04 July 2008

Independence Day - the Pledge

(Originally posted 4 July, 2007.)

"We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."

- The Declaration of Independence

Today it seems that every soldier killed in action and every minor skirmish involving American troops is front-page news. But 231 years after the Declaration of Independence was ratified by the Continental Congress, we seem to have lost sight of the everyday heroics and sacrifices that made this republic possible. The Revolutionary War took eight years to win, with many defeats and setbacks along the way. We owe those who stuck with it and made those sacrifices more than we know.

Brendan Miniter's column in yesterday's Opinion Journal takes a look back at the Revolutionary War battles which took place in and around New York.

As a New Jersey native, the tragic retreat of General Washington's small Army through the state during the winter of 1776 was always very real to me. Many homes are historical monuments, and main throroughfares are marked with the sign "1776 Retreat Route". And then there's the Palisades along the Hudson River, where fortifications still stand.

At that time the Army was in a critical state in every way. It lacked clothing, food, tents, and ammunition. It was composed chiefly of militia, and many of their terms of service were about to expire. The military force was on the point of dissolution, and faced the presence of a well-disciplined, well-appointed, and victorious enemy.

Washington's pleas for reinforcements and supplies to all quarters - particularly to General Lee - went unanswered. He was forced to retreat further into New Jersey, finally crossing the Delaware River in December.

But there was one thing that represented to me the courage and determination of this small, poorly supplied Army more than any other: The large iron rings bored into the cliffs of the Palisades, to which a chain across the Hudson River was once attached. I will never forget my father explaining their history to me.

Inside what is now Bear Mountain State Park, not far from West Point, fortifications were built to stop the British from gaining control of the Hudson River and with it the ability to split New England and eastern New York from the rest of the country, which might have allowed the British to pacify less rebellious Southern states.

American soldiers had stretched a large chain across the Hudson, built fortifications and waited. A year after Washington was driven from New York City, the British launched an ambitious campaign. Gen. John Burgoyne was dispatched to move south from Canada and link up with other British forces, some of whom would sail up the Hudson. In October 1777, the king's army arrived in the Hudson Valley, assaulted the fortifications and, with a final bayonet charge, defeated the Americans. They then broke the chain.

Those who defended the redoubt that still stands today held off waves of British soldiers before finally being defeated. And their gallantry wasn't in vain. By forcing the British to take the valley by force, the Americans set in motion a series of events that would help win the war.

During these darkest days of the Revolutionary War there were many who lost faith. History will again show that the gallantry of today's warfighters to be no less in vain than that of their comrades. That is the chain which will never be broken.

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