Moves by British generals turned tide in Revolution

Sir Henry Clinton and his army couldn’t be in two places at the same time during the summer of 1777,

Sir Henry Clinton and his army couldn’t be in two places at the same time during the summer of 1777, and, as a result, the 13 British Colonies became the United States of America.

Col. Jim Johnson, executive director of the Hudson River Valley Institute at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, will explain that story as well as several others about the American Revolution in New York at 2 Sunday afternoon at the Albany Institute of History & Art. His talk is free.

“There were British generals operating under certain assumptions, and that’s a bad thing,” said Johnson, a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Army and a West Point graduate who retired in 1999. “That’s the sort of thing that can do you in.”

Johnson was referring to the British campaign in 1777 designed to break the Colonies in two by taking control of the Hudson River from New York City through the Lake Champlain corridor. It didn’t quite happen the way the British had mapped it out — Gen. Burgoyne surrendered to the Americans at Saratoga in October — because Clinton, heading northward from New York City, never got to Albany.

‘The Hudson River in the American Revolution,’ by Col. Jim Johnson

WHERE: Albany Institute of History & Art, 125 Washington Ave., Albany

WHEN: 2 p.m. Sunday


MORE INFO: 463-4478 or

“Burgoyne was surprised because he thought it was General Howe who was going to meet him in Albany,” said Johnson. “But Howe headed to Philadelphia and left Clinton in charge of New York City. He did head north and got to Kingston and burned it, but we don’t know if he intended to go all the way to Albany and meet Burgoyne or if he was just trying to divert some American forces away from Burgoyne.”

Clinton’s trek north up the Hudson River took a little longer than planned, and he eventually headed back south to protect New York when he learned that Howe was looking for more troop strength in Pennsylvania and that Burgoyne had already handed over his army to American Gen. Horatio Gates at Saratoga.

As a result, the course of the war changed and the Colonies eventually gained their independence. It’s all a big part of what Johnson says is our fascinating American history, but when he was a cadet at West Point he didn’t appreciate what was right there in front of him.

“I was able to get an appointment to go to Duke University, get a master’s in U.S. history and then come back to the history department at West Point and teach,” said Johnson, who dresses up in the uniform of a New York militia member from the Revolution for his lectures. “Once I got back, I realized I hadn’t really paid that much attention when I was a cadet. I didn’t realize there was all this great history right there in the Hudson Valley.”

After retiring from West Point, Johnson began teaching at nearby Marist College and in 2002 he co-founded the Hudson River Valley Institute.

Promoting history

“Our mission is to study and promote the Hudson River Valley, and we’re actually the academic arm of the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area,” said Johnson, who lives in Washingtonville in Orange County, about 50 miles further south on the Hudson River from Marist. “It made sense to kind of partner up with Marist to really help us celebrate this area. Its importance to the outcome of the American Revolution is quite significant.”

Along with the summer campaign of 1777, Johnson says he usually spends part of his lecture explaining the role of West Point and Benedict Arnold in the American Revolution.

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