The Patriots fought their war for over a year until they formally declared independence in July. Ironically, or not so ironically, in February, Edward Gibbon published The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. In the same month that John Paul Jones made his debut appearance in the war in the Bahamas, Adam Smith published the economic classic, Wealth of Nations, introducing the "invisible hand" into the catechism of economic theory. British landscape artist John Constable was born two weeks before the British failed to take Sullivan's Island off Charleston. This was a year of failure for the Continental Army as New York was lost and Washington retreated across New Jersey, capping the year with the morale-boosting turn-around victory at Trenton following the famed Christmas Day crossing of the Delaware River.
Moore's Creek Bridge - North Carolina (February 27)
On February 27, 1776, prior to the Declaration of Independence but after the engagements in Massachusetts at Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill and the taking of Fort Ticonderoga, the victory of the Patriots over the Loyalists at Moore's Creek Bridge in North Carolina forced the British to focus outside of North Carolina, and dispelled the notion that the Carolinas would remain in British hands. The Tories were generally Scottish Highlanders, led by General Donald MacDonald and Lieutenant Colonel McLeod; the Patriots were under Colonel Richard Caswell and Colonel Alexander Lillington. Deceived into thinking the Patriots had less men and had their backs to the creek, the Tories attacked. As they crossed the bridge (where the current recreation sits) they were blown away by the two pieces of Patriot artillery and musket fire. The entire battle lasted less than an hour.
Nassau, Bahamas (March 3)
Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, is located about 40 miles south of Florida, and provides a window on the first real naval action of the war - and, many contend, the first marine action. The fleet was commanded by Commodore Esek Hopkins. Having left Delaware two weeks earlier with eight ships, on March 2 they were seen and warning shots were fired from Nassau. Two of the ships collided in a storm before the landing and could not participate. On March 3, 1776 six ships remained in the force under Hopkins as well as some 210 Marines, under Captain Samuel Nicholas. Forewarned, the British Governor Montfort Browne of the island had time to remove and safeguard 150 barrels of gunpowder to St. Augustine. After a council of war led by Hopkins, the decision was made to avoid the waters of the channel and land on the eastern side of the island. There, on March 3 in the first such action by the American Marines, the Americans took Fort Montagu in an unopposed landing. Although they had removed a store of gunpowder, the Americans did retrieve a sizable number of arms. The Americans landed at Fort Montagu, easily overcame it, and and moved westward to capture Fort Nassau.
Sullivan's Island - South Carolina (June 28)
On June 28-29, 1776, the British under General Henry Clinton attempted to capture Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island and proceed to take Charleston. Clinton's original landing on Long Island (now called Isle of Palms) to the northeast of Sullivan's Island failed as the crossing to Sullivan's Island was too deep. On June 28, the British ships began bombardment of the fort, which had less that 450 men under command of Colonel William Moultrie. The palmetto logs that comprised Fort Moultrie absorbed the cannon balls. Following twelve hours of the bombardment, those ships that survived the return fire and marine conditions retreated.
Turtle Gut Inlet - New Jersey (June 29)
The Pennsylvania Committee of Safety chartered the Nancy on March 1, 1776 to run the British blockade. On March 14, Captain John Barry, entrusted by the Continental Congress with building the American navy, commanded the Lexington. The Nancy loaded up in the Caribbean with supplies and made for Philadelphia. The Lexington was small, so Barry sent for reinforcements. He was joined by the Reliant and the Wasp, and they set out to protect the Nancy. The British ships participating in the blockade and in pursuit of the Nancy were the HMS Liverpool, HMS Orpheus and HMS Kingfisher. Lieutenant Richards Wickes led the fleet of longboats sent by the Americans to reach the Nancy and sought to assist. On June 29, 1776, blocked by the British from proceeding up Delaware Bay, the Nancy entered Turtle Bay Inlet and ran aground. The British ships remained at sea, though bombarded the Nancy as the Americans sought to unload the cargo. Barry ordered return fire as the cargo was retrieved. Although the Nancy was heavily damaged, important cargo - gunpowder - had been removed. When the Americans lowered the flag in preparation for blowing up the ship, the British though they were surrendering. British soldiers boarded the Nancy, which exploded, taking British casualties. Wickes himself was killed as a result of cannon fire towards the end of the battle, becoming the first American casualty of the war in New Jersey. The inlet was later filled in by Cape May.
