William Howe served under James Wolfe at Quebec in 1759, led British forces at Bunker Hill in 1775 and succeeded Thomas Gage as commander-in-chief in America. Working with his brother, Rear Admiral Richard Howe, he led successful assaults on Long Island, White Plains, and Forts Washington and Lee. Even in victory, however, Howe was the subject of criticism. His failure to intercept American forces moving across the East River from Long Island to Manhattan in August 1776 is regarded by many as a missed opportunity to bring an early end to the conflict.
In 1777, Howe defeated Washington at Brandywine and escaped a trap at Germantown before moving into Philadelphia for the winter.
Howe's conduct in Philadelphia has been the subject of considerable scrutiny. He had brought his mistress from Boston, Mrs. Elizabeth Loring, the attractive wife of Loyalist Joshua Loring Jr., a commissary of prisoners. Mr. Loring seemed comfortable with the arrangement as long as he kept his lucrative appointment. Howe was roundly criticized for continuing of enjoy the pleasures of Philadelphia rather than press on with the hostilities.
Howe was not an incompetent military leader. He did, however, cling longer than others to an outmoded conception of warfare, preferring the older European approach. War in his view was an enterprise conducted by gentlemen who should not be expected to bestir themselves during inclement weather.
Howe's decision to move on Philadelphia rather than join General Burgoyne in 1777 may have been the decisive decision of the war. He was removed from his command in 1778 in favor of Sir Henry Clinton.