my friend David and I spent a pleasant afternoon at a local
café along the banks of the Delaware River. The setting was
fitting considering the topic of conversation. We were just a
few miles north of where General Washington launched his Durham Boats
on Christmas Day of 1776, in order to take the Hessian stronghold at
Trenton. We spoke at
length about his Excellency and those other titans of the eighteenth
century that promoted and prosecuted the American cause.
At some point the question was raised as to why we no longer have men
of that capacity, competence or caliber charting the course of the
republic. As we grappled over the decision of which ice tea to drink
and what kind of artificial sweetener to use, the answer, to borrow a
phrase from Doctor Franklin, became self evident. The age of reason has
been overshadowed by the age of distraction.
The British military understood the power and reach of the handful of
individuals that were at the forefront of the revolution. By hanging
just a few of these unruly upstarts they reasoned that the rebellion
could be quelled with minimal impact upon their treasury or troops. The
whole of the Continental Congress and one particular gentleman from
Mount Vernon were undoubtedly in the English crosshairs.
During the brutal winter of 1779-1780, Washington for the second time
during the war headquartered at Morristown, New Jersey. The general
along with his wife, family servants and several aides-de-camp shared
the home of Mrs. Jacob Ford along with her four children and household
staff. The bulk of Washington’s forces were stationed at Jockey
Hollow a few miles southwest of his position. There the soldiers faced
disease, constant hunger, unrelenting cold and a series of blizzards
that left the army snowbound for much of that winter.
|GEORGE AND MARTHA SLEPT HERE
| THE GENERAL'S OFFICE
Washington wrote the Marquis de Lafayette on March 18th, 1780
from the Ford Mansion. "... The oldest people now living in this
Country do not remember so hard a winter as the one we are now emerging
from. In a word the severity of the frost exceeded anything of
the kind that had ever been experienced in this climate before. "
What the general was describing has been referred to by some
climatologists as “The Little Ice Age,” a period of extreme cold spikes
that lasted into the middle of the nineteenth century. During the early
part of 1780 New York Harbor was completely frozen, thus creating an
ice bridge from which either of the opposing armies could easily cross
in order to stage foraging raids or attack fortifications.
British Major John Graves Simcoe, the commander of the elite Queens
Rangers had successfully conducted mounted operations in New Jersey
during the fall of 1779. He knew the terrain well, and he was also
aware of Washington’s vulnerability at Morristown. He made plans to
stage a raid on the headquarters during the first week of February in
1780. Those plans were supplanted by Hessian General Wilhelm von
Kynphausen who had taken over command of the British forces in New York
from General Henry Clinton, who had moved a large part of the army
south in order to attack Charleston.
favored an alternate plan suggested by his own aide-de-camp.
Simcoe would stage a diversionary infantry attack on the rebel posts at
Woodbridge and Rahway, while the hussars of the Queen’s Rangers would
be reassigned to a separate force that would set off from Staten Island
to attack Morristown.
In this particular instance nature, which had so many times dealt a
cruel hand to Washington’s army, intervened on behalf of the
Continental cause. The heavy accumulation of snow greatly limited Major
Simcoe’s effectiveness, and an unexpected rainstorm left the snow
encrusted with a layer of sharp ice that cut the fetlocks of the
horses, forcing the cavalry to abandon the campaign.
There has been considerably speculation by writers and historians
what effect the absence of Washington might have had on the American
effort to secure independence. There are those who have questioned
Washington’s military prowess and judgment. And while he had his
detractors in the congress, among them John Adams on occasion, I firmly
believe the loss of this one individual would have meant eventual
capitulation by the colonies to English rule.
one man the American cause had found a leader,
statesman, diplomat, tactician and soldier. At no point in America’s
history had the fate of its citizens been so inexorably tied to the
actions and wellbeing of one man. And at no point had one man been more
deserving of the love and respect of a grateful nation.
|THE KITCHEN AT FORD MANSION