This Week's Story

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American troops cross the icy Delaware River on Christmas Day for a surprise attack.

This Week’s Story relives American history and the Bible through brief inspiring stories presented on mp3 audio recordings and text for reading.

Victory or Death

“Don’t be a fool.  General Washington is not going to move his army to attack the German base at Trenton, New Jersey.  It’s Christmas Day!”

"Maybe not, but the Americans and British have been chasing each other for months.  I heard a British officer say, ‘Tis almost impossible to catch them.  They will neither fight, nor totally run away…they keep at such a distance that we are always a day’s march from them.”  The Americans know it is time to engage.  They need a victory.”

“It better not be tonight.  All these German soldiers hired to fight for us will be celebrating by drinking.  They’ll be drinking so heavily that Gabriel’s trumpet could not awake them.”

As the British officers talked, Washington’s forces were turning out for evening parade.  It was 4:00 P.M.  They, including the officers and musicians, were issued munitions. They were informed, “You’re going on a secret mission.”  They soon learned that they were to cross the Delaware River and attack the German installation in Trenton.  At 6:00 P.M. they left camp.  It was ninety minutes after sundown.

Victory was essential this Christmas evening of 1776.  Many of the Americans would be leaving the Continental Army at the end of the year.  Their enlistments would be finished.  They had been defeated badly in New York.  One thousand and seven hundred of the troops with Washington were too sick to join the attack.  They needed hospital care.  Morale had been collapsing.  It had improved since General Washington ordered that Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, “The American Crisis,” be read to all his men.  If they were suffering, they needed to understand why.

Paine’s words stirred them.  “These are the times that try men’s souls; the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.  Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”

As the Americans moved ahead for the surprise attack, the weather was rapidly worsening from dripping cold rain, to downpour, to sleet, and finally to snow with ferocious winds. Visibility was near zero.  German guards could not see activity on the river, as Americans climbed into boats and began the river crossing.  Artillery and horses were loaded onto large ferries.

The biggest immediate danger was the chunks of ice floating on the water.  Most of the troops could not swim.  Colonel Knox, chief of artillery, had a mighty roar that kept the troops focused on their duties.

Among the first troops to land was General Washington.  With other soldiers he formed a guard line around the landing.  His presence inspired his men. With his six feet and three inches, his soldiers could easily see he was with them.  He appeared to them as a giant; their average height was five feet and six inches.

As new troops arrived, no soldier could pass through the line without giving the password “Victory or Death.”

When the Americans attacked, the Germans were thrown into chaos.  The battle was brief.  1,000 Germans were taken prisoner, 22 killed, and 96 wounded.  Guns, powder, and artillery were captured.   American casualties were dramatically lower with three killed, and six wounded.

In the final battle plan Washington intended that three American groups would cross the Delaware River.  Only Washington’s group was successful.  Yet, in the conclusion of the battle Colonel Knox declared, “”Providence seemed to have smiled upon every part of this enterprise.”  Knox knew, as he was not only the chief of the artillery, but Washington had given him charge of the crossing logistics.

This is Barbara Steiner inspired by the courage of Americans and God’s intervention amidst great challenge.  Please check out:

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This story was AWESOME!! My favorite part of the story was when General Washington and his men went to battle! I also thought it was really cool that they used "Victory or Death" as the password!! Thank you Ms. Steiner! by Connor

I was fascinated how the battle went when they crossed the river to fight the Germans. I also was fascinated by all the men they killed, wounded and imprisoned. by Wyatt

The descriptions of the bloody footprints in the snow were vivid and really stuck in my mind. I would have never gone through what those soldiers endured. by Jenny

I thought it was incredible how only three American soldiers were killed in battle, and only six wounded! Wow! What an amazing battle; I'm just amazed how successful this battle was. by Fatima

I learned today in the story that one of the famous battles of the Revolutionary War was fought on Christmas. Three groups of American soldiers tried to cross the Delaware River to start the surprise attack. Only one group succeeded! by Kenna

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