With Boston freed from British occupation, New York was the next target. General Washington moved his troops to New York and began to build defense works, fortifying Brooklyn Heights. Enthusiasm was high and 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 the largest invasion force assembled in world history up to that date. The thousands of wooden masts of the British ships were described as looking like a forest.
As apprehension spread, General George Washington ordered, May 15, 1776:
“The Continental Congress having ordered Friday the 17th instant 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.”
Washington’s men were encouraged by messengers from Philadelphia, July 9, 1776, who delivered a copy of the recently passed 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 our Intentions . . .”
“With a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence.”
On AUGUST 27, 1776, the Battle of Brooklyn Heights took place. It was the first major battle after America had officially declared its independence, and it was the largest battle of the entire war.
Washington expected an attack from the sea, similar to what the British 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 to make a surprise attack on the Continental Army from behind. An estimated 3,000 Americans were killed or wounded compared to only 392 British casualties.
Washington exclaimed: “Good God, what brave fellows I have lost this day,” as he watched 400 soldiers of the First Maryland Regiment charge six times into the British lines, allowing the rest of the Continental Army find cover. British General Howe trapped the 8,000 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. Major 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.”
General Washington was on the last boat that left Brooklyn Heights. Had the Americans not been able to evacuate, the war would have ended there. As it happened, the British never again had such an opportunity to capture the entire American army at one time.
Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull had written earlier to General George Washington, July 13, 1775:
“May the God of the armies of Israel shower down the blessings of his Divine Providence . . . in the day of battle and danger.”
The Moral Liberal contributing editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s books here.
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