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The year was 1776 and the Continental Congress was preparing to vote for Independence from Great Britain. This was a vote that for many months had been debated upon and for days had been an unpopular decision among the delegates. Many of the delegates were loyalists who wanted to remain under the crown of Great Britain but felt they deserved the same rights as any Englishman. The relationship with England however was deteriorating quickly and any conception of reconciliation was quickly fading. Knowing that creating a Declaration of Independence was treason and under the realization that the American Army was a weak and trained group of militia fighters, the colonies voted for Independence. The colonies who were for many months had ceased to make a sufficient decision on whether to break away from Great Britain had unanimously voted for Independence, except for New York who abstained from voting.

In today’s era, American’s celebrate July 4th with fireworks, BBQ’s and family celebrations, but in 1776, there was no celebration, no parties or fireworks or even cheers of joy. Instead there were emotions of fear, apprehension and un-confidence. As an inexperienced General George Washington began to lead his rag tag American Army he knew that he was up against a huge force that had far more military quality and resources than he could imagine, yet he still never gave up and learned along the way.

In all fairness, the beginning of the American Revolution should have been over during the battle in New York. Washington made many mistakes and Great Britain procrastinated during many situations which took away chances for Great Britain to squash the American Army and end the war. Washington placed leaders in wrong areas, failed to push troops in areas where they should have been and altered plans that he didn’t agree with. These decisions fell on his shoulders and led him and Congress to the decision to leave New York which was a huge loss for the American Army. “Not only could the enemy drive us out, Washington said, but far worse was in store for his army if it waited for the blow to fall.”[1]

General Sir William Howe was a more experienced and educated military leader than Washington.  After the Britain’s loss in Boston, Washington knew that Howe’s next target would be New York City. The City of New York was beneficial to Howe as it provided a way to maneuver his armies in many directions as well as having better access to more Naval support. For Washington, the city needed to be defended. He was determined to save the city as a loss of New York City may take his entire army which would mean the end of the war. His plan was to defend the city by building earthworks or structures made by dirt in Manhattan, Brooklyn and on the Battery. Washington’s army was weak going into the battle to control New York and many of them were poorly trained and did not have the sufficient equipment to hold down the earthworks constructed in the major cities.  Although the idea to defend New York was advantageous, it would not allow for soldiers to man the area effectively. In contrast Howe’s army was poised, healthy and far more experienced than that of Washington’s. It was a failure from the start. Although Washington lost New York, he still continued to learn and stay in the fight.

For 1776, it was a year of pure trepidation. Although Independence was approved, the ground the new country faced was shaky. If General Howe had not procrastinated like he did, he would have demolished the American Army altogether and the war would have been over. Because of pure luck and a sense of marvel, America continued to fight its next battle to gain their real sense of Independence that we celebrate today.

 


[1] John Ferling, Almost A Miracle: The American Victory In The War Of Independence (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 137.

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