Was it the hand of God, fate or luck that intervened on the side of America in the Revolutionary War? George Washington and his rag tailed, inexperienced soldiers were within hours of a total defeat by the finest military force on earth, when something miraculous happened. Washington, with minimal previous military experience 20 years earlier in the French & Indian War, had said to Congress upon accepting his command, “I…do not think myself capable to the command I (am) honored with.” The first major battle of the Revolutionary War, after we declared independence, took place on August 29, 1776 at the Battle of Brooklyn. Washington took command of the 12,000 soldiers. He was opposed by about 18,000 well equipped British and hired Hessian forces, led by experienced Generals Howe and Clinton. Washington made every conceivable blunder. He put his inexperienced army in a non-defensible position. He failed to protect a flank, which was precisely where the British forces attacked. Washington’s army was soundly defeated with a loss of some 3,000 soldiers. Surrounded on three sides and his luck running out, Washington ordered a full retreat.
British General Howe made the remarkable decision not to continue the attack against the retreating Americans. Had he pressed the battle, the British victory would undoubtedly have ended the revolution. Perhaps Howe realized that Washington had fled into a trap in the remaining three-mile territory in Brooklyn with his only escape to be able to cross the East River; a full mile wide with a rapid current. Washington soon realized his retreat had failed. That evening, the river was so rough that no boats could cross; let alone ferry that remaining 9,000 men, horses and equipment to the safety of New York. Washington’s men stood and waited in the dark for a miracle. In the morning, Howe would attack and Washington was trapped.
Just before midnight, by fate or otherwise, the wind suddenly shifted, the rough current subsided and boats manned by Massachusetts fishermen began ferrying the soldiers to safety; all in pitch dark. Time, however, began to run out. A large part of the army was still waiting to embark while the night was ending. With the early sun, their escape was doomed. At day break, however, a heavy fog suddenly settled over the whole Brooklyn area. It was so thick that Howe’s scouts could not see Washington’s remaining regiments cross to safety in the early morning hours. Remarkably, on the New York side of the river, there was no fog at all. Shortly thereafter, the fog lifted and Howe could clearly see the area where Washington had safely crossed. The British celebrated their victory, however, Washington and his men had survived. The world has never been the same.
Sources: The Patriot Tours,:The Battle of Brooklyn, 1776”; Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, “Battle of Brooklyn and Brooklyn Heights”: This Day in History, “Howe brothers defeat Washington in Battle of Brooklyn Heights”: “The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents,” eighth edition, William A. DeGregorio, with updates by Sandra Lee Stuart::,” “Washington, A Life,” by Ron Chernow.