November 3: George Washington implores soldiers not to desert.
November 6: Lord George Germain, British Secretary for America, writes to the Howe brothers acknowledging the win in New York and urging General William Howe to include Native Americans in the fight.
November 8: Washington writes to General Nathanael Greene giving him permission to decide whether and when to evacuate Fort Washington on Manhattan.
November 11: The Maryland Convention orders copies of the new constitution to be sent to all the counties. The constitution provides for a bicameral legislature, senators chosen by an electoral college, voters to be property owners.
November 15: Howe sends a messenger under a white flag to Fort Washington’s commander, Colonel Robert Magaw, with an ultimatum: surrender the fort or you will be annihilated. Generals Washington, Greene, and Putnam are at Fort Lee.
November 16: Rowing north through the night, British troops in 30 flatboats land in the Harlem River to prepare for battle. Generals Washington, Greene, Putnam, and Mercer row across the Hudson River and are met with the noise of heavy fire. They leave, and Fort Washington falls to the British and Hessian troops.
November 18: Fort Washington is renamed in honor of the Hessian troops: Fort Knyphausen.
November 19: Thomas Jefferson introduces a bill in Virginia to disestablish the Episcopal Church, the beginning of separation of church and state in the new country.
November 20: In New Jersey, on the west bank of the Hudson River, Fort Lee is abandoned by Washington and taken by the British.
November 23: Washington writes to Congress reporting he has only 5,410 soldiers, with 2,060 enlistments expiring by December 1. He asks for more troops and money.
November 26: British ships leave Staten Island with troops under General Clinton bound for Newport, Rhode Island, to begin a thrust into New England. General Cornwallis is leading the British troops in New Jersey.
November 29: Congress supports the American troops by sending medicine for scurvy, assisting with a military hospital, and suggesting that a garden be grown to supply fresh vegetables for recovering soldiers—at the end of November!
November 30: Admiral Howe and his brother General Howe declare publicly that pardon will be given to those who refrain from “treasonable Actings and doings.”
“Warfare in My Mind”
“If a real defense of the lines was intended, the number was too few; if the fort only, the garrison was too numerous ... This kept the General’s mind in a state of suspense ... Oh! General—an indecisive mind is one of the greatest misfortunes that can befall an army.” —Washington’s aide to Charles Lee, Joseph Reed, November 21, I776
Whatever their shortcomings, American soldiers could dig. Fort Washington had crowned their efforts, a five-pointed star made of mud walls atop the crags overlooking the Hudson and Harlem Rivers and Spuyten Duyvil, the spit of land that connected them. Guarded by numerous outworks, the fort itself encircled four acres but had no barracks for the men, no water supply in case of siege, and, to General Charles Lee, no military value. Almost 3,000 American men were packed into an area that could hold only a third as many. To Sir William Howe, it was a potentially easy win, and that was the reason he had broken away from Washington at White Plains.
To Washington’s staff, Fort Washington was an ugly heirloom that no one would quite abandon. Washington had left the post garrisoned “to preserve the communication with the Jerseys.” But with the fort surrounded by the British, there was nothing to communicate.
Ostensibly the fort also protected one end of the chevaux-de-frise, the attempted barrier of sunken logs with spikes extending to Fort Lee on the west bank. The barrier was laid in order to pierce the hulls of British ships if they sailed north. But on November 7, three British ships sailed past the barricade with no hindrance. Historian Ron Chernow calls the construction of the chevaux-de-frise “a triumph of hope over experience.” On October 21, Nathanael Greene, in command of the two forts, had written Washington that if the aim was to hold the northern tip of Manhattan, he had too few men. If he was to hold only the fort, he had too many. Nonetheless, with Howe descending on him with 20,000 soldiers, Greene ferried in reinforcements.
One of Washington’s secretaries wrote to Greene for the commander-in-chief neither to stay or go November 5: “the holding or not holding the grounds between Kingsbridge and the lower lines [on Manhattan] depends on so many circumstances that it is impossible for him to determine the point. He submits it entirely to your discretion.” Washington displayed enormous confidence in Nathanael Greene and simultaneously revealed his own indecisiveness.
The day after the British ships flaunted the chevaux de-frise, ...