Early in the war, the most effective strategy for the Americans was to fight, then retreat so that the inexperienced Continental Army would not engage the more disciplined, superior force of combat-hardened British troops on their own terms. As General George Washington struggled to understand fully and apply this concept so as to give his army experience and keep them out of the enemy’s hands, Providence acted as their rear guard.
In February 1776, Washington planned to take Boston by first placing artillery on Dorchester Heights, overlooking Boston Harbor. He hoped to draw the British forces into a battle over Dorchester Heights, diverting their attention while he landed his army in Boston by way of the River Charles. The plan was ill advised at best; as historian James Thomas Flexner points out, the inexperienced Washington could easily have lost his prestige and half his army by committing such an engagement. If he had, “the cause could … have collapsed.”
On the night of 4 March 1776, Washington’s men placed prefabricated fortifications on Dorchester Heights. The next morning, at daylight, the British commanders were astonished to see the gun emplacements that had been erected overnight.
The Americans continued to position their artillery on Dorchester Heights and the British prepared to attack these positions by embarking their troops onto Castle William, a fortified island General William Howe would use as the staging area for the British attack. All was proceeding as Washington had hoped until what one Briton described as “[a] wind more violent than everything [he] had ever heard” descended on Boston. Even after the storm subsided, large waves prevented any amphibious British assault from Castle William. Plans for both the Dorchester Heights attack and Washington’s capture of Boston were cancelled. Both generals—Washington of the Colonial army and Howe of the British forces—blamed the weather for their foiled plans.
Flexner points out that, had the storm not occurred, “there would have been such a battle as the Continental Army actually engaged in only once, at Fort Washington, when the entire American force that was engaged fell to the enemy. In all other battles, the patriots had access to escape routes through which if they found they could not stand up to the trained European regulars [they could retreat]. But the troops Washington had intended to land in Boston could never have regained their boats. They would have been trapped. They would either have had to annihilate the British or be themselves entirely defeated.” Such a loss by the Continentals could have meant the end of the war for independence—“the cause could either have collapsed or shriveled away.”
The sudden, unexpected storm had saved Washington and his young army and had given him time to develop military strategies that would make the inexperienced American army more effective. Still, it would take another mistake on Long Island and another fortuitous intervention of the elements to teach General Washington the lessons he needed to learn. As Washington grew as a leader and strategist, he did not hesitate to attribute his protection to “the gracious interposition of Heaven.”
Every freedom-loving patriot in modern times (in every nation of the world) has already been inspired by the blessings emanating from the “just and holy principles” upon which America was founded. Could it be that America was designed to be much more than just a political entity and that her founders understood and endeavored to teach the rising generations what it would take to preserve those blessings forever? While as a nation we have breached the Covenant in many instances and suffered as a result, this book is written to leave all without excuse. We have within our grasp the freedom to choose to honor or to violate the terms of the Covenant and surely as a nation, we will live or die by the consequences of that choice.