New York and New Jersey campaign: Wikis


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New York and New Jersey campaign
Part of the American Revolutionary War
Map of the Campaign
Date July 1776 – January 1777
Location New York and New Jersey
Result New York: British gain control of New York City, British victory
New Jersey: Americans lose and then regain control of New Jersey, American victory
 United States United Kingdom Great Britain
Hesse Hesse-Kassel
Germany Waldeck-Pyrmont
United States George Washington
United States Charles Lee #
United States John Sullivan
United Kingdom Sir William Howe
United Kingdom Lord Cornwallis
United Kingdom Lord Richard Howe
20,000 soldiers and militia[1] 25,000 soldiers[2]
Casualties and losses
850 killed
2,000 wounded
4,500 captured[citation needed]
4,400 killed, wounded, or captured[3]

The New York and New Jersey campaign was a series of battles for control of New York City and the state of New Jersey in the American Revolutionary War between British forces under General Sir William Howe and the Continental Army under General George Washington. Howe was successful in driving Washington out of New York City, but overextended his reach into New Jersey, and ended the campaign in early January with only a few outposts near the city.

First landing unopposed on Staten Island on July 3, 1776, Howe assembled an army composed of elements that had been withdrawn from Boston in March following their failure to hold that city, combined with additional British troops, as well as Hessian troops from several German principalities of the Holy Roman Empire. Landing these on Long Island in August, again without opposition, Howe drove Washington (whose forces included some that had participated in the Siege of Boston, but also included regiments from states as far south as Virginia) from Brooklyn and southern Manhattan, pushing him north to White Plains, New York. At that point Howe returned to Manhattan to capture forces Washington had left in the north of that island. Washington and much of his army crossed the Hudson River into New Jersey, and retreated all the way across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania, shrinking due to ending enlistment periods, desertions, and poor morale. Howe extended British outposts all the way to Burlington, New Jersey before ordering his troops into winter quarters in December. Washington, in a tremendous boost to American morale, launched a successful strike against the Trenton garrison after crossing the icy Delaware River, prompting Howe to withdraw his chain of outposts back to New Brunswick.

Britain maintained control of New York City and some of the surrounding territory until the war ended in 1783, using it as a base for operations elsewhere in North America. In 1777, General Howe launched a campaign to capture Philadelphia, leaving General Sir Henry Clinton in command of the New York area, while General John Burgoyne led an attempt to gain control of the Hudson River valley from Quebec that failed at Saratoga. France entered the war in 1778 as a consequence of Burgoyne's surrender, and General Clinton, who replaced Howe as British commander-in-chief, abandoned Philadelphia, marching overland through New Jersey. Northern New Jersey was the scene of skirmishing between the opposing forces for the rest of the war.



Not long after the American Revolutionary War broke out in April 1775, British and colonial troops clashed in the Battle of Bunker Hill. When news of this expensive British victory reached London, General William Howe and Lord George Germain, the British official responsible for its North American colonies, decided that a "decisive action" should be taken against New York City using forces recruited from throughout the British Empire as well as troops hired from German principalities of the Holy Roman Empire.[4]

General George Washington, recently named by the Second Continental Congress as the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, echoed the sentiments of others that the city was "a post of infinite importance",[5] and began the task of organizing military companies in the New York area when he stopped there on his way to take command of the siege of Boston.[6] In January 1776 Washington ordered Charles Lee to raise troops and take command of New York's defenses.[7]

Lee had made some progress on the city's defenses when word arrived in late March 1776 that the British army had left Boston after Washington threatened them from heights south of the city. Concerned that General William Howe was sailing directly to New York, Washington hurried regiments from Boston, including General Israel Putnam, who commanded the troops until Washington himself arrived in mid-April.[8]

General Howe, rather than moving on New York, withdrew his army to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and regrouped while transports full of British troops, shipped from bases around Europe and intended for New York, began gathering at Halifax. In June he set sail for New York with the 9,000 men assembled there, before all of the transports arrived.[9]

German troops, primarily from Hesse-Kassel, as well as British troops from Henry Clinton's ultimately unsuccessful expedition to the Carolinas, were to meet with Howe's fleet when it reached New York. General Howe's brother, Admiral Lord Howe, arrived at Halifax with further transports after the general sailed, and immediately followed.[9]

When General Howe arrived in the outer harbor of New York, the ships began sailing up the undefended Narrows between Staten Island and Long island on July 2, and began landing troops on the undefended shores of Staten Island that day. Washington learned from prisoners taken that Howe had landed 10,000 men, but was awaiting the arrival of another 15,000.[10]

General Washington, with a smaller army of about 19,000 men, was uncertain exactly where in the New York area 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, splitting the Continental Army between fortified positions on Long Island and Manhattan.

