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Day 1 – December 25, 1776: Crossing the Delaware River
At about 4:30 A.M., as dusk settled into dark, vanguard regiments began to board sixty-five foot Durham boats—some thirty-five men to each of the massive shallow-draft vessels—as sailors from the vaunted 14th Massachusetts Regiment, Colonel John Glover’s “Marbleheaders,” began the arduous task of transporting about 2,400 men across the frigid Delaware. Philadelphia dock hands managed moving the horses and artillery onto Sam McConkey’s flat-bottom ferry boats. By 8:00 P.M. a full-bore nor’easter lashed the region, slowing the operations to a tedious crawl. By 3:30 A.M., the last of the troops would land on the eastern bank of the Delaware. The mission was hours behind schedule, and although the general didn’t know it, his carefully laid plans already had gone wrong. The foul weather had stymied the movements of the two patriot columns that were supposed to cross farther to the south. Washington was on his own. Moving from McConkey’s Ferry, the small army turned right at Bear Tavern Road and headed toward Trenton, nine miles south. Moving through unrelenting weather, ragged soldiers and straining animals successfully hauled artillery across the steep banks of Jacob’s Creek. Soldiers were urged on by their officers, warning them to keep moving or freeze and die—and at least two poor souls were lost on the march. At Birmingham (today’s West Trenton) the troops split into parallel columns, one under Nathanael Greene, the other under John Sullivan. Fortune blessed their advance. The wretched weather kept enemy reconnaissance to a minimum; and Colonel Johann Rall, the Hessian commander, misinterpreted a clash between one of his outposts and a rebel advance party. Forewarned of a possible attack, Rall thought any American threat ended with the skirmish and relaxed his security. Weather conditions were mercilessly cold, 27° with a windchill in the teens. Snow, sleet, and hail hampered the night march. ~ Mark Edward Lender, author of CABAL!: The Plot Against General Washington. www.markedwardlender.com
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