Short excerpts from the book

Moments That Made America

By Geoff Armstrong

Battle of Trenton

(Book One- "From the Ice Age to the Alamo")

Available Now

            Just before Christmas 1776, General George Washington met with his officers and laid out a bold plan. On December 26, they would attempt a surprise attack on the Hessian garrison now in winter quarters at Trenton, New Jersey, a few miles away on the other side of the Delaware River.

            The weather was appalling. Battling snow, sleet and hail, Washington's army reached the Delaware late in the evening on Christmas day. Earlier, Colonel John Glover's regiment, mostly former sailors, had ranged up and down the river collecting boats and barges. The crossing began late and the wind had picked up considerably. The dark river was choked with large chunks of ice, making the crossing even more treacherous. They finally completed the crossing just before dawn and began their 9-mile march to Trenton and the Hessians. If the plan failed, there would never be another battle in this war.

 

            The Continentals arrived at Trenton at 8 o’clock in the morning, in the midst of a driving snowstorm. The march had been a nightmare, so bitterly cold that two men froze to death. Now, if the Hessians were waiting, alert and ready to fight, it was probably going to end very badly for Washington and for America.

            By the grace of whatever force was watching over Washington, the Continentals arrived on the outskirts of Trenton to find almost the entire Hessian garrison, including Colonel Rall, still in bed. Washington and his army had achieved complete surprise.

            The few Hessian sentries on duty managed to rouse some of their men who staggered into the fight. Those who could, put up an intense struggle, but the confusion and surprise hampered their ability to properly organize their defenses.

            With the battle already well under way, Rall finally awoke to find that the Americans already controlled several key points and many of the major buildings. Desperate, he attempted to pull his troops together but it was too late. With the battle less than an hour old, Rall was shot from his horse. Their leader down, overwhelmed by the turn of events and hopelessly disorganized, the Hessians quickly surrendered. Rall died later of his wound.

            For the colonies, the effect of the battle of Trenton was electrifying, and based on the numbers involved and the casualties, way out of proportion to anything that could reasonably be expected by the Americans. It was their first real victory in the war. A ragtag bunch of Americans had tackled the illustrious, unbeatable Hessians and humiliated them. That their commander Johann Rall had died from his wound was probably a mercy.

            For the British, the news of Rall’s defeat was staggering. It was hard for them to accept that a powerful Hessian force could put up so little resistance and be beaten so soundly, but the British weren’t done with Washington just yet. The war was far from over, but for now it didn’t matter. That unlikely victory would have far reaching consequences on both sides of the Atlantic and helped make America.

  

Valley Forge

(Book One- "From the Ice Age to the Alamo")

Available Now

​        Just before Christmas 1777, Washington’s Continental Army moved into winter quarters at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, a place that will live forever in American history. It was a good location, properly defensible with two areas of high ground in case of British invasion, but the war had taken its toll and the men who arrived there were in terrible shape: poorly trained, undisciplined, argumentative, unkempt, it was an unruly mob, not an army .

         It started snowing soon after they arrived and it took a month to finally build enough huts for the men, but it was going to be a difficult winter. However, with the assistance of an unusual volunteer calling himself Baron Von Steuben, the army that emerged from Valley Forge the next spring was a far different and far better army than the one that had arrived there.

Francis Scott Key

(Book One- "From the Ice Age to the Alamo")

Available Now

          During the war of 1812, on the night of September 13/14, British Naval forces launched a massive bombardment on Fort McHenry, a small fort defending Baltimore Harbor. Onboard a British truce ship was an American lawyer and sometime poet by the name of Francis Scott Key. Key had been on a mercy mission to obtain the release of a Dr. William Beanes being held by the British.       With the attack in full force, Key and Dr. Beanes were forced to remain onboard the British ship where they watched the immense bombardment. The next morning, when Key saw the Star Spangled banner still flying above the tough little fort, he must have been as stunned as his fellow Americans. In a moment of inspiration at the totally unexpected sight, he began writing a poem that contributed to the making of America. He called it “Defense of Fort McHenry”.

 

“O! say can you see, by the dawn's early light,

What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming,

Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,

O'er the ramparts we watch'd, were so gallantly streaming?

And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,

Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there -

O! say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave

O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?”

Surrender at Appomattox

(From Book Two - "Civil War to Superpower")

Publishing Date: May 2019

          General Robert E. Lee had given everything he had to the Southern cause. He had sent tens of thousands of young men and boys to their deaths, but the grim facts of their situation were undeniable. The Confederacy was finished and Lee knew it.

            Late in the afternoon of April 7, the first of several messages from Union General Grant arrived asking Lee to surrender. Lee, however, wasn’t quite ready to agree. Later that same day he responded to Grant’s overture, but asked what Grant would offer as surrender terms.

