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American Revolutionary War

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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

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]

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 capturing Savannah, defeats at Kings Mountain and Cowpens forced Cornwallis to retreat to Yorktown, where his army was besieged by an allied French and American force. An attempt to resupply the garrison was repulsed by the French navy at Chesapeake, and Cornwallis surrendered in October 1781.

Although the war between Britain France and Spain continued for another two years, [s] 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. Preliminary articles of peace were signed in November of 1782, and in December, George III spoke from the British throne for independence, trade, and peace. 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 the U.S. Congress and the British government were exchanged in Paris the following spring.

Prelude to revolution

The French and Indian War and the wider conflict known as the Seven Years' War ended with the 1763 Peace of Paris, which expelled France from North America.[40] At the same time, the British rescinded provisions of colonial charters claiming to extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific; the Mississippi River became the dividing line between British and Spanish possessions in the Americas, with free navigation on it "to the open sea". More American territory changed hands in 1763 than any settlement before or after, destabilising existing alliances and trade networks, and leading to conflict between settlers and Native Americans.[41]

The Proclamation Line of 1763 was intended to refocus colonial expansion north into Nova Scotia or south into Florida, while separating Native Americans and colonials by restricting settlement in the west. Both sides agreed with the principle but disagreed on where to set the border; keeping the peace required garrisons of regular troops along the frontier, and led to disputes with the colonial legislatures over who should bear the expense.[42]

Taxation and legislation

Two ships in a harbor, one in the distance. On board, men stripped to the waist and wearing feathers in their hair throw crates of tea overboard. A large crowd, mostly men, stands on the dock, waving hats and cheering. A few people wave their hats from windows in a nearby building
19th c. print of the 1774 Boston Tea Party

Although directly administered by the Crown, acting through a local Governor, the colonies were largely governed by native-born property owners. While external affairs were managed by London, colonial militia were funded locally but with the ending of the French threat in 1763, the legislatures expected less taxation, not more. At the same time, the huge costs of the Seven Years War meant Parliament expected the colonies to fund their own defense.[43] The outcome was a series of disputes as to how these expenses should be paid.[44]

The 1763 to 1765 Grenville ministry began by instructing the Royal Navy to clamp down on smuggled goods and enforce customs duties levied in American ports.[45] The most important was the 1733 Molasses Act; routinely ignored prior to 1763, it had a significant economic impact since 85% of New England rum exports were manufactured from imported molasses. These measures were followed by the Sugar Act and Stamp Act, which imposed additional taxes on the colonies to pay for defending the western frontier.[46] In July 1765, the Whigs formed the First Rockingham ministry, which repealed the Stamp Act and reduced tax on foreign molasses to help the New England economy, but re-asserted Parliamentary authority in the Declaratory Act.[47]

In the foreground, five leering men of the Sons of Liberty are holding down a Loyalist Commissioner of Customs agent, one holding a club. The agent is tarred and feathered, and they are pouring scalding hot tea down his throat. In the middle ground is the Boston Liberty Tree with a noose hanging from it. In the background, is a merchant ship with protestors throwing tea overboard into the habor.
Loyalist customs official tarred and feathered by Sons of Liberty.

However, this did little to end the discontent; in 1768, a riot started in Boston when the authorities seized the sloop Liberty on suspicion of smuggling.[48] Tensions escalated further in March 1770 when British troops fired on rock-throwing civilians, killing five in what became known as the Boston massacre.[49] The Massacre coincided with the partial repeal of the Townshend Acts by the Tory-based North Ministry, which came to power in January 1770 and remained in office until 1781. North insisted on retaining duty on tea to enshrine Parliament's right to tax the colonies; the amount was minor, but ignored the fact it was that very principle Americans objected to.[50]

Tensions escalated following the destruction of a customs vessel in the June 1772 Gaspee Affair, then came to a head in 1773. A banking crisis led to the near collapse of the East India Company, which dominated the British economy; to support it, Parliament passed the Tea Act, giving it a trading monopoly for North America. Since most American tea was smuggled by the Dutch, the Act was opposed by those who managed the illegal trade, while being seen as yet another attempt to impose the principle of taxation by Parliament.[51] After the December 1773 Sons of Liberty protest known as the Boston Tea Party, Parliament passed the so-called Intolerable Acts. While aimed specifically at Massachusetts, many in America and within the Whig opposition considered them a threat to liberty in general; it led to increased sympathy for the Patriot cause locally, as well as in Parliament and the London press.[52]

Official break with the British Crown

Over the course of the 18th century, the elected lower houses in the colonial legislatures gradually wrested power from their Royal Governors.[53] Dominated by smaller landowners and merchants, these Assemblies now established ad hoc provincial legislatures, variously called Congresses, Conventions, and Conferences, effectively replacing Royal control. With the exception of Georgia, twelve colonies sent representatives to the First Continental Congress to agree a unified response to the crisis.[54] After some debate, on September 17 1774 Congress endorsed the Massachusetts Suffolk Resolves and on October 20 passed the Continental Association; based on a draft prepared by the First Virginia Convention in August, this instituted economic sanctions against Britain.[55]

While denying its authority over internal American affairs, a faction led by James Duane and future Loyalist James Galloway insisted Congress recognise Parliament's right to regulate colonial trade.[56] [u] Expecting concessions by the North administration, Congress authorized the extralegal committees and conventions of the colonial legislatures to enforce the boycott; this succeeded in reducing British imports by 97% from 1774 to 1775.[57] However, on February 9 Parliament declared Massachusetts to be in a state of rebellion and instituted a blockade of the colony.[58] In July, the Restraining Acts limited colonial trade with the British West Indies and Britain and barred New England ships from the Newfoundland cod fisheries. The increase in tension led to a scramble for control of militia stores between Governors and Assemblies.[59]

