A Chain of Miracles

By Ronald M. Mann

Today, very little time is given in our schools to teach the great governmental truths passed on by our founding fathers, such as George Washington. Even on his birthday, February 22 nd , little if anything will be mentioned of the role Washington said that Providence played in the founding of this nation. More importantly, the founding role of Providence in our country has been completely and totally excised from our history books. This month's and last month's articles provide evidence of Providential interest and activity in our formation as a nation. These two articles point out that while Washington was busy doing the best he could that British forces were planning the demise of the American cause. They also make the point that although Washington was constantly relying on Providence for help, he was totally unaware, until much later, that God had subtlely been placing pitfalls in the way of the British to prevent their victory. Even though Washington's forces were small, they were made up of dedicated men and women who believed in God and loved freedom. The moral of these stories for us today is that so long as we do our best in just causes, even though the circumstances seem dark, the forces amassed against us imposing, and victory seemingly impossible, Providence will quietly and assuredly make the difference and we can succeed. God is still SOVEREIGN!

Providence and the British Invasion of Philadelphia 1777

After a successful campaign during December and January of 1776-1777, Washington took his troops into winter camp at Morristown, New Jersey. As a result of his successful capture of the Hessians at Trenton on Christmas day, and the near capture of Princeton, the British had moved most of their troops back to New York City and had made it their winter camp. Still licking their wounds from Washington's daring capture of Trenton, the British laid out their campaign for 1778 which included the capture of Philadelphia and the destruction of the American forces in the northern colonies. They believed this would make possible the crushing of all American resistance and spell victory for the British. General Washington's strategy was to not permit the British to accomplish this strategy.

In order to prevent the capture of Philadelphia and to have his troops available to march north to prevent the British from capturing the northern colonies, Washington deployed his troops in the mountains surrounding Middletown. This was an excellent strategy, as it would require the British to attack him, which could be very costly and perhaps not even possible. General William Howe realized that to attack Philadelphia from land they would first need to draw Washington from his perch in the mountains. Several times he made the attempt to draw Washington into the flatlands where General Howe believed his 16,000 troops could maul Washington's troops. Washington refused to be drawn into Howe's trap. After expending considerable forces, resources, dollars and time, he decided it was futile and opted to use the sea route to gain access to Philadelphia. His initial plan was to go south and then travel up the Delaware River to New Castle-33 miles from Philadelphia.

On July 5 th , 16, 000-18,000 British troops, hundreds of horses and supplies were loaded on some 260 ships under the command of Admiral Richard Howe, the brother of General Howe, at New York City. Immediately thereafter they sailed a short distance to Sandy Hook. Most likely, due to the lack of wind, the fleet remained at Sandy Hook for three weeks during the hottest and most humid season of the year. It is difficult to imagine what his troops and animals must have suffered during this excruciating time period. Finally on the 23 rd of July, anchors were lifted and Howe's enormous armada vanished into mist-destination unknown, at least to Washington. The British leaders had planned on no more than thirty days for the entire trip and already three weeks had passed. Any extension in the allotted time could be disastrous both for his troops and animals, as well as their ability to support the northern forces, should it be necessary.

The fleet arrived at the Delaware Capes on the 30 th of July. Already they were beginning to feel the pinch of shortages-the prospects for the future looked grim. While at the Delaware Capes, the fleet was joined by the Rosebuck commanded by Captain Sir Andrew Snape Hamond ( George Washington War , Robert Leckie, Harper Collines Publishers, 1992, pages 348-349). Hammond had been on duty upon the coasts of Delaware and Virginia for over one and a half years where he commanded a detached squadron. His appraisal of the navigability of the waters in this area was accepted as highly credible. "Coming aboard Howe's flagship," Hammond reported, "the coast of Delaware from Cape Henlopen to Ready Island is of marshy low lands, very full of creeks; from Ready Island to Chester, the channel is so narrow as to require four miles of anchorage for the fleet, and the vessels must lie within cannon shot of the shore, and in many places within musket shot, with a tidal current of between three and four miles an hour to stem; that the water-guard of the Americans consisted of the Province ship, the Delaware frigate, two xebecs, one brig, two floating batteries, besides two frigates, one partly manned." And added to this protection, there was the "fort on Mud Island and numerous channel obstructions;" while the vessels of the fleet, the Cornwallis gallery excepted were ill adapted to force a passage against the American light craft, and the interposed obstructions and defenses." ( Battles of the American Revolution 1775-1781 , Henry B. Carrington, Promontory Press, New York, 1881, pages 363-365).

