Military leadership in the American Revolutionary War
Many military leaders played a role in the American Revolutionary War. This list is a compilation of some of the most important leaders among all of the many participants in the war. In order to be listed here, an individual must satisfy one of the following criteria:
- was a nation's top civilian responsible for directing military affairs
- held a commission of at least major general or rear admiral in an organized military during the conflict
- was the highest-ranking member of a given nation's force that participated in the conflict (if that rank was not at least major general)
- was the highest-ranking member of a given state/colonial militia
- was a provincial or territorial governor who is documented to have directed a military action
- was a Native American tribal leader who is documented to have had a leadership position in a military action
Some individuals simultaneously held positions in more than one organization; a number of Continental Army generals also held high-ranking positions in their state militia organizations.
- 1 United States
- 2 British Empire
- 3 Native Americans
- 4 German principalities
- 5 France
- 6 Spain
- 7 Dutch Republic
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
When the war began, the American colonists did not have a regular army (also known as a "standing army"). Each colony had traditionally provided for its own defenses through the use of local militia, which had their own command hierarchy. Some states, most notably Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, also had their own navies.
Seeking to coordinate military efforts, the Continental Congress established (on paper) a regular army—the Continental 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 reluctantly augmented the regular troops with militia throughout the war.
- George Washington was the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, reporting to the Second Continental Congress. His activities, including command of the Main Army, direction of the overall war effort on behalf of the United States, and administration of the entire army, were overseen by the Board of War, established in June 1776. He held the rank of Major General during the war, was promoted to Lieutenant General in 1798, and was posthumously awarded the rank of General of the Armies of the United States in 1976.
- William Alexander spent most of the war with the Main Army under Washington. Captured during the 1776 Battle of Long Island, he was exchanged for Montfort Browne not long after, and served with distinction in many battles in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He died in 1783 shortly before the end of the war.
- Benedict Arnold was a leading force in the early days of the war, participating in the 1775 capture of Fort Ticonderoga and the invasion of Quebec, and played a crucial role in the 1777 Battles of Saratoga, in which he was severely wounded. In 1780 he acquired the command of the Highlands Department with the intent of surrendering West Point to the British. The plot was uncovered, and he fled to join the British, for whom he served until the end of 1781 as a brigadier general.
- James Clinton was active in his native New York, and was a leading figure of the 1779 Sullivan Expedition to destroy Iroquois settlements in that state. He also served in Quebec and at Yorktown, and commanded American troops at Fort Clinton in their 1777 defeat there.
- Louis Lebègue Duportail was French military engineer who served as the Continental Army's chief engineer. He oversaw the improvement of defenses throughout the states, and directed the engineering efforts at Yorktown. He was a brigadier general until November 1781, when he received a brevet promotion to major general.
- Horatio Gates served at first as Washington's adjutant, and then in the Northern Department. There he was in command during the pivotal battles at Saratoga in 1777, following which he lobbied Congress as a potential replacement for Washington. He was afterward given command of the Southern Department, where his army was disastrously defeated at Camden in 1780, ending his field leadership.
- Nathanael Greene was one of the best strategists in the Continental Army. He served under Washington in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, and served for a time as the army's Quartermaster General. He led the ultimately successful campaign in 1780 and 1781 against the British "Southern Strategy" as commander of the Southern Department, effectively becoming the Continental Army's number two general, outranked only by Washington.
- Edward Hand spent much of the war defending Pennsylvania, serving as the commander at Fort Pitt for a time. He was present at Yorktown, and was given a brevet promotion to major general as the war was coming to an end in 1783.
- William Heath was a Massachusetts general with a prominent role training troops in the early days of the war at the Siege of Boston. He spent most of the war leading the Highland Department, since Washington was apparently not confident of his ability in the field.
- Robert Howe was a major general from North Carolina. As commander of the Southern Department, he led a campaign against East Florida that failed due to disagreements with state militia commanders, and was forced to surrender Savannah. He then served under Anthony Wayne in the Highlands Department, seeing action at Stony Point, and under Washington in the Main Army, where he put down a mutiny in 1781.
- Johann de Kalb † was a German who served as major general. He served under Washington at Valley Forge, and was sent to the Southern Department with Horatio Gates when he took over that department. De Kalb was killed in the Battle of Camden in August 1780.
