The fall and early winter of 1775 had not gone well for the patriots during the American Revolution. One defeat was met by another. Starting with the battle of Long Island, the British chased George Washington and his shrinking army out of Brooklyn, out of New York city and finally out of New Jersey. With the end of 1775 coming fast, many in the army would not be signing back up and the revolution was on the verge of collapse. The British were so sure of victory, most of the generals and other high-ranking officers retired to the comforts of New York City for the winter, leaving garrisons of troops in many New Jersey towns under the command of either junior officers or German Hessian mercenaries. Washington was camped on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River a distance north of Philadelphia. He was desperate, as was his army. Washington was a keen observer of the weather, like many of the nation’s founders. His army had miraculously escaped the British after the battle of Long Island as a bank of early morning fog formed and hid his retreat. He understood river fog in the fall season quite well, having lived on his Mt Vernon farm along the banks of the Potomac River. He also understood that strong northwest winds in December usually brought on a change to much colder weather and surmised that the enemy across the river would be hunkered down the next morning, inside to escape the cold and it would be the day after Christmas as well and the soldiers would be sleeping in after celebrating. At 11 p.m. on Christmas night, Washington’s army started its crossing of the half-frozen Delaware river at three locations. The 2,400 soldiers led by Washington successfully braved the icy and freezing river and reached the New Jersey side of the Delaware just before dawn. The other two divisions, made up of some 3,000 men and crucial artillery, failed to reach the meeting point and turned back. Washington was on his own. At 8 a.m. on the morning of December 26, Washington’s remaining force, separated into two columns, reached the outskirts of Trenton, New Jersey and descended on the unsuspecting Hessians. Trenton’s 1,400 Hessian defenders were groggy from the previous evening’s festivities, just as Washington has surmised, they were ensconced in their buildings and underestimated the Patriot threat after months of decisive British victories throughout New York. Washington’s men quickly overwhelmed the Germans’ defenses, and by 9:30 a.m. the town was surrounded. Although several hundred Hessians escaped, nearly 1,000 were captured at the cost of only four American lives. Washington’s victory was based as much on pluck and courage as his understanding of celebrations and even more so the weather. The bitter cold that Washington and his troops braved was the turning point. Hessian sentries were not out braving the cold, also as Washington imagined. The surprise victory was complete and total. Washington’s army was boosted by the victory and one several days later at Princeton. The Patriot army did not collapse – re-enlistments and new enlistments soared with the victories. The British were shocked and the Hessians, so ruthlessly triumphant in the summer, gained respect for the Americans. In fact, many would dessert and make the new nation their home.
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