British in the American Revolution: preparing for Canada

At the beginning of 1777, the British government prepared for crushing the rebellion early in the ensuing campaign. Reinforcements to the number of more than thirty-five hundred were procured from the German princes, and these, with a considerable British force, was sent to strengthen Howe below the Highlands, and Burgoyne in Canada. Governor Tryon was employed in embodying the American Tories into military battalions under Brigadier-Generals Oliver, De Lancey of New York, and Cortlandt Skinner of New Jersey. Many French Canadians joined the British forces on the Canadian frontier; and under the special instructions of Germain, the Colonial Secretary, which he had received from the king, bands of Indian savages were engaged to fight the republicans, the most of them under the general command of Joseph Brant, a Mohawk chief, a brother-in-law of Sir William Johnson, and who had been educated by the white people. He had lately returned from England, where he had conferred with the king and Germain, and been well received by the aristocracy. At court he appeared in the splendid costume of his nation (in which Romney painted him), and wearing a highly-polished and ornamented tomahawk in his belt. There he decided to espouse the cause of the crown. He did so, and served the king faithfully and vigorously. The best of the British leaders in America were opposed to employing the savages in their armies; but it was a pet project of Tryon, the king and his pliant ministers, who seem to have listened complacently to La Corne St. Luc, a bitter partisan, who said: "We must let loose the savages upon the frontiers of these scoundrels, to inspire terror, and to make them submit." Tryon, who was noted for his brutal inhumanity, strongly commended La Corne to the Secretary as a leader of the savages, and wrote to Germain, in the spring of 1777: "We [La Corne and himself] agree perfectly in sentiments respecting the propriety and importance of employing the Indians." He said La Corne had pledged his honor and his life that he would raise a corps of Canadians and savages, and "be in the environs of Albany in sixty days after he landed in Quebec." "Every means that Providence has placed in our hands ought to be employed against the rebels," said the king and his ministers.

It had been determined in the British cabinet to attempt to divide the colonies by seizing the region of Lake Champlain and the Hudson River during the approaching campaign. The Indians were to spread terror over Northern New York by their atrocities, and so open an easy way to the Hudson River and to Albany for British troops from Canada. An expedition composed of regulars, Canadians and Indians, under the command of Colonel St. Leger, was ordered to cross Lake Ontario, land at Oswego, penetrate and devastate the Mohawk Valley, and join the victorious troops that might sweep down from the north into the valley of the Upper Hudson. At the same time a British army was to ascend the Hudson, seize the fortifications in the Highlands, waste the country above in case of resistance, and so accomplish the great design of the campaign of 1777. For that purpose a large army was gathered at near the foot of Lake Champlain, under General Sir John Burgoyne, early in the summer of 1777.

It was late in May before the armies of Washington and Howe were put in motion for the summer campaign. The latter was delayed because of a lack of reinforcements. He had asked for an addition of fifteen thousand men. Germain, believing the rebellion might be stamped out with a much less number of troops than Howe required, wrote to him that not half that number could be sent. Howe was discouraged, and early in April he wrote to the Secretary that his army was too weak for rapid offensive operations. "Restricted as I am by a want of forces," he wrote, "my hopes of terminating the war this year are vanished." He also informed the Secretary and Governor Carleton that he could give very little assistance to the army that was to advance from Canada: and he proposed to evacuate New Jersey and invade Pennsylvania by way of the sea. But Germain, erroneously calculating that Howe had thirty-five thousand men, and counting largely upon the help of the savages and Tories, deceived himself and the British people with a belief that the end of the impending campaign would be coeval with that of the rebellion.

While the two armies were preparing to move, detachments from each were striking offensive blows here and there. The British sent a strong force up the Hudson River late in April to destroy American stores at Peekskill, at the lower entrance to the Highlands. General McDougall was in command there, but his force was too weak to defend the property. So he burned it, and retreated to the hills in the rear. At near the middle of April, Cornwallis marched up the Raritan with a considerable force from New Brunswick, to surprise the Americans at Bound Brook, under General Lincoln. The latter escaped with difficulty, and with a loss of about sixty men and a part of his baggage.

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