Washington's success at Boston had one good effect. It destroyed Tory influence in that Puritan stronghold. New England was henceforth of a temper wholly revolutionary; and New England tradition holds that what its people think today other Americans think tomorrow. But, in the summer of this year 1776, though no serious foe was visible at any point in the revolted colonies, a menace haunted every one of them.
The British had gone away by sea; by sea they would return. On land armies move slowly and visibly; but on the sea a great force may pass out of sight and then suddenly reappear at an unexpected point. This is the haunting terror of sea power. Already the British had destroyed Falmouth, now Portland, Maine, and Norfolk, the principal town in Virginia. Washington had no illusions of security. He was anxious above all for the safety of New York, commanding the vital artery of the Hudson, which must at all costs be defended. Accordingly, in April, he took his army to New York and established there his own headquarters.
Even before Washington moved to New York, three great British expeditions were nearing America. One of these we have already seen at Quebec. Another was bound for Charleston, to land there an army and to make the place a rallying center for the numerous but harassed Loyalists of the South. The third and largest of these expeditions was to strike at New York and, by a show of strength, bring the colonists to reason and reconciliation. If mildness failed the British intended to capture New York, sail up the Hudson and cut off New England from the other colonies.
The squadron destined for Charleston carried an army in command of a fine soldier, Lord Cornwallis, destined later to be the defeated leader in the last dramatic scene of the war. In May this fleet reached Wilmington, North Carolina, and took on board two thousand men under General Sir Henry Clinton, who had been sent by Howe from Boston in vain to win the Carolinas and who now assumed military command of the combined forces. Admiral Sir Peter Parker commanded the fleet, and on the 4th of June he was off Charleston Harbor. Parker found that in order to cross the bar he would have to lighten his larger ships. This was done by the laborious process of removing the guns, which, of course, he had to replace when the bar was crossed. On the 28th of June, Parker drew up his ships before Fort Moultrie in the harbor. He had expected simultaneous aid by land from three thousand soldiers put ashore from the fleet on a sandbar, but these troops could give him no help against the fort from which they were cut off by a channel of deep water. A battle soon proved the British ships unable to withstand the American fire from Fort Moultrie. Late in the evening Parker drew off, with two hundred and twenty-five casualties against an American loss of thirty-seven. The check was greater than that of Bunker Hill, for there the British took the ground which they attacked. The British sailors bore witness to the gallantry of the defense: "We never had such a drubbing in our lives," one of them testified. Only one of Parker's ten ships was seaworthy after the fight. It took him three weeks to refit, and not until the 4th of August did his defeated ships reach New York.
A mighty armada of seven hundred ships had meanwhile sailed into the Bay of New York. This fleet was commanded by Admiral Lord Howe and it carried an army of thirty thousand men led by his younger brother, Sir William Howe, who had commanded at Bunker Hill. The General was an able and well-informed soldier. He had a brilliant record of service in the Seven Years' War, with Wolfe in Canada, then in France itself, and in the West Indies. In appearance he was tall, dark, and coarse. His face showed him to be a free user of wine. This may explain some of his faults as a general. He trusted too much to subordinates; he was leisurely and rather indolent, yet capable of brilliant and rapid action. In America his heart was never in his task. He was member of Parliament for Nottingham and had publicly condemned the quarrel with America and told his electors that in it he would take no command. He had not kept his word, but his convictions remained. It would be to accuse Howe of treason to say that he did not do his best in America. Lack of conviction, however, affects action. Howe had no belief that his country was in the right in the war and this handicapped him as against the passionate conviction of Washington that all was at stake which made life worth living.
The General's elder brother, Lord Howe, was another Whig who had no belief that the war was just. He sat in the House of Lords while his brother sat in the House of Commons. We rather wonder that the King should have been content to leave in Whig hands his fortunes in America both by land and sea. At any rate, here were the Howes more eager to make peace than to make war and commanded to offer terms of reconciliation. Lord Howe had an unpleasant face, so dark that he was called "Black Dick"; he was a silent, awkward man, shy and harsh in manner. In reality, however, he was kind, liberal in opinion, sober, and beloved by those who knew him best. His pacific temper towards America was not due to a dislike of war. He was a fighting sailor. Nearly twenty years later, on June 1, 1794, when he was in command of a fleet in touch with the French enemy, the sailors watched him to find any indication that the expected action would take place. Then the word went round: "We shall have the fight today; Black Dick has been smiling." They had it, and Howe won a victory which makes his name famous in the annals of the sea.
By the middle of July the two brothers were at New York. The soldier, having waited at Halifax since the evacuation of Boston, had arrived, and landed his army on Staten Island, on the day before Congress made the Declaration of Independence, which, as now we can see, ended finally any chance of reconciliation. The sailor arrived nine days later. Lord Howe was wont to regret that he had not arrived a little earlier, since the concessions which he had to offer might have averted the Declaration of Independence. In truth, however, he had little to offer. Humor and imagination are useful gifts in carrying on human affairs, but George III had neither. He saw no lack of humor in now once more offering full and free pardon to a repentant Washington and his comrades, though John Adams was excepted by name* in repudiating the right to exist of the Congress at Philadelphia, and in refusing to recognize the military rank of the rebel general whom it had named: he was to be addressed in civilian style as "George Washington Esq." The King and his ministers had no imagination to call up the picture of high-hearted men fighting for rights which they held dear.
* Trevelyan, "American Revolution", Part II, vol. I (New Ed., vol. II), 261.
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