Fw: 25 Dec 1776
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Sent: Sunday, December 25, 2011 9:04 AM
Subject: 25 DEC - TODAY IN HISTORY
1776 : Washington Crosses the Delaware
During the American Revolution, Patriot General George Washington crosses
the Delaware River with 5,400 troops, hoping to surprise a Hessian force
celebrating Christmas at their winter quarters in Trenton, New Jersey. The
unconventional attack came after several months of substantial defeats for
Washington's army that had resulted in the loss of New York City and other
strategic points in the region.
At about 11 p.m. on Christmas, Washington's army commenced its crossing of
the half-frozen river at three locations. The 2,400 soldiers led by
Washington successfully braved the icy and freezing river and reached the
New Jersey side of the Delaware just before dawn. The other two divisions,
made up of some 3,000 men and crucial artillery, failed to reach the meeting
point at the appointed time.
At approximately 8 a.m. on the morning of December 26, Washington's
remaining force, separated into two columns, reached the outskirts of
Trenton and descended on the unsuspecting Hessians. Trenton's 1,400 Hessian
defenders were groggy from the previous evening's festivities and
underestimated the Patriot threat after months of decisive British victories
throughout New York. Washington's men quickly overwhelmed the Germans'
defenses, and by 9:30 a.m. the town was surrounded. Although several hundred
Hessians escaped, nearly 1,000 were captured at the cost of only four
American lives. However, because most of Washington's army had failed to
cross the Delaware, he was without adequate artillery or men and was forced
to withdraw from the town.
The victory was not particularly significant from a strategic point of view,
but news of Washington's initiative raised the spirits of the American
colonists, who previously feared that the Continental Army was incapable of
1862 : Union Soldier Elisha Hunt Rhodes Writes About Christmas
On this day in 1862, Lieutenant Elisha Hunt Rhodes of the Second Rhode
Island spends Christmas Day in camp, singing with other officers and writing
in his diary: "I should like to be home this Christmas night."
Rhodes is one of the most famous diarists of the Civil War. He was born in
1842 in Cranston, Rhode Island, the son of a sea captain. He joined the
Union army when hostilities erupted in 1861, and fought at the First Battle
of Bull Run, Virginia, on July 21, 1861. Rhodes served with the Second Rhode
Island Infantry for the duration of the war, and fought in nearly every
major battle in which the Army of the Potomac was engaged. Rhodes became an
officer at age 20 and eventually rose from private to colonel. His vivid
account of the war was edited and published by his great-grandson, Robert
Hunt Rhodes, in 1985 as "All for the Union: The Civil War Diary and Letters
of Elisha Hunt Rhodes." Filmmaker Ken Burns featured Rhodes' war experiences
in his 1990 documentary "The Civil War."
Christmas 1862 was the second of Rhodes' four Christmases spent in the Army
of the Potomac, and his location for each charts the progress of the army.
The first two were spent in camps around Washington, D.C., the third near
Brandy Station in northern Virginia, and the fourth in the trenches around
Petersburg, Virginia. When in camp, Christmas was a welcome but short
respite from the monotony of an army winter. Rhodes does not record an entry
for 1861, and he comments in 1862 that it was a quiet day in which the
soldiers were excused from drill and he was visited by his brother-in-law
from Washington. In 1863, he rode his newly acquired army horse, Kate, on
Christmas Day, and gave a dinner party for other officers in the regiment,
during which they tried to celebrate the holiday "in a becoming manner." He
spent his last army Christmas in a small hut outside Petersburg. The Union
army was laying siege to the city, but there was little activity during the
cold weather. On Christmas Eve, Rhodes entertained officers from the 49th
Pennsylvania, and after their departure officers from the 37th Massachusetts
serenaded him. On Christmas morning, he took a ride and watched Union
soldiers hauling logs to build warmer quarters. Rhodes commented, "This is
the birth of the Saviour, but we have paid very little attention to it in a
religious way." He closed his entry by writing, "This is my fourth Christmas
in the Army. I wonder if it will be my last."
It was. Rhodes was discharged shortly after the end of the war in April 1865
and returned to Rhode Island. He worked as a cotton and wool trader for the
rest of his life and, like many soldiers, remained active in veteran affairs
In 1912, he brought his grandson, Frederick Miller Rhodes Jr. to Virginia
to show him the fields on which he had struggled a half-century before.
Elisha Hunt Rhodes died on January 14, 1917.
1914 : Enemies Exchange Christmas Greetings
On and around Christmas Day 1914, the sounds of rifles firing and shells
exploding fade in a number of places along the Western Front in favor of
holiday celebrations in the trenches and gestures of goodwill between
Starting on Christmas Eve, many German and British troops sang Christmas
carols to each other across the lines, and at certain points the Allied
soldiers even heard brass bands joining the Germans in their joyous singing.
At the first light of dawn on Christmas Day, some German soldiers emerged
from their trenches and approached the Allied lines across no-man's-land,
calling out "Merry Christmas" in their enemies' native tongues. At first,
the Allied soldiers feared it was a trick, but seeing the Germans unarmed
they climbed out of their trenches and shook hands with the enemy soldiers.
The men exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum puddings and sang carols
and songs. There was even a documented case of soldiers from opposing sides
playing a good-natured game of soccer.
Some soldiers used this short-lived ceasefire for a more somber task: the
retrieval of the bodies of fellow combatants who had fallen within the
no-man's land between the lines.
The so-called Christmas Truce of 1914 came only five months after the
outbreak of war in Europe and was one of the last examples of the outdated
notion of chivalry between enemies in warfare. It was never repeated—future
attempts at holiday ceasefires were quashed by officers' threats of
disciplinary action—but it served as heartening proof, however brief, that
beneath the brutal clash of weapons, the soldiers' essential humanity
1941 : British Surrender Hong Kong
On this day, the British garrison in Hong Kong surrenders to the Japanese.
Hong Kong was a British Crown colony whose population was overwhelmingly
ethnic Chinese. It was protected by a garrison force composed of British,
Canadian, and Indian soldiers. The British government, anticipating a
Japanese attack, had begun evacuating women and children on June 30, sending
them to Manila, capital of the Philippines. The Japanese had responded to
the evacuation by posting troops across the Kowloon peninsula, blocking
escape from Hong Kong by land.
One day after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese began their raid on Hong Kong as
part of their broad imperial designs on China and the South Pacific. The
British governor, Sir Mark Young, mobilized his forces, which were slim, and
his weaponry, which was antiquated. Within two weeks, Japanese envoys issued
an ultimatum-surrender or perish. The governor sent the envoys back with a
definite refusal. Consequently, the Japanese followed up with a land
invasion on the 18th of December. Ordered to take no prisoners, the Japanese
rounded up captured soldiers and bayoneted them to death.
Continued bombing raids severed water mains, and Japanese infantry took
control of remaining reservoirs, as well as the power station, leaving the
British with the threat of death by thirst. Despite cries from the governor
to "hold fast for King and Empire," no further resistance was possible by
the dwindling garrison forces. On 3:30 p.m. Christmas Day, white flags of
surrender were flown.