Gen. George Washington’s miraculous retreat from Long Island: He ordered his troops to fast and pray
Aug. 29, 2016
King George III’s British army was forced to evacuate Boston.
They headed to New York.
General George Washington responded by moving American troops to New York and fortifying Brooklyn Heights.
Enthusiasm was high as Washington’s ranks swelled to nearly 20,000.
Before long, hundreds of British ships filled New York’s harbor, carrying 32,000 troops.
It was one of the largest invasion forces in history to that date.
The thousands of wooden masts of the British ships were described as looking like a forest of trees.
Washington wrote to his younger brother John Augustine Washington, May 31, 1776:
“We expect a very bloody Summer of it at New York… We are not either in Men, or Arms, prepared for it…
If our cause is just, as I do most religiously believe it to be, the same Providence which has in many instances appear’d for us, will still go on to afford its aid.”
In Congress, May 1776, General William Livingston made a resolution which passed without dissent:
“We earnestly recommend that Friday, the 17th day of May be observed by the colonies as a day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer, that we may with united hearts confess and bewail our manifold sins and transgressions…and by a sincere repentance…appease God’s righteous displeasure, and through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ obtain His pardon and forgiveness.”
In New York, General Washington ordered his troops, May 15, 1776:
“The Continental Congress having ordered Friday the 17th…to be observed as a Day of Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer, humbly to supplicate the mercy of Almighty God, that it would please Him to pardon all our manifold sins and transgressions, and to prosper the arms of the United Colonies, and finally establish the peace and freedom of America upon a solid and lasting foundation;
The General commands all officers and soldiers to pay strict obedience to the orders of the Continental Congress; that, by their unfeigned and pious observance of their religious duties, they may incline the Lord and Giver of victory to prosper our arms.”
On July 9, 1776, messengers from Philadelphia arrived in New York and delivered to General Washington a copy of the Declaration of Independence.
Washington had it read out loud to his troops. The Declaration mentioned God four times:
- “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God…”
- “All Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…”
- “Appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the Rectitude of
- “With a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence.”
Citizens of New York pulled down the statue of the ‘tyrant’ King George. King’s College suspended all classes and later changed its name to Columbia College.
Anxious preparations were being made for the Battle of Brooklyn Heights (Long Island). It was the first major battle after America had officially declared its independence, and it was the largest battle of the entire Revolutionary War.
Washington expected the British to attack from the sea, similar to what they did at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Instead, 10,000 British troops landed a distance from New York and a British loyalist led them through Jamaica Pass.
Marching all night long, they made a surprise attack on the Continental Army from behind on Aug. 27, 1776. An estimated 3,000 Americans were killed or wounded compared to only 392 British casualties.
As Gen. Washington watched 400 soldiers of the First Maryland Regiment charge six times directly into the British lines, allowing the rest of the Continental Army to find cover, he exclaimed:
“Good God, what brave fellows I have lost this day.”
British Gen. Howe trapped the American troops on Brooklyn Heights with their backs against the sea.
That night, Washington made the desperate decision to evacuate his entire army by ferrying it across the East River to Manhattan Island. The sea was boisterous where the British ships were, but providentially calm in the East River allowing Washington’s boats to transport troops, horses and cannons.
The next morning, as the sun began to rise, half of the America troops were still in danger, but a “miraculously” thick fog lingered blocking the evacuation from being seen by the British.
Maj. Ben Tallmadge, Washington’s Chief of Intelligence, wrote:
“As the dawn of the next day approached, those of us who remained in the trenches became very anxious for our own safety, and when the dawn appeared there were several regiments still on duty…. At this time a very dense fog began to rise off the river, and it seemed to settle in a peculiar manner over both encampments.
“I recollect this peculiar providential occurrence perfectly well, and so very dense was the atmosphere that I could scarcely discern a man at six yards distance… We tarried until the sun had risen, but the fog remained as dense as ever.”
Gen. Washington was on the last boat that left Brooklyn Heights. Had the Americans not been able to evacuate, they would have been captured and Washington would have been hung.
America would have continued as just another colony in Britain’s expanding global empire, along with India, Kenya, Egypt, South Africa and Australia.
As it happened, though, after the evacuation from Brooklyn Heights, the British never again had an opportunity to capture the entire American army at one time.
Washington wrote later that year, August 20, 1778:
“Undergoing the strangest vicissitudes that perhaps ever attended any one contest since the creation….the Hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all this – the course of the war – that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith…”