New Year’s Eve, 1776: “Your country is at stake”

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On New Year’s Day 1777, Robert Morris wrote to George Washington and said: “The year 1776 is over, I am heartily glad of it and hope you nor America will ever be plagued with such another.”  While many of us have similar thoughts every New Year’s about the previous year, the year 1776 was exceptionally bad for the patriot cause, despite the Declaration of Independence being signed that summer.  After losing New York and a string of battles, Washington had shocked the world at Trenton on the day after Christmas.  This glimmer of hope was almost crushed by the fact that most of his army’s enlistments expired on January 1st.

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Here is an exclusive excerpt about this pivotal moment from the forthcoming book Victory or Death by Mark Maloy, one of the inaugural books of the Emerging Revolutionary War Series:

“Washington’s men had sacrificed much in the past few weeks and suffered greatly. Many believed they had done their duty, and rightly so. But at this moment, they were needed more than ever before. All day on December 31, 1776, Washington’s generals appealed to the soldiers to reenlist. Washington authorized an exorbitant $10 bounty
to those men who agreed to remain, this being funded by financier Robert Morris in Philadelphia. Some of his generals, such as Gen. Thomas Mifflin, a politician and public speaker from Philadelphia, were successful in retaining some of the men, others were not as successful. However, the most affecting scene was when Washington himself personally appealed to the patriotism of the men who had campaigned by his side. Washington paraded Gen. John Sullivan’s and Gen. Nathanael Greene’s divisions just outside Trenton. He entreated the men to stay on just a few weeks more. He asked those who wished to reenlist to move forward, but at that point no one moved. Sergeant Nathaniel Root of the 20th Continental Regiment (Connecticut) remembered that the men were “worn down with fatigue and privation” and had their “hearts fixed on home.” Washington, pleading with his brave soldiers wheeled his horse in front of the men and declared to them, “My brave fellows, you have done all I asked you to do, and more than could be reasonably expected; but your country is at stake, your wives, your houses and all that you hold dear. You have worn yourselves out with fatigues and hardships, but we know not how to spare you. If you will consent to stay only one month longer, you will render that service to the cause of liberty and to your country which you probably never can do under any other circumstances. The present is emphatically the crisis which is to decide our destiny.” After considering their commander’s words, more than two hundred of these men stepped forward to stay on and fight, and some of these men would be killed in the coming battles. The combination of patriotic pleas and hard currency helped persuade many more to
stay. Washington retained a force of about 3,000 men from his army. These veterans would prove invaluable in the coming days.”

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