- Henry Knox was the chief artillery officer of the Continental Army. Active with Washington throughout most of the war, he brought Ticonderoga's cannons to Boston in early 1776, and saw much action from New York to Yorktown. He oversaw the creation of an artillery training center that was a precursor to the United States Military Academy, and later served as the first United States Secretary of War.
- Gilbert du Motier, marquis de La Fayette was a young French nobleman who served as major general. He served with Washington in the Philadelphia campaign, fought in the Battle of Rhode Island, and successfully resisted significant engagements with British forces in Virginia before the armies of Washington and Rochambeau arrived. He was a favorite of Washington's, who treated him like a son.
- Charles Lee was an experienced British military officer who had hoped to be appointed commander-in-chief instead of Washington. He was a somewhat difficult subordinate of Washington's, delaying execution of orders or deliberately flouting them at times. During the retreat across New Jersey from New York, Lee was captured by the British in a surprise raid. Quickly exchanged, he participated in the Philadelphia campaign. After he was convicted by a court martial for disobeying orders during the Battle of Monmouth, he resigned from the army in 1780.
- Benjamin Lincoln was a major general from Massachusetts, who was present at three major surrenders during the war. Active in the New York campaign, Washington sent him to assist Horatio Gates in the Northern Department, where he was wounded after the Battle of Bemis Heights. Next put in command of the Southern Department, he was forced to surrender his surrounded army to Sir Henry Clinton at Charleston in 1780. Exchanged later that year, he was present at Yorktown, where as second-in-command to Washington he accepted Cornwallis' sword, which Cornwallis had sent his second-in-command to deliver. From 1781 to 1783 he served as Secretary of War.
- Lachlan McIntosh was a Georgia general. Injured in a duel with Button Gwinnett in 1777, he served as head of the Western Department in 1778 and 1779 before returning to the south. He was captured in the 1780 siege of Charleston, and was not released until after hostilities had effectively ended in 1782.
- Alexander McDougall was a major general from New York. Active in the New York and Philadelphia campaigns, he spent most of the war in the Highlands Department under Michael Heath.
- Richard Montgomery † was a major general from New York. He led the Invasion of Canada in 1775 as a brigadier, and was killed in the Battle of Quebec, without knowing that he had been promoted to major general following the Siege of Fort St. Jean.
- Peter Muhlenberg was a Virginia general who led the 8th Virginia Regiment. First assigned to coastal defenses in the South, he also saw action in the Philadelphia campaign. He was then sent to lead the defense of Virginia, leading mainly militia forces, but then led forward light infantry companies at Yorktown under Lafayette.
- John Paterson was a Massachusetts general active in the most of the early northern campaigns, from Quebec to Philadelphia. He received a brevet promotion to major general in 1783.
- Israel Putnam was the most senior general in the Continental Army, only outranked by Washington. Active from the first days of the revolution, he led the forces in the field at the Battle of Bunker Hill. After performing poorly in the Battle of Long Island, Washington assigned him to do primarily recruiting in the Highlands Department. He suffered a stroke in 1779, which ended his military career.
- Philip Schuyler was a New York major general. As head of the Northern Department, he planned the 1775 invasion of Quebec, but was prevented by illness from leading it. He was active in the defense of New York in 1777, but the withdrawal from Ticonderoga led Congress to replace him with Horatio Gates. He was also active in Indian relations, cultivating the neutrality or support of tribes in New York.
- William Smallwood led forces from Maryland in the war. He served with distinction in the New York campaign, and was twice wounded at White Plains. He then served in the Philadelphia campaign, and was in the debacle at Camden in 1780. Unhappy with the presence of foreign officers, he refused to serve under von Steuben, and spent the rest of the war directing the defense of Maryland.
- Arthur St. Clair was a large landholder in western Pennsylvania when the war began. He led troops during the Quebec, New York, and New Jersey campaigns, and was then put in command of Fort Ticonderoga, where he made the critical decision to retreat before Burgoyne's advancing army. Publicly criticized for this step, which saved his army, he held no more field commands, serving as an aide to Washington for the rest of the war.
