This great nation's immense
Christmas season peril,
Oregon Senator Doug Whitsett 12/27/12
This great nation has experienced immense peril
during more than one Christmas season. Both war
and political upheaval have threatened our
survival as a free nation. Each time, when it
was their turn to be counted, men and women of
equally great valor have risen to the occasion.
History tells us that our fledgling nation
experienced its greatest danger during the
winter of 1776. George Washington’s five
thousand man Continental Army was encamped on
the banks of the Delaware River. They were
tired, hungry, cold, and disheartened. Their
uniforms, boots and equipment were in tatters.
The British counted several hundred warships.
Its army of thirty three thousand men was at
least five times larger than the Continental
Army. Moreover, fully half of Washington’s
forces had served their enlisted time and were
scheduled to muster out and go home within the
next two weeks.
Washington’s Continental Army had lost seven
consecutive battles. The British had driven them
out of New York and New Jersey so quickly that
they were compelled to leave most of their
meager supplies behind. They had been forced to
retreat all the way to the western bank of the
The local ferrymen and fisherman had helped them
escape across the River likely saving the army
from capture or surrender. Washington had
commandeered all available boats and secured
them on the western bank of the river to prevent
the British from using them to further pursue
This was the bleak situation at Christmas Eve
when General Washington approached the same
ferrymen and fisherman to ask them to take his
army back across the Delaware River.
The boatmen were astounded. They told Washington
that it was Christmas, it was snowing, and the
River was full of floating ice. They advised the
General that crossing the River would be very
time consuming, difficult, and dangerous.
The General replied that he was aware of those
things, but that he needed their help.
Recognizing his leadership, the boatmen
responded and went to get their ferry boats and
Patrick Henry had published “The Crisis” on
December 19th of that year.
Washington had portions of that pointed essay
read to all of his troops in preparation for the
“These are the days that try men’s souls.
The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot
will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of
their country; but he that stands by it now,
deserves the love and the thanks of men and
women. Tyranny, like hell is not easily
conquered; yet we have this consolation with us,
that the harder the conflict, the more glorious
the triumph”. “Britain, with an army to enforce
her tyranny, has declared that she has the right
not only to tax but “to bind us in all cases
whatsoever” and if being bound in that manner is
not slavery, then is there not such a thing as
slavery on earth.”
On Christmas night his continental soldiers
boarded the waiting boats and began crossing the
ice filled river. Washington boarded one of the
first boats to cross and soon realized that the
conditions were every bit as treacherous as the
boatman had promised.
Yet he persevered and his troops followed. After
completing the perilous crossing, they marched
through blizzard conditions in the early morning
darkness of December 26th toward
about twelve hundred Hessian mercenaries
garrisoned in Trenton, New Jersey.
The British forces had been celebrating
Christmas for more than twenty four hours. They
were mostly drunk and their defenses were in
disarray. Washington’s surprise attack resulted
in the capture of more than one thousand enemy
soldiers as well as fatally wounding their
commanding officer. The Continental Army
suffered fewer than ten casualties.
After the battle, the boatmen ferried the
victorious Continental army, and their captives,
back across the Delaware. The prisoners were
marched through the streets of Philadelphia to
demonstrate that the Continental Army could, and
had, won a major battle.
The British were infuriated at Washington’s
arrogance. They began amassing an overwhelming
force to counterattack his position along the
Noting the impending attack, Washington went to
his boatmen friends one last time. They once
again gathered their ferries and dories to carry
the troops, cannon and horses back across the
River into New Jersey. This crossing was even
more difficult and perilous because the River
was choked with ice and actually frozen over in
That day the Continental Army won a second
convincing victory at Trenton against a much
superior British force. In the dark of the
following night Washington was able to quietly
and craftily move most of his troops into
positions flanking the British positions. The
next morning he attacked the British from behind
The ensuing battle was fierce and the outcome
uncertain. Both sides were suffering heavy
casualties. During the entire fight it is said
that Washington rode his great white horse,
fully exposed between the enemy lines,
repeatedly rallying his troops and urging them
forward, volley after volley. His troops
followed him to another pivotal victory.
Neither Washington nor his horse was touched by
Most of Washington’s troops reenlisted following
their decisive victories at Trenton and
Princeton. Within several weeks, new recruits
were pouring into his volunteer Continental
Army. Within several months the French had
greatly enhanced their efforts on behalf of the
Americans. The colonists continued their fight
to secure their independence for another seven
On Christmas 1776, the bold and decisive actions
of General George Washington snatched victory
and future independence from the jaws of near
Each succeeding generation of Americans has
managed to rise to the occasion when it was
their turn to preserve the freedoms that
Washington’s army fought to secure.
The ball is now in our court. History will tell
how well we performed.
Please remember, if we do not stand up for rural
Oregon no one will.