The War for America: 1775-1783

By Piers Mackesy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
PHILADELPHIA AND SARATOGA

1. Howe and Burgoyne

When Howe withdrew from New Jersey into a shallow bridgehead after Trenton, he did not relinquish his intention to make Philadelphia his first objective. But the survival of Washington's force after its flight across the Delaware removed the immediate prospect that the rebellion in the Middle Colonies would collapse. The Continental army had lived to fight again. Though it virtually disbanded itself when enlistments expired at the end of the year, the cadre survived on which to build afresh. Not that the American prospects were good: so far from it that when the captive Lee invited peace delegates from Congress to visit him in prison in February, Washington and opinion in the army was in favour of complying, and it was Congress which rejected the opening. Nevertheless Howe knew that he still needed the victory which he had missed on Long Island. Only the destruction of the enemy's army in battle would end the war.

This was the reasoning behind his huge demand for reinforcements in the middle of January.1 But an enemy who moved fast and did not intend to fight was not easy to bring to action. Howe complained of the slowness of his Germans, who were 'much attached to their baggage, which they have in amazing quantities in the field'. At the end of January he reinforced Cornwallis with troops from Rhode Island so that he could move as soon as the weather improved. Washington had taken up a strong flank position to the north-west at Morristown, from which he harassed the British bridgehead at Brunswick and Amboy. There he could maintain his communications with the Hudson and New England, and threaten the British rear if they marched on Philadelphia. His new army was still in the making, and in March he had only 3,000 men of whom two-thirds were militia. 'If Howe does not take advantage of our weak state', he wrote on 12 April, 'he is very unfit for his trust.' Howe's intelligence, however, gave the enemy at least 8,000 men. The Morristown position was strong and difficult to approach; and he had decided that the cost in men of several weeks' winter campaigning in the open would be too severe for in army which could not replace them that year. By the beginning of April he had learnt that his demand for reinforcements would not be met. In the light of hardening

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1
CO 5/94, f. 100 ( Howe of 20 Jan. -- see above, p. 117).

-121-

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