Letter to My Grandson: Cat Warfare…Christmas Revolution Cat

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Dear Grandson,

Wow, just a week to go until Christmas.  I suppose you gave Santa Claus a very long and detailed list.  Did you write it out in cursive or just print it out from the computer? Santa, I am sure, treasures all the letters he receives from children, but is something that is extra precious about a handwritten note from a kid. Why to old folks that is be a present all in itself.

When I was young we did not have computers, printers, Gameboys or even television.  That’s right…I grew up in a time when the best entertainment available was your own imagination, the great outdoors and books. I loved reading then, and as you are well aware from the size of my library in the den, I still love reading.

Do you know what the first book I ever read from was?  It was the Bible. I remember sitting on my grandma’s lap, while she rocked me in that old wooden rocker that still sits in my living room, as she read Bible stories.  As she read, she would always move her finger along the lines of words.  It wasn’t hard for me to begin to match the words she spoke to the ones on the page.  I was just three years old when I would read to grandma.  She was very proud of me for that.  Grandmas are always proud of their grandchildren.

One of the first words I figured out was the word righteousness.  It really looked different than the other words.  It looked so long and complicated. Grandma explained to me that it wasn’t.  It means to be good. A righteous person is truthful, kind, loving, forgiving, honest, content and respectful of others and God.  She said that righteousness is humbling and not arrogant or fake.  Grandma Esther was a firm believer in God, Jesus, the principle that honest is as honest does, and that a good reputation is worth more than gold.

Do you know who had a reputation of gold and was considered a very honest man? Our nation’s very first president, George Washington!  Yes, there actually is such a thing as an honest politician.

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President George Washington

There is a very famous story about him and a cherry tree. As the story goes, when Washington was about six years old he received a hatchet from his dad as a birthday gift.  He was so excited to try it out that, when no one was looking, he took a few whacks out of a cherry tree.  He just chopped off some bark, he did not chop down the whole tree.

This may not seem like a big deal now, but in those days when you had to grow all your own food or starve, damaging a fruit tree was…well, just not done.  When Washington’s father found the damaged tree, he got very angry and confronted his young son. Washington looked his father in the eye and said, “I cannot tell a lie, Pa.”  Then, he admitted to the deed. Washington was not punished by this father.  His dad felt that having a truthful son was much more important than any old tree.  This story cannot be proven or disproven, but it makes the point that honesty is the best policy.

George Washington’s was born on February 22, 1732, into the family of a wealthy tobacco plantation owner. Yes, his father did own slaves and when his father died Washington became their owner.  There is nothing but ugly involved in the enslavement of black people. However, Washington was the only notable Founding Father to free all of his slaves following his death.

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                                     George Washington as a young man. Notice the dark hair. 

When young, Washington was very strong and athletic.  He grew up to be quite tall for those times and stood at about 6 feet 2 inches and weighed 200 pounds. About the size of Grandpa Doug.  In his portraits he is always shown with white hair, his hair color was actually red.  He did not wear a wig, but used white powder to achieve that very popular and dashing look.  Grandpa Doug’s white hair is from getting old.

Thomas Jefferson, another of our nation’s Founding Fathers, was quite impressed with Washington’s athletic abilities and said that Washington was the best horseback rider of that era.  Which is a very high compliment and accomplishment since riding horses was the main mode of transportation.

In addition to honesty and horsemanship, Washington is also known for….his very bad teeth. He had positively terrible rotten teeth.  His adult first tooth fell out when he was in his twenties.  By the time he was president, he only had one of his own teeth left.  He suffered from mouth pain constantly and probably had very bad breath.

His tooth troubles did not result from poor dental hygiene practices such as not flossing or brushing.  Some say his teeth fell out because he used them to crack open hard nut shells like Brazil Nuts. Others speculate that his loss of teeth were the result of his taking mercury-based medicines for diseases like small pox.

Since he had no teeth of his own, Washington used false teeth.  Contrary to rumor, none of them were made out of wood. They were made out of elephant, cow or hippopotamus ivory, lead, silver and gold.  He even had false teeth that were made out of real human teeth. How’s that for recycling!

  George Washington’s false teeth.  Look painful, don’t they?

Washington was a famous guy even when he was alive. During the Revolutionary War Washington served as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army…the Americans.   He was one of our nation’s Founding Fathers, he was in charge of the meeting that drafted the United States Constitution and is often called the “Father of our Country.”  He was elected unanimously by the Electoral College in our nation’s first two presidential elections.

He really was a legend in his own time, but not in his own mind.  His always put his country first. After the war he refused to become a ruler for the colonies.  Washington felt so strongly that America should never have a king-like ruler that he refused to run for president again after serving for only two terms.  He set the example of a two-term presidency. That tradition was followed by all subsequent presidents right up until World War II and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which is another story.

The Revolutionary War, or the War of Independence, was between the thirteen American colonies and the mighty British Empire who ruled them.  At that time, the British ruled over so many countries around the world at that it was said, “The sun never sets in the British Empire.”

