Monday, 03 November 2014 16:45

The Note Unread

Written by  Sam Whatley
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Various versions of the following story have appeared in chess publications since 1897. No one knows if one, or the other, version is true, but the story’s lesson is worth remembering.

It was a freezing Christmas night in Trenton, New Jersey in 1776. Colonel Johann Gottlieb Rall (Rahl in German) sat down to a good supper, pleasant drinks, and an evening of entertainment. He was in command of a mercenary infantry regiment of 1200-1500 German (Hessian) soldiers hired to help Great Britain smash the rebellion of 13 American colonies. But tonight they were celebrating their recent victories over George Washington’s rag-tag volunteer army and, of course, Christmas.


It was a bitter night. Snow and rain had fallen all day long and now sleet pelted the roof and shutters as the biting wind howled in the chimneys. But inside the wealthy merchant’s home where Rall had made his headquarters, there was music, laughter, and stimulating conversation. No one was worried about Washington’s revolutionaries who had been chased into Pennsylvania. After all, who in their right mind would try to cross the Delaware River at night in a blinding winter storm?


Someone challenged the infantry colonel to a game of chess and before long he was deep in tactics and strategy. About 8 pm there was a knock at the door. An exhausted young boy came in bearing a note from a Loyalist farmer. It was to be delivered to Colonel Rall. Rall paid the boy no attention, took the note, and put it into his coat pocket without opening it. That mistake cost him his life.


Two hours before and ten miles away, Washington’s men had begun being ferried across the icy Delaware River. Ferries crossed and re-crossed the river for ten hours until all 2,400 men were on the New Jersey side. Five men froze to death. Then began the arduous march to Trenton in the dark. The plan was to attack from all sides of the town before dawn at 5 am. But they did not arrive until 8 am. The sun was up and so were the Hessians.


During the attack, which lasted only an hour, 40 German soldiers were killed and some 1,000 surrendered. In retreat, Colonel Rall was wounded twice on his horse. He died the next day. Tradition says that in his pocket they found the unopened note warning of Washington’s crossing. If Rall had read it, he would surely have had his professional soldiers prepared. Had he won the battle, he may well have killed George Washington, James Madison, James Monroe, John Marshall, Aaron Burr, and Alexander Hamilton.


How could this have happened? Consider Rall’s military experience. He had fought in Russia, Bavaria, the Netherlands, Scotland, and in the French and Indian War. He was not stupid. But he had allowed his pride and his common sense about weather to lull him into thinking his enemy was not a threat.


Are we sometimes like that? By God’s grace many of us have won a few battles against our spiritual enemy, Satan. Whether we fought against lust, greed, anger, or self-pity, we are not the degenerates we used to be. But we get tired. Sometimes we want a holiday from fighting the battle. We think we have conquered that recurring sin that used to haunt us. We are proud that we don’t still do some of the things that once enslaved us. We start to feel invincible. We think we can hang around our friends from the old life. We can handle a little temptation. It’s no big deal. That lie is just as deceptive and destructive as Rall’s prideful unwillingness to read the words of a farmer.


Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” And Paul writes in I Corinthians 10:12, “So, if you think you are standing firm be careful that you don’t fall.”


Remember, it is when you think you have won that you are more likely to ignore the enemy. Now is the time for you to get back into God’s word and stay connected to a group of believers for accountability and strength. Don’t be lulled to sleep. There is too much at stake.



Last modified on Tuesday, 11 November 2014 16:51
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