American Revolutionary War

American Revolutionary War

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=American Revolutionary War

caption=Clockwise from top left: Battle of Bunker Hill, Death of Montgomery at Quebec, Battle of Cowpens, "Moonlight Battle"
place=Eastern Seabord, Central Canada, Hudson's Bay, Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, Gibraltar, Balearic Islands, Caribbean Sea, Central America, Indian Ocean
result=Treaty of Paris
casus=Taxation without representation; threats to traditional rights; republican ideology.
territory=Britain recognizes independence of the United States, cedes East Florida, West Florida, and Minorca to Spain and Tobago to France
strength1=20,000 regulars,
230,000 militia,
30-40 frigates and sloopsFact|date=September 2008
strength2=12,000 regulars,
55,000 Loyalists,
29,867 mercenaries,Fact|date=September 2008
5,000 natives,
100 ships of the line and frigatesFact|date=September 2008
The American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), also known as the American War of Independence, [British writers generally favor "American War of Independence", "American Rebellion", or "War of American Independence". See Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, "Bibliography" at for usage in titles.] began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen united former British colonies on the North American continent and ended in a global war between several European great powers. The war was the culmination of the political American Revolution, whereby the colonists and their allies overthrew British rule. In 1775, Revolutionaries seized control of each of the thirteen colonial governments, set up the unifying Second Continental Congress, and formed a Continental Army. The following year, they formally declared their independence as a new nation, the United States of America. In 1777 the Continentals captured a British army, leading to France entering the war on the side of the Americans in early 1778, and evening the military strength with Britain. Spain and the Dutch Republic – French allies – also went to war with Britain over the next two years.

Throughout the war, the British were able to use their naval superiority to capture and occupy coastal cities, but control of the countryside (where 90% of the population lived) largely eluded them due to their relatively small land army. French involvement proved decisive, with a French naval victory in the Chesapeake leading to the surrender of a second British army at Yorktown in 1781. In 1783, the Treaty of Paris ended the war and recognized the sovereignty of the United States over the territory bounded by what is now Canada to the north, Florida to the south, and the Mississippi River to the west.

Combatants before 1778

American armies and militias

At the outset of the war, the Americans lacked a professional army or navy. Each colony provided for its own defenses through the use of local militia. Militiamen were lightly armed, slightly trained, and usually did not have uniforms. Their units served for only a few weeks or months at a time, were reluctant to go very far from home, and were thus generally unavailable for extended operations. Militia lacked the training and discipline of regular soldiers but were more numerous and could overwhelm regular troops as at the battles of Concord, Bennington and Saratoga, and the siege of Boston. Both sides used partisan warfare but the Americans were particularly effective at suppressing Loyalist activity when British regulars were not in the area. [Black, "War for America: The Fight for Independence, 1775–1783", p. 59. On militia see Boatner, p. 707, and Russell F. Weigley, "The American Way of War" (1973), ch. 2.]

Seeking to coordinate military efforts, the Continental Congress established (on paper) a regular army in June 1775, and appointed George 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. The United States Marine Corps traces its institutional roots to the Continental Marines of the war, formed at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, by a resolution of the Continental Congress on November 10, 1775, a date regarded and celebrated as the birthday of the Marine Corps. At the beginning of 1776, Washington's army had 20,000 men, with two-thirds enlisted in the Continental Army and the other third in the various colonial militias.cite book|last=Crocker III|first=H. W.|title=Don't Tread on Me|publisher=Crown Forum|date=2006|location=New York|pages=51|isbn=9781400053636] At the end of the American Revolution in 1783, both the Continental Navy and Continental Marines were disbanded. About 250,000 men served as regulars or as militiamen for the Revolutionary cause in the eight years of the war, but there were never more than 90,000 total men under arms at one time. Armies were small by European standards of the era; the greatest number of men that Washington personally commanded in the field at any one time was fewer than 17,000. This could be attributed to tactical preferences, but it also could be because of lack of powder on the American side. [Boatner, p. 264 says the largest force Washington commanded was "under 17,000"; Christopher Duffy ("The Military Experience in the Age of Reason, 1715–1789", p. 17) estimates Washington's maximum was "only 13,000 troops". By comparison, Duffy notes that Frederick the Great usually commanded from 1,000 to 2,000 in battle.]


Historians have estimated that approximately 40-45% of the colonists actively supported the rebellion while 15-20% of the population of the thirteen colonies remained loyal to the British Crown. The remaining 35-45% attempted to remain neutral. [Calhoon, "Loyalism and neutrality" in Greene and Pole, "A Companion to the American Revolution" (2000) p.235]

At least 25,000 Loyalists fought on the side of the British. Thousands served in the Royal Navy. On land, Loyalist forces fought alongside the British in most battles in North America. Many Loyalists fought in partisan units, especially in the Southern theater. [Savas and Dameron p. xli]

The British military encountered difficulties in maximizing the use of Loyalist factions. British historian Jeremy Black wrote, “In the American war it was clear to both royal generals and revolutionaries that organized and significant Loyalist activity would require the presence of British forces.” [Black p. 12] In the South, the use of Loyalists presented the British with “major problems of strategic choice” since while it was necessary to widely disperse troops in order to defend Loyalist areas, it was also recognized that there was a need for “the maintenance of large concentrated forces able” to counter major attacks from the American forces. [Black pg. 13-14] The British also were also forced to insure that their military actions would not “offend Loyalist opinion”, eliminating such options as attempting to “live off the country’, destroying property for intimidation purposes, or coercing payments from colonists (“laying them under contribution”). [Black p. 14]

