Corrections or additions?

This article by Carolyn Foote Edelmann

was prepared for the December 19, 2001 edition

of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Invasion of the Redcoats and Hessians

While real warfare dominates today’s headlines, Mercer

County is preparing to welcome over 1,000 civilian "soldiers"

to celebrate the 225th anniversary of the Battles of Trenton and

Princeton.

The "Ten Crucial Days" celebrations, which take place Saturday

and Sunday, December 29 and 30, will pit determined reenactors from

the United States, Canada, and Germany portraying Patriots, Redcoats,

and Hessians. One thousand men, women, and children will follow the

historic path of George Washington’s Crossing of the Delaware, march

to and wage war at the two Battles of Trenton, then march to fight

the good fight at Princeton Battlefield. This important anniversary

observance marks the pivotal Revolutionary War events that took place

during "Ten Crucial Days," from December 25, 1776, to January

3, 1777.

Over 80 units of tireless "weekend warriors" will become

George

Washington’s "rag, tag and bobtail" rebel soldiery. Members

of national reenactment organizations will portray individual rebel

colonists whose character they have researched in depth. They maintain

their character not only in battle, but also during their interactions

with the public. All sport authentic uniforms — crafted of

18th-century

material right down to the buttons. They shoulder true muskets and

rifles, wield swords, sabers, and the bayonets that wreaked silent

havoc in the New Jersey battles.

This year’s special anniversary weekend is preceded by the customary

Christmas Day reenactment at Washington Crossing Historic Park,

Pennsylvania,

December 25, at 1 p.m. St. John Terrell originated this annual

reenactment

in 1953 and performed George Washington’s role for 25 years.

For the "Ten Crucial Days" festivities, Saturday and Sunday,

December 29 and 30, reenactors will row, march, fight hand-to-hand

along original Trenton city streets, camp, cook, eat and sleep as

did the patriots who birthed our country. Children will be present

— portraying offspring of soldiers, as well as orphans, who would

have followed the troops. Women portray play camp followers who acted

as laundresses, seamstresses, and nurses. Not cooks — the men

cooked for themselves. Authenticity will extend to entertainment after

the Trenton victories that includes an authentic Punch and Judy show

and music of fife and drum.

In Revolutionary times, being close to the action was not an option.

This year, it will be. Beginning at 6 a.m., December 29, the public

can watch Washington’s March from Washington Crossing, New Jersey,

to Trenton. At 7 a.m., Washington and his troops reenact the December

25 Delaware crossing aboard flatboats, visible from both sides of

the river. Reenactors and spectators can then drive or be bused to

join the march to Trenton, already in progress.

Participants will re-live the most important nine-mile

journey in this nation’s history. At 11 a.m. in Trenton — amidst

a swirl of cannon and musket fire — today’s Hessian reenactors

will assume positions as sitting ducks, still groggy from their

holiday

revels. Both Battles of Trenton will unfold in a matter of hours,

not days, on and near the Assunpink Creek, scene of our country’s

first victories. The second battle is scheduled for 3 p.m., with a

Grand Illumination of the Old Barracks, Trenton, beginning at 5 p.m.

That night, the troops march on toward Princeton Battlefield, where

hostilities open on Sunday, December 30. Word is that some will march,

and some will be bused: "They’ll be tired." Reenactors

converge

on the battlefield at 1 p.m. for the third of Washington’s triumphs,

which took place January 3, 1777. Parking and shuttle service to

Princeton

Battlefield is provided at Bristol-Myers Squibb on Route 206 in

Lawrenceville.

When the organizations supporting "Ten Crucial Days" began

their plans, they little thought that their country would find itself

in the throes of a real war by the time of the 225th anniversaries.

Old Barracks Museum, Princeton Battlefield State Park, Trenton

Convention

and Visitors Bureau, Washington Crossing Historic Park, Pennsylvania,

and Washington Crossing State Park, New Jersey, are the godfathers

of this re-creation. Their revels have been sobered by the events

of September 11. The title of their celebration has been given new

meaning, as that "One Crucial Day" altered history forever.

The importance of the "crucial" battles cannot be

overemphasized.

The rebels’ cause then was very nearly lost. Few now realize what

a myth was the highly touted "Spirit of ’76." In actuality,

desertion was the norm. Barefoot, ill-fed, unpaid soldiers, and a

public wary of relatives and neighbors — 1776 patriots weren’t

all that patriotic. War interfered with the harvest, then with the

Christian holidays. Defeatism was rife, even among the

commander-in-chief’s

military colleagues. But Washington dared surprise the haughty Brits

(whose General Howe had vowed to "bag him like a fox"); waxed

bold to trample upon their feast day; even to dislodge the enemy from

the first of many seized towns in New York, Pennsylvania, and New

Jersey.

Another little-known reality is that approximately 75 percent of

Revolutionary

Battles were fought in New Jersey. This state bore more than half

the Revolutionary damage, half the losses. And of all the counties,

it could be said that none was more pivotal than Mercer during those

Ten Crucial Days. Had weather not come to Washington’s assistance

(mud to slow the British escape, freezing to speed the Princeton

march),

we might be paying taxes to the House of Windsor to this day.

The David-and-Goliath triumph of Washington’s Trenton and Princeton

campaign absolutely stunned General Howe, General Cornwallis, and

King George III. Our "forces" (our enemies would have mocked

the word) were seen as rabble, no match for the richly caparisoned

Redcoats, let alone for the fierce Hessian mercenaries. Pillage and

destruction, looting, and worse was the reputation they earned.

