- In this article, inhabitants of the thirteen colonies that supported the American Revolution are primarily referred to as "Americans," with occasional references to "Patriots," "Whigs," "Rebels" or "Revolutionaries." Colonists who supported the British in opposing the Revolution are usually referred to as "Loyalists" or "Tories." The geographical area of the thirteen colonies is often referred to simply as "America."
The American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), also sometimes known as the American War of Independence, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen united former British colonies in North America, and concluded in a global war between several European great powers. The war was the culmination of the political American Revolution, whereby the colonists rejected the legitimacy of the Parliament of Great Britain to govern them without representation, claiming that this violated the Rights of Englishmen. In 1775, revolutionaries gained control of each of the thirteen colonial governments, set up the Second Continental Congress, and formed a Continental Army. Petitions to the king to intervene with the parliament for them resulted in Congress being declared traitors and the states in rebellion the following year. The Americans responded in 1776 by formally declaring their independence as a new nation — the United States of America — claiming sovereignty and rejecting on the basis of tyranny any allegiance to the British monarchy. Although France had been providing supplies, ammunition and weapons to the rebels beginning in 1776, the Continentals' capture of a British army in 1777 led France to formally enter the war on the side of the United States in early 1778, which evened 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 because of the relatively small size of their land army. French involvement proved decisive, with a French naval victory in the Chesapeake leading at Yorktown in 1781 to the surrender of a second British army. In 1783, the Treaty of Paris ended the war and recognized the sovereignty of the United States over the territory bounded by what is now Canada to the north, Florida to the south, and the Mississippi River to the west.
Combatants before 1778 Edit
American armies and militiasEdit
- Main article: Continental Army
At the outset of the war, the thirteen colonies lacked a professional army and navy. Each colony provided for its own defenses with local militia. Militiamen were lightly armed, slightly trained, and usually did not have uniforms. Their units served for only a few weeks or months at a time, were reluctant to go very far from home, and were thus generally unavailable for extended operations. Militia lacked the training and discipline of soldiers with more experience, but were more numerous and could overwhelm regular troops as at the battles of Concord, Bennington and Saratoga, and the siege of Boston. Both sides used partisan warfare but the separatists were particularly effective at suppressing Loyalist activity when British regulars were not in the area.
Seeking to coordinate military efforts, the Continental Congress established (on paper) a regular army in June 1775, and appointed George Washington as commander-in-chief. The development of the Continental Army was always a work in progress, and Washington used both his regulars and state militia throughout the war. The United States Marine Corps traces its institutional roots to the Continental Marines of the war, formed at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, by a resolution of the Continental Congress on November 10, 1775, a date regarded and celebrated as the birthday of the Marine Corps. At the beginning of 1776, Washington's army had 20,000 men, with two-thirds enlisted in the Continental Army and the other third in the various state militias. At the end of the American Revolution in 1783, both the Continental Navy and Continental Marines were disbanded. About 250,000 men served as regulars or as militiamen for the Revolutionary cause in the eight years of the war, but there were never more than 90,000 total men under arms at one time. Armies were small by European standards of the era, largely attributable to limitations such as lack of powder and other logistical capabilities on the American side. By comparison, Duffy notes that Frederick the Great usually commanded from 23,000 to 50,000 in battle. Both figures pale in comparison to the armies that would be fielded in the early nineteenth century, where troop formations approached or exceeded 100,000 men.
- Main article: Loyalist (American Revolution)
Historians have estimated that approximately 40–45% of the colonists actively supported the rebellion while 15–20% of the population of the thirteen colonies remained loyal to the British Crown. The remaining 35–45% attempted to remain neutral.
At least 25,000 Loyalists fought on the side of the British. Thousands served in the Royal Navy. On land, Loyalist forces fought alongside the British in most battles in North America. Many Loyalists fought in partisan units, especially in the Southern theater.
The British military met with many difficulties in maximizing the use of Loyalist factions. British historian Jeremy Black wrote, “In the American war it was clear to both royal generals and revolutionaries that organized and significant Loyalist activity would require the presence of British forces.” In the South, the use of Loyalists presented the British with “major problems of strategic choice” since while it was necessary to widely disperse troops in order to defend Loyalist areas, it was also recognized that there was a need for “the maintenance of large concentrated forces able” to counter major attacks from the American forces. In addition, the British were forced to ensure that their military actions would not “offend Loyalist opinion”, eliminating such options as attempting to “live off the country’, destroying property for intimidation purposes, or coercing payments from colonists (“laying them under contribution”).
