A Little Thanksgiving History

Sarah_Hale_portrait

Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879) painted by James Reid Lambdin.

While a national civil war was raging, on September 28, 1863 Sarah J. Hale, one of the most influential American women of her time, wrote President Lincoln asking that Thanksgiving be “made a National and Fixed Union Festival.” Hale had been pushing her idea for fifteen years on presidents and governors and readers of her influential magazine, Lady’s Book. Less than a week later President Abraham  Lincoln issued the following Proclamation:

Washington, D.C.

October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,

Secretary of State

 

Sarah J. Hale was quite an interesting figure – read more about her by clicking here.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hortentius

It’s a Great Day…More from J. Adams

It’s a great day to share some thoughts from Founder John Adams.

Children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom.

–John Adams, Defense of the Constitutions, 1787

The-first-prayer-in-congress-september-1774

THE FIRST PRAYER IN CONGRESS, SEPTEMBER,1774.

 But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments, of their duties and obligations…This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real American Revolution.

–John Adams, letter to H. Niles, February 13, 1818

The History of our Revolution will be one continued Lye from one end to the other. The essence of the whole will be that Dr. Franklins electrical Rod, smote the Earth and out sprung General Washington. That Franklin electrified him with his rod – and thence forward these two conducted all the Policy, Negotiations, Legislatures and War.

–John Adams to Benjamin Rush April 4, 1790

I have long thought the Philosophers of the eighteenth Century and almost all the Men of Science and Letters, crack. In my youth I was much amused with the Idea that this Globe of Earth was the (insane asylum) of the Universe. If I were now to judge it by the Conduct and Writings of the Men of Science, I should be more disposed than ever to believe that the Sun, Moon and Stars send all their Lunaticks here for confinement…

–John Adams to Benjamin Rush December 22, 1806

 

Thank you, John Adams. Happy Independence Day!

On July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress held a meeting at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia and passed a formal resolution declaring, “these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be Free and Independent States.” That was it!

The following day John Adams wrote to his beloved wife, Abigail:

“July 3, 1776 

“Had a Declaration of Independency been made seven Months ago, it would have been attended with many great and glorious Effects . . . .

“But the Day is past. The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.

“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

“You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. — I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. — Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.”

Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 3 July 1776, “Had a Declaration…” [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society. http://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/

John Adams Copley.jpeg

Detail of John Adams by John Singleton Copley, ca. 1784.

The following year, after much more blood had been shed, Adams made the following comment in his letter to Abigail of April 26th:

 “Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom! I hope you will make good use of it! If you do not, I shall repent it in Heaven that I ever took half the pains to preserve it!”  

If Adams were alive in 2017, I believe he would be disappointed that Americans have strayed so far from the principles of their founding.

Hortensius

 

 

 

On This Day, April 27, 1813

Sacketts Harbor, April 19, 1813

Dear Mother,

Your letter of the 4th reached me this morning – and as it states that you are all well, was productive of much pleasure.

I have been to Kingston, (Canada) with a Flag of Truce, and have therefore had an opportunity of seeing some of our Enemies. The rest of the men enlisted in your neighborhood are all well except Andrew Aston, who had his feet froze on the march to this place….

I shall send enclosed in this letter a certificate of the pay due Charles Wilson at the time of his death.- The Certificate must be presented at the War Office, in Washington City for payment. Their best way will be to get Grandfather Lambert, to carry it on when he goes to Washington again.

…We are now living in small Log huts without, chimneys, or windows, and you will judge from this description, that they are not quite so comfortable as the generality of the Houses in your country. However we have got use to this mode of living and can be as cheerful here as in the best quarters in the world. We now have very fine fish in abundance that are caught in these Lakes.

Lieut. Runk is now at this place in good health. He appears to be too lazy to write as I have frequently wished him to do- He told me today he had written but one letter since he left home. Give my love to Susan and William. My respects to Grandfather Lambert Grandfather Hoppock and all enquiring friends and relations. Tell Maria and the Girls in the neighborhood that I frequently think of the many fine frolics we had once, and that I hope to be amongst them again  to torment them as much as lays in  my power. Tell Wm Prall, that I shall write him again as soon as we give our British friends one good Drubbing. Wishing you and all our friends may enjoy good health, I remain Yours Affectionately

John Lambert Hoppock

P.S. We have this day received orders to embark, on board the ships tomorrow – what is to be our place of destination, or our fate, time alone can determine. Goodbye.

John L. Hoppock, 15th Infantry

hoppock letter mother

Possibly the last letter John L. Hoppock wrote to his mother, Amy Lambert Hoppock.

hoppock autograph

John L. Hoppock says goodbye to his mother.

“Let my fate be what it may, I assure you that my name shall not be coupled with that of Dishonor, nor shall my friends ever blush with shame that they assisted me in procuring my present appointment.” —John L. Hoppock November 17, 1812 , Captain 15th Regiment U. S. Infantry

Pike’s Oath: “We solemnly swear, that we will defend this standard against all the enemies of our country, and that we will never desert it in the field of battle or hour of danger, so help us God.”