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.[60] 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.[61]

Political reactions

After the Patriot victory at Concord, moderates in Congress led by John Dickinson drafted the Olive Branch Petition, offering to accept royal authority in return for George III mediating in the dispute.[62] However, since it was immediately followed by the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms, Colonial Secretary Dartmouth viewed the offer as insincere; he refused to present the petition to the king, which was therefore rejected in early September.[63] Although constitutionally correct, since George could not oppose his own government, it disappointed those Americans who hoped he would mediate in the dispute, while the hostility of his language annoyed even Loyalist members of Congress.[64]

Combined with the Proclamation of Rebellion issued on August 23, this ended hopes of achieving a peaceful settlement.[65] Backed by the Whigs, Parliament initially rejected the imposition of coercive measures by 170 votes, fearing an aggressive policy would simply drive the Americans towards independence.[66] However, the collapse of British authority meant like Congress, by the end of 1774 Lord North and George III were convinced war was inevitable.[67] The Irish Parliament pledged to send troops to America, and Irish Catholics were allowed to enlist in the army for the first time.[68][x]

The initial hostilities in Boston caused a pause in British activity, as they remained in New York City awaiting more troops.[70] Their inaction gave the Patriots a political advantage in the colonial assemblies and caused the British to lose control over every former colony.[71] To prepare for war overseas, Parliament signed treaties of subsidy with small German states for additional troops.[72] 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.[73]

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.[74] Members included Thomas Paine, the committee's secretary, and Silas Deane who was instrumental in securing French aid in Paris.[75][y]

Paine's pamphlet Common Sense boosted public support for independence throughout the thirteen colonies and was widely reprinted.[77] 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[78] 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.[79] On July 2, Congress voted for independence and published the declaration on July 4,[80] which George Washington read to assembled troops in New York City on July 9.[81][z]

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.[83][aa]

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.[86]

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.[87]

Early engagements

On April 14 1775, Sir Thomas Gage, who was Commander-in-Chief, North America from 1763 to 1775 and appointed Governor of Massachusetts in 1774, received orders from London to take action against the Patriots. His plan was to secure militia ordnance stored at Concord and Lexington; based on speed and secrecy, it was intended to begin shortly after midnight on April 19 and surprise the militia before they could respond. However, Patriot intelligence learned of Gage's intentions, and Paul Revere alerted Captain John Parker, commander of the Concord militia.[88] The first action of the war was a brief skirmish at Lexington, followed by a full scale battle at Concord. After suffering some 300 casualties, British troops withdrew to Boston, followed by local militia who laid siege to the city.[89]

A birds-eye view of a long column of British soldiers marching by regiment along a road just outside of Boston
The British marching to Concord

The next month 4,500 British reinforcements arrived with generals William Howe, John Burgoyne, and Sir Henry Clinton.[90] On June 17, they seized the Charlestown Peninsula at the Battle of Bunker Hill, a frontal assault in which they suffered over 1,000 casualties.[91] Dismayed at the costly attack which had gained them little,[92] Gage appealed to London to send a large army to suppress the revolt,[93] but instead they replaced him and Howe took command.[94]

On June 14, 1775, the Continental Congress officially assumed command of patriot forces in Boston, giving birth to the Continental Army, which now needed a Commander-in-Chief. At this time the delegates were so impressed with Washington that his appointment was considered a done deal.[95] 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. On June 16, John Hancock officially announced that Washington was henceforth "General and Commander in Chief of the army of the United Colonies."[96] Washington had previously commanded Virginia militia regiments in British combat commands during the French and Indian War.[97] He proceeded to Boston to assume field command of the ongoing siege on July 3.[98] Howe did not engage in a standoff with Washington,[99] and Washington made no plan to assault the city;[100] instead, the Americans fortified Dorchester Heights.

In early March 1776, Colonel Henry Knox arrived with heavy artillery captured from a raid on Fort Ticonderoga.[101] Under the cover of darkness Washington placed his artillery atop Dorchester Heights March 5,[102] 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.[103]

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.

Snow-covered street fighting of British and Tory Provincials repulsing an American assault
British regulars and Canadian militia repulse American attack on Quebec

British officials in Quebec began negotiating with the Iroquois for their support,[104] while the Americans urged them to maintain neutrality.[105] 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.[106][ab]

The second American expedition into the former French territory was defeated at the Battle of Quebec on December 31,[107] and after a loose siege the Americans withdrew on May 6, 1776.[108] A failed American counter-attack at Trois-Rivières on June 8 ended their operations in Quebec.[109] 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.[110] The cumulative failures cost the Patriots support in local public opinion,[111] and aggressive anti-Loyalist policies in the New England colonies alienated the Canadians.[112] The Patriots made no further attempts to invade north.[113]

In Virginia, Royal Governor Lord Dunmore attempted to disarm the Assembly's militia as tensions increased, although no fighting broke out.[114] He issued a proclamation on November 7, 1775, promising freedom for slaves who fled their Patriot masters to fight for the Crown.[115] 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.[116]

Continental Sergeant Jasper of the 2nd South Carolina Regiment, on a parapet raising the fort's South Carolina Revolutionary flag with its white crescent moon.
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,[117] and the Loyalists were subsequently driven out of the colony in the Snow Campaign.[118] 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.[119] 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,[120] but it failed and left the South in Patriot control until 1780.[121]

Shortages in Patriot gunpowder led Congress to authorize an expedition against the Bahamas in the British West Indies to secure additional ordnance there.[122] On March 3, 1776, the Americans landed and engaged the British at the Raid of Nassau, but the local militia offered no resistance.[123] The expedition confiscated what supplies they could and sailed for home on March 17.[124] 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.[125]

