In 1777, the British were still in excellent position to quell the
rebellion. Had it not been for a variety of mistakes, they probably could have won the
During early 1777, British officials considered a number of plans for their upcoming
campaign. One they apparently decided upon was to campaign through the Hudson River Valley
and thereby cut off New England from the rest of the colonies. General William Howe was to
drive north from New York City while General John Burgoyne was to drive south from Canada.
Meanwhile, British General Barry St. Leger would drive down the Mohawk Valley in upstate
New York. The major problem was not with the plan but with its execution. Historians
continue to debate whether Howe was ill-informed or simply acted on his own. Whatever the
reasons, Howe decided to capture Philadelphia, the seat of the Continental Congress,
rather than to work in concert with Burgoyne and St. Leger.
Howe hoped that by seizing Philadelphia, he would rally the Loyalists in Pennsylvania,
discourage the rebels by capturing their capital, and bring the war to a speedy
conclusion. Washington tried to thwart Howe's plan, but Howe out-maneuvered him at
Brandywine Creek and then at Germantown. While Howe's forces settled into winter quarters
in Philadelphia, the Continental Army went into winter quarters at Valley Forge. There,
the army faced deprivation in the extreme.
Meanwhile to the north, Burgoyne and St. Leger suffered significant defeats at
Oriskany, New York; Bennington, Vermont; and finally at Saratoga, New York. These American
victories were critical for they helped convince France to recognize American independence
and brought the French directly into the war as military allies. The French Treaty was
also a result of a new British peace proposal, announced by Lord North in late 1777. The
French were concerned that the Americans would agree to North's proposal since it offered
them virtual autonomy within the British Empire. The French Alliance changed the face of
the war for the British; the American war for independence was now in essence a world war.
Even so, as many of the documents listed to the right suggest, winning the war even after
the French Treaty was still not a certainty.
For additional documents related to these topics, search
American Memory using such key words as
Howe, Burgoyne, Gates, Saratoga, Philadelphia, Brandywine, Germantown, Valley
Forge, France, and Vergennes (the French Foreign Minister).
Search Washington's Papers and the Journals of the Continental Congress by date (of
specific battles, for example), and use the terms found in the documents to the right of
top of page
- Washington Assesses the Strategic Situation, July 25, 1777
- Washington Speculates About General Howe's Intentions, August 21, 1777
- Washington's General Orders, September 5, 1777
- Washington Describes the Battle at Brandywine Creek, September 11, 1777
- Victory at the Battle of Saratoga, October-November 1777
- "There Was Choice of Difficulties," December 22, 1777
- Washington Describes the Continental Army at Valley Forge, Winter 1777-1778
- Washington's Reaction to Lord North's Peace Proposal, Spring 1778
- Without Reform the Continental Army Will Dissolve, April 21, 1778
- The French Alliance, May 4, 1778
- Washington Opposes a Franco-American Attack on Canada, November 11, 1778
- Washington and Laurens Exchange Private Views of the French Alliance, November 1778
- Why the British Continue to Fight, December 18, 1778