A Change of Strategy
General Clinton's withdrawal from Philadelphia was part of a general reorientation of British strategy following the entry of France into the war. Clinton was directed to send thousands of his troops to the Caribbean and Florida. Though he would continue to hold New York City as a bastion of British power and a base for further operations in America, his forces would go on the defensive in the north. The heavily populated — and now largely antagonistic — northern states had proven too difficult to subdue.The Southern Dream
While the war had gone badly in the north, the British high command entertained high hopes for new operations in the south. The southern colonies were not as heavily populated as those of the north. The lack of good roads would make it difficult for Congress to send reinforcements.
The planters of the tidewater were outnumbered by their slaves. The British believed that these men, living in the midst of a potentially restive servile population, would gratefully accept the security provided by the royal military. Sitting atop a more hierarchical society, such men would be more naturally willing to accept rule by the mother country than were the egalitarian farmers of the north. Economically, the southerners were believed to be more heavily dependent on British trade.
Why did many southern planters support independence?
Despite the obvious contradiction of owning slaves themselves, many southern planters subscribed to the common American suspicion of British power as a threat to liberty. In their minds, they associated liberty with English colonists, not African slaves. The planters also hoped that independence would open up new markets for their crops.
The southern colonies were also nearer the British forces stationed in Florida and the West Indies. An army in the south would be better able to maintain contact with these important strongholds.The Loyalist Mirage
Another reason the British moved south was to relieve the reportedly large numbers of loyalists impatiently waiting for the display of the royal standard. Over and again during the course of the conflict, British armies marched into the American interior expecting to be welcomed and supported by an uprising of loyal subjects of the King. Burgoyne had anticipated loyalist assistance in New York. Howe had been told that great multitudes of loyalists would rally to him on the road to Philadelphia. Always British hopes had been dashed, although many loyalists did come forward to fight for the King. By the last years of the war, loyalist regiments were among the most ruthlessly efficient in the British army. But their numbers never matched the claims made for them in London and New York City.
Despite the bitter lessons of experience, it was a fixed idea with the British high command that the south teemed with loyalists. Bringing succor to these beleaguered subjects was a moral imperative. A practical consideration also made the mirage of these hordes of southern loyalists attractive. If the British did provide them aid, and they rose up in great numbers, the loyalists could carry much of the burden of policing the south, relieving redcoats for service elsewhere.