In the winter of 1777-1778, the Continental Army suffered months of hardship from lack of food, clothing, and proper shoes to keep their feet from freezing. The encampment at times housed as many as 12,000 soldiers. "An army of skeletons appeared before our eyes naked, starved, and sick and discouraged," wrote New York's Gouverneur Morris of the Continental Congress.
The army’s wintering took place near Valley Forge, so named by a forge owned by the brother of Isaac Potts, a Quaker. Even though Isaac Potts opposed the war, as most Quakers did, Potts’ family history claims that 26-year-old Isaac lived at the Forge during the winter with his wife to oversee the grinding of the grain that George Washington commissioned from the surrounding farmers to feed his starving army.
Several who lived during that time wrote accounts of Isaac Potts traveling on foot through a wooded area near the encampment when he heard the voice of one in devotion. As he drew closer, he heard and saw the commander-in-chief of the armies of the United Colonies, George Washington, kneeling in prayer. Although several men claim to have written what Potts told them about Washington’s prayer, the most accurate account seems to come from a signed, handwritten document by Isaac Potts’ daughter, Ruth-Anna, written later in life at her father’s direction.
These excerpts are from what she recorded from her father: After returning home, he sat beside his wife, and she asked with tenderness, “Heigh! Isaac, thee seems agitated; what’s the matter?”
“Indeed, my dear, if I appear agitated ‘tis no more than what I am. I have seen this day what I shall never forget.” Her father said that Washington was “interceding for his beloved country . . . With tones of gratitude that labored for adequate expression.” He expressed adoration to God for lifting him to lead a great nation, who fought at “fearful odds for all the world holds dear.” Isaac Potts said Washington “disclaimed all ability of his own for this arduous conflict; he wept at the thought of that irretrievable ruin which his mistakes might bring on his country.” He pleaded a patriot’s despair mentioning “the interest of unborn millions before the eye of Eternal Mercy.” He then implored the “aid of that arm which guides the starry host.”
Isaac Potts continued, “Till now I have thought that a Christian and a soldier were characters incompatible; but if George Washington be not a man of God, I am mistaken.” Potts concluded: “And still more shall I be disappointed if God do not through him perform some great thing for this country.”
Today is Veteran’s Day, when we honor those who place themselves in harm’s way to defend our freedoms. On my Facebook page a few weeks ago, my friend posted photos in her album titled, “My Son’s Military Funeral.” God forbid that any mother should have to remember her son through photos. Her highly decorated son (who helped to recue Jessica Lynch), Army Ranger Kristoffer B. Domeij (Doe-May) lost his life October 21 on his 14th deployment to a combat zone. He served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, his life ending in Afghanistan when a roadside bomb detonated. He left behind a wife and two young daughters, his mother, and brother, and many other family and friends. He had enlisted shortly after September 11. 2001.
His mother shared a post from her son’s Facebook page, written on September 24:
Whenever you see military personnel, but don’t quite know how to express your thanks, you might adopt the hand signal from www.GratitudeCampaign.org : Place your hand over your heart and move it away from you, palm up, toward the man or woman in uniform. Many also mouth the words, “Thank you,” during the gesture.
In the Hallmark movie, “Winter’s End” (“Sarah Plain and Tall” series), a doctor who awaited his son’s return from WWI, made a statement appropriate for days when all is well, and for those days when a knock on the door changes your life, “We’re in God’s hand on every side.”
Index card for week 45: “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone” (Titus 3:1-2).