Day two on the beach, and I’m blessedly unaware of the outside world. My beach reading is David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing. I highly recommend it; it brings to vivid life a moment in our history that is vaguely familiar but more often caricatured than understood.
It is a bit sobering to read about the British commanders’ high-minded intention to pursue a mild occupation of the Mid-Atlantic states so as to win the hearts and minds of what they were convinced was a majority of Americans who were still loyal to the Crown, or could be made so. The Howe brothers’ noble intentions were frustrated by the ungovernable conduct of their own troops, who engaged in plunder and rape on a massive scale, thereby arousing the New Jersey coutryside against them in the winter of 1776. I had had no idea of the role played by militias, irregular forces and simple armed citizenry in the events leading up to Washington’s victories at Trenton and Princeton.
Above all else, though, the dominant impression is of George Washington’s indomitable will. Things could hardly have gone worse in the months leading up to his crossing of the Delaware to seize the offensive against the British and the Hessians, and the attack itself suffered nearly every possible misfortune. All of the supporting forces that were supposed to cross the river at various points to assist in the attack were turned back by the fierce winter weather; the attack fell far behind schedule so that Washington’s original intention to attack by first light became impossible; and an imprudent subordinate launched a small independent attack during the night in revenge for the killing of one of his soldiers by Hessians, so that, as Washington believed, the element of tactical surprise must be lost. There were any number of good reasons to call off the mission, but Washington persevered in the face of what seemed desperate odds.
I think our present leaders can match Washington’s determination, but only if they stay in office.
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“Arise and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.” Winston Churchill