"Almost all this ominous report was grossly exaggerated or absolutely false. Navigation was not so difficult or the current so strong, because the flagship and twelve other large vessels were able to reach Chester in October. In November, as many as one hundred ships were anchored in that supposedly narrow channel between Reedy Island and New Castle, while both Chester and New Castle were good landing places, the latter large enough to receive transoceanic ships." ( George Washington's War, page 348). Moreover, his assessment of the river's defenses and the channel obstructions were overblown. Unfortunately for the British, his report was accepted as gospel and the Armanda re-routed through the Chesapeake. This decision extended a projected voyage of ten days to an actual thirty-two days and additional 300 miles. The cost of this decision is hardly calculable. To this date historians have been unable to determine what would have motivated Captain Hammond to make such a report. There is absolutely no question that he knew better and must have recognized the consequences of such a circuitous route.

The natural disasters that were invoked on the fleet from the time it departed the Delaware river and its arrival at Elks river is sufficient to convince anyone who is really in charge of world events-Providence. "Since the first voyage of Columbus, probably few men have been more pleased to feel solid ground beneath their feet than were the officers and soldiers of Sir Howe's expedition when they landed on the banks of the Elk River that late August day in 1777. After an auspicious start, head winds, tumbling seas, and fogs had made the progress of the fleet intolerably slow. It was a week before Cape May was sighted. Seasickness was general and collisions so numerous that already five of the six ships of the engineering department had been damaged. As the expedition continued to sail southward, offshore storms, accompanied by violent rains, put a sloop on her beam-ends and blew into the maintops a swarm of crickets that chirped nostalgically in the ensuing stillness."

Though the ships were supposed to have been well supplied for a month at sea, two days of dead calm made it necessary to ration the water, which in another week began to stink. Food ran low and officers rowed from ship to ship to borrow it. A party of wretched civilian carpenters would have mutinied but for the threat of stopping their rum. In the horse ships there was a want of fodder. On August 12, the west wind brought the heartening scent of pines. But no sooner was Cape Henry rounded and a course set up Chesapeake Bay than the heat became tropical on deck and unendurable below. Coats and even waistcoats were a burden. "It was worse," wrote homesick Mr. Serle, "in the flagship than Guinea or the West Indies: the nights, if possible, worse than the days. But to attempt to sleep on deck was to be drenched by the thunderstorms of incredible violence. The lightening damaged several ships and killed a number of men and horses. By the 20 th , twenty-eight days out from Sandy Hook the shortage of water had become so great that a number of horses had to be dropped overboard as an act of mercy." ( Valley Forge, The Making of an Army , Alfred Holt Bill, Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York, 1952, pages 48-49).

On the 23 rd of August, Admiral Howe and some engineers went looking for a suitable landing site. Eventually they found one on the shores of the Elk River. The Admiral took charge and on the 25 th started unloading the ships and by nightfall they were completed except for the baggage and camp equipment. "After traveling four hundred miles and squandering a month of priceless campaigning weather, he had arrived at a spot that was ten miles farther from his objective than he had been in December and as far from it as he had been at New Brunswick. He was only fifteen miles from New Castle on the Delaware where, but thirty miles from Philadelphia, he might have landed at the end of July and saved the long exhausting detour by way of the Chesapeake. And once more Washington stood between him and his goal.