            Unrealistic, determined, or just hopeful, and mindful that he was dealing with “Unconditional Surrender” Grant, Lee was trying to hang on, but his army was disintegrating. Desertions were rampant and without supplies, his men were hopelessly short of ammunition. They were also desperately hungry.

            Knowing all this, Grant sent Lee another letter. The terms he offered were unusually generous and Lee finally accepted the inevitable and agreed to meet General Grant.

           

  

            The most important meeting in the history of the Civil War took place in a small village called “Appomattox Court House”. The setting for the meeting was the brick home of a Wilmer McLean who had moved his family there from Manassas Junction after the First Battle of Bull Run, so that he could escape the war. The irony, or the working of Providence, could not have escaped Mr. McLean. The first major battle of the war literally started on his farm when Union artillery fired at his house, which was being used as Confederate headquarters. Now it was ending in his parlor.

            The moment in Wilmer McLean’s parlor that ended that terrible war has been told over and over again until it has become part of the American gospel. No one tells it better than the prime mover of that moment that helped make America: General Grant himself. Taken from Grant’s memoirs, it was written twenty years after the war, shortly before Grant’s death in 1885 and about 15 years after the death of General Lee in 1870.


 

          “What General Lee's feelings were I do not know. As he was a man of much dignity, with an impassible face, it was impossible to say whether he felt inwardly glad that the end had finally come, or felt sad over the result, and was too manly to show it. Whatever his feelings, they were entirely concealed from my observation; but my own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on the receipt of his letter, were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse..."

Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

(From Book Two - "Civil War to Superpower")

Publishing Date: May 2019

       On April 14, 1865, the City of Washington might have been one of the happiest places on the planet. A few days earlier, the South’s most feared military leader, General Robert E. Lee, had surrendered his entire army to Ulysses S. Grant. To cap that victory, Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, along with most of his government, was on the run. For Lincoln, the black cloud that had been hanging over him for the past four years seems to have lifted.

           That evening, the Lincolns decided to relax and enjoy an evening at Ford’s Theater. The play that night at was a three-act comedy called “Our American Cousin”.

            The most anticipated line in the play, and the one that reportedly got the most laughs were the last words that President Lincoln would ever hear: “Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal — you Sockdologizing old man-trap."

            Among the people in the theater that night was another waiting in anticipation for that laugh line: His name was John Wilkes Booth. He was not there to enjoy the play. He was there with a specific purpose —  the murder of the president.

               The details of the few minutes that changed America are burned into the American soul: the roar of laughter from the audience as the expected laugh line is delivered; the muffled report of a small pistol, most of the sound lost in the laughter; the president’s head slumping forward in his rocking chair; the barely noticeable struggle in the president’s private box; a man, immediately recognized as the famous actor Booth leaping onto the stage brandishing a knife with the cry “Sic semper tyrannous”; the ghastly shriek from Mary Lincoln when she realizes that her most terrible fear has been realized.

            With a bullet fired into his brain from behind, Lincoln would linger for a few hours and die the next morning. Just days away from total victory, the man who led his nation to that victory would never see its end.

          On April 26, Booth was shot by Union soldiers as he tried to escape. His last words as he looked at his hands, “Useless, useless”, accurately sums up what he made of his life.

Statue of Liberty Torch Arm

(From Book Two - "Civil War to Superpower")

Publishing Date: May 2019

In 1876 America threw a party and invited the world. On May 10th, President Ulysses S. Grant officially opened the first world's fair held in North America. It celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Nearly every nation in the world had something to exhibit, but more than anything else the fair was designed to showcase the industrial power, the inventive skill and the vast natural resources of the United States.

        Among the many exhibits were items that no one from a previous generation could have imagined.  Exactly two months earlier, A Scottish immigrant named Alexander Graham Bell had spoken the first words ever transmitted by electricity using his recently patented device that would come to be known as the “telephone”. It would help make America and would change the world. Here, at the Centennial Exposition it was one of 30,000 exhibits. Advances such as photography and the telegraph, which had reached across the Atlantic Ocean almost twenty years earlier, were familiar to everyone, as was the ability to cross the continent by train. The exhibits also included many new and unfamiliar items including a machine called the Remington Typographic Machine, better known as the “typewriter”, a substance introduced that year. called: “Heinz Tomato Ketchup”, and the huge right “torch” arm of a giant copper-clad statue that would eventually be assembled in New York’s busy harbor. It would soon be recognized all over the world as the “Statue of Liberty”.

           On the 4th of July 1876 celebrations exploded across a nation that should have never existed, yet there it was 100 years old and not only strong, but growing stronger. A fascinated world showed up at the great Exposition in Philadelphia. It came as much out of curiosity about America as anything else. The visitors would learn that America was not just here to stay, it was here to lead and the world got the message.

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