Capture of New York City

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 Heights 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 River to Manhattan Island. Howe then paused to consolidate his position and consider his next move.[11]

During this time, Washington, who had previously been ordered by Congress to hold New York City, was concerned that he might have escaped one trap for another if the British successful cut off his escape routes to the north, placed 5,000 troops in the city (which then only occupied the lower portion of Manhattan), and took the rest of the army to Harlem Heights. In the first recorded use of a submarine in warfare, he also attempted a novel attack on the Royal Navy, launching the Turtle in a failed attempt to sink the HMS Eagle, Admiral Howe's flagship.[12]

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, where they skirmished the next day, but held their ground.[13] Rather than attempting to dislodge Washington from his strong position a second time, Howe again opted for a flanking maneuver. Landing troops with some opposition in October in Westchester County, he sought to encircle Washington by cutting off his escape route to the north. To defend against the move to entrap, Washington withdrew most of his army to White Plains, where after a short battle on October 28 he retreated further north. This isolated the remaining Continental Army troops in upper Manhattan, so Howe returned to Manhattan and captured Fort Washington in mid November, taking almost 3,000 prisoners. Four days later, Fort Lee, across the Hudson River from Fort Washington, was also taken. Washington brought much of his army across the Hudson into New Jersey, but was immediately forced to retreat by the aggressive British advance.[14]

The British gained control of New York harbor and the surrounding agricultural areas, and held New York City and Long Island until the war ended in 1783. The Americans suffered significant casualties and lost important supplies, but Washington managed to withdraw the core of his army and avoided a 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 established a chain of outposts stretching from Perth Amboy to Bordentown and 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 Philadelphia in striking distance.[15]

A hand-drawn period sketch depicting the locations of British outposts in New Jersey. Orientation is with north to the right.

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 in The American Crisis.[16] Washington's army had dwindled to fewer than 5,000 men fit for duty and would be significantly reduced after enlistments expired at the end of the year.[17] Spirits were low, popular support was wavering, and Congress had abandoned Philadelphia in despair.[18] Washington ordered some of the troops that returned from the failed invasion of Quebec to join him, and also ordered General Lee's troops, which he had left north of New York City, to join him.[19] Lee, whose relationship with Washington was at times difficult, made excuses and only traveled as far as Morristown, New Jersey. When Lee strayed too far from his army on December 12 in search of better accommodations, his exposed position was betrayed by Loyalists, and a British company led by Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton surrounded the inn where he was staying and took him prisoner. Lee's command was taken over by John Sullivan, who finished marching the army to Washington's camp across the river from Trenton.[20] (Lee was exchanged for Richard Prescott in 1778.)[21]

Washington's counterstrike

While worrying over how to hold his army together, Washington organized attacks on the relatively exposed British outposts, which were as a result continually on edge due to ongoing militia and army raids. German commanders Carl von Donop and Johann Rall, whose brigades were at the end of the chain of outposts, were frequent targets of these raids, but their repeated warnings and requests for support from General James Grant were dismissed.[22]

Beginning in mid-December, Washington planned a two-pronged attack on Rall's outpost in Trenton, with a third diversionary attack on Donop's outpost in Bordentown. The plan was aided by the fortuitous presence of a militia company that drew Donop's entire 2,000-man force away from Bordentown to the south that resulted in a skirmish at Mount Holly on December 23. The consequence of this action was that Donop was not in a position to assist Rall when Washington's attack took place.[23] On Christmas night, Washington and 2,400 men stealthily crossed the Delaware and surprised Rall's outpost the following morning, killing or capturing nearly 1,000 Hessians. This action significantly boosted the army's morale, but it also brought Cornwallis out of New York. He reassembled an army of more than 6,000 men, and marched most of them against a position Washington had taken south of Trenton, leaving a garrison of 1,200 at Princeton. Cornwallis then attacked Washington's position on January 2, and was three times repulsed before darkness set in.[24] During the night Washington once again stealthily moved his army, going around that of Cornwallis with the intention of attacking the Princeton garrison.[25]

