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Published on July 3rd, 2012 | by Nathaniel Darnell


1776: Providence & Perseverance — How George Washington Won the War

We remember 1776 as the year the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence. We remember the ideals embodied in that eloquent document. But few of us realize the sacrifice the soldiers of the colonial army endured to birth those eloquent ideals into reality. Few of us realize how close we came to losing again and again.

A few summers ago I enjoyed reading David McCullough’s bestseller 1776, a well-written, documented account of the first year in the War for Independence. That book tells the story of the struggles Washington’s army endured just to survive.

In that year Washington often had to fight to keep his army over one thousand members, while being hounded by a British army with tens of thousands of soldiers. They lacked sufficient weapons. They lacked proper training. They lacked basic supplies. Disease plagued the soldiers frequently. Washington himself was plagued by traitors and arrogant assisting generals who sought to displace him.

However, more than once in 1776 something happened that the continental army could only explain as “the hand of God” mercifully helping them.

The Battle for Boston

One example came during the battle at Boston on March 5th. The night was unseaonably clear and bright as the soldiers quickly dug trenches for the coming battle. When the sun rose the next day the British were so suprised by the progress the Americans had made that General Howe exclaimed, “[T]hese fellows have done more work in one night than I could make my army do in three months.”

A British egineering officer calculated that the progress the rebels had made must have required 15,000 to 20,000 men. General Howe, in his official account, would be more conservative and put the number at 14,000 — more than double the actual size of the colonial army at the time.

The British scrambled to retaliate against the entrenched American army, but just as the battle was beginning, it was suddenly interrupted. The weather had dramatically shifted from clear skies during the night to a storm by noon. As the day turned to evening the storm turned to hail and sleet and “the wind blew almost a hurricane.”

[get_product id="1384" align="right" size="small"]As a result of the storm, General Howe decided not to attack and eventually retreated from Boston. “Like others, [Washington] attributed the storm of March 5 to the intervening hand of God. He did not ‘lament or repine at any act of Providence,’ he told Joseph Reed”.(1)

At a later battle at New York harbor, a fleet of British ships attempted to attack the colonial army, but became paralyzed when the winds suddenly shifted against them. Before the Battle at Trenton, where Washington crossed the Delaware, the Hessian commander in charge of the fort had received a note warning him about Washington’s army launching a sneak attack. The Hessian commander uncharacteristically did not read the note until it was too late. To some these helpful events may seem only random coincidences or luck, but to the Christian, and to the founding fathers themselves, they are nothing less the fingerprint of God on their behalf.

What Won the War?

At the end of his book, David McCullough assessed the cause for the colonials victory in the face of such overwhelming odds:

Financial support from France and the Netherlands, and military support from the French army and navy, would play a large part in the outcome. But in the last analysis it was Washington and the army that won the war for American independence. The fate of the war and the revolution rested on the army. The Continental Army – not the Hudson River or the possession of New York or Philadelphia – was the key to victory. And it was Washington who held the army together and gave it “spirit” through the most desperate of times.

He was not a brilliant strategist or tactician, not a gifted orator, nor an intellectual. At several crucial moments he had shown marked indecisiveness. He had made serious mistakes in judgment. But experience had been his great teacher from boyhood, and in this his greatest test, he learned steadily from experience. Above all, Washington never forgot what was at stake and he never gave up.

Again and again, in letters to Congress and to his officers, and in his general orders, he had called for perseverance – for “perseverence and spirit,” for “patience and perseverance,” for “unremitting courage and perseverance.” . . . Without Washington’s leadership and unrelenting perseverance, the revolution almost certainly would have failed. As Nathanael Green foresaw as the war went on, “He will be the deliverer of his own country.”(2)

So historian McCullough says that without qualification General George Washington’s perseverance — not his brilliance as a commander — was the foremost reason the colonists succeeded against Great Britain. But how was Washington able to persevere as he did? Earlier in his book, David McCullough reveals this is as well, if we will only take the time to connect the dots. As McCullough points out, in a letter written to Joseph Reed, Washington foretold what he believed the basis for his perseverence would be:

“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, . . .”(3)

So David McCullough’s 1776 asserts that Washington’s perseverance was the single most significant reason that the colonist won the war, and Washington says that God’s blessing of providence was the sole reason that he persevered.

The theme of God’s controlling providence directing the affairs of men runs throughout the Scriptures. The Word of God says in Zechariah 4:6, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.”  In Proverbs 16:9, “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.”  In Proverbs 16:33, “The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.” This is no deistic, absentee God that the Bible speaks of, nor is it a deistic, absentee God that Washington was writing about. It is the God, who as Ben Franklin said, “governs in the affairs of men!”

