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   Chapter 40 1778).

Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 5649

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


[Sidenote: British military policy.]

Two policies presented themselves to the British government at the beginning of the war. They might have used their great naval strength alone, blockading the coast and sealing every harbor; thus the colonies would be cut off from the rest of the world, and allowed to enjoy their independence until they were ready to return to their allegiance. The alternative of invasion was chosen; but it was useless, with the forces available, to occupy any considerable part of the interior. By threatening various parts of the coast, the Americans could be obliged to make many detachments of their few troops. By occupying the principal towns, such as Newport, New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, and Savannah, the centres of resistance could be broken up, the loyalists encouraged, and bases established, from which the main American armies were to be reached and destroyed. On the sea the navy was to be used to ruin American commerce and to prevent the importation of supplies.

[Sidenote: American military policy.]

The policy of the Americans was, not to attempt to defend the whole coast, but to keep as large a number of troops as they could raise together in one body, as a substantial army; to defend their land communication from New England to the South; and by standing ready for operations in the field, to prevent the British from making any large detachments. They must hold as much of their territory as possible, in order to prevent defections; and they must take every advantage of their defensive position, in order at length to hem in and capture the opposing armies on the coast, as they did finally at Yorktown. The open gate through the Hudson they strove to close early in the war by invasion of Canada. On the sea all they could do was to capture supplies and destroy commerce, and by the ravages of their privateers to inspire the enemy with respect.

[Sidenote: Plans frustrated.]

Neither party was able to carry out its plans. The British took all the principal seaports, but were able to hold none, except New York, to the end of the war. First Burgoyne and later Cornwallis made a determined attempt to penetrate far into the interior, and both were captured. On the other hand, the Americans could not shake off the main central army, and there was danger to the very last that the British would beat them in one pitched battle which would decide the war.

[Sidenote: Campaign of 1776.]

[Sidenote: Princeton and Trenton.]

Military operations began with several surprises to the advantage of the colonists. They took Ticonderoga and invested Boston before the British government believed that a fight was impending. An expedition to Canada failed in 1775-76, but Boston fell. Down to the day of the Declaration of Independence the advantage wa

s clearly with the colonists. The hard, stern struggle of the war began in August, 1776, with the arrival of the British in the harbor of New York. The Americans were attacked on Long Island, and obliged to retreat across the river; when the militia were attacked on that side Washington says: "They ran away in the greatest confusion, without firing a shot." Eye-witnesses relate that "His Excellency was left on the ground within eighty yards of the enemy, so vexed with the infamous conduct of the troops that he sought death rather than life." The American army with difficulty escaped northward, and Washington was obliged to abandon the important line of the Hudson, and to retreat before the British towards Philadelphia. The campaign of 1776 had gone against the Americans. Suddenly out of the gloom and despair came two brilliant little victories. Crossing the Delaware on Christmas night, 1776, Washington struck and beat parts of the British forces at Trenton and Princeton. They retired, and the patriots held Philadelphia during the winter.

[Sidenote: Campaign of 1777.]

[Sidenote: Steadfastness of the American army.]

In the spring of 1777 Howe transferred his troops by sea to the Chesapeake, beat the Americans, occupied Philadelphia, and lay in that city till the next year. It was a dear success. While the main British force was thus withdrawn from New York, an attempt was made to pierce the colonies from the northward. Burgoyne slowly descended during the summer of 1777; but, unsupported by Howe, on October 17 he was obliged to surrender his whole army at Saratoga. This victory roused the spirit and courage of the new nation, and strengthened the hands of the envoys who were begging for French alliance. It enabled Washington to maintain a small army in winter quarters at Valley Forge, twenty miles from Philadelphia. Whatever the early faults of American troops and officers, they had learned to obey and to suffer as soldiers, patriots, and heroes. At one time barely five thousand men were fit for duty. "Naked and starving as they are." wrote Washington, "we cannot sufficiently admire the incomparable patience and fidelity of the soldiers." With the first days of the year 1778 came the darkest hour of the Revolution. The little army, the indispensable hope, was beginning to thin out; the finances of the country were desperate; nine hundred American vessels had been captured; an apathy had fallen upon the country. Yet light was beginning to dawn: Steuben, the German, had begun to introduce the discipline which was to make the American army a new and powerful instrument; Lafayette had brought the sympathy of France and his own substantial services; more than all, during these dark days the American envoys were concluding the treaty with France which was to save the Union.

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