The Nor’easter

On the evening of 27 August 1776, General Sir Henry Clinton and Lord Cornwallis were furious with their commander, General Howe: Washington’s army was just waiting on destruction and instead of attacking, Howe ordered siege works constructed. He later explained to Parliament in 1779 that his men were tired after marching all day, and he wanted to avoid another Bunker Hill. Furthermore, his brother, Admiral Lord Howe could easily trap the Americans by sailing into the East River the next morning. Nevertheless, Clinton and Cornwallis felt that when total victory was within your grasp, you seize it with both hands, lest the opportunity slip away. They were right.

On the early morning of 28 August, in the exhausted and battered American camp on Brooklyn Heights, the sentries’ eyes began adjusting to the twilight and they could just make out their British and Hessian counterparts 150 meters below them. But before their besiegers’ camp could become more than thousands of tiny fireflies in the black, darkness reemerged. In less than a minute, the clear starlit sky was a mass of dark angry clouds streaked of lightning. In its horrible fury, the thunder awoke both camps, and the horizontal rain blew over tents and extinguished fires. A Nor’easter had blown down the coast.

The storm, uncommon in the summer, howled all day, and showed no signs of abating. In New York Harbor, it was all Lord Howe could do to save his ships, much less than trying to sail up the East River.

It was the second time that year that Washington was saved by a freak phenomenon of the weather. It would not be the last.

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