There was a phrase in the 1840’s that was bandied about in Europe: “A special Providence watches over children, drunkards and the United States.” While the comment was undoubtedly meant to be derogatory toward the then-young nation, there is no doubting that there was some truth to it. American history is littered with truly bizarre moments where the U.S. has managed the impossible. Whether because an accomplished enemy suddenly made a rookie mistake, an American got lucky or the weather itself interfered, the United States certainly has some colorful stories that cannot be read as anything less than divine intervention.
Washington Dodges BulletsGeorge Washington had more lives than a cat. The man survived smallpox as a child, encountered a Native American war party during one of his early surveying trips, sat in a sniper’s crosshairs, survived a series of campaigns that killed a third of his men and somehow survived the entire Revolutionary War despite lack of supplies and his position as arguably the most wanted man alive. Nothing, however, proves that God had a fondness for Washington more than the Battle of Monongahela. During this battle in the French and Indian War, General Edward Braddock and his troops were surrounded and attacked. Two thirds of the British forces were killed including General Braddock. Washington entered the battle with severe headaches and a running fever and had two horses shot out from under him, four bullets put through his coat and his hat shot off his head. Never say God does not have favorites.
Sudden Surge of FogThe Battle of Long Island could have been the end of the American Revolution. The British had all but defeated the Continental Army but decided to hold off on a final assault until British ships had cut off any potential American retreat across the river. While the British waited, Washington decided to attempt an evacuation. He had a single night to get 9,000 men to safety under the Redcoats’ noses. Boats made multiple trips across the river hauling men and horses. When the sun rose, however, a large portion of the American forces were still left in Brooklyn. The British, however, would never manage to capture those men as a heavy fog suddenly descended over the area. It lasted just long enough for Washington and his men to make their escape. In fact, the fog, for some inexplicable reason, left New York perfectly clear. In short, the fog somehow hid the Americans without touching anything else in the area.
The American evacuation was not managed in complete secrecy, but another impossible coincidence saved the Continental Army. When a Loyalist sent her servant to warn the British that the Americans were escaping, the messenger was detained overnight by Hessian troops who did not speak English. As for those British ships that were supposed to cut off the American’s escape route in the first place? They did not have enough wind to reach Long Island in time.
Tornado in Washington, D.C.Most people do not remember much about the War of 1812 beyond the year it was begun. One of the few events that American history students remember is how Dolly Madison saved a full sized portrait of George Washington before fleeing the White House. Shortly thereafter, the British took and tried to burn Washington, D.C. --the operative word being “tried.”
The British probably felt quite pleased with themselves when they set fire to the capitol of the young nation that had, impossibly, beaten them thirty short years ago. Apparently, however, God did not care for British plans to burn D.C. to the ground and sent a hurricane ashore. The pouring rains put out the many fires the British had set, but the downpour was apparently not content with simply thumbing its nose at the British. Instead, the already brutal storm decided to drop a tornado in the middle of the British forces. The funnel cloud ripped up trees, leveled buildings and was recorded as tossing British cannons at the terrified Redcoats. All of this despite the fact that Washington, D.C. has had a grand total of seven tornados in its entire history, three of which did not even register as an F1.
Unlucky AssassinsAssassination is a very real threat for people in important positions, and American presidents are not immune to this danger. There have been numerous assassination attempts on various presidents, some of which have succeeded. There are also some plots that should have succeeded but failed nonetheless.
Abraham Lincoln was shot at by a sniper in August 1864. The sniper knocked Lincoln’s hat off his head but missed the president’s skull. Georgian national Vladimir Arutyunian threw a live hand grenade wrapped in a handkerchief at President George W. Bush while he was at a rally in Tbilisi, Georgia. The handkerchief blocked the grenade’s safety lever and kept it from exploding. A group of tourists tackled a man who open fired on the north lawn in an attempt to kill Bill Clinton a month after Frank Eugene Corder tried to ram a single engine airplane into the White House. The plane got tangled in the branches of a magnolia tree. The gun of Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme of the Manson Family misfired when she tried to kill Gerald Ford. Theodore Roosevelt was shot in the chest on October 14, 1912, while giving a speech. Roosevelt’s speech was folded up in his breast pocket, and the packet of paper was so thick that it slowed the bullet. Roosevelt announced to his audience that he “had just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose…I was going to make a long speech, and there is a bullet…so I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best.”
Then, there was the unlucky man who targeted Andrew Jackson. Richard Lawrence, an English national who believed he was King Richard III from the 15th century, attacked Jackson after the funeral of a House representative. Lawrence’s gun jammed. Lawrence pulled out a second gun. That one also misfired. Jackson, apparently fed up with the affair, preceded to thrash the would-be assassin with his cane.
