By occupying New York, the British hoped to sever New England from the rest of the rebellious colonies. The British enjoyed complete naval superiority as well as overwhelming advantages in men and weaponry. In late August 1776 the massive British armada of 427 warships and transports began landing 30,000 troops on Long Island. It was the largest seaborne military expedition in world history. Although short of munitions, greatly outnumbered, and leading a force in which a quarter of the men were suffering from smallpox, Washington was determined to defend New York. It was a colossal mistake. The new American army suffered a humiliating defeat at the Battle of Long Island. British invaders caught Washington’s forces by surprise, and only a timely rainstorm, with strong winds, high tides, and fog, enabled the retreating Americans to cross the harbor from Brooklyn to Manhattan under cover of darkness. Had General Howe moved more quickly, he could have trapped Washington’s army in lower Manhattan. The main American force, however, withdrew northward, crossed the Hudson River, and retreated slowly across New Jersey and over the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. As the ragged remnants of the American army fled across New Jersey, the British buglers giving chase mocked them by trumpeting fox hunting calls. George Washington had painfully come to realize that the only way to defeat the British was to wear them down in a long war of attrition and exhaustion. As the combat in New York had shown, he could not beat the British army in a conventional battle. The only hope of winning the war was not to lose is. Time became his greatest weapon. Over the next eight years he and his troops would outlast the invaders through a strategy of evasion and maneuver punctuated by selective confrontations. 2. Choosing Sides: What happened after the British captured New York? What three groups were the colonists divided into?
The American Revolution was as much a civil war as it was a struggle against a foreign nation. The act of choosing sides divided families and friends, towns and cities. Opinion among the colonists concerning the war divided in three ways: Patriots, or Whigs (as the Revolutionaries called themselves); Tories; and an indifferent middle group swayed mostly by the better organized and more energetic radicals. That the Loyalists were numerous was evident from the departure, during and after the war, of roughly 100,000 of them, more than 3 percent of the total population. But the Patriots were probably the largest of the three groups. There was a like division in British opinion. The aversion of so many English to the war was one reason for the government’s hiring of German mercenaries to fight with the British army. 3. Militia and Army: Describe the roles of the militias. How did they differ from the Continental Army?
American militiamen served two purposes: they constituted a home guard, defending their communities, and they helped augment the Continental army. They preferred to ambush their opponents or engage them in hand-to-hand combat rather than fight in traditional European formations. They also tended to kill unnecessarily and to torture prisoners. To repel an attack, the militia somehow materialized: the danger past, it evaporated, for there were chores to do at home. The Continental army, by contrast, was on the whole better trained and more reliable. Unlike the professional soldiers in the British army, Washington’s troops were citizen soldiers, mostly poor native-born Americans or immigrants who had been indentured servants or convicts. Many found camp life debilitating and combat horrifying. As General Nathanael Greene, Washington’s ablest commander, pointed out, few of the