General Howe

Engraving of General William Howe on horseback
Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Sir William Howe (1729-1814) was the commander-in-chief of the British forces during the war. He first came to America during the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), distinguished himself in that conflict, and became a member of Parliament. Howe was sympathetic to the American cause and opposed the so-called “Intolerable Acts,” but when called into service he took command of the British forces.

Howe’s victory at the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777, and the American retreat cleared the way for British forces to march unopposed into Philadelphia on September 26 and occupy the city. During the occupation, Howe was criticized for his slow progress. He did not attack the vulnerable American forces at Valley Forge, instead focusing on isolated outposts and supply expeditions. It was during the course of the Philadelphia campaign that Howe resigned his position, replaced by General Sir Henry Clinton, his second in command, who abandoned Philadelphia in the late spring of 1778.