Washington

would not allow these tactics among his own men, quickly restoring

any goods that inappropriately found their way into Continental

knapsacks.

As the original Ten Crucial Days unfolded, our Commander-in-Chief

seemed miraculously protected. Many a first-person account still

describes

General Washington, brightly visible upon his white charger. Despite

bullets, cannonballs, sword thrusts, and smoke, he remained unscathed,

forever rallying his fighting corps. At Princeton he urged: "There

is but a handful of the enemy. Turn and we will have them

directly!"

Washington’s personal courage was no fiction. His reward: laurels

of victory were snatched from the mud of the Assunpink banks and

further

burnished in the orchards around Princeton’s Clarke House.

Weather was Washington’s ally that winter of 1776 and

’77. Sleet and ice slowed but did not prevent the crossing of the

Delaware, so that muffled troops landed, not around midnight, but

closer to 3 a.m. Otherwise, later conditions of mud and ice played

into the General’s hands and plans. It is interesting that the river

he crossed to victory had become a symbol of failure, so many towns

along and near it being under English control. Weather will be a

factor

for the reenactments, as well. Under recent drought conditions,

crossing

the Delaware in 2001 may become a matter of rubber boots rather than

Durham boats.

Even the Brits unwittingly served the wily Washington. Moving south

from their New York triumphs, pouring in and around New Brunswick,

the Redcoats were flush with pride, yet lazy in victory. Even now

historians puzzle that the British were so eerily haphazard in their

pursuit of our rebels along the Raritan and Delaware. General Howe

had retired smugly to winter quarters in New York. General Cornwallis

had retired in other, more human fashion. This left Trenton’s fate

to leaders more lusterless. Celebrations billed as Christmas feasts

were actually premature victory fetes, only to become impediment to

victory.

Revolutionary fervor can also be sampled (through February 24) at

the New Jersey State Museum in the exhibit, "George Washington

and the Battles of Trenton: The Evolution of an American Image."

"It would be hard to exaggerate the impact of the

Trenton/Princeton

campaign," says exhibit consultant Mark Lender. "These

victories

restored morale and braced the will to fight on." Almost as soon

as the smoke cleared from the crucial battles, artists took brush

in hand to memorialize General Washington. Leutze’s "Washington

Crossing the Delaware" (a later memorial) is in the exhibit, along

with legendary oil portraits by Philadelphia’s Peales (some of whom

fought alongside General Washington) and Gilbert Stuart. These images

can be seen as the first visual "PR" — Washington

transformed

from leader to icon. Yet Washington was still considered controversial

in the eyes of others jockeying for position, such as the amorous

and ambitious General Charles Lee, and the dandy, Alexander Hamilton.

We know where Washington stands "in the hearts of his

countrymen."

New Jersey’s first Constitution is on display, as well as currency

that changed as we moved from colony to state.

As ecologists are now beginning to link greenways for public

recreation,

so historians are lobbying to link historic sites. And no place is

more historic than the acreage where the Ten Crucial Days unfolded.

Congress has directed the Secretary of the Interior to study the

eligibility

of a significant portion of Central New Jersey as a National Heritage

Area for its unique contribution to the American experience. And

battlegrounds

were not all that was crucial. New Jersey proffered cornfields and

orchards, churches, ironworks, and twisting rivers that gave nighttime

passage for provisions and spies and manpower. (For more on this,

contact Linda Mead, Natural Heritage Area, 609-924-4646.)

The original Ten Crucial Days succeeded partly because they took place

at holiday time. So it is appropriate to pause in family festivities,

walk in the monumental footsteps of the father of our country, his

valiant sons and daughters. What greater gifts, on the heels of the

tragic loss of life and livelihood at the World Trade Center, than

the unalienable rights, "life, liberty and the pursuit of

happiness."

In the words of Richard Patterson, executive director of the Old

Barracks

Museum: "The Ten Crucial Days festivities may prove to be just

the tonic we all need. It has been done before (snatching victory

from the jaws of defeat) and we’ll come through all this all

right."

— Carolyn Foote Edelmann

Washington’s Crossing Reenactment, Washington Crossing

Historic Park , Routes 32 and 532, Washington Crossing, PA,

215-493-4076.

Visitors Center opens 11 a.m., crossing begins at 1 p.m. Tuesday,

December 25.

Ten Crucial Days Celebration Weekend, 609-777-1770.

Website: tencrucialdays.com Saturday and Sunday, December 29 and

30.

Reenactment begins at 6 a.m. when Rebel troops begin their

march from Washington Crossing to Trenton. At 7 a.m.,

reenactment

of George Washington’s Crossing of the Delaware. At 11 a.m. and

3 p.m. , the two Battles of Trenton are fought on the original sites

in downtown Trenton. Saturday, December 29, 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The anniversary continues Sunday, December 30, with the

Battle of Princeton. Armies begin their advance at noon; battle

reenactment begins at 1 p.m.

Shuttle bus parking is available at Bristol-Myers Squibb’s

parking

lot, Route 206, Lawrenceville. Portions of Mercer Street will be

closed for the event. Call for handicap information.

"The Hessians are Coming! The Hessians are Coming!"

…Re-enactments

of the (2) Battles of Trenton, the (1) Battle of Princeton, 12/29

and 12/30, 2001

Among those who will recreate these pivotal battles will be New York

City policemen, fresh from real heroism, from all too real scenes

of smoke and death. People who lived through Ground Zero will trek

to the zero ground of the 13 original colonies to celebrate on the

heels of grief.


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