The Miraculous Summer of 1776

Was it merely coincidence? Or can we see the hand of God delivering the American colonial army from defeat just as He did Israel from Pharaohs armies in the wilderness?

To overlook the significance of a miraculous summer fog in the battle for independence in 1776 would do the entire venture a complete injustice. The fledgling nation experienced unexplained intervention on numerous occasions to deliver it from the jaws of sure defeat. 

The summer of 1776 was one such miraculous intervention that deserves a loser look. 

It was a hot miserable summer. Very humid, muggy and sticky. Crossing the East River could be treacherous at times due to the turbulent tide and powerful currents. But supplies and men needed to be taken across as quickly and quietly as possible.

The objective was simple. The colonial army had to defend New York if they were to save their nation. To do this they had to defend the bluffs that lined the Long Island shore. As each batch arrived on the opposite shore they could see the massive sails of the British ships that had anchored in the bay.

The ships had been arriving for several weeks now. At one point forty British ships had set anchor off of Staten Island in a single day. At this point no one knew for sure how many ships were assembled in the bay.

Details of The Miraculous Summer of 1776

On July 6 the Colonial army received word that the Second Continental Congress pledged their lives, property, and honor and adopted the Declaration of Independence. It immediately created a surge of confidence and courage as celebrations erupted throughout.

This much needed news was offset by what was being observed - the continual arrival of the largest force ever sent forth by any nation in history. The rag tag American troops were expected to defend its homeland by standing stand up to the mightiest army on the planet led by General Howe who was bitter and embarrassed from his humiliating defeat at the hands of General Washington at Boston just a few months before.

Any outside observer would have been wise to place their bet on the growing British armed forces in this upcoming battle. It appeared that this rebellion was about to come to a swift and violent end. Let's look at the facts regarding this situation:

  • the American army was being led by no ordinary man, Washington had been commanding troops since he was twenty-two (never mind that he lost more battles the  he had won)
  • in a number of battles it seemed that he had been miraculously been spared from death for just a time as this
  • rather then celebrating their victory at Boston, Washington and the American army immediately marched to New York knowing full well that it contained a large segment of "loyalists" who controlled two-thirds of the total property of New York, he could not allow the British to take New York
  • in order to defend New York, they would have to control the waters surrounding the city, all without a navy or warships
  • beginning in January, forts were being constructed along the shores of the East River intended to defend the bluffs
  • condition of the American army was mixed; moral was high but that was due to misconceptions about its strength
  • desertions were widespread and sickness was rampant
  • when the first wave of British troops arrived they were well received by the Loyalists
  • unfortunately the American army erroneously focused on the size of the invading fleet

How in the world could any army stand against such a force. At one point there were almost four hundred ships carrying 32,000 men. Talk about a David and Goliath scene. If I remember correctly things didn't go so well for Goliath. So maybe there was hope for Washington and his army.

The condition of most men in the American army was not very encouraging. Most of them didn't even have a uniform, no regular supplies to speak of, no flags to wave, no bugles or drums, few canons and few horses. Some of them didn't even have guns, only hunting knives and axes. I guess they were expected to hack to death the entire British army.

A Reason to Believe

Yes, the British army was well equipped and battle ready. But that wasn't the source of their motivation or confidence. They had over time acquired a taste for revenge to defend the British crown and nation. They were anxious to destroy these traitors. That is how these Americans were seen.

Even their first skirmish of this miraculous summer with this massive army did not go well and seemed to indicate that they would end up on the wrong side of history many of them had something inside them that seemed to whisper that it would not turn out that way. That they were right in their endeavor.

The Declaration of Independence had been written and signed just a little more than a week prior to this skirmish. Many of them held in their possession a piece of parchment that they would refer time and time again:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness..."

After reading this excerpt many of them realized that things were different now. They were fighting for their country, their children, their present and their future. They were fighting for their freedoms this miraculous summer.

George Washington - right man for the times

Washington arose to the position of commander of the American army simply because Congress had no alternative. There was no one better suited to fill the role. What did he have going for him?

  • he was highly respected and well known
  • dedicated to the American cause
  • had a reputation for valor
  • commanding presence without peer
  • ability to carry himself in regal fashion, yet he wasn't arrogant

Without hesitation he made it known that he did not believe he was qualified for this position and its responsibilities. He was well aware of the impossible task that lay before them. However, he never doubted in the cause for which they had risked everything that miraculous summer.

Yes, George Washington was an optimist, however, He wasn't gullible. He was very well aware of the obstacles the early founders had to contend with:

  • the Declaration of Independence was not universally accepted with enthusiasm
  • some of the delegates to the Continental Congress had voted in support of it but were never quite sure
  • others didn't care one way or the other
  • with such lack of universal support it was difficult to raise feed and supply for the army
  • loyalists to the King could be found in every colony
  • most Americans were against creating a permanent army
  • often entire units would abandon the cause
  • that miraculous summer the army reached a total of 20000 men, this total dropped to 5000 by years end
  • congress had no authority to levy taxes to raise funds for the army
  • if not for the support of the French the war would surely have been lost

In light of these obstacles that miraculous summer it would take the right man and the hand of God intervening at the appropriate times to bring about a victory and create a miraculous summer for this young nation.

