The War in the North
The Revolutionary War battles of 1775 convinced the British that defeating the American Colonies required a major military effort and an effective strategy. As a result, Britain sent additional troops and a large naval force to America. British strategy called for crushing the rebellion in the North first. Once New England was knocked out of the war. Britain expected resistance to crumble in the remaining colonies. Britain nearly conquered the patriots several times during the fighting in the North, which lasted from 1775 to 1778. But British generals failed to carry out British strategy effectively. In 1777, a British Army surrendered to the Americans Saratoga in New York. Soon afterward, France entered the Revolutionary War on the patriot side.
The Campaign in New York
After the British evacuated Boston in March 1776, General Howe began to plan his return from Canada to the American Colonies. In July, he landed on Staten island in New York Harbor. Howe was joined by General Clinton’s men, following their defeat in South Carolina, and by Hessian troops from Europe. Howe commanded a total force of more than 45,000 experienced soldiers and sailors. They forced about 20,000 poorly trained and ill-equipped Americans.
Washington had shifted his forces to New York City after the redcoats withdrew from Boston. He didn’t expect to hold. New York City, but he wanted to make the British fight for it. To defend the city, patriot troops fortified Brooklyn Heights, an area of high ground on the western tip of Long Island.
Howe saw an opportunity to trap large numbers of patriot troops in Brooklyn. In August 1776, British troops landed on Long Island in front of the American lines. Howe surrounded the patriots forward positions in the Battle of Long Island on August 27, 1776.
However, the slow-moving Howe passed before attacking again, enabling the remainder of the Americans to escape. In September, Washington sent Captain Nathan Hale behind British lines to obtain information about British positions on Long Island. Hale was caught and hanged for spying.
Before being hanged, he said “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country”.
By mid-September 1776, Howe had driven Washington’s troops from New York City. Howe slowly pursued the Americans as they retreated toward White Plains, NY.
His hesitation cost the British a chance to crush Washington’s army. But another patriot force remained on Manhattan Island to defend Fort Washington. The fort fell to Howe in November, and Britain captured nearly 3,000 Americans. New York City remained in British hands until the war ended.
During the summer and fall in 1776, General Carlton led a British force southward from Canada. British strategy called for Carleton to link up with Howe in the Hudson River Valley, thereby cutting New England off from the rest of the colonies. But Carlton met heavy resistance from patriot forces under Brigadier General Benedict Arnold in a naval battle near Valcour Island on Lake Champlain.
Trenton and Princeton
The patriot situation appeared dark at the end of 1776. Washington’s discouraged forces had withdrawn to New Jersey. In late November, British troops led by Major General Charles Cornwallis poured into New Jersey in pursuit of Washington. The patriots barely escaped to safety by crossing the Delaware River in Pennsylvania on December 7th. Washington’s forces were near collapse, and New Jersey militiamen had failed to come to their aid. Yet Howe again missed an opportunity to destroy the Continental Army. He decided to wait until spring to attack and ordered his troops into water quarters in Trenton, Princeton, and other New Jersey towns. Clinton was assigned to capture Newport, R.I. Howe believed he had broken the patriot rebellion. But he was quite mistaken. Although Washington had few troops, he decided to strike at Trenton. The town was defended by Hessians.
On the stormy and bitterly cold night on Christmas, on December 25, 1776, Washington and about 2,400 troops crossed the Delaware River. They landed in 9 miles north of Trenton and marched through the night. The next morning, they surprised the Hessians and took more than 900 prisoners.
On January 2, 1777, Cornwallis advanced toward Trenton. He planned to attack the Americans the next day.
But during the night, Washington’s troops silently stole away and marched past Cornwallis’ army. The following morning, Washington attacked at Princeton. He won a brilliant victory over redcoats on their way to join Cornwallis. Washington then moved his troops northward to winter headquarters near Morristown, NJ. He soon began to rebuild his army.
The victories at Trenton and Princeton revived patriot hopes. The Continental Army had almost been destroyed, but it had kept going and regained most of New Jersey. In spite of superior strength, the British had gain failed to defeat the rebels.
Brandywine and Germantown
Washington’s successful maneuvering at Trenton and Princeton had embarrassed Howe. In the Spring of 1777, Howe sought to lure Washington into battle in New Jersey, Howe set out to take Philadelphia, the patriot capital. In the summer of 1777, Howe’s redcoats sailed from New York City to the top of Chesapeake Bay, about 50-mile Southwest of Philadelphia. Washington had rebuilt his army during the spring, and he had received weapons from France. He positioned his troops between Howe’s forces and Philadelphia. The opposing armies clashed on September 11, 1777, at Brandywine Creek in Southeastern Pennsylvania. One wing of the British army swung around the Americans and attacked them from behind. The surprised patriots had to retreat. Howe skillfully moved his troops after the Battle of Brandywine and occupied Philadelphia on September 26. The Continental Congress had fled to York, PA, where it continued to direct American affairs. On October 4, 1777, Washington struck back at British forces camping at Germantown, north of Philadelphia. But his complicated battle plan created confusion. In a heavy fog, patriot forces fired on one another. The Americans again had to retreat.
Victory at Saratoga
While Howe won victories at Brandywine Creek and Germantown, another British force became stranded near Saratoga, NY. That force had advanced Southward from Canada under Lieutenant General John Burgoyne.
Burgoyne had a successful start against the Americans. On July 6, 1777, he recaptured the British post of Fort Ticonderoga in New York from the Americans without a struggle. A second British expedition, led by Lieutenant Colonel Barry St. Leger, marched up the Mohawk River Valley to meet Burgoyne. In August, S. Leger ambushed militiamen outside of Oriskany, NY. In the bloody Battle of Oriskany, the British beat back patriot forces. General Arnold stopped St. Leger soon afterward. By them, conditions favored the patriots.
