Thursday, March 01, 2007

The loss of America

The capture of New York
On 3 July 1776 30,000 British forces under General Sir William Howe landed at Staten Island. In August Howe captured Long Island and in September he gained control of New York City. The Americans were driven across New Jersey and into Philadelphia. The British held New York city and Long Island until the end of the war. The Americans had suffered significant casualties. Washington retreated across New Jersey and crossed the Delaware into Pennsylvania on 8 December.

The campaign of 1776 also saw Canada preserved from American occupation. By the end of the year it seemed as if North had succeeded in his strategy of keeping New York and Pennsylvania loyal to the empire, dividing the colonies and securing a British stranglehold on colonial lines of trade and communication.

But the British had failed to follow up their victories and they had failed to destroy Washington’s army. On 31 December Washington re-crossed the Delaware by night, attacking a force of Hessians at Trenton and taking 900 prisoners.


In 1777 Howe took Philadelphia. However he was not able to accomplish his plan to join up with Burgoyne, who was advancing from Quebec, and Burgoyne was forced to surrender at Saratoga in upper New York province on 17 October 1777. Although not a disastrous defeat, it was a watershed in the history of the war.

Another watershed occurred when Washington's army retreated to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania and held out for six months in appalling conditions.

The war becomes a European war
In February 1778 France negotiated a full-scale alliance with the United States. In 1779 Spain entered the war. After this there was no prospect of Congress accepting anything less than full independence. In August 1780 Russia, Sweden and Denmark inaugurated a League of Armed Neutrality against Britain. What had begun as a localized rebellion was now a world-wide war.

Military historians now believe that the British strategy was fundamentally flawed. Under a series of unimpressive commanders the British fought a series of uncoordinated campaigns. They were fighting a European style war in a vast territory. British troops, the German mercenaries and American loyalists won nearly every battle they fought but once the British left an area it reverted to American control.

With the possibility that Britain would lose the war went a worsening of the economic climate. Britain was now faced with a Bourbon invasion threat while at the same time had to maintain control of the Atlantic. Indirect taxes (stamp duties, customs duties, excise duties) increased. Carriages, auctions and male servants were now taxed. Alcohol, sugar, salt and soap, taxed already and very burdensome to the poor, were taxed more heavily. The government also raised money through premiums, loans and lotteries. War profiteers became targets of public hatred.

The surrender at Yorktown
On October 1781 Cornwallis surrendered to Washington at Yorktown.
They were hemmed in by Washington's men from the north and the French fleet under Admiral De Grasse and had no choice. With this surrender, the war came to an end. 7,000 British troops were taken prisoner.