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George Washington’s Faith In Battle (from Sacred Fire)

February 18, 2013

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As a young colonel in the British Army in 1755, George Washington was in great danger.  He had warned General Edward Braddock of the fighting methods of the Indians as they crossed the Monongahela River in Pennsylvania.  Braddock didn’t heed the young colonel’s warning, and took his 1300+ troops through the dangerous path on their way to Fort Duquesne to confront the French.  As warned, the French and Indians began shooting at the British soldiers from behind the trees.  The British had been trained to march and fight in open field formation, not in the woods.

 

By the end of the battle, 714 Americans and British had been killed or wounded.  Every one of the officers  including General Braddock was killed, except for the young Colonel Washington.  The French and Indians lost only 33 men, 3 officers in the battle.  How close was death for the young Colonel Washington?  Here is the letter he wrote to his brother after the battle:

Dear Jack:  As I have heard since my arrival at this place, a circumstantial acct. of my death and dying speech, I take this early opportunity of contradicting both, and of assuring you that I now exist and appear in the land of the living by miraculous care of Providence, that protected me beyond all human expectation; I had 4 Bullets through my Coat, and two Horses shot under me, and yet escaped unhurt.  We have been most scandalously beaten by a trifling body of men; but fatigue and want of time prevents me from giving any of the details till I have the happiness of seeing you at home; which I now most ardently wish for, since we are drove in thus far.  A Weak and Feeble state of Health, obliges me to halt here for 2 or 3 days, to recover a little strength, that I may thereby be enabled to proceed homewards with more ease; You may expect to see me there on Saturday or Sunday…I am Dear Jack, your most Affect. Brother.

Was it just luck that somehow Washington wasn’t killed in the battle?  Dr. James Craik, who became Washington’s personal physician often shared a story with then General Washington’s troops who would beg the general to quit jumping up front in battle.  Craik would tell them how in 1770 they were resting in camp after surveying lands they’d been given after the French and Indian War.  A party of Indians came upon them, and they came in peace.  The trader that led them said he had a chief with them, the same one who commanded the Indians on the fall of Braddock and he’d heard Washington was there.  Washington welcomed and greeted this ‘grand sachem’ who addressed Washington to the following effect:

I am chief and ruler over my tribes.  My influence extends the water of the great lakes and to  far blue mountains.  I have traveled a long and weary path that I might see the young warrior of the great battle.  It was on the day when the white man’s blood mixed with the streams of our forests that I first beheld this chief:  I called to my young men and said, mark yon tall and daring warrior?  He is not of the red-coat tribe – he hath an Indian’s wisdom, and his warriors fight as we do – himself alone exposed.  Quick, let your aim be certain, and he dies.  Our rifles were leveled, rifles which, but for you, knew not how to miss – ‘twas all in vain, a power mightier far than we, shielded him from harm.  He can not die in battle.  I am old and soon shall be gathered to the great council fire of my fathers in the land of shades, but ere I go, there is something bids me speak in the voice of prophecy: Listen!   The Great Spirit protects that man, and guides his destinies – he will become the chief of nations, and a people yet unborn will hail him as the founder of a mighty empire!

Washington was a man who believed in the power of prayer.  He even had the Common Book of Prayer printed so it would fit in his pocket so he could carry it with him during the Revolutionary War.  His letters often point out both his prayers and his knowledge of the scripture.  When things looked grim in January 1776 Washington was writing Joseph Reed about how distressing things were when he wrote,

I have often thought of how much happier I should have been, if, instead of accepting of a command under such circumstances, I had taken my musket on my shoulder and entered the ranks, or, if I could have justified the measure to posterity and my own conscience, had retired to the back country, and lived in a wigwam.  If I shall be able to rise superior to these and many other difficulties, which might be enumerated, I shall most religiously believe, that the finger of Providence is in it, to blind the eyes of our enemies;

Later that year Washington and his men were trapped on Long Island.  The British planned to crush them the next day.  This very well could have ended the war.  Washington, under cover of fog, evacuated all the troops during the night.  He used every ship and fishing vessel available.  Reportedly the fog remained longer than normal the next morning, and by God’s Providence Washington and the American cause carried on.

December 18th, 1776, things looked very grim.  Washington knew he needed more troops, clothes and food.  He could see things were about over but knew if their cause was just God would give them victory.  He wrote his brother

In a word my dear Sir, if every nerve is not strain’d to recruit the New Army with all possible , I think the game is pretty near up, owing, in a great measure, to the insidious Arts of the Enemy, and disaffection of the Colonies before mentioned, but principally to the accursed policy of short Inlistments, and placing too great a dependence on the Militia the Evil consequences of which were foretold Months ago with a spirit almost Prophetick… You can form no Idea of the perplexity of my Situation.  No Man, I believe, ever had a greater choice of difficulties and less means to extricate himself from them.  However under a full persuasion of the justice of our Cause I cannot but think the prospect will brighten, although for a wise purpose it is, at present hid under a cloud; (I cannot) entertain an Idea that it will finally sink tho’ it may remain for some time Under a Cloud.