- Adam Stephen was general from Virginia, who led forces under Washington in the New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia campaigns. Following a misstep in the Battle of Germantown in which, against orders, he advanced his troops to a point where they accidentally exchanged friendly fire with forces of Anthony Wayne, Stephen was court martialed and cashiered out of the army.
- Friedrich von Steuben was a Prussian aristocrat and military officer. His military drills and instruction, especially at Valley Forge, are generally credited with significantly improving the performance of the Continental Army. He served in active roles in the Philadelphia campaign, and under Nathanael Greene in his southern campaign, before returning to Washington's army at Yorktown. He authored Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, the United States Army's training guide until the War of 1812.
- John Sullivan was from New Hampshire. Active from the first days of the war, he led a relief column and ended up in command of the invasion of Quebec during its final weeks in 1776. He then served under Washington in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. He led American forces in the failed Battle of Rhode Island, and then led the 1779 Sullivan Expedition, which destroyed Indian villages in New York.
- John Thomas was a Massachusetts general active from the beginning of the war in Boston, where he commanded the besieging forces at Roxbury. Sent to take over the forces besieging Quebec City, he died of smallpox during the army's retreat in June 1776.
- Artemas Ward was the first overall leader of the assembled militia forces outside Boston after the war began, and ranked second in seniority to Washington in the Continental Army. He commanded the Eastern Department, which was largely responsible for containing the British at Newport, until 1777, when he resigned due to poor health.
- Joseph Warren † was an American doctor who played a key role in American Patriot organizations in Boston in the early days of the war, eventually serving as president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. He fought in the Battles of Lexington and Concord. He was killed in action at the Battle of Bunker Hill.
- "Mad" Anthony Wayne was a Pennsylvania general. Active in the Quebec invasion, he was stationed at Fort Ticonderoga during the winter of 1776-1777. He then participated in the Philadelphia campaign, playing a key role in the Battle of Monmouth. He held a variety of commands thereafter, and negotiated peace agreements with Indians along the southern frontiers. He was promoted to major general in 1783.
- David Wooster † participated in the Quebec invasion, serving as military governor of Montreal. He led the Canadian Department after the death of Richard Montgomery. Following the retreat from Quebec, he returned to his native Connecticut, where he led the state militia. He was killed in the 1777 Battle of Ridgefield.
- Daniel Brodhead
- George Clinton
- Elias Dayton
- John Glover
- Mordecai Gist
- Josiah Harmar
- Moses Hazen
- James Hogun (POW)
- Isaac Huger
- William Irvine
- Jean Baptiste Joseph, chevalier de Laumoy
- Tadeusz Kościuszko
- William Maxwell
- Hugh Mercer †
- Samuel Miles
- James Moore
- Daniel Morgan (POW)
- Francis Nash †
- Enoch Poor
- Kazimierz Pułaski (Casimir Pulaski) †
- Rufus Putnam
- Gold Selleck Silliman
- William Thompson
- Charles Armand Tuffin, marquis de la Rouerie
- John Stark (not promoted to major general until 1786)
- Jethro Sumner
- George Weedon
- James Wilkinson (brevet to brigadier in 1777, promoted to major general in 1812)
- William Woodford (died as POW)
- Caesar Rodney, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, led the Delaware state militia until 1781, when he resigned due to poor health. He was active suppressing Loyalist dissent, and raising men and provisions for the national effort.
- Thomas Collins led the Delaware militia following Rodney's resignation, and served as president of the state after the war.
- Rhode Island
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- Thomas Sumter "The Gamecock"
- Esek Hopkins
- Dudley Saltonstall
- Nicholas Biddle
- James Nicholson
- John Manley
- John Burroughs Hopkins
- John Barry
- Hector McNeill
- Abraham Whipple
- Samuel Tucker
Operating out of France
At the head of the British forces was the king, who was captain general of all forces both naval and military. It was usual for him to delegate his military powers as captain general or commander-in-chief. From 1772 to 1778 the office was vacant, but from 1778 to 1782 Sir Jeffery Amherst officiated as Commander-in-Chief with the title of General on the Staff. He was succeeded in February, 1782 by Henry Seymour Conway.