Extract from a Letter from Lieut. Fraser, Aide de Camp. to Brigadier- General Pike, Published in the Aurora, of Philadelphia, May, 1813:

“We embarked the 22d and 23d of April last; the weather being stormy we returned into port and sailed again on the 25th, and arrived at York in Upper Canada the 27th, about 7 o’clock a. m., and immediately prepared to land opposite the old site of Fort Toronto. A body of British grenadiers were paraded on the shore, and the Glengarry Fencibles, a corps which has been disciplined with great pains for six months past, appeared at another point. Bodies of Indians were perceived in large groups in different directions, and a considerable number in some woods and underwoods on our leeward flank. About the site of the old French fort of Toronto, of which scarcely any vestiges at present remain, we could discern a few horsemen, who we perceived afterwards moving into the town, where strong field works had been thrown up to oppose our landing. As soon as the horsemen had entered the town we saw the Indians moving in gangs along the skirts of the woods under the direction of British officers, taking post at stations pointed out to them, apparently calculated with some skill as to the point at which the water and the weather must compel us to land. After these Indians, acting as tirailleurs, were thus disposed we perceived very distinctly the regulars moving out of their works in open columns of platoons and marching along the bank in that order. When they reached the plain of the old fort Toronto they were wheeled off by heads of platoons into the woods and soon appeared in the same order below the plain, just at the position at which our troops were under the necessity of landing. Major Forsyth and his excellent and gallant rifle corps, who had been placed in two large batteaux, palled undauntedly towards the cleared ground where he had been ordered to land, but he was forced by the wind a considerable distance below his destined point. The fire of musketry and rifles here commenced from the shore, the enemy being within a few feet of the water and in a considerable degree masked by the wood and copse. Here Major Forsyth ordered his men to rest for a few moments on their oars and soon opened a galling fire upon the enemy. In the moment when Forsyth’s corps were lying upon their oars and priming, Gen. Pike was standing on the deck, and, impatient at the apparent pause of an instant and seeing that the rifle corps had been driven by the wind beyond the point at which they were to have disembarked, exclaimed : ” By I can’t stay here any longer,” and addressing himself to his staff : ” Come, jump into the boat,” which we immediately did, the Commodore having reserved a boat specially for him and his suite. The little coxswain was immediately ordered to steer for the middle of the fray, and the balls whistled gloriously around, probably their number was owing to seeing so many officers in one boat, but we laughed at their clumsy efforts as we pressed forward with well pulled oars. The infantry had, according to orders, embarked at the same time and formed platoons as soon as they reached the shore. The General took command of the first platoon he reached and formed it below, and ordered the whole to prepare for a charge as soon as we reached the top of the bank. We proceeded in high spirits and mounted the bank under a volley of musketry and rifle shot, but we had not time to force our platoon completely when the British grenadiers showed us their backs. At the very moment of their turning tail the sound of Forsyth’s bugles was heard with peculiar delight, as it was the indication of his success ; the effect of the bugle upon . the nerves of the British Indians was electric, for they no sooner heard it than they gave a diabolical yell and fled in all directions. , The Glengarry corps skirmished with Forsyth’s while the infantry were landing, and Brigade-Major Hunter formed the troops for action as they landed and reached the plain. The volunteer corps, commanded by Colonel Maclure, flanked the reserve, and the light artillery, commanded by Major Eustis, acting as infantry, covered the left. It is proper to state in this place the masterly co-operation of Com. Chauncey and the naval squadron under his command. He sent his schooners mounting heavy metal to cover the landing, and kept up so well directed and incessant a fire of grape on the woods as to effectually cover our right flank and afforded us great facility in forming our platoons, besides producing the utmost consternation among the Indians. A shot from one of the schooners killed a horse under the aid of the British General, but owing to the shallow ness of the water neither the ship nor the brig could be brought in to participate in the action, but the Commodore was through the whole of the action in his- boat, encouraging and giving orders to the different schooners. The navy lost two gallant midshipmen and about 20 seamen were killed and wounded in the service of landing. The troops ordered to land by General Pike when he went on shore were the three companies of Captain Hoppock, (who was mortally wounded in the boat,) Capt. Scott and Capt. Youngs of the 15th Regiment United States Infantry, all under the command of Major King, (the same who gallantly distinguished himself at Queenston,) their orders were to reinforce Major Forsyth and effect a landing, and they were forbidden to load or use powder ; the riflemen of Forsyth, as the enemy came up, opened a heavy and effective fire upon the enemy, and the three companies landed in the most complete style: the enemy gave way before our troops could come to the bayonet’s point, and were pursued up the bank by our troops. At the top of the bank a fresh body of British grenadiers, (said to be the 8th or King’s grenadiers,) made a formidable charge on this column of ours and compelled us for an instant to retire, but our troops instantly rallied and returned to the charge, and with the most complete success, not a man of the grenadiers escaped our fire or charge, and our troops, just reinforced by the remainder of the 15th, remained undisputed masters of the bank. This reinforcement brought the colors of the 15th, which accompanied the platoon of Capt. Steele. / The enemy presenting a fresh-, front the troops were instantly formed for the charge by Major King, who gave them Yankee Doodle, but the enemy did not like our music nor our pikes any better than our rifles — they gave way and fled in the utmost disorder. As soon as our forces were all landed and collected we were formed into platoons and marched in that order towards the enemy’s works, flanked by the rifle corps. Our march was by the lake road in sections, but the route was so much intersected by streams and rivulets, the bridges over which had been destroyed by the enemy as they retreated, that we were considerably retarded in our progress ; we collected logs and by severe efforts at length contrived to pass over one field piece and a howitzer, which were placed at the head of our column in charge of Captain Fanning of the 3d Artillery, and thus we proceeded through a spacious wood, as we emerged from which we were saluted by a battery of 24-pounders, but excepting some pikes broken and some bayonets bent these guns gave us no annoyance. The General then ordered one of his aids (Fraser) and a sergeant to proceed to the right of the battery in order to discover how many men were in the works. We did so and reported to him the number and that they were spiking their own guns towards the shipping. The General immediately ordered Captain Walworth of the 16th, with his company of grenadiers, to make the assault. Walworth gallantly ordered his men to trail arms and advance at the accelerated pace, but at the moment when they were ordered to recover and charge the enemy broke in the utmost confusion, leaving several men wounded on the ground, which they abandoned. We then proceeded in admirable order on a gradual ascent, when a fire was opened upon us of round and canister from the quarters of the British Governor. The General here ordered the troops to lie close while the artillery battery under Major Eustis was brought to the front and silenced the enemy’s battery. The firing very soon ceased altogether, and we were expecting a flag of surrender at the very moment when a terrible explosion of the British magazine took place. The explosion was stupendous, and at the instant the common supposition was a subterraneous mine. The General had just aided in removing a wounded man with his own hands and set down on a stump with a British sergeant we had taken prisoner, whom the General with Captain Nicholson and myself were examining when the explosion took place. The General,’ Captain Nicholson and the British sergeant were all mortally wounded, and I was so much bruised in the general crash that it is surprising how I survived ; probably I owe my escape to the corpu lency of the British sergeant, whose body was thrown upon mine by the concussion. Brigade-Major Hunter, assisted by Lieutenant-Colonel Mitchell of the 3d Artillery, who acted as a volunteer upon the expedition, formed the troops and we were ready to give or receive a charge in five minutes after the explosion. The wounds of General Pike were of such a nature as to dis able him from all further service, and the command devolved on Colonel Pearce of the 16th Infantry, as the senior officer, who sent a flag demanding an immediate surrender at discretion. They made only one stipulation, which was granted without hesitation, that is, that private property should be respected. The British General made his escape and a body of regular troops with him, in what direction I have not heard. When the surgeons were carrying their wounded General and his aids from the field our troops, which had just formed, gave a tremendous huzza. The General turned his head anxiously to enquire what that was for. A surgeon who accompanied him said: ” The British Union Jack is coming down, General, the Stars are going up ;” he heaved a heavy sigh of ectasy and smiled even amidst the anguish which must have been inseparable from the state of his wounds. He was carried on board the Pert schooner, together with his Aid-de-camp Fraser, and from thence on board the Commodore’s ship, accompanied by the Commodore, who came to attend him. On board the Commodore’s ship his gallant spirit fled.” (File in Philadelphia Library.)

