Defeats and Victories
Although the Americans suffered severe setbacks for months
after independence was declared, their tenacity and perseverance
eventually paid off. During August 1776, in the Battle of
Long Island in New York, Washington's position became untenable,
and he executed a masterly retreat in small boats from Brooklyn
to the Manhattan shore. British General William Howe twice
hesitated and allowed the Americans to escape. By November,
however, Howe had captured Fort Washington on Manhattan Island.
New York City would remain under British control until the end
of the war.
That December, Washington's forces were near collapse, as
supplies and promised aid failed to materialize. Howe
again missed his chance to crush the Americans by deciding to
wait until spring to resume fighting. On Christmas Day,
December 25, 1776, Washington crossed the Delaware River, north
of Trenton, New Jersey. In the early-morning hours of
December 26, his troops surprised the British garrison there,
taking more than 900 prisoners. A week later, on January 3,
1777, Washington attacked the British at Princeton, regaining
most of the territory formally occupied by the British. The
victories at Trenton and Princeton revived flagging American
In September 1777, however, Howe defeated the American army
at Brandywine in Pennsylvania and occupied Philadelphia, forcing
the Continental Congress to flee. Washington had to endure the
bitterly cold winter of 1777‑1778 at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania,
lacking adequate food, clothing, and supplies. Farmers and
merchants exchanged their goods for British gold and silver
rather than for dubious paper money issued by the Continental
Congress and the states.
Valley Forge was the lowest ebb for Washington's Continental
Army, but elsewhere 1777 proved to be the turning point in the
war. British General John Burgoyne, moving south from Canada,
attempted to invade New York and New England via Lake Champlain
and the Hudson River. He had too much heavy equipment to
negotiate the wooded and marshy terrain. On August 6, at
Oriskany, New York, a band of Loyalists and Native Americans
under Burgoyne's command ran into a mobile and seasoned American
force that managed to halt their advance. A few days later at
Bennington, Vermont, more of Burgoyne's forces, seeking
much-needed supplies, were pushed back by American troops.
Moving to the west side of the Hudson River, Burgoyne's army
advanced on Albany. The Americans were waiting for him.
Led by Benedict Arnold – who would later betray the Americans at
West Point, New York – the colonials twice repulsed the British.
Having by this time incurred heavy losses, Burgoyne fell back to
Saratoga, New York, where a vastly superior American force under
General Horatio Gates surrounded the British troops. On October
17, 1777, Burgoyne surrendered his entire army – six generals,
300 other officers, and 5,500 enlisted personnel.
|Click here to print. Answer Key: (1) D - William Howe, (2) B - Delaware River, (3) C - Princeton, (4) Valley Forge, (5) John Burgoyne, (6) Benedict Arnold, (7) October 17, 1777.|
Text courtesy of the U.S. State Department, Bureau of International Information Programs, 2005