reading not enough learning books knowledge blog charlie sanabria United States America incredible lucky history colonies princeton revolution based Washington life book Ron Chernow
reading not enough learning books knowledge blog charlie sanabria summary Washington life book Ron Chernow

Date posted: December 29th 2016

Book Title: Washington - A Life (Part 2) (continued)

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The New York Disaster

Around this time, the uplifted spirits of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson1 got together and drafted the Declaration of Independence, which (as we all know) got issued in July 4th 1776. This definitely pumped up the Colonial troops even more, however they wouldn’t be the least bit excited if they knew what was coming.

Washington suspected that the British were heading for New York, so he didn’t really make much of the Boston victory and rode directly to Manhattan. And indeed, it wasn’t long before the Howe brothers arrived aboard the mighty British Navy, and settled in the Staten Island.

In the back of their minds, everyone knew Manhattan was fucked 2. I mean, it’s completely surrounded by water...How can you protect such a place against the best Navy in the world? But they couldn’t just give it up like that without a battle. Right?

Aside from making the mistake of fighting them them in New York, another major mistake Washington made was trying to expand his troops all the way to Long Island. He placed about 9,000 troops at the Heights of Guana and another 6,500 in Brooklyn. It was a death trap.

  1. Three very influential politicians who participated on Second Continental Congress

  2. with a capital F

  3. Because they already crossed it once (towards Philly) before the British decided to end the chase

  4. Notice that this is the same face that we saw in an earlier painting after the Fortification of the Dorchester Heights. Is also the same painter. Copy‑paste much?

revolution Washington position before Battle long Island

Washington’s position before the Battle of Long Island

Map by Google Earth

In August 27th while Washington was in his head quarters up in north Manhattan, 22,000 british attacked the Long Island chapter (Heights of Guana and Brooklyn). Not only were they outnumbered, they were significantly outsmarted. The encampments of generals Stirling, Sullivan, and Miles (Heights of Guana), were completely surrounded and those who couldn't escape to old Put's encampment (Brooklyn) were killed or taken prisoner. Three hundred deaths and one thousand prisoners was the total toll of the Battle of Long Island.

revolution Battle Long Island British outnumbered outsmarted Continental Army

The Battle of Long Island, where the British outnumbered and outsmarted the Continental Army.

Map by Google Earth

At this point Washington had about 9,000 soldiers trapped in Brooklyn. He knew he had to act fast, and in another sneaky move, he managed to transport everyone in the middle of the night back to Manhattan. This was highly risky, and I can’t even imagine the logistics that must have taken place to move 9,000 men (plus the artillery and the horses) across the east river on little man‑powered rafts! The whole operation was personally led by Washington who didn’t sleep for over thirty‑eight hours. Not a single soldier was left behind.

revolution Retreat


Map by Google Earth

revolution retreating manhattan middle night

Retreating to manhattan in the middle of the night.

Image under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

The retreat to Manhattan was a pretty amazing feat. Thousands of lives were saved, but now the game had turned into a chase. The British crossed the river six days after the battle of Long Island onto Kip’s Bay, destroying everything in their path. When this happened, Washington was in his headquarters up in Harlem Heights. He heard the shots and hauled ass down to Kip’s Bay to find his troops in complete panic‑mode. There was no formation and most of the men were running away from the enemy. This was probably the lowest point in Washington’s military career. He tried his best to get the lines organized but he couldn’t...Defeated mentally, he stood still and faced the enemy—who was charging full force at him—he just stood there! It was almost suicidal. Nathanael Greene and other generals had to (pretty much) drag Washington out of danger, and they retreated back to Harlem heights.

revolution The landing at Kip Bay

The landing at Kip’s Bay

Map by Google Earth

A lot of people called Washington's reaction to ‘the landing at Kipp’s Bay’ an emotional breakdown—but I don’t blame him—I don’t think anybody in his position would have kept their shit together.

New York was doomed! The Continental Army tried to hold the advancing British forces as much as they could, but it was a lost cause. Washington thought about just retreating to New Jersey and regrouping over there, but it was a tough decision to make, they still had Ft. Washington up in north Manhattan and leaving this fort for the British to conquer without a battle would have not looked very good. Despite knowing in the back of his head that retreating was the right thing to do, Washington couldn’t make the call. At this point he was so devastated and full of insecurities, that he told Nathanael Greene to make the choice. Greene chose to stay and fight…

revolution fort Washington Manhattan Lee across river New Jersey

The locations of Ft. Washington in North Manhattan and Ft. Lee across the river on the New Jersey side.

Map by Google Earth

Obviously they got fucked! Battle of Ft. Washington, November 16th 1776, three thousand dead or captured.

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The Crossing of the Delaware

Getting the hell out of there was now the obvious choice. However, let me remind you that this is 1776. It’s not like they took the Jersey Turnpike and in a few hours they were out of danger. No, it took them about a month to reach the Delaware River even though they had the British chasing after them. It wasn’t until they reached Trenton and crossed the Delaware River in mid‑December that they felt safe.

revolution Retreat Philadelphia

Retreat to Philadelphia.

Map by Google Earth

Meanwhile people in Philadelphia were freaking out at the thought of the British crossing the Delaware River as well. Because if they did, there would be no reason for them not to take the city. But winter was already there, and the British chose to retreat back to New York and wait for the cold to pass. Let me repeat that…The British are retreating back to New York...meaning they would turn their backs at the enemy. And the lightbulb atop Washington’s head suddenly lit brilliantly.

Despite the freezing winter, and knowing that crossing the Delaware back again3 was going to be a pain in the ass, Washington designed a plan that was going to happen on Christmas eve. He wanted to cross the Delaware overnight and hit the British camp in Trenton at sunrise. Of course there were delays, and they didn’t end up attacking until 8 AM, but nonetheless it was a crushing victory for Washington.

revolution coolest paintings best moments American Washington Crossing Delaware New Jersey attack British encampment Trenton

One of the coolest paintings and best moments of the American Revolution. Washington Crossing the Delaware back to New Jersey to attack the British encampment in Trenton.

Image under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Now, think about this victory. I’m almost positive this is the first major victory Washington had ever had, even when he was a young general most of his major encounters ended up in nothing else but disaster! It is interesting to see how revered he was despite having lost pretty much every major battle so far...

Either way, this was a major turning point for the war. The British realized the little kitty had claws... And pretty sharp too, because a week later Washington hit them in Princeton as well, another victory. The stories that came out of these two battles turned Washington from an idol into a God. People kept writing about how he was always in the middle of the action dodging bullets and killing Brits left and right. The spirits were so uplifted that during the celebration they shot a cannonball at a statue of King George II right in the head!

With these two victories, Washington proved that the Royal British Navy could bleed as well.

There is a famous portrait of Washington after the battles of Trenton and Princeton, where he is resting his left hand on the barrel of a cannon and holding his hat on the right hand, looking looking at the “camera” with eyes that say “don't fuck with me!”. THAT is the face that you want to remember, not that old guy on the dollar bill.

revolution badass looking George Washington battle of princeton Charles Willson Peale Gilbert Stuart

On the left, the badass‑looking “George Washington at the Battle of Princeton” by Charles Willson Peale.
On the right The not‑so badass‑looking “George Washington” by Gilbert Stuart. 4

Left and right images under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

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