The subtle border adumbrated by the north south Hudson River Lake Champlain line was a sort of dividing line in the American Revolutionary uprising. To the East of the line the most militant portions of the insurrection seemed concentrated. At least that’s how General Howe saw it. Given that it to months to communicate with the British crown, Howe and his immediate circle had to devise some sort of strategy to contain a burgeoning resistance in a territory far larger than Britain itself. Howe wanted to concentrate his forces in New York and push northward, hoping to split the Colonial stronghold in the New England states. Partly because communications were so delayed and effective command and control was vitiated by the travel time, timely decisions became bad decisions. Thusly, the King ordered a large portion of Howe’s troops to Canada, then a British colony. So that weakened the British garrisons in New York. Among the population, only about 20% of the colonists were loyal to King George and so the 8000 that Howe hoped to assemble never really amounted to more than 3000. This was King George’s “Vietnamization” policy. It failed with flying colors.
The fact is the loyalists were hard to deal with and few of them found the Hessian mercenaries very sympathetic. Few of them were motivated to fight with the same alacrity as the Revolutionaries. Loyalists were being whipped from New York to Virginia. Hoping to restore some confidence in the British cause British Admiral Peter Parker was determined to attack the port at Charleston South Carolina. He lead a doomed expedition that saw British ships sit idly waiting for troops who had to turn back after an assault on Fort Moultrie put them in waters too deep to negotiate. While British ships sat, the Colonial guns at Fort Moultrie sent many of them beneath the waves, and gravely damaged others. These were British ships of the line badly damaged by locals. It was embarrassing. It would be three years before the British Navy returned to Charleston.
During most of 1776, Washington was getting a lesson in maneuver warfare by General Howe and the blooded mercenary troops he shipped over here. Keep in mind though that Washington and Benedict Arnold both understood that they didn’t so much have to win, they just had to fight. If a big kid fights a small kid in a playground, the advantage can be made to go to the smaller kid from the outset. All the smaller kid has to do pull even with the bigger kid is simply survive. This is what I call the small kid rule. It often applies to empire building, and it always makes the larger force, the putatively invincible force look bad. It is this seemingly puerile impulse that often sends troops racing across the world in pursuit of quick victory. That all said, sometimes a loss on the battlefield can still delay a winning force from obtaining supplies or making contact with reinforcements. Such as when Sir Guy Carleton was so delayed heading south with a flotilla down the Hudson to reinforce the forces attempting to take Fort Ticonderoga. The delaying action by Benedict Arnold with a decidedly weaker flotilla prevented the British from staging a siege before winter set in. Washington also had 7000 men in his Army whose commissions were due to expire. He had only a few days
to make good with what he had. It was time to be creative. He offered a $10 hard cash bonus to anyone who would stay on a few more months and so managed to keep about 5000 active men in his Colonial Army. Christmas eve 1776 was a sweet affair for Washington. He wrote up a plan to make surprise attacks on the British garrisons at Trenton and Bordenton. It involved three attack lines, one to Trenton, one to Bordenton, and one to block the escape of the Hessians to the south. Washington personally led a force of 2500 men across the Delaware and the split them, one to take the Hessians by 6 AM at Trenton and a second force under John Cadwalader to take Bordenton. Washington’s force took just under 1000 surprised Hessians prisoner after a firefight that lasted an hour. About 400 escaped, that was because General Ewing’s blocking force was unable to cross the river. The river was swollen with ice flows so bad that Washington made it across by force of will.
Emboldened by his win, Washington planned another surprise foray into British held areas. He was about to hit Cornwallis near Trenton and set camp on snowy night on January 2, 1777. Cornwallis felt he had Washington in a trap and decided to put off a final assault until the next day. Washington left his campfires burning and his men slipped away in the middle of the night.
Yes, the Americans were a slippery enemy. George Washington, in his formal tights and officialdom doesn’t get credit enough for the times when he used the terrain and asymmetrical warfare to beat the biggest Western Empire the world had ever seen.