British armies and mercenaries

Early in 1775, the British Army consisted of about 36,000 men worldwide, but wartime recruitment steadily increased this number. Additionally, over the course of the war the British hired about 30,000 soldiers from German princes; these professional soldiers were generically called "Hessians" because many came from Hesse-Kassel. Rebel propagandistsPOVassertion called German soldiers "foreign mercenaries," and they are scorned as such in the Declaration of Independence. Germans made up about one-third of the British troop strength in North America. By 1779, the number of British and German troops stationed in North America was over 60,000, although these were spread from Canada to Florida. [Black, pp. 27–29; Boatner, pp. 424–26.] About 10,000 Loyalist Americans under arms for the British are included in these figures. [Weintraub, p. 240; figure for 1780. ]

African Americans

African Americans — slave and free — served on both sides during the war. The British actively recruited slaves belonging to Patriot masters. Because of manpower shortages, George Washington lifted the ban on black enlistment in the Continental Army in January 1776. Small all-black units were formed in Rhode Island and Massachusetts; many were slaves promised freedom for serving. Another all-black unit came from Haiti with French forces. At least 5,000 black soldiers fought for the Revolutionary cause [Revolutionary all-black units: Kaplan and Kaplan, pp. 64–69.] and more than 20,000 black soldiers fought on the British side. [ [ American Revolution — African Americans In The Revolutionary Period] .]

Native Americans

Most Native Americans east of the Mississippi River were affected by the war, and many communities were divided over the question of how to respond to the conflict. Most Native Americans opposed the United States, since native lands were threatened by expanding American settlement. An estimated 13,000 warriors fought on the British side; the largest group, the Iroquois Confederacy, fielded about 1,500 men. [James H. Merrell, "Indians and the New Republic" in "The Blackwell Encyclopedia of the American Revolution", p. 393; Boatner, p. 545.]

War in the north, 1775–1780


Before the war, Boston had been the scene of much revolutionary activity, leading to the Massachusetts Government Act that ended home rule as a punishment in 1774. Popular resistance to these measures, however, compelled the newly appointed royal officials in Massachusetts to resign or to seek refuge in Boston. Lieutenant General Thomas Gage, the British North American commander-in chief, commanded four regiments of British regulars (about 4,000 men) from his headquarters in Boston, but the countryside was in the hands of the Revolutionaries.

On the night of April 18, 1775, General Gage sent 700 men to seize munitions stored by the colonial militia at Concord, Massachusetts. Riders including Paul Revere alerted the countryside, and when British troops entered Lexington on the morning of April 19, they found 77 minutemen formed up on the village green. Shots were exchanged, killing several minutemen. The British moved on to Concord, where a detachment of three companies was engaged and routed at the North Bridge by a force of 500 minutemen. As the British retreated back to Boston, thousands of militiamen attacked them along the roads, inflicting great damage before timely British reinforcements prevented a total disaster. With the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the war had begun.

The militia converged on Boston, bottling up the British in the city. About 4,500 more British soldiers arrived by sea, and on June 17, 1775, British forces under General William Howe seized the Charlestown peninsula at the Battle of Bunker Hill. The Americans fell back, but British losses were so heavy that the attack was not followed up. The siege was not broken, and Gage was soon replaced by Howe as the British commander-in-chief. [Higginbotham, p. 75–77.]

In July 1775, newly appointed General Washington arrived outside Boston to take charge of the colonial forces and to organize the Continental Army. Realizing his army's desperate shortage of gunpowder, Washington asked for new sources. Arsenals were raided and some manufacturing was attempted; 90% of the supply (2 million pounds) was imported by the end of 1776, mostly from France. [ Orlando W. Stephenson, "The Supply of Gunpowder in 1776," "American Historical Review," Vol. 30, No. 2 (Jan. 1925), pp. 271–281 in JSTOR.]

The standoff continued throughout the fall and winter. In early March 1776, heavy cannons that the patriots had captured at Fort Ticonderoga were placed on Dorchester Heights by Major Henry Knox. Since the artillery now overlooked the British positions, Howe's situation was untenable, and the British fled on March 17, 1776, sailing to their naval base at Halifax, Nova Scotia. [Arthur S. Lefkowitz, " [ The Long Retreat: The Calamitous American Defense of New Jersey 1776] , 1998. Retrieved September 10, 2007.] Washington then moved most of the Continental Army to fortify New York City.


During the long standoff at Boston, the Continental Congress sought a way to seize the initiative elsewhere. Congress had initially invited the French Canadians to join them as the fourteenth colony, but when that failed to happen, Congress authorized an invasion of Canada. The goal was to remove British rule from the primarily francophone province of Quebec (comprising present-day Quebec).

Two Canada-bound expeditions were undertaken. On September 16, 1775, Brigadier General Richard Montgomery marched north from Fort Ticonderoga with about 1,700 militiamen, capturing Fort St. Jean on November 2 and then Montreal on November 13. General Guy Carleton, the governor of Quebec, escaped to Quebec City. The second expedition, led by Colonel Benedict Arnold, was a logistical nightmare, with many men succumbing to smallpox. By the time Arnold reached Quebec City in early November, he had but 600 of his original 1,100 men. Montgomery's force joined Arnold's, and they attacked Quebec City on December 31, but were defeated by Carleton and Montgomery was killed. The remaining Americans held on outside Quebec City until the spring of 1776, and then withdrew when a squadron of British ships under Captain Charles Douglas arrived to relieve the siege.

