Ohio History Journal

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Book Reviews

Book Reviews







The Howe Brothers and the American Revo-

lution. By IRA D. GRUBER. (New York: Athe-

neum, 1972; notes and index, $14.95.)



Why, some twenty years after it had won the

world's greatest empire, did Great Britain

have to admit military defeat to a small

number of colonists on the periphery of that

empire? This question has perplexed histo-

rians for generations and the literature ex-

plaining the reasons fills library shelves.

Current historiography points to a com-

bination of an ideological clash (the British

concept of King-in-Parliament contrasted

with the American one of imperial feder-

alism) and a bungling generation of English

leadership. Into this schematic system, Pro-

fessor Ira Gruber of Rice University brings

his investigation of the two brothers who

conducted the military campaigns in North

America during the critical years 1776-78.

By the time they returned to London, dis-

missed but not disgraced, Britain's chances

for victory were considerably reduced.

Admiral Richard Lord Howe and General

Sir William Howe were peaceniks as far as

the use of force to suppress the colonies was

concerned. But they used their influence

(which was considerable since their mother

was thought to be the illegitimate daughter

of George I and she was a member of

George III's household) and their acknowl-

edged military competence to secure the

naval and army commands in America plus

positions on the peace commission that was

to resolve some of the differences arising be-

tween the colonies and Mother Country.

The result was a carrot and stick approach

to the conduct of the war. There seems little

doubt the brothers received enough military

support to destroy the Continental Army in

1776. They failed to do so. Lord Howe did

little to blockade colonial ports and instead

spent most of his effort supporting his

brother's command or issuing peace procla-


Even though Washington jeopardized the

whole Revolution in his defense of New

York, General Howe failed to exploit the

opportunity.    He completely     out-

maneuvered the American commander and

then let him escape. Why? In part, be-

cause the brothers felt they had accom-

plished the essence of eighteenth-century

military tactics-maneuver your opponent

until he is in such a disadvantageous posi-

tion that logic compels him to surrender.

Unfortunately for Sir William, neither

George Washington nor the American sol-

dier fought along such rational lines.

Gruber feels the carrot and stick approach

might have worked had not Washington de-

stroyed the "illusion of British invincibility"

at Trenton and Princeton. This terminated

the brothers "delicate experiment in mixing

force and persuasion."

For 1777, the Howes and the ministry con-

trived a number of plans which eventually

worked at counterpurposes. There was a

lack of comprehensive direction from Lon-

don and an acceptance of a piecemeal recov-

ery of the middle colonies by the brothers.

Not only that, Sir William became so ena-

mored with holding land, utilizing loyalist

support, and redeeming his loss of prestige

after Trenton and Princeton, that he failed

to support the expedition from Canada led

by General John Burgoyne. All this re-

sulted in the taking of Philadelphia and the

surrender at Saratoga. It would take the

ministry another year to secure the Howes'

resignations, by which time the French al-

liance turned a civil war into a world


The extraordinary research effort which

Professor Gruber has put into this project

(he investigated dozens of obscure archives

in England) makes it less a study of battles

and more an analysis of the interaction of