Triumph of Freedom, 1775-1783

By John C. Miller | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
The Battle of Long Island

WHILE immured in Boston, Howe had given much thought to the campaign of 1776; he had ample time for meditation and, indeed, took more satisfaction in contemplating the future than the painful present. The more he considered the matter, the less disposed was he to underestimate the American army, which had in it, as he said, "many European soldiers, and all or most of the young men of spirit in the country, who are exceedingly diligent and attentive to their military profession." To destroy this force would require, he decided, at least twelve thousand men; but he soon raised his estimate to nineteen thousand -- and he added, if Great Britain was unable to send that many men across the Atlantic, it would be "better policy to withdraw the troops entirely from the delinquent provinces, and leave the colonists to war with each other for sovereignty." Disquieting news to Englishmen who had spoken airily of marching five thousand regulars armed with horsewhips the length and breadth of the colonies!

As to the strategy of the campaign of 1776, Howe advocated an attack upon New York City, a dash up the Hudson River to join forces with a British army operating out of Canada, and the capture of Newport, Rhode Island. He hoped to put New England out of the war not by direct attack -- his experiences in Boston forbade such ambitious schemes -- but by isolating the Northern provinces from the rest of the colonies.

Howe was by this time well aware of the difficulties of conquering a continent and overcoming a foe that, he had begun to fear, could not be brought to risk a decisive battle. Duly appreciative of Washington's resourcefulness, Howe suspected that he would be obliged to pursue the rebel army over half the continent before it could be brought to earth. As a fox hunter, Howe was familiar with foxes who by virtue of their

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