Brooklyn Heights: Dunkirk of the American Revolution

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At the dawn of the American Revolution, God intervened in a dramatic way to save General George Washington's army from defeat. If you doubt that God intervenes in history to bring about fulfilled prophecy, the story of Brooklyn Heights may change your mind!


Many have heard of the famous "miracle at Dunkirk," in which God intervened in North Sea weather at the end of May 1940, giving British troops an unexpected means of escape from Dunkirk and changing the course of World War II.

Fewer are aware that a similar event occurred in North America in the early months of the American Revolution, on a much smaller scale but with similar far-reaching consequences. God used the weather in a surprising way to propel onto the world stage a powerful new nation—the United States. In the summer of 1776, God intervened in North American weather so that the modern descendants of Manasseh—one of the "lost ten tribes" of ancient Israel—could receive the blessings He had promised them long before. When we see how God intervened in U.S. history more than 200 years ago, we can appreciate how to respond today when we see God acting powerfully through world events.

In the summer of 1776, success for the American Revolution was far from certain. The Continental Congress had commissioned General George Washington to serve as commander-in-chief of the American forces. After a grueling but successful siege of Boston in 1775, Washington moved to fortify New York City in anticipation of a British attack. New York was a prime focus of British military strategy. It lay in the heart of the colonies—between Philadelphia and the southern colonies to the south and New England to the north—and was "kind of key to the whole continent," in the words of John Adams, a Continental Congress leader who would later become the U.S.' second President.

At the same time that the Declaration of Independence was being drafted and ratified, the British were sailing into New York Harbor. Historian David McCullough, describing the first British ships landing on June 29, 1776, wrote: "The first British sails had been sighted at the end of June, a great fleet looking, as one man said, like 'all London afloat.' It was a spectacle such as had never been seen in American waters. And the ships had kept coming all summer" ("What the Fog Wrought," What Ifs? of American History, ed. Cowley, p. 45). On August 13, Washington reported sighting 96 more ships entering the harbor in that one day. Twenty more arrived the next day. All told, the ships anchored in New York Harbor numbered more than 400, carrying more than 32,000 well-equipped British and German troops.

Though New York would be difficult to defend, Washington had to try to prevent the British from occupying the Hudson River Valley and splitting the 13 colonies. Not knowing where the British would attack first, he planned to divide his forces between Manhattan Island and Long Island. Washington assumed that he could move troops back and forth across the East River, as needed, but this error in judgment almost cost him his army, and cost America the revolution.

Preparing for the British attack, more than 12,000 American troops worked on their defenses all summer long at Brooklyn Heights, at the westernmost edge of Long Island on a bluff overlooking Manhattan Island. Finally, in late August, British General William Howe landed unopposed on Long Island, near Sandy Hook, with 20,000 troops.

On Tuesday, August 27, Howe engaged and soundly routed Washington's troops in the open fields below Brooklyn Heights. More than 1,000 Americans lost their lives, and many others were wounded or taken captive. As the British cautiously prepared to strike a final blow at American positions on the bluff, Washington faced a difficult but increasingly clear choice—to retreat or to be annihilated.

"Washington and his exhausted men fell back to the fortifications on the Heights, waiting as night fell for a final British assault, the river to the rear. And right then and there the American cause hung in the balance" (ibid., p. 47). Most of the American soldiers were in a trap, facing 20,000 British regulars at the fore, and a mile-wide river at their backs. All the British navy had to do was to move a few warships up the East River to prevent Washington's escape, and the war would be over, the revolution aborted.

This should have been easy for the British navy—the most powerful navy in the world. But God had other plans!

A Promise of Greatness

Students of Bible prophecy will recall that, about 2,500 years before the Battle of Brooklyn Heights, God had promised Jacob that his sons Ephraim and Manasseh would be the progenitors of two world-ruling powers. "He [Manasseh] also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; but truly his younger brother [Ephraim] shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations" (Genesis 48:19). Because of their disobedience, God delayed giving them this blessing for 2,520 years (Leviticus 26:18; for more on this point, please see "Prophecy Comes Alive" on page 14 of this issue). But by 1776, it was almost time for Manasseh to become a world super-power, as God had promised. (For more information documenting the English-speaking nations' descent from Ephraim and Manasseh, please write for your free copy of our informative booklet, The United States and Great Britain in Prophecy).

