Military history


John Adams orchestrated the argument for American independence in the Continental Congress in the spring and summer of 1776, then served as the de facto secretary of war during the first two years of the conflict. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Harvard University Portrait Collection, Bequest of Ward Nicholas Boylston to Harvard College, 1828, H74

John Dickinson led the moderate faction in the Continental Congress, believing that war against the British army and navy was suicidal. Independence National Historical Park

Benjamin Franklin was a latecomer to the cause of American independence, but once converted, he brought his enormous prestige to bear as the most famous American of the era. Franklin insisted that the British cause was both misguided and hopeless. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense, severed the last remaining link with the British Empire by condemning George III and monarchy in general as vestiges of the Dark Ages. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Thomas Jefferson became the poet of the American Revolution in the summer of 1776, drafting the words that have continued to echo through the ages. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Committee of Five—John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman—presents the draft of the Declaration of Independence to John Hancock on June 28, 1776, a scene often mistaken for having taken place on July 4. Yale University Art Gallery, Trumbull Collection

After learning that independence had been declared, on July 9, 1776, New Yorkers celebrated by pulling down the massive statue of George III at Bowling Green in Lower Manhattan. Lafayette College Art Collections, Easton, Pennsylvania

George Washington made the elemental strategic mistake of trying to defend New York against a vastly superior British army and navy. The debacle that resulted nearly lost the war at the very start. U.S. Senate Collection

George Germaine was the British secretary of state who orchestrated the naval and ground assault at New York, designed to quash the American rebellion with one massive blow. Crown copyright

Nathanael Greene was Washington’s ablest and most trusted lieutenant. It was Greene who persuaded Washington to abandon the defense of New York and remove the Continental Army from the threat of total destruction. Independence National Historical Park

William Howe was the British commander in chief who adopted a measured and cautious strategy on the mistaken assumption that American support for the war was skin-deep. Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University Library

Richard Howe was generally regarded as the finest officer in the Royal Navy, but his fondest hope was to broker a political settlement of the American rebellion that kept the American colonies in the British Empire. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

Henry Clinton went to his grave believing that if he had been commander of British forces in the Battle of New York, the American Revolution would have ended in the summer of 1776. Courtesy of the Council of the National Army Museum, London

Drawing by a British naval officer depicting the arrival of Lord Howe’s fleet at Staten Island on July 12, 1776. Spencer Collection, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

The Billopp House on Staten Island, also called the Conference House in recognition of the meeting held there on September 11, 1776, when the American delegation rejected Lord Richard Howe’s plea for reconciliation. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Lord Stirling leading American troops against the British line in a suicidal charge that successfully covered the retreat of the main American army to Brooklyn Heights. Wikimedia Commons

A replica of the primitive submarine, the Turtle, which sank in the Hudson after a vain attempt to destroy Admiral Howe’s flagship, the Eagle, in early September 1776. Wikimedia Commons

The Morris-Jumel Mansion, which served as Washington’s headquarters during the fighting on Manhattan. Courtesy Tom Stoelker

A depiction of the Great Fire that destroyed one-third of New York City during the evening of September 20, 1776. Eno Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

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