Catherine the Great of Russia (1729-1796) rebuffed King George III’s requests and bribes to have Russia side with Britain during the Revolutionary War. Instead, Russia continued trading with the American colonies, providing much-needed supplies. Catherine even attempted to negotiate a peace with France and Britain to bring an early end to the war in America’s favor.
Catherine the Great, and her General Grigori Potemkin (1739-1791), had recently defeated the Ottoman Muslim Turks on the Black Sea, taking control of the Crimea, and inflicting one of the most disastrous losses ever on the Ottoman navy at the Battle of Chesma, July 5-7, 1770.
Sultan Mustfa III (1717-1774), who titled himself Cihangir “World Conqueror,” is said to have died upon receiving the news that 38,000 Russians defeated his 80,000 Muslim Tatar cavalry and infantry in the Battle of Larga, July 7, 1770. Two weeks later, Russia defeated another 175,000 Turks at the Battle of Kagul.
America’s first minister to the Russian Court of Catherine the Great was Francis Dana, a member of the Continental Congress, being assisted by the young John Quincy Adams – the future sixth U.S. president.
In America, British troops defeated the Continental Army at the Battle of Brooklyn Heights, Aug. 27, 1776. The Continental Army was then driven out of New York, across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania.
In the six months following Congress’ approval of the Declaration of Independence, July of 1776, the Continental Army’s ranks dwindled from a high of 20,000 down to just 2,000 as of December of 1776. The remaining soldiers were planning on leaving at the end of year, as most had only volunteered for a six-month enlistment and needed to get back home to care for their neglected farms, shops and families.
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 the next year.
Congress’ last instruction to General Washington, Dec. 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 operations of the war.”
Washington made the password for his military operation “Victory or Death.” This reflected Washington’s General Orders, July 2, 1776: “The time is now near at hand which must probably determine whether Americans are to be freemen or slaves; whether they are to have any property they can call their own; whether their houses and farms are to be pillaged and destroyed, and themselves consigned to a state of wretchedness from which no human efforts will deliver them. The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army. Our cruel and unrelenting enemy leaves us no choice but a brave resistance, or the most abject submission. We have, therefore to resolve to conquer or die.”
On Christmas Day evening, 1776, Washington’s troops quietly crossed the dangerous, ice-filled Delaware River in a freezing blizzard. The army trudged through blinding snow in strict silence. Two soldiers froze to death on the march.
Washington’s army attacked the German Hessian troops stationed at Trenton, New Jersey, at daybreak, Dec. 26, 1776. Unable to get Russian troops, King George III and hired the feared Hessian mercenaries. Some historians suggest that the German Hessian mercenary troops may not have been on peak alertness due to the holiday, though other historians refute this.
Skilled in the fighting style of European warfare, where enemies faced off in an open field, the Hessians were not prepared for Americans firing from behind trees, walls and fence posts. Captain Alexander Hamilton maneuvered his six-pound cannons into position and fired them down King Street, tearing into the Hessian ranks.
Hessian colonel Johann Rall was shot, and without their commander, the remaining troops soon surrendered. The Americans captured nearly a thousand in just over an hour.
Among the Americans who were wounded were: William Washington, a cousin of General Washington; and the young Lieutenant James Monroe, the future fifth U.S. president, who was struck by a musket ball in the arm and bleeding badly. Doctor John Riker clamped the artery and saved his life.
Yale President Ezra Stiles stated in an Election Address before Connecticut General Assembly, May 8, 1783: “In our lowest and most dangerous estate, in 1776 and 1777, we sustained ourselves against the British Army of 60,000 troops commanded by … the ablest generals Britain could procure throughout Europe, with a naval force of 22,000 seamen in above 80 men-of-war. … Heaven inspired us with resolution to cut the Gordian knot … in the glorious act of Independence … sealed and confirmed by God Almighty in the victory of General Washington at Trenton. … Who does not see the indubitable interposition and energetic influence of Divine Providence in these great and illustrious events? …”
Ezra Stiles continued: “Who but a Washington, inspired by Heaven, could have struck out the great movement and maneuver of Princeton – that Christmas (Day) eve when Washington and his army crossed the Delaware? … The United States are under peculiar obligations to become a holy people unto the Lord our God.”
President Calvin Coolidge stated, Oct. 28, 1925: “Military critics have described Washington’s campaign of Trenton and Princeton as a military exploit of unparalleled brilliancy.”
Washington wrote Aug. 20, 1778: “The Hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in … the course of the war that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more wicked that has not gratitude to acknowledge his obligations; but it will be time enough for me to turn Preacher when my present appointment ceases.”
Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull wrote to General George Washington, August of 1776, in response to his plea for reinforcements: “In this day of calamity, to trust altogether to the justice of our cause, without our utmost exertion, would be tempting Providence. … March on! – This shall be your warrant: Play the man for God, and for the cities of our God. May the Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, be your Captain, your Leader, your Conductor, and Savior.”
Earlier, Governor Trumbull told Washington, July 13, 1775: “Be strong and very courageous. May the God of the armies of Israel shower down the blessings of his Divine Providence on you, give you wisdom and fortitude, cover your head in the day of battle and danger.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt stated Jan. 20, 1941: “America has been the New World in all tongues, and to all peoples, not because this continent was a new-found land, but because all those who came here believed they could create upon this continent a new life – a life that should be new in freedom. … If the spirit of America were killed, even though the Nation’s body and mind … lived on, the America we know would have perished. …”
FDR continued: “The destiny of America was proclaimed in words of prophecy spoken by our first President in his first Inaugural in 1789. … ‘The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered … deeply … finally, staked on the experiment intrusted to the hands of the American people.’ …”
Roosevelt ended: “If you and I in this later day lose that sacred fire – if we let it be smothered with doubt and fear – then we shall reject the destiny which Washington strove so valiantly and so triumphantly to establish. … As Americans, we go forward, in the service of our country, by the will of God.”
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