American Revolutionary War

  (Redirected from American War of Independence)

The American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), also known as the American War of Independence or the Revolutionary War, was initiated by delegates from the thirteen American colonies in Congress against Great Britain over their objection to Parliament's taxation policies and lack of colonial representation.[m] From their founding in the 1600s, the colonies were largely left to govern themselves. With the capture of New France in the French and Indian War and confirmation of British victory through the 1763 Treaty of Paris, the British government was left deeply in debt, and the colonial legislatures vigorously disputed being forced to pay the expenses of the war. The Stamp Act and Townshend Acts provoked colonial opposition and unrest, leading to the 1770 Boston Massacre and 1773 Boston Tea Party. When Parliament imposed the Intolerable Acts upon Massachusetts,[n] twelve colonies sent delegates to the First Continental Congress to organize a boycott of British goods.[o]

American Revolutionary War
Revolutionary War (collage).jpg
Left, Continental infantry at Redoubt 10, Yorktown; Washington rallying the broken center at Monmouth; USS Bonhomme Richard capturing HMS Serapis
DateApril 19, 1775 – September 3, 1783
(8 years, 4 months and 15 days)[d]
Eastern North America, North Atlantic Ocean, the West Indies
Great Britain cedes control of all territories east of the Mississippi R.; south of the Great Lakes & St. Lawrence R. to Spanish Florida




Commanders and leaders

Casualties and losses
  • United States:
    • 6,800 dead in battle
    • 6,100 wounded
    • 17,000 disease dead[21]
    • 25–70,000 war dead[22]
    • 130,000 smallpox dead[23]
  • France:
    • 2,112 dead total[24]
  • Spain:
    • 371 dead - West Florida[25]
    • 4,000 dead - prisoners[26]
  • American Indians: UNK
  • Great Britain:
  • Germans:
    • 7,774 total dead
    • 1,800 dead in battle
    • 4,888 deserted[29]
  • Loyalists:
    • 7,000 total dead
    • 1,700 dead in battle
    • 5,300 dead of disease[30]
  • American Indians

Fighting broke out on 19 April 1775: the British garrison at Boston was harassed by Massachusetts militia at Lexington and Concord after destroying colonial Assembly powder stores. In June the Second Continental Congress appointed George Washington to create a Continental Army and oversee the capture of Boston. The Patriots sent their Olive Branch Petition to the King and Parliament, both of whom rebuffed it. In response they invaded British Quebec but were repulsed. In July 1776, Congress unanimously passed the Declaration of Independence. Hopes of a quick settlement were supported by American sympathizers within Parliament who opposed Tory Prime Minister Lord North's "coercion policy" in the colonies.[p] However, the new British commander-in-chief, General Sir William Howe, launched a counter-offensive and captured New York City. Washington retaliated with harassing fire at Trenton and Princeton. Howe's 1777–1778 Philadelphia campaign captured the city, but the British lost the Battles of Saratoga in October 1777. At Valley Forge during the winter of 1777–1778, Prussian emigrant General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben trained the Continental Army with a system of progressive training.

The American victory at Saratoga had dramatic consequences for the war. Some European monarchs in favor of enlightened absolutism had been supporting the Americans with funds, provisions, and arms by transferring aid to American vessels at the Dutch free port on Sint Eustatius in the Leeward Islands. Because the Americans had captured an entire British field army at Saratoga, France feared an early American settlement with Britain that would weaken the French colonial empire in the Americas. Charles Gravier, the French foreign minister, saw an opportunity to weaken the British and gain a new trading partner who was militarily dependent on France. The French subsequently made two treaties with Congress: the Treaty of Amity and Commerce for trade, and the Treaty of Alliance (1778) to protect the former.[q] The following year, America's war for independence from Britain was assisted when Spain honored its Pacte de Famille with France.[35][r]

In other fronts in North America, Governor of Spanish Louisiana Bernardo Gálvez routed British forces from Louisiana. The Spanish, along with American privateers supplied the 1779 American conquest of Western Quebec (later the US Northwest Territory).[37] Gálvez then expelled British forces from Mobile and Pensacola, cutting off British military aid to their American Indian allies in the interior southeast. Howe's replacement, General Sir Henry Clinton, then mounted a 1778 "Southern strategy" from Charleston. After successfully capturing Savannah, their losses at King's Mountain and Cowpens forced the British to retreat to Yorktown where it was besieged by an allied French and American force. The second British field army in the Revolutionary War surrendered in October 1781 against the French navy in the Battle of the Chesapeake. The war between Britain and the Bourbon alliance continued for another two years.[s]

After the surrender of General Cornwallis at Yorktown, the British largely lost their will to contest American independence. The pro-war Tory government fell and Lord North was replaced by Whig Lord Rockingham. King George III promised American independence and Anglo–American talks began. The preliminary articles of peace signed in November, and in December 1782, George III spoke from the British throne for US independence, trade, and peace between the two countries. In April 1783, Congress accepted the British-proposed treaty that met its peace demands including independence, British evacuation, territory to the Mississippi River, its navigation, and Newfoundland fishing rights. On September 3, 1783, a Treaty of Paris was signed between Great Britain and the United States. The conclusive treaties ratified by both Congress and Parliament were exchanged in Paris the following spring.

Prelude to revolution

A decade before the Revolution, the North American French and Indian War spread to Europe and their territories as the Seven Years' War,[40] which ended with the 1763 Peace of Paris. France was removed from North America, Spain expanded north and east to the Mississippi River, and the British formally abandoned the Stuart King colonial charters' "from sea to sea" and accepted a western boundary at the "middle of the Mississippi River" with free navigation on it "to the open sea". When the Europeans changed their maps, they caused major disruptions in military alliances, trade networks, and economic stability throughout North America.[41]

Taxation and legislation
19th c. print of the 1774 Boston Tea Party

From their founding in the 17th century, the colonies were largely allowed to govern themselves due to Great Britain's policy of salutary neglect; unlike the Spanish Americas, native-born property owners were allowed to participate in colonial government. Although London managed external affairs, the colonists funded militias for defense against New France and their indigenous allies in Quebec. When this threat ended with the France's eviction from North America in 1763, disputes arose between the Parliament of Great Britain and the colonies as to how expenses should be paid.[42] With Britain's enlarged North American empire, the earlier Navigation Acts were repurposed for additional revenue and expanded from mercantile regulation to the Royal Navy assigning warships to tax smugglers arriving at Boston Harbor.[43]

Loyalist customs official tarred and feathered by Sons of Liberty.

Parliament sought to expand American settlement north into Nova Scotia and south into Florida to guard against French and Spanish designs respectively. At the Proclamation Line of 1763, British policy was to limit warfare between the American colonists and Indians to increase their trade revenue directly to the Crown. However, maintaining frontier peace for interior trade needed policing against illicit colonial settlement; this required British garrisons to occupy earlier French trading forts.[t] Enforcement of the Proclamation limiting colonial westward expansion was to be financed by the Americans themselves through revenues collected from the 1764 Sugar Act and the 1765 Stamp Act, both of which were economically crippling for New England.[44] The next year, Lord Rockingham, leader of the Whigs, was appointed to his first Prime Ministership (1765–1766), and repealed the Stamp Act when he paired it with the Declaratory Act to gain majority support.[45][u]

A riot started in Boston when the British royal authorities seized the sloop Liberty in 1768 on suspicion of smuggling. Relations between Parliament and the colonies worsened after Tory Lord North became Prime Minister in January 1770, an office he held until just after the British defeat at Yorktown. Although Parliament supported North's proposed tougher policies, it did not entertain his threat to charge the colonists with treason. Tensions escalated in March 1770 when British troops fired on civilians who surrounded and harassed them with rocks, resulting in the Boston Massacre.[48][v]

After a customs vessel was destroyed in Rhode Island in the 1772 Gaspee Affair, Parliament repealed all taxes other than the Tea Act in an attempt to resolve the Crisis of 1772. The Act did not quiet opposition, as it was designed to undercut illegal imports and was also interpreted as another attempt to assert their right to tax the colonies.[49] After the Sons of Liberty protest at the Boston Tea Party in December 1773, Parliament passed a series of measures called the Intolerable Acts. Although they were intended to specifically punish Massachusetts, the acts were widely viewed as a threat to English liberty in all the colonies, and the rising crisis gained local support for the Patriots, who were seen as Radical Whigs in London. Advocates increased among the Whig Opposition in Parliament and in the London press.[50]

Official break with the British Crown

The elected members in the colonial legislatures, who represented the smaller landowners in the lower-house assemblies, responded by establishing ad hoc provincial legislatures, variously called Congresses, Conventions, and Conferences, which effectively removed Crown control within the colonies. Twelve colonies sent representatives to the First Continental Congress to develop a joint American response to the crisis.[51][w] It passed an agreement known as the Continental Association, which declared economic sanctions against Britain.[52][x]

While Congress affirmed that Parliament had no authority over internal American matters, they also acquiesced to trade regulations for the benefit of the empire.[z] Awaiting some measure of reconciliation from Parliament and the King's Tory government, Congress authorized the extralegal committees and conventions of the colonial legislatures to enforce the Congressional boycott. The boycott was effective: imports from Britain dropped by 97% in 1775 compared to 1774.[54]

Parliament refused to yield to Congressional proposals. In 1775, it declared Massachusetts to be in a state of rebellion and enforced a blockade of the colony before passing the Restraining Acts of 1775,[55] which aimed to limit colonial trade to the British West Indies and the British Isles. New England ships were barred from the Newfoundland cod fisheries. These increasing tensions led to the Powder Alarm, a mutual scramble for ordnance between royal governors and the elected assemblies.[56]

British raids on colonial powder magazines on Quarterpath Road pushed the assemblies towards open war. Each assembly was required by law to defend them for the purpose of providing arms and ammunition for frontier defense.[57] Thomas Gage was appointed the British Commander-in-Chief for North America; as military governor of Massachusetts he was ordered to disarm the local militias on April 14, 1775. On April 19, Massachusetts militia and British regulars fought in the Battles of Lexington and Concord. The British sustained many casualties on their return to Boston after destroying the military stores at Concord.[58]

Political reactions

Even after fighting began, Congress launched an Olive Branch Petition in an attempt to prevent war. King George III rejected the offer as insincere because Congress also made contingency plans for muskets and gunpowder.[59] He answered militia resistance at Bunker Hill with a Proclamation of Rebellion, which provoked the Patriot faction in Congress further.[60] Parliament rejected coercive measures on the colonies by 170 votes. The tentative Whig majority there feared an aggressive policy would drive the Americans towards independence,[61] Tories stiffened their resistance to compromise,[62] and George III himself began micromanaging the war effort.[63] The Irish Parliament pledged to send troops to America, and Irish Catholics were allowed to enlist in the army for the first time.[64][ad]

The initial hostilities in Boston caused a pause in British activity, as they remained in New York City awaiting more troops.[66] Their inaction gave the Patriots a political advantage in the colonial assemblies and caused the British to lose control over every former colony.[67] The army in the British Isles had been deliberately kept small since the Glorious Revolution in 1688 to prevent abuses of power by the king.[68] To prepare for war overseas, Parliament signed treaties of subsidy with small German states for additional troops.[69] Within a year it had sent an army of 32,000 men to America, the largest army it had ever sent outside Europe at the time.[70]

At the onset of the war, the Second Continental Congress realized that they would need foreign alliances and intelligence-gathering capability to defeat a world power like Britain. To do so, they formed the Committee of Secret Correspondence which operated from 1775 to 1776 for "the sole purpose of corresponding with our friends in Great Britain and other parts of the world". The Committee shared information and forged alliances through secret correspondence with persons in France, England, and throughout America. It employed secret agents in Europe to gather foreign intelligence, conduct undercover operations, analyze foreign publications and initiate American propaganda campaigns to gain Patriot support.[71] Members included Thomas Paine, the committee's secretary, and Silas Deane who was instrumental in securing French aid in Paris.[72][ae]

Paine's pamphlet Common Sense boosted public support for independence throughout the thirteen colonies and was widely reprinted.[74] When the Olive Branch Petition was rejected, Congress appointed the Committee of Five consisting of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston[75] to draft a Declaration of Independence to politically separate the United States from Britain. The document argued for government by consent of the governed on the authority of the people of the thirteen colonies as "one people", along with a long list indicting George III for violating English rights.[76] On July 2, Congress voted for independence and published the declaration on July 4,[77] which George Washington read to assembled troops in New York City on July 9.[78][af]

At this point, the American Revolution passed from its "colonial war" stage as thirteen colonies in Congress contesting the economic rules of empire with the Mother Country, to the second stage: civil war. The self-proclaimed states, through their delegates, assembled in Congress engaged in a military, political and economic struggle against Great Britain. Politically and militarily, in every colony and county there were Patriots (Whigs) and Loyalists (Tories) who went to war against their neighbors.[80][ag]

War breaks out

As the American Revolutionary War unfolded in North America, there were two principal campaign theaters within the thirteen states, and a smaller but strategically important one west of the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River and north to the Great Lakes. The full-on military campaigning began in the states north of Maryland, and fighting was most frequent and severest there between 1775 and 1778. Patriots achieved several strategic victories in the South, the British lost their first army at Saratoga, and the French entered the war as an American ally.[83]

In the expanded Northern theater and wintering at Valley Forge, General Washington observed British operations coming out of New York at the 1778 Battle of Monmouth. He then closed off British initiatives by a series of raids that contained the British army in New York City. The same year, Spanish-supplied Virginia Colonel George Rogers Clark joined by Francophone settlers and their Indian allies conquered Western Quebec, the US Northwest Territory.

