SURELY THE LORD IS IN THIS PLACEPRIVATE
“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”
Introduction: These words spoken by Jacob about Bethel could have appropriately been used by Washington about Dorchester Heights (near Boston) and Long Island.
I. DORCHESTER HEIGHTS
Washington and his troops waited and waited for the British to come out of Boston and attack. They never did. hence, pressure began to mount for Washington to take the offensive. However, he had too little a supply of artillery and gunpowder. As weeks and months went by, gunpowder began trickling in, but artillery remained scant. Finally, Washington listened to a proposal offered by
A. HENRY KNOX
Knox was the seventh son of a Scotch-Irish shipmaster. He was not a likely candidate to excel in military expertise. He was 25 years old, weighted 250 pounds, had only three fingers on his left hand (due to an accident), and had absolutely no military experience. All he knew about war was what he learned from reading books in the Boston bookstore he had once owned. Nevertheless, Knox offered the needed idea.
Since Ethan Allen had captured Fort Ticonderoga the previous May, 50 large pieces of artillery had been idle there. Knox’s idea was to transport those items to Boston. No one really believed Knox could deliver 50 pieces of artillery across 300 miles of wilderness in the dead of winter. But Washington was desperate, and he allowed Knox to try.
Knox decided to transport the artillery in a unique way. His solution was a brilliant one–sleds! Also, instead of using horses, which tend to panic in deep snow, he took along 80 yoke of oxen. It was a motley caravan at best. Once they reached the Canadian frontier outpost, the artillery was immediately loaded onto the sleds.
On the return trip, Knox pushed the men and animals, while constantly praying for deep snow. He kept praying and snow kept falling–finally it reached a depth of three feet. The cold also froze rivers and streams, making them smooth highways rather than barriers.
When this entourage arrived back near Boston, the Colonial soldiers went into a state of frenzy. They hugged one another, threw their hats into the air, and cheered. Washington immediately came to see what the excitement was about. By the time he arrived, soldiers were standing around gaping at the guns. Some of the men had even approached the pieces of artillery and were caressing them lovingly.
Knox finally subdued the crowd enough to tell them that the oxen were the real heroes. Immediately, the soldiers began hugging the oxen. Washington, though not quite that expressive, was nevertheless overjoyed.
B. THE FORTIFICATION
By March 4, 1776, powder supplies had increased to 30 cartridges per man (enough for 15 minutes of heavy combat). Washington decided that would have to suffice. It was time to stir the British into action.
Washington’s generals unanimously agreed that Knox’s artillery should be placed on top of Bunker Hill. Washington disagreed and decided to fortify Dorchester Heights, the only other site from which Boston could be brought under heavy bombardment. The generals felt the hill could not be fortified in one evening, but Washington put his confidence in plans that had been drawn up by young Henry Knox.
At 7 P.M. on March 4, 3,000 troops began to work at Dorchester Heights. At 3 A.M., they were replaced by 3,000 fresh workers. The sounds of their work were covered by the firing of cannons. Also, a breeze blew inward all night and carried the noise of their work from the British. Even the animals seemed to have caught the spirit of the occasion. The 300 teams of horses and oxen remained amazingly quiet throughout the night.
The sight of their work was kept from British view by a haze that drifted over Boston. The mist kept their operations at the base of the hill from view of the city. Also, the tops of the hills could not be seen from the houses in town. However, on top of the hill weather was perfectly clear, and the well lit moon was nearly full.
The project was a masterpiece of precision. Knox had provided the plans; God provided the protection. It went so well, it seemed as though the men had practiced it for weeks. Most amazingly of all, nothing went wrong. It was a perfect military operation.
At dawn the British were totally caught off guard. A captain wrote that the fortifications “appeared more like magic than the work of human beings.” A British army engineer said it must have required from 15,000 to 20,000 men. And General Howe, the king’s cousin who had replaced Gage, said the rebels had done more in one night than his whole army could have done in months.
C. THE VICTORY
Howe opened fire on the newly build fortifications, but the cannon balls fell far short of the elevated position (proving the wisdom of Washington’s site selection). Howe then decided to land men from ships at the bottom of the slope and scale it.
But as the British ships waited for the tide, a storm came out of nowhere. A tremendous gale blew the British ships away from Dorchester Heights. Wind blew with such velocity that it drove snow laterally across the water. One British soldier described it as “a wind more violent than any I had ever heard.” The raging surf made a landing near the Heights impossible.
By the next morning, March 6, Howe knew attack was impossible. The colonials were too well entrenched. The British raised a flag of truce. Washington had won a bloodless victory. God had wrought deliverance by means of snow, a wind, a mist, and a gale.
Washington knew where credit belonged. He referred to the whole incident as “this most remarkable interposition of Providence.” He set aside March 7 as a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer “to implore the Lord and giver of all victory.”
