Escape From Brooklyn

In the afternoon of 28 August, 1776, after a council of war with Greene, Putnam, and Sullivan, George Washington decided that the storm could be used as a cover to gather boats and escape the trap. It took a full day and then some to gather all the small craft on the East and Hudson rivers in the middle of the nor’easter, but by the evening of the 29th, they were assembled below Brooklyn Village. Just after dusk, almost as if Baby Jesus turned off the faucet, the storm dissipated, and left the East River calm.

Two Massachusetts regiments would ferry the Continental Army to Manhattan in great secrecy. Pvt Joseph Plum Martin wrote that the men were “enjoined not to speak, or even cough”, and that “orders were passed from officer to officer, and then to the men in a whisper…” All night Washington’s soon-to-be indispensable regiments of fishermen, mostly from Marblehead, slowly rowed the stores, powder, tents, cannon, horses and men of the heretofore doomed army across the mile wide East River.

In the morning twilight of the 30th, the men left behind in camp to stoke the fires scampered down to the bank, and were surprised to find three regiments, and Washington’s headquarters, still awaiting transport. The operation would be exposed at dawn for all eyes to see, whether Manhattan loyalists, the elder Howe’s gunners, or the younger Howe’s pickets. Washington, personally supervising the embarkation, briefly entertained the idea of sending the men back to the entrenchments to make a fight of it. But just as the sun was about to peak over the horizon, another freak accident of nature, some would say a miracle, happened – a heavy fog descended on the river. It was so thick men “had to hold the shoulder of the man in front of him”. When the fog finally lifted two hours later, Lord Howe, looking through his spyglass in the New York Harbor, watched the final load cross the river, which contained Washington as he was one of the last to embark.

The Continental Army would live to fight another day.

Almost a hundred years later, German Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck would say, “There is a Providence that protects idiots, drunkards, children, and the United States of America.”

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