Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Redcoats at Long Island

RedcoatEleven score and a long dozen years ago today, Redcoats landed at Long Island.

Update: Apparently, I got the date wrong here.


MadMonarchist said...

Many years ago it was the Long Island campaign that first made me question the "standard version" of the American Revolution. I was amazed at how Washington could be beaten again and again, retreat again and again and yet still be described as some sort of military genius for "ensuring the survival of his army" or some such notion.

El Jefe Maximo said...

The New York campaign was without a doubt, Washington's worst. But in his defense, it must be said that his political masters insisted that an effort be made to defend New York City, which, since it was surrounded by water on three sides, was hopeless ab initio.

That said, Sir William Howe had a golden opportunity to ruin Washington's army and all but end the war on Long Island. He had the troops to do it, he had naval supremacy. . .but he came up with an empty bag. Howe had a second chance with his pursuit of the Americans once the war moved onto the mainland, but Washington escaped.

Washington learned well from his mistakes, and as I argued here, he deserves high marks as a general, although he was certainly no Napoleon. He was not even the best American general in the field in that war (that was Nathanael Greene -- who started out with disasters of his own). Greene and Washington both came to understand the kind of war they had to fight, and the limitations their situation imposed on their operations.

Of the British commanders Gage was in a situation quite beyond him, and no blame can attach to him for how matters came out. Howe comes off least well. True, he did have political constrants imposed on him by the ministry in London, but his failure to finish Washington around New York in 1776 (more laziness than anything else) and his inexcusable refusal to support Burgoyne's effort from Canada in 1777 -- in favor of a pointless expedition to Philadelphia -- are black marks on his record.

Clinton probably best understood the general situation, but he was too gloomy and pessimistic to make a good commander. As for Cornwallis, he was certainly more offensive minded, but by the time he reached high command, the French were in the war, and the offensives he advocated and pursued were rather rash, and he paid with Yorktown. I wonder, though, had he been given more leeway in 1776-77, if the British might not have done better?

The British troops at the regimental level were indisputably the best in the world, although the French light infantry were pretty good. By the end of the war, the Americans had some servicable units, but not like the British. But the British were handicapped by insufficient numbers; the worldwide nature of the conflict; and their supply problems (e.g., their draught animals and fodder had to come from Britain -- the rebels carefully kept theirs away from the Crowns forces).

Anyway. I think Washington deserves good marks, overall, as a soldier. FYI, my family were (mostly) for the Crown during this period. With the benefit of hindsight, it's amazing to me that the British thought they had a military solution to their problems in Asmerica.

El Jefe Maximo said...

Thinking on my earlier comment, it would be remiss of me not to note that probably the finest troops the British deployed in America were themselves mostly made up of Americans serving the Crown, that is Simcoe's "Queen's Rangers" and Tarleton's "British Legion."