Another attempt was made by the Americans to push back towards Quebec, but they failed at Trois-Rivières on June 8, 1776. Carleton then launched his own invasion and defeated Arnold at the Battle of Valcour Island in October. Arnold fell back to Fort Ticonderoga, where the invasion of Canada had begun. The invasion of Canada ended as a disaster for the Americans, but Arnold's efforts in 1776 delayed a full-scale British counteroffensive until the Saratoga campaign of 1777.

The invasion cost the Americans their base of support in British public opinion, "So that the violent measures towards Americaare freely adopted and countenanced by a majority of individuals of all ranks, professions, or occupations, in this country." [ Rockingham to Burke September 1776, Watson "The Reign of George III" p. 203.]

New York and New Jersey

Having withdrawn his army from Boston, General Howe now focused on capturing New York City. To defend the city, General Washington divided his 20,000 soldiers between Long Island and Manhattan. While British troops were assembling on Staten Island for the campaign, Washington had the newly issued Declaration of American Independence read to his men. No longer was there any possibility of compromise. On August 27, 1776, after landing about 22,000 men on Long Island, the British drove the Americans back to Brooklyn Heights in the largest battle of the entire Revolution. Howe then laid siege to fortifications there. In a feat considered by many historians to be one of his most impressive actions as Commander in Chief, Washington personnaly directed the withdrawal of his entire remaining army and all their supplies across the East River in one night without discovery by the British or losing a single man. [McCullough]

On September 15, Howe landed about 12,000 men on lower Manhattan, quickly taking control of New York City. The Americans withdrew to Harlem Heights, where they skirmished the next day but held their ground. When Howe moved to encircle Washington's army in October, the Americans again fell back, and a battle at White Plains was fought on October 28. Once more Washington retreated, and Howe returned to Manhattan and captured Fort Washington in mid November, taking about 2,000 prisoners (with an additional 1,000 having been captured during the battle for Long Island). Thus began the infamous "prison ships" system the British maintained in New York for the remainder of the war, in which more American soldiers and sailors died of neglect than died in every battle of the entire war, combined. [Stiles, Henry Reed. "Letters from the prisons and prison-ships of the revolution." Thomson Gale, December 31, 1969. ISBN 978-1432812225] [Dring, Thomas and Greene, Albert. "Recollections of the Jersey Prison Ship" (American Experience Series, No 8). Applewood Books. November 1, 1986. ISBN 978-0918222923] [Taylor, George. "Martyrs To The Revolution In The British Prison-Ships In The Wallabout Bay." (originally printed 1855) Kessinger Publishing, LLC. October 2, 2007. ISBN 978-0548592175.] [Banks, James Lenox. "Prison ships in the Revolution: New facts in regard to their management." 1903.] [Hawkins, Christopher. "The life and adventures of Christopher Hawkins, a prisoner on board the 'Old Jersey' prison ship during the War of the Revolution." Holland Club. 1858.] [Andros, Thomas. "The old Jersey captive: Or, A narrative of the captivity of Thomas Andros...on board the old Jersey prison ship at New York, 1781. In a series of letters to a friend." W. Peirce. 1833.] [ Lang, Patrick J.. "The horrors of the English prison ships, 1776 to 1783, and the barbarous treatment of the American patriots imprisoned on them." Society of the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick, 1939.] [Onderdonk. Henry. "Revolutionary Incidents of Suffolk and Kings Counties; With an Account of the Battle of Long Island and the British Prisons and Prison-Ships at New York." Associated Faculty Press, Inc. June, 1970. ISBN 978-0804680752.] [West, Charles E.. "Horrors of the prison ships: Dr. West's description of the wallabout floating dungeons, how captive patriots fared." Eagle Book Printing Department, 1895.]

General Lord Cornwallis continued to chase Washington's army through New Jersey, until the Americans withdrew across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania in early December. With the campaign at an apparent conclusion for the season, the British entered winter quarters. Although Howe had missed several opportunities to crush the diminishing American army, he had killed or captured over 5,000 Americans.

The outlook of the Continental Army was bleak. "These are the times that try men's souls," wrote Thomas Paine, who was with the army on the retreat. The army had dwindled to fewer than 5,000 men fit for duty, and would be reduced to 1,400 after enlistments expired at the end of the year. Congress had abandoned Philadelphia in despair, although popular resistance to British occupation was growing in the countryside. Fact|date=June 2008

Washington decided to take the offensive, stealthily crossing the Delaware on Christmas night and capturing nearly 1,000 Hessians at the Battle of Trenton on December 26, 1776. Cornwallis marched to retake Trenton but was outmaneuvered by Washington, who successfully attacked the British rearguard at Princeton on January 3, 1777. Washington then entered winter quarters at Morristown, New Jersey, having given a morale boost to the American cause. New Jersey militia continued to harass British and Hessian forces throughout the winter, forcing the British to retreat to their base in and around New York City.

