History : Dec 2015-Jan 2016
he wrote to his brother Jack in late autumn. Yet, in spite of his own despondency, Washington rallied, understanding that if he did not turn the tide somehow, the Revolution would be a short-lived disaster. And so on a bitter cold Christmas night, Washington famously led his broken, barefoot army from their winter camp at Valley Forge, crossing the Delaware River to attack Trenton, New Jersey. The American vic- tory there was small but profound, reinvigorat- ing Washington, his forces, and the patriotic cause—at least for a few months. For the next four years, Washington battled on, carping at Congress to feed and supply his men, fending off attacks on his own leadership, and all the while keeping an eye firmly on the enemy. Gradually, he learned to fight the British more strategically, using local militia to harass them and avoiding “a general action”that would “put anything at Risque [sic].” His men came to revere him for his courage, calm, determination, and, above all, for being at their side battle after battle, march after march, year after grueling year. The Philadelphia patriot Benjamin Rush once declared that Washington had “so much martial dignity in his deportment that you would distinguish him to be a general and a soldier from among 10,000 people. There is not a king in Europe that would not look like a valet de chambre by his side.” Peace at Last By 1781 Washington’s resolve had triumphed over the British, and two years later America could officially claim her hard-won indepen- dence. By then Washington was more icon than man to most of the world. One Dutch merchant who caught sight of him as he rode through THE FIRST PURPLE HEART Washington instituted the iconic award in 1782 to recognize bravery in action. The original was a heart-shaped piece of purple cloth with silver braid. Only three were awarded in the war. RICCARDOSPILA/FOTOTECA9X12 CHICAGO HISTORY MUSEUM/BRIDGEMAN/ACI BRIDGEMAN/ACI The Purple Heart bears a bust of Washington and the words “For Military Merit.” THE PURPLE HEART, AS AWARDED TO AMERICAN SERVICEMEN TODAY Washington’s farewell to his closest officers in 1783 at Fraunces Tavern, New York, was an emotional occasion for those who had grown to respect and love him during the long war.