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Archive for November 16th, 2009

By mid-November of 1776, the reality of their rebellion against the King George III was beginning to slap the Colonists in the face…hard.  The excitement of July 2nd’s Declaration of Independence had, in the ensuing months, been replaced a new truth.  A sobering, more immediate truth, stronger than the flush of breaking from the Crown.  The Colonies were now faced with an angry motherland, a motherland which had a pretty good army and an overwhelming navy.

The colonial militia was inexperienced, poorly equipped, lacked proper training, and simply wasn’t prepared to deal with an organized fighting machine like the one populated with Redcoats.  Early engagements verified it.  New York City’s fall in September was truly embarrassing to General Washington, who looked in anger at the men turning tail and shouted, “Are these the men with whom I am to defend America?”

September’s humiliation became October’s embarrassment at White Plains where, despite holding the high ground and inflicting more casualties than they took, the colonials were forced to retreat.  Desertion was becoming a problem, as were drunkeness and carousing.  Looking across the battlefields at the polished muskets, crisp uniforms, and strict discipline, it’s not hard to imagine Washington’s growing despair.

The White Plains debacle left the colonials with the barest of grips on Manhattan.  Fort Lee and Fort Washington, both constructed in early 1776, were built on opposite sides of the Hudson River, and constituted the last best positions that Washington’s men could hold in the area.  But that was fleeting as well.

On November 16, 1776, General Washington watched from Fort Lee’s observation post as Fort Washington was overrun by a combined force of British soldiers and Hessian mercanaries.  This loss was particularly painful because a large amount of supplies (muskets, gunpowder, etc.) were captured, as were more than 2,800 prisoners.

But even worse, Fort Lee was left in an indefensible position.  Four days later, it would be surrendered.  Washington was forced to retreat from New York with what was left of his “army”.  It was during the retreat that Thomas Paine would write that “These are the times that try men’s souls.”

General Washington, unanimously chosen to lead the militias, was now being heavily criticized for the loss of Fort Washington.  The army was a mess, dissension was growing, and the war for independence was looking more and more like a mismatch of comical proportions.

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