Carriers Not at HomeThe infamous attack on Pearl Harbor was supposed to destroy the entirety of the Pacific Fleet. Japanese fighters dropped out of the sky and went after the relatively undefended naval facilities. Though the attack was devastating, Japan utterly failed at its objective. Though every battleship in Pearl Harbor sustained significant damage, only the USS Arizona and USS Utah were never successfully salvaged and repaired. The base’s vital onshore facilities, including oil depots and repair shops, were left largely intact, and the surprise attack, while Japanese delegates were at the White House claiming to negotiate a peace treaty, enraged an American public that had so far been reluctant to enter the war.
The most fortuitous part of the Pearl Harbor attack, however, was what was not in the harbor: the American aircraft carriers. By the 1940’s, battleships were no longer the most important naval vessel. That title had been ceded to carriers. Japan, however, was unaware that the carriers were not at home. Otherwise, the attack may have been planned for another date, and the war could have gone very differently.
Patton's PrayerThe Battle of the Bulge was the single bloodiest battle in American history. It took place in the Belgian town of Bastogne where 12,000 American were encircled and besieged by desperate German forces. When given a very officially worded order to surrender, Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe replied “NUTS!” to the bafflement, and later rage, of the German major. Patton, already planning to try and break the siege, reportedly stated that “a man that eloquent has to be saved.” Patton’s plan to save the besieged American troops, however, was stymied by truly horrid weather. After swearing viciously at the clouds, Patton summoned Third Army Chaplain Colonel James O’Neill and told him to draft a prayer that would break up the weather and allow Patton to rescue McAuliffe and his troops. O’Neill obliged, and Patton had the prayer distributed to his men on 250,000 wallet-sized cards. O’Neill’s prayer was apparently better received that Patton’s curses, as the weather abruptly cleared and allowed the Third Army to reinforce Bastogne.
The Glorious Grey GhostWhen most people hear the phrase “unsinkable ship,” they think of the ill-fated Titanic. The ship that actually earned the title, however, was the USS Enterprise in World War II. Nicknamed “the Big E” by her crew, she became the most decorated U.S. ship of World War II. The Japanese, however, had a different nickname for her.
The Enterprise was the ship that the Japanese simply could not seem to sink. They reported doing so on no less than three occasions, only for the Enterprise to reappear later. As such, the Japanese began to call her the “Grey Ghost.”
Despite being one of only three carriers commissioned before World War II to survive the war, she participated in more major actions against Japan than any other American ship. The Grey Ghost also, apparently, had a guardian angel that worked overtime for her. She was absent when Pearl Harbor was attacked and sank a Japanese submarine three days later. In the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, Enterprise took three direct bomb hits but managed to return to Hawaii under her own power. At the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, the Big E was hit twice by bombs but continued to fight on anyway. When the Hornet was sunk in the same battle, Enterprise was left the only functioning carrier in the Pacific. The crew posted a sign on deck reading “Enterprise vs. Japan.”
Enterprise would be damaged a number of other times during World War II, and she escaped sinking by the skin of her teeth more than once. She headed for the Solomons a second time while still under repairs. According to Lieutenant Commander Herschel Albert Smith, “She made the open sea with her decks still shaking and echoing to air hammers, with welders' arcs still sparking, with a big bulge in her right side forward, without water tight integrity and one oil tank still leaking, and with her forward elevator still jammed as it had been since the bomb at Santa Cruz broke it in half.” After the Battle of Guadalcanal, Enterprise’s rudder flooded and jammed in a full right turn. Trapped going in a circle, Enterprise could not even be towed to safety. When the Japanese launched another attack in the hopes of finally sinking that blasted ship, the planes headed to where Enterprise would have been with a functioning rudder and flew straight passed the crippled ship. Her crew managed to repair the rudder, and the Grey Ghost would live to fight another day.
American history is filled with impossibly close shaves, bizarre happenings and strange events. Accomplished enemy commanders made rookie mistakes that allowed American troops to succeed, such as the Hessians ignoring the message that told them Washington was in the process of crossing the Delaware. U.S. troops have managed impossible success sometimes through luck and sometimes through the sheer, insane determination that marked the World War II Battle off Samar between tiny American Navy Task Force Taffy-3 and a mammoth Japanese naval force. Sometimes, the weather itself interfered and granted U.S. forces either a victory or a chance to escape. Given the sheer number and impossibility of these episodes, it is hard not to believe that there really is a special place in God’s heart for those “crazy Yanks.”