Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Criticism of Mr. Howe

I found the following anecdote in the McGuire book (page 75) about the Philadelphia Campaign:

LOST, this Summer

in the enclosures about New York, in North America


Whoever can give an account of it to his Majesty's
Secretary of War, shall not only receive a large premium,
but have the high honour of kissing his Majesty's hand.
A part of it is said to have been seen, in the Spring,
near Danbury; but its stay was so short,
that its tracks were not deep enough to be traced.

This all rather reminds me of Abraham Lincoln's famous quip about General McClellan's handling of the Army of the Potomac, something to the effect of: "General, if you are not going to use your army, may I borrow it for awhile?"

It seems that General Howe did not do a very good job of informing Lord Germaine or anyone else in the government, for that matter, about what his plans were for the 1777 campaign season. Howe kept his army in quarters, in Brunswick New Jersey, for the period from January through May without undertaking any major moves against Washington's army. This respite allowed Washington to rebuild his army, it having withered away to several thousand die hards after the conclusion of the Trenton-Princeton winter campaign.

Actually, a fairly active petite guerre was going on throughout this period as the British would send out foraging parties and the local militia and some Continentals set up ambushes or conducted raids to disrupt the British supply line and to generally keep them on edge.

In Howe's defense, Washington had posted his army in the hills west of Perth Amboy and Brunswick and by all appearances, it was too strong of a defensive position to attack (keeping in mind the British aversion to attacking Americans entrenched atop of hills, as at Bunker Hill). Howe did stage several feigned withdrawals from New Jersey, hoping to lure Washington out of the hills and onto the plains of east Jersey, where the British would have a significant advantage in the fighting.

Howe's strategy nearly worked, as Washington followed up Howe's retreat by moving Lord Sterling's division forward. It made camp near Short Hills New Jersey and on June 25 and 26 of 1777, Howe and Cornwallis launched a two pronged attack that nearly bagged Lord Sterling's isolated corps. The Americans managed to make good their escape and retire back into the hills. With this, the New Jersey phase of the 1777 campaign came to an end as Howe realized that he could not lure Washington out into the open. So the British evacuated New Jersey, returning to New York City, where they eventually boarded ships for the voyage to Philadelphia via Chesapeake Bay.

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