Next in importance to the Commander-in-Chief was the Secretary at War, who served as head of the War Office, and was bidden "to observe and follow such orders and directions as he should from time to time receive from the king or the general of the forces". Not until 1783 was he a minister responsible to parliament. At the start of part of the war the secretary was Lord Barrington. He was replaced in 1778 by Charles Jenkinson, 1st Earl of Liverpool who held this position until the fall of Lord North's government.
Crown and Government officials
- King George III of Great Britain
- Frederick North, Lord North, Prime Minister (1770–1782)
- Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, Prime Minister (1782, died in office)
- William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne, Prime Minister (1782–1783)
- George Germain, 1st Viscount Sackville, Secretary of State for the Colonies (1775–1782)
- John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty
Commander-in-Chief of the Forces
- office vacant from 1772 to 1778
- Sir Jeffery Amherst (1778–1782)
- The Hon. Henry Seymour Conway (1782–1793)
Secretaries at War
Commander-in-Chief, North America
Until the war was widened into a global conflict by France's entry into the war in 1778, the war's military activities were primarily directed by the Commander-in-Chief, North America.
- Thomas Gage was commander-in-chief of North American forces from 1763 until 1775, and governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay from 1774 to 1776. He presided over the rising tensions (with his actions sometimes contributing to them, in the opinions of some historians) that led to the outbreak of the war. He was recalled after the Battle of Bunker Hill.
- William Howe, 5th Viscount Howe replaced Gage, and personally directed the war effort in 1776 and 1777, including the British captures of New York City and Philadelphia. He failed to gain control over New Jersey, and his actions in taking Philadelphia contributed to the failure of John Burgoyne's Saratoga campaign. He resigned in early 1778.
- Sir Henry Clinton served as commander-in-chief from 1778 to 1782. He oversaw the British army's retreat from Philadelphia, and then directed the Siege of Charleston, the landing of a large body of troops early in the "Southern strategy". He directed most British activities afterward from his base in New York, and played a role in negotiating Benedict Arnold's change of allegiance. Following Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown, he was replaced by Guy Carleton.
- Sir Guy Carleton, 1st Baron Dorchester was governor of Quebec from 1768 to 1777, overseeing the province's defense against the 1775 invasion, and its first counterattack. Denied command of what became John Burgoyne's campaign, he resigned in 1777. In 1782 King George appointed him to replace Clinton as commander-in-chief. He directed the withdrawal of British troops from the states, and helped to organize the relocation of thousands of Loyalists to other British territories.
Lieutenant and Major Generals
- Mariot Arbuthnot was Vice Admiral of the Blue in the Royal Navy, and commanded its North American station from 1779 until 1781. He led the navy in the Siege of Charleston and the Battle of Cape Henry. He was also Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia from 1776 to 1778, active in suppressing Patriot sentiment in that province.
- Sir Robert Boyd was a lieutenant general who served in the garrison at the Great Siege of Gibraltar.
- John Burgoyne was a lieutenant general who led a British attempt to gain control of the Hudson River valley in 1777 that was stopped at Saratoga. Paroled to England and eventually exchanged, he did not serve further in the war.
- The Hon. John Byron was the admiral in command of the West Indies naval station in 1778 and 1779. He fought the minor Battle of Grenada against d'Estaing in 1779, and retired the following year.
- Archibald Campbell, while a lieutenant colonel, regained control of Georgia in 1779 and served as its royal governor. Promoted to major general, he served in Jamaica, becoming its governor in 1782.
- John Campbell served in the Boston campaign and the New York and New Jersey campaign early in the war, before being given command of the defense of West Florida. Captured in the 1781 Siege of Pensacola, he ended the war in the New York City garrison.
- Sir George Collier was the commander of the Royal Navy's North American station from 1776 to 1779, providing naval support to a variety of operations, and leading the relief of the 1779 Penobscot Expedition. Thereafter he served in European waters, where he participated in one of the relief convoys to Gibraltar.
- Sir Eyre Coote was the commander-in-chief of British forces in India. While not personally involved in combat against the French and Dutch there, troops that were part of his command were involved in engagements against French and Dutch targets, while he was preoccupied with the Second Anglo-Mysore War.
- Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis participated in many campaigns in North America. He served under Howe and Clinton in the New York and Philadelphia campaigns, and was given control of the southern army by Clinton after the Siege of Charleston. At first successfully driving the Continentals from South Carolina, he was eventually forced to surrender his army at Yorktown in the last major engagement between American and British forces.
- Sir John Dalling, 1st Baronet was a general and governor of Jamaica until 1781, where he coordinate British military affairs throughout the Caribbean and the West Indies.
- William Dalrymple was in command of the Army troops in Boston at the time of the Boston Massacre. He served as quartermaster general of the British Army in North America from 1779 to 1783.
- Sir Charles Douglas was an admiral in the Royal Navy. He led the advance fleet that brought relief to Quebec in April 1776, and served under Rodney in the Battle of the Saintes.
- Sir William Erskine, 1st Baronet was a general who served under Howe and Clinton in the New York and Philadelphia campaigns. He also served for a time as quartermaster general before leaving active service in 1779.
- Sir William Fawcett became the army's adjutant general in 1781. His most important role in the war was overseeing the embarkation of hired German troops for deployment to the various theaters of war.
- The Hon. Simon Fraser of Lovat was a general and colonel of the 71st (Highland) Regiment of Foot. While he did not serve in the war, he was responsible for raising the regiment, which saw service throughout much of North America, and was captured at Yorktown.
- Samuel Graves was the admiral in charge of the navy's North American station at the outbreak of the war. He directed naval activities for much of the Siege of Boston, and gave orders resulting in the politically and literally inflammatory Burning of Falmouth in October 1775. He was recalled in January 1776, and saw no more service in the war.
- Thomas Graves, 1st Baron Graves was an admiral and the nephew of Samuel Graves. As a lieutenant, he participated in the Battle of Chelsea Creek in 1775. By 1781 he had risen to become commander of the North American station. His fleet was driven off in the critical Battle of the Chesapeake that enabled the French blockade of Yorktown.
- Sir William Green was a general. He was the chief engineer during the Great Siege of Gibraltar, and had risen to major general by the end of the siege, later full general.
- Charles Grey, 1st Earl Grey was one of the more successful army leaders. He led a brigade at the Battle of Brandywine, led forces in the so-called Paoli Massacre and in raids on New Bedford and Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.
- Frederick Haldimand was responsible for the British troops in the Siege of Boston, although his authority was often superseded by Thomas Gage, who had overall command. Haldimand served as governor of Quebec from 1778 to 1786, with responsibility for the defense of the province and the organization and support of frontier attacks in the Ohio Country.
- Samuel Hood, 1st Viscount Hood was an admiral, who served primarily under Rodney in the West Indies. He was also present at the Battle of the Chesapeake under Thomas Graves.
- Richard Howe, 1st Earl Howe was chief of the North American naval station from 1776 to 1778. He was given diplomatic authority by King George to conduct negotiations at the unsuccessful Staten Island Peace Conference. Sympathetic to the colonists' cause, he saw no further service until 1782, when he participated in the relief of Gibraltar.
- The Hon. Alexander Leslie served under Cornwallis in the southern campaigns, but was commanding forces in Charleston at the time of Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown.
- William Medows distinguished himself in the Philadelphia campaign and the Battle of St. Lucia in 1778. He was then despatched to India, where he was primarily involved in the Second Anglo-Mysore War.
- Hector Munro, 8th of Novar was a general active in India. He led the forces that captured Pondicherry in 1778, and led forces against the Mysoreans.
- William Phillips was an artillery general. He served under Burgoyne and was captured at Saratoga in 1777. Exchanged in 1780, he took over leadership of Benedict Arnold's army in Virginia, before becoming ill and dying.
- William Picton was a major general who served in the Gibraltar garrison during the siege.
- George Brydges Rodney, 1st Baron Rodney was the commander of the naval station in the West Indies. He also participated in one of the expeditions to relieve Gibraltar, and, after capturing de Grasse in the Battle of the Saintes, famously wrote, "Within two little years I have taken two Spanish, one French and one Dutch admirals."
