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Delaware River—1, Washington Recreator—0

Well, yesterday was the big day … no, not Christmas … Washington crossing the Delaware. It happened the first time in 1776, and re-creators continue to celebrate the event that signaled a change the course of the Revolutionary War, leading to the establishment the United States.

The Daily Flag reported on the choosing of the new George Washington in September. The event wasn’t without incident yesterday, either. The Delaware River refused to cooperate, sweeping away the first boat to try the crossing. Because of the poor river conditions, the event was scrapped.

Unlike the original crossing, the United States wasn’t at stake. Safety first!

Swift waters keeps “Washington” from crossing Delaware | Chron.com – Houston Chronicle
washington-at-delaware-river.jpgWASHINGTON CROSSING, N.J. — This George Washington could not make it across the Delaware River.

Ronald Rinaldi III was prepared to play the role of the military leader whose daring Christmas crossing led to a rout of British-led forces and revived the downtrodden Continental forces.

Rinaldi, 45, had taken part in every re-enactment of Washingtons crossing of the Delaware since 1976, amassed more than 500 books on the American Revolution and earned a degree in U.S. military history.

But this year, he and his fellow re-enactors were done in by the rivers strong currents.

As Rinaldi and hundreds of spectators watched, the first boat that attempted the short voyage from Pennsylvania got carried downstream. A rescue craft had to snare it. Three boats had trained to cross the river this year in the 55th-annual re-enactment, and dozens participated.

“It wouldnt be a Christmas Day without going down there,” Rinaldi said.

There’s always next year!

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Happy Birthday New Jersey!

Today is the State of New Jersey’s 220th birthday. New Jersey was the third state to sign the United States Constitution, on December 18, 1787. New Jersey’s official state flag was adopted on March 26, 1896.

State Flag of New Jersey

State Flag of New Jersey

The flag has a buff (light yellow-brown) background, a color chosen because it was one of the colors selected by General George Washington in 1779 for the uniforms of his New Jersey Continental Line.

A portion of the state seal (designed by Pierre Eugene de Simitiere in 1777) is in the center. In the center is a blue shield with three plows in it. On the sides of the shield are the goddess of liberty (holding a staff and the cap of freedom) and the goddess of agriculture (holding a cornucopia filled with food).

Above this is the head armor of a knight, a horse’s head, and blue filigrees. Below are the words “LIBERTY AND PROSPERITY” and the date “1776.” The goddesses symbolize liberty and prosperity.

Nine states ratified the Constitution in December


December is a busy month for state birthdays. Nine states ratified the Constitution in December, beginning with our “first” state—Delaware, which was admitted to the Union on December 7, 1787.

Other “December” birthdays are:

Pennsylvania—December 12, 1787
New Jersey—December 18, 1787
Indiana—December 11, 1816
Mississippi—December 10, 1817
Illinois—December 3, 1818
Alabama—December 14, 1819
Texas—December 29, 1845
Iowa—December 28, 1846

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The Man Who Would be President

This year’s WinnerDaveJ, our field correspondent, filed this story about a competition to be George Washington. Were you aware of the importance of choosing the right person to portray General Washington in the upcoming reenactment of Crossing the Delaware?

This panel of judges took their roles very seriously to find just the right man for the job. After all, he will become President after the war.

That’s Our George Washington – Roadside America
The judges quizzed the Revolutionary War generals, asking them to describe economic conditions of the time, troop movements and battle strategies. The classic historical re-enactor’s dilemma — “How would you handle first person vs. third person interpretations to answer visitor questions?” was put to each Washington. Then all had an opportunity for a spirited address to “the troops” — in this case, the media, family, and visitors sitting in the audience.

Story and pictures from Roadside America
Hat Tip to DaveJ

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Crossing the Delaware

Washington_Crossing_the_DelawareLast night, Deborah and I watched the movie, The Crossing, starring Jeff Daniels as George Washington. The movie covers about one week during the Revolutionary War, culminating with the Battle of Trenton.

