After a busy Fourth of July, I have finally had an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of this day.
The Declaration of Independence was a bold and unprecedented statement: it not only severed ties with England, but also outlined America’s grievances for the benefit of the nations of the world among whom the young upstart wished to take a place. That Declaration, however, was not worth the paper upon which it was printed without someone to enforce it. That someone was the Continental Army.
A few days after the Declaration arrived in New York, General Washington had it read to his troops, because he knew that they were the ones who would have to make it stick. At that moment the British were assembling in New York Harbor the largest invasion force to that point in history. Its mission was to subdue the rebellious colonies and restore British rule. The soldiers of the Continental Army did not know it yet, but it would take them five long years to guarantee the United States would remain independent.
Very few of the soldiers who assembled in New York In July 1776 would be with the Colors through the war. Some gave up and went home. Some were crippled by wounds. Many were killed in combat. Many more succumbed to illness. Thousands were captured and died miserably of disease, exposure, and neglect in British custody. But some endured. These patriots formed the core around which Washington rebuilt the Continental Army again and again. They lost often, but they won enough to convince the French to join the fight, and they took their place alongside their allies in the siege lines at Yorktown.
Independence was not given: it had to be won at terrific cost. Those “winter soldiers” paid for it with their blood, sweat, tears, and lives. We are in their debt.
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