On this July 4th, while we give thanks for our founders for determining to uphold “the laws of nature and of nature’s God” over the law of a tyrant king and parliament, let us most of all give thanks to the God who blessed their determination and made it fruitful to birth the nation we so casually enjoy each day.Endnotes:

  1. See David McCullough, 1776, ch. 3, p. 110.()
  2. David McCullough, 1776, ch. 7, pp. 293–294.()
  3. David McCullough, 1776, ch. 3, page 79.()
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About the Author

Nathaniel Darnell holds his juris doctorate from Oak Brook College of Law and serves as the Director of Ministry Advancement at American Vision. He is the author of the novel "Glory, Duty, & Gold Dome" and the producer of over 100 commercial videos. Before working as the Director of the Video Department at Vision Forum Ministries for five years, he served for eight years as a legislative aide at the Georgia State Capitol.

17 Responses to 1776: Providence & Perseverance — How George Washington Won the War

  1. Gary Kelly says:

    Michael Shea’s new book should be required reading in schools: In GOD We Trust: George Washington and the Spiritual Destiny of the United States of America explores God’s hand in the many miracles and coincidences in George Washington’s life and country’s founding. The book also explores the country’s spiritual journey and destiny connected to Jesus, God’s purpose in the founding of the United States, and what it portends for our future survival as a nation.

  2. Brett says:

    Take a look at this website about George Washington and Providence . . . “Have you forgotten Providence?”

  3. SLIMJIM says:

    Thank you for this article on the historical providence in American history. Look forward to future articles that you contribute on American Vision!

  4. Robert Silecchio says:

    I read the book 1776 by David David McCullough and it was not only well written,but well documented.I would like to let your readers know of another book just as well written and can’t recommend iot more highly.The name of this book is Washington’s Crossing by David Hackett Fischer.
    Another great book in how a true leader,would lead our country.Check this book out,you won’t be dissaponited.
    Happy Independence Day,Robert

    • Tionico says:

      Yet one more is Peter Lilback’s Sacred Fire, which is a biography of George Washington with a particularly careful examination of his faith in the God of the Bible as his motivating and directing factor. Excellent read, well researched, and very encouraging. It gives the lie to much of the legend which has held Washington out to be some sort of deist.I had the amazing priviledge of hearing Dr. Lilback lecture live on this subject several times over a week long conference event some years ago. I learned the truth we were never taught in school, and I attended very solid private schools.

  5. John Waddey says:

    Thanks for the tremendous article on Divine Providence by Nathaniel Darnell. As a diligent student of and teacher of God’s Word and an avid historian I have seen the hand of God at work in numerous cases in the course of human history. Indeed, “The Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men” (Daniel 4:25). Providence is much easier discerned in history than when it is presently transpiring. In a few years we will look back at our day and see what the hand of God hath wrought. Darnell has inspired me to read my copy of 1776 which lies waiting in my stack of books to be read. Thanks for the great lesson. John Waddey

  6. Washington did indeed persevere. Yet it is tragic that he did not persevere in the cause of Yahweh, but rather in the cause of the Masonic God, The Great Architect of the Universe. All of Washington’s pastors during the years of his Presidency — Rev. White, Asa Green, Rev. Abercrombie — denied that he had any commitment to the Christian faith.

    Washington always refused to take communion because he recognized the covenantal implications — he could not contradict the anti-Christian oaths he had previously sworn as a Mason. Washington was a lifelong leader in the Masonic mystery religion and died a Roman Catholic. At one point a delegation of Christian pastors tried to get a written acknowledgment of Washington’s commitment to Christ and he refused to give it.

    Washington fought for freedom of religion, a concept that is foreign to the Bible, in particular the First Commandment: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” The Bible guards the conscience of the unbelieving “stranger”, but it never grants freedom for public worship of idols or false religions like that of Washington.

    As American Christians we should honor the memory of our Puritan fathers, but stop fawning over the Enlightenment rationalists who provoked the judgment of God we are experiencing today.

    • Shawn Keating says:

      Your historical knowledge is almost completely incorrect. All of Washington’s family and associates affirmed that he was a Christian, not a rationalist. Only his New York pastor mentioned the communion issue, which “covenantal aspect” implied union with King George, head of the Anglican church. That is the church he faithfully served all of his life, including the vestry. They were known for the Calvinistic, almost Presbyterian, structure and beliefs. The masons in those days had not embraced the pagan aspects that infected it during the period of Victorian romanticism in the 1800′s. Hope that clarifies the misinformation.

