How America Fought Its Wars: Military Strategy from the American Revolution to the Civil War

By Victor Brooks; Robert Hohwald | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10
Alternative Strategies and
Outcomes

British and American 1777-1778

The most likely opportunity for a decisive British military triumph in the American Revolution occurred between the summer and late autumn of 1776. During this period George Washington was not yet very confident of his abilities, the Continental army was plagued with incompetent division and brigade commanders, and American soldiers were terrified of meeting British bayonet attacks on open battlefields. The newly issued Declaration of Independence was only "permanent" as long as there was a patriot army to enforce the language of the document. Thus a British victory which resulted in the capture or disbanding of the bulk of the American army combined with a generous peace settlement that addressed most of the colonists' long standing grievances, would have quite likely relegated the Revolution to the status of an unpleasant but brief anomaly in the long term relationship between American provinces and English motherland.

The ministerial expectation that a single, overwhelming utilization of British military force would end the rebellion in one campaign season was condemned to disappointment when William Howe allowed his American adversary to escape outright annihilation on at least four separate occasions during the New York and New Jersey campaigns. The flickering rebellion was given a respite which Washington and the Congressional leaders utilized to regroup and redeploy their resources to meet the expected renewal of the British offensive in 1777. While British victory had been at least temporarily thwarted, the King's forces still maintained the ability to successfully terminate the war during the next campaign. The United Kingdom still fielded a powerful army that outnumbered and outgunned the relatively small corps of American professionals who were always uncertain about the level of militia support that would be available in the

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