British New York counter-offensive

After regrouping at Halifax, Nova Scotia, William Howe was determined to take the fight to the Americans.[126] 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;[127] 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.[128][ac] 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.[131][ad] The efforts of Washington and the Culper Spy Ring substantially increased effective allocation and deployment of Continental regiments in the field.[133] Over the course of the war Washington spent more than 10 percent of his total military funds on intelligence operations.[134]

Continental infantry firing a volley kneeling behind a stone wall, their captain standing with a sword; their flag has a dark green field with a canton of thirteen alternating red and white stripes.
Americans at Long Island, 1776

Washington split his army to positions on Manhattan Island and across the East River in western Long Island.[135] 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.[136] 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.[137]

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.[138] 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.[139] 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.[140]

Sailing ships on the Hudson River from afar, the scene emphases the two tall bluffs overlooking either side of the Hudson Narrows.
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.[141] The remaining American regiments on Long Island fell back four days later.[142] 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.[143][ae] General Charles Cornwallis pursued Washington, but Howe ordered him to halt, leaving Washington unmolested.[145]

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.[146] Popular support wavered, morale declined, and Congress abandoned Philadelphia for Baltimore.[147] Loyalist activity surged in the wake of the American defeat, especially in New York state.[148]

In London, news of the victorious Long Island campaign was well received with festivities held in the capital. Public support reached a peak,[149] and King George III awarded the Order of the Bath to Howe.[150] 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.[151] In the meantime, the British established winter quarters in the New York City area and anticipated renewed campaigning the following spring.[152]

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.[153][af] The celebrated victory rescued the American army's flagging morale, gave new hope to the Patriot cause,[155] and dispelled much of the fear of professional Hessian "mercenaries".[156] Cornwallis marched to retake Trenton but was repulsed at the Battle of the Assunpink Creek;[157] 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.[158]

Washington entered winter quarters from January to May 1778 at Morristown, New Jersey,[159] and he received the Congressional direction to inoculate all Continental troops against smallpox.[160][ag] Although a Forage War between the armies continued until March,[162] Howe did not attempt to attack the Americans over the winter of 1776–1777.[163]

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.[164]

Continental General Herkimer is wounded at the American defeat at the Battle of Oriskany.
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.[165] 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.[166] 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.[167]

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.[168] Early feints failed to bring Washington to battle in June 1777.[169] 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.[170][ah]

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.[171] 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.[172]

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.[173] 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,[174] where Washington launched a surprise attack but was repulsed on October 4.[175] Once again, Howe did not follow up on his victory.[176] 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.[177] 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.[178]

Howe had failed to pursue and destroy the defeated Americans at the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown.[179][180] 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.[181][ai]

From the left armed with muskets, a standing rank of six US infantry, a kneeling rank of six infantry, then standing facing them from the right are General von Steuben instructing them with his arm outstretched, and two officers behind him.
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.[184] 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.[185]

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.[186] At the end of the campaign Howe resigned his commission and was replaced by Sir Henry Clinton on May 24, 1778.[187] 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.[188] 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.[189]

Foreign intervention

Early in the war, it became clear to Congress that help from France was imperative for several reasons. 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.[190]

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.[191][192] The French public favored war, but Vergennes and King Louis XVI were hesitant due to the military and financial risk.[193]

An East Indiaman freight sailboat at sea; it has three masts and a bowsprit, with all its sails set
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.[194] 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,[195] whose assistance proved to be invaluable in the American 1777 Saratoga campaign.[196]

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.[197] However, the Americans were bolstered by their French trade and would not settle for terms short of complete independence from Britain.[198] For the French, American victory at Saratoga convinced them that supporting the Patriots was worthwhile,[199] 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.[200] 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.[201][aj] 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.[203]

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.[204][ak]

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,[205] 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.[206] However, in 1779 Spanish First Minister José Moñino, 1st Count of Floridablanca, affirmed his desire to support the Americans to weaken Britain's empire.[207][al]

From the left, in the background three sailing warships at sea, one clearly flying a British naval ensign; in the center-right foreground, three sailing warships, two of them firing broadsides with gun smoke starting to cover them up. There was no US flag on the American ship, so the British said John Paul Jones was a pirate.
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.[209] 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.[210] French supplies bound for America were also transshipped through Dutch ports.[211]

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.[212] 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.[213] Britain argued that these actions contravened The Republic's neutral stance and Britain declared war on the Dutch as a belligerent in December 1780.[214]

Meanwhile, George III had given up on subduing America while Britain had a European war to fight.[215] 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.[216] Britain could not find a powerful ally among the Great Powers to engage France on the European continent,[am] so French strength was not drawn off into Continental engagements as in the Seven Years' War.[217] Britain subsequently changed its focus into the Caribbean theater,[218] and diverted major military resources away from America.[219] 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.[220][an]

Stalemate in the North

From the left, a coastal town set in the background of a harbor; in the foreground center-right in the approach to the harbor and curving into the right background, a line of French warships, one firing a broadside at the town.
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.[222] 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.[223] The effort failed when the French opted to withdraw to avoid putting their ships at risk, which disappointed the Americans.[224]

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.[225] Clinton then unsuccessfully attempted to coax Washington into a decisive engagement by sending General William Tryon to raid Connecticut.[226] In July, a large American naval operation, the Penobscot Expedition, attempted to retake Maine (Massachusetts), but was defeated.[227] 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.[228]

During the winter of 1779–1780, the Continental Army suffered greater hardships than at Valley Forge.[229] 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.[230]

A close up of Continental infantry fighting in a street; a company on line firing to the left off the painting; in the center the officer; right foreground a drummer boy and behind him a soldier reloading a musket.
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.[231] 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.[232] 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.[233]

