I recently came across this quote from American poet, Carl Sandburg. “Whenever a people or an institution forget its hard beginnings, it is beginning to decay.” Engraved on a plaque in the Cox corridor of the U.S. Capitol, these words serve as a reminder of how much sacrifice was involved in the origins of our country.
Thomas Paine penned in December of 1776, “These are the times that try men’s souls.
David McCullough in his book 1776, quotes Charles Peale in describing Washington’s troops camped on the shore of the Delaware River that dark December, “. . . they looked as wretched as any men he had ever seen. One had almost no clothes. ‘He was in an old dirty blanket jacket, his beard long, and his face so full of sores that he could not clean it.’ So ‘disfigured’ was he that Peale failed at first to recognize that the man was his own brother, James Peale, who had been with a Maryland unit as part of the rear guard.”
As McCullough notes, General Heath would write, some of the men were “destitute of shoes that the blood left on the frozen ground, in many places, marked the route they had taken.”
For this among so many other reasons, it is an amazement this tattered group would overcome enemy soldiers camped on the other side of the river. McCullough again, “. . . only four Americans had been wounded, including Captain Washington and Lieutenant Monroe, and not one American had been killed. The only American fatalities were the two soldiers who had frozen to death during the night on the road.” The Americans took 900 prisoners.
Yet, they couldn’t have known that in order to secure freedom, there would be seven more long years of war with estimates between 25,000 and 70,000 American casualties.
Hard beginnings, indeed.
In a later battle according to McCullough, a Revolutionary officer would write of George Washington, “I shall never forget what I felt . . . when I saw him brave all the dangers of the field and his important life hanging as it were by a single hair with a thousand deaths flying around him. Believe me, I thought not of myself.”
Katherine Lee Bates captured this thought so beautifully in “America the Beautiful,” “O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved . . ."
This Fourth of July as we’re shooting our firecrackers, firing up our barbecue grills, and taking a swim, let’s take time to remember. Let’s not forget the hardness of it all, the bloody feet and ragged soldiers who laid down their lives: let's thank God for their sacrifice. In continuing to remember, we help preserve that for which not only they, but so many have fought and died.
"Preserve me, God, for in Thee do I put my trust" (Psalm 16:1).
(Written in a Capitol Chapel stained glass window depicting George Washington in prayer.)
“O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved . . ." Katherine Lee Bates (click to tweet)
“Whenever a people or an institution forget its hard beginnings, it is beginning to decay.” Carl Sandburg (click to tweet).
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