Thursday, December 26, 2013

THE CROSSING

We runners complain about snow, ice and wind. Fortunately, today we are able to outfit ourselves with warm, moisture-wicking clothing and waterproof shells. Our workouts keep us out in the elements, sometimes as long as three hours, if we are in the middle of marathon training.

Well, sit back while I tell you a little Christmas tale that reduces our most difficult winter workout to a stroll in the park on a beautiful spring day.

The men didn't feast on turkey dinners. In fact, food of any kind was scarce. Smallpox, an infestation of lice, and rags instead of shoes were prevalent.

They had been on a steady retreat since August when their still inexperienced general was outflanked by the largest invasion force in the history of the world that came ashore like a tsunami. Putting another river between them and the enemy bought them more time. They were traitors. All of them. Soldiers, who were really a collection of farmers, tailors and bakers, could scurry back home if they wished. Their leaders, however, could be tried and executed for their treason. They would be hanged until they were near dead, their bowels cut out and lit afire, then their bodies drawn and quartered.

For many, their enlistments would run out in a week.

Their commander knew the soldiers, and the band of thirteen rebellious colonies needed a psychological victory.

So, the plantation owner from Virginia. The over six-foot tall giant of his time. Perhaps the greatest horseman of his time, who had all to lose and little to gain if this endeavor failed, made a bold decision. He would move over 900 men, horses and canon across the Delaware River, attack a Hessian garrison, the fiercest European fighters of the era, on Christmas night.

The mission was nearly an impossible one under any condition, but ice and freezing rain pelted the men as they floated down the river in flatboats, commanded by Colonel Glover of Marblehead, Massachusetts. Clothing was flimsy (no Goretex), and when the general was informed that the men's muskets were too wet to fire, he reportedly exclaimed, "Tell them to use their bayonets. I am resolved to take Trenton."

At 4:00 a.m., upon disembarking the boats, the troops marched nine miles, with temperatures in the twenties, reaching Trenton at dawn.

Hessians, feeling like many of us do the day after Christmas, decided to sleep in. They were awakened by American cannons, which fired grapeshot, a deadly cannonball that exploded into lethal "grapes." They surrendered in less than an hour. The Hessian commander, Colonel Johann Rall was mortally wounded.

General George Washington, the real deal, had pulled off the ultimate ruse. European soldiers of the day never fought in the winter. Instead, they retired to their "winter quarters." It's no wonder he earned the moniker, "George the Fox."

His bold move encouraged men to reenlist. The American Revolution was, for the time being, saved.

It was Christmas night, 1776, and the fighting would not end for another five years, but history will always remember Washington's crossing.

Just something to think about the next time we complain about winter weather. (or not getting your UPS parcel on time)