At left center, Virginia militia Colonel George Rogers Clark with buckskinned uniformed militia lined up behind him; at right center, red-coated British Quebec Governor Hamilton surrendering with ranks of white-uniformed Tory militia behind receding into the background; a drummer boy in the foreground; a line of British Indian allies lined up on the right receding into the background.
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.[234] 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.[235]

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.[ao] 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.[236] 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.[237]

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.[238][ap] 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.[240]

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.[241] 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.[242]

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.[243]

A birds-eye view over the British lines of artillery besieging the port of Charleston in the center-background, and landing some shots at the docks.
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.[244] 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.[245][aq]

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.[246] 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.[247]

A close-up of a cavalry melee on large horses with sabers and pistols drawn; Three redcoats center-right are engaging two Patriots in blue along with an African-American in a brown linen shirt and white pants, with his pistol drawn and leveled at a redcoat.
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.[248] 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.[249] In early October the Loyalist militias under the command of Patrick Ferguson were defeated at the Battle of Kings Mountain by patriot militias under the command of William Campbell, which dispersed Loyalist support in the region.[250]

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.[251] Greene evaded combat with the advancing British without a protracted war of attrition,[252] but was unable to confront the British directly, so he dispatched a force under Daniel Morgan to recruit additional troops. Morgan then decisively defeated the renowned British Legion, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton on January 17, 1781, at Cowpens, killing or wounding all but 14% of Tarleton's troops. Cornwallis subsequently aborted his advance and retreated back into South Carolina.[253] After the battle, members of the British Legion who had survived the engagement were consolidated into the British garrison at Charleston.[254]

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.[255][ar]

Left foreground, curving into the center, double line of Continental infantry, braced with their muskets and bayonets held at the ready; in the left background, US cavalry is charging towards lines of British infantry in the right background; immediately behind the US infantry is the occasional sergeant in formation; behind the line are two mounted US officers under a winter tree.
   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 [as] 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.[258] The Americans now maintained contact with Cornwallis in a war of attrition while the British retreated to coastal Wilmington, North Carolina for reinforcement.[259] The Patriots were left in control of the abandoned Carolinas and Georgia interior.[260]

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.[261] 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.[262]

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.[263]

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.[264] 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.[265]

In the Virginia militia campaign of 1778, General George Rogers Clark founded Louisville and cleared British forts in the region.[266] 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.[267][at]

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.[268] First, he cleared British garrisons in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Fort Bute, and Natchez, Mississippi, and captured five forts.[269] In doing so, Gálvez opened navigation on the Mississippi River north to the American settlement in Pittsburg.[270] 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.[271]

In 1781, Governor Galvez and Pollock campaigned east along the Gulf Coast to secure West Florida, including British-held Mobile and Pensacola.[272] 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.[273][au]

British defeat in America

Two lines of warships at sea sailing with full sails downwind away from the viewer and firing broadsides at one another; in the center foreground receding into the left background, six of the French fleet; in the right foreground receding to the center four of the British fleet.
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.[274] 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.[275]

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.[276] 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.[277]

Center foreground a British officer on the left standing surrenders to a mounted Continental officer; far left foreground receding into the center background, a British line of infantry then mounted cavalry, with a large white flag of surrender; far right foreground receding into the center background, a Continental line of infantry, then mounted cavalry, with a large US flag of the Army.
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.[278][av] The British built up an elaborate defense position at Yorktown and awaited the Royal Navy.[282] 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.[283] 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.[284]

A British fleet commanded by Thomas Graves set sail from New York to rendezvous with Cornwallis.[285] 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.[286] Cornwallis attempted a breakout over the York River at Gloucester Point and failed when a storm hit.[287] Under heavy bombardment with dwindling supplies, the British determined that their situation was untenable.[288][aw] On October 17, 1781, after twelve hours of negotiations, the terms of surrender were finalized.[289] Yorktown was the last major battle on the American mainland, but Britain fought France and Spain elsewhere for two more years.[290][ax]

Strategy and commanders

In the American Revolutionary War, the national strategies 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.[292] In London, the British government 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", the British Ministry would have needed 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.[293]

West Point Military Academy MAP of America east of the Mississippi River. Campaigns noted in New England; in the Middle colonies with three British (red sailing ship) naval victories; in the South with two British naval victories, and in Virginia with one French (blue sailing ship) naval victory. A Timeline bar graph below shows almost all British (red bar) victories on the left in the first half of the war, and almost all US (blue bar) victories on the right in the second half of the war.
American Revolution principal campaigns.[294] British movement in red, Americans in blue. The timeline shows the British won most battles in the first half; Americans won most in the second half.

The revolt for and against colonial independence between British subjects in the 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 that was settled for its own economic strength, and Great Britain against France and Spain over the balance of power in North America. By 1775, British American colonies supplied raw materials for British ships and one-third of 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.[295]

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 that threatened European systems 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.[296]

Third, there was another conflict between the British and the French in the Second Hundred Years' War that intervened in and influenced the revolution. 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,[297] 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.[298] 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.[299]

American strategy

MAP of North America east of the Mississippi River outlining state borders in 1782 after state cessions of the Northwest Territory to Congress. Superimposed are three colors showing density of settled population, settlers per square mile (SPSM) in 1776: coastal Boston to Baltimore is green for over 40 SPSM; then next a thin area in tan for 15–40 SPSM for New England, then that settlement sweeps out for one hundred miles west into the frontier of southern Pennsylvania, Virginia and northeast North Carolina – and then the 15–40 SPSM tan color reappears in a 50-mile half-circle around Charleston, SC; the sparsest settlement is colored light purple for the far frontier with 2–15 SPSM for modern Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, perhaps a 20-mile buffer east of the Allegheny Mountains in New York and Pennsylvania, then reaching farther west another 100 miles into the Appalachian Mountains for Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
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.[300]