Seven days later – Christmas day, one of the greatest military upsets in history occurred.  The Christmas Day crossing of the Delaware which led to victories at Trenton and Princeton.  Things had to happen just right for Washington and his troops.  If you think he did it alone consider military historian Larkin Spivey’s explanation surrounding the events that surrounded the Battle of Trenton:

I think the critical moment in the Revolutionary War came in December 1776.  At that time, the revolution was about to be over.  Washington and what was left of his army had been defeated on Long Island, and Manhattan and White Plains and had retreated all the way across New Jersey and were more or less huddled on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River, waiting to see what was going to happen next.  And they were utterly defeated at that point.  And the Congress had evacuated Philadelphia and … the entire cause was on the verge of collapsing.

And at that moment, on Christmas Day 1776, I think Washington took a pure gamble to take what was left of his army back across the Delaware River and strike the garrison at Trenton, which was, manned by Hessian mercenary forces.  And it was just a roll of a dice.  And for that little attack to have come out as a success took a lot of amazing things to happen, … the little miracles that enabled Washington to be successful on that day, to defeat this Hessian garrison at Trenton and to totally change the character of the war.  That was the spark and it kept the war alive, for another day.

For Washington to be successful, he had to have surprise when he attacked Trenton.  He crossed the river at night and his plan was to attack early the next morning.  Well, the Hessians at Trenton knew he was coming.  They were daily getting reports from across the river from Tory sympathizers and deserters and other people that knew what was coming.  And so they knew Washington, this attack, was coming on Christmas Day and they were all ready for it, and, lo and behold, late that afternoon on Christmas Day while Washington was crossing the river, some group of people who have not really been identified to this day, some small band of colonials attacked the garrison at Trenton, and there was a small battle there and there were some casualties; and then these people disappeared in to the woods and then Colonel Rawl, the Hessian commander, said “Well, that’s it.  That’s the big attack.  We were awaiting it, and what a pitiful attack it was.”  And so they went back to celebrating Christmas and stood down, the troops went in the barracks and everybody had a big hangover the next morning when George Washington appeared with what was left of his army.

The skirmish occurred – this was the night before on Christmas Evening, by this roving band – different historians have different ideas about who these people were – but it’s not definitely been determined.  But this little attack gave the Hessian garrison at Trenton the false belief that it was over and so they went back to barracks and celebrated Christmas, and history was made the next morning when Washington appeared with his army and attacked the town.  And during that attack the Hessians were defeated and surrendered and this was the first real victory of the war.

And after that, everything changed.  The Continental Congress came back to Philadelphia; they were able to raise troops, money, the resources to continue the war, based on one little victory.  And it was a very small military event.  There were only a few casualties, but they had lasting implications for the war.

Just days later Washington surprised the British at Princeton, while their troops were trying to surprise Washington at Trenton.  Washington had some soldiers keep the campfires raging, luring the British to attack while most of his army headed to Princeton to surprise them. 

Washington never forgot about the Hand of God and His Providence that gave victory.  In 1777 Washington wrote:  “Your friendly, and affectionate wishes for my health and success, has a claim to my thankful acknowledgements; and, that the God of Armies may enable me to bring the present contest to a speedy and happy conclusion, thereby gratifying me in a retirement to the calm and sweet enjoyment of domestick happiness, is the fervent prayer, and most ardent wish of my Soul.”  He repeatedly reminded his men: “We have therefore to resolve to conquer or die:  Our own Country’s Honor, all call upon us for a vigorous and manly exertion, and if we now shamefully fail, we shall become infamous to the whole world.  Let us therefore rely upon the goodness of the Cause, and the aid of the supreme Being, in whose hands Victory is.”

In January of 1781, General Daniel Morgan and his American troops were being pursued by British troops and General Cornwallis.  Just two hours after the Americans had crossed the Catawba River a storm made the river impassable for the British.  Cornwallis caught up to them again at the Yadkin River, but torrential rain flooded the river this time.  When it happened again at the Dan River, British Commander Henry Clinton wrote:

Here the royal army was again stopped by a sudden rise of the waters, which had only just fallen (almost miraculously) to let the enemy over.

In 1783, General Cornwallis tried to escape at Yorktown.  He tried to do it during the night just as Washington had at Brooklyn Heights in Long Island before.  There was no fog to help them, and a squall actually blew up on the Atlantic Ocean exposing them clearly. 

Back in March of 1781, General Washington wrote to William Gordon, saying, “We have, as you very justly observe, abundant reason to thank Providence for its many favorable interpositions in our behalf.  It has at times be my only dependence, for all other resources seemed to have failed us.”

 

II KINGS 6:12-21

 

 

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