(Official Washington Examiner editorial, July 4)  On this Independence Day, consider how a very few people, in very dire straits, made the difference for the very existence of the nation we now know as the United States.

Consider, too, how one of those very few people was also the final president of the founding generation and how his legacy is forever connected to the Fourth of July.

By December 1776, the American Revolution was all but dead. Gen. George Washington commanded only some 3,500 troops, almost none decently trained for battle. The British had about 20,000 well-trained regulars, plus thousands more Hessians and other mercenaries. Worse for Washington, the enlistments of almost all his men were scheduled to end on Dec. 31. They were ill-fed, ill-equipped, ill-dressed, and mostly shoeless. And, after four significant battle losses in a row, they fought for a populace that had all but given up on the revolution, with large numbers redeclaring their loyalty to the British king.

Without a significant victory before Dec. 31, the revolution effectively would be kaput.

Facing those grim odds against horrible weather and with sleep-deprived men trudging on bloody, frost-bitten feet, Washington took 2,400 troops to attack a British-Hessian outpost at Trenton, New Jersey, after midnight on Dec. 26. Their breathtakingly dangerous crossing of the Delaware River was followed by a forced march of 9 miles through the dark of a brutal snowstorm. Still, with the element of surprise, their attack at dawn gained early success on the main streets of the town.

That’s when the Hessians, rallying, readied a cannon in the middle of King Street to mow down Washington’s men. If the cannon had succeeded in reversing the tide, the whole Revolutionary War effectively would have ended.

Instead, six Americans rushed the cannon. In hand-to-hand combat, they gained control of the weapon, stopping the last Hessian counterattack. The Hessians were routed, the revolution was reinspired, and a call for new enlistments was successful. The cause of American liberty quite arguably had rested on control of that cannon. Because the cannon was taken, liberty survived.

One of those six Americans who rushed that cannon, who saved the day, was badly injured, with a severed artery leaving him close to death. Yet he survived. He was just 18 years old, a Virginian by the name of James Monroe…..

[ The full editorial is at this link. And note that in the famous painting of Washington crossing the Delaware, included here, the man holding the flag is meant to be James Monroe.  Monroe, who served as our fifth U.S. President, died on July 4 — yes, on that very day — of 1831.]

 

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