As a companion to the celebration of the birth of a savior, Christmastime is also an occasion to recall how our fledgling nation’s incomparable freedom was twice saved by a God-fearing people at this time of the year.
With the approaching end of 1776, the audacious words of declaring the transformation of the colonies into free and independent states put the 56 authors of that document at risk of being hanged as traitors to the reign of King George III.
Their fate and that of the fledgling nation was in the hands of the ragtag army assembled under the command of George Washington on the shores of the Delaware River.
Ill-equipped, malnourished and without winter clothing to protect them from the freezing cold, most of the soldiers, with their enlistments expiring just days later, would be moving from the battlefield to the comfort and safety of home.
It was entirely likely that the predictions from fellow countrymen and nations around the world that the upstart American rebels would be quickly defeated by the most powerful military on the planet would now come true.
Washington knew that a victory was what they needed most if the Revolutionary War was to continue.
No matter the risks attended to the circumstances of the moment, somehow crossing the river among frozen boulders of floating ice and attacking the enemy camped on the other side had to be attempted.
Washington would look to the heavens, “I flatter myself that a superintending providence is ordering everything for the best, and that, in due time, all will end well.”
The surprise assault on Trenton, N.J., that Christmas Eve was the triumph that ensured the survival of the Continental Army and the ultimate surrender years later of Great Britain, which freed the new American nation and its people.
Some 36 years later, it had to be fought again.
This time the setting would be the New Orleans where the outcome of the War of 1812 would be decided.
Were the British flotilla of warships and thousands of highly trained ground troops able to capture the city, they would control the Mississippi River, and then squeeze the American forces between there and the British strongholds on the East Coast.
Standing in their way was just a single American ship and a much smaller and diverse assembly of defenders under the command of Andrew Jackson.
The British forces advanced on three fronts with a battle plan to overthrow the Americans, seize the city and begin taking control of the whole country.
Camped out on the night of Dec. 23, 1814, the Redcoats had no idea what awaited them as they settled in before the dawning of Christmas Eve when they would launch their assault.
In a bold and totally unconventional nighttime attack, Jackson’s forces unloaded fierce canon fire along with the deadly skill of sharpshooters finding their marks amid the enemy campfires, decimated the would-be conquerors of New Orleans.
In the following several days it would take for the British to re-establish their forces, Jackson’s men reinforced their defenses and held off the superior numbers of the invaders and sent them packing back to England.
The war was over, and that would be the last time any nation would attack the shores of the United States.
Jackson explained the victory, “It appears that the unerring hand of providence shielded my men from the shower of balls, bombs and rockets.”
Both of these legendary military leaders who would become our first and seventh presidents recognized that for their mission to prevail, it required the hand of the infant whose birth we celebrate.
Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor and served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.