Funds permitting, David Barton will provide some stories for a new project called Miracles: The Movie (not to be confused with Miracle: The Movie). The movie is a project of LDS film producer Ken Cromar. Via Indiegogo, the Cromar is seeking funds for a December release.
Cromar posted four clips yesterday, one of which has Barton telling a story about George Washington and British sharp shooter Patrick Ferguson. According to Barton, Washington escaped death in a miraculous manner in 1777. Roll the tape:
Major Ferguson, he and three of his sharp shooters were at one location, they’re up high in the trees, and they’re just picking off American officers at will, they’re just popping and dropping these guys, and they’d been doing it all morning. And suddenly a guy comes riding in the picture and they’re actually two American officers. And for whatever reason, Major Ferguson, he said, he just had this impulse came over him and he said, ‘I’ve shot enough guys this morning, I don’t think I need to shoot any more,’ and so he had his rifle lined up on this officer and he’s lined up and he’s about to pull the trigger, and he said this impulse suddenly came over him not to shoot, and so he didn’t shoot and he said the officer looked up full in his eyes and they stared at each other, the officer looked him right down the barrel, he looked at him in the tree where he’s sitting there with the barrel, sitting with his rifle. He didn’t pull the trigger and the officer looked at him and then slowly turned his back to him and walked off on his horse, the two officers going off. The officer turned out to be George Washington. Later, his men that were with him said, ‘don’t you know who that was? You could have ended the American revolution right there. So those are the kind of miracles you see that are inexplicable unless you understand that there is divine hand directing the counterplan, and that’s the way American history is written.
Well, not exactly.
There was a British officer named Patrick Ferguson who did consider shooting at an unidentified pair of Americans, one an officer and the other an aide, but the facts are at odds with Barton’s account and the outcome can be explained without appeal to direct divine intervention.
Ferguson was a Scottish soldier who was the leader of a rifle corp with the British army. Ferguson was wounded during a battle at Brandywine, PA and while in recuperation, he wrote a letter which is apparently the only account of the story Barton embellished. From Ferguson’s memoir:
He [Ferguson] lay with a part of his riflemen on the skirts of a wood, in the front of General Knyphausen’s division of the army, the following circumstances happened, which he relates in a
letter to a friend :
We had not lain long,’ he says, “when a rebel officer, remarkable by a hussar dress, passed towards our army, within a hundred yards of my right flank, not perceiving us. He was followed by another dressed in dark green, or blue, mounted on a bay horse, with a remarkably large cocked hat. I ordered three good shots to steal near to them, and fire at them ; but the idea disgusted me. I recalled the order. The hussar, in returning, made a circuit, but the other passed again within a hundred yards of us, upon which I advanced from the wood towards him. On my calling, he stopped ; but, after looking at me, proceeded. I again drew his attention, and made signs to him to stop, leveling my piece at him, but he slowly continued his way. As I was within that distance at which, in the quickest firing, I could have lodged half a dozen of balls in or about him before he was out of my reach, I had only to determine; but it was not pleasant to fire at the back of an inoffending individual, who was acquitting himself very coolly of his duty; so I let him alone. The day after I had been telling this story to some wounded officers who lay in the same room with me, when one of our surgeons, who had been dressing the wounded rebel officers, came in and told us they had been informing him, that General Washington was all the morning with the light troops, and only attended by a French officer in a hussar dress, he himself dressed and mounted in every point as above described. I am not sorry that I did not know at the time who it was.
While the evidence indicates it is possible the officer was Washington and apparently Ferguson believed it was Washington who he did not shoot, the attribution of a miracle does not fit the facts. First of all, the identity of the American officer cannot be confirmed; it may not have been Washington. Also, Ferguson does not say that the sharpshooters had been “popping and dropping” American troops all morning long. Furthermore, Barton’s claim that Ferguson said he was tired of killing American is at odds with Ferguson’s description of his actions. Ferguson’s behavior, while seemingly odd by today’s standards, was more common then and reflected the belief that shooting a man in the back was not honorable.
When it comes to arranging history to suit a preferred narrative, few are as convincing as Barton. This project looks like a Latter Day Saint version of Kirk Cameron’s Monumental. The facts didn’t matter in that one either.