Skip to comments.Crossing the Delaware, the Tigris, and the Euphrates - 1776 and 2003.
Posted on 12/22/2005 11:28:10 PM PST by neverdem
December 22, 2005,
Crossing the Delaware, the Tigris, and the Euphrates
1776 and 2003.
On the night of December 25, 1776, with the winter wind whipsawing the water, with waves ripping across the bows of their leaky boats, and sheets of ice impeding their path, American soldiers rowed across the merciless river, from Pennsylvania to New Jersey. The city of Trenton was their objective. On the evening of December 25, 2005, American soldiers, like their Colonial-era predecessors, will traverse swift, unforgiving currents, but in a distant land. Victory in Operation Iraqi Freedom is their aim. Perhaps this Christmas, when Americans gather to exchange presents with their families and friends, they can take a moment to recall the heroism of those soldiers who helped to win our independence in 1776 by crossing the Delaware River, and pause to reflect on the courage of those soldiers who are preserving it for us in 2005 by crossing the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in Iraq. This simple act must be our gift to them.
FROM TRENTON TO IRAQThe general outlines of the Continental Army's striking victory at Trenton are well known. The vivid, often-stirring details are more obscure, but the acclaimed historian David Hackett Fischer has restored them to life in his magisterial book Washington's Crossing. Published last year to widespread critical acclaim, it was subsequently awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Among its many achievements, the book dispels several myths. It conclusively demonstrates, for example, that the Hessian troops in Trenton were not suffering the after-effects of Christmas festivities when battle commenced. "The German responses to the American attack," Fischer asserts, "were not those of intoxicated revelers." This is revisionist history, albeit with a twist. Whereas typical revisionist retellings of the American past denigrate our Founding Fathers and our democratic traditions Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States comes to mind Fischer's volume does not, like them, gratuitously critique George Washington, the men who served under him, or the leaders he answered to in Philadelphia. On the contrary, his book casts them in a more truthful light, with both their human and heroic qualities on full display, and much of their luster restored. Fischer thus revises the revisionists.
What is more, a close study of the Battle of Trenton reveals interesting parallels with Operation Iraqi Freedom despite their obvious differences in scale. In both campaigns, for instance, the American military launched offensive operations to regain the initiative after a series of setbacks. In the months prior to Trenton, Washington, and his troops had forlornly retreated across New Jersey following their devastating defeat in New York City by a combined British naval and land force under the command of Admiral Richard Howe and his brother, General William Howe. This infamous, dark period in the Revolution elicited Thomas Paine's rallying cry in pamphlet form, The American Crisis, published in December 1776. The American Army eventually secured a temporary foothold on the western shore of the Delaware River, but its situation remained precarious until Washington turned the tide on the night of December 25, 1776. The liberation of Iraq in 2003, likewise, was an offensive thrust into the Middle East following the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001. It marked the second stage, after Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, of President Bush's "forward strategy of freedom," which advocates robust force projection abroad to protect Americans at home.
There is another correlation between 1776 and 2003: In both years the initial entry into enemy territory involved a series of complex river crossings. What many people may not realize is that Washington and his troops traversed the Delaware River a second time, on December 29, and proceeded to win another engagement at Trenton and the Battle of Princeton in early January 1777. Both crossings entailed moving thousands of men and tons of supplies in the dead of winter and required the most sophisticated logistical planning and maneuver warfare of the era, all under the inspired direction of Washington's staff officers and NCOs.
In the first three weeks of Operation Iraqi Freedom, United States forces crisscrossed the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers during their race to Baghdad. Various accounts record their lightening pace. In early April elements of the 3rd Infantry Division conducted an audacious river crossing over the Euphrates at Hindiyah, in the Karbala Gap, the gateway to the Iraqi capital. Under withering fire, Task Force 3-69 Armor pushed across a bridge in the city. Iraqi sappers detonated several explosives in an unsuccessful attempt to destroy the bridge, while American engineers raced to cut the wires to the remaining charges. Heroic scenes like this were repeated up and down the Tigris and Euphrates Valleys. On April 3, the 82nd Airborne Division seized several bridges over the Euphrates in the city of As Samawah, in South-central Iraq, while fighting off fedayeen Saddam troops. The "Screaming Eagles" of the 101st Airborne crossed the same river further North, at An Najaf. The First Marine Division sped toward Baghdad on the 3rd ID's right flank. Its 1st Regimental Combat Team crossed the Euphrates at An Nasiriyah and laid down a pontoon bridge North of the city to establish a supply route. The 5th and 7TthH RCTs traversed the Euphrates early in the war, moved across the Tigris at An Numaniyah in early April, and marched on Baghdad from the Southeast.