Tribute to Valor Trenton True American York Hoppock Pike Bloomfield

Tribute to Valor published in Trenton “True American,” 1813

 The Capture of York:

“The following is given as an accurate list of the (Americans) killed and wounded at York, Upper Canada, April 27. Killed in battle — 1 subaltern, 2 sergeants, 1 corporal, 2 musicians, 8 privates 14 Killed by explosion — 1 captain, 4 sergeants, 4 corporals, 29 privates 38 Total killed 52 Wounded in battle — 2 captains, (one since dead,) 1 subaltern, 3 sergeants, 4 corporals, 22 privates 32 Wounded by the explosion — 1 Brig-Gen., (since dead,) 1 aid-de camp, 1 acting aid, 1 volunteer aid, 6 captains, 6 subalterns, 11 sergeants, 9 corporals, 1 musician, 185 privates 222 Total wounded 254 Killed 52 Of the navy — 2 midshipmen and 1 seamen killed, 11 seamen wounded ; …. 14 Total killed and wounded 320” (Niles’s Weekly Register, 12th June, 1813.)

Return of Killed, Wounded, Prisoners and Missing of the (British) Troops at York under the Command of Major-General Sir Roger Hale Sheaffe, on the 27th (April):

                                                                                                          Kingston, May 10th, 1813.

 Royal Artillery — Three gunners killed; one driver wounded and prisoner, one bombardier, three gunners prisoners; total 9.

 8th or King’s Regiment — One captain, one sergeant-major, four sergeants, 40 rank and tile killed; two sergeants, two rank and file wounded, 25 rank and file wounded and prisoners, one rank and file missing; total 77.

 Royal Newfoundland Regiment — One sergeant, one drummer, ten rank and file killed; one drummer, six rank and file wounded ; one lieutenant, three sergeants, one drummer, eight rank and file wounded and prisoners; two rank and file prisoners, two rank and file missing; total 36.

 Glengarry Light Infantry — Two rank and file killed; one ensign, three rank and tile wounded; three rank and file missing.

 49th Regiment — Three rank and file wounded and prisoners; two rank and file missing, in hospital; total 5.

RECAPITULATION:

One captain, one sergeant-major, four sergeants, one drummer, fifty-two rank and file killed ; one ensign, two sergeants, one drum mer, thirty rank and file wounded ; one lieutenant, four sergeants, one drummer, thirty-six rank and file, one driver, wounded and prisoners ; six rank and file, one bombardier, three gunners, prison ers ; six rank and file, one gunner, missing.

 NAMES OF OFFICERS KILLED AND WOUNDED.

Killed — 8th or King’s Regiment — Captain McNeal, Volunteer Donald McLean, Clerk of the House of Assembly. Wounded — Royal Newfoundland Regiment — Lieutenant De Koven, (prisoner.) Glengarry Light Infantry — Ensign Robins, slightly. General staff — Captain Loring, 104th Regiment, slightly. Incorporated Militia — Captain Jarvis, volunteer; Mr. Hartney, barrack master. No return yet received of the loss of the militia.