As Burgoyne advanced southward, patriot forces destroyed bridges and cut down trees to block his path. Riflemen fired on British soldiers from the woods. Burgoyne ran short of food and other supplies. In August 1777, the Congress appointed Major General Horatio Gates to command the Northern Department of the Continental Army. Gates was popular with New England patriots, and they poured out to support him and his Continentals. On August 16, militiamen overwhelmed two groups of Hessian and Loyalists searching for horses and food near Bennington, VT.
Burgoyne trudged slowly through the wilderness doing the Hudson River. His poor progress gave the Americans time to fortify a wooded area along the Hudson about 40 miles north of Albany. In September 19, 1777. British troops attacked the fortifications. But they were met by patriot forces in a clearing on a nearby farm. Nightfall and the bravery of Hessian soldiers saved Hessian saved Burgoyne’s troops from destruction in what became known as the First Battle of Freeman’s Farm.
Although the patriot forces greatly outnumbered his army. Burgoyne decided not to retreat toward Canada. On October 7, 1777, Burgoyne attacked again. Arnold’s during leadership won the Second Battle Freeman’s Farm for the patriots. Burgoyne surrendered to Gates. The Americans took nearly 6,000 prisoners and large supplies of arms. The victory at Saratoga marked a turning point in the Revolutionary War. It revealed the failure of British strategy. More important, the great victory at Saratoga helped convince France that it could safely enter the war on the American side.
Washington’s army of about 10,000 soldiers spent the winter, they camped at Valley Forge about 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Many of the troops lacked shoes and other clothing. They also suffered from a severe shortage of food. By Spring 1778, nearly a fourth of the soldiers had died of malnutrition, exposure to the cold, and such diseases as smallpox and typhoid fever. Many soldiers deserted because of the horrid conditions.In February 1778, a Prussian soldier called Baron Friedrich von Steuben arrived at Valley Forge. He convinced Washington that he could train the Continental Army in European military formations and bayonet charges.
By late spring, Steuben had created a disciplined fighting force. The Marquis de Lafayette, a young French soldier, also part of the winter at Valley Forge. Fired with enthusiasm fir the revolution, Lafayette had joined Washington’s staff as a major general without pay.
Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834)
Was a French aristocrat and military officer who fought in the American Revolutionary War. A close friend of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson, Lafayette was a key figure in the French Revolution of 1789 and the July Revolution of 1830.
Born in Chavaniac, in the province of Auvergne in south central France, Lafayette came from a wealthy l
andowning family. He followed its martial tradition and was commissioned an officer at age 13. He became convinced that the American cause in its revolutionary war was noble and traveled to the New World seeking glory in it. There, he was made a major general; however, the 19-year-old was initially not given troops to command. Wounded during the Battle of Brandywine, he still managed to organize an orderly retreat. He served with distinction in the Battle of Rhode Island. In the middle of the war, he returned home to lobby for an increase in French support. He again sailed to America in 1780, and was given senior positions in the Continental Army. In 1781, troops in Virginia under his command blocked forces led by Cornwallis until other American and French forces could position themselves for the decisive Siege of Yorktown.
Lafayette returned to France, and in 1787 was appointed to the Assembly of Notables, which was convened in response to the fiscal crisis. He was elected a member of the Estates-General of 1789, where representatives met from the three traditional orders of French society—the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners. After the forming of the National Constituent Assembly, he helped write the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, with Thomas Jefferson’s assistance; inspired by the United States Declaration of Independence, this document invoked natural law to establish basic principles of the democratic nation-state. In keeping with the philosophy of natural liberty, Lafayette also advocated for the end of slavery. After the storming of the Bastille, Lafayette was appointed commander-in-chief of the National Guard and tried to steer a middle course through the French Revolution. In August 1792, the radical factions ordered his arrest. Fleeing through the Austrian Netherlands, he was captured by Austrian troops and spent more than five years in prison.
Lafayette returned to France after Napoleon Bonaparte secured his release in 1797, though he refused to participate in Napoleon’s government. After the Bourbon Restoration of 1814, he became a liberal member of the Chamber of Deputies, a position he held for most of the remainder of his life. In 1824, President James Monroe invited Lafayette to the United States as the nation’s guest; during the trip, he visited all twenty-four states in the union at the time, meeting a rapturous reception. During France’s July Revolution of 1830, Lafayette declined an offer to become the French dictator. Instead, he supported Louis-Philippe as king, but turned against him when the monarch became autocratic. Lafayette died on 20 May 1834, and is buried in Picpus Cemetery in Paris, under soil from Bunker Hill. For his accomplishments in the service of both France and the United States, he is sometimes known as “The Hero of the Two Worlds”.
France’s entry into the Revolutionary War in 1778 forced Great Britain to defend the rest of its empire. The British expected to fight the French in the West indies and elsewhere, and so they scattered their military resources. As a result, Britain no longer had a force strong enough to battle the Americans in the North. In May 1778, General Clinton became commander-in-chief of British forces in North America. He replaced Howe, who had been occupying Philadelphia since September 1777. Clinton received orders to abandon Philadelphia and go to New York City. He was also told to send troops to the West indies and other areas.
Clinton left Philadelphia on June 18, 1778 and marched across New Jersey toward New York City. The Continental Army followed him. On June 28, the patriots attacked near Monmouth Court House, N.J. Clinton soon counterattacked. After an early confusion, the Americans held ground, and the battle ended in a draw.
During the night, Clinton’s exhausted forces limped off the battleground and continued the march toward New York. The Battle of Monmouth was the last major Revolutionary War battle in the North.