Starting in 1779, the British initiated a southern strategy to begin at Savannah, gather Loyalist support, and reoccupy Patriot-controlled territory north to Chesapeake Bay. Initially the British were successful, and the Americans lost an entire army at the Siege of Charleston, which caused a severe setback for Patriots in the region. But then British maneuvering north led to a combined American and French force cornering a second British army at Battle of Yorktown, and their surrender effectively ended the Revolutionary War.[84]

Early engagements

Sir Thomas Gage, the British Commander-in-Chief in America (1763–1775) and sitting Governor of Massachusetts, gathered intelligence of stores of militia ordnance at Concord. He made plans to secure the stores there via Lexington, where he aimed to capture John Hancock and Samuel Adams, the principal provocateurs of the rebellion at that time. The operation was planned as a one-day sortie that would begin at midnight and catch the militia by surprise before they could respond. But the patriot intelligence network learned of Gage's intentions before he could act; organizer Paul Revere quickly informed the countryside and alerted Captain John Parker commanding the Patriot forces in Concord.[85]

The British marching to Concord

British troops started out at midnight April 19, 1775. At Lexington, British troops faced off against militia and a shot was fired. After a skirmish, the British destroyed supplies at Concord and withdrew to Boston. In the militia pursuit more than 200 British soldiers were killed. Overnight, local militia converged on and laid siege to Boston.[86]

The next month 4,500 British reinforcements arrived with generals William Howe, John Burgoyne, and Sir Henry Clinton.[87] On June 17, the British seized the Charlestown Peninsula at the Battle of Bunker Hill. The frontal assault on shallow American entrenchments cost the British over 1000 troops,[88] and many officers fell to American rifle snipers.[89] Surviving British commanders were dismayed at the costly attack which had gained them little,[90] and Gage appealed to London to send a large army to suppress the revolt,[91] but he was replaced as British commander-in-chief for North America by Howe.[92]

To lead Patriot forces surrounding Boston, Congressional leader John Adams of Massachusetts nominated Virginia delegate George Washington for commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in June 1775. Washington had previously commanded Virginia militia regiments in British combat commands during the French and Indian War.[93] He proceeded to Boston to assume field command of the ongoing siege on July 3.[94] Howe did not engage in a standoff with Washington,[95] and Washington made no plan to assault the city;[96] instead, the Americans fortified Dorchester Heights.

In early March 1776, Colonel Henry Knox arrived with heavy artillery captured from a raid on Fort Ticonderoga.[97] Under the cover of darkness Washington placed his artillery atop Dorchester Heights March 5,[98] threatening Boston and the British ships in the harbor. Howe feared another battle like Bunker Hill, so he evacuated Boston. The British were permitted to withdraw without further casualties on March 17 (known as Evacuation Day), and they sailed to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Washington then moved his army south to New York.[99]

Beginning in August 1775, American privateers began raiding villages in Nova Scotia, first at Saint John, then Charlottetown and Yarmouth. In 1776, John Paul Jones and Jonathan Eddy raided Canso and assaulted Fort Cumberland respectively.

British regulars and Canadian militia repulse American attack on Quebec

British officials in Quebec began negotiating with the Iroquois for their support,[100] while the Americans urged them to maintain neutrality.[101] Aware of Native American leanings toward the British and fearing an Anglo-Indian attack from Canada, Congress authorized an invasion of Quebec in April 1775.[102][ah]

The second American expedition into the former French territory was defeated at the Battle of Quebec on December 31,[103] and after a loose siege the Americans withdrew on May 6, 1776.[104] A failed American counter-attack at Trois-Rivières on June 8 ended their operations in Quebec.[105] However, British pursuit was blocked by American ships on Lake Champlain until they were cleared on October 11 at the Battle of Valcour Island. The American troops were forced to withdraw to Fort Ticonderoga, ending the campaign. In November 1776, a Massachusetts-sponsored uprising in Nova Scotia was dispersed.[106] The cumulative failures cost the Patriots support in local public opinion,[107] and aggressive anti-Loyalist policies in the New England colonies alienated the Canadians.[108] The Patriots made no further attempts to invade north.[109]

In Virginia, Royal Governor Lord Dunmore attempted to disarm the Assembly's militia as tensions increased, although no fighting broke out.[110] He issued a proclamation on November 7, 1775, promising freedom for slaves who fled their Patriot masters to fight for the Crown.[111] Dunmore's troops were repulsed at the Battle of Great Bridge, and Dunmore fled to British ships anchored off the nearby port at Norfolk. The Third Virginia Convention refused to disband its militia or accept martial law. In the last Royal Virginia Assembly session, speaker Peyton Randolph did not respond to Lord Dunmore concerning Parliament's Conciliatory Resolution. Negotiations failed in part because Randolph was also president of the first Virginia Conventions of Burgesses, and he deferred to the First Continental Congress, where he was also President. Dunmore ordered the ship's crews to burn Norfolk on January 1, 1776.[112]

Sgt. Jasper raising the fort's flag,
Battle of Sullivan's Island, June 1776

The Siege of Savage's Old Fields began on November 19 in South Carolina between Loyalist and Patriot militias,[113] and the Loyalists were subsequently driven out of the colony in the Snow Campaign.[114] Loyalists were recruited in North Carolina to reassert colonial rule in the South, but they were decisively defeated in the Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge and Loyalist sentiment was subdued.[115] A troop of British regulars set out to reconquer South Carolina, and launched an attack on Charleston during the Battle of Sullivan's Island on June 28, 1776,[116] but it failed and left the South in Patriot control until 1780.[117]

Shortages in Patriot gunpowder led Congress to authorize an expedition against the Bahamas in the British West Indies to secure additional ordnance there.[118] On March 3, 1776, the Americans landed and engaged the British at the Raid of Nassau, but the local militia offered no resistance.[119] The expedition confiscated what supplies they could and sailed for home on March 17.[120] A month later after a brief skirmish at the Battle of Block Island with the Royal Navy frigate HMS Glasgow, the squadron returned to the base of American naval operations during the Revolution at New London, Connecticut.[121]

British New York counter-offensive

After regrouping at Halifax, Nova Scotia, William Howe was determined to take the fight to the Americans.[122] He sailed for New York in June 1776 and began landing troops on Staten Island near the entrance to New York Harbor on July 2. The Americans rejected Howe's informal attempt to negotiate peace on July 30;[123] Washington knew that an attack on the city was imminent and realized that he needed advance information to deal with disciplined British regular troops. On August 12, 1776, Patriot Thomas Knowlton was given orders to form an elite group for reconnaissance and secret missions. Knowlton's Rangers, which included Nathan Hale, became the Army's first intelligence unit.[124][ai] When Washington was driven off Long Island he soon realized that he would need more than military might and amateur spies to defeat the British. He was committed to professionalize military intelligence, and with the aid of Benjamin Tallmadge, they launched the six-man Culper spy ring.[127][aj] The efforts of Washington and the Culper Spy Ring substantially increased effective allocation and deployment of Continental regiments in the field.[129] Over the course of the war Washington spent more than 10 percent of his total military funds on intelligence operations.[130]

Americans at Long Island, 1776

Washington split his army to positions on Manhattan Island and across the East River in western Long Island.[131] On August 27 at the Battle of Long Island, Howe outflanked Washington and forced him back to Brooklyn Heights, but he did not attempt to encircle Washington's forces.[132] Through the night of August 28, General Henry Knox bombarded the British. Knowing they were up against overwhelming odds, Washington ordered the assembly of a war council on August 29; all agreed to retreat to Manhattan. Washington quickly had his troops assembled and ferried them across the East River to Manhattan on flat-bottomed freight boats without any losses in men or ordnance, leaving General Thomas Mifflin's regiments as a rearguard.[133]

General Howe officially met with a delegation from Congress at the September Staten Island Peace Conference, but it failed to conclude peace as the British delegates only had the authority to offer pardons and could not recognize independence.[134] On September 15, Howe seized control of New York City when the British landed at Kip's Bay and unsuccessfully engaged the Americans at the Battle of Harlem Heights the following day.[135] On October 18 Howe failed to encircle the Americans at the Battle of Pell's Point, and the Americans withdrew. Howe declined to close with Washington's army on October 28 at the Battle of White Plains, and instead attacked a hill that was of no strategic value.[136]

British forced Hudson River narrows

Washington's retreat isolated his remaining forces and the British captured Fort Washington on November 16. The British victory there amounted to Washington's most disastrous defeat with the loss of 3,000 prisoners.[137] The remaining American regiments on Long Island fell back four days later.[138] General Sir Henry Clinton wanted to pursue Washington's disorganized army, but he was first required to commit 6,000 troops to capture Newport, Rhode Island to secure the Loyalist port.[139][ak] General Charles Cornwallis pursued Washington, but Howe ordered him to halt, leaving Washington unmolested.[141]

The outlook was bleak for the American cause: the reduced army had dwindled to fewer than 5,000 men and would be reduced further when enlistments expired at the end of the year.[142] Popular support wavered, morale declined, and Congress abandoned Philadelphia for Baltimore.[143] Loyalist activity surged in the wake of the American defeat, especially in New York state.[144]

In London, news of the victorious Long Island campaign was well received with festivities held in the capital. Public support reached a peak,[145] and King George III awarded the Order of the Bath to Howe.[146] Strategic deficiencies among Patriot forces were evident: Washington divided a numerically weaker army in the face of a stronger one, his inexperienced staff misread the military situation, and American troops fled in the face of enemy fire. The successes led to predictions that the British could win within a year.[147] In the meantime, the British established winter quarters in the New York City area and anticipated renewed campaigning the following spring.[148]

Two weeks after Congress withdrew to safer Maryland, Washington crossed the ice-choked Delaware River about 30 miles upriver from Philadelphia on the night of December 25–26, 1776. His approach over frozen trails surprised Hessian Colonel Johann Rall. The Continentals overwhelmed the Hessian garrison at Trenton, New Jersey, and took 900 prisoners.[149][al] The celebrated victory rescued the American army's flagging morale, gave new hope to the Patriot cause,[151] and dispelled much of the fear of professional Hessian "mercenaries".[152] Cornwallis marched to retake Trenton but was repulsed at the Battle of the Assunpink Creek;[153] in the night of January 2, Washington outmaneuvered Cornwallis and defeated his rearguard in the Battle of Princeton the following day. The two victories helped to convince the French that the Americans were worthwhile military allies.[154]

Washington entered winter quarters from January to May 1778 at Morristown, New Jersey,[155] and he received the Congressional direction to inoculate all Continental troops against smallpox.[156][am] Although a Forage War between the armies continued until March,[158] Howe did not attempt to attack the Americans over the winter of 1776–1777.[159]

British northern strategy fails

In December 1776, General John Burgoyne returned to London to plan strategies with Lord George Germain: Burgoyne's plan was to isolate New England by establishing control of the Great Lakes from New York to Quebec. Efforts could then concentrate on the southern colonies, where it was believed that Loyalist support was widespread and substantial.[160]

American defeat at Oriskany led to Herkimer's death; inter-Iroquois war began

The Saratoga campaign strategy called for two armies to maneuver by different routes to rendezvous at Albany, New York; the maneuver would also clear the Americans from British-allied Iroquois territory.[161] Burgoyne set out along Lake Champlain on June 14, 1777, and capturing Fort Ticonderoga on July 5. The Continentals under General Horatio Gates blocked roads, destroyed bridges, dammed streams, and stripped the area of food.[162] Meanwhile, Barry St. Leger's diversionary column along the Mohawk River laid siege to Fort Stanwix. Following a British pyrrhic victory at the Battle of Oriskany, St. Leger withdrew to Quebec on August 22 after his Indian allies abandoned him. On August 16, a Brunswick foraging expedition was defeated in the Battle of Bennington where more than 700 troops were captured.[163]

The vast majority of British Indian allies then abandoned the field in the northern advance, but even without Burgoyne's support from upper state New York, Howe continued his planned advance on Philadelphia.[164] Early feints failed to bring Washington to battle in June 1777.[165] Howe then declined to attack towards Philadelphia on that front and considered another approach: either overland via New Jersey or by sea at the Delaware Bay.[166][an]

Burgoyne's northern advance then attempted to flank Gates at Freeman's Farm on September 19 in the First Battle of Saratoga. The British won, but at the cost of 600 casualties. Burgoyne dug trenches to bolster his troop's defenses, but he still suffered constant desertion and critical supplies ran low.[167] On October 7, a reconnaissance in force against the Continentals failed with heavy British losses during the second Battle of Saratoga. Burgoyne withdrew, but Gates' pursuit surrounded the British by October 13. With supplies exhausted and no hope of relief, Burgoyne surrendered his army on October 17, and 6,222 British soldiers became prisoners of war.[168]

Howe renewed his Philadelphia campaign later in the fall with additional supplies and arrived at Wilmington by sea. Advancing on September 11, he outflanked Washington south of Philadelphia and defeated him at the Battle of Brandywine, but failed to pursue and destroy the defeated American force.[169] The British victory at the Battle of Paoli left Philadelphia defenseless, and Howe captured Willistown unopposed on September 26. He then transferred 9,000 men to Germantown just north of Philadelphia,[170] where Washington launched a surprise attack but was repulsed on October 4.[171] Once again, Howe did not follow up on his victory.[172] After several days of probing and an inconclusive end to the Battle of White Marsh, Howe did not pursue the vulnerable American rear for their baggage train and supplies.[173] The British commander had not previously anticipated Washington's counterattack, but Howe inexplicably ordered his army to withdraw directly onto Philadelphia and into winter quarters this time.[174]

Howe had failed to pursue and destroy the defeated Americans at the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown.[175][176] Although Washington's surprise at Germantown failed to result in another Trenton, European commanders including Frederick the Great were impressed with the American regiments' fighting prowess.[177][ao]

General von Steuben training
"Model Infantry" at Valley Forge

On December 19, Washington's army entered winter quarters at Valley Forge. Poor conditions and supply problems resulted in the deaths of some 2,500 American troops.[180] During the 1777–1778 encampment, BaronFriedrich Wilhelm von Steuben introduced the latest Prussian methods of drilling and infantry tactics to the entire Continental Army by training "model companies" for each regiment, who then instructed their home units.[181]

While the Americans wintered only twenty miles away, Howe made no effort to attack their camp, which some critics argued could have ended the war.[182] At the end of the campaign Howe resigned his commission and was replaced by Sir Henry Clinton on May 24, 1778.[183] Clinton received orders from Westminster to abandon Philadelphia and fortify New York following France's entry into the war. On June 18, the British departed Philadelphia with the reinvigorated Americans in pursuit.[184] The two armies fought at the Battle of Monmouth Court House on June 28, 1778, with the Americans holding the field and boosting Patriot morale.[185]

Foreign intervention

Early in the war, it became clear to Congress that help from France was imperative. First, the British had instituted a blockade on the Atlantic seacoast ports against military assistance that could not be challenged. Second, Continental army troop strength was being weakened by death, disease, and desertion. Third, the states failed to meet recruitment quotas. Fourth, the British had a continuing resupply of German auxiliaries to compensate for their losses.[186]

French foreign minister Charles Gravier, the Comte de Vergennes, was strongly anti-British and had long sought a pretext for going to war with Britain since their conquest of Canada in 1763.[187][188] The French public favored war, but Vergennes and King Louis XVI were hesitant due to the military and financial risk.[189]

Louis XVI gifted the US a former merchant for US Capt. Jones, renamed USS Bonhomme Richard