The Battle of Trenton was a major turning point of the war. German-American artist Emanuel Leutze famously painted Washington standing in the front of a boat, crossing the Delaware River after dark on Christmas Day, 1776.  The goal was to get all his troops across the river during the night, then march on Trenton and surprise the Hessians garrisoned there in a dawn attack. The attack began promptly at 8 am, and the surprise worked. Wet, tired, and hungry, the adrenaline must have kicked in, because the battle was carried out without a single injury or lost life for Washington’s troops (according to the movie).

The Truth

Several things struck me about our Home Team as I watched the film and here is my 10 point synopsis of the movie.

  1. We were discouraged to the point of defeat
  2. We had lost every battle
  3. We had never gone on the offensive
  4. We were farmers and businessmen
  5. We were not professional soldiers (they were)
  6. We had no mercenaries (they did)
  7. We had inferior numbers (outnumbered ten to one)
  8. We were short of money and supplies
  9. We were tired and hungry
  10. We were only six months into war

Washington was desperate because the Americans had lost every battle via retreat, and the desertion rate was overwhelming. His command was reduced to only two thousand men who could still fight, and the better fed, better armed British, and their Hessian mercenaries, knew victory was theirs as soon as the river froze over.

The crossing of the Delaware and attack on Trenton was a desperate act by a desperate leader … and it worked. The day after Christmas, December 26, 1776, the Americans surprised the Hessians in a morning attack on Trenton, and changed the outlook of the war.

Seven more years passed before independence was won, but it started with this historic victory.

The Flags

Grand UnionThere were also two flags present in the movie, and I was curious about them. Since the Stars and Stripes wasn’t born until June, 1777, I wondered what flag the Americans fought under. Here is the Grand Union, that Washington’s men carried into battle. The flag was never given official status as the National Flag of the newly formed United States, but was used by Washington throughout the war, and was flown over the first naval vessels commissioned for war.

The other flag was probably a regimental flag but I could not get a clear enough view of it to accurately identify it.

BetsyRossflagThe Continental Congress realized the need for a National flag and adopted the Stars and Strips on June 14, 1777. This flag  was purportedly made by Betsy Ross. I don’t want to debate the merits of the Betsy Ross claim here, but will address it in another article. But please drop me an email if you have strong viewpoints either way.

If you are fuzzy on the history of The Battle of Trenton, and want to see a good film, I highly recommend The Crossing.

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Anniversary of Purple Heart marked with Memorial

How many of you knew that George Washington was responsible for what we now know as the Purple Heart? A show of hands please.

Newly dedicated, there is now a National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in Vails Gate, New York. The purpose of the Hall of Honor is to collect and tell the stories of the recipients and currently features a database of 77,000 stories.

Anniversary of Purple Heart marked with memorial | Chron.com – Houston Chronicle
NEW WINDSOR, N.Y. — Gen. George Washington created a heart-shaped award made from purple fabric as his battle-weary troops camped here 225 years ago.

Since then, Purple Hearts have been awarded to roughly 1.5 million U.S. service men and women wounded or killed in combat in such far-off locations as the beaches of Normandy, the jungles of Vietnam, and now, increasingly, in Iraq and Afghanistan.

hallhonor.jpg

The Hall of Honor in Vails Gate, New York
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Little Know Facts of Founding Fathers

usconstitution_page1.jpgWhile unpacking more boxes, Deborah found a pocket copy of The U.S. Constitution, And Fascinating Facts About it. Upon opening the front, I noticed short profiles on six of the founding Fathers; George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Hamilton.

