Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence

By John Ferling | Go to book overview

6
“KNOCK HIM UP FOR THE CAMPAIGN”:
THE BATTLE FOR NEW YORK, 1776

WASHINGTON had inherited a difficult assignment in attempting to liberate Boston. He took on a nearly impossible mission in defending New York City against the British invasion. Washington had never doubted that New York would be Howe's primary objective. In January, while Knox was struggling to bring his artillery through the Berkshires, Washington had dispatched Charles Lee to New York “to put that City in the best posture of Defence.” He trusted Lee to determine whether New York could be defended and, if so, how best to plan its defense. Lee, he said, was “zealously attached to the Cause—honest and well meaning,” with “an uncommon share of good Sense.” He also regarded Lee as “the first Officer in Military knowledge and experience we have in the whole army.” Above all, Washington divined rare qualities in Lee: military expertise, cool judgment, unflinching bravery, and above all the will to fight. Like Washington, Lee was convinced that “the consequences of the Enemy's possessing themselves of New York” were “so terrible” as to be nearly unimaginable. If New York and the Hudson River fell to the enemy, the line between New England and all the provinces to the south—“upon which depends the Safety of America,” said Washington—would be severed.1

Lee set to work when he reached Manhattan. After reconnoitering, he put men to constructing fortifications and batteries, and he ordered the removal and relocation of the artillery from the vulnerable battery at the lower tip of Manhattan. He also proposed taking into custody the entire Tory population in two adjacent counties and incarcerating them in Connecticut, but Congress blanched at such a thought. Instead, those who refused to take a loyalty oath were

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