The Bridge that Saved a Nation


Operation Disclosure | By James O’Brien, Contributing Writer

Submitted on September 11, 2021

“Our first object was to secure the bridge over the Hackensack, which laid up the river between the enemy and us, about six miles from us, and three from them.”
-Thomas Paine, The Crisis

The year was 1776, and it was a tumultuous one for the American cause in the Revolutionary War. July 4th had seen the milestone of the Continental Congress adopting the Declaration of Independence.

However, on the military side, the war had gone poorly for General George Washington and the Continental Army, and they had recently only escaped capture in New York by evacuating at nightfall under the cover of a miraculous foggy mist that rolled in at precisely the right time for them to vanish like Houdini from the grasp of the British Empire.

On November 19, British troops invaded New Jersey by crossing the Hudson River from New York and landing at Lower Closter Landing in Bergen County. This forced the Continental Army to evacuate their camp at nearby Fort Lee on November 20, and begin a twelve-day retreat across New Jersey, with the British forces in pursuit behind them.

General Washington wrote: “… the Enemy landed Yesterday Morning in very considerable Numbers about 6 Miles above the Fort. Their Intent evidently was to form a line across from the place of their landing to Hackinsack Bridge and thereby hem in the whole Garrison between the North (Hudson) and Hackinsack Rivers. However, we were lucky enough to gain the Bridge before them, by which Means we saved all our Men…”

Remarkably, within weeks Washington and his army would turn the tide. On Christmas night, Washington’s forces crossed the Delaware River back into New Jersey to win a small but important victory the next morning at Trenton, followed a week later by another victory at Princeton.

People often forget that Washington and his rag-tag army crossed the Delaware twice: First, to secure the original victory, but then once more, when they determined to face the greater forces of General Cornwallis, who they subsequently outsmarted in one of the most brilliant tactical maneuvers of the war, thus assuring the Revolution would continue though at least the winter.

Even King George, after the war, had to acknowledge that our General (and later first President) George Washington was “the greatest character of the age.”

These first victories in New Jersey revived the Continental army’s chances and their morale, but none of it would have been possible if they had not reached the New Bridge in time to save their hides back on November 20, 1776.

I was born only a couple of miles from this historic site at Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck, NJ, and my first childhood home was a similar short distance away in River Edge, though I never knew this passage of the Revolution was so very close by. Indeed, the ghost shadows of those soldiers walked the same grassy paths I played on as a youth. Perhaps, I was one of them myself in another life, it is hard to say for certain.

So, today, in honor of 9-11, I took a pilgrimage to that site to say a prayer for those we have lost and to those who have committed all to the cause of Freedom, both then and today. I placed a Washington Crossing the Delaware coin in the hollow of an old tree, a tree who let me know that it had indeed been there in those times, and witnessed those fateful passages, along with several other trees in the area. We often forget that some trees can live for not only hundreds of years, but thousands. That may be very rare, but they as yet see and know far more than we do, and they will share their mysteries with you if you have a heart and ear for it.
As I continued my trek across the bridge and into the surrounding woods, a busker or some kind of troubadour, perhaps from a nearby tavern I could not see, began playing a song. It was Bob Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are A-Changin.’

The Times They Are A-Changin’

It added a strange, mystic chord to the proceedings, as I explored the woods, and the area around the old revolutionary house and barn that General Washington had once made his base, with 14,000 of his troops. This was the location where Thomas Paine, who was with the Continental army during those dark days, wrote the following on a barrelhead:

“THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.

Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.

What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.”

His words inspired the enlisted men, most of whom were farmhands and tradesmen, to continue in service of this incredible, inspired quest for freedom. I had journeyed here myself today to say a prayer and to thank those who had crossed this river, when the fate of our nascent Country hung in the balance. Perhaps, somehow I could commune with them, as this was, in effect, right where I was born and grew up.

The nearby troubadour continued playing, transitioning into ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,’ the story of a confederate rebel who watched his city Richmond fall and his young brother die at the hands of a Yankee.

Though I know full well the importance of the North and the Union winning the Civil War, it struck me then in that timeless moment with the music wafting through the air, how much blood had bled into the soil in the cause of Liberty, on both sides of the two wars in America, and in other places across the world.

While slavery was a dark aspect of the story of the United States, as well as the treatment of the Native Americans, the First Americans, we must acknowledge the sacrifices so many young men made so that this nation could live up to the ideals of its sacred founding documents. They gave everything they had, and everything they were gonna have.

Though The Band does a powerful version of ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,’ particularly live in their final performance in The Last Waltz, I found myself listening to the Joan Baez version when I got home, who was, like The Band, a close friend of one Bob Dylan.

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

In the winter of ’65
We were hungry, just barely alive
By May the 10th, Richmond had fell
It’s a time I remember, oh so well

Now, I don’t mind chopping wood
And I don’t care if the money’s no good
You take what you need
And you leave the rest
But they should never
Have taken the very best

We must not forget that it was the United States of America that fought a bloody war here to end slavery. Today, around the world, slavery is prevalent in greater numbers than it was back then in early America. When will some of the other countries in the world join us in this cause and commit themselves to what is right? To what President Trump has called “the road less travelled.”

And now we are met this day on an age old battlefield of those two foes, Tyranny and Freedom. It is my belief that we are in the Second American Revolution, which began when then businessman Donald J. Trump took an escalator ride down into the Trump Hotel in NYC to declare his candidacy for President in the 2016 election.

Since that time We the People have been in a virtual state of war, between the old guard of Tyranny, and the central banks our founding fathers warned us of, and the Alliance which has formed to defend our sacred covenant of Freedom, made back in 1776 with The Founding Father, God Almighty.

While muskets are not being fired and bridges crossed at midnight under cover of fog, we have a different Enemy to face, one with biological weapons, as well as weapons of the mind, employed by their corporate media Empire. Nevertheless, the stakes are the same, and like Washington and his men, only by Divine Providence can we ever prevail against such an entrenched Enemy. And just like how you can grow up a few paces away from one of the most important sites in a world defining revolution, you can also miss this revolution as it is happening right under your nose.

When I left River Edge with my family at age 6, we moved to a nearby town called Harrington Park, to a street named Lincoln Terrace. While I will not relate the prayer I said by the waters of the Hackensack river today, below that fateful bridge, I will leave that as a silent prayer, and allow President Lincoln to state that prayer better than I ever could:

“We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863


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