Monday, November 21, 2016
When Julius Caesar marched his legions across the Rubicon, he reportedly said, "Let the dice fly high." But he was not gambling. There could only be one outcome. Another military leader who marched his tattered troops across the Delaware in the middle of a Nor'easter on Christmas Day in 1776 really was gambling. Of course, I'm speaking of George Washington, our first and perhaps our greatest President.
He commanded what was left of the US Armed Forces after their humiliation by the British in New York. Using Durham boats made at the southern tip of the county, he took 2,400 men across the icy river, along with 18 cannons and about 50 horses. "Victory or death" was his password to this covert operation against a Hessian stronghold in Trenton. Though they were tipped off, they never dreamed of an attack in the middle of a snowstorm.
It was a daring raid, followed by another at Princeton in relief of a stranded American unit.
It's easy to let the dice fly high when you know no one can beat you. But only a real badass attacks right after his army has been decimated.
Washington lost nearly every battle in which he commanded, but he won the war. He was able to keep that army together at a time when some soldiers were nearly naked and had no food. An aristocratic planter who originally disdained his troops, he grew to love them, and suffered every hardship they endured.
When he ultimately surrendered his commission after eight and a half years, he told his troops he could not go to each of them, but they could come to him and "take my hand." The supposedly aloof general broke down in tears as soldier after soldier came up to hug and even kiss him.
The slave owner who allowed more integration in his army than anyone else until the Vietnam war would go on to set his slaves free in his will, and set aside monetary provisions so each family could have a start.
Only a few other slave owners followed this example.
On Friday, I visited Washington Crossing, about an hour from Easton. On December 11and again on December 25, there will be re-enactments of the crossing.