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happy? – Dec 26 (Battle of Trenton)

Abby Sale 26 Dec 05 - 01:01 PM
Ron Davies 26 Dec 05 - 08:13 PM
Abby Sale 26 Dec 05 - 10:01 PM
GUEST 26 Dec 05 - 10:05 PM
Ron Davies 26 Dec 05 - 10:15 PM
Ron Davies 26 Dec 05 - 10:20 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 27 Dec 05 - 12:40 AM
Abby Sale 27 Dec 05 - 09:28 AM
PeteBoom 27 Dec 05 - 09:34 AM
GUEST,Pete Peterson 27 Dec 05 - 10:35 AM
Ron Davies 27 Dec 05 - 09:43 PM
PoppaGator 28 Dec 05 - 02:17 AM
Abby Sale 28 Dec 05 - 09:26 AM
Ron Davies 28 Dec 05 - 10:23 PM
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Subject: happy? – Dec 26 (Battle of Trenton)
From: Abby Sale
Date: 26 Dec 05 - 01:01 PM

Having crossed the Delaware River, Washington wins the Battle of Trenton (New Jersey) on 12/26/1776. This was a big deal & major defeat for the Brits. US troops were frozen and bedraggled but the Hessions were celebrating and very drunk.

        Our object was the Hession band,
        That dared invade fair Freedom's land,
         And quarter in that place.
        Great Washington he led us on,
        Whose streaming flag in storm or sun,
         Had never known discrace.

                "The Battle of Trenton," Songs of Independence, Irwin Silber, 1973
                also Folkways, Songs and Ballads of Colonial & Revolutionary America.

Copyright © 2005, Abby Sale - all rights reserved
What are Happy's all about? See Clicky


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Subject: RE: happy? – Dec 26 (Battle of Trenton)
From: Ron Davies
Date: 26 Dec 05 - 08:13 PM

See Washington's Crossing by David Hackett Fischer--the Hessians were probably not in fact drunk.

That allegation comes primarily from a "Diary of an Officer on Washington's Staff", now thought probably a forgery. Many of the cadences are anachronistic, and much of the vocabulary and syntax ring much more of the 19th Century, according to Fischer and others.

"Boston fifer John Greenwood was there and later wrote in his memoir 'I am willing to go upon oath, that I did not see even a solitary drunken soldier belonging to the enemy--and you will find, as I shall show, that I had an opportunity to be as good a judge as any person there."

The town had been attacked late on Christmas day, and the entire garrison was under arms.

There had already been several lightning raids on the Trenton area by various American militia groups and the garrison was tired from having been on continous alert for days.

The Hessian commander, Colonel Rall, had asked his British superiors for reinforcements many times, and been denied.

Also, other participants had reason to perpetrate the drunken Hessians story. Stephen Kemble, an American Loyalist, for instance, was among many who wanted to portray the Trenton affair as an abberation, and to that end sought to make a clear distinction between the Hessians and the British, and to put the blame on the former.

He therefore propagated the story of the drunken Hessians and "wrote of them as if they were entirely separate from the the British army."

"This idea grew rapidly into the legend that Rall was drunk when the Americans attacked, and that the entire Hessian garrison had been" drinking heavily.


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Subject: RE: happy? – Dec 26 (Battle of Trenton)
From: Abby Sale
Date: 26 Dec 05 - 10:01 PM

Veeeeeeery interesting. And as likey to be true as anything. That the 'drunken' story is so widely accepted goes to my general low opinion of history. Largely derivative of prior uninvestigated/unverified stories.

Still, have you any notion what other historians have said about Fischer's book & theory?


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Subject: RE: happy? – Dec 26 (Battle of Trenton)
From: GUEST
Date: 26 Dec 05 - 10:05 PM

And according to the recent book 1776, it wasn't so much due to Washington as to his outstanding field commanders that the battle was staged and won. Amazing what spin will do for a person's legacy, or lack of same.


