After losing the Battle of Brooklyn Heights, Aug. 27, 1776, the Continental Army was driven out of New York, across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania. In six months, ranks dwindled from a high of 20,000 at the time the Declaration of Independence was approved on July 4th down to just 2,000 by December of 1776. And these were planning on leaving at the end of year when their six-month enlistment was up, as they had their farms, shops and families to tend to.
General Washington rallied his troops to stay by having Thomas Paine’s “The American Crisis” read to them. It began: “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.”
Philadelphia fell into a panic as fear set in that British troops would invade and occupy the city, which they did later in 1777.
Congress’ last instruction to General Washington, December 12, 1776, was: “… until Congress shall otherwise order, General Washington shall be possessed of full power to order and direct all things relative to the department, and to the operations of the war.”
With the password for his military operation being “Victory or Death,” Washington’s troops crossed the ice-filled Delaware River on Christmas Day evening in a blizzard. Trudging through blinding snow, with two soldiers freezing to death on the march, they attacked Trenton, New Jersey, at daybreak, Dec. 26, 1776.