France would not feel compelled to intervene if the colonies still considered reconciliation with Britain, as France would have nothing to gain in that event. To assure assistance from France, independence had to be declared, which was effected by Congress in July 1776.[190] The Americans who had been covertly supplied by French merchants like Roderigue Hortalez and Company through neutral Dutch ports at Amsterdam and in the Caribbean at Sint Durstatius since the onset of the war, were now also supplied directly by the French government,[191] whose assistance proved to be invaluable in the American 1777 Saratoga campaign.[192]

The British defeat at Saratoga caused British anxiety over possible foreign intervention. The North ministry sought reconciliation with the colonies through the Carlisle Peace Commission by consenting to their original demands, but without independence.[193] However, the Americans were bolstered by their French trade and would not settle for terms short of complete independence from Britain.[194] For the French, American victory at Saratoga convinced them that supporting the Patriots was worthwhile,[195] but doing so too late would bring additional concerns. King Louis XVI feared that if Britain's concessions were accepted and brought early reconciliation, then the rival of his ancien régime could strike at French Caribbean islands.[196] To prevent this, France formally recognized the United States in a Treaty of Amity and Commerce on February 6, 1778, and followed that with a defensive military alliance—a Treaty of Alliance—to guarantee trade between American and France and American independence.[197][ap] The Bourbon monarchy in Spain was wary of recognizing a republic of former European colonies, but also of provoking war with Britain before it was well-prepared. It opted to covertly supply the Patriots mainly from Havana in Cuba and New Orleans in Spanish Luisiana.[199]

To encourage French participation in the American struggle for independence, diplomat Silas Deane promised promotions and command positions to any French officer who joined the American war effort. However, many of the French officer-adventurers were completely unfit for command. In one outstanding exception, Congress recognized the Marquis de Lafayette, Glibert du Motier's "great zeal to the cause of liberty" and commissioned him as a major General.[200][aq]

Congress also hoped to persuade Spain into an open alliance, as formally extended in the 1778 French Treaty of Alliance. The American Commissioners met with the Count of Aranda as early as 1776,[201] but Spain remained reluctant to make a formal commitment to American independence due to other Continental balances of power interests and fear for its American colonies where there had been two recent creole rebellions.[202] However, in 1779 Spanish First Minister José Moñino, 1st Count of Floridablanca, affirmed his desire to support the Americans to weaken Britain's empire.[203][ar]

Capture of the HMS Serapis. The Dutch let Jones into port as a "French capture" to aid the US

Since the outbreak of the conflict, Britain had appealed to its former ally, the neutral Dutch Republic, to lend the use of the Scots Brigade for service in America. But pro-American sentiment there forced its elected representatives to deny the request.[205] Consequently, the British attempted to invoke treaties for outright Dutch military support, but the Republic still refused under Dutch Patriot majorities. At the same time, American troops were being supplied with ordnance by Dutch merchants via their West Indies colonies.[206] French supplies bound for America were also transshipped through Dutch ports.[207]

The Dutch Republic traded with France after the latter's declaration of war on Britain, citing the 1674 Treaty of Westminter by Britain on this issue. Despite standing international agreements, Britain responded by confiscating Dutch shipping, and even firing upon it in the affair of Fielding and Bylandt. The Dutch joined the First League of Armed Neutrality with Austria, Prussia, and Russia to enforce their neutral status.[208] But the Dutch Republic had further assisted the rebelling Patriot cause; it had also given sanctuary to American privateers and drafted a Treaty of Amity and Commerce with the Americans.[209] Britain argued that these actions contravened The Republic's neutral stance and Britain declared war on the Dutch as a belligerent in December 1780.[210]

Meanwhile, George III had given up on subduing America while Britain had a European war to fight.[211] He did not welcome war with France, but he believed the British victories over France in the Seven Years' War as a reason to believe in ultimate victory over France.[212] Britain could not find a powerful ally among the Great Powers to engage France on the European continent,[as] so French strength was not drawn off into Continental engagements as in the Seven Years' War.[213] Britain subsequently changed its focus into the Caribbean theater,[214] and diverted major military resources away from America.[215] Despite these developments, George III was determined to never recognize American independence and to indefinitely wage war on the American colonies indefinitely until they pleaded to return as his subjects.[216][at]

Stalemate in the North

French Adm. d'Estaing's joint expedition with US Gen. Sullivan at Newport RI

Following the British defeat at Saratoga in October 1777 and French entry into the war, Clinton withdrew from Philadelphia to consolidate his forces in New York.[218] French admiral Charles Henri Hector, the Comte d'Estaing, had been dispatched to America in April 1778 to assist Washington. The French and American forces determined that New York's defenses were too formidable for the French fleet, so in August 1778 they launched an attack on Newport at the Battle of Rhode Island under the command of General John Sullivan.[219] The effort failed when the French opted to withdraw to avoid putting their ships at risk, which disappointed the Americans.[220]

For the rest of the year, combat was mostly fought as large skirmishes such as those at Chestnut Neck and Little Egg Harbor. In the summer of 1779, the Americans captured British posts at the Battles of Stony Point and Paulus Hook.[221] Clinton then unsuccessfully attempted to coax Washington into a decisive engagement by sending General William Tryon to raid Connecticut.[222] In July, a large American naval operation, the Penobscot Expedition, attempted to retake Maine (Massachusetts), but was defeated.[223] The high frequency of Iroquois raids compelled Washington to mount the punitive Sullivan expedition that destroyed a large number of Iroquois settlements, which failed to stop the raids.[224]

During the winter of 1779–1780, the Continental Army suffered greater hardships than at Valley Forge.[225] Morale was poor, public support fell away in the long war, the Continental dollar was virtually worthless, the army was plagued with supply problems, desertion was common, and mutinies occurred in the Pennsylvania Line and New Jersey Line regiments over the conditions in early 1780.[226]

Continentals repulsing British attack at Springfield – "Give 'em Watts, boys!"

In 1780, Clinton attempted to retake New Jersey. On June 7, 6000 men invaded under Hessian general Wilhelm von Knyphausen's command but were met with stiff resistance from the local militia at the Battle of Connecticut Farms. The British held the field, but Knyphausen feared a general engagement with Washington's main army and withdrew.[227] The second attempt two weeks later was resulted in the Brits' defeat at the Battle of Springfield, which effectively ended British ambitions in New Jersey.[228] Meanwhile, American general Benedict Arnold turned traitor, wrote "To the Inhabitants of America", joined the British army, and attempted to surrender the American West Point fortress. The plot was foiled when British spymaster John André was captured. Arnold fled to British lines in New York where he justified his betrayal by appealing to Loyalist public opinion, but the Patriots strongly condemned him as a coward and turncoat.[229]

Quebec Gov. Hamilton surrenders to Col. Clark at Vincennes, 1779

The war to the west of the Appalachians was largely confined to skirmishing and raids. In February 1778, an expedition of militia to destroy British military supplies in settlements along the Cuyahoga River was halted by adverse weather.[230] Later in the year, a second campaign was undertaken to seize the Illinois Country from the British. Virginia militia, Canadien settlers, and Indian allies commanded by Colonel George Rogers Clark captured Kaskaskia on July 4 then secured Vincennes, though Vincennes was recaptured by Quebec Governor Henry Hamilton. In early 1779, the Virginians counterattacked in the Siege of Fort Vincennes and took Hamilton prisoner. Clark secured western British Quebec as the American Northwest Territory in the Treaty of Paris concluding the war.[231]

On May 25, 1780, British Colonel Henry Bird invaded Kentucky as part of a wider operation to clear American resistance from Quebec to the Gulf coast. Their Pensacola advance on New Orleans was overcome by Spanish Governor Gálvez's offensive on Mobile. Simultaneous British attacks were repulsed on St. Louis by the Spanish Lieutenant Governor de Leyba, and on the Virginia county courthouse at Cahokia by Liutenant Colonel Clark. The British initiative under Bird from Detroit was ended at the rumored approach of Clark.[au] The scale of violence in the Licking River Valley, such as during the Battle of Blue Licks, was extreme "even for frontier standards". It led to men of English and German settlements to join Clark's militia when the British and their auxiliaries withdrew to the Great Lakes.[232] The Americans responded with a major offensive along the Mad River in August which met with some success in the Battle of Piqua, but did not end Indian raids.[233]

French soldier Augustin de La Balme led Canadien militiamen in an attempt to capture Detroit, but they dispersed when Miami Indians led by Little Turtle attacked the encamped settlers on November 5.[234][av] The war in the west had become a stalemate with the British garrison sitting in Detroit and the Virginians expanding westward settlements north of the Ohio River in the face of British-allied Indian resistance.[236]

War in the South

The British turned their attention to conquering the South in 1778 after Loyalists in London assured them of a strong Loyalist base there. On December 29, 1778, Lord Cornwallis commanded an expeditionary corps from New York to capture Savannah, Georgia, then British troops moved inland to recruit Loyalist support.[237] The initial Loyalist recruitment was promising in early 1779 before a large Loyalist-only militia was defeated by Patriot militia at the Battle of Kettle Creek on February 14, which demonstrated Loyalist need for the support of British regulars in major engagements. However, the British defeated Patriot militia at the Battle of Brier Creek on March 3.[238]

In June the British launched an abortive assault in the Battle of Stono Ferry near Charleston, South Carolina, that was followed by their withdrawal back to Savannah. The operation became notorious for widespread looting by British troops that enraged both Loyalists and Patriots in the Carolinas. In October, a joint French and American siege by Admiral d'Estaing and General Benjamin Lincoln failed to recapture Savannah.[239]

British Siege of Charleston in 1780

In the following year, the primary British strategy in America hinged on a Loyalist uprising in the South. Cornwallis proceeded into North Carolina and gambled his success on a large Loyalist uprising which never materialized.[240] In May 1780, Sir Henry Clinton captured Charleston and inflicted the largest defeat suffered by the American cause in the Revolutionary War by capturing over 5,000 prisoners and effectively destroying the Continental Army in the south. Organized Patriot resistance in the region was failing when the Loyalist, now commissioned regular Banastre Tarleton defeated the withdrawing Americans at the Battle of Waxhaws on May 29.[241][aw]

British commander-in-chief Clinton returned to New York and left General Lord Cornwallis at Charleston to oversee the southern campaign. Cornwallis ended the Spring 1778 policy to parole Patriot militia who would return home not to fight Royal authority again. The new commander required an oath of allegiance that entailed a promise to fight former American comrades in arms. Backcountry resistance stiffened and Cornwallis confiscated leading rebel plantations, leading neutral "grandees" to side with the Patriots.[242] Patriot militias clashed with Loyalist militias and elements of Tarlton's American Legion throughout July and August at the Battles of Williamson's Plantation, Cedar Springs, Rocky Mount, and Hanging Rock. These engagements signaled "a general rising" in the eastern one-third of South Carolina to fight the new Clinton oaths.[243]

American and British cavalry clash
Battle of Cowpens, 1781

In July, Congress appointed General Horatio Gates with a new command to lead the American effort in the south. By August 16, 1780, he lost the Battle of Camden and Cornwallis was poised to invade North Carolina.[244] The British attempted to subjugate the countryside, but Patriot militia continued their attacks. Cornwallis dispatched Major Patrick Ferguson to raise Loyalist forces to cover his left flank as he moved north, but they traveled beyond mutual support.[245] In early October the Tory militias were defeated at the Battle of Kings Mountain, which dispersed Loyalist support in the region.[246]

Despite the setbacks, Cornwallis advanced into North Carolina, hoping that he would receive substantial Loyalist support there. Washington replaced southern army commander General Gates with General Nathanael Greene at the beginning of December 1780.[247] Greene evaded combat with the advancing British without a protracted war of attrition,[248] but was unable to confront the British directly, so he dispatched a force under Daniel Morgan to recruit additional troops. Morgan then defeated the renowned British Legion on January 17, 1781, at Cowpens. Cornwallis subsequently aborted his advance and retreated back into South Carolina.[249]

The British launched a surprise offensive in Virginia in January 1781, with Benedict Arnold raiding Richmond, Virginia, with little resistance. Governor Thomas Jefferson escaped Richmond before the British burned the city to the ground.[250][ax]

   1st Maryland Regiment
Battle of Guilford

By March, Greene's army had increased enough in size that he felt confident to face Cornwallis who traveled far from his supply base. The two armies engaged each other at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse on March 15. Accompanied by American Lieutenant Colonel Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee III [ay] and his cavalry, the first British advance forced back the Americans. A second clash in a wooded area with close-quarters combat drove Greene from the field, but Cornwallis's army suffered irreplaceable casualties.[253] The Americans now maintained contact with Cornwallis in a war of attrition while the British retreated to coastal Wilmington, North Carolina for reinforcement.[254] The Patriots were left in control of the abandoned Carolinas and Georgia interior.[255]

Greene reclaimed the South for the Patriot cause. On April 25 the American troops suffered a reversal at the Battle of Hobkirk's Hill, but they continued to march 160 miles in eight days, dislodging strategic British posts in the area as they proceeded. They recaptured Fort Watson and Fort Motte on April 15.[256] During the Siege of Augusta on June 6, Brigadier General Andrew Pickens reclaimed possession of the last British outpost beyond the confines of Charleston and Savannah.[257]

The last British effort to stop Greene's advance occurred at the Battle of Eutaw Springs on September 8, but the number of British casualties was so high that they withdrew to Charleston. By the end of 1781, the Americans had effectively limited the British to the Carolina coasts, undoing any progress they had made in the previous year.[258]

Mississippi River theater

Conquerors of the British Mississippi Basin

Spanish Louisiana, Luisiana, territory ran west of the Mississippi River, but Governor General Bernardo de Gálvez had been allowing covert aid to George Washington by Pittsburgh via New Orleans.[259] In 1777 Oliver Pollock, a successful merchant in Havana and New Orleans, was appointed US "commercial agent". He personally helped to underwrite the American campaign on the upriver Mississippi among the Francophone settlements of western Quebec.[260]

In the Virginia militia campaign of 1778, General George Rogers Clark founded Louisville and cleared British forts in the region.[261] His conquest resulted in the creation of Illinois County, Virginia. It was organized with the consent of French-speaking colonials who were guaranteed protection by the Catholic Church. Voters at their courthouse in Kaskaskia were represented for three years in the Virginia General Assembly.[262][az]

When Spain joined France in declaring war against Britain in 1779, Governor Gálvez raised an army in Spanish Luisiana to initiate offensive operations against British outposts.[263] First, he cleared British garrisons in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Fort Bute, and Natchez, Mississippi, and captured five forts.[264] In doing so, Gálvez opened navigation on the Mississippi River north to the American settlement in Pittsburg.[265] His Spanish military assistance to Oliver Pollock for transport up the Mississippi River became an alternative supply to Washington's Continental Army, which bypassed the British-blockaded Atlantic Coast.[266]