                         Richard Leonard, Acting-Deputy- Assistant- Adjutant-General.

                       Edward Baynes, Adjutant-General, North America.

 

                                                                                                                    

Nat Hentoff – A Great American

By Frotho Canutus

Nat Hentoff, an American writer, historian and jazz critic died on Saturday at 91. I admired Mr. Hentoff for three reasons, his love of American Jazz, his reverence for the American Constitution and his intellectual independency. I considered Mr. Hentoff somewhat liberal,* but he was never one to tow a party line. If he disagreed with certain generally accepted positions of either party, he spoke out against them. He was honest. Unlike many pundits, he did not operate using double standards.

Here are some things Mr. Hentoff wrote or said over the years.

On his decision to leave Harvard:

bechet-in-france-reduced

Sidney Bechet playing in Paris, France, 1950’s. Bechet, along with Louis Armstrong were two, pioneering, master soloists of early jazz.

“Sidney Bechet was playing at the Savoy Cafe that night, so I closed my books and went down there to hear him. That marked the end of my Harvard ambition. I decided there and then that I had to have a day job that involved writing about jazz.”

On Jazz:

” I consider jazz a life force.”

“I sometimes imagine what my life would have been like if it weren’t for jazz. Once you get into it, you can never get enough of it. I’ll leave you with this—every once in a while writing about my day job I get so down I have to stop. I literally stop and put on a recording, and then that sound, that feeling, that passion for life gets me up and shouting again and I can go back to grim stuff of what’s happening in the rest of the world.”

billie-holiday-sound-of-jazz

Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins and Gerry Mulligan recording “The Sound of Jazz.” Nat Hentoff was at this amazing session.

On Billie Holiday:

“After it was all over, she was so pleased with how it went — it was live, by the way — she came over and kissed me. And that’s worth more to me than the Congressional Medal of Honor.”

On Charles Mingus:

“Every so often I’d be sitting at my desk, and at about 10 a.m. or so my phone would ring. When I’d answer, I’d hear some music. Well I knew whose music it was. Mingus had that signature sound that you could dig right away. After about 10 minutes, Mingus would come on and ask, ‘I just taped this. What do you think of it?’ What a privilege that was. It was like Beethoven calling to ask, ‘What did you think about my sonata?'”

On President Obama:

NH: “I try to avoid hyperbole, but I think Obama is possibly the most dangerous and destructive president we have ever had….I am beginning to think that this guy is a phony. Obama seems to have no firm principles that I can discern that he will adhere to. His only principle is his own aggrandizement. This is a very dangerous mindset for a president to have.”

John Whitehead: Do you consider Obama to be worse than George W. Bush?

NH: “Oh, much worse….Obama is a bad man in terms of the Constitution. The irony is that Obama was a law professor at the University of Chicago. He would, most of all, know that what he is doing weakens the Constitution.”

On the “free exercise” of religion (First Amendment) and the ACLU:

“The ACLU sees the separation of church and state as so absolute that not a single religious word must be allowed to pass a schoolhouse door.”

On Obama and Abortion:

“One of the worst elements of Obama’s career, which no one talks about, is that he voted twice for a bill that said, if there is a botched abortion, if the child emerges from the womb alive, it should be okay to kill the baby. We have elected a president – twice! – who agrees with infanticide.”

“As Harry Blackmun said when he wrote Roe v. Wade, `Once a child is born, the child has basic constitutional rights: due process, equal protection of the laws.'”

On Bill Clinton:

“I think one thing we share [with my wife] is a complete bottomless disdain for Bill Clinton.”

Rest in peace Mr. Hentoff. If by chance you were wrong about heaven, I hope you are reunited with many of your old jazz friends like Billie Holiday, Charles Mingus, Coltrane, Paul Desmond and others.

*Nat Hentoff once characterized himself as “a Jewish, atheist, civil libertarian, left-wing pro-lifer.”

In a 2009 interview with Marc Meyers, Hentoff refers to himself as a “libertarian.”

Sources:

http://www.jazzwax.com/2009/05/interview-nat-hentoff-part-1.html

http://riverwalkjazz.stanford.edu/program/jazz-band-ball-interview-jazz-journalist-nat-hentoff

 

The Christmas Miracle of 1776 – Fröhliche Weihnachten!

Nine Lives

Most patriotic Americans fondly associate the year 1776 with American Independence, but from the point of view of the Revolutionaries who were fighting to free themselves from English tyranny, it was a dreadful year. After several months and a string of battlefield defeats trying to defend New York City and its environs from the British invasion, George Washington’s dwindling Continental Army was barely hanging on for dear life.

For it was only less than two months after Congress declared Independence, that the Continentals were routed at the Battle of Brooklyn. Three American generals were captured, and 1,300 of Washington’s troops were either killed or wounded or captured. The battle left the Commander with the rest of his army nearly surrounded, with their backs pressed up against the East River. After the smoke from the battle settled,  Washington  made the decision to have his troops ferried across the mile-wide, tidal river under cover of darkness. It was a dangerous endeavor. The British, expecting a surrender, but preparing to finish the job if necessary waited out the night. When the fog cleared the next morning they could not believe their eyes. The Americans had escaped. Washington had used up the first of his nine lives. He was going to need to use a lot more of them.

battle-of-long-island-by-alonzo-chappel

Battle of Brooklyn by Alonzo Chappel, 1858. Shown at bottom right are American soldiers trying to escape into the swamp where many of them became sitting ducks.