At every stage the British strategy assumed a large base of Loyalist supporters would rally to the King given some military support. In February 1776 Clinton took 2,000 men and a naval squadron to invade North Carolina, which he called off when he learned the Loyalists had been crushed at the Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge. In June he tried to seize Charleston, South Carolina, the leading port in the South, hoping for a simultaneous rising in South Carolina. It seemed a cheap way of waging the war but it failed as the naval force was defeated by the forts and because no local Loyalists attacked thetown from behind. The loyalists were too poorly organized to be effective, but as late as 1781 senior officials in London, misled by Loyalist exiles, placed their confidence in their rising. Fact|date=June 2008

Saratoga and Philadelphia

When the British began to plan operations for 1777, they had two main armies in North America: Carleton's army in Canada, and Howe's army in New York. In London, Lord George Germain approved campaigns for these armies which, because of miscommunication, poor planning, and rivalries between commanders, did not work in conjunction. Although Howe successfully captured Philadelphia, the northern army was lost in a disastrous surrender at Saratoga. Both Carleton and Howe resigned after the 1777 campaign.

aratoga campaign

The first of the 1777 campaigns was an expedition from Canada led by General John Burgoyne. The goal was to seize the Lake Champlain and Hudson River corridor, effectively isolating New England from the rest of the American colonies. Burgoyne's invasion had two components: he would lead about 10,000 men along Lake Champlain towards Albany, New York, while a second column of about 2,000 men, led by Barry St. Leger, would move down the Mohawk River valley and link up with Burgoyne in Albany, New York.

Burgoyne set off in June, and recaptured Fort Ticonderoga in early July. Thereafter, his march was slowed by Americans who knocked down trees in his path. A detachment was sent out to seize supplies but was decisively defeated by American militia in August, depriving Burgoyne of nearly 1,000 men.

Meanwhile, St. Leger — half of his force Native Americans led by Sayenqueraghta — had laid siege to Fort Stanwix. American militiamen and their Native American allies marched to relieve the siege but were ambushed and scattered at the Battle of Oriskany. When a second relief expedition approached, this time led by Benedict Arnold, St. Leger broke off the siege and retreated to Canada.

Burgoyne's army was now reduced to about 6,000 men. Despite these setbacks, he determined to push on towards Albany — a fateful decision which would later produce much controversy. An American army of 8,000 men, commanded by the General Horatio Gates, had entrenched about 10 miles (16 km) south of Saratoga, New York. Burgoyne tried to outflank the Americans but was checked at the first battle of Saratoga in September. Burgoyne's situation was desperate, but he now hoped that help from Howe's army in New York City might be on the way. It was not: Howe had instead sailed away on an expedition to capture Philadelphia. American militiamen flocked to Gates' army, swelling his force to 11,000 by the beginning of October. After being badly beaten at the second battle of Saratoga, Burgoyne surrendered on October 17.

Saratoga was the turning point of the war. Revolutionary confidence and determination, suffering from Howe's successful occupation of Philadelphia, was renewed. More importantly, the victory encouraged France to make an open alliance with the Americans, after two years of semi-secret support. For the British, the war had now become much more complicated. [Higginbotham, pp. 188–98.]

Philadelphia campaign

Having secured New York City in 1776, General Howe concentrated on capturing Philadelphia, the seat of the Revolutionary government, in 1777. He moved slowly, landing 15,000 troops in late August at the northern end of Chesapeake Bay. Washington positioned his 11,000 men between Howe and Philadelphia but was driven back at the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777. The Continental Congress once again abandoned Philadelphia, and on September 26, Howe finally outmaneuvered Washington and marched into the city unopposed. Washington unsuccessfully attacked the British encampment in nearby Germantown in early October and then retreated to watch and wait.

After repelling a British attack at White Marsh, Washington and his army encamped at Valley Forge in December 1777, about 20 miles (32 km) from Philadelphia, where they stayed for the next six months. Over the winter, 2,500 men (out of 10,000) died from disease and exposure. The next spring, however, the army emerged from Valley Forge in good order, thanks in part to a training program supervised by Baron von Steuben. Indeed, von Steuben introduced the most modern Prussian methods of organization and tactics.

General Clinton replaced Howe as British commander-in-chief. French entry into the war had changed British strategy, and Clinton abandoned Philadelphia in order to reinforce New York City, now vulnerable to French naval power. Washington shadowed Clinton on his withdrawal and forced a strategic victory at the battle at Monmouth on June 28, 1778, the last major battle in the north. Clinton's army went to New York City in July, just before a French fleet under Admiral d'Estaing arrived off the American coast. Washington's army returned to White Plains, New York, north of the city. Although both armies were back where they had been two years earlier, the nature of the war had now changed. [ George Athan Billias. "George Washington's Generals and Opponents: Their Exploits and Leadership" (1994); Higginbotham, pp. 175–188.]

An international war, 1778–1783

In 1778, the war over the rebellion in North America became international; spreading not only to Europe, but to the European colonies, chiefly in India. After learning of the American victory in Saratoga, France signed the Treaty of Alliance with the United States on February 6, 1778. Spain entered the war as an ally of France in June 1779, a renewal of the Bourbon Family Compact. Unlike France, however, Spain initially refused to recognize the independence of the United States — Spain was not keen on encouraging similar anti-colonial rebellions in the Spanish Empire. Both countries had quietly provided assistance to the Americans since the beginning of the war, hoping to dilute British power. So too had the Netherlands, eventually brought into open war at the end of 1780.

