The year began with Colonel Benedict Arnold in Canada continuing to battle Sir Guy Carleton's powerful defenses at Quebec. On December 31, 1775, Gen. Montgomery had been killed. Arnold, now in command but unable to mount further attacks against the Quebec defenses, initiated and maintained a siege on the garrison until May, 1776.
The events of 1775, though partly favorable to America, were but a prelude to the real struggle to come. For the 1776 campaign both sides made extensive preparations. To Britain the purely military problem, although assuming larger dimensions and more difficulties, still seemed to have a simple solution, namely, to strike hard where the rebellion was most active and capable of the longest resistance. Defeated there, it would quickly dissipate in all quarters. More than one-half of the population and resources of the colonists lay north of Chesapeake Bay -- New England alone having an estimated 700,000 persons -- it was only a question as to what point in this area should be made the future base of operations. Largely upon the representations of General Sir William Howe, General John Burgoyne and others, it was determined to shift the field from Boston to New York City, from there to hold the line of the Hudson River in cooperation with a force to move down from Canada under Carleton and Burgoyne, and thus effectually to isolate New England.
North Carolina's governor, Josiah Martin, also hoped to crush the rebellious colonists by force. More than 1,500 colonists answered Martin's call to fight the rebels and marched toward the coast to join Gen. Clinton's British troops arriving from New York by sea. However, the British failed to arrive in time to prevent Martin's defeat at Moore's Creek Bridge near Wilmington on Feb. 27, 1776.
Congress, impressed by Arnold's tenacity at Quebec, promoted him to the rank of brigadier general, and he continued to besiege the city until spring when he was forced to retreat to Montreal and Lake Champlain. Carleton led an enlarged British force and followed, intent on reaching Albany. Arnold constructed a flotilla on Lake Champlain and inflicted severe losses on a greatly superior enemy fleet near Valcour Island, October 11, 1776. Carleton returned to Quebec.
The new campaign opened in June 1776. Howe, heavily reinforced from home, sailed on June 10 from Halifax to New York and on July 5 encamped on Staten Island. Washington, anticipating this move, had already marched from Boston and fortified the city. His left flank was thrown across the East River beyond the village of Brooklyn, while his front and right on the harbor and North or Hudson River were open to a combined naval and military attack. The position was untenable since the British absolutely dominated the waters around Manhattan. Howe drove Washington out of New York, and forced the abandonment of the whole Manhattan Island by three well-directed movements upon the American left. On August 22 he crossed the narrows to the Long Island shore with 15,000 troops, increasing the number to 20,000 on the 25th, and on the 27th surprised the Americans, driving them into their Brooklyn works and inflicting a loss of about 1,400 men.
In June, 1776, Sir Henry Clinton and Sir Peter Parker attacked Charleston, South Carolina, but the effort was foiled by the spirited resistance of General William Moultrie. While some of the defeated fleet continued down the coast to Savannah, Clinton returned to New York.
Meanwhile, the British, encouraged by success at Quebec and uprisings of loyalists in the American colonies, had been planning for a quick and final blow to the rebellion. However, King George III was stunned when, in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, the rebel leaders issued a Declaration of Independence. With this most public and defiant act, the king no longer considered the rebels as Englishmen "defending themselves within their rights." Instead, the signers were declared traitors and he now caused arrest warrants to be issued for anyone who had signed the Declaration, placing the fortunes and lives of such men as John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, John and Samuel Adams, and Thomas Jefferson on a list which already contained the name of George Washington.
All 13 colonies had voted to approve the Declaration of Independence but it took a few days to prepare the final document. Most signed on August 2 but it was October before the document collected all 56 signatures. No one reneged, although by then they were well aware of the fate which awaited if they were caught. Through the remainder of the war they were sought by loyalist and British soldiers alike, and many were killed. Some had their property confiscated or destroyed but none expressed regret; to the contrary -- their resolve was firm.
General William Howe has been criticized, rightly or wrongly, for failing to make full use of his victory on Long Island. Washington skillfully evacuated his Brooklyn lines on the night of August 29, and somewhat relieved the depression which the defeat had produced in his army. On September 15, Howe crossed the East River above the city, captured 300 of the militia defending the lines and occupied the city. Washington had withdrawn his main army to the upper part of the island. A skirmish, fought the next day, opposite the west front of the present Columbia University, and known as the affair of Harlem Heights, cost the British a loss of 70 of their light infantry. Delaying until October 12, Howe again moved forward by water into Westchester County, and marching toward White Plains forced another retreat on Washington. In the fight on Chatterton Hill at White Plains, on October 28, an American brigade was defeated. Instead of pressing Washington further, Howe then returned to Manhattan Island, and, on November 16, captured Fort Washington with nearly 3,000 prisoners. This was the heaviest blow to the Americans throughout the war in the north.
The patriot situation appeared dark at the end of 1776. Washington's discouraged forces had withdrawn to New Jersey. In late November, British troops led by Major General Charles Cornwallis poured into New Jersey in pursuit of Washington. The patriots barely escaped to safety by crossing the Delaware River into Pennsylvania on December 7.
Washington, still retreating with a constantly diminishing force, suddenly turned on Lieutenant Colonel Johann Rall's advanced corps of Hessians at Trenton on December 26, and captured nearly 1,000 prisoners. This brilliant exploit was followed by another on January 3, 1777, when Washington, again crossing the Delaware, outmarched General Charles Cornwallis at Trenton, and marching to his rear defeated three British regiments and three companies of light cavalry at Princeton, New Jersey, thus ending the first campaign fought on the new issue of American independence.
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