Not long after Brooklyn, the Continentals suffered two more humiliating defeats, one at Kip’s Bay on the East side of Manhattan Island in September and another the following month at the Battle of White Plains. Then, in November, the Hudson River fort bearing the Commander’s name was captured. Washington had lost nearly half of his army in less than three months! Fearing another devastating blow, he ordered the Americans troops overlooking New York from the Jersey side of the Hudson River to abandon Fort Lee without a fight. From the British perspective, things were turning out as they might have expected, but for the Americans, the loss of New York was a major knock to the Revolutionary cause.

fort-washington-fort-lee

“Forcing a passage of the Hudson River, 9 October 1776.” English vessels are shown forcing their way north through a cheval-de-frise on the Hudson River. Fort Washington is on the right bank, Fort Lee on the left. On November 19th Fort Washington would fall into British hands. The painting is a copy by Thomas Mitchell after the original by Dominic Serres the Elder.

It is hard for us to understand the enormous difficulties Washington had to overcome as leader of Continental army. When he inherited the command of the American troops at Boston in early 1776 there was not even a real army to command. The troops had no flag, no uniforms, no money and little discipline. Most of the men were farmers with hunting rifles who were angry at the British for firing on their fellow citizens and for closing the port of Boston. British General John Burgoyne, who would soon learn a thing or two about the Americans’ ability to fight, referred disparagingly to Washington army, calling them, “rabble in arms.”

Numbers rarely favored Washington. Most people in the original thirteen American colonies did not support Independence from the mother country. Historians generally agree that only about one third did, another third remained loyal to King George, and the balance were afraid to choose one side over the other. Quaker preacher and artist Edward Hicks was very hard on the anti-war Quakers of the revolutionary period and chastised them for not supporting Washington and the Revolutionary cause: “Poor, contemptible, womanish weakness, which never felt the noble spirit of patriotism…”

Although Washington almost always projected confidence in front of his troops, from time to time would express his doubts and misgivings in private. Shortly after being placed in command, he confided to his friend Charles Reed,

“The reflection upon my Situation, & that of this Army, produces many an uneasy hour when all around me are wrapped in Sleep. Few People know the Predicament we are In, on a thousand Acc[oun]ts….I have often thought, how much happier I should have been, if, instead of accepting of a command under such Circumstances I had taken my Musket upon my Shoulder & enterd the Ranks, or, if I could have justified the Measure to Posterity, & my own Conscience, had retir’d to the back Country, & lived in a Wig-wam.”

But one of Washington’s greatest traits was his ability to persevere during the most difficult of situations. Even when all appeared hopeless, he never let himself become overwhelmed by his doubts.

After the loss of New York, American General Henry Knox observed that, “The roads in Connecticut and New Jersey were filled with soldiers heading home.” Washington had no choice now but to make a full retreat across New Jersey with what was left of his battered army.

sir-william-howe-commander-of-his-majestys-forces-in-america

Sir William Howe, Chief of His Majesty’s Forces in America.

Taking advantage of his recent victories, Sir William Howe issued a Proclamation that offered pardon and protection to all colonists who would come forward and pledge an oath of allegiance to the British Crown. Historian, David McCullough says that it was an immediate success – Hundreds, eventually thousands, in New Jersey flocked to the British camps to declare their loyalty. Then, to make matters worse, on December 1st, with the British army and the German mercenaries hot on their heels, 2,000 more men left Washington’s army to go home as their enlistments periods expired. Washington’s immediate command dwindled to no more than 3,000 men barely fit and equipped for duty. “To many observers on both sides, it looked like the war for Independence was already lost.”

A few months later, American General Nathanael Greene reflected on how bad things had gotten towards the end of 1776,

“After the loss of Fort Washington and the Enemy crost over into the Jerseys, everything wore the face of abject submission. The Inhabitants of New Jersey and those of Pennsylvania lost all spirit. The time for which the old Troops stood engag’d expired as we were retreating through the Jerseys. Brigade after Brigade left us…. Had the Enemy push’t us hard they would have ruin’d us for we had not three thousand men.” (Nathanael Greene to CG January 20, 1777)

The British army pushed halfway through New Jersey and settled just 60 miles from the rebel capital at Philadelphia where the Declaration of Independence had been announced to the world a few months earlier. A smaller force penetrated further inland to the college town of Princeton, following right behind Washington’s retreat.

On Dec 7th near Trenton, the American army crossed over the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. Every boat on both sides of the river within 30 miles was gathered up in order to halt the enemy’s pursuit. “The long retreat that had begun in New York and continued from the Hudson to the Delaware was over.”[i] Shortly after Washington’s escape a British outpost was established at Trenton, where 1500 Hessian mercenaries were stationed under the command of Colonel Rall.

Then came more bad news: on December 13th, Major General Charles Lee, second in command behind Washington, was discovered by British scouts lingering at Widow White’s Tavern in New Jersey. The disgraced general was ceremoniously paraded off in his pajamas by his captors. That same day, Washington learned the Continental Congress had fled Philadelphia for the safety of Baltimore. Word got out that two former members of Congress had flipped sides and joined the enemy. In those waning days of 1776, all things must have looked very bleak indeed to the American rebels.

One of Washington’s perpetual worries was a lack of money to pay soldiers and buy supplies. One observer remarked that the Continentals made a “dreadfull appearance.” Many men had worn out all their clothes entirely. Many had no coats and wore only blankets; many had no shoes and wrapped their feet with what rags they could find. Edward Hicks described them as “the poor soldiers of 1776…whose footsteps were marked with their own blood.”