 

  1. Benjamin Franklin was the oldest of these six men by twenty-six years
  2. Except for Hamilton (who was killed by Aaron Burr in a duel), they lived longer than today’s average life span, with four living beyond age eighty.
    1. Alexander Hamilton—forty-nine
    2. George Washington—sixty-seven
    3. Thomas Jefferson—eighty-three
    4. Benjamin Franklin—eighty-four
    5. James Madison—eighty-five
    6. John Adams—ninety-one
  3. They were extremely diverse in the political leanings, from elitist to common man, but fought fiercely to get a Constitution that was just and fair.

Some of their quotes are worth remembering:

“Government is not reason, it is not eloquence—it is a force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master; never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.” George Washington

“A little rebellion now and then is a good thing.” Thomas Jefferson

“Our Constitution is in actual operation. Everything appears to promise that it will last. But in this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.” Benjamin Franklin

These six men interacted regularly, and four of them served as President of the United States.

What little know fact do your remember about the founding Fathers? Let us know in the comments.

You can get your own copy of the book at Constitution Facts

Next, the signers of the Constitution and what happened to them after 1787. This is good stuff!

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What is Presidents’ Day? (Part 2 of What Happened to George Washington’s Birthday?)

Whose big idea was it anyway, to make a Monday holiday out of George Washington’s birthday. It helps to consider who would benefit the most from a three-day weekend.

For openers, it was believed that three-day holiday weekends for federal employees would reduce worker absenteeism. Now add in the encouragement of the Chamber of Commerce of the United States, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Association of Travel Organizations, and the National Retail Federation.

Imagine all that leisure time for families—time to run and play, mini-vacations and cultural excursions, spending money the whole time—in lovely three-day increments. It would be a boost to the economy (and too bad about history, tradition and sentiment).

Right away four federal holidays were exempted from the Monday overhaul: New Year’s Day on January 1, Independence Day on July 4, Thanksgiving Day on the fourth Thursday of November, and Christmas Day on December 25.

Congress Steps in It

Congress decided that Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, and *Veterans Day were holidays they could shift to Monday. Despite strong opposition to moving these historical holidays to Monday, Congress prevailed. Some lawmakers had wanted to change Washington’s Birthday to “Presidents’ Day,” but that idea was strongly resisted by other lawmakers, who were otherwise agreeable to changing Washington’s “birthday.”

There was only one Father of Our Country and he was George Washington, and George Washington’s Birthday was going to be celebrated on the third Monday of February, decreed the new law. President Lyndon Johnson signed the approved Act (H.R. 15951) on June 28, 1968, which stated the holiday changes would go in to effect January 1, 1971. And that was that, almost.

Meanwhile, Back At the Ranch

Meanwhile, down in Texas the 61st Legislature passed a law (May 14, 1969) stating that on January 1, 1971, Washington’s Birthday would be celebrated as Presidents’ Day on the third Monday of February as an official state holiday.

On February 10, 1971, President Richard Nixon issued Executive Order 115, a standard reminder, which announced the new federal holiday calendar as passed by Congress in 1968, because a new official holiday was coming up in that same month.

And that’s where the story of George Washington’s Birthday as a rearranged federal holiday of convenience unfortunately takes a bizarre turn into Presidents Day. Nixon wrongly has been credited, blamed, excoriated, and slandered for proclaiming the new holiday as Presidents’ Day. It’s not true, despite the plethora of publications that claim he did. He did not.

According to the National Archives and Records Administration, the Library of Congress, and the Nixon Library in California, no such proclamation exists. Nixon DID in another executive order around the same time, recognize the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, but did not suggest, refer to, or use the term Presidents’ Day or attempt to combine Lincoln’s birthday with the new Monday holiday honoring Washington’s Birthday in any way, shape, or form.

Enter the Co-conspirators

Enter now the public schools, the press, advertisers, and calendar makers. School systems eventually latched onto the concept of Presidents Day as a simplified historical catch-all. A careless press sold the idea to advertisers, who eagerly latched onto a new slant in advertising. Why the whole month of February was a virtual red, white and blue advertising blow-out the candles.