Hugh Mercer, leading the American advance guard, encountered British soldiers under the command of Charles Mawhood. The British troops engaged Mercer and in the ensuing battle, Mercer was mortally wounded. Washington send reinforcements under General Cadwalader, which were successful in driving Mawhood and the British from Princeton, with many of them fleeing to Cornwallis in Trenton. The British troops suffered significant casualties in the Battle of Princeton, losing more than one quarter of their force, and American morale rose with the victory.[26]

The defeats convinced General Howe to withdraw most of his army from New Jersey, only leaving outposts at New Brunswick and Perth Amboy. Washington then decided to enter winter quarters at Morristown, having retaken most of the state from the British. However, provisions for both armies were limited, and commanders on both sides sent out parties to forage for food and other supplies. For the next few months, they engaged in a forage war, in which each targeted the foraging parties of the other. This led to skirmishes and minor confrontations like the battles of Millstone and Bound Brook.

Next steps

The British planned two major operations for the 1777 campaign season. The first was an ambitious plan to gain control of the Hudson River valley, whose central thrust was a move along Lake Champlain by the army from Quebec under General John Burgoyne. Execution of this plan ultimately failed, ending with the surrender of Burgoyne's army at Saratoga, New York, in October. The second operation was General Howe's plan to take Philadelphia, which, after a difficult start, met with success in September.

Washington's strategy in 1777 continued to be a basically defensive one. He successfully fended off Howe's apparent attempt to draw him into a general engagement in northern New Jersey, but was unable to prevent Howe's later success. He did send material help to General Horatio Gates, who was tasked with defending against Burgoyne's movements. Major General Benedict Arnold and Daniel Morgan's riflemen all played a notable role in the defeat of Burgoyne.


  1. ^ Peak strength, early September 1776 (Fischer, p. 381)
  2. ^ Peak reported strength, late August 1776 (Fischer, p. 383)
  3. ^ Fischer, p. 419
  4. ^ Fischer, pp. 76-78
  5. ^ Shecter, p. 60
  6. ^ Shecter, p. 61
  7. ^ Schecter, p. 67
  8. ^ Schecter, pp. 67-90
  9. ^ a b Lengel, p. 135
  10. ^ Schecter, pp. 100-103
  11. ^ Fischer, pp. 88-102
  12. ^ Schecter, pp. 170-174
  13. ^ Fischer, pp. 102-107
  14. ^ Fischer, pp. 109-125
  15. ^ Schecter, pp. 259-263
  16. ^ Fischer, p. 140
  17. ^ Schecter, pp. 266-267
  18. ^ Fischer, pp. 138-142
  19. ^ Fischer, p. 150
  20. ^ Schecter, pp. 262-266
  21. ^ Leckie, p. 471
  22. ^ Fischer, pp. 182-190
  23. ^ Fischer, pp. 188-203
  24. ^ Fischer, pp. 209-307
  25. ^ Schecter, p. 267
  26. ^ Schecter, p. 268


  • 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.
  • Leckie, Robert (1993). George Washington's War: The Saga of the American Revolution. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 9780060922153. 
  • Lengel, Edward (2005). General George Washington. New York: Random House Paperbacks. 
  • Schecter, Barton (2002). The Battle for New York. New York: Walker. ISBN 0802713742.  (website)

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.
  • McCullough, David. 1776. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. ISBN 0-7432-2671-2.
  • 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).

Simple English

The New York and New Jersey Campaign was a series of battles between the British forces and the Continental Army that decided who would take control of New York City and the U.S. state of New Jersey in the American Revolutionary War. The battles happened mainly in the winter months of 1776 and 1777. The British controlled the area for most of the rest of the war.


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