British armies and auxiliariesEdit
Early in 1775, the British Army consisted of about 36,000 men worldwide, but wartime recruitment steadily increased this number. Great Britain had a difficult time appointing general officers, however. General Thomas Gage, in command of British forces in North America when the rebellion started, was criticized for being too lenient (perhaps influenced by his American wife). General Jeffrey Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst turned down an appointment as commander in chief due to an unwillingness to take sides in the conflict. Similarly, Admiral Augustus Keppel turned down a command, saying "I cannot draw the sword in such a cause." William Howe and John Burgoyne were both members of parliament who opposed military solutions to the American rebellion. Howe and Henry Clinton both made statements that they were not willing participants in the war, but were following orders.
Over the course of the war, Great Britain signed treaties with various German states, which supplied about 30,000 soldiers. Germans made up about one-third of the British troop strength in North America. Hesse-Kassel contributed more soldiers than any other state, and German soldiers became known as "Hessians" to the Americans. Revolutionary speakers called German soldiers "foreign mercenaries," and they are scorned as such in the Declaration of Independence. By 1779, the number of British and German troops stationed in North America was over 60,000, although these were spread from Canada to Florida. About 10,000 Loyalist Americans under arms for the British are included in these figures.
African Americans—slave and free—served on both sides during the war. The British actively recruited slaves belonging to Patriot masters. Because of manpower shortages, George Washington lifted the ban on black enlistment in the Continental Army in January 1776. Small all-black units were formed in Rhode Island and Massachusetts; many slaves were promised freedom for serving. Another all-black unit came from Haiti with French forces. At least 5,000 black soldiers fought for the Revolutionary cause and more than 20,000 black soldiers fought on the British side.
Most Native Americans east of the Mississippi River were affected by the war, and many communities were divided over the question of how to respond to the conflict. Though a few tribes were on friendly terms with the Americans, most Native Americans opposed the United States as a potential threat to their territory. Approximately 13,000 Native Americans fought on the British side, with the largest group coming from the Iroquois tribes, who fielded around 1,500 men. The powerful Iroquois Confederacy was shattered as a result of the conflict; the Mohawk, Seneca, Onondaga, and Cayuga sided with the British, while many Tuscarora and Oneida sided with the colonists. The Continental Army sent the Sullivan Expedition to cripple the Iroquois tribes which had sided with the British. Both during and after the war friction between the Mohawks Joseph Louis Cook and Joseph Brant, who had sided with the Americans and the British respectively, further exacerbated the split.
War in the north, 1775–1780 Edit
- Main article: Boston campaign
Before the war, Boston had been the scene of much revolutionary activity, leading to the Massachusetts Government Act that ended home rule as a punishment in 1774. Popular resistance to these measures, however, compelled the newly appointed royal officials in Massachusetts to resign or to seek refuge in Boston. Lieutenant General Thomas Gage, the British North American commander-in chief, commanded four regiments of British regulars (about 4,000 men) from his headquarters in Boston, but the countryside was in the hands of the Revolutionaries.
On the night of April 18, 1775, General Gage sent 700 men to seize munitions stored by the colonial militia at Concord, Massachusetts. Riders including Paul Revere alerted the countryside, and when British troops entered Lexington on the morning of April 19, they found 77 minutemen formed up on the village green. Shots were exchanged, killing several minutemen. The British moved on to Concord, where a detachment of three companies was engaged and routed at the North Bridge by a force of 500 minutemen. As the British retreated back to Boston, thousands of militiamen attacked them along the roads, inflicting great damage before timely British reinforcements prevented a total disaster. With the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the war had begun.
The militia converged on Boston, bottling up the British in the city. About 4,500 more British soldiers arrived by sea, and on June 17, 1775, British forces under General William Howe seized the Charlestown peninsula at the Battle of Bunker Hill. The Americans fell back, but British losses were so heavy that the attack was not followed up. The siege was not broken, and Gage was soon replaced by Howe as the British commander-in-chief.
In July 1775, newly appointed General Washington arrived outside Boston to take charge of the colonial forces and to organize the Continental Army. Realizing his army's desperate shortage of gunpowder, Washington asked for new sources. Arsenals were raided and some manufacturing was attempted; 90% of the supply (2 million pounds) was imported by the end of 1776, mostly from France.