Calendar makers, eager and enthusiastic to be up-to-date, adopted Presidents’ Day as current usage. And the general public overall, usually half a step behind, thought Presidents’ Day was the logical linking of two beloved presidents’ birthday, with (maybe) all the rest of the Presidents thrown in for good measure.

Celebrated for more than two hundred years, Washington’s Birthday all but disappeared.

In 2000, President Bill Clinton confused things even more when he really did issue a Presidential Proclamation, declaring the third Monday in February to be Presidents’ Day. Now here’s the part where Washington’s Birthday gets all tangled up with Nixon again.

The Plot Thickens

Turn to the newspaper pages of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Humor columnist Michael Storey routinely employed his cat “Otus” in fictional conversations, which regular ADG readers knew were spoofs. Bill Clinton’s Presidents Day Proclamation annoyed Storey, so he relied once again on a fictional Otus interview to skewer the President.

Otus the Cat claimed that it was Nixon who’d created the presidential proclamation changing the holiday from Washington’s Birthday to Presidents’ Day.

Another newspaper writer, Richard Benedetto of USA Today, while surfing the internet (apparently) for information about Washington’s Birthday and Presidents’ Day, found the Storey humor column and quoted from it. Unaware (or oblivious) it seems, that he’d quoted Otus the Cat from a fictional interview.

(Forgive me if I repeat myself. It was fiction.)

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is a fine regional newspaper with admirable circulation numbers, but USA Today is a national newspaper, whose circulation was 2,274,621 on Dec.31, 1999—just a few weeks before Richard Benedetto published his column quoting Otus the Cat.

That darn cat. Benedetto, informed of his mistake, sent the USA Today librarians on a search party to find the material he’d quoted, but they never found Otus. (I don’t understand why the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette didn’t sent the page with the column on it to Benedetto.) USA Today never corrected or retracted the story, and once it was on the internet, the lie was gone like a bag of feathers in the wind.

George WashingtonTo honor George Washington on his birthday takes nothing away from Abraham Lincoln or any other president. The federal holiday IS called George Washington’s Birthday, if not actually celebrated on February 22.

Can’t We All Just Get Along

So how do we restore the honor to George Washington? When the most visible celebration of George Washington’s Birthday is a double-truck ad selling mattresses in the newspaper, that’s a sure sign we’ve lost sight of the man we’re celebrating.

We need to celebrate his birthday again—this year is his 275th—by telling his story to our youngsters, in our homes, libraries, and schools. I think it’s all right to use the third Monday in February to celebrate George Washington’s Birthday. (As for Texas—and other states—where Presidents’ Day is the legal holiday … we’ll just have to work on getting that changed.)

Here are some ideas to get us started: What kind of education prepared Washington to be a leader? When Washington was a child, who were his heroes? What attributes are associated with him? How many things bear Washington’s name or face? (Washington’s image is considered public property.)

Use food. There a link between the brain and the stomach. What kind of cake would George have eaten on his birthday, and was birthday cake a custom then? Did he have a favorite dessert? What kind of rations did he and his soldiers eat during the War of Independence? What foods were grown at Washington’s Mount Vernon estate?

Oh, the ideas go on and on. Do you have a good idea for celebrating George Washington’s Birthday? Share it with The Daily Flag by writing to us in the comment box.

*In 1978 Veterans Day was removed from the Monday holiday list and restored to the traditional, historical date, November 11th—originally Armistice Day, celebrating the end of the Great War, otherwise known as World War 1.

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The Importance of State Flags

In Texas, the Lone Star flag is an important symbol, flying along side the American flag in front of our houses and businesses, as well as local, state and federal government buildings.

Back in the eighties, my wife and I took a trip to visit our son in Bremerton, Washington while he was still in the Navy, stationed on the aircraft carrier, U.S.S. Nimitz.

The trip there and back took us through seven eight states, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Oregon and Washington, and we were surprised and disappointed by the lack of state flags flying in the different states.