In 1781, Governor Galvez and Pollock campaigned east along the Gulf Coast to secure West Florida, including British-held Mobile and Pensacola.[267] The Spanish operations crippled the British supply of armaments to British Indian allies, which effectively suspended a military alliance to attack settlers between the Mississippi River and Appalachian Mountains.[268][ba]

British defeat in America

French fleet (left) engages the British
Battle of the Chesapeake, 1781

In 1781, the British commander-in-chief in America General Clinton occupied New York City. He failed to construct a coherent strategy for British operations that year due to his difficult relationship with his naval counterpart Admiral Marriot Arbuthnot, who in turn failed to detect the arrival of French naval forces in July.[269] In Charleston, Cornwallis independently developed an aggressive plan for a campaign in Virginia to cut supply to Greene's army in the Carolinas and had expected the Patriot resistance in the South to collapse. Lord Germain, Cabinet Secretary of State for America in London agreed, but neither official informed Clinton.[270]

Washington and the comte de Rochambeau, Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, discussed their options. Washington argued for an attack on New York while Rochambeau preferred a strike in Virginia, where the British were less well-established and thus easier to defeat.[271] French and American movements around New York caused Clinton a great deal of anxiety, fearing an attack on the city. His instructions at this time were vague to Cornwallis and rarely formed explicit orders. However, Clinton instructed Cornwallis to establish a fortified naval base and transfer troops to the north to defend New York.[272]

Surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown

Cornwallis maneuvered to Yorktown to establish a fortified a sea-base of supplies. At the same time, the Marquis de Lafayette maneuvered south with a French and American army.[273][bb] The British built up an elaborate defense position at Yorktown and awaited the Royal Navy.[277] As Lafayette's army closed with Cornwallis, the British made no early attempt to sally out to engage the Americans before siege lines could be dug, despite the repeated urging from subordinate officers.[278] Although Cornwallis expected relief from Admiral Arbuthnot in a few days to facilitate his withdrawal, the British commander prematurely abandoned his outer defenses. These were promptly occupied by the American besiegers, which hastened British defeat.[279]

A British fleet commanded by Thomas Graves set sail from New York to rendezvous with Cornwallis.[280] As they approached the entry to the Chesapeake Bay on September 5, the French fleet commanded by Admiral François Joseph Paul de Grasse decisively defeated Graves at the Battle of the Chesapeake and gave the French control of the waters surrounding Yorktown, cutting Cornwallis off from further reinforcements or supplies.[281] Cornwallis attempted a breakout over the York River at Gloucester Point and failed when a storm hit.[282] Under heavy bombardment with dwindling supplies, the British determined that their situation was untenable.[283][bc] On October 17, 1781, after twelve hours of negotiations, the terms of surrender were finalized.[284] Yorktown was the last major battle on the American mainland, but Britain fought France and Spain elsewhere for two more years.[285][bd]

Strategy and commanders

In the American Revolutionary War, the national strategy for victory and the commander operational choices for success were different for the two sides. The Continental Congress had to field an army to outlast the will of the British Crown and its Parliament, while maintaining its republican governance among constituent states.[287]

American Revolution, campaigns

In London, the government at Westminster had a track record of successfully subduing a rebelling countryside in both Scotland and Ireland by enlisting local landowners to administer county government of the realm, and admitted local Members of Parliament for the Scots after 1704. To win the "American war" in this rebellion, the British Ministry had to defeat the Continental Army early in the war and force the dissolution of Congress to allow the King's men to retake local colonial administration.[288] The map on the right shows the principal military operations on both sides over the course of the Revolution, with the British in red and the Americans in blue. The timeline along the bottom notes the course of battle victories, with most British in the first half, and most American in the second half of the war.[289]

The revolt for and against colonial independence between British subjects in thirteen colonies of North America can be seen as three kinds of ongoing and interrelated warfare. First, there was an economic war between a European state and its territory settled for its own economic strength and European balance of power. By 1775, British American colonies supplied of raw materials for its ships and one-third its sailors and they purchased British-manufactured goods that maintained its industrial growth. Newly enforced and expanded mercantile regulation restricted previous international Caribbean trade and colonial laissez-faire smuggling.[290]

Second, there was a political civil war: a British constitutional war. Across 1000 miles of Atlantic coastline, settled as much as 300 miles into the continental frontier, thirteen British colonies proclaimed themselves to be independent states from Parliament and united in a Congress of their delegates to declare their independence as "one people" in a political revolution from monarchy to republic. This initiated a political struggle for British recognition assisted by the Whigs in Parliament, a military struggle assisted by state militias and the creation of George Washington's national Continental Army, and an economic struggle for international free trade to break the European mutually beneficial system of mercantilism. It also began thirteen civil wars in every state, as there were in every colony and county, a mix of Patriots (Whigs) and Loyalists (Tories) who went to war among their neighbors. These divided variously in each state along both ethnic and religious lines. Every faction and element had veterans from the conflict between Britain and France fifteen years before, and there were officers and sergeants on every side that were practiced in the arts of both Indian frontier warfare and European infantry line formations of musketry.[291]

Third, there was an international war that intervened in and influenced the revolution, though America was not a primary combatant. France played a key role in assisting the Americans with money, weapons, soldiers, and naval vessels. French troops fought under US command in the states, and Spanish troops in its territory west of the Mississippi River and on the Gulf of Mexico defeated British forces. From 1778 to 1780, more countries with their own colonial possessions worldwide went to war against Britain for their own reasons,[292] including the Dutch Republic for its right to trade with its former colony in New York, and the French and Spanish to regain lost empire and prestige in the Caribbean, India, and Gibraltar.[293] Alternatively, nations in the League of Armed Neutrality including Russia, Austria, and Prussia defended the right of their merchant convoys to trade with the rebel Americans, enforced by Russian squadrons in the Mediterranean, North Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea.[294]

American strategy

American population density, 1775

Congress had multiple advantages if the rebellion turned into a protracted war. Their prosperous state populations depended on local production for food and supplies rather than on imports from their mother country that lay six to twelve weeks away by sail. They were spread across most of the North American Atlantic seaboard, stretching 1,000 miles. Most farms were remote from the seaports, and controlling four or five major ports did not give British armies control over the inland areas. Each state had established internal distribution systems.[295]

Each former colony had a long-established system of local militia, combat-tested in support of British regulars thirteen years before to secure an expanded British Empire. Together they took away French claims in North America west to the Mississippi River in the French and Indian War. The state legislatures independently funded and controlled their local militias. In the American Revolution, they trained and provided Continental Line regiments to the regular army, each with their own state officer corps.[296] Motivation was also a major asset: each colonial capital had its own newspapers and printers, and the Patriots had more popular support than the Loyalists. British hoped that the Loyalists would do much of the fighting, but they fought less than expected.[297]

Continental Army

When the war began, Congress lacked a professional army or navy, and each colony only maintained local militias. Militiamen were lightly armed, had little training, and usually did not have uniforms. Their units served for only a few weeks or months at a time and lacked the training and discipline of more experienced soldiers. Local county militias were reluctant to travel far from home and they were unavailable for extended operations.[298] The new Continental Army suffered significantly from the lack of an effective training program and from largely inexperienced officers and sergeants, of which the latter was somewhat offset by a few senior officers.[299] Each state legislature appointed officers for both county and state militias and their regimental Continental Line officers, and although Washington was was required to accept Congressional appointments, he was otherwise permitted to choose and command his own generals.[300][be]

General Washington
commanding the Continental Army

When properly employed, the militias' numbers helped the Continental Army overwhelm smaller British forces, as at Concord, Boston, Bennington, and Saratoga. Both sides used partisan warfare, but the state militias effectively suppressed Loyalist activity when British regulars were not in the area.[303] Congress established a regular army on June 14, 1775, and appointed Washington as commander-in-chief. The development of the Continental Army was always a work in progress and Washington used both his regulars and state militia throughout the war.[bf]

Washington designed the overall military strategy of the war in cooperation with Congress, established the principle of civilian supremacy in military affairs, personally recruited his senior office corps, and kept the states focused on a common goal.[306] For the first three years until after Valley Forge, the Continental Army was largely supplemented by local state militias. Initially, Washington employed the inexperienced officers and untrained troops in Fabian strategies rather than risk frontal assaults against Britain's professional soldiers and officers.[307] Over the course of the entire war, Washington lost more battles than he won, but he maintained a fighting force in the face of British field armies and never gave up fighting for the American cause.[308]

Image of various
Continental Army uniforms

The American armies were small by European standards of the era, largely attributable to limitations such as lack of powder and other logistics.[bg][bh] At the beginning of 1776, Washington commanded 20,000 men, with two-thirds enlisted in the Continental Army and the other third in the various state militias. About 250,000 men served as regulars or as militia for the Revolutionary cause over eight war years, but there were never more than 90,000 men under arms at one time.[312]

As a whole, American officers never equaled their opponents in tactics and maneuvers, and they lost most of the pitched battles. The great successes at Boston (1776), Saratoga (1777), and Yorktown (1781) were won from trapping the British far from base with a greater number of troops.[313] Nevertheless, after 1778, Washington's army was transformed into a more disciplined and effective force, mostly by Baron von Steuben's training.[314] Immediately after the Army emerged from Valley Forge, it proved its ability to match the British troops in action at the Battle of Monmouth, including a black Rhode Island regiment fending off a British bayonet attack then counter-charging for the first time in Washington's army.[315]

Although Congress was responsible for the war effort and provided supplies to the troops, Washington took it upon himself to pressure the Congress and state legislatures to provide the essentials of war; there was never nearly enough.[316] Congress evolved in its committee oversight and established the Board of War, which included members of the military.[317] Because the Board of War was also a committee ensnared with its own internal procedures, Congress also created the post of Secretary of War, and appointed Major General Benjamin Lincoln in February 1781 to the position. Washington worked closely with Lincoln to coordinate civilian and military authorities and took charge of training and supplying the army.[318][319]

Continental Navy

During the first summer of the war, Washington began outfitting schooners and other small seagoing vessels to prey on ships supplying the British in Boston.[320] Congress established the Continental Navy on October 13, 1775, and appointed Esek Hopkins as the Navy's first commander.[321] The following month, Marines were organized on November 10, 1775.[322] The Continental Navy was a handful of small frigates and sloops throughout the Revolution for the most part.[323]

John Paul Jones became the first American naval hero by capturing HMS Drake on April 24, 1778, the first victory for any American military vessel in British waters.[324] The last was by the frigate USS Alliance commanded by Captain John Barry. On March 10, 1783, the Alliance outgunned HMS Sybil in a 45-minute duel while escorting Spanish gold from Havana to Congress.[325] After Yorktown, all US Navy ships were sold or given away; it was the first time in America's history that it had no fighting forces on the high seas.[326]

Congress primarily commissioned privateers to reduce costs and to take advantage of the large proportion of colonial sailors found in the British Empire. Overall, they included 1,700 ships that successfully captured 2,283 enemy ships to damage the British effort and to enrich themselves with the proceeds from the sale of cargo and the ship itself.[327][bi] About 55,000 sailors served aboard American privateers during the war.[329]


To begin with, the Americans had no major international allies, as most nation-states watched and waited to see developments unfold in British North America. Over time, the Continental Army acquitted itself well in the face of British regulars and their German auxiliaries known to all European great powers. Battles such as the Battle of Bennington, the Battles of Saratoga, and even defeats such as the Battle of Germantown, proved decisive in gaining the attention and support of powerful European nations such as Bourbon France and Spain and the Dutch Republic; the latter moved from covertly supplying the Americans with weapons and supplies to overtly supporting them.[330]

The decisive American victory at Saratoga spurred France to offer the Americans the Treaty of Amity and Commerce. The two nations also agreed to a defensive Treaty of Alliance to protect their trade and also guaranteed American independence from Britain. To engage the United States as a French ally militarily, the treaty was conditioned on Britain initiating a war on France to stop it from trading with the US. Spain and the Dutch Republic were invited to join by both France and the United States in the treaty, but neither made a formal reply.[331]

On June 13, 1778, France declared war on Great Britain, and it invoked the French military alliance with the US, which ensured additional US privateer support for French possessions in the Caribbean.[bj] Washington worked closely with the soldiers and navy that France would send to America, primarily through Lafayette on his staff. French assistance made critical contributions required to defeat General Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781.[334][bk]

British strategy

In 1775, the British Isles held a larger population than the thirteen American colonies combined. The population of Great Britain and Ireland in 1780 was approximately 12.6 million,[336] while the Thirteen Colonies held a population of some 2.8 million, including some 500,000 slaves.[337] Nevertheless, fighting all thirteen rebelling colonies in America across the Atlantic presented the British with major problems beyond those they encountered in the Williamite War or the 1745 Rising across the Irish Sea. The key difference was distance: it could take up to three months to cross the Atlantic, and orders from London were often outdated by the time that they arrived.[338]

Politically and economically, the British American colonies had never been formally united prior to the conflict and there was no centralized area of ultimate strategic importance. In the provinces warred over in Europe, the fall of a capital city often signaled the end of a conflict.[339] Yet the American war continued unabated even after the fall of major settlements including Philadelphia where Congress met, New York and Charleston.[340] Britain's ability to project its power overseas lay chiefly in the power of the Royal Navy, allowing the nation to control major coastal settlements with relative ease and to enforce a strong blockade of colonial ports. Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of the American population was agrarian, not urban. The American economy proved resilient enough to withstand the blockade's effects.[341] The vastness of the American countryside and the limited manpower available to a British occupying army meant that the British could never simultaneously defeat the Americans and occupy captured territory.[342][bm]

British Army

Britain had four commanders-in-chief from the initial days of the American colonial revolt to the final conclusion of the British–American civil war. They commanded a royal army with a legacy of successful fighting in North America; the British and their colonially funded militia auxiliaries had successfully expelled the French from the North American continent during the French and Indian War.[347]

Sir Thomas Gage, British Commander, 1763–1775

In 1775, the greatest concern for military security was the wealthiest possessions of Britain, which were eagerly coveted by other European powers. Many of these possessions were in the Caribbean, with Jamaica alone out-producing revenues of all thirteen American colonies.[348] The British Army garrisoning America for civil order amounted to 8,500 men among 2.8 million inhabitants.[349][bn] The British army at home in the British Isles had been deliberately kept small during peacetime to prevent abuses of power by the king.[351][bo] Despite Parliament's limits on them, the successor eighteenth century regiments were not welcome guests among British civilian populations. They were regarded with scorn and contempt by the press and public of the New and Old World alike, and were derided as enemies of liberty.[353] The idle peacetime Army after 1763 became corrupt and inefficient, which resulted in many administrative difficulties once campaigning began a decade later.[354]

