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 5
Rekindling the Flame of
Liberty

Harlem Heights to Princeton

The American struggle for independence from England suffered a number of significant crises that in each case saw the patriot cause lurch dangerously close to submission to royal authority. The disintegration of the American outer defenses at Long Island, the surrender of the large Continental garrison at Charleston, and the barely avoided loss of West Point due to Benedict Arnold's treason are examples of particularly bleak periods in the revolutionary conflict. However, if one searches for a specific day in which the prospects for final victory seemed most bleak, September 15, 1776 could easily serve as a candidate for the darkest day of the war. By the late afternoon of that date, it seemed that the British conviction that an amateur rabble could never stand against a professional army had been proved convincingly and few men on either side could have predicted that the last flickering flames of rebellion would be soaring anew less than sixteen weeks later.

At dinner time on September 15th General William Howe was directing a huge, confident army in what appeared to be the final major action of the American Revolution. The American defenders at Kip's Bay had been routed after inflicting only a dozen casualties on the British landing force, the commander of the American army had narrowly avoided death in battle and almost half of the American army was virtually trapped in New York City. The American soldiers had panicked so quickly in their defence of the beaches that a dazed George Washington had momentarily lost his desire to live to fight another day. As General Nathanael Greene insisted, "General Washington was so vexed at the infamous conduct of his troops that he sought death rather than life." When the psychologically devastated American commander returned to his headquarters on Harlem Heights he was

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