On March 5th, 1776, a sudden change in the weather led to a decisive victory for the American Revolutionary Army and an end to the British occupation of Boston (see my post on that date here). On this date, August 30, in 1776, weather intervened again. The American Revolution could have ended in bitter loss, but for “a peculiar providential occurrence” – Pea-soup fog. “So very dense was the atmosphere,” remembered Benjamin Tallmadge, “that I could scarcely discern a man at six yards’ distance.” For the book “What Ifs? Of American History”, historian David McCullough wrote a chapter describing the significance of these events.
After a humiliating loss in Brooklyn (including more than 1,000 surrendered troops), George Washington found himself and his 9,000-man army cornered at the end of a peninsula by a British force numbering over 30,000, plus a vast navy. Left with few options and overwhelming odds, George Washington quickly ordered the army to evacuate Brooklyn overnight by anything they could find or make that would float, across the East River to Manhattan. The escape depended entirely on the element of surprise and the cover of darkness. The scale and boldness of the escape was enormous – one Connecticut man recalled crossing the river 11 times that night, ferrying troops and equipment across. The evacuation continued well into the morning, when the British might easily have seen what was happening, close in, and utterly destroy Washington’s army.
However, the escape remained concealed under a different kind of darkness, because “a heavy fog settled in over the whole of Brooklyn, concealing everything no less than had the night” By the time the fog cleared, the escape was complete, and the British, expecting a victorious day, were instead astonished by another overnight, weather-assisted, disappearing act by the American army.
McCullough says that without the fog: “Washington and half the Continental Army would have been in the bag, captured, and the American Revolution all but finished. Without Washington there almost certainly would have been no revolution.” Because of the fog, “the entire force, at least nine thousand troops, possibly more, plus baggage, provisions, horses, field guns, everything but five heavy cannon that were too deep in the mud to budge, had been transported over the river in a single night with a makeshift emergency armada assembled in a matter of hours. Not a life was lost.”
This was not the first time, nor would it be the last time, that weather – or Providence – would play a key role in the American struggle to break away from British rule. Therefore, let every people and nation seek the LORD this day, who can wield nature itself in favor of – or against – the very nations.
“Are there any among the false gods of the nations that can bring rain?
Or can the heavens give showers?
Are you not he, O LORD our God?
We set our hope on you,
for you do all these things.” – Jeremiah 14:22