The Commander had another problem that was fast approaching – his army was about to shrink significantly given that hundreds of enlistments were about to expire on December 31st. With the revolutionary zeal so severely depressed it was unlikely there would be many new recruits showing up for duty. Washington knew he might only have 1,500 or 2,000 men left to fight against Howe’s massive army.[ii] On December 10th the General had explained in a letter to his cousin, Lund Washington,

“I wish to Heaven it was in my power to give you a more favourable Acct of our situation than it is—our numbers, quite inadequate to the task of opposing that part of the Army under the Command of Genl Howe, being reduced by Sickness, Desertion, & Political Deaths (on & before the first [of this month], & having no assistance from the Militia) were obliged to retire before the Enemy.”

On December 17th he added,

“The unhappy policy of short Inlistments, and a dependance upon Militia will, I fear, prove the downfall of our cause, tho early pointed out with an almost Prophetick Spirit.

“Our Cause has also receivd a severe blow in the Captivity of General Lee—Unhappy Man! taken by his own Imprudence!…Our only dependance now, is upon the Speedy Inlistment of a New Army; if this fails us, I think the game will be pretty well up, as from disaffection, and want of spirit & fortitude, the Inhabitants instead of resistance, are offering Submission, & taking protections from Genl Howe in Jersey.”   

As hopeless as things seemed in those final days of ‘76, one wonders if Washington ever considered sending in his resignation to Congress. Blame for losing the war could easily have been pinned on the states – they had not granted Congress the authority to raise funds to adequately supply the Continental army. In addition, an increasingly large number of Americans, whether out of cowardice or apathy, were unwilling to support war effort. But Washington had made a promise to Congress to “exert every power… for support of the glorious cause.” One of Washington’s most precious possessions was his honor, and he was not about to give that up. And the truth of the matter is that giving up was not a prudent option at that point. Surrender would lead to Washington’s personal ruin, and perhaps, even to his execution for treason.

But General Nathanael Greene noticed that his commander and friend seemed to gain strength from adversity; he “never appeared to so much advantage as in the hour of distress.”

“Upon the whole our Affairs are in a much less promising condition than could be wished, Yet I trust under the smiles of Providence, and by our own exertions, we shall be happy.” (George Washington to James Bowdoin December 18, 1776)

On December 22nd Washington wrote to his confidant, Charles Reed,

“Some Enterprize must be undertaken in our present Circumstances or we must give up the Cause.

“I will not disguise my own Sentiments that our Cause is desperate & hopeless if we do not take the Opportunity of the Collection of Troops at present to strike some Stroke. Our Affairs are hasting fast to Ruin if we do not retrieve them by some happy Event. Delay with us is now equal to a total Defeat.”

Washington closed the letter to his friend with a rare, emotional apology for writing so candidly, without his usual restraint,

“Pardon the Freedom I have used, [but]the Love of my Country, a Wife & 4 Children in the Enemy’s Hands, the Respect & Attachment I have to you—the Ruin & Poverty that  must attend me & thousands of others will plead my Excuse…”

The General knew he was nearing the end of the rope.

The Crossing

Born of desperation, a bold, daring stoke against the enemy was hatched. Washington had been looking for an opportunity to deal a blow that would “rouse the spirits of the people, which are quite sunk by our misfortunes.” On December 24th he called a meeting of his generals at the Thompson house to go over the final details of a secret plan they had been working on for several days. The Hessian outpost at Trenton would be their target. According to the latest intelligence, about 2,000 of the enemy were stationed there. Washington’s forces would cross the Delaware River at three different places and converge in a surprise attack on the occupied village. The largest of the three forces would be led by Washington and Generals Greene, Sullivan and Stirling.

Because the element of surprise was crucial, the crossing would begin on Christmas night under the cover of darkness. The attack was set for the next morning at 6 a.m., an hour before sunrise. Washington’s orders demanded absolute secrecy and discipline; “a profound silence to be enjoyn’d & no man to quit his Ranks on the pain of Death”

On Christmas Day the weather took a turn for the worse as a winter storm pushed in. The frigid river was swollen and filled with enormous chunks of broken ice. At 2 p.m. orders were given in camp to assemble the troops in preparation for their march. Once darkness fell, the men were ordered to the west bank of the Delaware at McConkey’s Ferry; it had already begun raining and was turning colder.

the-passage-of-the-delaware-by-thomas-sully-1819

“The Passage of the Delaware” by Thomas Sully, 1819. Collection of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Note the symbolism of the half-rooted, weather-beaten tree, which looks as though it may not survive the winter.

The Durham boats used to ferry the troops and equipment would be piloted by Colonel Glover’s New Englanders. These were the same experienced watermen who had made possible the army’s escape from Brooklyn four months earlier. The flat-bottomed boats were about 40 to 60 feet long, about 6 to 8 feet wide and were maneuvered with poles and oars. Each boat could hold about 30 to 40 men standing shoulder to shoulder. General Washington crossed early and watched the painfully slow progress from the New Jersey side. There were enormous difficulties in getting the horses and heavy artillery on board the boats. Henry Knox, the Boston bookseller turned artillery commander was in charge of getting the cannon over. If there was anyone who could do it, it was Knox.