- Joseph Brant (Mohawk)
- John Deseronto (Mohawk)
- Cornplanter (Seneca)
- Guyasuta (Seneca)
- Red Jacket (Seneca)
- Sayenqueraghta (Seneca)
- Dunquat (the Wyandot "Half-King")
- Dragging Canoe (Chickamauga Cherokee)
- Blue Jacket (Shawnee)
- Cornstalk (Shawnee)
- White Eyes (Lenape)
- Captain Pipe (Lenape)
- Buckongahelas (Lenape)
- Matchekewis (Ojibwe), led Native forces at the Battle of St. Louis
- Wapasha (Sioux)
Great Britain hired the services of military troops from a number of German principalities of the Holy Roman Empire. The largest number arrived in 1776 pursuant to agreements signed in late 1775 or early 1776, but additional forces were recruited in 1778, with only limited success. The single largest contingent came from Hesse-Kassel, hence the term "Hessians".
- Anhalt-Zerbst: Colonel Johann von Rauschenplatt commanded the single regiment from Anhalt-Zerbst.
- Ansbach-Bayreuth: Colonel Friedrich Ludwig Albrecht von Eyb commanded a regiment of Ansbach infantry, and led the brigade consisting of his regiment and one from Bayreuth that included an artillery company, until May 1778.
- Ansbach-Bayreuth: Colonel Friedrich August Valentin Voit von Salzburg commanded the Ansbach brigade after Eyb's departure.
- Braunschweig-Lüneburg (Brunswick): Baron Friedrich Adolf Riedesel commanded the Brunswick troops in North America. As part of John Burgoyne's army, they were surrendered at the end of the failed Saratoga campaign. Riedesel was released to Quebec in 1781, where he served in that province's defense until his return to Europe in 1784.
- Electorate of Hanover: Baron August de la Motte was a major general who commanded three regiments of Hanoverian troops that King George III, in his capacity as Elector of Hanover, ordered to Gibraltar.
- Electorate of Hanover: Colonel Reinbold commanded two regiments of Hanoverian troops that King George III, in his capacity as Elector of Hanover, ordered to India, where they participated in the Siege of Cuddalore under Hector Munro.
- Electorate of Hanover: Heinrich Bernhard von Sydow was a major general who commanded two regiments of Hanoverian troops that King George III, in his capacity as Elector of Hanover, ordered to Minorca.
- Hesse-Kassel: Leopold Philip von Heister was the first leader of the Hessian troops, and was active in the New York campaign in 1776. Differences with British General William Howe led him to depart after the disastrous Battle of Trenton.
- Hesse-Kassel: Lieutenant General Wilhelm von Knyphausen replaced von Heister, and continued to lead the Hessian forces under Howe, and later Sir Henry Clinton, in the Philadelphia campaign. While being senior to all British generals beside the C-I-C he was not listed as a possible replacement for him. He left due to poor health in 1782.
- Hesse-Kassel: Friedrich Wilhelm von Lossberg succeeded Knyphausen as commander of the Hessians until their departure at the end of the war.
- Hesse-Hanau: Wilhelm von Gall commanded the single regiment and artillery provided by Hesse-Hanau. He served under Riedesel in the Saratoga campaign, spending most of the war as a prisoner after Burgoyne's surrender.
- Waldeck: Johann von Hanxleden was a colonel who led the single regiment that Waldeck provided. Under his command, the regiment served in Howe's army in New York and New Jersey until 1778, when it was transferred to West Florida. He was killed in a failed attack on Mobile in 1781.
- Waldeck: Albrecht von Horn was the lieutenant colonel of the Waldeck regiment, who assumed command after Hanxleden's death. After the fall of Pensacola, the Waldeck regiment's remnants were paroled to New York.
- King Louis XVI, the absolute ruler of France, ascended to the throne in 1774. He acted as his own head of government, but depended on a circle of official and unofficial advisors for advice and support. He formally directed France's overall war effort.
- Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes was the French foreign minister, and one of King Louis' closest advisors. He was instrumental in bringing both France and Spain into the war.
- Antoine de Sartine was France's naval minister from 1774 to 1780. Before the war he took important steps to reorganize the French navy, giving port and fleet commanders more power.
- Charles Eugène Gabriel de La Croix, marquis de Castries replaced Sartine as naval minister.
- Louis Jean Marie de Bourbon, Duke of Penthièvre was the admiral of the fleet, a largely ceremonial post usually held by a noble. Penthièvre was a lieutenant general, but had no naval experience.
