Early on in the American Revolution the need for General Washington’s Continental Army to withdraw from their defensive position at the heights above New York was very evident as the British forces under General Howe were daily increasing in superiority in New York harbor. Howe was meticulously planning and building up for the attack, which was imminent on August 21, 1776. On the evening of August 21, the skies suddenly went black. One witness described it this way; “lightning fell in masses and sheets to the earth, and seemed to strike incessantly and on every side.” Dozens were killed by lightning strikes that night. Both the Americans and the British sensed that the hand of God was somehow in it all.
Next morning began hot and humid, and General Howe sought to surprise attack Washington’s troops. They landed unopposed at Gravesend Bay (near today’s Coney Island area) and by noon more than 15,ooo British troops were ashore. The route was underway as the overwhelming numbers of British forces flanked Washington’s defenses and cut off his options for movement.
General Howe wrote of his success saying that the British had killed, captured or wounded over 3,000 of Washington’s men. He concluded from this battle that the rebels’ will to resist was crushed. Writing to his father, a brigadier serving in Howes army said, “I think I may venture to assert that they will never again stand before us in the field. Everything seems to be over for them, and I flatter myself now, that this campaign will put a total end to the war.” British General James Grant, who was in the thick of the fighting that day, enthusiastically agreed. He wrote to General Harvey that, “If a good bleeding can bring those Bible-faced Yankees to their senses, the fever of independency should soon abate.”
The fact that these Americans saw the authority of God and the Bible as even superior to the authority of the King of England was galling to them. They referred to the independence-minded Americans in derision as “Psalm-singing Yankees” or “Bible-faced Yankees.” But General Washington and most of those who strove for American independence understood that only the miracles of God’s divine intervention could give them any chance against the most formidable military force in the world of that time.