      • Evan Erickson says:

        Thank you Shawn for your comments. I have found much the same in research on the father of our country. Also I have enjoyed 1776, and find myself drawn to literature of this period with original sources cited.

      • The best evidence of Washington’s hostility to Christianity is seen in the godless Constitution given us by the convention he presided over. This document

        1) makes “we the people” the source of governing authority rather than God (Rom 13:1),

        2) makes itself and all the manmade laws “made in pursuance thereof” the SUPREME law of the land (Article VI — the law of God doesn’t even get honorable mention)

        3) outlaws any requirement that an official swear to govern according to the Bible as required by most of the colonial charters (also Art VI — “no religious test….”

        Moreover your whitewashing of Freemasonry is very naive. Freemasonry has always been gnosticism, with new knowledge revealed at each level after swearing a blood-curdling oath of secrecy. What is this knowledge? Is it consistent with Biblical truth. No! How can any Christian take an anti-Biblical oath such as the following, let alone preside as “Grand Master” over many lodges requiring such oaths, as did George Washington?

        Oath of Nimrod

        Apprentice Degree (1st).

        I, _______, do in the presence of El Shaddai and of this Worshipful Assembly of Free Masons, Rough Masons, Wallers, Slaters, Paviors, Plaisterers and Bricklayers, promise and declare that I will not at any time hereafter, by any act or circumstance whatsoever, directly or indirectly, write, print, cut, mark, publish, discover, reveal, or make known, any part or parts of the Trade secrets, privileges, or counsells of the Worshipful Fraternity or Fellowship of Free Masonry, which I may have known at any time, or at any time hereafter shall be made known unto me.

        The penalty for breaking this great oath shall be the loss of my life.

        That I shall be branded with the mark of the Traitor and slain according to ancient custom by being throtalled, that my body shall be buried in the rough sands of the sea a cable’s length from the shore where the tide regularly ebbs and flows twice in the twenty-four hours, so that my soul shall have no rest by night or by day–

        (Candidate Signs the O.B.)

    • Stephen Barber says:

      What did the Puritans have to do with the Declaration of Independence? Sure they agreed with deists about a divinely ordered moral law, but the D of I was an Enlightment document. By the way, the D of I created no nation. It simply declared that the colonies considered themselves independent states, some of which (Georgia and Virginia) had already created their own state constitutions.

    • Tionico says:

      yet we find the historical record shows that George Washington’s first act after his formal inauguration ceremony was to walk a few blocks down the street and attend divine services, wherein he partook of the Lord’s Table. His stated reason was that he felt he needed the spiritual sustenance afforded through communion in order to stand faithful to his commitment as president, and that he desired this be his first official act as our country’s new president. Perhaps some might “worship” the man George Washington, just as many also do the present resident kenyan standing in his office. but to claim we all do so is not based on anything approaching reality or truth.

  7. Jennifer says:

    I live in the Finger Lakes in Upstate NY. We had the blessing of homeschooling our kids and spending much time researching history. More Revolutionary War battles were fought in NY than any other state, so for Independence Day we try to travel to a site to remember those who went before us. My personal favorite was visiting General Herkimer’s house. I cried as I stood next to the very bed that brave and God-fearing man died after being shot at the battle of Oriskany (not far from my home). We visited Fort Ticonderoga three years ago, where Ethan Allen led the Green Mountain Boys to capture it from the British, then Henry Knox led the effort to bring all the cannon from the fort to Boston to break the siege, it worked because the patriot farmers from NY left their homes with teams of oxen to help Henry. Too bad we’ve lost all sense of the sacrifice of the men and women who gave us our freedom. They deserve our remembrance and gratitude.

  8. Mark says:

    Thanx for a great article Nathaniel. We have a lot to be thankful for and need to keep praying for the “hand of God” to save us once again.

    • Nathaniel Darnell says:

      Amen, Mark! Glad you enjoyed the this little bit from God’s story. Indeed, He is our only true hope and what a joyous One. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Have a delightful July 4th!

  9. Melody Varney says:

    22 years to the day before the Congress declared independence, Washington fought and lost at Fort Necessity. Despite the loss, this beginning battle helped to set in motion events that helped bring forth the colonist conflict with the mother country and in this little meadow that Washington later purchased, a young Washington experienced much that he would later contend with as commander of the American army. Near starvation of troops, inadequate supplies, difficult troops, adverse conditions, and a greatly outnumbered army. It is amazing to look back and see the events that helped shaped a man, especially a man such as the Father of our country, another act of Providence on the life of Washington.

    • Nathaniel Darnell says:

      That’s a neat observation, Melody! Thank you for passing that along. God is sovereign and He does all things well.

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