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.[301] 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.[302]

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.[303] 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.[304] Each state legislature appointed officers for both county and state militias and their regimental Continental Line officers, and although Washington was required to accept Congressional appointments, he was otherwise permitted to choose and command his own generals.[305][ay]

Formal painting of General George Washington, standing in uniform, as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army
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.[308] 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.[az]

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.[311] 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.[312] 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.[313]

two lines of men in Continental uniforms, seven standing infantrymen in the foreground and five mounted cavalry in the middle-ground. Seven have mostly blue coats, three coats are mostly brown, one is tanned buckskin, and one is white linen.
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.[ba][bb] 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 years during wartime, but there were never more than 90,000 men under arms at one time.[317]

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.[318] Nevertheless, after 1778, Washington's army was transformed into a more disciplined and effective force, mostly by Baron von Steuben's training.[319] 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.[320] Here Washington came to realize that saving entire towns was not necessary, but preserving his army and keeping the revolutionary spirit alive was more important in the long run. Washington informed Henry Laurens[bc] "that the possession of our towns, while we have an army in the field, will avail them little."[322]

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.[323] Congress evolved in its committee oversight and established the Board of War, which included members of the military.[324] 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.[325][326]

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.[327] Congress established the Continental Navy on October 13, 1775, and appointed Esek Hopkins as the Navy's first commander.[328] The following month, Marines were organized on November 10, 1775.[329] The Continental Navy was a handful of small frigates and sloops throughout the Revolution for the most part.[330]

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.[331] 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.[332] 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.[333]

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.[334][bd] About 55,000 sailors served aboard American privateers during the war.[336]


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.[337]

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.[338]

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.[be] 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.[341][bf]

British strategy

The British army already had much experience fighting in North America during the Seven Years War, and forced France to relinquish New France in the 1763 Peace of Paris.[343] However, this victory was made possible by local military support, especially from the colonial militias, which now was not available in the American Revolutionary War. Supplying British troops across these distances was extremely complex, requiring great amounts of supply; ships could take three months to cross the Atlantic, and orders from London were often outdated by the time they arrived.[344]

Prior to the conflict, the colonies were largely autonomous economic and political entities, with no centralized area of ultimate strategic importance.[345] This meant that unlike Europe where the fall of a capital city often ended wars, that in America continued even after the loss of major settlements such as Philadelphia, seat of Congress, New York and Charleston.[346] British power was reliant on the Royal Navy, whose dominance allowed them to resupply their own expeditionary forces while preventing access to enemy ports. However, the majority of the American population was agrarian, rather than urban; supported by the French navy and blockade runners based in the Dutch Carribean, their economy was able to survive.[347]

The geographical size of the colonies and limited manpower meant the British could not simultaneously conduct military operations and occupy territory without local support.[348] Debate persists over whether their defeat was inevitable; one British statesman described it as "like trying to conquer a map".[349] While Ferling argues Patriot victory was nothing short of a miracle,[350] Ellis suggests the odds always favored the Americans, especially after Howe squandered the chance of a decisive British success in 1777, an "opportunity that would never come again".[351] The US military history speculates the additional commitment of 10,000 fresh troops in 1780 would have placed British victory "within the realm of possibility".[352]

British Army

Portrait of the British commander-in-chief, Sir Thomas Gage in dress uniform.
Sir Thomas Gage, British Commander, 1763–1775

The expulsion of France from North America in 1763 led to a drastic reduction in British troop levels in the colonies; in 1775, there only 8,500 regular soldiers among a civilian population of 2.8 million.[353] The bulk of military resources in the Americas were focused on defending sugar islands in the Caribbean; Jamaica alone generated more revenue than all thirteen American colonies combined.[354] With the end of the Seven Years War, the permanent army in Britain was also cut back, which resulted in administrative difficulties when the war began a decade later.[355]

Over the course of the war, there were four separate British commanders-in-chief, the first of whom was Thomas Gage; appointed in 1763, his initial focus was establishing British rule in former French areas of Canada. Rightly or wrongly, many in London blamed the revolt on his failure to take firm action earlier, and he was relieved after the heavy losses incurred at Bunker Hill.[356] His replacement was Sir William Howe, a member of the Whig faction in Parliament who opposed the policy of coercion advocated by Lord North; Cornwallis, who later surrendered at Yorktown, was one of many senior officers who initially refused to serve in North America.[357]

The 1775 campaign showed the British overestimated the capabilities of their own troops and underestimated the colonial militia, requiring a reassessment of tactics and strategy.[358] However, it allowed the Patriots to take the initiative and British authorities rapidly lost control over every colony.[359] Howe's responsibility is still debated; despite receiving large numbers of reinforcements, Bunker Hill seems to have permanently affected his self-confidence and lack of tactical flexibility meant he often failed to follow up opportunities.[360] Many of his decisions were attributed to supply problems, such as the delay in launching the New York campaign and failure to pursue Washington's beaten army.[361] Having lost the confidence of his subordinates, he was recalled after Burgoyne surrendered at Saratoga.[362]

Portrait of the British commander-in-chief, Sir William Howe in dress uniform.
Sir William Howe, British Commander, 1775–1778

Following the failure of the Carlisle Commission, British policy changed from treating the Patriots as subjects who needed to be reconciled to enemies who had to be defeated.[363] In 1778, Howe was replaced by Sir Henry Clinton, appointed instead of Carleton who was considered overly cautious.[364] Regarded as an expert on tactics and strategy,[365] like his predecessors Clinton was handicapped by chronic supply issues.[366] As a result, he was largely inactive in 1779 and much of 1780; in October 1780, he warned Germain of "fatal consequences" if matters did not improve.[367]

