I think many of us look back at the year 1776 as a glorious time of change and patriotism for the United States of America. In reality, the year the Declaration of Independence was written and signed was far from the triumphant and victorious period of American history that we learn about in our high school history classes. It was a time of uncertainty and betrayal, a time when the fate of the 13 colonies was not at all clear.
The spirit of the troops started out high at the beginning of 1776 after the successful defense of Boston and the Continental Army's taking of the high ground on Dorchester Heights. But after a few months of making preparations to defend the city of New York, the British Army planned a very successful surprise night attack on the spread-out troops of the Continental Army. The battle, which became known as the Battle of Brooklyn or the Battle of Long Island, was a crushing defeat for the colonists and for General Washington. After the Continental Army left New York, they were defeated in several more battles, including the capture of Fort Washington by the British in which over 2000 Americans were taken prisoner.
People, including many of Washington's generals and closest friends, began to question his capability. The morale of the army was very low. Hundreds of soldiers deserted the army in the winter of 1776 because of lack of warmth, shoes, adequate clothing, and hope. Many of the British believed the conflict to be over and that the colonists had finally come to their senses. In the midst of one of the darkest hours in our nation's history, the character of America's leaders such as Nathaneal Green, Henry Knox, and especially that of the commander-in-chief, became apparent. After being chased across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania, Washington knew that it was time to deliver a blow to the Redcoats. On Christmas Day, the exhausted and severely weakened Continental Army crossed the Delaware and outsmarted the 1500 Hessians stationed at Trenton. It was a major turning point in the war.
David McCullough, the author of the book 1776, said this of Washington:
"He was not a brilliant strategist or tactician, not a gifted orator, not an intellectual. At several crucial moments he had shown marked indecisiveness. He had made serious mistakes in judgment. But experience had been his great teacher from boyhood, and in this his greatest test, he learned steadily from experience. Above all, Washington never forgot what was at stake and he never gave up."
I have gained a new appreciation for just how miraculous the surrender of the British Army six years later was. It is amazing to me that men and boys of all ages that had absolutely no military training were able to defeat the disciplined and supposedly invincible army of the British Empire. I'm thankful to all those who put their lives on the line to protect this country and help to spread freedom across the world. May we all be like Washington and never lose sight of what is truly important to us and never give up when challenges come our way.