By 11 p.m. the storm had become much worse; the wind howled as the rain turned to sleet and snow. Sixteen year-old regimental musician John Greenwood recorded in his diary,

“Over the river we went in a flat-bottomed scow…we had to wait for the rest and so began to pull down fences and make fires to warm ourselves….when I turned my face to the fire, my back would be freezing….by turning myself round and round I kept myself from perishing.”

washington_crossing_the_delaware_by_emanuel_leutze_mma-nyc_1851

Washington Crossing the Delaware on Christmas night, 1776, by Emanuel Leutze, 1851. This iconic painting is not completely accurate. When Washington and his army crossed the Delaware River on Christmas Night it was stormy and the sky was probably pitch-black. The boats were also much larger than the ones pictured here. This enormous work is twelve feet high by twenty-one feet long.

Although the storm made the crossing extremely difficult, it was also a blessing because it helped conceal the Continentals from their enemy.[iii]

By the time all the troops and equipment got over to the Jersey side it was already 3 a.m. The plan was three hours behind schedule and the troops still had nine miles to march through freezing rain and snow. Washington realized they would probably not make it to Trenton before sunrise and therefore knew he might lose the element of surprise. He later explained to John Hancock, “I was certain there was no making a retreat without being discovered and harassed on repassing the river, [so] I determined to push on…” Four miles above Trenton the troops split into two; Sullivan’s column marched along the river road, Washington and Green’s marched along the Pennington road a little further east.

Weather is always a factor in war and although the storm provided cover that night for the army under Washington’s command, it prevented the other two bodies of troops, led by Cadwallader and Ewing, from getting over the river to join the intended surprise.

 Fröhliche Weihnachten! (Merry Christmas!)

When General Washington received a note from Sullivan saying the men’s guns were too waterlogged to fire, the Commander replied, “Tell the General to use bayonet.”

Both columns of troops reached the edge of Trenton around 8 a.m. Although it was already daylight when the attack began, the Hessians were still caught off guard and came rushing out of the houses and barracks in a state of confusion. There was much hand to hand fighting. When the Hessians rolled out a canon onto King Street, Captain Washington (a cousin of the General) and Lieutenant Monroe (a future President) rushed the cannon, captured it and turned it against them. Many Germans that could not escape to the south retreated to an apple orchard where Colonel Rall began to regroup them for a counter attack, but Rall was shot and fell from his horse. Soon the Hessians were surrounded with no choice but to surrender. The whole action lasted about 45 minutes. When it was over the Americans had captured nearly one thousand of the enemy. About twenty one of the mercenaries were killed, 500 escaped. Although two American soldiers froze to death on the march to Trenton, none were killed in the battle that morning and only four were wounded.

victory-at-trenton

This engraving depicts General Washington immediately after the Battle of Trenton. The wounded soldier is probably the future President James Monroe.

The victorious Americans captured six brass cannons intact on their carriages, plus “3 Ammunition Waggons, [and] As many Muskets, Bayonets, Cartouch Boxes and Swords as there are prisoners, 12 Drums,” and 4 flags. Washington’s desperate gamble had paid off.

That same afternoon, fearing a counter offensive, Washington ordered his weary army to cross back over the river, with its prisoners, to the safety of Pennsylvania. Once over, the Commander assembled his ragtag band of men and thanked them for behaving so bravely and carrying the day. To win favor with the men whose enlistments periods were about to expire in a few days, Washington announced to the troops that the value of the supplies captured at Trenton would be divided as a prize among them.

Flush with the spirit of victory and a renewed optimism Washington hoped to find another opportunity to maintain momentum and inflict damage on the enemy. On December 30th he once again ordered the troops over to the Jersey side of the river. This crossing was even riskier than the one on Christmas. Washington knew the British would now be on high alert and if they attacked the Americans once they got over it would be difficult to retreat back to the safety of Pennsylvania. They went anyway.

Once back in Trenton, Washington made a new appeal to the men whose enlistments were about to expire. As an incentive to stay on for six more weeks, he offered the men a 10 dollar bounty. It worked.

Within less than a week, Washington would outsmart General Howe and his commanders once again. On January 2nd and 3rd the American army bypassed a nearby body of enemy troops and attacked British Lieutenant-Colonel Mawhood’s detachment at Princeton. In the heat of that battle, Washington commanded bravely from his horse, placing himself between the two armies who were firing upon one another. One young officer remarked after the battle,

“I shall never forget what I felt….when I saw him brave all the dangers of the field and his important life hanging as it were by a single hair with a thousand deaths flying around him.” [iv]

It was a miracle the Commander was not killed.

General Washington and his “rabble in arms” triumphed that day at Princeton, and the much needed victory helped to build on the renewed optimism brought on by the victory at Trenton a week earlier.

Imacon Color Scanner

General George Washington with the Princeton battlefield in the background. Painting by Charles Willson Peale.

So while people often remember 1776 for the creation and signing of Declaration of Independence, it was also the year when the War of Independence was almost lost. On January 1st 1777, Philadelphian Robert Morris, the “financier of the American Revolution,” sent his good wishes to General Washington for the new year,

“The year 1776 is over I am heartily glad of it & hope you nor America will ever be plagued with such another, let us accept the success at Trentown as a presage of future fortunate Events and under that impression I do most sincerely wish you a Successfull Campaigne in 1777…”

When the news of Trenton reached London, some in British government may have rationalized it as a minor setback, but for George Washington and the Friends of Liberty, it was a game changer. In one bold, desperate stroke Washington and his men turned gloom into hope. The Americans had proven they could outmaneuver and inflict damage on the most powerful army in the world.

