Triumph of Freedom, 1775-1783

By John C. Miller | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XX
The Campaigns of 1779

IF Sir William Howe had cause to complain of neglect by the home government, with much more reason Sir Henry Clinton could find fault. Clinton's letters are an unvarying dirge upon the difficulties and mortifications of a general always denied the reinforcements and supplies he deemed essential to victory. In 1778, when he assumed command of the army, he expected a reinforcement of twelve thousand men to be sent to New York; instead, the army under his command was reduced by fourteen thousand troops. The navy was even harder hit: only one third of the fleet that had sailed under Lord Howe now held the seas around New York. When to this is added the fact that the Howes had to fight only Americans, whereas Clinton was obliged to grapple with French, Spaniards, and Americans, the cause of his bafflement can be easily understood.

Whatever his merits, it is clear that Sir Henry Clinton did not share his predecessor's popularity in the army; he was not a magnetic leader, he did not possess lofty rank in the British aristocracy, and he was not a man of pleasure who knew how to put his officers and men in good humor by bluff heartiness and dogged courage. Sir Henry, unlike Howe, was devoted to business: austere, serious-minded, brooding, and painfully thin-skinned to criticism, he gave himself up to anxiety over the war and showed his disquiet in his bearing toward his staff. He was constantly on the lookout for slights and affronts -- which, as might be expected, he found on every hand. Struggling against growing doubt that victory was possible, that the war was not already lost, and that he would go down in history as a miserable failure, he was at times almost a defeatist. Clinton, in short, got on everyone's nerves, including his own. Worry made him fussy, and Heaven protect an army from a fussy general!

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