In addition, Clinton's strategy was compromised by conflict with political superiors in London and his colleagues in North America, especially Admiral Mariot Arbuthnot, replaced in early 1781 by Rodney.[274] He was neither notified nor consulted when Germain approved Cornwallis' invasion of the south in 1781, and delayed sending him reinforcements believing the bulk of Washington's army was still outside New York City.[368] After the surrender at Yorktown, Clinton was relieved by Carleton, whose major task was to oversee the evacuation of Loyalists and British troops from Savannah, Charleston, and New York City.[369]


Portrait of the British commander-in-chief, Sir Henry Clinton in dress uniform.
Sir Henry Clinton, British Commander, 1778–1782, who proposed employing Russian rather than German troops in America

During the 18th century, all states commonly hired foreign soldiers, especially Britain; during the Seven Years War, they comprised 10% of the British army and their use caused little debate.[370] When it became clear additional troops were needed to suppress the revolt in America, it was decided to employ mercenaries. There were several reasons for this, including public sympathy for the Patriot cause, an historical reluctance to expand the British army unless absolutely necessary, and the time needed to recruit and train new regiments.[371] An alternate source was readily available in the Holy Roman Empire, where many smaller states had a long tradition of renting their armies to the highest bidder. The most important was Hesse-Cassell, known as "the Mercenary State".[372]

The first supply agreements were signed by the North administration in late 1775; over the next decade, more than 40,000 Germans fought in North America, Gibraltar, South Africa and India, of whom 30,000 served in the American War.[373] Often generically referred to as "Hessians", they included men from other states, including Hanover and Brunswick.[374] Sir Henry Clinton recommended recruiting Russian troops whom he rated very highly, having seen them in action against the Ottomans; however, negotiations with Catherine the Great made little progress.[375]

Unlike previous wars their use led to intense political debate in Britain, France, and even Germany, where Frederick the Great refused to provide passage through his territories for troops hired for the American war.[376] In March 1776, the agreements were challenged in Parliament by Whigs who objected to "coercion" in general, and especially the use of foreign soldiers to subdue "British subjects".[377] This was reflected in North America where the Declaration of Independence specifically censured George III for his employment of foreign mercenaries, among other things.[376]

Hessian troops surrender after Battle of Trenton, December 1776
Hessian troops surrender after Battle of Trenton, December 1776

American newspapers covered the parliamentary debates in detail, reprinting key speeches; when copies of the actual treaties were smuggled into the US, it confirmed fears that these mercenaries would be used against the Patriots. By apparently showing Britain was determined to go to war, it made hopes of reconciliation seem naive and hopeless; combined with the Hessian reputation in Germany for rapaciousness, it led many German-American immigrants to renounce their allegiance to Britain, while increasing enlistment into the Continental Army.[378]

Before they arrived, both sides felt many Hessians might be persuaded to desert, given the presence of over 150,000 German-Americans; Clinton suggested Russians were less likely to defect. When the first Germans arrived on Staten Island in August 1776, Congress approved the printing of "handbills" promising land and citizenship to any willing to join the Patriot cause, while the British launched a counter-campaign claiming deserters could well be executed for meddling in a war that was not theirs.[379] German regiments were central to the British war effort; of the estimated 30,000 sent to America, some 13,000 became casualties.[380] Their service was commemorated in Washington Irving's short story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which features a headless Hessian soldier.[381]

Revolution as civil war


Wealthy Loyalists convinced the British government that most of the colonists were sympathetic toward the Crown;[382] consequently, British military planners relied on recruiting Loyalists, but had trouble recruiting sufficient numbers as the Patriots had widespread support.[383][bh] Nevertheless, they continued to deceive themselves on their level of American support as late as 1780, a year before hostilities ended.[384]

Approximately 25,000 Loyalists fought for the British throughout the war.[385] Although Loyalists constituted about twenty percent of the colonial population,[386][bi] they were concentrated in distinct communities. Many of them lived among large plantation owners in the Tidewater region and South Carolina who produced cash crops in tobacco and indigo comparable to global markets in Caribbean sugar.[388]

A wounded British officer falls from his horse after being struck by gunfire; another British officer to his rights puts his hands forwards to support the wounded rider; troops skirmish in the background; men lie dead at the riders feet.
Loyalist militia routed by Patriot militia at Kings Mountain withdrew into South Carolina. Victory raised American morale.

When the British began probing the backcountry in 1777–1778, they were faced with a major problem: any significant level of organized Loyalist activity required a continued presence of British regulars.[389] The available manpower that the British had in America was insufficient to protect Loyalist territory and counter American offensives.[390] The Loyalist militias in the South constantly defeated by neighboring Patriot militia. The most critical combat between the two partisan militias was at the Battle of Kings Mountain; the Patriot victory irreversibly crippled any further Loyalist militia capability in the South.[391]

When the early war policy was administered by General William Howe, the Crown's need to maintain Loyalist support prevented it from using the traditional revolt suppression methods.[392] The British cause suffered when their troops ransacked local homes during an aborted attack on Charleston in 1779 that enraged both Patriots and Loyalists.[393] After Congress rejected the Carlisle Peace Commission in 1778 and Westminster turned to "hard war" during Clinton's command, neutral colonists in the Carolinas often allied with the Patriots whenever brutal combat broke out between Tories and Whigs.[394] Conversely, Loyalists gained support when Patriots intimidated suspected Tories by destroying property or tarring and feathering.[395]