President George W. Bush, like all presidents since Washington, has abided by the touchstone of democratic accountability to the American people during wartime. He highlighted the issue of Iraq during the 2002 Congressional elections. In the autumn of 2002 he submitted a resolution to the House and Senate seeking authorization to depose Saddam Hussein's regime, which was approved by a wide margin. Iraq was one of the primary issues during the 2004 presidential election. The Bush administration's conduct of the war is subjected to constant media scrutiny. The president must answer to the American people at all times. At its best, this relentless democratic audit serves as a self-correcting mechanism in the prosecution of this and all wars, enabling the president and his military advisors to stay on course when their plan is succeeding and adjust fire when it runs into difficulty. It is also the modern expression of an ancient democratic tradition that stretches far back beyond George Washington, to ancient Athens, where the city-state's democratic Assembly monitored the progress of battles large and small, as the historian Victor David Hanson illustrates in his recent study of the Peloponnesian War, A War Like No Other.
The American ethic of warfare applies to river crossings, too. As soon as the initial combat phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom came to a close, the U.S. Army shifted gears from wresting control of bridges to rebuilding them. When the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division rolled up into its area of operations in Diyala province in February of 2005, it identified one of the key elements of the local infrastructure to be the As Sindiyah float bridge across the Tigris River, which connects Diyala to Salah ah Din province in the Sunni Triangle. Civilians in the region depend upon this crucial transportation link in many ways. It was, alas, in a state of disrepair. The bridge had been in the water since the early 1980s and several spans and pontoons had sunk to the Tigris River bottom. Lieutenant-Colonel Scott Spellmon, the commander of the 3-3 Brigade Troops Battalion, which manages several hundred reconstruction projects for the 3rd BCT, sprung into action. As he recounts the story: "This was one of the first projects the 3-3 BTB took from start to finish. And, although it was a relatively inexpensive project, it made a large impact for us and the As Sindiyah community early in our deployment. We worked with the Diyala Director-General of Roads and Bridges to find local welders and materials to repair the sunken pontoons, and we coordinated for U.S. divers to bring the pontoons up from the river bottom. All in all, the project took a month to complete, and it showed the civilian community Coalition engineers working side-by-side with local engineers and tradesman to repair a piece of infrastructure that was vital to them. I still recall the day the bridge reopened and traffic flowed again the positive response and the gratitude of the As Sindiyah community were overwhelming." Today, thanks to Lieutenant-Colonel Spellmon and his team of soldiers and engineers, hundreds of Iraqi men, women, and children are crossing the Tigris River every day.
American soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen seek the same goal in the Global War on Terrorism. In Operation Iraqi Freedom they have proved themselves worthy of Sergeant White's legacy. U.S. and Coalition troops are carrying out countless missions alongside and over rivers in Iraq. They are crossing bridges in convoys of Humvees, guarding riverbanks in M-1 Abrams tanks, flying in Apache helicopter formations up and down the Tigris River to neutralize terrorist operations, and conducting riverine patrols on the Euphrates to interdict arms smuggling around Baghdad. American soldiers in Iraq are sustaining the spirit of December 25, 1776. This Christmas, let us remember them.
Joseph Morrison Skelly, a college history professor in New York City and sergeant in the Army Reserves, recently completed a tour of duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom with the 411th Civil Affairs Battalion in support of the 3rd BCT of the 3rd ID. He crossed the Tigris River numerous times.
Thank you for posting this history reflection on our brave troops. God Bless them all.
At the beginning of the French and Indian War, Colonel Washington was a raw, untested 23-year-old. However, his part in the battle on the Monongahela was an amazing event that has been nearly forgotten in the revisionist purging of textbooks of information about our early American heroes.
During the battle, the young George Washington rode back and forth on the battlefield, delivering General Braddock's orders to the troops. They had been ambushed, and the Indians targeted the officers, bringing down sixty-three of the eighty-six British and American officers on the field, including General Braddock, who was killed. Washington was the only officer on horseback not wounded.
Later that day, in a letter written to his brother, John A. Washington, he said he was "protected beyond all human probability or expectation." He had two horses shot out from under him, and after the battle found four bullet holes in his coat. He evidently saved the coat because many years later his step-grandchildren described it to his biographers.
After that experience he was absolutely fearless on the battlefield, and often rode out in front of his troops. The Indians regarded him with awe, which was testified to by an unlikely witness. Mary Draper Ingels was captured by a band of Shawnee Indians and while in their village overheard an excited discussion of the battle between the French and their Indian allies.
After escaping and making her way back to Virginia, she related the account of an Indian chief named Red Hawk who said he had shot at Washington eleven times and then ceased firing, convinced that the Great Spirit was protecting him.
The facts of the battle are undisputed: 63 officers were shot but Washington was untouched except for the holes in his coat. The letter he wrote to his brother still exists.
An independent account of the battle was written by Benjamin Franklin in his autobiography. He was especially interested in the outcome because he had issued personal bonds for the wagons, horses and supplies used in the campaign, all of which were now in the possession of the French. (The British later reimbursed him, after his creditors brought suit.)
