1777: The Year of the Hangman
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Mid summer, 1777, New York: Sir William Howe embarks 18 thousand men and sets sail for Philadelphia to bring on the decisive battle that will end the rebellion. George Washington leaves the Hudson highlands, taking with him roughly half the Continental army and marches south. He is uncertain as to Howe's actual objective. They march across New Jersey over the ground of their glorious victories at Trenton and Princeton eight months earlier, then cross the Delaware River. He has them camp along the banks of the Neshaminy. They wait. Meanwhile, Howe is having a terrible time keeping his fleet together. Ships are blown hither and yon, then they are beset with calms. A portion of the fleet is sighted off the coast of New Jersey. A few days later it is seen once more at the mouth of the Delaware Bay. But, mysteriously it doesn't enter the bay, lingers only for a few hours and then heads out for the open sea. Could this all be an elaborate ruse intended to draw him south, Washington asks himself? Could Howe be doubling back for New York? He slowly begins to edge his army northward. Several expectant weeks pass with no word of the enemy. Finally the fleet is reported entering the Chesapeake. Like some ineluctable force of nature it drifts north until it reaches the mouth of the Elk River. As he marches south Washington parades his army through the streets of Philadelphia just as Howe makes landfall.
1777: The Year of the Hangman is an operational study of the campaign for Philadelphia. Between September 1st and December 19th two armies contended for the American capital, seat of the rebellion, home to the Congress, and from where independence from Great Britain had been declared only the year before. In this contest battles were fought in Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Today roadside placards mark these places: Cooch's Bridge, the banks of the Brandywine, The Battle of the Clouds, and Germantown. For 225 years a solemn, common grave has marked the site of the Paoli Massacre. Glory attends the name of Red Bank where the hated Hessian was sent packing, and the fight for Fort Mercer where the Royal Navy suffered its worst defeat of the entire war. Fort Mifflin stands in mute testament to the patriot's naked valor; while Valley Forge remains a shrine to his devotion.
Yet all this could have ended on the gallows for Washington and his men, instead of the nation we call the United States of America.