With American troops poised for action in Saudia Arabia, more than 200 history buffs re-enacted one of the nation's first military successes, Gen. George Washington's crossing of the Delaware.
The crossing Tuesday marked the 38th time enthusiasts equipped with colonial military regalia climbed into a quartet of 40-foot boats to duplicate the Christmas morning 1776 crossing that led to the first Battle of Trenton during the Revolutionary War.Washington's rout of British and Hessian mercenary troops quartered in Trenton was an important victory that helped keep together the ragtag army the colonists had sent into the field to challenge the armed forces of the world's largest military power of the time.
James Gallagher, marking his sixth appearance at the head of the troops as Washington, said the presence of military forces in the field half a world away brought special poignancy to this year's celebration.
"You see the events in the world and you realize the things the troops are facing in the Mideast this year," he said. "You try to remember that the things the colonists endured and the sacrifices they made ensured our freedom and you want that remembered."
Gallagher noted that on the eve of battle Washington was faced with possiblity of mass defections of his forces because the Continental Army's enlistments were about to end.
"One of the reasons the battle had to be fought was because the enlistments were going to end at the end of the month and the army was going to melt away," the Newtown Square, Pa., resident said. "He had to have something to reverse the trend. They couldn't get anyone to join because they hadn't won any battles recently."
As the forces assembled for the river crossing, Gallagher read from the Thomas Paine pamphlet Washington read to his men before the battle in Trenton, about six miles to the south.
"These are the times that try mens' souls," he read. "The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in these times of crisis, shrink from the service of his country, but he who stands it now deserves the the love and thanks of men and women."
A crowd of up to 6,000 people gathered on both banks of the river to watch the troops, in their historically correct uniforms, row across the river.
"This is a wonderful way to spend a Christmas afternoon. It really is delightful," said Val Hoskings of Lahaska, Pa.