Though all seemed lost for Washington's army, God then intervened in the weather in a dramatic way. "On August 29, the temperature dropped sharply and the rain came in torrents on the unsheltered [American] army. During the afternoon, according to a diary kept by a local Brooklyn pastor, 'Such heavy rain fell again as can hardly be remembered.' Muskets and powder were soaked. In some places men stood in flooded trenches in water up to their waists. Expecting the enemy to attack at any moment, they had to keep a constant watch. Many had not slept for days… But in their misery was their salvation. The driving rain and cold were part of a fitful, at times violent, nor-easter that had been blowing off and on for better than a week, and for all the punishment it inflicted, the wind had kept the British ships from coming upriver with the tide. For the new nation, it was an ill wind that blew great good, so long as it held" (ibid., pp. 48–49). Was this just chance? Or was God Himself directing the affairs of the battle and movements of men, to accomplish His prophetic will?

Five British warships had tried to navigate up the East River to cut off the Americans' retreat. The ships had begun with a favorable wind, but "miraculously the wind had veered off to the north. The ships, after tacking to and fro, trying to gain headway, at last gave up" (1776, McCullough, p. 175). Unmistakably, the wind changed its course on that day to prevent the British ships from encircling the Americans!

As Washington's soldiers tried to cross the mile-wide river, the rough current and storm made it equally impassable for them. American General Alexander McDougall, in charge of the maneuver, even told Washington it would not be possible to cross that night. But circumstances suddenly changed at "about eleven o'clock when, as if by design, the northeast wind died down. Then the wind shifted to the southwest and a small armada of boats manned by more of John Glover's Massachusetts sailors and fishermen started over the river from New York" to rescue Washington's army (ibid., pp. 187–188).

Now the American boats could begin to cross. Manned by Glover's sailors and fishermen, every kind of small craft was employed. All the army's provisions—men, horses, supplies, and cannon—were ferried across. One English officer contemporary to the Revolution called Washington's retreat "particularly glorious," and a later scholar would say that "a more skillful operation of this kind was never conducted." Many of the boats were loaded so heavily that the water was within inches of the gunwales (Cowley, p. 53).

Without divine help in the form of favorable wind, the Revolutionary War would have ended in disaster for Washington and his troops.

However, the harrowing ordeal did not end with the coming of dawn. As darkness gave way to early morning light, many of Washington's men were still on Long Island. They were running out of time! "But again, 'the elements' interceded, this time in the form of pea-soup fog. It was called 'a peculiar providential occurrence,' 'manifestly providential,' 'very favorable to the design,' 'an unusual fog,' 'a friendly fog,' 'an American fog." On the New York side there was no fog, but on the Long Island side of the river, as one American soldier recalled, "it was so dense, that I could scarcely discern a man at six yards' distance" (ibid., p. 52). Even in daylight, fog kept the entire operation concealed from the British.

The entire maneuver was completed by 7:00 a.m. the next morning, having taken 13 hours to ferry 9,000 men, their horses and their equipment across the East River. "And in less than an hour after, the fog having dispersed, the enemy was visible on the shore we had left" (McCullough, p. 191).

How do historians assess this remarkable feat? "Skillful retirements do not win wars; but this one, like that of the British from Dunkerque in 1940, saved an army from annihilation and allowed the war to continue" (The Oxford History of the American People, Samuel Eliot Morison, pp. 239–240).

Fulfilled Prophecy

Though Washington's successful retreat from Brooklyn Heights was complete, the American Revolution was far from over. Continental forces had suffered a humiliating defeat, and would face more setbacks for several years before the tide turned. Yet, as at Dunkirk 164 years later, a miraculous escape across a body of water had saved an army from certain defeat or capture, allowing it to fight another day. The miraculous escape across the East River allowed the American cause to continue, and enabled end-time prophecy about modern Israel to be fulfilled soon thereafter.

What saved the American colonists during this opening battle of the Revolution? Was it superior firepower? Better equipment? More highly trained officers and leadership? In every category, the British had the overwhelming advantage, and used it. Even George Washington showed his inexperience, and learned lessons from which he would benefit in later campaigns. Except for the weather, the outcome was almost certain, even predictable. God has shown throughout history that He intervenes in human affairs—and He often intervenes through the weather! For more information on how God uses the weather to intervene in human affairs, request our free booklet Who Controls the Weather? God uses the tools at His disposal to affect the actions of individuals and nations, including the great clashes of warfare. Notice what He asked 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 38:22–23).

God created the universe, and can affect the outcome of any human plan or endeavor! He often uses the weather to do this. In Noah's time, God brought about the Flood as a judgment on humanity. How did He do it? By breaking up the "fountains of the great deep," and opening up the "windows of heaven" (Genesis 7:11). In delivering the Israelites from Egypt, God brought ecological disasters—"signs and wonders in the land of Egypt"—and brought a proud nation to its knees, by the work of His hand (Exodus 7:3, 5). A generation later, God gave Joshua the commission of conquering the land of Canaan. God overwhelmed the Philistines for Joshua, by casting large hailstones on them (Joshua 10:7–11).