In London King George III gave up hope of subduing America by more armies while Britain had a European war to fight. "It was a joke," he said, "to think of keeping Pennsylvania." There was no hope of recovering New England. But the King was determined "never to acknowledge the independence of the Americans, and to punish their contumacy by the indefinite prolongation of a war which promised to be eternal." [George Otto Trevelyan, "George the Third and Charles Fox: The Concluding Part of the American Revolution." (1912), vol. 1, p. 4.] His plan was to keep the 30,000 men garrisoned in New York, Rhode Island, in Canada, and in Florida; other forces would attack the French and Spanish in the West Indies. To punish the Americans the King planned to destroy their coasting-trade, bombard their ports; sack and burn towns along the coast (like New London, Connecticut), and turn loose the Native Americans to attack civilians in frontier settlements. These operations, the King felt, would inspire the Loyalists; would splinter the Congress; and "would keep the rebels harassed, anxious, and poor, until the day when, by a natural and inevitable process, discontent and disappointment were converted into penitence and remorse" and they would beg to return to his authority. [Trevelyan, "George the Third and Charles Fox" vol. 1, p. 5.] The plan meant destruction for the Loyalists and loyal Native Americans, and indefinite prolongation of a costly war, as well as the risk of disaster as the French and Spanish were assembling an armada to invade the British isles and seize London. The British planned to re-subjugate the rebellious colonies after dealing with their European allies.

Widening of the naval war

When the war began, the British had overwhelming naval superiority over the American colonists. The Royal Navy had over 100 ships of the line and many frigates and smaller craft, although this fleet was old and in poor condition, a situation which would be blamed on Lord Sandwich, the First Lord of the Admiralty. During the first three years of the war, the Royal Navy was primarily used to transport troops for land operations and to protect commercial shipping. The American colonists had no ships of the line, and relied extensively on privateering to harass British shipping. The privateers caused worry disproportionate to their material success although those operating out of French channel ports before and after France joined the war caused significant embarrassment to the Royal Navy and inflamed Anglo-French relations. The Continental Congress authorized the creation of a small Continental Navy in October, 1775, which was primarily used for commerce raiding. John Paul Jones became the first great American naval hero, capturing HMS "Drake" on April 24, 1778, the first victory for any American military vessel in British waters. [ Higginbotham, pp. 331–46.]

French entry into the war meant that British naval superiority was now contested. The Franco-American alliance began poorly, however, with failed operations at Rhode Island in 1778 and Savannah, Georgia, in 1779. Part of the problem was that France and the United States had different military priorities: France hoped to capture British possessions in the West Indies before helping to secure American independence. While French financial assistance to the American war effort was already of critical importance, French military aid to the Americans would not show positive results until the arrival in July 1780 of a large force of soldiers led by the Comte de Rochambeau.

Spain entered the war on the side of the Americans with the goal of recapturing Gibraltar and Minorca, which had been lost to the British in 1704. Gibraltar was besieged for more than three years, but the British garrison stubbornly resisted for years and was finally resupplied after Admiral Rodney's victory in the "Moonlight Battle" (January, 1780). Further Franco-Spanish efforts to capture Gibraltar were unsuccessful. One notable success took place on February 5, 1782 when Spanish and French forces captured Minorca, which Spain retained after the war.

West Indies and Gulf Coast

There was much action in the West Indies, with several islands changing hands, especially in the Lesser Antilles. At the Battle of the Saintes in April 1782, a victory by Rodney's fleet over the French Admiral de Grasse frustrated the hopes of France and Spain to take Jamaica and other colonies from the British. On May 8, 1782, Count Bernardo de Gálvez, the Spanish governor of Louisiana, captured the British naval base at New Providence in the Bahamas. Nevertheless, except for the French retention of the small island of Tobago, sovereignty in the West Indies was returned to the "status quo ante bellum" in the 1783 peace treaty.

On the Gulf Coast, Gálvez seized three British Mississippi River outposts in 1779: Manchac, Baton Rouge, and Natchez. Gálvez then captured Mobile in 1780 and forced the surrender of the British outpost at Pensacola in 1781. His actions led to Spain acquiring East and West Florida in the peace settlement.

India and the Netherlands

The military action in North America and the Caribbean helped spark a conflict between Britain and France over India, in the form of the Second Anglo-Mysore War (1780-1784). The two chief combatants were Tipu Sultan, ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore and a key French ally, and the British government of Madras.

In 1780, the British struck against the United Provinces of the Netherlands in order to preempt Dutch involvement in the League of Armed Neutrality, a declaration of several European powers that they would conduct neutral trade during the war. Britain was not willing to allow the Netherlands to openly give aid to the American rebels. Agitation by Dutch radicals and a friendly attitude towards the United States by the Dutch government — both influenced by the American Revolution — also encouraged the British to attack. Fact|date=June 2008 The Fourth Anglo-Dutch War lasted into 1784 and was disastrous to the Dutch mercantile economy. It effectively ended the last Dutch pretence to being a global power, and paved the way for the Batavian Republic.

Southern theater

During the first three years of the American Revolutionary War, the primary military encounters were in the north. After French entry into the war, the British turned their attention to the southern colonies, where they hoped to regain control by recruiting Loyalists. This southern strategy also had the advantage of keeping the Royal Navy closer to the Caribbean, where the British needed to defend their possessions against the French and Spanish.

Banastre Tarleton. Painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1782.]

On December 29, 1778, an expeditionary corps from Clinton's army in New York captured Savannah, Georgia. An attempt by French and American forces to retake Savannah failed on October 9, 1779. Clinton then besieged Charleston, capturing it on May 12, 1780. With relatively few casualties, Clinton had seized the South's biggest city and seaport, paving the way for what seemed like certain conquest of the South.

