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Except from Washington’s Crossing by David Hackett Fischer

~ The War and the American Revolution

We have a very difficult card to play. We often have to act by the moon or twilight and leave the World to judge it in the clear sunshine.
-General William Maxwell to
Adam Stephen, April 10, 17771

On New Year’s Day in 1777, Robert Morris sent George Washington a letter that rings strangely in a modern ear. “The year 1776 is over,” Morris wrote. “I am heartily glad of it and hope you nor America will ever be plagued with such another.” Washington shared that feeling, which was very far from our own. We celebrate 1776 as the most glorious year in American history. They remembered it as an agony, especially the “dark days” of autumn.2
Americans have known many dark days, from the starving times in early settlements to the attack on the World Trade Center. These were the testing times and the pivotal moments of our history. It was that way in 1776, after the decision for independence and the military disasters in New York. In early December, British commanders believed that they were very close to ending the rebellion, and American leaders feared that they might be right. Then came a reversal of fortune, and three months later the mood had changed on both sides. By the spring of 1777, many British officers had concluded that they could never win the war. At the same time, Americans recovered from their despair and were confident that they would not be defeated. That double transformation was truly a turning point in the war.

~ Reprise: A Web of Contingency in History

We have seen how it happened: not in a single event, or even a chain of events, but in a great web of contingency. This book is mainly about contingency, in the sense of people making choices, and choices making a difference in the world. It is not…...

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