“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will…shrink from the service of their country…”
Six months after declaring independence from England and her tyrant King George, the colonial army was on its last dying breath. The Empire had all but squashed the Rebellion and now occupied nearly every major city in the 13 colonies. Furthermore, they were within striking distance of Philadelphia. One more defeat would surely be the final blow to crush the American insurrection against the crown of England. Only the icy Delaware River stood between Washington’s army and certain annihilation. Across the water was a brutal Hessian army thirsty for blood. Retreat was in order.
It was winter. The Continental Army had just recently suffered several successive losses. Morale was in the gutter. Suffering from low morale is like waking up in miserable depression and lacking motivation to get out of bed. Take away the bed and replace it with hard, cold, frozen ground on a snowy December day in Northeastern Pennsylvania, and one might have an inkling of what low morale in 1776 was like for the Continental Army.
With most of his army’s enlistment drawing to an end, General George Washington, Commander in Chief, had to find a flicker of hope to kindle the flame of resistance once again. But how?
No, there was no point in continuing the fight at this time. It was, of course, unconventional to continue battling through the winter months. The army must retreat to a defensive position, set up a fortified encampment, and wait until Spring. This was simply the way things were done. There would be no shame in it. In fact, it would be the sensible thing to do.
“Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered…”
The devil with “sensible”. The Rebellion needed a spark and George Washington was the man for the job. Thomas Paine’s stirring words echoed in his head. He was encouraged by The American Crisis. His spirits lifted so much that he commanded his staff to have the pamphlet read to every outfit in his army.
Around the campfires at night and during the early morning muster, Thomas Paine’s words circulated around the camp.
“…yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” -Thomas Paine 1776
This was the moment of the ages. The underdog would lick his wounds no more. Retreat was not an option. The unwavering general addressed his men.
“Men…” His words trailed off for just a moment. “You’ve given the birth of this new nation everything. You’ve given me everything. You’ve given each other…everything. The cowards are no longer. The weak have buckled under the pressure. We, alone, remain.” Sadness and sobriety engulfed the orator and the audience.
“Men, I have no right to ask of you anything more.” Washington’s words grew louder and stronger, and the men perked their ears to hear their loving leader’s following request.
“I know your enlistments are drawing to an end. It’s Christmas. You should be home. But I do dare ask one thing of you: stay with me one more month. Remain with me and fight. I cannot do it alone. Your country cannot do it without you.”
Washington appealed to their patriotism and his men responded positively. Hope and zeal stirred within them. There were no pretenders, no cheap champions, no sunshine patriots, nor were there summer soldiers present on that cold Christmas Eve of 1776. Only Winter Soldiers remained.
On Christmas morning 1776, the Americans hand delivered a gift wrapped five finger death punch to the Hessian soldiers across the river. The tide of war had changed.
“Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.” -George Washington
I’ve always wondered what it was like for those men to be so downtrodden in despair during the winter of ’76 with so much at stake resting on their shoulders. I often think of the despair our nation has allowed itself to be in now. I think, “The Loyalists in 1776 who betrayed, fought against, and killed the freedom-loving Patriots had to be the most brain-washed, freedom-hating scum of the earth.”
It’s now 2021 and my eyes have been opened to so many connections from those days of old to now. We owe so much to those Winter Soldiers. The threat of Loyalists back then is as real as it is today. Pretended patriotism is real. Will I be a summer soldier? Will I be a sunshine patriot? God forbid it. The blood of American patriots cries against it. I stand with the Winter Soldiers of ’76. Do you?