The Fighting Begins - sort of

The first major challenge faced by Washington that miraculous summer was deciding where to place his troops. It was a sheer guessing game for this man. He couldn't decide if he should expect an attack on Long Island or on New York itself. In the end he chose to divide his troops between the two locations. This decision would prove to be problematic and almost fatal.

Eventually what brought about defeat was the betrayal of the American army by several local farmers. They met with the British general Clinton to reveal what they knew of the plans of the American army. They even took the general to the Jamaica Pass where only a handful of militiamen were assigned to guard it. This was one of the roads that gave access to the ridge where the two armies would face off.

The General would eventually believe the farmers story and took 10000 men with him to attack the Jamaica pass. Once they took control of the pass they moved on to the ridge and prepared to face the bulk of the American army. 

That next morning the battle began and it first appeared that Americans may indeed win. Eventually they were overwhelmed . They quickly realized that their only option was to withdraw through the marsh of Gowanus Bay. 

In the process of retreating many were killed and others drowned as the crossed the river. The British proved to be too much as the Americans were out outmaneuvered and eventually Long Island fell to the British. At this point the British army believed that they were about to completely wipe out the American army. 

Without explanation General Howe ordered his men to cease their attack. Later that day the remains of the American army pulled into Fort Stirling and by nightfall they found themselves facing insurmountable circumstances. On one side they were facing 20000 British soldiers and on the other side the East River. That miraculous summer they must have felt like the Israelites who were looking at the Red Sea on one side and Pharaohs armies fast approaching from behind.

The Miracle Unfolds

Keep in mind that the American army was now facing a desperate situation - a superior army and the East River. The could see the British were beginning to dig in and reinforce their positions before beginning their final assault.

General Washington would eventually send them reinforcements but that would only lift their spirits temporarily. They soon realized that the only thing that could save them was a retreat across the river. But how could they do so when they knew full well that the British ships could easily intercept them in the process?

That evening of this miraculous summer the environment began to take on an uncharacteristic nature. The temperature dropped 10 degrees and the skies were uncommonly dark. Add to this eerie atmosphere a constant downpour of rain. Late that night the winds made a sudden shift and gained in strength and it continued well into the next day. This created a situation that prevented the British ships from moving up the river to intercept the Americans. Coincidence? I think not.

General Washington gathered with his aides to discuss their options in light of the recent developments. A sense of urgency began to fall upon the General and his men. They had no idea how long the favorable conditions would last. A decisive act that night was required if they were to survive and continue the fight another day.

Washington eventually decided to retreat. It would have to be done in complete deception. No one would know what their real intentions were. There were too many loyalist in the area to risk sharing their plans with the rest of the army. What they planned involved great risk. If their efforts were discovered they would be left totally defenseless that miraculous summer.

They determined that part of their deception  would involve maintaining their campfires as well as gunfire. They would have to maintain the appearance that there was still an army in the area. The greatest risk fell to the men who would stay behind to keep up the deception as the bulk of the army moved across the river.

General Heath was ordered to gather all available vessels required to transport the men and equipment across the river. That evening he was ready to move. The soldiers were told to prepare for a surprise attack and to do in complete silence. Later that evening they were told to fall back to the ferry where they would be relieved by reinforcements.

It was only then that it was realized that they were actually in retreat. Things moved along without complications in the early part of the maneuvering. As more men and equipment were assembled for transport they favorable weather conditions remained constant.

Around eleven that evening an urgent message was sent to Washington to abandon the retreat because the aggressive winds made it impossible for their boats to get across the river with the men and supplies. Shortly thereafter the winds suddenly died down. Again, a coincidence? I think not. The winds changed direction that miraculous summer from a northerly to a southwest allowing quick passage across the river.

As more men were taken across the river those left behind were spread thin along the river to keep up the deception that an entire army was still present. As the sun began to rise much of the army was still on the Long Island side of the river.

They were facing a very dangerous situation. They were surrounded by 20000 soldiers and their canons were gone. They were huddled on docks without any line of defense. Those on the front lines were in even greater danger because as soon as the sun rose the British would see that the enemies lines had been abandoned.

What were they to do? As the sun began to rise a dense fog settled over the Long Island side of the river. It was extremely thick and heavy muffling every sound and it was impossible to see anything beyond five feet. As the sun continued to rise and was expected to burn off the fog nothing of the sort happened. The retreat conitnued under cover of fog.

By midmorning the last bit of men and equipment made it safely across. Washington personally commanded the last boat across not willing to leave anyone behind. Not until were all the American forces safely across did the fog suddenly lift.


Folks, there were too many instances that are beyond explaining that made it possible for Washington and his men to survive this incident that miraculous summer. The favor of God was indeed present that miraculous summer of 1776. Too many things could have gone wrong. Yet too many things went right.

I was really encouraged in my faith when I read the various accounts of what took place that miraculous summer. There are any more that I have not mentioned here. As I briefly mentioned, I saw so many similarities with what happened with Israel escaping from Egypt. Their survival was only possible due to the divine intervention of God.

And because of this divine intervention that miraculous summer you have to wonder, WHY? What purpose did God have for intervening on their behalf? I believe that when God intervenes in such a spectacular fashion then there is a greater purpose in store for those he has touched. When enduring such miracles we are then required to ask of ourselves what it is that we are destined for that we have overlooked.

Our lives are much more valuable then we realize. When we submit to God in faith then our lives become fertile ground for God to rain down His miracles and include us in His plan for mankind. Are you willing to step out in faith and have your own miraculous summer?

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