The Crossing to Trenton

March 7, 2013
The chill raced through my veins making me shiver, though a thick blanket was wrapped around me. Out the window, down the street, a man, cloaked in black, was approaching ever so slowly. I looked into the ruddy, soaked faces of my children and wife. Sobs escaped their throats, their efforts to keep quiet failed. I was not afraid. I would be ready after my children and spouse understood. I opened my mouth and began my story.

It was December 20th, 1776. The air was so frigid it could practically freeze to your skin. The clouds, stacked high and thick, threatened the oncoming blizzard. General George Washington had convinced the other Generals to attack the Hessians on Christmas night. Every man was prepping; every man was behind General Washington 100%. I sat in the tent, shivering. I did not feel the cold anymore; my mind was elsewhere. I was too, prepping. So far, I had been part of an army that would defend, then retreat. This time, for the first time, we were to attack and stand our ground. Perhaps my shivering was not from the cold but from my fear. The fear that coursed through my blood at the endless thoughts of voluntarily going face to face with trained soldiers like the Hessians. I calmed my fear as much as I could in the few days that led up to the Battle of Trenton. The day before we planned to attack, tensions were high and so were nerves. Final preparations were made, and we were sent to bed early – though nobody could sleep. We all laid there, awaiting the light of dawn, the light of a new day.

The next night, we all began boarding the small boats, ready and waiting to take us to our enemy. I had trusted General Washington in each battle and every retreat. Every ounce of me had believed he would always do the rational and necessary thing. Though, as we paddled through the Delaware, I wondered if Washington had gone mad. Perhaps he had cracked under the stress, but it was too late to turn back and I would be thought a traitor, so I shoved the doubt to the back of my mind and I rowed on.
I had barely slept the past few days and I suddenly was overcome by exhaustion. I continued to row. We must reach land. We must cross. But my arms were like rope, floppy. Pushing the paddles with rope, sweeping through the water. Sweep, sweep, sweep. The doubt creeping back. Sweep, sweep, sweep. The snow burning my eyes, the air frozen to my lips. Sweep, sweep, sweep. Could we win?
The scraping of rocks jostled me from my trance, the doubt back in a safe, somewhere in my tangled up head. Many were still to cross so I found a place to sit and closed my eyes.
When I was awakened, ranks were being formed, nerves began to creep back. Such a short rest yet so helpful. I quickly got into line and fell into another trance, lost in thought. Stomping and stomping and stomping. We finally reached the outskirts of Trenton. We were to attack any minute. A sharp, rigid cold swept through my bones. Up my towel-covered feet, through my bones. Into my ears, nose and eyes, through my bones. I was shocked to feel numb. Not physically, no, I had gotten used to that. Mentally, emotionally, I was numb. Where had the fear gone? The tingling nerves? General Washington gave the other Generals a curt nod, a solemn expression cast over his face. Or perhaps, was it guilt? Did he regret taking us here? Did he believe he had led us to our deaths? It sparked a fire within. A fire that spread through me and warmed me through and through. I would fight and win for General Washington. He will not regret or feel guilt. He will feel pride and lead us on.
The Generals gave us the signal and we charged the village. Suddenly the quiet streets of Trenton were filled with screaming men everywhere. The battle lagged on, the Hessians terribly overpowered without ranks. I fought and fought, slashing left, swinging right. When one comrade finally shot Colonel Rall, they surrendered to us, the Americans. I stood in shock, not believing that we, who had run away every time we were faced with the British, had won. Someone clapped me on the back, making me stumble forward. I realized the fire, being fueled by each enemy I defeated burned within me. A feeling that was unknown to me, perhaps a feeling of victory, raced through my veins. Up my feet, through my bones. Into my ears, nose and eyes, through my bones. I screamed at the top of my lungs and fell to my knees. Finally! Victory was ours! Warm (how on earth could they be warm?) tears streamed down my face. Victory was ours! Victory was ours.

Past the red, puffy faces of my kin and wife, in their eyes was a look of understanding. “We had won our first victory, thanks to General Washington. And I could never be able to repay him. If we had lost, all would have been lost. That was all of the army there was and we were the only hope of the 13 states. We would still be paying dues to the King, and being taxed unfairly, without representation. We would be subjects. Our America would have been lost along with the war.” I spoke to them quietly, weakness taking over me. They all nodded, the same sad smile repeated on each of their countenances.
“After that battle, I was changed forever. My life meant more than living. It was about the life of America. The home of the brave and the land of the free. That feeling that I felt just before we charged into battle, the fire spreading throughout my limbs, inspired my love of America, my true and free patriotism. Then, the feeling of victory, that overwhelming happiness that crushed my heart and stomach, gave me the strength to fight on for our country.” The tears that were drying on my cheeks reminded me of that wondrous feeling. “And my happiness throughout my life first started with that first victory.”
The man cloaked in black was now on my doorstep, knocking on the door. I needed to tell them one last thing, perhaps the most important thing of all.
“Do not take this freedom for granted. Live your life in happiness knowing that your father,” I shifted my eyes to my beloved wife, “your husband, fought for your separation from Britain. Love your country. Never use its name in vain. Please, for the sake of your father’s soul, appreciate your freedom and your America.”
The man now separated me from the rest of my family. “I love you all so very much,” I whispered. And with that, the dark folds of his cape enveloped me and his cold lips touched my forehead.

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History Buff said...
Mar. 13, 2013 at 11:19 pm
What an awesome story!  You got me with the finish!  Wow!
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