How George Washington and His Army Spent Christmas, 1776

Think you’ve got a lot going on for Christmas?

Around this time on Christmas Eve, 1776, George Washington was probably busy planning his deadly attack against the Hessians. You know it as when Washington crossed the Delaware. But what happened after that – when he marched his troops to Trenton, NJ – made it one of goriest Christmas nights ever.

He had to do it, I know. War is indeed hell. And after all, those Hessians had it coming. Heartless mercenaries. They preferred to kill American soldiers rather than go to the trouble of taking prisoners. They really had to go.

The problem I have with the whole thing is the fact that so many people glorify this moment in Washington’s military career – often citing it was his greatest. Slaughtering a bunch of drunk and sleeping men on Christmas night is not glorious.

Much more valiant were his actions following the Battle of Long Island, when he managed to cross his 10,000 men across the East River to safety. Perhaps no one brings this feat up because he lost the battle. Or maybe it’s because no one captured the moment in a painting.

It was a noble thing to not give up even after losing at the Battle of Long Island, and saving all his men. There would not have been a crossing of the Delaware if not for the crossing of the East River first.

That said, it was a necessary, sad, grim thing which Washington set out to do on Christmas night, 1776. Remember him for both feats, and remember the men who left their families and spent Christmas fighting for our freedom.

Enjoy that freedom, and enjoy your holidays.

May peace and love be with you.

PS: If you’d like to see illustrator Bill Farnsworth’s depiction of the retreat from the Battle of Long Island, check out my book, By the Sword. They are stunning paintings – and the writing’s not bad, either 😉


*This piece was originally posted on my previous blog on Christmas eve, 2011.

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