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Subject: RE: happy? – Dec 26 (Battle of Trenton)
From: Ron Davies
Date: 26 Dec 05 - 10:15 PM

Washington did recognize military talent--even in unlikely sources--like a Boston bookseller.

As to what people say about Hackett-Fischer, the question here is the relative reliability of sources in the drunken Hessian story.


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Subject: RE: happy? – Dec 26 (Battle of Trenton)
From: Ron Davies
Date: 26 Dec 05 - 10:20 PM

The book Washington's Crossing is heavily footnoted, with many comparative sources examined.

If the sources of the drunken Hessian story are not as I have described, it would be good to have the specific documentary origins of the story.


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Subject: RE: happy? – Dec 26 (Battle of Trenton)
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 27 Dec 05 - 12:40 AM

"Widely accepted stories" are not history unless documented. Only untrustworthy 'tradition' supports the assertion that the Hessians were drunk.


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Subject: RE: happy? – Dec 26 (Battle of Trenton)
From: Abby Sale
Date: 27 Dec 05 - 09:28 AM

FWIW, I Googled [Review: +"Washington's Crossing" +"David Hackett Fischer"]

I was surprised at the high quality of the reviews and their completely laudatory opinions of Fischer and the book.

As a civilian, I have to rely on that.

But does it matter, OTOH? If Washington snuck up on them from behind & they were either exhausted or drunk? But I'll remove the 'drunk' reverence from the Happy File. And I thank you.


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Subject: RE: happy? – Dec 26 (Battle of Trenton)
From: PeteBoom
Date: 27 Dec 05 - 09:34 AM

The "drunk Hessians" tradition fits very well indeed into the model of many battles where the poor, hard-working, god-fearing, honest and true are pitted almost without hope against a leviathon of invulnerable opposition. Comparisons can be made to the French being loud and celebratory (as if celebrating their victory early) at Agincourt while Henry heard Mass said.

It plays well for the Loyalists to find a tool to differentiate between British factions and the German "foreigners" and blame those differences for the defeat. Similar things happened in offical accounts of Roman armies being defeated by "barbarians" in the last two centuries of the Roman (Western) empire. The Roman political types could not bring themselves to admit that the Legions of Rome could be defeated by savages, so there was always something (or someone) to pin it on - always something conveniently unprovable or someone conveniently dead on the field of battle.


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Subject: RE: happy? – Dec 26 (Battle of Trenton)
From: GUEST,Pete Peterson
Date: 27 Dec 05 - 10:35 AM

Anybody who has not heard him do it should hear Mike Agranoff recite his composition "The Battle of Trenton" in Joisey dialect, with attitudeand wonderful anachronisms.   It starts

"So, ya think that ya knows about history?
Ya liked when ya took it in school?
Dose bookworms, dey don't know nutting!
If you think they do, you's a fool!

"I'll tell you how it all happened
When me and George Washington saw
How to cross the Delaware River
And turn the tide of da war"

(I'd post the whole thing, but don't feel good about posting something I know Mike wrote)


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Subject: RE: happy? – Dec 26 (Battle of Trenton)
From: Ron Davies
Date: 27 Dec 05 - 09:43 PM

One of the main factors in the Trenton success for the Americans appears to have been the weather--it was so dreadful (nor'-easter, I believe) that the Hessians finally, after days of high alert, felt it was safe to let down their guard a bit. (But not by getting drunk). So, even though the attack fell way behind schedule, and not all the troops Washington was planning on were able to cross the river, the weather was such that this did not doom the undertaking.

So, as with the providential fog which allowed Washington's army to escape after the New York debacle, the weather helped the colonists' cause.

Small wonder that some colonists did in fact feel that Providence favored them.

Re: history:   there's no reason, in my opinion, to have a "low opinion of history". It seems clear the thing to do is treat history as a mystery--consider every story with a jaundiced eye unless corroborated by several sources. The more information the better--but quality of source is crucial.

