A General of the Revolution: John Sullivan of New Hampshire

By Charles P. Whittemore | Go to book overview

III: LONG ISLAND TO TRENTON
AND PRINCETON
AUGUST, 1776-JANUARY, 1777

The disgruntled and irate Sullivan did not have long to feel sorry for himself. The British and American armies were soon to clash on Long Island in one of the important battles of the Revolution, and he was to play a key and controversial role in that contest. In July, 1776, the British under William Howe landed on Staten Island, and as the days passed the enemy camp on the island totaled about 20,000 rank and file. Congress had already declared American independence; the die was cast. Now Howe had the initiative and threatened New York. Feverishly Washington prepared his army for the expected encounter; yet he was uncertain, for the attack could develop either on Long Island or on Manhattan. 1

The reverses in Canada had not dulled Sullivan's ardor, enthusiasm, and optimism. He yearned for combat and was irked because as yet he had not been assigned a post or given a brigade. He soon got recognition, however, for on August 9 Congress raised him along with others to the rank of major general. 2 When Nathanael Greene, commanding on Long Island, became ill soon after and was unable to handle his assignment, Washington selected Sullivan to take the post until Greene could resume his duties. Sullivan had Washington's confidence, but Joseph Reed, the adjutant general, disapproved, claiming that Sullivan had no knowledge of the area. 3 Israel Putnam also disapproved because he had wished the assignment for himself.

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