Before dawn on 13 Sept. 1759. After the capture of Quebec the light battalion was broken up, and Howe rejoined the 58th, and commanded it during the defence of the city in the winter of 1759-60. He commanded a brigade of detachments under Murray in the expedition in 1760 to Montreal, which completed the conquest of Canada. He likewise commanded a brigade at the famous siege of Belle Isle, on the coast of Brittany, in March-June 1761, and was adjutant-general of the army at the conquest of Havana in 1762. When the war was over no officer had a more brilliant record of service than Howe. He was appointed colonel of the 46th foot in Ireland in 1764, and was made lieutenant-governor of the Isle of Wight in 1768 (Home Office Mil. Entry Book, xxvii. 266). When Howe's elder brother, the third viscount, fell at Ticonderoga in 1758, his mother issued an address to the electors of Nottingham, for which the viscount had been member, begging their suffrages on behalf of her youngest son, then also fighting for his country in America. The appeal was successful (cf.HoraceWalpole, Letters, ii. 173). Howe represented Nottingham in the whig interest until 1780.
He became a major-general in 1772, and in 1774 was entrusted with the training of companies selected from line regiments at home in a new system of light drill. This resulted in the general introduction of light companies into line regiments. After training on Salisbury Plain, the companies were reviewed by George III in Richmond Park and sent back to their respective regiments. The drill consisted of company movements in file and formations from files.
When the rupture with the colonies occurred, Howe, who condemned the conduct of the government, and told the electors of Nottingham (as they afterwards remembered) that he would not accept a command in America, was the senior of the general officers sent out with the reinforcements for General Gage [see Gage, Thomas, 1721-1787]. They arrived at Boston, Massachusetts, at the end of 1775. Howe wished to avoid Boston, on account of the kindly feeling of the province towards his late brother (a monument to the third viscount was put up in Westminster Abbey by the state of Massachusetts), and on account also of his disbelief in Gage's fitness for the command (De Fonblanque, Life of Burgoyne). Howe commanded the force sent out by Gage to attack the American position on Charleston heights, near Boston, which resulted in the battle of Bunker's Hill, on 17 June 1775. Howe, with the light infantry, led the right attack on the side next the Mystic, and, it is said, was for some seconds left alone on the fiery slope, every officer and man near him having been shot down. After two repulses the position was carried, the Americans merely withdrawing to a neighbouring height. Howe became a lieutenant-general, was transferred to the colonelcy of the 23rd royal Welsh fusiliers, and was made K.B. in the same year. On 10 Oct. 1775 he succeeded Gage in the command of the old colonies, with the local rank of general in America, the command in Canada being given to Guy Carleton [q.v.] Howe remained shut up in Boston during the winter of 1775-6. Washington having taken up a commanding position on Dorchester Heights, Howe withdrew to Halifax, Nova Scotia, evacuating Boston without molestation on 6 March 1776. Learning at Halifax that a concentration of troops on Staten Island (for an attack on New York) was in contemplation, Howe removed his troops thither, and awaited reinforcements. Part of these arrived in the fleet under his brother, Viscount (afterwards Earl) Howe, the newly appointed naval commander-in-chief on the American station. The reinforcements reached Boston in June and Staten Island in July 1776. Letters patent under the great seal had in the meantime been issued, on 6 May 1776, appointing Howe and his brother special commissioners for granting pardons and taking other measures for the conciliation of the colonies. Their efforts were of no avail (Bancroft, v. 244-551). With additional reinforcements, including a large number of German mercenaries, Howe's force now numbered thirty thousand men, and he landed near Utrecht, on Long Island, 22 Aug. 1776. He defeated the American forces, but refused to allow the entrenchments at Brooklyn to be attacked, as involving needless risk. The entrenchments were abandoned by the Americans two days later, and on 15 Sept. Howe captured and occupied New York. He defeated the enemy at White Plains on 28 Oct. 1776, and immediately afterwards captured Fort Washington, with its garrison of two thousand men, and Fort Lee. Cornwallis [see Cornwallis, Charles, first marquis], with the advance of the army, pushed on as far as the Delaware, and wintered between Bedford and Amboy, and Howe, with the main body of the army, went into winter quarters in and around New York, where Howe is accused of having set an evil example to his officers of dissipation and high play (Bancroft, v. 477). He did not take the field again until June 1777, when the army assembled at Bedford. But Washington was not to be drawn from his