In the winter of 1776, winning the Revolutionary War seemed hopeless for the Americans. They had lost major battles. They were starving, didn’t have adequate shelter or supplies, and morale was almost gone.
“If every nerve is not strained to recruit the New Army with all possible expedition…I think the game is pretty near up," wrote General Washington to his brother Samuel.
But God raised up help for our young nation through the power of the pen. Thomas Paine wrote these inspiring words that gave the troops renewed courage and determination:
“These are the times 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 it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Let it be told to the future world, that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet and to repulse it.”
General Washington knew this was his last chance to act. He formed a courageous, nearly impossible plan. He would cross the Delaware river with almost half of his army, about 2400 men, and surprise the enemy soldiers on the day after Christmas.
They began crossing the Delaware at six in the evening on Christmas day. A remarkable troop of fishermen from Massachusetts worked for nine long hours, rowing boatload after boatload of men, cannons, and ammunition across the ice-choked river through a punishing gale of sleet and snow. The last soldier reached shore at three o’ clock in the morning.
Then, the exhausted soldiers marched nine miles to Trenton through freezing wind and hail. A member of General Washington’s staff wrote, “It will be a terrible night for soldiers who have no shoes. Some of them have tied old rags around their feet, others are barefoot, but I have not heard a man complain.” Bloody footprints marked the path of these brave men.
The British Commander, Colonel Rall spent the night drinking and playing cards. When a local farmer tried to warn him that the Americans were coming, the servant who answered the door refused to interrupt the party to tell the Commander. So, the loyalist farmer scribbled a warning note to Colonel Rall. But Rall only stuffed it into his pocket—unread—which saved the weary American troops from disaster. Washington’s men were exhausted, freezing cold, and hungry. They would have been an easy target for the strong enemy army.
With the help of God, the Americans won the fight in about two hours. The enemy troops were totally unprepared for battle. Of the 1,000 enemy troops, many were injured, and 948 were taken captive. Only four Americans were wounded in battle, and none were killed—although two froze to death. It was an incredible victory—nothing short of a miracle—especially since it provided our soldiers with much needed food, clothing, bedding, and ammunition.
As word of the victory spread, confidence in the Revolution and in General George Washington was revived. This Christmas victory marked an important turning point in the War for Independence.
The courage and sacrifices of ordinary men and women have changed the course of history in so many ways. Because of these courageous early Americans, we have the freedom to worship God as we believe. And at this Christmas time, we are able to celebrate the birth and life of Jesus Christ. May we do our part to preserve and pass on this precious legacy of liberty!