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American History: General William Howe

General William Howe is one of the great enigmas in the American Revolution.

He first arrived in America during the Seven Years War where he earned a reputation as an exceptional commander. While commanding a regiment in the siege of Louisbourg, Howe successfully completed an amphibious assault under fire. Praise was also given to him for his role in the Battle of Quebec, the capture of Montreal, the capture of Bell Isle, and the Capture of Havana. Upon returning to England he would be elected to Parliament.

While serving in Parliament Howe expressed Whig sympathies. He opposed the Intolerable Acts and stated that he would not serve in the American Revolution. However, when King George III called for William Howe to relieve Thomas Gage in Boston, Howe boarded the ship with fellow British Generals: John Burgoyne and Henry Clinton.

Upon arriving in Boston, General William Howe led an attack on Bunker Hill. Although he took the field at Bunker Hill, Howe lost a considerable amount of men taking it and it did not negate the Siege of Boston. Soon General George Washington and his artillery commander, Henry Knox, put guns on Dorchester Heights and forced General Howe and the British to retreat from Boston.

After retreating from Boston, General William Howe set his sites on New York. Here, Howe outclassed and outgunned the provincial army and their commanders. During the Battle of Brooklyn he led a masterful assault on Fort Washington and secured the city of New York, which, from a tactical perspective, was the most important city in America. Although he was brilliant on the battlefield, Howe allowed General Washington and the Continental Army escape. This would be the closest that the British would ever get to total victory in the American Revolution. However, Howe did not act quick enough and cost the British certain victory. This is one of the biggest blunders of the revolution. Washington’s army slipped out of New York during the night and fog of early morning and would fight another day.

American History: General William Howe

Once Howe took and secured New York he set his sites on the most populous city in America, Philadelphia. He met and defeated General Washington at the battle of Brandywine and after weeks of maneuver took the city of Philadelphia. However, his success did not last long. Washington and the Continental Army surprised General William Howe at the Battle of Germantown and nearly defeated him.

The facts are unclear as to what happened next in Howe’s Campaign. General John Burgoyne was expecting to be supported by Howe’s army on his way down from Albany, New York. However, he was met by General Horatio Gates, Benedict Arnold, and Daniel Morgan at the Battle of Saratoga and Burgoyne’s entire army was captured.

Some blame Howe for the loss, but it is uncertain whether or not Howe was supposed to support Burgoyne or if Burgoyne failed in his mission. Regardless the near defeat at Germantown and the devastating defeat at Saratoga was enough to bring the French into the war.

Howe remained in Philadelphia for a short time, but resigned on May 20, 1778. General Henry Clinton took over command of the British forces in America.

General William Howe returned to England where he would live out the rest of his days. In 1799, after the death of his brother he became the 5th Viscount Howe. Howe never married and never had any heirs so the title died with him in Plymouth, where he was governor, in 1814.

Howe was one of the great enigmas of the American Revolution. Although he was a Whig he fought against the Americans in the American Revolution. He seemed to always out maneuver George Washington, but could never deliver the final blow.