The remnants of the southern Continental Army began to withdraw to North Carolina but were pursued by Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton, who defeated them at the Waxhaws on May 29, 1780. With these events, organized American military activity in the region collapsed, though the war was carried on by partisans such as Francis Marion. Cornwallis took over British operations, while Horatio Gates arrived to command the American effort. On August 16, 1780, Gates was defeated at the Battle of Camden, setting the stage for Cornwallis to invade North Carolina.

Cornwallis' victories quickly turned, however. One wing of his army was utterly defeated at the Battle of Kings Mountain on October 7, 1780. Tarleton was decisively defeated at the Battle of Cowpens on January 17, 1781, by American General Daniel Morgan.

General Nathanael Greene, Gates' replacement, proceeded to wear down the British in a series of battles, each of them tactically a victory for the British but giving no strategic advantage to the victors. Greene summed up his approach in a motto that would become famous: "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again." Unable to capture or destroy Greene's army, Cornwallis moved north to Virginia.

In March 1781, General Washington dispatched General Lafayette to defend Virginia. The young Frenchman skirmished with Cornwallis, avoiding a decisive battle while gathering reinforcements. Cornwallis was unable to trap Lafayette, and so he moved his forces to Yorktown, Virginia, in July so the Royal Navy could return his army to New York.

Northern and western Frontier

thumb|left|George Rogers Clark's 180 mile (290 km) winter march led to the capture of General Henry Hamilton, Lieutenant-Governor of Canada.]

West of the Appalachian Mountains and along the Canadian border, the American Revolutionary War was an "Indian War." Most Native Americans supported the British. Like the Iroquois Confederacy, tribes such as the Cherokees and the Shawnees split into factions.

The British supplied their native allies with muskets and gunpowder and advised raids against civilian settlements, especially in New York, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. Joint Iroquois-Loyalist attacks in the Wyoming Valley and at Cherry Valley in 1778 provoked Washington to send the Sullivan Expedition into western New York during the summer of 1779. There was little fighting as Sullivan systematically destroyed the Native American winter food supplies, forcing them to flee permanently to British bases in Canada and the Niagara Falls area.

In the Ohio Country and the Illinois Country, the Virginia frontiersman George Rogers Clark attempted to neutralize British influence among the Ohio tribes by capturing the outposts of Kaskaskia and Vincennes in the summer of 1778. When General Henry Hamilton, the British commander at Detroit, retook Vincennes, Clark returned in a surprise march in February 1779 and captured Hamilton himself.

In 1782 came the Gnadenhütten massacre, when Pennsylvania militiamen killed about a hundred neutral Native Americans. In August 1782, in one of the last major encounters of the war, a force of 200 Kentucky militia was defeated at the Battle of Blue Licks.

Yorktown and the Surrender of Cornwallis

The northern, southern, and naval theaters of the war converged in 1781 at Yorktown, Virginia. In early September, French naval forces defeated a British fleet at the Battle of the Chesapeake, cutting off Cornwallis' escape. Washington hurriedly moved American and French troops from New York, and a combined Franco-American force of 17,000 men commenced the Siege of Yorktown in early October. For several days, the French and Americans bombarded the British defenses. Cornwallis' position quickly became untenable, and he surrendered his entire army of 7,000 men on October 19, 1781.

With the surrender at Yorktown, King George lost control of Parliament to the peace party, and there were no further major military activities on land. The British had 30,000 garrison troops occupying New York City, Charleston, and Savannah. The war continued at sea between the British and the French fleets in the West Indies. [Number of British troops still in America: Piers Mackesy, "The War for America: 1775–1783", p. 435.] The British may have sent more troops to attack the colonists, if not for the numerous American ships attacking British shipping lanes worldwide.Fact|date=June 2008 Due to the impact on British pocketbooks, the merchants put pressure on Parliament to end the war.Fact|date=October 2007

Treaty of Paris

In London as political support for the war plummeted after Yorktown, Prime Minister Lord North resigned in March 1782. In April 1782, the Commons voted to end the war in America. Preliminary peace articles were signed in Paris at the end of November, 1782; the formal end of the war did not occur until the Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3, 1783, and the United States Congress of the Confederation ratified the treaty on January 14, 1784. The last British troops left New York City on November 25, 1783.

Britain negotiated the Paris peace treaty without consulting her Native American allies and ceded all Native American territory between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River to the United States. Full of resentment, Native Americans reluctantly confirmed these land cessions with the United States in a series of treaties, but the fighting would be renewed in conflicts along the frontier in the coming years, the largest being the Northwest Indian War.

Costs of the war


The total loss of life resulting from the American Revolutionary War is unknown. As was typical in the wars of the era, disease claimed more lives than battle. Historian Joseph Ellis suggests that Washington's decision to have his troops inoculated against the smallpox epidemic was one of his most important decisions. [Smallpox epidemic: Elizabeth Anne Fenn, "Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775–82", p. 275. A great number of these smallpox deaths occurred outside the theater of war — in Mexico or among Native Americans west of the Mississippi River. Washington and inoculation: Ellis, "His Excellency: George Washington", p. 87.]

An estimated 25,000 American Revolutionaries died during active military service. About 8,000 of these deaths were in battle; the other 17,000 deaths were from disease, including about 8,000 - 12,000 who died while prisoners of war, most in rotting prison ships in New York. The number of Revolutionaries seriously wounded or disabled by the war has been estimated from 8,500 to 25,000. The total American military casualty figure was therefore as high as 50,000. [American dead and wounded: John Shy, "A People Numerous and Armed", pp. 249–50. The lower figure for number of wounded comes from Chambers, p. 849.]