Mary Draper Ingels was an historic figure still celebrated in Boone County, Kentucky. Her escape from the Pawnees and heroic 800-mile trek over rugged virgin territory made her famous among the colonials. Her testimony was written down by her son and later published by her great-grandson. At the time she related it, Washington was not famous or even a public figure - - what would be her motivation in fabricating such a story? Her biography, "Follow the River" by James Thom, was a bestseller and I think made into a TV movie.
There were other confirmations of the "Indian chief" story, the most famous in the memoirs of Washington's step-grandson, George Washington Parke Custis. He said that Washington's lifelong friend and physician, Dr. Craik, told him of a similar incident when he and Washington met some Indians in the Alleghanies. An old chief stepped forward and said he remembered Washington from the battle fifteen years earlier, the "tall and daring warrior" who can never die in battle.
Survivors of the battle at the Monongahela must have talked about Washington's remarkable escape as it was mentioned in a sermon given by the Rev. Samuel Davies, who later became the president of Princeton.
Was Washington Hercules? Nope. He was protected by the Great Spirit.
The first European woman to set foot in the county was Mary Ingles. She was taken prisoner by Shawnee Indians on July 8, 1755 at Draper's Meadow (now Blacksburg), Virginia and was forced to accompany the Indians through the county as they returned to Shawnee Village at Chillicothe, Ohio. Her escape four months later and her return through the wilderness to Virginia has a significant place in American folklore.
In 1777, Cornstalk, his son, Elinipsico, Red Hawk and another prominent Indians were murdered while being held hostage at Fort Blair, built at Point Pleasant following Lewis' victory.
"The facts of the battle are undisputed: 63 officers were shot but Washington was untouched except for the holes in his coat. The letter he wrote to his brother still exists.
An independent account of the battle was written by Benjamin Franklin in his autobiography. He was especially interested in the outcome because he had issued personal bonds for the wagons, horses and supplies used in the campaign, all of which were now in the possession of the French. (The British later reimbursed him, after his creditors brought suit.)"
Thanks for the detailed rebuttal. You learn someting new every day.
Thanks, I appreciate your comment.
The five and six-year-olds in my Montessori school love to play-act Superman and Spiderman because they are hero-worshippers at that age. So I started telling them stories about George, and surprise, surprise, they stopped playing Spiderman and wanted to play American Revolution games.
The more you study his life, the awesomer it gets. When he died, ENGLAND declared a day of mourning! He was admired the world over for having declined the chance to become king. To a conservative, nothing is more rare and impressive than a great man who gives up power.
We seldom think of this, but as a public speaker, Washington had a huge handicap to overcome: his false teeth. It wasn't just that he couldn't smile for his Gilbert Stuart portraits. His mouth was always sore and every time he talked, the teeth clicked because they were held together with wire hinges. Imagine trying to be an effective leader and not being able to freely express yourself. It is said he seldom spoke while presiding over the Constitutional Convention.
"We seldom think of this, but as a public speaker, Washington had a huge handicap to overcome: his false teeth. It wasn't just that he couldn't smile for his Gilbert Stuart portraits. His mouth was always sore and every time he talked, the teeth clicked because they were held together with wire hinges. Imagine trying to be an effective leader and not being able to freely express yourself. It is said he seldom spoke while presiding over the Constitutional Convention."
I knew he had wooden false teeth but hinges? It's a good thing that the written word was so highly regarded at the time.
You are a fountain of very interesting information BTW.
To set the record straight, liberals have often falsely portrayed Washington as a supporter of slavery.
Washington was actually one of the founders who sought to end slavery in Virginia and the nation, and who worked to bring civil rights to all Americans, regardless of color.
Many black authors of the time attest to his lack of personal bigotry and his abhorrence of slavery.
He was the chairman of a committee in Fairfax County which in 1774 passed a resolution opposing the importation of further slaves into any of the colonies and declared "our most earnest wishes to see an entire stop for ever put to such a wicked, cruel, and unnatural trade."
The quantity of slaves which he held was economically unprofitable for Mount Vernon and caused a genuine hardship on the estate. Had Washington not become so opposed to selling slaves (because it resulted in breaking up the families), he stated he gladly would have used that means to end his ownership of all slaves.
He would have simply freed his slaves during his lifetime but Virginia laws imposed requirements that a slave could not be freed unless the slave owner either provide for his transportation out of the country, or guarantee a security bond for his education and support to ensure he would not become a burden to the community.
These laws placed impossible economic hardships on slave owners who tried to free their slaves, on top of stiff penalties for those who did so.
After a lifetime speaking out against slavery and having worked to influence the Virginia legislature to change the laws, Washington was finally able to free his slaves in his will at his death in 1799.