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                                       David killing Goliath the Giant

It really was a David and Goliath type of deal. That story is in the Bible and is about a young shepherd boy named David who kills a great warrior giant with just a sling shot.  The stone hits the giant right between the eyes, then David runs over and cuts the giant’s head off with the giant’s own sword and saves his country from military defeat. David had faith in God and though he was weak and small vanquished a much bigger foe. That is just what the colonists needed to do.

The Revolutionary War began on April 19, 1775 when the “shots heard around the world” were fired in towns of Lexington and Concord.  By the summer the war had commenced in earnest.  The colonists did well at first, but by the winter 1776 the Continental Army was in dire straits.  They had been pushed back and had lost much of their fighting strength due to soldiers leaving the army for many reasons.

Washington’s soldiers were depressed by their losses…as a matter of record Washington lost more battles than he won.  To re-energize the public and soldiers’ support to continue the fight for independence from England, Washington needed a victory.  He decided to attack on the day after Christmas.  He felt that enemy soldiers would not be feeling well from all their Christmas Day partying, hung-over from drinking too much alcohol, and would be easy to defeat

At about 11 p.m. on Christmas night, George Washington’s 5,400 troops began crossing the almost frozen Delaware River to attack a group of German soldiers that were helping the British fight the colonists.

Bright and early at 8 a.m. on the day after Christmas, Washington divided his 2,400 soldiers that had successfully crossed the river into two columns, marched to the city of Trenton, New Jersey, and attacked the surprised German soldiers called “Hessians”.

Hessian soldiers were known for being very aggressive fighters. That is why the British hired over 30,000 of them to fight the Americans. However, on that morning and to quote Bugs Bunny, “The Hessian had no aggression.” By 9:30 a.m. the Americans overwhelmed their enemy, surrounded the town, captured almost 1, 000 prisoners with the loss of only four Americans.

While this battle was not a large one, it was a very important one.  The American public realized that their army could in deed win victories.  This revived the will of the people.

Since, the French seem to have a real gift for revolutions, they joined the Americans in 1778 to help defeat the British and that is just what happened.  The war basically ended when the Continental Army forced the British to surrender at Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781.  The war formally ended in 1783.

So, how did Washington get an entire Army, horses and artillery across an icy river in December?  The colonists united and worked together. Washington, his soldiers and the Pennsylvania Colony Navy collected a large quantity and wide variety of watercraft from the surrounding area.  They had ferries large enough to transport large wagons and coaches.  A boat called a Durham was used to float the soldiers across.  These boats had high sides and a flat bottom, and were poled not rowed.  Before the war they had been used by Durham Iron Works to carry heavy loads of metal.

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        Revolutionary War Era Flintlock Musket

The most common weapon used during this war was the muzzle loading smoothbore flintlock musket with attached bayonet.  Muskets have no rifling in their barrels to put a spin on their bullets, so it could shoot either balls or shot.  A good Revolutionary War soldier could load and fire every 15 seconds for four minutes.  Then, the gun barrel would get too hot and need to cool off.

These guns were not very accurate and had about a 75 yard range where they could hit a man-sized target.  To make the guns more effective battle tactics were used that lined soldiers up in tight rows or ranks and marched them right up to each other to shoot volley after volley into each other.  The goal was not to necessary kill the enemy, but to disorganize and frighten them into leaving the battlefield.

A British musket was called a “Brown Bess” and was 75 caliber.  The Americans for the most part used a French musket with a 42-inch long barrel called “the Charleyville”.  These shot a 65 caliber ball.  The bayonet was very important in those days, because when it was mounted on the end of the very long musket it was used almost like a spear for defense against cavalry attacks.  When soldiers formed into a square formation with their bayonets pointed outward, they could keep cavalry horsemen from riding among them and killing them with swords.  The Continental army also had artillery cannon, some rifles, pistols and the ever popular and lethal swords and knives.

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George Washington’s Sterling Silver Sword

George Washington was a sword guy and it was rare that he ever left the house without one dangling from his hip.  He had some very beautiful swords…some that were made of real silver.  This website has pictures of his more famous swords: http://www.mountvernon.org/preservation/collections-holdings/washingtons-swords/.

Yes, George Washington was a man of firsts.  He was the first general officer to cross a frozen river on Christmas Day to launch a surprise attack on an enemy army.  He was the first president of the United States.  He was the first president of the United States to lead troops into battle while in office.   He is the first and only general officer to ever be given the rank of General of the Armies of the United States.  Congress awarded him this rank in 1976 during our country’s 200th birthday commemoration so that George Washington would always have the highest military rank…EVER.

Yes, he was a man of many firsts and a cat with nine lives.  He survived many diseases that should have been fatal, had several horses shot out from under him in battle and had a coat he was wearing absolutely riddled with bullets.  Yet, he lived until he was 67 years old. He probably would have lived longer if he had stayed away from doctors.  He caught a cold and his doctors, in an effort to cure him, bled him to death.  He was buried the week before Christmas on December 18, 1799 at his precious estate at Mount Vernon where his many farm cats lived.

Remember that Jesus is the real Christmas Revolution Cat.  His birth changed the entire world and is reason for the Christmas season!

Lots of Love,

Grandma Pat

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