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How the Weather Saved the American Revolution

Thursday, December 24, 2009, 03:17 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

Readers may recall that I have posted a couple of AccuWeather meteorologist Elliot Abrams’ more whimsical or dramatic weather forecasts. It turns out that Abrams is as much a fan of history as of weather and words. Earlier today, he blogged about the effect that Gen. George Washington’s understanding of weather patterns had on some of the battles that turned out to be turning points in the revolutionary war. Remember those classroom lessons about Washington’s Christmas crossing of the Delaware River? With the stage thus set, I turn it over to Elliot:

[Washington’s army] hatched a plan to attack the British once again. Meanwhile, the snow on the ground melted. The rebels crossed the Delaware again on New Year’s Day. This time the British were ready, and the rebels were forced into a corner. They were stranded in muddy fields, backs to the river… with no way to escape. One bold attack by the British would wipe out the American forces and end the war.

But George Washington was a Virginia farmer, and farmers watched the weather. He had experienced winter days with blue skies and northwest winds. He had seen the temperature hold steady during those days, then sink below freezing at night. He had a thermometer, and at noon it was 39 degrees and holding. A stiff northwest wind had erased the 50-degree weather of the previous day. Washington ordered the troops to prepare huge bonfires after sundown and make the appearance of bustling around in the camp.

Behind the fire glow, it was dark. We in the age of light pollution are not used to the kind of dark faced every moonless night back in the 1700s. But in the darkness, Washington’s troops readied their equipment, even wrapping wagon wheels in cloth to minimize the noise. The ground froze. The forces moved out, picking their way northward… away from the encamped British who were lying in wait to mount their own attack at first light.

Read the whole thing, all the way to the end. It’s interesting and moving.

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