About 171,000 seamen served for the British during the war; about 25 to 50 percent of them had been pressed into service. About 1,240 were killed in battle, while 18,500 died from disease. The greatest killer was scurvy, a disease known at the time to be easily preventable by issuing lemon juice to sailors. About 42,000 British sailors deserted during the war. [British seamen: Mackesy, p. 6, 176.]

Approximately 1,200 Germans were killed in action and 6,354 died from illness or accident. About 16,000 of the remaining German troops returned home, but roughly 5,500 remained in the United States after the war for various reasons, many eventually becoming American citizens. No reliable statistics exist for the number of casualties among other groups, including Loyalists, British regulars, Native Americans, French and Spanish troops, and civilians.

Financial costs

The British spent about £80 million and ended with a national debt of £250 million, which it easily financed at about £9.5 million a year in interest. The French spent 1.3 billion livres (about £56 million). Their total national debt was £187 million, which they could not easily finance; over half the French national revenue went to debt service in the 1780s. The debt crisis became a major enabling factor of the French Revolution as the government was unable to raise taxes without public approval. [ Robert and Isabelle Tombs, "That Sweet Enemy: The French and the British from the Sun King to the Present" (2007), p. 179. ] The United States spent $37 million at the national level plus $114 million by the states. This was mostly covered by loans from France and the Netherlands, loans from Americans, and issuance of more and more paper money (which became "not worth a continental.") The U.S. finally solved its debt problem in the 1790s. [ Merrill Jensen, "The New Nation" (1950), p. 379. ]

Historical assessment

The war of American independence could be summed up as a civil war fought on foreign soil, as opposing forces comprised both nations' residents. One could argue that after the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, it was a war between two different nations, the Americans and the British. However, both sides were technically of English or European descent; as a result one could compare the American Revolutionary War to the English Civil War, in which the Parliamentarians and Royalists were both English, but in their own way, two different nations or factions. Lopsided|date=September 2008 That said, it is a war that America could not have survived without French assistance. In addition, Britain had significant military disadvantages. Distance was a major problem: most troops and supplies had to be shipped across the Atlantic Ocean. The British usually had logistical problems whenever they operated away from port cities, while the Americans had local sources of manpower and food and were more familiar with (and acclimated to) the territory. Additionally, ocean travel meant that British communications were always about two months out of date: by the time British generals in America received their orders from London, the military situation had usually changed. [Black, p. 39; Don Higginbotham, "The War for Independence, to Saratoga", in "The Blackwell Encyclopedia of the American Revolution", p. 298, 306.]

Suppressing a rebellion in America also posed other problems. Since the colonies covered a large area and had not been united before the war, there was no central area of strategic importance. In Europe, the capture of a capital often meant the end of a war; in America, when the British seized cities such as New York and Philadelphia, the war continued unabated. Furthermore, the large size of the colonies meant that the British lacked the manpower to control them by force. Once any area had been occupied, troops had to be kept there or the Revolutionaries would regain control, and these troops were thus unavailable for further offensive operations. The British had sufficient troops to defeat the Americans on the battlefield but not enough to simultaneously occupy the colonies. This manpower shortage became critical after French and Spanish entry into the war, because British troops had to be dispersed in several theaters, where previously they had been concentrated in America. [Higginbotham, p. 298, 306; Black, p. 29, 42.]

The British also had the difficult task of fighting the war while simultaneously retaining the allegiance of Loyalists. Loyalist support was important, since the goal of the war was to keep the colonies in the British Empire, but this imposed numerous military limitations. Early in the war, the Howe brothers served as peace commissioners while simultaneously conducting the war effort, a dual role which may have limited their effectiveness. Additionally, the British could have recruited more slaves and Native Americans to fight the war, but this would have alienated many Loyalists, even more so than the controversial hiring of German mercenaries. The need to retain Loyalist allegiance also meant that the British were unable to use the harsh methods of suppressing rebellion they employed in Ireland and Scotland. Even with these limitations, many potentially neutral colonists were nonetheless driven into the ranks of the Revolutionaries because of the war. This combination of factors led ultimately to the downfall of British rule in America and the rise of the revolutionaries' own independent nation, the United States of America. [Harsh methods: Black, pp. 14–16; slaves and Indians: Black, p. 35, 38. Neutrals into Revolutionaries: Black, p. 16.]

See also

*Battles of the American Revolutionary War
*Intelligence in the American Revolutionary War
*Prisoners in the American Revolutionary War
*List of British Forces in the American Revolutionary War
*List of Continental Forces in the American Revolutionary War
*List of revolutions and rebellions
*War of 1812


To avoid duplication, notes for sections with a link to a "Main article" will be found in the linked article.


