Brooklyn Heights…The American Dunkirk

by Blog Administrator

Does God intervene in the affairs of men? Can his promises be taken literally? If not, how does one explain the fortuitous circumstances that delivered the fledgling American army from certain defeat at the hands of the British? Answering that question will require a close examination of one of the most significant battles leading to the founding of this nation.

Long before the British army found themselves trapped at Dunkirk by the advancing German Army on the southeast tip of France, America was trapped by advancing British forces converging on New York.

In April of 1776, the British navy ferried some 21,000 soldiers and 40 cannon up the Verrazano narrows to land them at Gravefend bay. In a major amphibious operation, British forces under Lord Howe sought to control Brooklyn-Heights, the highest land point in all of New York. The British recognized it as a strategic location from which to split the northern and southern colonies.

The British were making preparations to trap Washington and the American army at Brooklyn Heights, a fortress overlooking the East River. The American army was outnumbered more than two to one; it would take more than what Washington had at his disposal to save the army from certain defeat.

In August of 1776, British forces landed at Long Island, New York to begin their attack. The Americans were under command of General Charles Lee and the British under Lord Howe. The battle went poorly for the Americans, as they suffered some 970 men killed, wounded or missing and over 1000 men taken prisoner. This represented nearly one fourth of Washington’s army. Lee retreated to Brooklyn heights with the remainder of his men as the British advanced to position cannon against the fortifications.

Washington realized that New York would be difficult to defend but needed to prevent the British from splitting the colonies. He had some 11,000 men working to fortify the positions at Brooklyn-heights all summer long. The East River was behind them and a vast open field stretched out before them below the heights.

On Aug. 27, General Howe attacked with 20,000 men and thoroughly routed Washington’s troops in the open fields below Brooklyn Heights, killing a 1000 colonists in the clash. The Americans quickly retreated to the fortifications above awaiting a final night assault by the British.

Washington realized that he had trapped himself with a mile wide river behind him and Lord Howe in front with 20,000 British regulars positioned for a final assault. All Admiral Richard Howe (Lord Howe’s brother) had to do was move from the New Jersey shore to the East River to cut off his retreat from Long Island to Manhattan and they were finished. Washington faced an increasingly clear option, retreat or be annihilated.

Just when all seemed lost, God intervened in a most miraculous way. A long time ago, God promised in the Book of Genesis that two world powers would emerge from the blessing that Jacob imparted to Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. God had promised in return for Abraham’s obedience that "…his descendants would multiply and become great, would inherit specific lands and would give rise to kings." – Genesis 12: v1-7, Genesis 13: v12-16, and Genesis 17: v15-16. "The prophecies of the bible reveal important aspects of God’s plan, involving specific nations of this earth. If there were no plan, prophecy would be impossible." – Tomorrows’ World ( July-August 2006

In Genesis 48:19 we read: "..he [Manasseh] also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations." However, "..because of their disobedience, God had delayed giving them this blessing for 2520 years", punishing them 7 times over for their sins. – Tomorrows’ World July-August 2006. In Genesis 24:60, we read " thou the mother of thousands of millions, and let thy seed posses the gate of those which hate them."

On Aug. 29, the temperature dropped sharply and it began to rain in sheets. A local pastor had recorded in his diary that he couldn’t remember when it had ever rained so hard. Many of Washington’s men were waist-deep in water in the trenches that they had dug. Muskets and powder were drenched in the continued rain.

The rain was part of a ‘Noreaster’ that pounded the coast on and off for the better part of a week. Conditions were miserable for the continental army, having to keep constant watch for an impending British attack. Many men had not slept for days. But, the same wind that brought the ill weather also kept the British navy from sailing up the East River to trap Washington’s army. Was the sudden weather change just a chance? Or was God directing circumstances to accomplish his prophetic purpose?

Five navy warships had attempted to make it up the East River to cut off the American escape but were driven back by the wind. At first, the winds were favorable but quickly shifted to the North and despite ‘tacking to and fro’, the ships ultimately had to turn back. However, the same treacherous wind also prevented Washington’s army from crossing the river.

God has often used the weather to intervene in human affairs telling Job, "Have you entered the treasury of snow or have you seen the treasury of hail which I have reserved for the time of trouble, for the day of battle and war? - Job 38:v22-23.

Around 11:00pm that night, the wind abruptly died down, shifting to a southerly direction. John Glover’s sea going Massachusetts soldiers in a small armada of boats made their way across the river to rescue Washington and his army.

The British were camped only a few hundred yards away as Washington and his men were quietly ferried the mile across the river.

Washington’s amazing withdrawal from the Brooklyn-Heights citadel was the act of a divine hand honoring a 4000-year-old covenant.