British Coordinating Plan of Attack from Canada, 1776-1777

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In the winter of 1776, George Washington dispatched bookseller Henry Knox to Crown Point and Ticonderoga in order to bring the artillery stored there to Boston Heights. The cannon was used to successfully expel the British from Boston harbor and end the Siege of Boston. At the same time, the Rebels also led an attack in Quebec. At the end of winter, once a transatlantic passage was practical, the British launched an offensive of their own, a three-pronged attack on the Rebel colonies:

  • Prong 1: General William Howe, who had assumed the position as Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces in North America from General Gage, launched an attack on New York City. He landed in the vicinity of New York Harbor on August 27, 1776, causing the disastrous defeat of George Washington at the Battles of Brooklyn.
  • Prong 2: General Henry Clinton was dispatched to the Carolinas, but his campaign largely failed and he joined Howe in New York City before winter.
  • Prong 3: In April 1776, General John Burgoyne was dispatched to Quebec and helped General Guy Carleton drive Benedict Arnold and his Rebel troops from Canada. Carleton constructed a navy on Lake Champlain and launched an attack on Rebel troops at the Battle of Valcour on October 11, but he failed to seize Fort Ticonderoga from the Rebels before winter and he returned to Quebec. Burgoyne, who meant to lead the campaign, had returned home to see to the burial of his beloved wife Charlotte.

Burgoyne was not idle for long. In anticipation of the 1777 campaign season, he devised a plan called Thoughts for Conducting War from the Side of Canada. On the first day of the new year, Burgoyne wrote Lord George Germaine, Secretary of State for the Colonies, in order to impress him with his ambitions for that year’s campaign. Germaine had the great responsibility of promoting or relieving generals, taking care of provisions and supplies and the strategic planning of the war.

Burgoyne’s plan was similar to the 1776 British effort. It called for a concerted attack to seize possession of the Hudson River-Lake Champlain corridor and isolate New England–the seedbed of the Revolution–from the rest of the continent. The plan called for a three-pronged attack.

  • Prong 1: Howe was to sail up the Hudson River to Albany.
  • Prong 2: Burgoyne was to sail south on Lake Champlain, to Lake George and then the Hudson River, to Albany.
  • Prong 3: A third army, that eventually fell to the command of Barry St. Leger, was to sail up the St. Lawrence River to Lake Erie and take the Mohawk River to Albany.

The three armies were to converge Albany, where the two generals were to relieve their command to Howe, their superior. Then, if time permitted, they could move eastward into New England and wipe the Rebels from the continent. Germaine approved Burgoyne’s plan and gave him command of the primary thrust from Canada.

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