- Claude Louis, Comte de Saint-Germain was France's war minister from 1775 to 1777.
- Alexandre Marie Léonor de Saint-Mauris de Montbarrey was France's war minister from 1778 to 1780.
- Philippe Henri, marquis de Ségur was France's war minister from 1780 to 1787.
- Charles Joseph Patissier, Marquis de Bussy-Castelnau was a French general. He served for many years in India, and led French ground troops there in the later stages of the war.
- François-Jean de Beauvoir, Chevalier de Chastellux was a major general who served under Rochambeau in North America.
- Claude Gabriel, marquis de Choisy was a brigadier general who served under Rochambeau at Yorktown. For his leadership there, he was promoted to major general (Maréchal de camp).
- Charles René Dominique Sochet, Chevalier Destouches was an admiral, who served on the North American station. As commander of the Newport fleet, he fought the 1781 Battle of Cape Henry.
- Charles Hector, comte d'Estaing was a vice-admiral in the French Navy. Active off the North American coast, he failed to support the land forces in the Battle of Rhode Island, and led French forces in the failed Siege of Savannah. He was also active in the West Indies, participating in a number of engagements there.
- François Joseph Paul de Grasse, Comte de Grasse was a rear admiral of the French Navy, active in the West Indies. His fleet brought French troops to Virginia prior to the siege of Yorktown, then drew off the fleet of Thomas Graves in the Battle of the Chesapeake before providing the naval blockade of Yorktown that trapped Cornwallis in 1781. He was defeated and captured in the Battle of the Saintes in 1782.
- Luc Urbain de Bouexic, comte de Guichen was Lieutenant Général des Armées Navales (roughly equivalent to Vice-Admiral) in the French Navy. He was most active in the West Indies, but also saw action in the naval blockade of Gibraltar.
- Armand Louis de Gontaut, Duc de Lauzun was briefly the commander of French army forces in North America following Rochambeau's departure in 1783. Lauzun's brigade led the French march from Rhode Island to Virginia in 1781.
- Toussaint-Guillaume Picquet de la Motte was an admiral who served in the West Indies under d'Estaing and Guichen. His most famous feat was capturing many ships of a convoy that Admiral Rodney had sent toward England bearing loot captured after taking St. Eustatius in 1781.
- Thomas d'Orves was an admiral who served in the Indian Ocean. Already older when the war began, he avoided conflict with Admiral Hughes in 1779, and died in 1782 while en route from Isle de France (now Mauritius) to India with the fleet Suffren took over.
- Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau was the commander of French army forces in North America for most of the French participation in the war. Arriving in 1779, they were largely inactive due to the successful British blockading of Rhode Island's ports. In 1781 Rochambeau led the French forces south to participate in the siege of Yorktown, and then remained to garrison southern states until 1783.
- Pierre André de Suffren de Saint Tropez, the Bailli de Suffren, after serving under d'Estaing in the West Indies, led a French fleet from France to India in 1781, and engaged five times with Admiral Edward Hughes in an evenly-matched contest for control of Indian waters in 1782 and 1783.
- Antoine-Charles du Houx, Baron de Vioménil was a major general. He served as Rochambeau's second in command during the French Army's time in North America.
- Charles-Joseph-Hyacinth du Houx, Vicomte de Vioménil was a major general, and brother to Antoine-Charles. He also served under Rochambeau.
- Claude-Anne-Montbleru, Marquis de St. Simon was a major general serving in the West Indies when France entered the war. His troops sailed north with de Grasse and were present at Yorktown.
- Jacques-Melchior Saint-Laurent, Comte de Barras was an admiral in the French navy. He served under d'Estaing at the Battle of Rhode Island, and under de Grasse in the West Indies in 1782. His decision to remain in Newport in disobedience to orders enabled him to deliver the French siege train to Yorktown.
- François Aymar de Monteil was an admiral. He assisted the Spanish during the siege of Pensacola, and then served under de Grasse during the 1782 campaign.
- Charles-Henri-Louis d'Arsac, Chevalier de Ternay was a rear admiral who commanded the naval forces of the Expédition Particulière (Special Expedition) that delivered Rochambeau's army to Newport, Rhode Island; he died aboard ship in Newport Harbor in 1780.
