In the midst of the 12 days of Christmas, we have the 10 Crucial Days of the American Revolution. We’ve looked at the first few days of this period, which covers the most well known of events, Washington’s crossing of the Delaware and the first battle in Trenton.
Aside from those of you who have studied this period of American history, those of you who have read this blog now know much more about it than the average person. I venture to add that this angle of Howe and Mrs. Loring is one you may not have thought about, that the people of the past could get caught up in life the way we do. Hey, they are no different than we are. That General Lord Howe was beguiled by a beautiful American woman put a human heart into that well experienced soldier.
We’ve seen other Brits beguiled by an American woman. One was a king who gave up his throne to marry one. And the other, most recently, is about to marry an American woman. So there is no reason to doubt that Howe could have his head turned as well. If a king can give up his throne for an American woman, a general can be sidetracked enough to not pay attention to the war he’s fighting.
With the huge win of Trenton, the spirits of the American Patriots lifted. By the end of 1776, the Continental Army is wending its way back over the Delaware and returning to Trenton. Washington and his staff know that they will now have to deal with some stiff aggression from the British forces, who are on their way across New Jersey headed toward Trenton. In preparation, Washington does the strategic thing and places his army on the hill across the Assunpink Creek. This hill has a mill on it, therefore it is dubbed, Mill Hill. It is a high point, overlooking what was then the center of town. Not only is the hill the much coveted high ground of any battle, it is nearly surrounded by the creek. And the Assunpink is not any creek. It cuts through a rather deep gorge. Being that it is early winter, the water is icy cold and on the rough side. There is but the one bridge over it. It’s a nearly impenetrable position, with Washington there first.
On the Second of January, 1777, the Continental Army takes up its defensive, as well as aggressive, positions on Mill Hill. This army, of around 6000, is ready to meet the enemy of about 8000.
Before Cornwallis’ army can get close to Trenton, they are confronted by the sharpshooters of Colonel Hand. Their purpose is simple. Delay, delay, delay the Brits.
This won’t be the first time Cornwallis finds that Washington is one slippery dude. By the time the Brits do arrive in Trenton, and the big battle commences, it’s late afternoon. Darkness and having only that one bridge that is well defended by the Americans, will force a halt to the proceedings. At sundown, Cornwallis calls a halt to the attempt to capture Mill Hill. He thinks they will commence first thing in the morning and finish up the job of “crushing this rebellion” then.
But that slippery dude across the creek has other plans. Later, in the deep darkness of night, Washington has his men build huge bonfires. Not for warmth, but as a distraction. Washington is about to perform "slippery dude, part deux." He’s going to beat it out of town in the middle of the night and head for Princeton. Whilst Cornwallis gets his good night of rest, the Americans don’t. There is no rest when survival is the first goal.
The American Continental Army has to survive.
Under the noses of their enemies, the Americans travel east and south, around the creek and the British sentinels. Marching all night in the freezing cold, they turn north toward the small town of Stony Brook, headed for the small, college town of Princeton.
In Princeton, destiny waits. In Princeton, the Americans will seal the deal with the fates by claiming another victory over the British forces. A short, quick battle fought across farm fields in Stony Brook on the frigid morning of 3 January, 1777, sent shockwaves around the world. The American Revolution was back securely on track. And in many a-mind, like the king of France, the Americans were the winner to back in this conflict between parent and child.
In my book, Mary Stumpf at the Battle of Princeton, I tell the story of not only this battle, but a broader story about growing up during the Revolution. Big Battles in Trenton tells the story of a modern girl who loves history and wishes to relive it by being in the thick of those two battles in Trenton. So she time travels. The narrative in both these books is that of the Ten Crucial Days because I find it to be one of the most exciting times in all history. No, you cannot make these things up, about how farmers and shopkeepers endured horrible weather fighting for their infant nation whilst facing the most superior army in the world, and then they won.
That is our cherished history and national mythology. May we never forget our past, and let us live our myths.