God has intervened powerfully for modern-day Joseph—the U.S and British Commonwealth nations—to bring about His prophecies, according to His timetable. But as these nations reject God's commandments and turn away from Him through corruption, immorality, idolatry and practices adopted from pagan religions, how long will He continue to intervene on their behalf? Will He rescue them again and again, as He did at Brooklyn Heights in 1776 and at Dunkirk in 1940?

Blessings for Obedience

On the plains of Moab, during Israel's early days as a nation, God explained that His weather-related blessings were contingent upon the nation's obedience to Him! Moses gave Israel a warning that still applies today: "Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today… The Lord will open to you His good treasure, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season, and to bless all the work of your hand… But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you… The Lord will strike you… with scorching, and with mildew; they shall pursue you until you perish. And your heavens which are over your head shall be bronze, and the earth which is under you shall be iron. The Lord will change the rain of your land to powder and dust; from the heaven it shall come down on you until you are destroyed" (Deuteronomy 28:1, 12, 15, 22–24).

What is the lesson for us today? If we want God to guide us, intervene for us, and be a shield for us personally, we must turn to Him with all our hearts and obey His commandments. We must ask for His will to be our will, and must seek Him to guide our lives in everything. He must rule our lives, just as He rules the heavens, the earth and the whole universe!

Samuel was one of Israel's most righteous leaders. When the Israelites were under threat from the warring Philistines, Samuel led Israel not just in asking for God's deliverance, but in seeking His forgiveness through fasting and heartfelt repentance. "Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, 'If you return to the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths from among you, and prepare your hearts for the Lord, and serve Him only; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines'" (1 Samuel 7:3).

Notice how the Israelites responded: "So they gathered together at Mizpah, drew water, and poured it out before the Lord. And they fasted that day, and said there, 'We have sinned against the Lord'" (v. 6). Have you honestly repented of a way of life contrary to God's commandments? Are you striving to live according to Christ's commandments—as He lived—even though as a fallible human being you sometimes fail and need to repent? Are you looking to Christ as your model and standard in keeping the Sabbath and Holy Days, and submitting your life to Him in everything, asking Him to empower you through His Spirit—even to live His life in you?

Notice the dramatic result when the people, led by Samuel, sought God with their whole heart, with repentance and fasting: "Then Samuel cried out to the Lord for Israel, and the Lord answered him. Now as Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel. But the Lord thundered with a loud thunder upon the Philistines that day, and so confused them that they were overcome before Israel… So the Philistines were subdued, and they did not come anymore into the territory of Israel" (vv. 9–10, 13).

Is God on Your Side?

How much can "thunder and lightning" do when God decides to intervene in battle? How much do we want God on our side when we are in trouble? If we want God on our side, are we truly willing to put ourselves on God's side?

As this age draws to a close, and "famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places" occur as prophecy foretells (Matthew 24:7), are you personally striving to grow close to God, in obedience to Jesus Christ? We must put our faith in a personal and real God, whom we must obey! Jesus reminded us: "But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man" (Luke 21:34–36).

There is another little-known fact about the Battle of Brooklyn Heights. Long before the British arrived in New York, George Washington had called for a day of fasting and prayer! As commentator William Bennett notes, "Waiting in New York for the British General Howe and his troops to return from Halifax, Washington issued the order on May 15 for prayer, fasting, and humble supplication to the Lord for His continued blessings" (The Spirit of America, Bennett, pp. 393–394). Washington was beseeching God for success—and for His personal guidance—three months before that crucial battle! Bennett continues: "Looking back, we can see that the American cause for liberty should have probably ended right then and there in New York, where American troops were outnumbered and outgunned nearly three to one by the British troops and armada" (ibid.)

"At the battle of Brooklyn Heights, the American troops lost more than 1,000 men. The British were on the verge of capturing all our troops and bringing the rebellion to an early close. But the British, for some reason, delayed the final siege. Then, rain and fog miraculously set in, providing cover for the American troops to evacuate Long Island undetected across the river… The divine hand of providence seemed to be at work, answering the supplications of Washington and his troops. In war, in peace, in deliberation, on rising, on going to bed, our greatest president called on and renewed his faith" (ibid.).

Just as God intervened on behalf of Washington and his army, He will intervene in your life if you wholeheartedly seek Him. If you turn to Him, pour out your heart to Him, and strive to obey Him with every fiber of your being, He will guide you, protect you and bless you! In a society increasingly turning away from God, it is up to you to personally ask Him to be your shield and your bulwark—your Savior—in difficult times ahead!

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