If New York City had guided the country, America probably would not have rebelled against King George III. For that matter, if New York had set the national tone, the North probably would not have fought the Civil War and the South would have been allowed to secede into the Confederacy. At least since the early 1900s, when New York overtook Boston as the nation’s largest cultural center, the city has prided itself on being the Great Metropolis of America. But in truth, New York has never marched comfortably alongside the rest of the country. The Pied Piper of Manhattan has never managed to make much of America follow.
Just look at Revolution on the Hudson, the latest historical study from the prolific naval historian George C. Daughan. The book was begun, its author suggests, as an attempt to explain what everyone who studies sea power knows: the fact that Britain should have crushed the American revolutionaries. The Royal Navy was overwhelmingly large, generally competent, and usually able to deliver British troops and firepower wherever they were most needed. So how did the British manage to turn a brief little colonial war into a major defeat in battles from Lexington and Concord in 1775 to Cornwallis’ surrender in 1781?
The usual answers involve the French and the fact that, large as it was compared to the nascent American forces, King George’s military was spread too thin by the global commitments of Britain. But Daughan insists we look first at the disastrous British strategy in the early years of the war.
The British defeat, Daughan writes, begins with the military planners in London who thought they could win the war cheaply and quickly with one grand stroke. The strategy first involved seizing New York City as the main British base. The British intended then to grind their way up the Hudson River Valley to Albany, where they would meet a second major British army forcing its way down from Canada. The closing of this Hudson River corridor would isolate New England from the rest of the colonies, strangling Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island into submission and allowing the army to topple the remaining central and southern colonies one by one, like dominos.