The discussion of strategy in the American War of Independence faces two main conceptual problems. First, there is the question of the viability of any discussion of the concept of strategy for an age that had at best an uncertain grasp of the very idea of strategy, let alone of what the concept entailed. Second, there is the issue that strategy is usually discussed by military historians in terms of how wars are won. That, however, is to misunderstand strategy or, rather, to operationalize it in terms of military activity when, in fact, the key to strategy is the political purposes that are pursued. In short, strategy is a process of coping with problems and determining goals, and not one of meticulously examining and manipulating the details of the military plans and operations by which these goals are achieved. British strategy in the American War of Independence has to be understood in this light because the British fought this war very differently than they did the French and Indian or Seven Years’ War. In the latter case, the focus had been on conquest and not on pacification. The second goal was very much subservient to the former, although different policies were pursued for the purpose of pacification. These measures included an eighteenth-century equivalent of ethnic cleansing in the expulsion of the Acadians, as well as the very different post-conquest accommodation of the Catholics of Québec.2 In the American War of Independence, in contrast, pacification was the strategy, and the question was how best to secure it. The purpose of the war was clear – the return of the Americans to their loyalty – and the method chosen was different to that employed in response to the Jacobite rebellions in Scotland and northern England in 1715-16 and 1745-46, although both cases resembled the American war in that the strategic goal was pacification. In the latter cases, as later in the face of the Irish rebellion in 1798, the remedy had been more clearly military although, in making that argument, it is necessary to note post-war policies for stability through reorganization, such as the introduction of new governmental systems for the Scottish Highlands and Ireland. Obviously, there was no direct corollary with this in the war for America, but one can point to the British efforts to re-establish Royal government, particularly in the southern states, a point to which we will return. In the case of America, there was not this sequencing by London but, instead, a willingness to consider not only pacification alongside conflict but also new

systems as an aspect of this pacification. Indeed, in one sense, pacification began at the outset, with the misconceived and mishandled attempt to seize arms at Lexington and Concord in April 1775. The most prominent instances of pacification were the instructions to the Howe brothers to negotiate as well as fight and, even more clearly, the dispatch in 1778 of the Carlisle Peace Commission, with which the Congress flatly refused to treat. Moreover, the restoration of colonial government in the South was a concrete step indicating, during the war, what the British were seeking to achieve. Alongside that, and more insistently, were the practices of British commanders. Although the Americans were traitors, they were treated with great leniency and suggestions of harsher treatment were generally ignored. This emphasis on pacification provides an essential continuity to British strategy. An attempt at evaluation faces the classic problem that history occurs forward, 1775 preceding 1776, but is analyzed from posterity with 1775 understood in light of 1776. This approach is unhelpful because the course of the war was affected by two key discontinuities that transformed the parameters. The usual one given is the internationalization of the war with France’s entry in 1778, but, prior to that, the declaration of American independence in July 1776 transformed the situation. Alongside that came military unpredictabilities such as the American invasion of Canada in 1775-76, and the British failures at Saratoga in 1777 and Yorktown in 1781. These events were not secondary to the military operationalization of strategy but, instead, helped direct it. The wider political dimension was also affected by events. This point covers a fundamental aspect of British strategy in the 1770s. Britain was acting as a satisfied power, keen obviously to retain and safeguard its position, but not interested in gaining fresh territory. Representing a satisfied power, British ministers were also wary of getting involved in European power politics. Here the American war fitted into a pattern that had begun with George III’s rejection of the Prussian alliance in 1761-62 and had continued with a subsequent refusal to accept Russian requirements for an alliance, as well as with the rejection of French approaches for joint action against the First Partition of Poland of 1772.3 Thus, there was to be no recurrence of the situation that existed during the Seven Years’ War when Britain fought in alliance with a continental power, a situation that, however unintentional, had proved particularly potent, or had been shaped thus by William Pitt the Elder with his presentation of British policy in terms of conquering Canada in Europe. There would be no alliance with Prussia (nor with anyone else) to distract France and, thus, in military terms, no commitment of the army to the Continent, as had occurred in 1758. Even more, subsidized German troops, such as those deployed in 1757 in an unsuccessful attempt to defend the Electorate of Hanover, would not be used for “German” or European power political purposes. Britain would retain some troops in Europe, Hanoverians for example being sent to serve in the Gibraltar garrison, but most were sent to America where, at peak strength, they comprised nearly 40 percent of the British army. Britain’s fundamental strategy thus rested on a cohesion that