A Loyalist militia unit—the British Legion—provided some of the best troops in British service that it received a commission in the British Army:[396] it was a mixed regiment of 250 dragoons and 200 infantry supported by batteries of flying artillery.[397][bj] It was commanded by Banastre Tarleton and gained a fearsome reputation in the colonies for "brutality and needless slaughter".[398] In May 1779 the British Legion was one of five regiments that formed the American Establishment.[399]


Scene of Nancy Morgan Hart on the left with musket raised and child hiding behind her skirts, and behind; on the right two Loyalist soldiers are lying on the floor, and three are raising their hands defensively in alarm.
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. For example, throughout the war Martha Washington was known to visit and provide aid to her husband George at various American camps,[400] and Frederika Charlotte Riedesel documented the Saratoga campaign.[401] Women often accompanied armies as camp followers to sell goods and perform necessary tasks in hospitals and camps. They were a necessary part of eighteenth-century armies, and numbered in the thousands during the war.[402]

Women also assumed military roles: aside from auxiliary tasks like treating the wounded or setting up camp, some dressed as men to directly support combat, fight, or act as spies on both sides of the Revolutionary War.[403] Anna Maria Lane joined her husband in the Army and wore men's clothes by the time the Battle of Germantown happened. The Virginia General Assembly later cited her bravery: she fought while dressed as a man and "performed extraordinary military services, and received a severe wound at the battle of Germantown ... with the courage of a soldier".[404]

On April 26, 1777, Sybil Ludington rode to alert militia forces of Putnam County, New York, and Danbury, Connecticut, to warn them of the British's approach; she has been called the "female Paul Revere".[405] A few others disguised themselves as men. Deborah Sampson fought until her gender was discovered and discharged as a result; Sally St. Clair was killed in action during the war.[404]

African Americans

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

When war began, the population of the Thirteen Colonies included an estimated 500,000 slaves, predominantly used as labor on Southern plantations.[406] In November 1775, Lord Dunmore, the Royal Governor of Virginia, issued a proclamation that promised freedom to any Patriot-owned slaves willing to bear arms. Although the announcement helped to fill a temporary manpower shortage, white Loyalist prejudice meant recruits were eventually redirected to non-combatant roles. The Loyalists' motive was to deprive Patriot planters of labor rather than to end slavery; Loyalist-owned slaves were returned.[407]

The 1779 Philipsburg Proclamation issued by Clinton extended the offer of freedom to Patriot-owned slaves throughout the colonies. It persuaded entire families to escape to British lines, many of which were employed on farms to grow food for the army by removing the requirement for military service. While Clinton organized the Black Pioneers, he also ensured fugitive slaves were returned to Loyalist owners with orders that they were not to be punished for their attempted escape.[408] 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.[409]

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, excluding those who escaped during wartime. Thomas Jefferson estimated that Virginia may have lost 30,000 slaves in total escapes.[410] In South Carolina, nearly 25,000 slaves (about 30 percent of the enslaved population) either fled, migrated, or died, which significantly disrupted the plantation economies both during and after the war.[411]

Black Patriots were barred from the Continental Army until Washington convinced Congress in January 1778 that there was no other way to replace losses 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 soldiers were black and recruitment stopped in June 1788.[412] 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.[413]

A scene of four uniformed soldiers of the Continental 1st Rhode Island Regiment. On the left, a black and a white soldier formally at "Attention" with Brown Bess muskets; on the right, a downcast white soldier walking back into formation with an officer barking at him holding a cat-o-nine tails for flogging.
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 moved onto London, while 3,000 to 4,000 settled in Nova Scotia, where they founded settlements such as Birchtown.[414] White Loyalists transported 15,000 enslaved blacks to Jamaica and the Bahamas. The free Black Loyalists who migrated to the British West Indies included regular soldiers from Dunmore's Ethiopian Regiment, and those from Charleston who helped garrison the Leeward Islands.[415]

American Indians

Most American Indians east of the Mississippi River were affected by the war, and many tribes were divided over how to respond to the conflict. A few tribes were friendly with the colonists, 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 deployed around 1,500 men.[416]

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 short-lived Washington District of North Carolina. Their defeat splintered both Cherokee settlements and people, and was directly responsible for the rise of the Chickamauga Cherokee, who perpetuated the Cherokee–American wars against American settlers for decades after hostilities with Britain ended.[417]

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.[418] Many Indians were involved in the fight between Britain and Spain on the Gulf Coast and along the British side of the Mississippi River. 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.[419]

The Iroquois Confederacy was shattered as a result of the American Revolutionary War, whatever side they took; the Seneca, Onondaga, and Cayuga tribes sided with the British; members of the Mohawks fought on both side; and many Tuscarora and Oneida sided with the Americans. To retaliate against raids on American settlement by Loyalists and their Indian allies, 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, which further exacerbated the split.[420]

In the western theater of the American Revolutionary War, conflicts between settlers and Indians led to lingering distrust.[421] In the 1783 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.[422] Tribes in the Northwest Territory joined together as the Western Confederacy and allied with the British to resist American settlement, and their conflict continued after the Revolutionary War as the Northwest Indian War.[423]

Global war and diplomacy

Fall of the North Ministry

Lord North, Prime Minister from 1770 to 1782
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.[424]

British negotiators now proposed a second peace settlement to Congress.[425] 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.[426]

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.[427] Those standing orders would be in effect for three years until Clinton was relieved.[428]

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.[429] 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.[430] 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.[431]

On February 27, 1782 a Whig motion to end offensive war in America was carried by 19 votes.[432] 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 who acknowledged American independence.[433]

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.[434]

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.[435] 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.[436]

Portrait of the four principle US ministers in Paris; left to right, John Jay, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Laurens, and their secretary on the far right.
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.[437] 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.[438] John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and John Jay represented the US, with David Hartley and Richard Oswald acting for Britain.[439] 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.[440]