Less than three years later, Lord George Germain, the British minister in charge of directing the war from London, reflected on Washington’s Christmas miracle in a speech before  the House of Commons,

“All our hopes were blasted by that unhappy affair at Trenton.”[v]

It’s likely the twin victories at Princeton and Trenton had a profound psychological effect on many Americans and breathed new life into the patriots’ cause. Had the officers and men of the American army not persevered in 1776 under Washington’s leadership, the war for Independence would probably have ended in complete failure. Now there was a glimmer of hope, but the bloody war would go on for nearly five more years. And final victory was never assured.

Note: Every year, on Christmas Day, crowds of people assemble on the banks of the Delaware at McConkey’s Ferry to watch the reenactment of Washington’s army crossing the Delaware on their way to Trenton.

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Frotho Canutus

Note:

Nearly two generations after the War of Independence, American military leaders were using the lessons gained at Trenton for inspiration. At the outset of the War of 1812, the Americans suffered two major humiliations at Detroit and Queenstown and they could not make good after boasting of their intention to take Montreal.

In the following letter of March 29,1813,* Secretary of War, John Armstrong compares their predicament to General Washington’s at the close of 1776. Recognizing that a turnaround was crucial, Armstrong explains to Commanding General Henry Dearborn that Washington was able to do it and so must they (excerpted):

“If our first step in the campaign, and in the quarter from which most is expected, should fail, the disgrace of our arms will be complete. The public will lose all confidence in us, and we shall even cease to have any in ourselves. The party who first opens a campaign has many advantages over his antagonist; all of which, however, are the result of his being able to carry his whole force against a part of his enemies. Washington carried his whole force against the Hessians, in New Jersey, and beating them, recovered that moral strength, that self-confidence, which he had lost by many preceeding disasters. We are now in a state of prostration that he was in, after he crossed the Delaware; but like him, we may soon get on our legs again, if we are able to give some hard blows at the opening of the campaign.”

(The first victory that would begin to rebuild confidence in the American Army was at the Battle of York, Upper Canada on April 27, 1813. There, the troops were personally led by New Jersey native, General Zebulon Montgomery Pike. Pike died from his wounds that day after the British gunpowder magazine exploded and the American Army lost one of its great young generals. Pike’s father had served faithfully served under Washington in the Revolution.)

*Sec. of War Armstrong to Maj. Gen. Dearborn, March 29th 1813 (found in Annals of Congress, Appendix, pp. 2361- 2362, American Memory, Library of Congress).

Sources:

New Jersey: A History, by Thomas Fleming

A Respectable Army: The Military Origins of the Republic, 1763-1789, by James Kirby Martin and Mark Edward Lender

National Archives – Founders Online: http://founders.archives.gov/?q=Volume%3AWashington-03-07&s=1511311112&r=229

1776, David McCullough

The Crossing, David Hackett Fisher

The War of the Revolution, Christopher Ward

Endnotes:

[i] McCullough, 1776

[ii] Howe’s troop strength was estimated to be between 20,000 and 30,000 men.

[iii] McCullough, 1776

[iv] McCullough, 1776, p. 289

[v] Lord George Germain, from his speech as Colonial Secretary of State in British House of Commons, May 3, 1779

SPEAKING OF THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE: LAWRENCE LESSIG AND HIS ELECTORAL COLLEGE SWITCHEROO.

 

alexander-hamilton-by-john-trumbull-1806

Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton by John Trumbull, 1806. Hamilton was a strong advocate of the Electoral College system.

By Lucius Cincinnatus

Lawrence Lessig recently argued in the Washington Post why the Electoral College Electors should cast their vote for Hillary Clinton against the wishes of voters who chose them. In his opinion piece, Mr. Lessig poses a hypothetical situation – “What if the people elect a Manchurian candidate?” His question may not be as hypothetical as he thinks it is. It may be that the people did reject a “Manchurian candidate” if ever there was one. Yes, I mean Mrs. Clinton. (“Manchurian candidate,” is a metaphor for a tool or puppet of foreign governments.) Let’s have a look at it.

Why were so many foreign governments willing to “donate” millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation? Why did the Arab state of Qatar donate $1 million to the Clinton Foundation in 2011 while Hillary was Secretary of State? Even more interesting is why didn’t the Clinton Foundation report the donation to the State Department? After all, that was a condition the State Department set up and which Hillary agreed to.

According to Time Magazine, in recent years, Chinese businessman, Wang Wenliang donated a total of $2 million to the Clinton Foundation. Then there is the case of loyal Clintonite and now governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe and his campaign who are currently under federal investigation for accepting $120,000 from Mr. Wenliang.

Some of us, who are old enough to remember the 1990’s, remember that it was the Chinese who were trying to influence American politics by funneling money to the Clinton-Gore presidential campaign. Yes, they were caught and forced to return the money. These are historical facts: http://www.washingtonpost.com/…/stories/trie0522…

The pattern is there for all to see.

Now, if Hillary is your gal, you can ignore all of this or dismiss it as a vast right-wing conspiracy. But thankfully, enough voters saw Hillary for the deeply corrupt person that she is and they denied her the presidency. So Mr. Lessig, while some points of your argument are persuasive, in this particular instance, it does not make sense for the Electors to contradict the people and install Hillary. Why would they want to hand over the White House keys to the person who most resembles a real Manchurian candidate?

I thank Mr. Lessig for choosing the Manchurian candidate example. It was perfect.