Question

Here’s my question … Do you fly your state flag along with the American flag? Why or why not?

Washington Flag

WashingtonSpending a week in Washington state did allow us to discover places flying their state flag, many located at monuments and state government buildings. The Washington State flag is very interesting, featuring a portrait of George Washington on a green background. Computer-rendered images do not do full justice to how attractive the flag is.

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What Happened to George Washington’s Birthday?

If you have trouble keeping Presidential birthdays in order, you are not alone. How the country made the transition from an exuberant celebration of George Washington’s Birthday to “Presidents’ Day” is an awkward, confusing, and ultimately—disappointing tale.

Washington was born on February 11, 1731, by the Julian calendar. Now the Julian system was a dandy way of counting days, but not accurate enough for the modern world of 1752. In that year, Britain and her colonies adopted the Gregorian calendar, which jumped ahead eleven days and set January as the first month of the year instead of March.

This more accurate calendar shifted George’s birthday from the 11th to February 22. In the interest of scientific advancement, I’m sure George didn’t mind. But it would have meant a delay in his twenty-first birthday. I don’t know if turning twenty-one back then meant as much as it does now. Maybe he wrote about it in a diary, and perhaps a historian reading this will let us know.

Fast forward to 1796. Washington is now sixty-five, and in his last full year as President of the United States. There are fifteen states in the Union, and Tennessee will enter the Union on June 21, 1796.

I doubt any of us alive today can understand the depth of affection that the citizens of this new country felt for George Washington. And in the year 1796, a lot of citizens decided it was time to celebrate George’s birthday. Some celebrated on the 11th of February, and some celebrated on the 22th. I bet George ate cake on both days, just to make them all happy, because that’s the kind of fellow he was.

With ever increasing enthusiasm, Americans continued to celebrate George Washington’s birthday (the one on the 22nd) well into the 19th Century as a genuine national holiday, with no official government decree needed.

There were parties and balls, speeches and receptions, and many a toast offered in honor of George all across the country. Following other federal holiday legislation, it took until 1885 before President Chester Arthur signed a bill making February 22 a holiday for all federal workers (meaning they got the day off with pay).

In the meantime, another man who would be president was born in February. Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809. Assassinated April 14, 1865, both houses of Congress formally celebrated Lincoln’s birthday the following February 12, 1866. Every year thereafter, small celebrations were held in Lincoln’s honor until his birthday too, received national recognition.

Unlike Washington’s birthday, Lincoln’s birthday was never made an official federal holiday, although many states set aside February 12 to be a state holiday. That Lincoln’s birthday was never made a federal holiday was a huge disappointment to many Lincoln admirers, but that it didn’t slow down celebrating his birthday, as millions of school children will attest.

So how did George Washington, the Father of Our Country get a birthday makeover? By the same body who made his birthday a federal holiday to begin with: Congress.

Prior to 1971, there were nine federal holidays that were celebrated on the day of the calendar upon which the date fell. If Washington’s Birthday, February 22 fell on a Thursday, it was celebrated on Thursday. Another example is Memorial Day. It was always the last day of May, no matter what day of the week that was.

But the Ninetieth Congress taking office in 1968, was determined to create a uniform system of federal Monday holidays, and created legislation (HR 15951) to take effect in 1971: it would move three existing holidays to Monday, and created a new Monday holiday to boot.

Washington’s Birthday was shifted from February 22, to the third Monday in February. Memorial Day was moved to the last Monday in May. A “new” federal holiday was created for the second Monday in October: Columbus Day.

Veterans Day was reassigned to the fourth Monday in October. However, by 1980, veterans organizations and state governments had applied so much pressure that Veterans Day was returned to the historic Armistice Day, November 11, where it remains.

So what ideas and pressure led Congress to make decisions like this? That’s part two of this story, in how we got from George Washington’s Birthday to Presidents’ Day.