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.[441] On 25 November, the last British troops remaining in the US were evacuated from New York to Halifax.[442]

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.[443] 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.[444]


A New York City street scene with a mounted George Washington riding at the head of a parade.
Washington enters New York City at British evacuation, November 1783[bk]

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".[445] 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.[446]

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.[447]

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.[448] 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.[449]


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.[450]

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.[451] Though British forts on their lands had been ceded to either the French or the British prior to the creation of the United States,[452] 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.[453][bl] 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.[455]

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.[bm] 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.[456] 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.[457]

Casualties and losses

A cemetery; grave stones in the foreground in staggered, irregular rows; behind them grass covered mounds of dead; an American flag in the background along a tree line.
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.[458][bn] Historian Joseph Ellis suggests that Washington's decision to have his troops inoculated against the disease was one of his most important decisions.[459]

Up to 70,000 American Patriots died during active military service.[460] 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.[461][bo] The number of Patriots seriously wounded or disabled by the war has been estimated from 8,500 to 25,000.[464]

The French suffered 2,112 killed in combat in the United States.[465][bp] The Spanish lost a total of 124 killed and 247 wounded in West Florida.[467][bq]

A British report in 1781 puts their total Army deaths at 6,046 in North America (1775–1779).[469][br] 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.[474][bs]


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.[481]

U.S. motto Novus Ordo Seclorum, "A New Age Now Begins"[482][bt]

The American Revolution also initiated changes to western, then global society.[484] 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.[485]

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[bu] in 1790 petitioned Congress to abolish slavery.[486] while the number of abolition movements greatly increased.[487] Both state legislatures and individuals took actions to free slaves. By 1804, all the northern states had soon passed laws outlawing slavery.[488] 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.[489]

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. The first such stamp was the 'Liberty Bell' issue of 1926.[490]

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

See also

Topics of the Revolution

Social history of the Revolution

Others in the American Revolution

Lists of Revolutionary military

"Thirteen Colony" economy

Legacy and 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 to 1779; after defecting, he served on the British side from 1780 to 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. ^ George Washington standing to receive the appointment, John Adams in a blue coat, two figures removed to the right of him
  21. ^ "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.
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ 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.[69]
  25. ^ During this time Benjamin Church, an assumed trusted patriot, was giving the British information on patriot troop strength and positions.[76]
  26. ^ Later that evening a mob tore down a lead statue of the King, which was later melted down into musket balls.[82]
  27. ^ "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.[84] 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.[85]
  28. ^ 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.
  29. ^ 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.[129] 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.[130]
  30. ^ Tallmadge's cover name became John Bolton, and he was the architect of the spy ring.[132]
  31. ^ 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.[144]
  32. ^ Casualty numbers vary slightly with the Hessian forces, usually between 21 and 23 killed, 80–95 wounded, and 890–920 captured (including the wounded).[154]
  33. ^ 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.[161]
  34. ^ Burgoyne's stalled initiative in the interior would be unsupported either way.
  35. ^ 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.[182] Vergennes was said to have been personally influenced by this engagement as much as Burgoyne's surrender at Saratoga.[183]
  36. ^ 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.[202]
  37. ^ 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.
  38. ^ 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.[208]
  39. ^ 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.
  40. ^ 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.[221]
  41. ^ 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".
  42. ^ 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.[239]
  43. ^ 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.
  44. ^ 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.[256]
  45. ^ Light Horse Harry was the father of Robert E. Lee.[257]
  46. ^ 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.
  47. ^ 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.
  48. ^ They had been sent south to Virginia in August to coordinate with de Grasse in defeating Cornwallis.[279] 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.[280] 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.[281]
  49. ^ 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.
  50. ^ 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.[291]
  51. ^ Eventually, the Continental Army found capable officers such as Nathanael Greene, Henry Knox(chief of artillery), Daniel Morgan and Alexander Hamilton (chief of staff).[306] 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.[307]
  52. ^ 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.[309] The Marine Corps links to the Continental Marines of the war, formed by a resolution of Congress on November 10, 1775.[310]
  53. ^ The largest force Washington commanded was certainly under 17,000,[314] 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.[315]
  54. ^ 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.[316]
  55. ^ Laurens was president of the Second Continental Congress at this time.[321]
  56. ^ 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.[335]
  57. ^ King George III feared that the war's prospects would make it unlikely he could reclaim the North American colonies.[339] During the later years of the Revolution, the British were drawn into numerous other conflicts about the globe.[340]
  58. ^ 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.[342]
  59. ^ The Indian treaties mapped are from 1778; the subsequent 1770 Treaty of Lochaber surrendered additional Cherokee lands in southwestern West Virginia.
  60. ^ On militia see Boatner 1974, p. 707;
    Weigley 1973, ch. 2
  61. ^ 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.[387]
  62. ^ "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.[397]
  63. ^ 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.
  64. ^ 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.[454]
  65. ^ 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.
  66. ^ 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.
  67. ^ 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.[462] 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.[463]
  68. ^ Elsewhere around the world, the French lost another approximately 5,000 total dead in conflicts 1778–1784.[466]
  69. ^ 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.[468]
  70. ^ British returns in 1783 listed 43,633 rank and file deaths across the British Armed Forces.[470] 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).[471] 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.[472] 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.[473]
  71. ^ 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).[475] The greatest killer at sea was scurvy, a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency.[476] 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.[477] Around 42,000 sailors deserted worldwide during the era.[478] The impact on merchant shipping was substantial; 2,283 were taken by American privateers.[479] Worldwide 1775–1784, an estimated 3,386 British merchant ships were seized by enemy forces during the war among Americans, French, Spanish, and Dutch.[480]
  72. ^ 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."[483]
  73. ^ 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