of 20,000 which
now reduced to less than 4,000 troops. Racked by disease, desertion, and lack of provisions, Washington’s beleaguered
remnant army, still in their summer clothing, was hounded across the Delaware River.
Desperation and despair spread throughout the colonies. General Washington
now faced the unthinkable as he faced the lowest point in the Revolutionary War. Only six months after the Declaration of
Independence, the American Revolution was all but lost. The bitter struggle for liberty seemed headed for certain failure.
Now camped in the bitter cold and snow of Pennsylvania, Washington’s
army huddled together on the west bank of the Delaware River. And, with enlistment’s scheduled to end shortly, Washington
decided on a momentous final gamble.
Ignoring all advice to the contrary, he made a decision considered
to be one of the boldest in military history. This was a moment of raw courage and spiritual splendor, perhaps never equaled
again. George Washington saw his opportunity and he seized upon it.
On Christmas night, 1776, Washington ordered his army to cross the
nearly impassable ice-choked Delaware River. Then, the next morning, he led an audacious surprise attack against a garrison
of battle-hardened Hessian mercenaries at Trenton, New Jersey, who in earlier battles, had struck terror into the hearts of
The outcome was a momentous and stunning victory for the American
cause. General Washington had challenged, defeated, and took captive an entire brigade of the world’s most famous mercenaries.
And, incredibly, not a single American soldier was lost in battle.
This astounding event became a pivotal moment in the War for Independence
that was forever etched in the history of the United States. Washington’s stunning victory saved the faltering American
Revolution and gave it new meaning. Many believed the triumph was a sign of God’s Redeeming Providence and a proof that
the Continental Army was His instrument.
And this single engagement became the defining moment of George Washington's
career, making him the undisputed Commander-In-Chief of our young Nation. The victory was an amazing testament to his courage
and leadership, enshrining him firmly in the annals of history and endearing him in the memories of Americans for all time.
Today,well over 200 years have passed since that Christmas night when
Washington and his ragged little army crossed the ice-choked Delaware River. And since then, our Nation has been blessed by
other countless generations of men and women who stepped boldly forward to defend liberty when all seemed lost.
We should never forget General Washington’s legendary victory
on that long ago, bitter cold day. His stunning military achievement saved the Continental Army from extinction and sent a
thrill of joy and hope through the despondent heart of the colonies, raising the American people from the depths of despair
to the heights of jubilation.
And so it was there, in the sleet and snow of December 26, 1776, at
Trenton, New Jersey, that George Washington bestowed upon each of us his priceless and enduring Christmas gift;
A magnificent, history-changing triumph that ultimately gave birth
to the United States of America.
Robert E. Bunn is a Past Commander of Louis K. Juden American Legion
Post 63, Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
These are the remarks he made at the December 15, 2004, annual American
Legion Post 63 Christmas dinner, Cape Girardeau, Missouri.