General Howe, had previously captured New York City and originally proposed to move north, where Burgoyne was. What caused the change of plan?

  • 2
    This appears to be covered by the Wikipedia article on Howe's actions. – Steve Bird Sep 26 '17 at 5:11
  • 2
    I took the liberty of restating the question somewhat, but there were non-trivial issues of miscommunication with London. – Tom Au Sep 26 '17 at 9:10

General Howe had originally proposed to London to move north to support Burgoyne (and hopefully split off the four New England states and New York from the southern colonies). He thought better of this and proposed to attack Washington at Philadelphia, because this was the "principal" American army, and attacking such an army followed the classic tenets of warfare. London gave the okay on the condition that Howe also sent a force from New York City to support Burgoyne. This he did (nominally) by sending Sir Henry Clinton north, but with insufficient force to reach Albany.

What ultimately defeated the Burgoyne Expedition was the fact that the local colonial leaders eventually raised a militia army of over 15,000 men that surrounded him at [Saratoga][3]. This was larger than Washington's army, which is to say that it was a totally unexpected result. More to the point, these Americans were able to fight Burgoyne from behind bushes and trees, the kind of battle in which the Continentals excelled, rather than in open field.

With the benefit of hindsight, the ultimate result was a case of "win one, lose one," not the worst result in the world. Moreover, the British never expected to "lose one," at Saratoga. If they had followed the original plan, they might have lost both Burgoyne's and Howe's armies in the wilderness and with them the war. Instead, they ended up with the American capital and the defeat of the "main" American army as contemplated by Howe. Without the offsetting American victory at Saratoga, this would have been good enough to win the war.

| improve this answer | |
  • Your last sentence engages in some speculation. (Though as counterfactuals go, it's not a bad one). – KorvinStarmast Sep 26 '17 at 14:09
  • @KorvinStarmast:Of course we can't know if it would actually win the war. I said that it would have been "good enough" to win the war, (from the "book" point of view that General Howe was using). – Tom Au Sep 26 '17 at 14:27

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.