The following day nature unleashed a deluge that lasted thirty-six hours. For lack of shelter, (it had not been unloaded) the soldiers were drenched to the skin and their ammunition ruined-each soldier had received sixty rounds. The guards alone lost more than 16,000 rounds. The roads and by-ways were rivers of mud halting any movement. The sun shone again on the 30 th and General Howe ordered his troops to move out. Unfortunately fatigue and sickness had caught up with them and they were forced to halt and wait until the 3 rd of September to continue their march. General Howe had given strict orders that there was to be no plundering. Unable to control the troops for lack of officers, plundering became rampant. As a result the provost marshal hung two and flogged five others severely.

Having lost most of their horses at sea (Howe had brought approximately 2,000 horses), another tragic incident happened after the remaining animals had been unloaded. "And the horses suffered horribly. Many of them perished and had to be thrown overboard. Upon reaching Head of Elk, the three hundred horses that survived were turned loose in a cornfield where they so gorged themselves that half of them were felled by colic. How that affected the transportation of Sir William's artillery, supplies and wounded is not known, but it could not have been otherwise than severe. There was not much chance to replace this shocking loss by requisitioning animals from around Head of Elk because most of the inhabitants deserted their houses and drove off their stock." ( George Washington's War, page 349).

Finally on the 11 th of September, the two forces collided at the Battle of Brandywine. Washington had about 11,000 troops, including the militia, which he had, to contest against more than 16,000 British and Hessians. Because of the treason of loyalists, the British were shown a route that would allow them to attack Washington from the rear, which they did. After several additional battles, Washington set up winter camp at Valley Forge. Although the Americans gave a good account of themselves they lost Philadelphia but accomplished Washington's main goal-they had prevented Howe from providing support to General Burgoyne and had held his losses to a minimum. The Battle of Saratoga ended on 17 October 1777. The battle that turned the tide of the Revolutionary War against Great Britain had been made possible by locking the forces of General Howe in Philadelphia.

In Summary

The series of natural calamities and bad decisions had cost the British dearly. Before their voyage even began lack of winds had held them prisoner at Sandy Hook for eighteen days. The original plan provided for the fleet to sail up the Delaware river, arriving in the Philadelphia area within ten days; however, misleading and patently false information from one of their own commanders sent them up the Chesapeake increasing the distance to the Philadelphia area by more than 350 miles. Moreover it added an additional thirty-five day delay. They lost nearly 1,500 horses and several ships were badly damaged or lost. During the voyage dozens of soldiers died from sicknesses, accidents, or being struck by lightening. Others died from sunstroke or heat exhaustion and were so weakened they were unable to march when they landed. Substantial equipment and supplies were lost or destroyed and the morale of the troops devastated. Once they landed they were confronted with a thirty-six hour deluge that soaked them all to the skin and turned the roads into streams of mud unfit for man or beast to travel. As a result of the muddy roads, sick and exhausted men, General Howe was forced to delay his campaign an additional seven days. Surely by then the British and Hessian troops had to be concerned they were fighting against Providence as well as the Americans.

The extensive delays forced on the British had truncated his options for the immediate future and made his strategy for 1777 impossible to accomplish. The delays had made it nearly impossible to provide timely support to General Burgoyne in the north. First, because General Washington's troops were between him and Burgoyne and second, because of the lateness of the season and lastly, the need to keep his forces intact if when he captured Philadelphia. On the other hand, the delays had allowed General Washington to bring General Sullivan's troops back from New Jersey, consolidate his forces, and better stage the preparations for engaging the British and Hessians. The defeat of General Burgoyne at Saratoga on the 17 th of October 1777, provided a mammoth boost in the morale of the Americans; provided badly needed guns, ammunition, and supplies; changed the direction of the war; and encouraged new allies to support or join with us.

The January and February articles from NCCS are part of a book that Ron Mann is writing on The Interposition of Providence in the Founding of Our Nation . Ron is presently researching this subject and would be pleased if anyone that had any material, books or stories on that subject would contact him. (1-208-642-6083)