The first commander of British forces in America following the 1763 Treaty of Paris was long-serving General Lord Thomas Gage. He had been installed immediately after the British won the French and Indian War in America, and was tasked with expanding the British colonial administration into the French cessions in North America. Following a successful raid on militia stores at Concord, Massachusetts, Gage was confined to Boston port. In an effort to break out, his Bunker Hill assault incurred high casualties from a frontal assault against the shallow American entrenchments at Bunker Hill and frontier militia rifle fire.[355][bp]

Sir William Howe, British Commander, 1775–1778

Gage was immediately replaced with General Sir William Howe who commanded British forces in North America 1775–1778.[360] Both commanders had been light infantry commanders in America during the French and Indian War, but Howe had a command advantage, as he received large numbers both British and German troops, horses, and artillery as reinforcements.[361] Howe's tenure continued the London policy of "soft war" under the influence of backbencher Whigs in Parliament. Tory Prime Minister Lord North was cautious in his selection for command because senior general officers on the British Army rolls refused to serve in America to subdue the revolt.[362] Through the American crises of 1775, the British leadership discovered it had overestimated the capabilities of its own troops and underestimated the colonists'. Strategic and tactical reassessments began in London and British America.[363] Both British military and civil officials soon acknowledged that their initial responses to the rebellion had allowed the initiative to shift to the Patriots, as British authorities rapidly lost control over every colony.[364]

Howe subsequently made several strategic errors that cost the British offensive initiative. The general's tardiness in launching the New York campaign awaiting supplies and his reluctance to allow Cornwallis to vigorously pursue Washington's beaten army have both been attributed to food shortages.[365] During the winter of 1776–1777, Howe split his army into scattered cantonments. This decision dangerously exposed the individual forces to defeat in detail,[366] but low food supplies in New York City warehouses required dispersed regimental foraging parties,[367] which Washington took advantage of at Trenton and Princeton.[368] Howe's difficulties during the Philadelphia campaign were also magnified by the poor quality and quantity of resupply directly from Britain.[369]

Howe's initial approach to capture Philadelphia was by sea via the Chesapeake Bay, so he was unable to assist General John Burgoyne and no surprise was achieved. Howe's decision angered Tories on both sides of the Atlantic to the point that he was accused in Parliament of treason.[370] Howe may have been dissuaded from direct assaults after the losses the British suffered at Bunker Hill,[371] but he was recalled to Great Britain when at Burgoyne surrendered and a British army was lost to the Continental Army at Saratoga.[372]

Sir Henry Clinton, British Commander, 1778–1782

Howe's replacement as British commander-in-chief in 1778 was General Sir Henry Clinton.[bq] He served for the duration of British campaigning in North America. London changed its war policy with recommendations to ruthlessly pursue victory against the colonists as enemies.[374] Clinton was professionally regarded in the British Army as one of the best-read experts on campaign tactics and military strategy.[375] However, like Howe before him, Clinton's efforts to campaign suffered from chronic supply issues.[376] He was largely inactive in the North throughout 1779, launching few major campaigns;[377] the situation did not improve by 1780.[br]

To emphasize his disappointment, Clinton had asked London to recall Admiral Mariot Arbuthnot.[269] Arbuthnot's relief was meant to be Admiral Sir George Rodney from his Leeward Islands command in late 1780, but Arbuthnot appealed to the admiralty. The replacement was upheld and Rodney took command in New York, but not before Arbuthnot narrowly turned back a French navy attempt in March 1781 to reinforce Lafayette in Virginia at the Battle of Cape Henry.[379][bs]

The following spring in Charleston, General Lord Cornwallis commanded the British southern army in a campaign north into Virginia to force a collapse of Patriot support throughout the South. Although approved by Colonial Secretary Sir George Germain in London, Clinton (in New York at the time) was not notified about the plan's adoption or the campaign's beginning. Clinton delayed sending reinforcements because he believed the bulk of Washington's army was still outside New York City, then at the attempt, Admiral Romney's relief fleet to Yorktown failed.[381]

Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown and the loss of a second British army to the Continental Army effectively ended British attempts to retake America.[382] Clinton was relieved and replaced by Sir Guy Carleton.[383] After taking command of British forces in America, Carleton successfully managed the British transport of Loyalists to Nova Scotia and British East Florida, then evacuated British troops from American port cities in Savannah, Charleston, and New York City.[384][bt]


In 1775 at the onset of the American War of Independence, the British government lacked sufficient popular support to fully officer and man the regular British regiments in the numbers required to subdue the rebellion in colonial America. After seeking military aid from Russia's Catherine the Great, several German princes from Hesse-Cassell and elsewhere in the Holy Roman Empire Germanies were presented with an opportunity to hire out their professional regular army units for service in America.[389][bu]

A Loyalist leads three Hessian hussars on night patrol

Britain had long been their best customer; to subdue the American rebellion, George III arranged treaties of subsidy to hire the needed soldiers and afforded the German princes large profits.[392] Their cost per soldier was higher than before, but about half the expense per man for Parliament to maintain a Native American warrior.[393][389] Service in America to put down a British insurrection made the Hessians[bv] the focus of national sentiment and public political debate in Britain, France, and for the first time, in the Germanies.[bw] In March 1776 the controversial treaties were debated in the British Parliament.[bx] The opposition was soon taken up by the Continental Congress.[396][by]

American newspapers covered the parliamentary debates in detail, printing and reprinting key speeches on the treaties.[398] In October the only German-language newspaper publishing in the colonies, the Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote, reported a British plan to send 10,000 German troops to Boston and New York, with a rumored additional 10,000 Middle-Rhineland Hanoverians to garrison new fortifications at colonial expense. The prospect of foreign occupation led most German-American settlements that had migrated from the Upper Rhine Plain to give up their allegiance to Britain.[399][400] Americans generally believed that Britain fully intended to use hired foreign soldiers against the rebellion, which only served to increase the number of enlistments into the Continental Army.[401][bz] During this time, rumors that Britain was sending contingent of peace commissioners also circulated throughout the colonies.[398] However, when copies of the treaties between Britain and the German princes became public,[ca] advocates for independence felt they had the proof they needed that foreign soldiers would soon arrive.[402] With Britain shown to be determined to go to war, the idea of reconciliation seemed naive and hopeless.[cb]

Before the actual arrival of the Hessians, Americans had expected and the British had feared that many of these foreign troops would desert.[cc] Thinking along the same lines, on August 9, 1776, the American Congress directed Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin to author and print up "handbills" to disperse among the Hessians, promising them large land holdings and civil liberties if they joined the American cause.[405] The British launched a counter-campaign to dissuade the Hessians from desertion by creating negative stereotypes of the Americans,[406] and threatened that if they deserted they would likely be hung by angry and resentful colonists for meddling in a war that was not theirs.[405][cd]

The Hessians first arrived in August on Staten Island as reinforcements and participated in the Battle of Long Island.[408] During the course of the war, the German regiments were an essential part of the British war effort by augmenting British commands that were unlikely to subdue the rebellion alone.[409] Hessian recruits replaced German unit losses among the various British divisions. By the end of the war nearly 30,000 Hessians had served in America. From this total 17,000 returned to Germany, while more than 12,000 never returned.[410][ce]

Revolution as civil war


Wealthy Loyalists wielded great influence in London[412] and they were successful in convincing the British government that the majority view in the colonies was sympathetic toward the Crown. Consequently, British military planners pinned the success of their strategies on popular uprisings of Loyalists which failed to materialize. Despite this, they continued to deceive themselves on their level of American support as late as 1780, only a year before the close of hostilities.[413] Recruiting adequate numbers of Loyalist militia to support British military plans in America was made difficult by intensive local Patriot opposition nearly everywhere.[414][cf]

Approximately 25,000 Loyalists fought for the British throughout the war.[415] While Loyalists may have numbered about twenty-percent of the entire settlement population,[416][cg] they were concentrated in communities with larger percentages among those living among large plantation owners in Tidewater Virginia and North Carolina, and in South Carolina who produced cash crops in tobacco and indigo comparable to global markets in Caribbean sugar.[418]

Loyalist militia routed by Patriot militia at Kings Mountain withdrew into South Carolina. Victory raised American morale.

From early on, the British were faced with a major dilemma. Any significant level of organized Loyalist activity required a continued presence of British regulars.[419] The available manpower that the British commands had in America was insufficient to protect Loyalist territory while at the same time countering American offensives.[420] The Loyalist militias in the South were vulnerable to strings of defeats by their Patriot militia neighbors. The most critical combat between the two partisan militias was at the Battle of Kings Mountain. The Patriot victory there irreversibly crippled any further Loyalist militia capability in the South.[421]

During the early war policy administered by General Lord Howe, the need to maintain Loyalist support prevented the Crown from using the traditional methods of suppressing revolts.[422] The British cause suffered when their troops ransacked local homes during an aborted attack on Charleston in 1779, enraging both Patriots and Loyalists.[423] After Congress rejected the Carlisle Commission settlement offer in 1778 and Westminster turned to "hard war" during General Lord Clinton's command, neutral colonists in the Carolinas were often driven into the ranks of the Patriots whenever brutal combat broke out between Tories and Whigs.[424] But Loyalists likewise gained advantaged when Patriots resorted to intimidating suspected Tories by destroying property or tarring and feathering.[425]

One outstanding Loyalist militia unit provided some of the best troops in British service.[426] Their British Legion was a mixed regiment of 250 dragoons and 200 infantry, supported by batteries of flying artillery[427][ch] Under the command of Banastre Tarleton in the South, it gained a fearsome reputation in the colonies for "brutality and needless slaughter".[428] Nevertheless, in May 1779 the Loyalist British Legion was one of five regiments taken into regular service as the American Establishment.[429] After the Battle of Cowpens in January 1781, members of the British Legion who had survived the engagement (amounting to 14 percent of those engaged) were consolidated into the British garrison at Charleston.[430]


Nancy Morgan Hart single-handedly captured six Loyalist soldiers who had barged into her home to ransack it.

Women played various roles during the Revolutionary War. They often accompanied their husbands when permitted to do so. Martha Washington was known to visit the American camp, for example, and Frederika Charlotte Riedesel documented the Saratoga campaign.[431] Women often accompanied armies as camp followers, selling goods and performing necessary tasks in hospital and camp. They were a necessary part of eighteenth century armies, and female camp followers numbered in the thousands during the war.[432]

Women also assumed military roles. Women acted as spies on both sides of the Revolutionary War.[433] In some cases women fought, directly supported combat, or performed military service while dressed as women, such as the legendary or mythical Molly Pitcher.[434] Anna Maria Lane joined her husband in the Army, and she was wearing men's clothes by the time of the Battle of Germantown. The Virginia General Assembly later cited her bravery, Lane "performed extraordinary military services, and received a severe wound at the battle of Germantown", fighting dressed as a man and "with the courage of a soldier".[435]

On April 26, 1777, Sybil Ludington rode to alert militia forces of Putnam County, New York and Danbury, Connecticut, warning of the approach of the British. She has been referred to as the "female Paul Revere".[436] Some few others disguised themselves as men. Deborah Sampson fought until her gender was discovered and discharged as a result; one, Sally St. Clare was killed in action during the war.[435]

African Americans

1975 Stamp commemorating Salem Poor, Black Patriot cited for bravery at Bunker Hill

At the outbreak of war, the population of the Thirteen Colonies included an estimated 500,000 slaves, predominantly used as labor on Southern plantations.[437] In November 1775, Lord Dunmore, the Royal Governor of Virginia, issued an proclamation promising freedom to any escaped slaves owned by Patriot masters willing to bear arms. Accepting blacks into military service filled a temporary manpower shortage, but white Loyalist prejudice meant recruits were soon redirected to non-combatant roles. At this stage, it was primarily intended as an economic measure to deprive Patriot planters of labor, rather than an abolitionist one. Escaped slaves who were found to belong to Loyalist masters were returned to their owners.[438]

The 1779 Philipsburg Proclamation issued by Sir Henry Clinton extended the offer of freedom to slaves of Patriot masters throughout the colonies. By removing the requirement of military service, it persuaded entire families to escape to British lines, many employed on farms growing food for the army. Clinton also organized a regiment of Black Pioneers, while at the same time ensuring that fugitive slaves were returned to Loyalist owners. Nevertheless, he did not authorize punishment for their attempted escape.[439] As the war progressed, service as regular soldiers in British units became increasingly common; Black Loyalists formed two regiments of the Charleston garrison in 1783.[440]

Copy of smock issued to Black Loyalists in 1776

Estimates of the numbers who served the British during the war vary from 25,000 to 50,000, although these figures do not include those who simply escaped in the chaos of wartime disruption. Virginia may have lost 30,000 in total.[441] In South Carolina, nearly 25,000 slaves, or roughly 30% of the enslaved population, either fled, migrated or died, greatly disrupting the plantation economies both during and after the war.[442]

Blacks were barred from the Continental Army until January 1778, when Washington convinced Congress state recruitment was inadequate and there was no other way to replace losses accrued from disease and desertion. The 1st Rhode Island Regiment formed in February included former slaves whose owners were compensated; however, only 140 of its 225 total strength were black and further recruitment was halted in June 1788.[443] Ultimately, around 5,000 African-Americans served in the Continental Army and Navy in a variety of roles, while another 4,000 were employed in Patriot militia units, aboard privateers, or as teamsters, servants and spies. After the war, a small minority received land grants or Congressional pensions in old age; many others were returned to their masters post-war, despite earlier promises of freedom.[444]

Continental soldiers, one from the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, left

As a Patriot victory became increasingly likely, the treatment of Black Loyalists became a point of contention; after the surrender of Yorktown in 1781, Washington insisted all escapees be returned but Cornwallis refused. In 1782 and 1783, around 8,000 to 10,000 freed blacks were evacuated by the British from Charleston, Savannah and New York; some 3,000 to 4,000 settled in Nova Scotia, where they founded settlements such as Birchtown.[445] Others went to London as freedmen, or to the British West Indies as slaves. White Loyalists transported 15,000 enslaved blacks to Jamaica and the Bahamas. The free black Loyalists migrating into the West Indies were mostly those in uniform who were transferred to garrison Jamaica. They included Dunmore's Ethiopian Regiment, and two regiments from Charleston.[446]