- Antonio Barceló was the Spanish vice admiral responsible for the blockade of Gibraltar during its siege.
- Juan Manuel Cagigal y Monserrat was an admiral in the Spanish Navy, who provided timely reinforcements to the Spanish forces at Pensacola.
- Luis de Córdova y Córdova was an admiral in the Spanish Navy active primarily in European waters. He captured several British supply convoys, but was unsuccessful in preventing a British resupply of Gibraltar following the 1782 Battle of Cape Spartel.
- Louis Des Balbes de Berton de Crillon, duc de Mahon was a Frenchman who served as a general in the Spanish Army. He led Spanish forces during the Great Siege of Gibraltar, and conducted the successful Franco-Spanish invasion of Minorca.
- Bernardo de Gálvez was the governor of Spanish Louisiana, and a general of the Spanish Army. He successfully drove the British military entirely from West Florida from 1779 to 1781, securing much the southern frontier of the United States against British attack. He also led Spanish forces in the seizure of Nassau in The Bahamas in 1782.
- Matías de Gálvez y Gallardo was a Spanish general and Captain General of Spanish Guatemala, which included territory that is now Honduras and Nicaragua. He was active in fighting British attempts to gain significant footholds in Central America, successfully driving most British influence from the Mosquito Coast and the island of Roatán with little assistance beyond the Spanish colonies.
- Juan de Lángara was an admiral in the Spanish Navy. He participated in the Armada of 1779, and was captured by the British in the Moonlight Battle of January 1780.
- Bonaventura Moreno was a Spanish rear admiral. He oversaw the blockade of Minorca during the 1781 invasion, and commanded the floating batteries at the siege of Gibraltar.
- Jose Solano y Bote was an admiral in the Spanish Navy. For his role in assisting Bernardo de Gálvez in the capture of Pensacola, he was promoted to vice-admiral.
- Martín Álvarez de Sotomayor was a lieutenant general in the Spanish Army. He led the siege of Gibraltar until the arrival of the duc de Crillon in 1782.
The Dutch Republic played a significant economic role in the war, but its military participation was limited, in part due to internal political divisions.
- Johan Zoutman was an admiral in the Dutch Navy. The navy's activities were largely ineffective, as many ships were blockaded in their home ports or captured when some of their colonial outposts were taken. Zoutman led the only notable attempt to break a convoy out of Dutch ports; he was thwarted by the British in the Battle of Dogger Bank.
- Jan Hendrik van Kinsbergen was lieutenant-admiral in the Dutch Navy. He fought in the Battle of Dogger Bank, in which the Dutch claimed victory, and was highly acclaimed by the Dutch as a naval hero.
- Reynier van Vlissingen was the governor of Negapatam, the principal outpost of the Dutch East India Company in India. He directed the unsuccessful defense of Negapatam against a British-led siege in 1781.
- Iman Willem Falck was the governor of Trincomalee, the principal outpost of the Dutch East India Company on the island of Ceylon. He directed the unsuccessful defense of that port against a British amphibious assault.
- Black, Jeremy. War for America: The Fight for Independence, 1775–1783. St. Martin's Press (New York) and Sutton Publishing (UK), 1991. ISBN 0-312-06713-5 (1991), ISBN 0-312-12346-9 (1994 paperback), ISBN 0-7509-2808-5 (2001 paperpack).
- Boatner, Mark Mayo, III. Encyclopedia of the American Revolution. New York: McKay, 1966; revised 1974. ISBN 0-8117-0578-1.
- Anderson, Troyer Steele. The Command of the Howe Brothers During the American Revolution. New York and London, 1936.
- Buchanan, John. The Road to Valley Forge: How Washington Built the Army That Won the Revolution. Wiley, 2004. ISBN 0-471-44156-2.
- Fischer, David Hackett. Washington's Crossing. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-19-517034-2. Winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for History.
- Lengel, Edward G. General George Washington: A Military Life. New York: Random House, 2005. ISBN 1-4000-6081-8.
- de Wetter, Mardee Incognito. An Affair of Honor. Las Cruces: Yucca Tree Press, 2006. ISBN 1-881325-82-2.
- McCullough, David. 1776. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. ISBN 0-7432-2671-2.