Brooklyn / Long Island - New York (August 27)
Following the Declaration of Independence in July 1776 and the evacuation of Boston by the British, New York became the focal point for both sides. Washington anticipated an attack on the city, and given the perceived Loyalist base in New York, Howe viewed the city as a strategic necessity. Howe attacked Brooklyn from Staten Island, and a flanking maneuver along an undefended road along the American left flank drove the Americans to Brooklyn Heights. Washington evacuated his forces to Manhattan and retreated northward. The Battle of Brooklyn (Long Island) was a significant victory for the British and fed the faction of the American Congress that had doubts about Washington's leadership.
Kip's Bay - New York (September 15)
Following the August 29 evacuation of Brooklyn, a strange interlude of just over two weeks occurred. During this interim period, Admiral Richard Howe sought to engage Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Edward Rutledge in another peace conference, but that was rejected. Four days after that September 11 initiation, his brother, General Howe launched a massive amphibious assault on Kip's Bay on September 15, 1776. The British assaulted with over 80 flatboats and 4,000 men beginning around 10 a.m. The bombardment from five British man-of-war ships and 86 guns began at 11 a.m. and continued to 1 p.m. It was the eighteenth-century equivalent of D-Day. Washington's forces, entrenched along the East River in the vicinity of 34th Street, abandoned the ditches that passed for defensive fortifications. Despite his efforts to rally the Americans, Washington was forced to concede the loss of the position at Kip's Bay and the British successfully made the landing in Manhattan. Although Washington was furious with the retreat of the Connecticut troops, more sympathetic contemporary historians agree that they were grossly outnumbered and had they stayed and fought, they would have been slaughtered.
Harlem Heights - New York (September 16)
Washington's victory at Harlem Heights, like the First Battle of Trenton, was not strategically significant; it was an accidental battle on Manhattan island that did not save New York from British occupation. Nonetheless what began as a skirmish turned into a series of fierce engagements along what is now Broadway, Barnard College campus and the area around Grant's Tomb. The Americans forced the British to retreat various times, and after the debacle in Brooklyn on August 27, 1776 three weeks earlier, this battle on September 16, 1776 proved the Americans were capable of standing up to the Regulars. Washington's headquarters was the Morris-Jumel Mansion. A few days after the battle, a fire swept New York City. Washington withdrew his forces from the Heights after the British retreated, and fortified the area around White Plains.
Pell's Point - New York (October 18)
General William Howe originally attempted to land his forces at Throgs Neck, but when that proved fruitless, he reboarded his men and landed them farther north, at Pell's Point in Eastchester Bay on October 18, 1776. Colonel John Glover, who had successfully led the evacuation of the Continental Army at Brooklyn, supposedly stood on Glover's Rock to observe the British landing. Severely outnumbered, Glover positioned his men on either side of Split Rock Road, which was marked by the actual split rock and is now part of the golf course in Pelham Bay Park. Glover commanded about 750 men and engaged the British in a rear guard action to slow them down and allow Washington's main army to reach White Plains. In addition to his men, he fielded three pieces of artillery. The battle lasted several hours, with Hessian forces suffering the most casualties, some of whom are buried in the St. Paul's churchyard. Artillery fire was exchanged until darkness. American losses were eight killed and 13 wounded; the British had 3 killed and 20 wounded, with an unknown but larger number of Hessian dead and wounded.
White Plains - New York (October 28)
The battle of White Plains, New York on October 28, 1776 was Washington's effort after the loss of Brooklyn to protect New York City. Following the British victory at White Plains, Fort Washington fell to the British. The Americans then abandoned Fort Lee on the New Jersey side and made their way across New Jersey to the Delaware River. Washington's position in White Plains stretched from Chatterton's Hill on the right to Merrit Hill on the left, separated by the Bronx River. The assaults up Chatterton's Hill were costly, if ultimately successful. Washington's line reformed among the hills, and finally, following bad weather he withdrew his forces.