American Indians

Most American Indians east of the Mississippi River were affected by the war, and many tribes were divided over the question of how to respond to the conflict. A few tribes were on friendly terms with the other Americans, but most Indians opposed the union of the Colonies as a potential threat to their territory. Approximately 13,000 Indians fought on the British side, with the largest group coming from the Iroquois tribes, who fielded around 1,500 men.[447]

Indians split within languages, nations and tribes;
Neutrality was impossible to maintain in the Revolution

Early in July 1776, Cherokee allies of Britain attacked the western frontier areas of North Carolina. Their defeat resulted in a splintering of the Cherokee settlements and people and was directly responsible for the rise of the Chickamauga Cherokee, bitter enemies of the American settlers who carried on a frontier war for decades following the end of hostilities with Britain.[448]

Creek and Seminole allies of Britain fought against Americans in Georgia and South Carolina. In 1778, a force of 800 Creeks destroyed American settlements along the Broad River in Georgia. Creek warriors also joined Thomas Brown's raids into South Carolina and assisted Britain during the Siege of Savannah.[449] Many Indians were involved in the fighting between Britain and Spain on the Gulf Coast and up the Mississippi River, mostly on the British side. Thousands of Creeks, Chickasaws, and Choctaws fought in major battles such as the Battle of Fort Charlotte, the Battle of Mobile, and the Siege of Pensacola.[450]

The powerful Iroquois Confederacy was shattered as a result of the conflict, whatever side they took; the Seneca, Onondaga, and Cayuga tribes sided with the British. Members of the Mohawks fought on both sides. Many Tuscarora and Oneida sided with the Americans. To answer Loyalist and Indian-ally raids on American settlement, the Continental Army dispatched the Sullivan Expedition on a punitive expedition throughout New York to cripple the Iroquois tribes that had sided with the British. Mohawk leaders Joseph Louis Cook and Joseph Brant sided with the Americans and the British respectively, and this further exacerbated the split.[451]

Farther west, conflicts between settlers and Indians led to lasting distrust.[452] In the Treaty of Paris, Great Britain ceded control of the disputed lands between the Great Lakes and the Ohio River, but the Indian inhabitants were not a part of the peace negotiations.[453] Tribes in the Northwest Territory banded together and allied with the British to resist American settlement; their conflict continued after the Revolutionary War as the Northwest Indian War.[454]

Global war and diplomacy

Fall of the North Ministry

Lord North, Prime Minister from 1770 to 1782

Lord North, Prime Minister since 1770, delegated control of the war in North America to Lord George Germain and the Earl of Sandwich, who was head of the Royal Navy from 1771 to 1782. Defeat at Saratoga in 1777 made it clear the revolt would not be easily suppressed, especially after the Franco-American alliance of February 1778, and French declaration of war in June. With Spain also expected to join the conflict, the Royal Navy needed to prioritize either the war in America or in Europe; Germain advocated the former, Sandwich the latter.[455]

British negotiators now proposed a second peace settlement to Congress.[456] The terms presented by the Carlisle Peace Commission included acceptance of the principle of self-government. Parliament would recognize Congress as the governing body, suspend any objectionable legislation, surrender its right to local colonial taxation, and discuss including American representatives in the House of Commons. In return, all property confiscated from Loyalists would be returned, British debts honored, and locally enforced martial law accepted. However, Congress demanded either immediate recognition of independence, or the withdrawal of all British troops; they knew the Commission were not authorized to accept these, bringing negotiations to a rapid end.[457]

When the commissioners returned to London in November 1778, they recommended a change in policy. Sir Henry Clinton, the new British Commander-in-Chief in America, was ordered to stop treating the rebels as enemies, rather than subjects whose loyalty might be regained.[458] Those standing orders would be in effect for three years until Clinton was relieved.[459]

The State Tinkers; 1780 cartoon by James Gillray portraying the North government as incompetent tinkers.

North backed the Southern strategy hoping to exploit divisions between the mercantile north and slave-owning south, but after Yorktown accepted this policy had failed.[460] It was clear the war was lost, although the Royal Navy forced the French to relocate their fleet to the Caribbean in November 1781 and resumed a close blockade of American trade.[461] The resulting economic damage and rising inflation meant the US was now eager to end the war, while France was unable to provide further loans; Congress could no longer pay its soldiers.[462]

On February 27, 1782 a Whig motion to end offensive war in America was carried by 19 votes.[463] North now resigned, obliging the king to invite Lord Rockingham to form a government; a consistent supporter of the Patriot cause, he made commitment to US independence a condition of doing so. George III reluctantly accepted and the new government took office on March 27, 1782; however, Rockingham died unexpectedly on July 1, and was replaced by Lord Shelburne.[464] [465]

Peace of Paris

See Treaty of Paris (1783) for the Anglo-American peace, formally in effect at the conclusive peace with Anglo-French peace.

The Paris talks involved separate discussions between Britain, the US, France, Spain and the Dutch Republic. Naval victories such as the Battle of the Saintes in April 1782 allowed Britain to retain their position outside North America, especially in the Caribbean whose sugar islands were considered by many more valuable than the 13 colonies. Both France and Spain had little to show for their vast expenditure; although the Spanish regained Minorca, held by the British since 1708, they failed to capture Gibraltar, whose main impact was absorbing British resources that might otherwise have been used in America.[466]

Backed by the Spanish, the French sought to improve their position by creating a US dependent on them for support against Britain, thus reversing the losses of 1763.[467] Both parties tried to negotiate a settlement with Britain excluding the Americans; France proposed setting the western boundary of the US along the Appalachians, matching the British 1763 Proclamation Line. The Spanish suggested additional concessions in the vital Mississippi River Basin, but required the cession of Georgia in violation of the Franco-American alliance.[468]

American mission (l-r) Jay, Adams, Franklin, Laurens; Wm T. Franklin, secretary in red

British strategy was to strengthen the US sufficiently to prevent France regaining a foothold in North America, and they had little interest in these proposals.[469] However, divisions between their opponents allowed them to negotiate separately with each to improve their overall position, starting with the American delegation in September 1782.[470] John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and John Jay represented the US, with David Hartley and Richard Oswald acting for Britain.[471] The Preliminary Peace signed on November 30 met four key Congressional demands: independence, territory up to the Mississippi, navigation rights into the Gulf of Mexico, and fishing rights in Newfoundland.[472]

Congress endorsed the settlement on April 15, 1783 and announced the achievement of peace with independence; the "conclusive" treaty was signed on September 2, 1783 in Paris, effective the next day September 3, when Britain signed its treaty with France. John Adams, who helped draft the treaty, claimed it represented "one of the most important political events that ever happened on the globe". Ratified respectively by Congress and Parliament, the final versions were exchanged in Paris the following spring.[473] On 25 November, the last British troops remaining in the US were evacuated from New York to Halifax.[474]

Isolated by this agreement, France was now desperate for peace; the British relief of Gibraltar in February 1783 strengthened their position, while weakening Spanish resolve.[475] The 1783 treaties with France and Spain largely returned the position to that prevailing before the war. The Dutch treaty was not finalised until May 1784, but the war proved an economic disaster, with Britain replacing them as the dominant power in Asia. This expansion meant that while British domestic opinion viewed the loss of the American colonies as a catastrophe, its long term impact was negligible.[476]


Washington enters New York City at British evacuation, November 1783[ci]

Washington expressed astonishment that the Americans had won a war against a leading world power, referring to the American victory as "little short of a standing miracle".[477] The conflict between British subjects with the Crown against those with the Congress had lasted over eight years from 1775 to 1783. The last uniformed British troops departed their last east coast port cities in Savannah, Charleston, and New York City, by November 25, 1783. That marked the end of British occupation in the new United States.[478]

On April 9, 1783, Washington issued orders that he had long waited to give, that "all acts of hostility" were to cease immediately. That same day, by arrangement with Washington, General Carleton issued a similar order to British troops. British troops, however, were not to evacuate until a prisoner of war exchange occurred, an effort that involved much negotiation and would take some seven months to effect.[479]

As directed by a Congressional resolution of May 26 1783, all non commissioned officers and enlisted were furloughed "to their homes" until the "definitive treaty of peace", when they would be automatically discharged. The US armies were directly disbanded in the field as of Washington's General Orders on Monday June 2, 1783.[480] Once the conclusive Treaty of Paris was signed with Britain, Washington resigned as commander-in-chief at Congress, leaving for his Army retirement at Mount Vernon.[481]


The expanse of territory that was now the United States was ceded from its colonial Mother country alone. It included millions of sparsely settled acres south of the Great Lakes Line between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. The tentative colonial migration west became a flood during the years of the Revolutionary War. Virginia's Kentucky County counted 150 men in 1775. By 1790 fifteen years later, it numbered over 73,000 and was seeking statehood in the United States.[482]

Britain's extended post-war policy for the US continued to try to establish an Indian buffer state below the Great Lakes as late as 1814 during the War of 1812. The formally acquired western American lands continued to be populated by a dozen or so American Indian tribes that had been British allies for the most part.[483] Though British forts on their lands had been ceded to either the French or the British prior to the creation of the United States,[484] Indians were not referred to in the British cession to the US. While tribes were not consulted by the British for the treaty, in practice the British refused to abandon the forts on territory they formally transferred. Instead they provisioned military allies for continuing frontier raids and sponsored the Northwest Indian War (1785–1795). British sponsorship of local warfare on the United States continued until the Anglo-American Jay Treaty went into effect.[485][cj] At the same time, the Spanish also sponsored war within the US by Indian proxies in its Southwest Territory ceded by France to Britain, then Britain to the Americans.[487]

Of the European powers with American colonies adjacent to the newly created United States, Spain was most threatened by American independence, and it was correspondingly the most hostile to it.[ck] Its territory adjacent the US was relatively undefended, so Spanish policy developed a combination of initiatives. Spanish soft power diplomatically challenged the British territorial cession west to the Mississippi and the previous northern boundaries of the Floridas.[488] It imposed a high tariff on American goods, then blocked American settler access to the port of New Orleans. Spanish hard power extended war alliances and arms to Southwestern Indians to resist American settlement. A former Continental Army General, James Wilkinson settled in Kentucky County Virginia in 1784, and there he fostered settler secession from Virginia during the Spanish-allied Chickamauga Cherokee war. Beginning in 1787, he received pay as Spanish Agent 13, and subsequently expanded his efforts to persuade American settlers west of the Appalachians to secede from the United States, first in the Washington administration, and later again in the Jefferson administration.[489]

Casualties and losses

Revolution headstones for Saratoga, mass graves

The total loss of life throughout the conflict is largely unknown. As was typical in wars of the era, diseases such as smallpox claimed more lives than battle. Between 1775 and 1782, a smallpox epidemic broke out throughout North America, killing an estimated 130,000 among all its populations in those revolutionary war years.[490][cl] Historian Joseph Ellis suggests that Washington's decision to have his troops inoculated against the disease was one of his most important decisions.[491]

Up to 70,000 American Patriots died during active military service.[492] Of these, approximately 6,800 were killed in battle, while at least 17,000 died from disease. The majority of the latter died while prisoners of war of the British, mostly in the prison ships in New York Harbor.[493][cm] The number of Patriots seriously wounded or disabled by the war has been estimated from 8,500 to 25,000.[496]

The French suffered 2,112 killed in combat in the United States.[497][cn] The Spanish lost a total of 124 killed and 247 wounded in West Florida.[499][co]

A British report in 1781 puts their total Army deaths at 6,046 in North America (1775–1779).[501][cp] Approximately 7,774 Germans died in British service in addition to 4,888 deserters; of the former, it is estimated 1,800 were killed in combat.[506][cq]


The American Revolution established the United States with its numerous civil liberties and set an example to overthrow both monarchy and colonial governments. The United States has the world’s oldest written constitution, and the constitutions of other free countries often bear a striking resemblance to the US Constitution – often word-for-word in places. It inspired the French, Haitian, Latin American Revolutions, and others into the modern era.[513]

U.S. motto Novus Ordo Seclorum, "A New Age Now Begins"[514][cr]

The American Revolution also initiated changes to western, then global society.[516] Feudal life was determined by one's birth. State law and the US Constitution abolished all legalized social hierarchy, except for slavery, which fit into the continuing hierarchy.[517]

After the revolution, slavery, which was widely considered contrary to the principles of liberty, became a serious social and political issue. For example, The Society of Friends in America[cs] in 1790 petitioned Congress to abolish slavery.[518] while the number of abolition movements greatly increased.[519] Both state legislatures and individuals took actions to free slaves. By 1804, all the northern states had soon passed laws outlawing slavery.[520] Benjamin Franklin and James Madison each helped found manumission societies. George Washington, was able to personally free his slaves and did so through his will without an Act of Assembly. Promoted by President Thomas Jefferson, the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves went into effect in 1808.[521]

Commemorations of the Revolutionary War

After the first U.S. postage stamp was issued in 1849 the U.S. Post Office frequently issued commemorative stamps celebrating the various people and events of the Revolutionary War.

