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

By John Ferling | Go to book overview
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8
CHOICES, 1777

THE SUMMER and fall of 1776 had been a heady time for Ambrose Serle, secretary to Admiral Howe. The “Raggamuffins”—his term for the American army—“as usual, were defeated,” he often noted in his diary. Not long after the Continental army was driven from Manhattan, Serle encountered General Howe and warmly congratulated him on “his repeated Successes.” On Christmas Eve Serle expressed confidence that campaign 1776 had brought on the “dying Groans of Rebellion” in America. Two days later he received “very unpleasant News.” He learned of “a whole Brigade of Hessians… being taken Prisoner at Trenton.” Suddenly, he was “exceedingly concerned.” A week passed, then “News very important… of an Action yesterday.” It was more bad news, this time regarding the British setback at Princeton. Serle understood immediately that Washington's bold thrusts were of pivotal importance. The American victories, he said, would “revive the drooping Spirits of the Rebels.” The war, which he had believed to be nearly over, was to continue, possibly for a very long time.1

General Howe saw what Serle saw. He, too, knew that this would be a longer war than he had previously expected, and he no longer believed it would end with one great engagement. Doubting that he could ever bring Washington to fight that one epic battle, Howe now thought that victory could only be achieved by a series of hammer blows and the relentless application of force.2

As 1776 drew to a close, the war remained popular in an England yet unaware of Trenton and Princeton. A quiet confidence existed within North's government. Throughout the year France's assistance to the rebels—secret, but not that

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