*Black, Jeremy. "War for America: The Fight for Independence, 1775–1783". (2001). Analysis from a noted British military historian.
*Boatner, Mark Mayo, III. "Encyclopedia of the American Revolution." 1966; revised 1974. ISBN 0-8117-0578-1. Military topics, references many secondary sources
*Chambers, John Whiteclay II, ed. in chief. "The Oxford Companion to American Military History". Oxford University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-19-507198-0.
*Duffy, Christopher. "The Military Experience in the Age of Reason, 1715–1789". (1987). ISBN 0-689-11993-3.
*Ellis, Joseph J. "His Excellency: George Washington". (2004). ISBN 1-4000-4031-0.
*Fenn, Elizabeth Anne. "Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775–82". New York: Hill and Wang, 2001. ISBN 0-8090-7820-1.
*Greene, Jack P. and J.R. Pole, eds. "The Blackwell Encyclopedia of the American Revolution". Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1991; reprint 1999. ISBN 1-55786-547-7. Collection of essays focused on political and social history.
*Higginbotham, Don. "The War of American Independence: Military Attitudes, Policies, and Practice, 1763–1789". Northeastern University Press, 1983. ISBN 0-930350-44-8. Overview of military topics; online in ACLS History E-book Project.
*Kaplan, Sidney and Emma Nogrady Kaplan. "The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution". Amherst, Massachusetts: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1989. ISBN 0-87023-663-6.
*Mackesy, Piers. "The War for America: 1775–1783". London, 1964. Reprinted University of Nebraska Press, 1993, ISBN 0-8032-8192-7. Highly regarded examination of British strategy and leadership. [ online edition]
*McCullogh, David. "1776". New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005.
*Savas, Theodore P. and Dameron, J. David. "A Guide to the Battles of the American Revolution." New York: Savas Beatie LLC, 2006. ISBN 10: 1-932714-12-X.
*Shy, John. "A People Numerous and Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence". New York: Oxford University Press, 1976 (ISBN 0-19-502013-8); revised University of Michigan Press, 1990 (ISBN 0-472-06431-2). Collection of essays.
* J. Steven Watson; "The Reign of George III, 1760–1815." 1960. Standard history of British politics. [ online edition]
*Weintraub, Stanley: "Iron Tears; America's Battle for Freedom, Britain's Quagmire: 1775-1783". New York: Free Press, 2005 (a division of Simon and Schuster). ISBN 0-7432-2687-9 An account of the British politics on the conduct of the war.
* cite web
title= Hazen, Moses
last= Everest | first= Allan
date=2005-05-02 | work= Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online |publisher=
accessdate= 2008-12-11

Further reading

These are some of the standard works about the war in general which are not listed above; books about specific campaigns, battles, units, and individuals can be found in those articles.
* Bancroft, George. "History of the United States of America, from the discovery of the American continent." (1854–78), vol. 7–10.
* Bobrick, Benson. "Angel in the Whirlwind: The Triumph of the American Revolution". Penguin, 1998 (paperback reprint).
* Fremont-Barnes, Gregory, and Richard A. Ryerson, eds. "The Encyclopedia of the American Revolutionary War: A Political, Social, and Military History" (ABC-CLIO, 2006) 5 volume paper and online editions; 1000 entries by 150 experts, covering all topics
* George Athan Billias. "George Washington's Generals and Opponents: Their Exploits and Leadership" (1994) scholarly studies of key generals on each side
*Hibbert, Christopher. "Redcoats and Rebels: The American Revolution through British Eyes." New York: Norton, 1990. ISBN 0-393-02895-X.
* Jensen, Merrill. "The Founding of a Nation: A History of the American Revolution 1763–1776." (2004)
*Kwasny, Mark V. "Washington's Partisan War, 1775–1783". Kent, Ohio: 1996. ISBN 0-87338-546-2. Militia warfare.
*Middlekauff, Robert. "The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763–1789". Oxford University Press, 1984; revised 2005. ISBN 0-19-516247-1. [ online edition]
* Savas, Theodore P., and Dameron, J. David. "A Guide to the Battles of the American Revolution". New York, 2006.
* Symonds, Craig L. "A Battlefield Atlas of the American Revolution" (1989), newly drawn maps
*Ward, Christopher. "The War of the Revolution". 2 volumes. New York: Macmillan, 1952. History of land battles in North America.
*Weintraub, Stanley. "Iron Tears: America's Battle for Freedom, Britain's Quagmire: 1775–1783". Free Press, 2004. Examination of the British political viewpoint.
*Wood, W. J. "Battles of the Revolutionary War, 1775–1781". ISBN 0-306-81329-7 (2003 paperback reprint). Analysis of tactics of a dozen battles, with emphasis on American military leadership.
* Men-at-Arms series: short (48pp), very well illustrated descriptions:
** Marko Zlatich, Peter Copeland. "General Washington's Army (1): 1775–78" (1994); Zlatich. "General Washington's Army (2): 1779–83" (1994); Rene Chartrand. "The French Army in the American War of Independence" (1994); Robin May, "The British Army in North America 1775–1783" (1993)
* "The Partisan in War", a treatise on light infantry tactics written by Colonel Andreas Emmerich in 1789.

External links

* [ Chronology of the American Revolutionary War]
* [ Library of Congress Guide to the American Revolution]
* [ Battlefield atlas of the American Revolution] West Point Atlas
* [ American Revolutionary War History Resources]
* [ Entry to US Army Center for Military History, a huge bibliography]
* [ Political bibliography from] Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture
* [ Spain's role in the American Revolution from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean]
* [ African-American soldiers in the Revolution]
* [ American Revolution & Independence]
* [ Liberty — The American Revolution] from PBS
* [ American Revolutionary War 1775–1783 in the News]
* [ Haldimand Collection] Haldimand Collection, 232 series fully indexed; extensive military correspondence of British generals
* [ Africans in America] from PBS
* [ Approval of the American victory in England] Unique arch inscription commemorates "Liberty Triumphant in North America"
* [ The Spanish and Latin American Contribution to the American Revolutionary War]

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