had military consequences: passivity in Europe combined with the preservation of status in America.4 What British strategy appeared to entail in North America, however, varied greatly. The initial British impression was of opposition largely in Massachusetts, and this mistaken perception suggested that a vigorous defense of imperial interests there would save the situation. This view led to British legislation in 1774 specific to this colony, the Coercive Acts, and to a concentration of Britain’s North American forces in the Bay Colony. The initial military operationalization of strategy continued after the clashes at Concord and Lexington in April 1775, both because the stress on Massachusetts appeared vindicated and because there were not enough troops for action elsewhere.5 This initial effort at coercion failed in Massachusetts and elsewhere. In the former, the military presence was unable to prevent rebellion or to contain it, and eventually, in March 1776, the British had to evacuate Boston when their ships in the harbor were threatened by American cannon. Elsewhere in North America, the lack of troops stemming from the concentration on Boston ensured that British authority was overthrown in the other 12 colonies while the Americans were able to mount an invasion of Canada that achieved initial success, bottling up the British in Quebec.6 As a result, the war entered its next stage, one expected neither by most of the Patriots nor by the British government, and that led to a major British effort to regain control that entailed both a formidable military effort and peace-making proposals. Here, again, it is necessary to look at the military options in terms of the political situation. The end of the rebellion/revolution could not be achieved by reconquering the 13 colonies (and driving the Americans from Canada). The task was too great. Instead, it was necessary to secure military results that achieved the political outcome of an end to rebellion, an outcome that was likely to require both a negotiated settlement and acquiescence in the return to loyalty and in subsequently maintaining obedience. This outcome rested on a different politics to that of the conquest of New France (Canada) during the Seven Years’ War. What was unclear was what military results would best secure this political outcome. Was the priority the defeat, indeed destruction, of the Continental Army, as it represented the Revolution, not least its unity; or was it the capture of key American centers? Each goal appeared possible, and there was a mutual dependence between them. The British would not be able to defeat the Americans unless they could land and support troops, and for this capability to be maintained it was necessary to secure port cities. Conversely, these port cities could best be held if American forces were defeated. Doing both of these required troops, both for garrisons and operations in the field. But holding the cities could give further military weight to pacification as such a strategy would produce local Loyalist forces while diminishing the number of Patriots. The British emphasis possibly should have been destroying the Continental Army, which was definitely a prospect in 1776-77, but, instead, the concentration was on regaining key centers, not least as this was seen as a way of demon-

strating the return of royal authority, partially by ensuring that large numbers of Americans again came under the Crown. Indeed, from the period when the Empire struck back in the summer of 1776, the British gained control of most of the key American points, either for much of the war (New York from 1776, Savannah from 1778, Charleston from 1780), or, as it turned out, temporarily (Newport from 1776 to 1779, Philadelphia from 1777 to 1778).7 The British though, instead of endeavoring to destroy American military strength, decided to seize territorial objectives; American military strength, it was hoped, would be broken along the way. They proceeded to launch a twopronged campaign centered on gaining control of the Hudson River, one that accomplished much operationally. But the British commanders forgot the immense value of time. The advance under Governor General Sir Guy Carleton, launched from Quebec, cleared the Americans from Canada, never to see their return, and pushed into the rivers and lakes of upper New York State. But it was ultimately disappointing. He spent a number of months building vessels to combat the flotilla of Benedict Arnold, failed to take Ticonderoga, even when pressed by his commanders to do so and, in the end, withdrew back to St. Johns. George III judged Carleton “too cold and not so active as might be wished.”8