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The New York and New Jersey campaign was a series of battles in the American Revolutionary War between Britishmarker forces under General Sir William Howe and an American army under General George Washington. Beginning with the landing on Staten Islandmarker on July 3, 1776, British forces gained control of New York City and drove the Americans across New Jerseymarker and into Pennsylvaniamarker. Late in 1776, Washington launched a surprise counterstrike, an important morale boost for the Americans after an otherwise disastrous campaigning season.

Capture of New York City

Having withdrawn from Bostonmarker after an unsuccessful campaign, the British now focused on capturing New York City. General Sir William Howe, with the services of his brother, Admiral Lord Howe, began amassing troops on Staten Islandmarker in July 1776. General Washington, with a smaller army of about 19,000 men, was uncertain where the Howes intended to strike. He unwittingly violated a cardinal rule of warfare and divided his troops about equally in the face of a stronger opponent. The Continental Army was split between Long Island and Manhattanmarker, thus allowing the stronger British forces to engage only one half of the smaller Continental Army at a time.

In late August, the British transported about 22,000 men (including 9,000 Hessians) to Long Island. In the Battle of Long Island on August 27, 1776, the British outflanked the American positions, driving the Americans back to the Brooklyn Heightsmarker fortifications. General Howe then began to lay siege to the works, but Washington skillfully managed a nighttime retreat through his unguarded rear across the East Rivermarker to Manhattan Islandmarker.

Having taken Long Island, the British moved to seize Manhattan. On September 15, General Howe landed about 12,000 men on lower Manhattan, quickly taking control of New York City. The Americans withdrew to Harlem Heightsmarker, where they skirmished the next day, but held their ground.

When Howe moved to encircle Washington's army in October, the Americans again fell back, and a battle at White Plains was fought on October 28, 1776. Once more Washington retreated, but Howe, instead of aggressively pursuing the withdrawal, returned to Manhattan and captured Fort Washingtonmarker in mid November, taking almost 3,000 prisoners. Four days later, Fort Leemarker, across the Hudson River from Fort Washington, was also taken.

The British gained control of New York harbor and the surrounding agricultural areas, and held New York City and Long Islandmarker until the war ended in 1783. The Americans had suffered significant casualties and lost important supplies, but Washington managed to withdraw the core of his army and avoided the decisive confrontation that could have ended the war.

Retreat across New Jersey

General Lord Cornwallis continued to chase Washington's army through New Jersey until the Americans withdrew across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania in early December. With the campaign at an apparent conclusion for the season, the British entered winter quarters. They controlled much of New York and New Jersey and were in a good position to resume operations in the spring, with the rebel capital of Philadelphiamarker in striking distance.

The outlook of the Continental Army — and thus the revolution itself — was bleak. "These are the times that try men's souls," wrote Thomas Paine, who was with the army on the retreat. The army had dwindled to fewer than 5,000 men fit for duty and would be reduced to 1,400 after enlistments expired at the end of the year. Spirits were low, popular support was wavering, and Congress had abandoned Philadelphia in despair.

Washington's counterstrike

Washington reacted by taking the offensive, stealthily crossing the Delaware on Christmas night and capturing nearly 1,000 Hessians at the Battle of Trenton on December 26, 1776. Cornwallis marched to retake Trenton but was outmaneuvered by Washington, who successfully attacked the British rearguard at Princetonmarker on January 3, 1777. Washington then entered winter quarters at Morristown, New Jerseymarker, having retaken most of the colony from the British.

See also

Further reading

  • Black, Jeremy. War for America: The Fight for Independence, 1775-1783. St. Martin's Press (New York) and Sutton Publishing (UK), 1991. ISBN 0-312-06713-5 (1991), ISBN 0-312-12346-9 (1994 paperback), ISBN 0-7509-2808-5 (2001 paperpack).
  • Boatner, Mark Mayo, III. Encyclopedia of the American Revolution. New York: McKay, 1966; revised 1974. ISBN 0-8117-0578-1.
  • Buchanan, John. The Road to Valley Forge: How Washington Built the Army That Won the Revolution. Wiley, 2004. ISBN 0-471-44156-2.
  • Fischer, David Hackett. Washington's Crossing. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-19-517034-2. Winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for History.
  • McCullough, David. 1776. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. ISBN 0-7432-2671-2.
  • Schecter, Barnet. The Battle for New York: The City at the Heart of the American Revolution. 2002. (website)
  • Wood, W. J. Battles of the Revolutionary War, 1775-1781. Originally published Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin, 1990; reprinted by Da Capo Press, 1995. ISBN 0-306-80617-7 (paperback); ISBN 0-306-81329-7 (2003 paperback reprint).

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