I've also just learned that Fischer won the 2005 Pulitzer for history---for this book--which, indeed, is not only extremely well researched, but also a gripping story.


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Subject: RE: happy? – Dec 26 (Battle of Trenton)
From: PoppaGator
Date: 28 Dec 05 - 02:17 AM

For what it's worth, the annual attempt to re-enact Washington Crossing the Delaware actually occurred this past Sunday for the first time since 2001. Safety concerns about abnormally high water and fast currents have prevented the reenactors from rowing across the Delaware above Trenton for several years in a row.

These days, the reenactment (or attempt thereupon) takes place in daylight on Christmas afternoon, in two bulkly longboats built with an eye to historical accuracy. The actual crossing took place after dark on Christmas night in miserable weather, undoubtedly much nastier than the conditions that caused the recent ceremonial crossings to be scrubbed. And large numbers of boats were involved in the actual campaign, so many that it required several hours ~ all night, essentially ~ to get all the troops across.

I visited Washington Crossing State Park (on the New Jersey side) as a young schoolboy, and learned the then-current version of history wherein the no-good Hessian mercenaries were described as dead drunk. More recently, I read David McCullough's (sp?) 1776, which seemed to provide a much more nuanced interpretation; at least, as a reader I had become more mature and better able to appreciate how it was the element of surprise that was critical, and that the Hessians were simply caught badly off-guard, regardless of how much they may have had to drink.

Hell, they could have been relatively incapacitated simply by having eaten too bountiful a Christmas dinner, with no alcohol at all (unlikely as that would have been at that time and place). It's probably just as unlikely that the Hessians were cold sober and totally alert as that they were, to a man, dead drunk and totally defenseless.

The victory at Trenton was the result of near-perfect timing, for which Washington certainly deserves more credit than does Demon Rum. Of course, his junior officers may well deserve more credit than generally acknowledged, for instigating the strategy and pressing their boss to make the move...


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Subject: RE: happy? – Dec 26 (Battle of Trenton)
From: Abby Sale
Date: 28 Dec 05 - 09:26 AM

I've had 1776 sitting on my bedside table a few weeks now. I reckoned any book so highly recommended by Jon Stewart should be pretty good. Guess I have to actually read it now. I suppose it would have been handy to have read it before doing up this item, too.

Ron, re history, I agree, of course. You put it well. The careful reasearcher intelligently assessing "best evidence" is all one can hope for. I object to the lazy one rehashing old stuff and claiming to be authoritative. (I don't claim to be authoritative.)

I object to govenments and school boards and religious institutions and newspapers and PC groups rewriting the stuff and teaching it to the public as canonical.

I object to the notion that "almanacs" are less accurate than "history." I object to the assumption that oral history is always wrong when it differs from written history. (I'd accept 'often' or maybe even 'usually' - just not 'always.')

Thanx All


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Subject: RE: happy? – Dec 26 (Battle of Trenton)
From: Ron Davies
Date: 28 Dec 05 - 10:23 PM

Regarding credit for the idea of attacking Trenton, there is plenty of room for both Washington and his subordinates.

Colonel Joseph Reed, Washington's adjutant, sent a letter to Washington detailing the activity of various militia groups, especially the group led by Samuel Griffin.   According to Fischer, Reed proposed a choice "We can either give him a strong reinforcement--or make a separate attack--the latter bids fairest for producing the greatest and best effects"

McCullough's comment: "What was remarkable was the degree to which it corresponded with Washington's own mind and plans".

Fischer: "Washington called a council of war. The general announced that the army had grown stronger; all of the reinforcements from New England had now arrived. The meeting debated Reed's plan for crossing the Delaware and attacking one of the enemy's posts in New Jersey. The council agreed very quickly , and a long discussion followed on how it might be done. Much of the conversation was about the weather, the river, and boats."


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