During the furious revolutionary war, George Washington’s horse was twice shot out from under him and his general’s coat was cut open in five places by bullets that pierced his clothing but curiously, did not touch his body.

In one remarkable incident on September 11, 1777 Washington rode ahead of his troops in Philadelphia. He personally directed maneuvers as an army of 12,500 British troops marched through Pennsylvania toward the patriot capital of Philadelphia. Covering their flank, a detachment of British marksmen hid in the woods along Brandywine Creek, Pennsylvania. These crack soldiers kept watch looking for General Washington’s colonial troops. Suddenly a cavalry officer rode into view, followed by a senior American officer wearing a high cocked hat mounted on a bay horse.

Captain Patrick Ferguson at 33 years old was reputed to be the best marksmen in the British army. His unit was equipped with rifles of Ferguson’s own design. He whispered to three of his best riflemen to creep forward and pick off the unsuspecting officers. But before the men were in place, he felt great discomfort at the idea of such an ambush of officers and ordered them not to fire. He shouted to the American, who was riding a bay horse.

The American looked his way for a moment, and turned to ride on. Ferguson called again, this time leveling his rifle toward the officer. The American glanced back before slowly cantering away.

A day later, after he had been seriously wounded himself, Ferguson learned that the American officer he let ride off on a bay horse was General George Washington. “I could have lodged half a dozen balls in or about him, before he was out of my reach,” Ferguson recalled, “but it was not pleasant to fire at the back of an unoffending individual, who was acquitting himself very coolly of his duty—so I let him alone.”

There is no telling how the American Revolution would have turned out if Ferguson decided to shoot. Washington lost the Battle of Brandywine and then the city of Philadelphia, but lived on to win the war.

A century later the American historian Lyman C. Draper wrote: “This singular impulse of Ferguson illustrates, in a forcible manner, the over-ruling hand of Providence in directing the operation of a man’s mind when he himself is least of all aware of it.

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