“The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of divinity itself, and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.” – Alexander Hamilton, Founding Father and U.S. Treasurer
Never has that “sunbeam” of God’s divine intervention been more stunningly evident than in the American Revolution. As we look back on the advent of American freedom through the eyes of high school textbooks or contemporary authors, it is easy to forget the overwhelming difficulties faced by the patriot army.
Victory was not the guaranteed outcome of the long and deadly war. When our founding fathers pledged “our lives, our fortunes, & our sacred honor” in the defense of liberty, they seemed more likely – indeed almost certain – to lose their lives, fortunes and honor without gaining the liberty they labored for.
After all, what could the raw recruits and untrained officers of the Continental Army (if the citizen militia could be called an army), do against the disciplined veterans of Great Britain?
Thankfully, those who thought that defeat was certain had overlooked one important influence: God’s divine intervention.
Throughout the war, God’s providence defended the fledgling American republic against the entire British Empire.
After the “shot heard ’round the world” was fired in Lexington, thousands of American militiamen began pouring in from all areas around Boston. Loosely under the command of General Ward, this hastily assembled army marched late one evening over Bunker’s Hill and occupied Breed’s Hill.
The next morning, General Gage decided to launch a frontal assault on their position. As British troops crossed on barges from Boston, the British general called for the navy to send a ship up the Mystic River where they could bombard the American position from the side. Surprisingly, even through the British navy had been operating around Boston for more than six months, they had failed to chart this particular river and were thus unable to bombard effectually.
In addition, the land cannons brought across from Boston were unable to do any effectual damage. After it was too late to send for new supplies, the British general discovered that the wrong sized cannon balls had been brought.
Although the Americans officially lost the battle of Bunker Hill, it was really a stunning psychological victory. For the first time in history, untrained militia had stood up against the trained army of Great Britain. Because of the two fatal mistakes made by the British, what should have been a complete defeat turned into an encouraging proof that ultimate victory was not impossible.
As the American army moved in to free Boston from the British occupation more evidence of God’s work came to light. Dominating Boston’s shipping channels and waterfront, Dorchester Heights seemed to be an obvious place for the British to occupy. After close analysis, however, General Howe determined that no American attack from that quarter could be effective since they had no heavy artillery. Because he did not fortify this position when he had the opportunity, the Americans were able to move captured artillery from Fort Ticonderoga to command Boston.
On the night chosen by the Americans to build their fortifications, God created the perfect weather conditions for an American victory. While the frozen ground was a small hindrance to digging, it prevented mud from impeding the movement of heavy artillery. In addition, an extensive ground fog hid the American movements and sounds from Boston, while visibility remained clear at the higher elevation of Dorchester Heights.
After losing the Battle of Long Island, the Continental Army, and with it George Washington, faced the imminent possibility of complete defeat. With their lines already weakened, another assault would probably have brought about absolute collapse. Thankfully, however, General Howe, remembering the Battle of Bunker Hill, remained cautious and refused to attack – even when counseled to do so by many of his subordinates.
As the American army slowly evacuated from Long Island, the wind died down and enabled all boats to be filled to capacity. In addition, a rare August fog blanketed the New York harbor and concealed the retreat from British observation.
Even with the weather completely in America’s favor, however, another – this time unknown – danger threatened to reveal Washington’s retreat to the British. A Tory inhabitant witnessing the retreat sent her servant to alert the British. By God’s mercy, this messenger was detained overnight by Hessian troopers who did not understand English. When his message was made known, the chance for British victory was past.
When Washington made his famous Christmas attack on Hessian troops stationed in Trenton, New Jersey, the British had already been warned of his coming. Earlier on Christmas afternoon, however, a minor attack was staged against the British mercenaries. Because of the perfect timing, Colonel Rall was convinced that this was the planned attack and the Hessians dropped their prepared stance.
Later that evening, a Tory farmer brought news of the imminent attack but was not allowed to see the officer in charge. Instead, the sentry brought Colonel Rall a note explaining the upcoming attack. Because he was busy playing a game of cards, however, Rall did not go to the trouble of translating the note from English, so he never knew what it said. Twice, God used unusual circumstances to make Washington’s attack successful.
In a war that seemed doomed from the start, God defied the laws of probability to give us the freedom we enjoy today. Throughout these four battles and all others, God’s hand was clearly seen to all those who looked. The United States was not formed by chance; it was the creation of an all-powerful Providence.