Fort Washington - New York (November 16)
Against Commander-In-Chief General George Washington's initial instincts, General Nathanael Greene was confident that Fort Washington on Manhattan could be held, and New York should not be abandoned. Washington acquiesced, despite his withdrawal at White Plains on October 28, 1776. Also abandoning his cautious, if not otherwise inexplicable hesitancy after Brooklyn and at White Plains, Howe embarked upon an aggressive three-pronged assault on Fort Washington. Fort Washington was situated on the high point of Manhattan and, together with Fort Lee on the New Jersey side, was meant to control the Hudson River. On November 16, 1776, Hessian General William von Knyphausen led one force from the north, General Charles Cornwallis from the east, and General Lord Hugh Percy from the south. The American lines collapsed into the fort, where Colonel Robert Magaw surrendered. Four days later Fort Lee was abandoned to the British, and the Americans would not return to Fort Washington until the end of the war.
Fort Lee - New Jersey (November 20)
Reference is made to the "battle" of Fort Lee but once Fort Washington fell on November 16, 1776, Fort Lee was abandoned on November 20, 1776 and the American forces retreated across northern New Jersey. British General Charles Cornwallis had landed on the 20th with 4000 men six miles to the north. American General Nathanael Greene, who had insisted on defending Fort Washington, now led the Americans out. They made it to New Bridge, crossed the Hackensack River, and camped in Hackensack, New Jersey. From there they retreated southward, to Newark, on to New Brunswick, reaching Trenton on December 2. Washington crossed the Delaware River into Pennsylvania and restored morale with his December 26, 1776 taking of Trenton.
Flemington Raid - New Jersey (December 14)
More accurately, this was less a battle than a skirmish following a raid, but is notable for the death of Cornet Francis Geary and the activity of New Jersey militiamen, that has been credited with assisting in Washington's successful crossing of the Delaware River and the attack on Trenton. By such activity, British reconnaissance activity was reduced, affording Washington additional secrecy to this plans. Geary (the rank of cornet no longer exists, but was the lowest commission in the cavalry) was the son of British Admiral Sir Francis Geary. A file of eight dragoons of the 16th (Queen's) Light Dragoons based in Pennington, New Jersey was sent on a reconnaissance mission under the command of Geary. Following that raid, on December 14, 1776, members of the Amwell militia under Captain John Schenck lay in wait about five miles south of Flemington and shot Geary through the forehead. His men scattered. Geary was buried in the field.
Iron Works Hill - New Jersey (December 23)
General George Washington's surprise attack on Trenton on December 26, 1776 was successful in part due to the diversionary efforts, such as the skirmish at Iron Works Hill in Mount Holly on December 23, 1776. Colonel Samuel Griffin was directed to lead New Jersey militia to take a position in Mount Holly, and distract Hessian Colonel Carl von Donop. Griffin skirmished at Petticoat Bridge and took a position in Mount Holly; on the actual "Mount" Holly, Donop set up artillery. The distraction worked, and Donop did not participate in the First Battle of Trenton.
First Battle of Trenton - New Jersey (December 26)
Retreating across New Jersey after the defeat in New York and the losses of Fort Washington and Fort Lee, Washington briefly occupied and left Trenton in early December for the Delaware. Trenton and surrounding towns were garrisoned by Hessians. Trenton was under the command of Colonel Johann Rall. Late on Christmas Day, December 25, 1776, Washington crossed the Delaware at McKonkey's Ferry, split his forces and marched on Trenton. Much of the battle occurred on King Street (now Warren Street) and Queen Street (now Broad Street), towards Second Street (now State Street). The attack was planned as multi-pronged: Washington's main force crossed nine miles north of Trenton, 1500 militia commanded by General John Cadwalader were to cross twelve miles south, at Bristol, Pennsylvania, and 700 Pennsylvania militia under General James Ewing were to cross at Trenton to secure the bridge on Queen Street over the Assunpink Creek. Washington's own force split so that one column under General John Sullivan attacked by way of the river road and another under General Nathanael Greene would approach from the northern point of the city where roads converged, and where the Battle Monument now stands. Four pieces of artillery were set up there, bombarding down both King and Queen Streets. Rall's attempts to rally his forces proved unsuccessful and he was mortally wounded. Despite efforts to secure the bridge, several hundred Hessians managed to escape. While of limited strategic significance, the attack on Trenton, with minimal American casualties, proved of immense importance following the defeats of 1776 and reinvigorated the American cause.