Selected issues:
150th anniversary of Saratoga
issue of 1927
150th anniversary issue of 1928
150th anniversary of Yorktown
issue of 1931
150th anniversary of American independence. Issue of 1926

See also

Topics of the Revolution

Social history of the Revolution

Others in the American Revolution

Lists of Revolutionary military

"Thirteen Colony" economy

Legacy & related



  1. ^ (until 1779)
  2. ^ German regiments of infantry, cavalry and artillery of principalities in the Holy Roman Empire were hired by George III by Treaties of Subsidy. Beginning in 1775 they served in America to assist the British in fighting the American revolutionaries; the last units evacuated in 1782.[3] Contemporaries, commentators and historians have referred to the Hessians as both mercenaries and auxiliaries, terms that are sometimes used interchangeably.[4]
  3. ^ (from 1779)
  4. ^ Peace process: March 1782 – Parliament recommends George III make peace. December 1782 – George III speech from the throne for US independence. April 1783 – Congress accepts British proposal that meets its four demands. September 1783 – conclusive treaty of peace between Britain and United States. May 1784 – Diplomats in Paris exchange the subsequent ratifications by Parliament and Congress.[5]
  5. ^ Arnold served on the American side from 1775–1779; after defecting, he served on the British side from 1780–1783.
  6. ^ 1780–1783
  7. ^ 5,000 sailors (peak),[9] manning privateers, an additional 55,000 total sailors[10]
  8. ^ British 121,000 (global 1781)[14] "Of 7,500 men in the Gibraltar garrison in September (including 400 in hospital), some 3,430 were always on duty".[15]
  9. ^ Contains a detailed listing of American, French, British, German, and Loyalist regiments; indicates when they were raised, the main battles, and what happened to them. Also includes the main warships on both sides, And all the important battles.
  10. ^ Royal Navy 94 ships-of-the-line global,[12] 104 frigates global,[17] 37 sloops global,[17] 171,000 sailors[18]
  11. ^ The strength of a Hanoverian battalion who where serfs of the British George III, were shipped to Gibraltar is listed as 473 men.[19]
  12. ^ Clodfelter reports that the total deaths among the British and their allies numbered 15,000 killed in battle or died of wounds. These included estimates of 3000 Germans, 3000 Loyalists and Canadians, 3000 lost at sea, and 500 American Indians killed in battle or died of wounds.[28]
  13. ^ The scope of the American Revolutionary War is dated 1775–1783 between the United Colonies and the Kingdom of Great Britain; it was fought over the issue of British American independence. Engagements took place in North America, the Caribbean Sea, and in the North Atlantic, specifically the North Sea, the Irish Sea, and the English Channel. Formally, the "American War" was from the Declaration of Independence by Congress addressed to Great Britain, to the September 1783 British-American Treaty of Paris to end the American Revolutionary War. Though signed on 2 September, it did not take effect until the day after "at the pleasure" of King George, at the signing of the Anglo-French Treaty of Versailles in the palace of Louis XVI; the Anglo-Spanish Treaty of Versailles followed the French. The Congress was not a signatory to either of these last two.[32]
  14. ^ The Intolerable Acts were a series of punitive laws imposed by Great Britain on the colonies for the latter's defiance.
  15. ^ The colony of Georgia joined the Continental Congress later. Of interest, the Vermont Republic was independently established 1777–1791 before its admission to the US. Their Green Mountain Boys won an early engagement in May 1775 at Ticonderoga, and Ethan Allen later served as a general in the Continental Army.
  16. ^ Like the American Patriots who followed them in philosophy and politics, British Whigs believed that the Crown had assumed too much power since the Hanover ascension to the British throne in August 1714. The colonists who became Patriot leaders were very influenced by the Whig history and its philosophy that defended the 1689 Glorious Revolution at the ascension of Protestant King William and Queen Mary, along with their English Bill of Rights with local jury trial and other English rights. Several important Whigs sought reforms to free Parliament from George III's influence. The King formed majorities in Commons by granting offices, making bribes, and perpetuating rotten boroughs. Important Whig Opposition in Parliament during the struggle for American independence included: John Sawbridge for reform 1771–95, John Wilkes in 1776 who was hailed in the colonial American press as a hero of English rights, Duke of Richmond in 1780 for annual parliaments, universal suffrage and equal electoral districts. William Pitt the Younger proposed a Committee in Commons to study reform in 1782, but it was defeated 161 to 141. When "Honest Billy" Pitt proposed a specific plan in May 1783, the bill failed, but British historian Sir Adolphus Ward observed, "Pitt's popularity was greatly increased by his action in this matter." Pitt was elected Prime Minister two months after the Peace of Paris 1783 that December.[33]
  17. ^ In the 1778 French-American "Treaty of Alliance", the Introduction states that the defensive military treaty is conditioned on Britain initiating offensive war against France or otherwise directly "hindering her commerce and navigation" with America. In Article 1, it commits Congress, should Britain initiate war against French-US trade, to "join against their common enemy", Britain. Art. 2 dedicates the purpose of the treaty: "The essential and direct end of the present defensive alliance is to maintain effectually the liberty, sovereignty, and independence absolute and unlimited of the said United States, as well in matters of government as of commerce."[34]
  18. ^ The forty-five year-old Bourbon Family Pact between French and Spanish royalty was activated by their Aranjuez Convention. They began a war against Britain with the aim of capturing British possessions, including Gibraltar and a Jamaica, "if convenient". The Bourbons were cobelligerents with Congress against Britain from April 1779 to August 1781 at Yorktown, when Congress entered into a truce with British armies, and Parliament confirmed it by suspending British offensive actions in America by law in April 1782.[36]
  19. ^ The Third Bourbon Family Pact was extended at the secret Aranjuez Compact made without the knowledge or consent of Congress. It obligated France to fight after American independence to recapture Gibraltar for Spain from the British, regardless if America was independent or not.[38] As Cuban-American historian Frank de Varona explains, when Spain declared war on Britain, "Spain was an ally of France, but not of America".[39]
  20. ^ By the 1700s, the French had negotiated land cessions from Indian tribes for trading-post forts in boundary lands removed from their principle villages and adjacent tribal areas. These were ceded to the British in the Treaty of Paris (1763), and included outposts just west of the 1763 Royal Proclamation Line. At the conclusion of the American Revolutionary War, the same forts were ceded by the British to the United States in the Treaty of Paris (1783).
  21. ^ When the Lord Rockingham administration abolished the Stamp Act, it also reduced the tax on foreign molasses to one-penny a gallon in an explicit policy to help the New England economy to recover and expand.[46] At first, most of the frontier garrison expense was to be paid by the Sugar Act, which also renewed provisions of the old 1733 Molasses Act.[47] Eighty-five percent of New England's rum exports worldwide was manufactured from French molasses, prohibited to the French to protect their domestic Brandy industry.
  22. ^ Boston lawyer John Adams defended the soldiers responsible for the massacre. The officer present was acquitted as not proven to have issued a commanded to fire, five enlisted soldiers were acquitted, and two were convicted of manslaughter for discharging their muskets directly into the crowd.
  23. ^ Georgia did not attend.
  24. ^ An alternative plan called for an imperial legislature made up both of Parliament and of a new North American "Grand Council" that would be equivalent to Parliament. It was rejected in Congress by a six to five vote on October 22, 1774. Some of its earlier support may have been chilled at the arrival of the Massachusetts Suffolk County Resolves petitioning for economic boycott, no British tax payments, and calling up local militias by the rump colonial legislatures comprised only of the elected representatives.[53]
  25. ^ George Washington standing to receive the appointment, John Adams in a blue coat, two figures removed to the right of him
  26. ^ "Resolved, 4. That the foundation of English liberty, and of all free government, is a right in the people to participate in their legislative council: … they are entitled to a free and exclusive power of legislation in their several provincial legislatures, where their right of representation can alone be preserved, in all cases of taxation and internal polity, subject only to the negative of their sovereign, …: But, … we cheerfully consent to the operation of such acts of the British parliament, as are bonafide, restrained to the regulation of our external commerce, for the purpose of securing the commercial advantages of the whole empire to the mother country, and the commercial benefits of its respective members; excluding every idea of taxation internal or external, [without the consent of American subjects]." quoted from the Declarations and Resolves of the First Continental Congress October 14, 1774.
  27. ^ The map shows the 1763 Treaty of Paris claims in North America by the British and Spanish. The British claim east of the Mississippi River, including the Floridas ceded by Spain in hatched-pink, and the previous French North America color-coded in pink, along the St. Lawrence River, west through the Great Lakes, and southerly east along the east bank of the Mississippi River. Spanish claims added French cessions from French Louisiana east to the Mississippi River.
  28. ^ The map shows the 1777 boundaries for three distinctive regions. (1) To the north is British Quebec, the French 1763 cession in green, north of the St. Lawrence River, east to the Atlantic Ocean, west to the Great Lakes, then south along the Mississippi River to its confluence with the Ohio River, encompassing the American Old Northwest. (2) To the south are the Floridas, the Spanish 1763 cessions of East Florida in green (Mobile and Pensacola) and West Florida in light yellow (the Florida peninsula south of the St. John's River and east of the Apalachicola River). (3) The Atlantic seaboard colonies number ten in a way unfamiliar to the modern eye. Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland are all limited west by the 1763 Royal Proclamation. Pennsylvania had an Indian treaty west nearly to its modern border. Delaware was the same three counties ceded from Pennsylvania. New York went westerly only the Lake Erie midpoint where the Seneca River empties into it. The Massachusetts (and its Maine), New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island are all labelled "New England", Nova Scotia includes the island and modern New Brunswick.
  29. ^ The map shows three major language groups for American Indians in North America within the territorial claims of the Thirteen Colonies, and the major tribal boundaries. Color-coded pink is the Algonquin language in New England, in the Chesapeake Bay region, in the Mississippi River Basin south of western Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, and on the northern Florida peninsula. Color-coded purple is the Iroquoian language south of eastern Lake Ontario and Lake Erie; the southern Appalachians, and northeast modern North Carolina. Color-coded red is the Muskogean language in the southeast, 19th century American Deep South.
  30. ^ Irish Protestants who had been among the families immigrating to the colonies favored the Americans, while Catholics who were generally disenfranchised there favored the King.[65]
  31. ^ During this time Benjamin Church, an assumed trusted patriot, was giving the British information on patriot troop strength and positions.[73]
  32. ^ Later that evening a mob tore down a lead statue of the King, which was later melted down into musket balls.[79]
  33. ^ "Patriots" were those who supported independence from Britain in their states and a new national union in Congress. Loyalists remained faithful to British rule. "Loyalists" were usually minorities in each population, the appointed colonial officials, licensed merchants, Anglican churchmen, and the politically traditional. They were concentrated around port cities, on the New England Iroquois frontier and in the South near Cherokee settlement.[81] Tories saw any subjects of the King who pretended to remove their ruler for whatever reasons as committing treason, and George III was encouraged to convict those responsible with the death penalty.[82]
  34. ^ Quebec had a largely Francophone population and had been under British rule for only 12 years. It was officially ceded in 1763 from France to Britain.
  35. ^ To learn when and where the attack would occur Washington asked for a volunteer among the Rangers to spy on activity behind enemy lines in Brooklyn. Young Nathan Hale stepped forward, but he was only able to provide Washington with nominal intelligence at that time.[125] On September 21 Hale was recognized in a New York tavern and was apprehended with maps and sketches of British fortifications and troop positions in his pockets. Howe ordered that he be summarily hung as a spy without trial the next day.[126]
  36. ^ Tallmadge's cover name became John Bolton, and he was the architect of the spy ring.[128]
  37. ^ The American prisoners were subsequently sent to the infamous prison ships in the East River, where more American soldiers and sailors died of disease and neglect than died in every battle of the war combined.[140]
  38. ^ Casualty numbers vary slightly with the Hessian forces, usually between 21 and 23 killed, 80–95 wounded, and 890–920 captured (including the wounded).[150]
  39. ^ The mandate came by way of Dr. Benjamin Rush, chair of the Medical Committee. Congress had directed that all troops who had not previously survived small pox infection to be inoculated. In explaining himself to state governors, Washington lamented that he had lost "an army" to small pox in 1776 by the "Natural way" of immunity. He described the process of exposure and infection, fatality and survival, as being "the greatest calamity that can befall an Army". The American commander-in-chief began with the soldiers at Morristown and inoculated additional regiments as they were raised in New England, with the "Southern Levies" administered small pox inoculations in Philadelphia as they were marching towards the Army's encampment.[157]
  40. ^ Burgoyne's stalled initiative in the interior would be unsupported either way.
  41. ^ Assessments among European Courts were favorable to the Americans. The important military consideration in the engagement at Germantown was that it was fought at all, and with a close run result. An American army fielded for less than a year and immediately following a series of defeats had delivered a sharp blow against their victorious enemy in their home base, and the outcome was "dubious" for the British holding the field afterwards.[178] Vergennes was said to have been personally influenced by this engagement as much as Burgoyne's surrender at Saratoga.[179]
  42. ^ In a subsequent treaty France secretly made with Spain struck at Aranjuez, France aimed to expel Britain and deny the Americans from the Newfoundland fishery, end restrictions on Dunkirk sovereignty, regain free trade in India, recover Senegal and Dominica, and restore the Treaty of Utrecht provisions pertaining to Anglo-French trade.[198]
  43. ^ Lafayette not only showed military ability, by serving on Washington's staff and as a field commander of Continental regiments. His political skills were evident in his ability to reconciling some of Washington's rival officers and he aligned some of the delegates in Philadelphia to support Washington in an otherwise indifferent Congress. His international service was as a liaison with French army and naval commanders, and as an advocate for the American cause to Foreign Minister Vergennes and the French Court.
  44. ^ On April 12, 1779, Spain signed the secret Treaty of Aranjuez with France and went to war against Britain. Spain made war on Britain to recover Gibraltar and Menorca in Europe, as well as Mobile and Pensacola in Florida. Spain also had an interest in expelling the British from Central America, both militarily and commercially.[204]
  45. ^ The European "Great Powers" of the late 1700s were generally divided east and west. The Eastern Great Powers were Russia, Prussia, and Austria. The Western Great Powers were France and Spain, each separately and together in their Pacte de Famille, Britain, and sometimes the declining Dutch Republic.
  46. ^ Mahan maintains that Britain's attempt to fight in multiple theaters simultaneously without major allies was fundamentally flawed, citing impossible mutual support, exposing the forces to defeat in detail.[217]
  47. ^ Bird's expedition numbered 150 British soldiers, several hundred Loyalists, and 700 Shawnee, Wyandot and Ottawa auxiliaries. The force skirted into the eastern regions of Patriot-conquered western Quebec that had been annexed as Illinois County, Virginia. His target was Virginia militia stationed at Lexington. As they approached downriver on the Ohio River, rumor among the Indians spread that the feared Colonel Clark had discovered their approach. Bird’s Indians and Loyalists abandoned their mission 90 miles upriver to loot settlements at the Licking River. At the surrender of Ruddles Station, safe passage to families was promised, but 200 were massacred by Indian raiders. Grenier maintains that "The slaughter the Indians and rangers perpetrated was unprecedented".
