Image courtesy of Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Meeting Notes: March 15, 2023

Administrative Items:

 1.      AART-R’s financial to support to other Revolutionary War organizations was discussed, including recurring contributions to the American Battlefield Trust and Crossing of the Dan. The membership present voted on and approved sending a donation to the South Carolina Battleground Preservation Trust for The Camden Burials.

2.     Mark Lender re-announced the 2022 Harry M. Ward Book Award co-winners:

a.     Winning Independence: The Decisive Years of the Revolutionary War, 1778-1781, author John Ferling

b.     Francis Marion and the Snow's Island Community: Myth, History, and Archaeology, author Steven D Smith

3.     Bill Welsch announced the planning of an October 14 (tentative) tour of Revolutionary War sites around the Newport News area. Details are to follow.

 Meeting Presentation:

William L. Kidder spoke on the Battle of Trenton, entitled "That Unhappy Affair at Trenton" based on his book Ten Crucial Days: Washington's Vision for Victory Unfolds available from the Fort Plain Museum Bookstore [].

The significance of the patriots' victory at Trenton was not forgotten in the ensuing years and two and a half years after the battle, it was Lord George Germain, the British Secretary of State for North America throughout the Revolutionary War, who remarked to the House of Commons on May 3, 1779 “all our hopes were blasted by that unhappy affair at Trenton. Germain shared a heavy amount of blame for Britain’s ultimate defeat by the American patriots under General George Washington.

While the American Revolution seemed on the verge of defeat, on December 25, 1776, Washington assessed the weaknesses and strengths of his situation as he moved his troops towards Philadelphia. He reacted to the complex situation and developments over the next ten days [December 25, 1776 through January 3, 1777] in ways not expected by the British military which became turning points for George Washington as America’s Commander-in-Chief and respect for American military capabilities against the world’s largest army.

Kidder walked through the events leading up to and through the turning point victory at the Battle of Trenton using a coalition of Continental soldiers, state and local militias, and local volunteers.

 Washington’s failed defenses and retreats during the New York Campaign [July to November 1776] that included the Battle of Long Island, the Battle of White Plains, and most seriously at Fort Washington. Washington’s command was in jeopardy. Enlistments were set to expire.

Washington’s forces retreated across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania to make a stand at defending Philadelphia, where the Second Continental Congress was meeting, and thereby allowed British control of New Jersey, The British commander, William Howe, had made a miscalculation and overextended his forces over a chain of winter garrisons, along the supply route from the stronghold at Staten Island southward to the Delaware River. At the southern end of the chain was the village of Trenton.

On December 8, 1776 Continental forces crossed the Delaware River into Pennsylvania for temporary sanctuary. On the morning of December 13, 1776, Major-General Charles Lee, second in command of the Continental Army, was captured by the British at Widow White's tavern, at Basking Ridge, New Jersey, during his troops’ slow march to help Washington. British-born Lee ranked next to Washington in command but believed he should have been named Commander-in-Chief because of his experiences as a British officer and services in European mainland armies. He spent 18 months as a prisoner. Major-General John Sullivan took over Lee’s command and continued the march to join Washington.

To rally his troops Washington planned a logistically complex surprise attack on the British garrison at Trenton that required his army to recross the ice jammed Delaware River. The route chosen for the main army’s crossing resulted in a longer march to Trenton because a patriot-friendly ferry point was chosen over a loyalist-leaning ferry point that was closer to the town. The Continental Army and various state militias led by George Washington attacked the winter quarters of a brigade on the morning of December 26, 1776. The Trenton garrison consisted of mainly German soldiers quartered in civilian houses throughout the village and commanded by German Colonel Johann Rall.

Colonel Rall made mistakes in both his defensive preparations around his garrison (no redoubts, no defensive plan) and his reaction to learning an attack was underway. Washington exploited British arrogance by leading his army, made up of Continental soldiers, state militia groups and volunteers, in maneuvers that humiliated His Majesty’s forces.

In just ten short days the course of history was changed. The Battle of Trenton was notable as the first open field success won by Washington. The victory at Trenton restored American morale and renewed confidence in Washington as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army thereby turning the tide of the Revolutionary War.

--Fred Sorrell

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