December 25th: George Washington Crosses the Delaware River, Final Pardons for ex-Confederates, and Other Events of the Date
It’s Christmas Day, so we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. But, lest we forget that a number of important events have taken place on December 25 in U.S. history, here is our take on the most interesting and valuable of them.
1776 – American Revolutionary War: George Washington crosses the Delaware River
In his inspirational passage from The American Crisis pamphlet dated December 19, 1776, Thomas Paine wrote the words that wouldd serve as the motto for the Patriots to start the offensive against the Brits in late December: “…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…”. The very next day, General George Washington ordered his troops to get ready to cross the strategically important Delaware River.
The crossing occurred on the night of December 25–26, 1776 and marked the first move in a surprise attack organized by George Washington against the Hessian forces in Trenton, New Jersey, on the morning of December 26. Planned in partial secrecy, Washington led a column of Continental Army troops across the icy Delaware River in a logistically challenging and dangerous operation. The army crossed the river back to Pennsylvania, this time laden with prisoners and military stores taken as a result of the battle.
The operation was so successful that Washington's army then crossed the river a third time at the end of the year, under conditions made more difficult by the uncertain thickness of the ice on the river. What a risk that was for the notable General and his troops! Nonetheless, the Americans managed to defeat British reinforcements under Lord Cornwallis at Trenton on January 2, 1777 and defeated his rear guard at Princeton on January 3, before retreating to winter quarters in Morristown, New Jersey. Thus the Brits realized they faced an extraordinary power in the Patriots.
1837 – Second Seminole War: Battle of Lake Okeechobee
The Second Seminole War was one of many wars fought between the U.S. and Native Americans. It was fought primarily in the territory of present-day Florida between December 23, 1835 and August 14, 1842 and ended in the forcible transportation of more than 4,000 Seminoles to Indian Territory. Yet, the conflict remained unresolved, leading to another war that broke out in 1855.
The Battle of Lake Okeechobee was one of the key battles of the Second Seminole War. The opposing sides were the 800 troops of the 1st, 4th, and 6th Infantry Regiments and 132 Missouri Volunteers (under the command of Colonel Zachary Taylor), and between 380 and 480 Seminoles led by Billy Bowlegs, Abiaca, and Alligator.
The Seminole warriors literally fought for their rights, resisting forced relocation to a reservation in Oklahoma. Though both the Seminoles and Taylor's troops emerged from the battle claiming victory, Taylor was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General as a result, and his nickname of "Old Rough and Ready" came mostly due to this battle. As a result of the battle, Americans suffered 26 killed and 112 wounded, while the Native Americans suffered 11 killed and 14 wounded in the course of the battle. Since no Seminoles were captured and sent to Oklahoma as the result of the battle, we can say that the Native Americans achieved their goal as well as the tactical victory.
1868 – American Civil War (aftermath): Final pardons for ex-Confederates
Both Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Jackson realized the country was still divided after the end of the Civil War back in 1865. No matter how humiliating this defeat was for the South, many people there still thought they’d fight back and take their revenge on the Yankees. After the assassination of Lincoln, who was the first American president to offer full amnesty for the Southern soldiers, the idea was picked up by his successor, Andrew Jackson.
Since the state treason accusations were lifted from former Confederate soldiers, they had to take the following oath:
“I, _____, do solemnly swear or affirm, in presence of Almighty God, that I will henceforth faithfully support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Union of the States thereunder. And that I will, in like manner, abide by and faithfully support all laws and proclamations which have been made during the existing rebellion with reference to the emancipation of slaves, so help me God…”
December 25, 1868 marked the final pardons made for ex-Confederates, as the U.S. President stated: "unconditionally, and without reservation, ... a full pardon and amnesty for the offence of treason against the United States, or of adhering to their enemies during the late civil war, with restoration of all rights, privileges, and immunities under the Constitution and the laws ..." Such measures helped the former Confederates adapt to the new reality and be accepted by society as full-rights Americans. Yet, from the cultural point of view, the main “battles” were yet to be fought.
These are the most notable events in U.S. history that occurred on December 25, at least in our view.