Washington wrote the General Assembly of Massachusetts to tell them of the victory. He gave the credit to God and offered this prayer, “May that Being who is powerful to save, and in whose hands is the fate of nations, look down with an eye of tender pity and compassion upon the whole of the United Colonies.”
D. THE EVACUATION
In utter disgrace, General Howe and the British vacated Boston on March 17 and headed to Nova Scotia. A few days later, Washington had a pastor conduct a thanksgiving service for the soldiers. There were no British troops in the colonies now. But Washington knew they would return, and he predicted the exact spot where they would land–New York, in an attempt to divide the colonies in half. Washington headed there and waited for the British to arrive.
From this time on, Washington was unquestionably the most important man on the American continent. If he was not a great man when he first arrived at Boston, he had become one in the fullest sense by the time he drove out the British. Tests and tribulations seemed to refine his steel. He would receive even more refining at Long Island.
II. LONG ISLAND
The British wanted New York, for it would divide the colonies. Also, it controlled the Hudson River, the main gateway to the north. In July 1776 the British landed at Staten Island, some 30,000 strong. Washington and his troops were outnumbered 3 to 1. The General challenged his men:
The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army. . . . Let us therefore rely upon the goodness of the cause, and the aid of the Supreme Being, in whose hands victory is.
By the last week in August, the colonists had been pushed all the way back to Brooklyn, at the westernmost tip of Long Island. Howe’s cannons belched relentless death into the trapped army. Washington saw 2,000 of his men die in three days. By August 28, some 8,000 Americans, with the river at their backs, were trying to hold of 20,000 attackers.
Victory was in Howe’s hand, but he never pressed for it. He went against all military logic, and hesitated. Washington waited, anticipating the inevitable. He believed the war was about to end, but Howe never attacked.
By late afternoon Washington finally let himself believe that Howe was not coming. Some of the soldiers in the camp were calling it a miracle. But they “hadn’t seen anything yet.” The best was yet to come. That night Washington could see the most amazing display of God’s intervention in the war for independence.
Washington decided to move his entire army from Brooklyn by small boats. It was a suicidal plan, for the East River was a full mile wide there. But Washington felt it was not quite as suicidal as trying to fight off the British. At dark the plan began. God Himself helped in at least four ways:
A. THE OARSMEN
By “coincidence” the last group of reinforcements to enter Brooklyn had been a contingent of men who had come from the shores of Massachusetts Bay. They were all expert oarsmen. All night long these men made the treacherous two-mile round trip. They moved quickly, deftly, and silently. They provided the skill and energy necessary for the “impossible” evacuation.
B. THE WIND
Near nightfall the wind began to blow out of the northeast. This accomplished two ends: it carried the sounds of the evacuation away from the British, and it prevented the British navy from entering the East River. Had that navy arrived, the whole cause would have been lost. But the wind blew America’s way all night long.
C. THE UNNOTICED MISTAKE
All through the night troops shuttled across to Manhattan on any barge or boat that could be scrounged up. Washington himself oversaw the operation. He stood side by side with his men all night. As he watched boat load after boat load of his men ferry across the river, he suddenly had an interesting thought. If he had received a command in the British army as he had always desired as a young man, he would very possibly be leading Howe’s troops right now. The thought was shocking.
Washington did not have long to dwell on that thought, however. He had commanded that the front line be fully manned at all times so the British would not suspect anything. However, through a mix-up the guards left their position at 2 A.M. to go to the shore. Washington “accidentally” learned of the error and quickly corrected the situation.
A full 30 minutes had passed without a single American soldier visible to the British. Washington waited awhile at the front line, his eyes intent on the British lines. Finally, Washington was satisfied that the attackers had not seemed to notice. He was convinced the British were blind.
D. THE NONVISIBILITY
When dawn began to break, Washington knew he still needed three more hours to get the last man across. Those still in Brooklyn watched the eastern sky as it began to redden. Their hopes began to sink.
but then it happened. Almost every man who kept a diary that day recorded the event in nature that occurred that morning–a fog came off the river and settled on both encampments. The fog was so dense that visibility was less than six yards.
Most of the men who recorded the fog in their diaries gave the credit for it to God. The fog remained intact until the last boat, with Washington aboard, had departed. As his boat crossed the river, the fog began to lift.
The British immediately could see what had happened. They rushed to the river’s edge and began firing at the nearest boat, which had Washington in it as a passenger. However, the fog had lasted just long enough for the General’s boat to be out of their range. The colonial army, and its commander, were spared. General Howe began referring to Washington as the cunning fox.
Conclusion: God performed miracles and protected our nation in its early days. We must agree that at Dorchester Heights and Long Island, the Lord was surely in these places. But can we now say of our beloved country, “surely the Lord is in this place”?