Portal:American Revolutionary War

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The American Revolutionary War Portal

Clockwise from top left: Battle of Bunker Hill, Death of Montgomery at Quebec, Battle of Cowpens, "Moonlight Battle"
The American Revolutionary War began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen united former British colonies on the North American continent, and ended in a global war between several European great powers. The war was the culmination of the political American Revolution and intellectual American Enlightenment, whereby the colonists rejected the right of the Parliament of Great Britain to govern them without representation. In 1775, revolutionaries gained control of each of the thirteen colonial governments, set up an alliance called the Second Continental Congress, and formed a Continental Army. Petitions to the king to intervene with the parliament on their behalf resulted in Congress being declared traitors and the states in rebellion the following year. The Americans responded by formally declaring their independence as a new nation, the United States of America, claiming sovereignty and rejecting any allegiance to the British monarchy. In 1777 the Continentals captured a British army, leading to France entering the war on the side of the Americans in early 1778, and evening the military strength with Britain. Spain and the Dutch Republic – French allies – also went to war with Britain over the next two years.

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

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Surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown by John Trumbull, depicting the British surrendering to French (left) and American (right) troops. Oil on canvas, 1820.
The Siege of Yorktown or Battle of Yorktown, September 28 – October 19, 1781 was a decisive victory by a combined assault of American forces led by General George Washington and French forces led by General Comte de Rochambeau over a British Army commanded by General Lord Cornwallis. Lord Cornwallis had moved his army of 9,000 men to the port town of Yorktown, Virginia, to await relief and resupply from the British Navy. In early September, the Comte de Grasse's French fleet defeated a British fleet at the Battle of the Chesapeake which had come to relieve Cornwallis, and the armies of Washington and Rochambeau combined to force Cornwallis' surrender.

It proved to be the last major land battle of the American Revolutionary War, as the surrender of Cornwallis’s army (the second major surrender of the war, the other being Burgoyne's surrender at the Battle of Saratoga) prompted the British government to eventually negotiate an end to the conflict, which formally ended with the 1783 Treaty of Paris.

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The death of general warren at the battle of bunker hill.jpg
The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill
Credit: John Trumbull

Completed in 1786, this painting depicts the death of Massachusetts militia general and politician Joseph Warren at the June 17, 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill. Depicting the nature of personal divisions the revolution created, Warren is cradled by John Small, a British Army officer who is preventing another British soldier from bayoneting Warren. General Israel Putnam, with whom Major Small served in the French and Indian War, is at the far left of the painting; portraits of other figures important in the battle are also included.

Selected biography

General Griffith Rutherford's grave marker
Griffith Rutherford (c. 1721 – 10 August 1805) was an officer in the American Revolutionary War, a political leader in North Carolina, and an important figure in the early history of Tennessee. Originally from Ireland, Rutherford immigrated to Philadelphia at the age of 18 with his parents, both of whom died during the voyage. After working on a relative's farm for a period of time, he moved to Rowan County, North Carolina in 1753, where he married Elizabeth Graham. An active member of his community, Rutherford served in multiple municipal occupations such as the local sheriff and tax collector. He was also a representative of Rowan County at the North Carolina General Assembly in 1766.

Rutherford's first military experience was during the French and Indian War, when he served as a Captain of a local militia in 1760. He continued serving in the provincial militia until the start of the American Revolutionary War in 1775, when he was commissioned into the Continental Army as a Colonel. Following his appointment to Brigadier General of the "Salisbury District" by the Fourth Provincial Congress of April and May 1776, Rutherford accumulated a force of 2,400 men and participated in several conflicts with the Cherokee Indians in western North and South Carolina and Georgia. He then spent most of the war checking local Loyalist activities; in June 1780, his activities were partially responsible for the Loyalist defeat in the Battle of Ramsour's Mill. Rutherford was also involved in the Battle of Camden on August 16, 1780, when he was wounded and taken prisoner by the British. He was later exchanged in 1781. He partook in further campaigns after his release, including a second attack on the Cherokee.

Following the war, Rutherford continued to serve as a senator in North Carolina's state senate, a duty which he had first undertaken in 1779, until 1786. He ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1783 and became an advocate of the Antifederalist movement. He moved to Sumner County, Tennessee in 1792 and was appointed President of the Legislative Council of Tennessee in 1794. He died in Sumner County on August 15, 1805 at the age of 84. Counties in North Carolina and Tennessee bear his name.

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Philadelphia on display at the National Museum of American History
Philadelphia was a gunboat (referred to in contemporary documents as a gundalow or gondola) of the Continental Navy. Manned by Continental Army soldiers, she was part of a fleet which, under the command of General Benedict Arnold, fought in the Battle of Valcour Island against a larger Royal Navy fleet on Lake Champlain in October 1776. Although many of the American boats in the battle were damaged in the October 11 battle, Philadelphia was one of the few that actually sank that day. In 1935 amateur military marine archaeologist Lorenzo Hagglund located her remains standing upright at the bottom of Lake Champlain, and had her raised. Bequeathed to the Smithsonian Institution in 1961, Philadelphia and associated artifacts are part of the permanent collection of the National Museum of American History, in Washington, D.C. She is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark.

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