  48. ^ Most Native Americans in the area remembered the French better than any of the British they had met. Despite the British military nearby, the Miami people sought to avoid fighting with either Virginian Clark or Frenchman La Balme. On La Balme's horseback advance onto Detroit, he paused two weeks to ruin a local French trader and loot surrounding Miami towns. La Balme might have treated with them as allies, but he pushed Little Turtle into warrior leadership, converting most Miami tribes into British military allies, and launching the military career of one of the most successful opponents of westward settlement over the next thirty years.[235]
  49. ^ The surrendering Americans called for quarter, but were massacred by Tarleton's men. Thereafter the massacre was known as "Tarlton's quarter" among the growing number of Patriot partisans.
  50. ^ Although later accused by his enemies of inaction and cowardice, Jefferson sent an emergency dispatch to nearby Colonel Sampson Mathews to check Arnold's advance.[251]
  51. ^ Light Horse Harry was the father of Robert E. Lee.[252]
  52. ^ The Virginia territorial claim to the area was first from its Royal Corporation as a grant from James I and thereafter as a Royal Colony and a State in the Continental Congress until the territory was ceded in 1784 to the Confederation Congress towards the Northwest Territory.
  53. ^ Governor Bernardo de Gálvez is only one of eight men made honorary US citizens for his service in the American Cause. see Bridget Bowman (29 December 2014). "Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid's Very Good Year". Roll Call. The Economist Group. Retrieved April 25, 2020.
  54. ^ They had been sent south to Virginia in August to coordinate with de Grasse in defeating Cornwallis.[274] Following two previous failed joint operations at Newport and Savannah by French (at sea) and Americans (on land), French planners realized that closer cooperation with the Americans was required to achieve success.[275] The French fleet led by the Comte de Grasse had received discretionary orders from Paris to assist joint efforts in the north if naval support was needed.[276]
  55. ^ A white flag was raised and a British officer emerged from the earthworks, along with a drummer boy. An American officer came forward to meet them, and after a brief discussion, the British officer was blindfolded and escorted to Washington's headquarters about a mile away. Upon arrival the British officer presented Washington with a letter from Cornwallis confirming the surrender. After consulting with his staff, Washington gave his written response and arranged for a meeting with Cornwallis the next morning.
  56. ^ After the defeat at Yorktown Clinton attempted to lay blame on Germain who had assured him that adequate reinforcements would arrive. Clinton also took exception to Cornwallis' account of the campaign, prompting him to write his own version of the defeat. Clinton, however, ultimately took the brunt of the blame for the defeat.[286]
  57. ^ Eventually, the Continental Army found capable officers such as Nathanael Greene, Henry Knox(chief of artillery), Daniel Morgan and Alexander Hamilton (chief of staff).[301] One of Washington's most successful recruits to general officer was Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, a veteran of the Prussian general staff who wrote the Revolutionary War Drill Manual. Over the winter of 1777–78 at Valley Forge, von Steuben was instrumental in training the Continental Army in the essentials of infantry field maneuvers with military discipline, drills, tactics, and strategy.[302]
  58. ^ Three branches of the United States Military forces trace their institutional roots to the American Revolutionary War; the Army comes from the Continental Army; the Navy recognizes October 13, 1775, as the date of its official establishment when the Continental Congress created the Continental Navy, appointing Esek Hopkins as the Navy's first commander.[304] The Marine Corps links to the Continental Marines of the war, formed by a resolution of Congress on November 10, 1775.[305]
  59. ^ The largest force Washington commanded was certainly under 17,000,[309] and may have been no more than 13,000 troops, and even the combined American and French forces at the siege of Yorktown amounted to only about 19,000.[310]
  60. ^ On the British side, their armies were relatively smaller due to the difficulty of transporting troops across the Atlantic. They were also limited by their dependence on local supplies, which the Patriots tried to cut off. By comparison, Duffy notes that in an era when European rulers were generally revising their forces downward, in favor of a size that could be most effectively controlled (the very different perspective of mass conscript armies came later, during the French Revolutionary and then the Napoleonic Wars), the largest army that Frederick the Great ever led into battle was 65,000 men (at Prague in 1757), and at other times he commanded between 23,000 and 50,000 men, considering the latter the most effective number.[311]
  61. ^ In what was known as the Whaleboat War, American privateers mainly from New Jersey, Brooklyn and Connecticut attacked and robbed British merchant ships and raided and robbed coastal communities of Long Island reputed to have Loyalist sympathies.[328]
  62. ^ King George III feared that the war's prospects would make it unlikely he could reclaim the North American colonies.[332] During the later years of the Revolution, the British were drawn into numerous other conflicts about the globe.[333]
  63. ^ The final elements for US victory over Britain and US independence was assured by direct military intervention from France, as well as ongoing French supply and commercial trade over the final three years of the war.[335]
  64. ^ The Indian treaties mapped are from 1778; the subsequent 1770 Treaty of Lochaber surrendered additional Cherokee lands in southwestern West Virginia.
  65. ^ Debate persists over whether a British defeat in America was a guaranteed outcome. One British statesman described the attempt as "like trying to conquer a map".[343] Ferling argues that long odds made the defeat of Britain nothing short of a miracle.[344] Ellis, however, considers that the odds always favored the Americans. He holds that the British squandered their only opportunities for a decisive success in 1777 because William Howe's strategic decisions relied on local Tory militias while underestimating Patriot capabilities. Ellis concludes that once Howe failed, the opportunity for a British victory "would never come again".[345] The US military history published by the US Army speculates that an additional British commitment of 10,000 fresh troops in 1780 would have placed British victory within the realm of possibility.[346]
  66. ^ The entire standing British Army, excluding of the militia of Great Britain, comprised 45,123 men worldwide. The total numbers included 38,254 infantry and 6,869 cavalry. There were approximately eighteen regiments of foot, and an additional 20 independent companies on garrison duty. The 41st regiment was made up of invalids. Troops in India were under the command of the East India Company, and did not become part of the British Army until 1858.[350]
  67. ^ Standing armies had played a key role in the purge of the Long Parliament in 1648, and the enforced Puritan rule of Oliver Cromwell.[352]
  68. ^ Initially British leadership had been excessively optimistic, believing that just two regiments could suppress the rebellion in Massachusetts.[356] Their assessment proved mistaken at the Battle of Bunker Hill. It took ten hours for the British leadership to respond following the sighting of the Americans on the Charlestown Peninsula, giving the colonists ample time to reinforce their defenses.[357] Rather than opt for a simple flanking attack that would have rapidly succeeded with minimal loss,[358] the British decided on repeated frontal attacks with heavy casualties, until the patriots ran out of ammunition, gunpowder being in short supply. The results were telling; the British suffered 1,054 casualties of a force of around 3,000 after repeated frontal assaults.[359]
  69. ^ General Carleton, a Member of Parliament, had repelled the American assault on Quebec in 1775, but he had been passed over for advancement by General Burgoyne because of his reputation for over-caution.[373]
  70. ^ Clinton wrote a frustrated correspondence to Germain, voicing concern that a "fatal consequence will ensue" if matters did not improve.[378]
  71. ^ The naval standoff at Cape Henry was at considerable cost to Arbuthot's professional reputation. He had disrupted the chain of command during war, the he was subsequently embarrassed by the admiralty supporting his successor. And he tactically mishandled his fleet in line, misjudging the wind and causing three of his eight ships to be put out of action during battle. It was only the prevailing wind that allowed his limping withdrawal towards the mouth of the Chesapeake, which was coincidentally his tactical goal. Arbuthnot was given no further command at sea thereafter.[380]
  72. ^ By the end of hostilities in America at the close of 1781, the British Army numbered approximately 121,000 men globally,[385] 48,000 of whom were stationed throughout the Americas.[386] Of the 171,000 sailors who served in the Royal Navy throughout the conflict, around a quarter were pressed. This same proportion, approximately 42,000 men, deserted during the conflict.[387] At its height, the Navy had 94 ships-of-the-line,[12] 104 frigates and 37 sloops in service.[388]
  73. ^ Hesse-Cassell was often regarded as "the Mercenary State".[390] For 100s of years it been hiring out professional soldiers to the highest bidder, sometimes to countries that were at war with one another.[391]
  74. ^ All the foreign troops, including the Hanoverians, Brunswickers, etc, from the various German states were commonly called Hessians.[394]
  75. ^ Germans overall were complacent about ideas of independence and, with the exception of King Frederick II of Prussia, had taken little issue when the Hessians were once employed by the British in 1725 and 1755.[395] Frederick II, Frederick the Great, did not allow the transfer of hired soldiers slated to fight in the American war to cross his territory.[396]
  76. ^ In late 1775 and early 1776 the American public was becoming increasingly aware of the parliamentary discussions over the use of foreign troops. In the fall of 1775, a growing faction in Parliament was openly challenging Lord North's increasingly aggressive policies regarding the Americans and the deployment of foreign soldiers to subdue the rebellion in the colonies.[397]
  77. ^ The Continental Congress, who appointed Thomas Jefferson to author a Declaration of Independence, censured George III for his employment of foreign mercenaries, among other things.[396]
  78. ^ Newspaper reaction to the news of Hessian troop deployment in the service of George III to put down the American revolt can be found in the German language newspaper: Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote, October 3, 1775.
  79. ^ Copies were smuggled in from Britain by George Merchant, an American Patriot. A private in Morgan's Company of Riflemen of Virginia, Merchant had been captured by the British in Quebec the previous year then taken to London, where British Whigs successfully pressed for his release.[402]
  80. ^ Though they functioned as auxiliaries, the Hessians overall had a long-standing reputation as professional mercenary soldiers, known for their rapaciousness.[403][404]
  81. ^ James Lutrell, a member of Parliament, feared that there "were already 150,000 Germans in America ... desertions would be the likely outcome." Sir Henry Clinton instead had hoped to employ Russian soldiers with the idea that they knew only one language and would not be inclined to desert in a country with very few Russians.
  82. ^ British soldiers were themselves often contemptuous when interacting with Hessian troops, despite orders from General Howe that "the English should treat the Germans as brothers".[407]
  83. ^ The total cost to Britain amounted to more than seven million pounds sterling at that time.[389] This figure does not reflect the payment of an old British debt from the Seven Years War that Hesse-Cassel also demanded, apart from their treaties of subsidies.[411]
  84. ^ On militia see Boatner 1974, p. 707;
    Weigley 1973, ch. 2
  85. ^ Unlike John Adams' later recollection attributing the American population as one-third Patriot, one-third neutral, and on-third Loyalist, recent scholarship indicates that nationally, Patriots were perhaps forty-percent, neutrals were variable up to forty-percent depending on local circumstances, and Loyalists were calculated to be fifteen to twenty-percent.[417]
  86. ^ "British Legion Infantry strength at Cowpens was between 200 and 271 enlisted men". However, this statement is referenced to a note on pp. 175–76, which says, "The British Legion infantry at Cowpens is usually considered to have had about 200–250 men, but returns for the 25 December 1780 muster show only 175. Totals obtained by Cornwallis, dated 15 January, show that the whole legion had 451 men, but approximately 250 were dragoons". There would therefore appear to be no evidence for putting the total strength of the five British Legion light infantry companies at more than 200.[427]
  87. ^ St. Paul's Chapel is shown on the left. However, the parade route in 1783 did not pass by it, but went from Bull's Head Tavern on Bowery near Bayard, then continuing down Chatham, Pearl, Wall, and ending at Cape's Tavern on Broadway.
  88. ^ For the thirteen years prior to the Anglo-American commercial Jay Treaty of 1796 under President John Adams, the British maintained five forts in New York state: two forts at northern Lake Champlain, and three beginning at Fort Niagara stretching east along Lake Ontario. In the Northwest Territory, they garrisoned Fort Detroit and Fort Michilimackinac.[486]
  89. ^ There had been native-born Spanish (hidalgo) uprisings in several American colonies during the American revolution, contesting mercantilist reforms of Carlos III that had removed privileges inherited from the Conquistadors among encomiendas, and they also challenged Jesuit dominance in the Catholic Church there. American ship captains were known to have smuggled banned copies of the Declaration of Independence into Spanish Caribbean ports, provoking Spanish colonial discontent.
  90. ^ In addition to as many as 30% deaths in port cities, and especially high rates among the closely confined prisoner-of-war ships, scholars have reported large numbers lost among the Mexican population, and large percentage losses among the American Indian along trade routes, Atlantic to Pacific, Eskimo to Aztec.
  91. ^ If the upper limit of 70,000 is accepted as the total net loss for the Patriots, it would make the conflict proportionally deadlier than the American Civil War.[494] Uncertainty arises from the difficulties in accurately calculating the number of those who succumbed to disease, as it is estimated at least 10,000 died in 1776 alone.[495]
  92. ^ Elsewhere around the world, the French lost another approximately 5,000 total dead in conflicts 1778–1784.[498]
  93. ^ During the same time period in the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War, the Dutch suffered around 500 total killed, owing to the minor scale of their conflict with Britain.[500]
  94. ^ British returns in 1783 listed 43,633 rank and file deaths across the British Armed Forces.[502] In the first three years of the Anglo-French War (1778), British list 9,372 soldiers killed in battle across the Americas; and 3,326 in the West Indies (1778–1780).[503] In 1784, a British lieutenant compiled a detailed list of 205 British officers killed in action during British conflicts outside of North America, encompassing Europe, the Caribbean and the East Indies.[504] Extrapolations based upon this list puts British Army losses in the area of at least 4,000 killed or died of wounds outside of its North American engagements.[505]
  95. ^ Around 171,000 sailors served in the Royal Navy during British conflicts worldwide 1775–1784; approximately a quarter of whom had been pressed into service. Around 1,240 were killed in battle, while an estimated 18,500 died from disease (1776–1780).[507] The greatest killer at sea was scurvy, a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency.[508] It was not until 1795 that scurvy was eradicated from the Royal Navy after the Admiralty declared lemon juice and sugar were to be issued among the standard daily grog rations of sailors.[509] Around 42,000 sailors deserted worldwide during the era.[510] The impact on merchant shipping was substantial; 2,283 were taken by American privateers.[511] Worldwide 1775–1784, an estimated 3,386 British merchant ships were seized by enemy forces during the war among Americans, French, Spanish, and Dutch.[512]
  96. ^ The U.S. motto "A New Age Now Begins" is a paraphrase from Thomas Paine's pamphlet Common Sense, "We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”[515]
  97. ^ Also known as The Religious Society of Friends


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  • Yaniz, Jose I. (2009). "The Role of Spain in the American Revolution: An Unavoidable Mistake" (PDF). Marine Corps University. Spain declared war on Great Britain in June 1779 as an ally of France but not of America … The Bourbon Family Compact obligated Spain with commitments to France; and the Spanish Crown answered the call. Madrid thus took an unavoidable political strategic mistake.
Websites without authors

Further reading

These are some of the standard works about the war in general that are not listed above; books about specific campaigns, battles, units, and individuals can be found in those articles.

Primary sources

In addition to this selection, many primary sources are available at the Princeton University Law School Avalon Project and at the Library of Congress Digital Collections (previously LOC webpage, American Memory). Original editions for titles related to the American Revolutionary War can be found open sourced online at Internet Archive and Hathi Trust Digital Library.

  • Congress of the United States, Continental (1776). "Declaration of Independence". National Archives, Washington DC. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  • Emmerich, Adreas. The Partisan in War, a treatise on light infantry tactics written by Colonel Andreas Emmerich in 1789.

External links

Bibliographies online