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New York 1776: The Continentals’ First Battle

by David Smith, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, England, 2008, $19.95.

When General William Howe set sail from Halifax with a 9,000-man army on June 11, 1776, his objective was to crush rebellious colonists in New York. By the time he arrived at the Hudson River on July 12, he was facing a newly declared nation, the United States of America, and its so-called Continental Army, under General George Washington. The ultimately successful British campaign that followed would secure New York City, but it also set a pattern for the two commanders. At Long Island, White Plains and elsewhere, Howe outmaneuvered Washington to win the battles, yet each time he faltered at striking the decisive blow. Washington, seeming to be the poorer tactician, developed into the superior grand strategist as he kept his battered, retreating army just intact enough to win the war.

A student in American and military studies at the universities of Iowa, Hull and Liverpool, David Smith has written the usual concise but comprehensive entry in Osprey Books’ Campaign series, well supported by maps and illustrations by Graham Turner. Commendably, he avoids applying too much 20th century hindsight in his appraisals of the protagonists, putting them rather in the context of their own times. The result is a more understanding picture of Howe— and an undiminished appreciation of the magnitude of Washington’s achievements in the wake of his New York fiasco.


Originally published in the July 2009 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here