I watched the glistening, silver fish penetrate the iridescent surface of the water as they gracefully broke through their surroundings, and I began to contemplate what it must feel like to be able to soar above the world you live in. What lies beyond.
I have spent my entire life waiting. Waiting for a moment in which I could make something of myself, or show my father that I was more than the ignorant son of a candlestick maker. So there I was, attempting to prove my worth to my father.
Now and then, I wonder if it was the right decision to embark on this journey, for my father was dead when we arrived home. Had he have known how incredibly hard I had striven during our march, he might have found it in him to release a small amount of the pressure he had placed on my shoulders so that it bore down on me throughout my whole life. I know now not to dwell on matters that will forever remain impossible to alter. Afflicted with bloody images of men in agony, I walked up the creaky steps and found him cold and lifeless, but neatly laid upon the bed like a soldier on guard. The rigid look on his face made me wonder if he had known he was about to die, yet it was somehow peaceful. My father had been an honest man and a respected soldier.
I remember it as if it were yesterday. The dark, still night of December 25, 1776, we began our journey crossing the Delaware River, something I never would have expected to say.
I dragged my vision across the horizon, watching as my cloud of breath evaporated into the cold, crisp air.
“Remember to stay abreast,” said a nearby officer. I wasn’t used to constantly having to be fully attentive and alert. I’m still not for that matter.
“Yes sir,” I nervously replied. The sun was starting to look like a small hill jutting out of a distant landscape. I withdrew my oars and began to retreat to the stern of the boat. I was stopped by George Washington, our leader.
“What in the name are you doing?” he demanded.
“I… I… I was merely heading towards the stern to rest,” I said, walking back, with a bit more purpose. I sat down and the approximation struck me: I was going to have to force myself to labor through the wind as it whipped our freezing bodies.
I looked into the blanket of darkness that surrounded our boats and became aware of the delicate snowflakes that began falling, to be absorbed by the water or to decorate our bodies and boats. I would never have anticipated such tiny objects could inflict so much pain on my fingers.
On we rowed, suppressing our emotions, focusing on the challenging and dangerous journey ahead of us. My eyes trailed to the determined neighboring men. Their ragged clothes and grimy faces struck me with reality. At the age of 17, I began to ascertain what would follow the decision of embarking on such a journey. If I had only known that the most arduous part was still to come.
The boat became unstable as the rocks rose out of the water, damaging the keel, when we drifted closer to shore. It was still extremely dark, for it was only three in the morning. Soldiers immediately began to climb out of the boats and run to shore, water kicking up behind them, exasperated from paddling all through the night. I slid off the boat and my whole body began to shake violently as my feet made contact with the icy water. I felt as though my spine were no longer a part of my body. I could barely stand, let alone walk, as I made my way towards the bank.
I glanced up, looking for a sense of direction. General Stephen was conversing with General Washington about our whereabouts and strategies. I had a sudden urge to listen, knowing that a slight misunderstanding could lead to the deaths of many of our soldiers. However, I knew that I should keep this thought to myself, as I had complete and utter faith in our leaders.
I stood a little closer to the two generals and attempted to make out what they were saying.
“General Stephen, you are to lead your Virginia troops around the landing area, creating a sentry line, and I will do the same,” said George Washington.
“Our password shall be…” said General Stephen quietly.
“Victory or death,” said George Washington with an urgent whisper.
After a quick hour, the generals gathered the men and we began to march.
As each minute passed, it seemed the wind blew even harder, the path even steeper. I became aware of my exhaustion. Heading inland, we reached Pennington Road. Marching for another mile and half, we reached Bear Tavern, where some civilians decided to join us in the attack. We trudged forward.
Day started to become the slightest bit visible. Soon the sky was a mix of many striking colors — a source of momentum for many of the men. It was comforting for me to believe that the the blend of oranges, pinks, yellows and purples was a sign of hope, a sign of the beautiful things in life. It occurred to me we were not really very different to the silver, glistening fish, traveling as a group, soaring together.
I smiled. For once in my life, I felt I had hope. I felt I was finally being given a chance to please my father and make him realize that I had more value as a person than “the young boy that follows the candlestick-maker around.” I wanted so badly to make him proud.
Soon enough my smile began to fade. I looked back, expecting only to see the muddy trail behind us where many soldiers had marched, yet a dark red substance coated the snow. I become aware that many of our soldiers were without boots. They had torn off parts of their jackets and tied the fabric around their feet, yet the blood soaked through even that. I was extremely lucky to have my father’s old boots. Torn and weathered though they were, they were serving me well.
Eventually we crossed Jacob’s Creek, and it began to feel as though our marching was akin to pushing an enormous boulder uphill. The snow was becoming dirtier with blood
and I soon was able to smell it. Every man had a thick layer of snow coating his entire body. I was astonished since I had never seen so much snow on human beings. My bewilderment did not fade as I realized how much pain I was in. My entire body was aching, my hands were cracked and sore, my head was pounding and my face was burning sharply as, despite the rising of the sun, the cold intensified. I was incredibly ashamed of my weakness, but I was even more frightened that I would not be able to make it home. The wind was maliciously ripping at our bodies, pushing us back, and it’s howl was a fiendish laugh. The sky was no longer beautiful to me.
The troops were becoming sick from hunger so the generals decided it was time to rest. We stopped at Birmingham where Benjamin Moore’s family graciously provided we lucky ones with food and drink. Many men were left unserved, for there weren’t enough victuals to go around.
As our pace slowed, General Washington began to ride up and down encouraging us to keep marching. Having such an inspiring leader was important to all the men, me especially. I wished I’d had that in my father.
When the speed of our march picked up again, the tension began to build with the thought of the coming battle. Our eyes fastened on the path ahead. The snow was falling as hard and strong as ever, the wind began to roar, and the only other sound was the tramp of our feet. Now we began to march with a power that came from within. Faster and faster we marched towards Trenton.
And then… we stopped.
The moment the Hessians realized we had arrived, it was as if we had sounded a clarion. Everything went still, silent. Inside, I knew that each of us was filled with a monstrous sea of tension, anxiety, anger, and fear. Then, without warning, it seemed as if the whole of Trenton had broken into chaos.
Looking back, the battle is a blur of blood and agony. The climax I’ll never forget. Not because of our victory, not because of the two poor men we lost – mercifully few – the twenty-two Hessians killed and ninety-six wounded, the thousand prisoners we managed to capture, or the many weapons and artillery we took, but because, in the very last seconds of the battle, George Washington grabbed my hand, his face etched with radiance, and said to me, “This is a glorious day for our country.”
It is now December 25, 1788. I am continuing to discover what lies beyond, what part I am filling in the school of little fish soaring above the world they’ve always known.
The memory of our triumphant journey will forever be embedded in my mind, yet the burden on my shoulders continues to weigh as heavily as ever.
Katrina Fuller, Age 12, Grade 7, Berkeley Carroll School, Silver Key