The standoff continued throughout the fall and winter. In early March 1776, heavy cannons that the patriots had captured at Fort Ticonderoga were brought to Boston by Colonel Henry Knox, and placed on Dorchester Heights. Since the artillery now overlooked the British positions, Howe's situation was untenable, and the British fled on March 17, 1776, sailing to their naval base at Halifax, Nova Scotia. Washington then moved most of the Continental Army to fortify New York City.
- Main article: Invasion of Canada (1775)
Three weeks after the siege of Boston began, a troop of militia volunteers led by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold captured Fort Ticonderoga, a strategically important point on Lake Champlain between New York and the Province of Quebec. After that action they also raided Fort St. John's, not far from Montreal, which alarmed the population and the authorities there. In response, Quebec's governor Guy Carleton began fortifying St. John's, and opened negotiations with the Iroquois and other Native American tribes for their support. These actions, combined with lobbying by both Allen and Arnold and the fear of a British attack from the north, eventually persuaded the Congress to authorize an invasion of Quebec, with the goal of driving the British military from that province. (Quebec was then frequently referred to as Canada, as most of its territory included the former French Province of Canada.)
Two Quebec-bound expeditions were undertaken. On September 28, 1775, Brigadier General Richard Montgomery marched north from Fort Ticonderoga with about 1,700 militiamen, besieging and capturing Fort St. Jean on November 2 and then Montreal on November 13. General Carleton escaped to Quebec City and began preparing that city for an attack. The second expedition, led by Colonel Arnold, went through the wilderness of what is now northern Maine. It was a logistical nightmare, with 300 men turning back, and another 200 perishing due to the difficult conditions. By the time Arnold reached Quebec City in early November, he had but 600 of his original 1,100 men. Montgomery's force joined Arnold's, and they attacked Quebec City on December 31, but were defeated by Carleton in a battle that ended with Montgomery dead, Arnold wounded, and over 400 Americans taken prisoner. The remaining Americans held on outside Quebec City until the spring of 1776, suffering from poor camp conditions and smallpox, and then withdrew when a squadron of British ships under Captain Charles Douglas arrived to relieve the siege.
Another attempt was made by the Americans to push back towards Quebec, but they failed at Trois-Rivières on June 8, 1776. Carleton then launched his own invasion and defeated Arnold at the Battle of Valcour Island in October. Arnold fell back to Fort Ticonderoga, where the invasion had begun. While the invasion ended as a disaster for the Americans, Arnold's efforts in 1776 delayed a full-scale British counteroffensive until the Saratoga campaign of 1777.
The invasion cost the Americans their base of support in British public opinion, "So that the violent measures towards America are freely adopted and countenanced by a majority of individuals of all ranks, professions, or occupations, in this country." It gained them at best limited support in the population of Quebec, which, while somewhat supportive early in the invasion, became less so later during the occupation, when American policies against suspected Loyalists became harsher, and the army's hard currency ran out. Two small regiments of Canadiens were recruited during the operation, and they were with the army on its retreat back to Ticonderoga.
New York and New JerseyEdit
- Main article: New York and New Jersey campaign
Having withdrawn his army from Boston, General Howe now focused on capturing New York City. To defend the city, General Washington divided his 20,000 soldiers between Long Island and Manhattan. While British troops were assembling on Staten Island for the campaign, Washington had the newly issued Declaration of American Independence read to his men. No longer was there any possibility of compromise. On August 27, 1776, after landing about 22,000 men on Long Island, the British drove the Americans back to Brooklyn Heights, securing a decisive British victory in the largest battle of the entire Revolution. Howe then laid siege to fortifications there. In a feat considered by many historians to be one of his most impressive actions as Commander in Chief, Washington personally directed the withdrawal of his entire remaining army and all their supplies across the East River in one night without discovery by the British or the losss of a single man or any materiel.
On September 15, Howe landed about 12,000 men on lower Manhattan, quickly taking control of New York City. The Americans withdrew to Harlem Heights, where they skirmished the next day but held their ground. When Howe moved to encircle Washington's army in October, the Americans again fell back, and a battle at White Plains was fought on October 28. Again Washington retreated, and Howe returned to Manhattan and captured Fort Washington in mid November, taking about 2,000 prisoners (with an additional 1,000 having been captured during the battle for Long Island). Thus began the infamous "prison ships" system the British maintained in New York for the remainder of the war, in which more American soldiers and sailors died of neglect than died in every battle of the entire war, combined.
General Lord Cornwallis continued to chase Washington's army through New Jersey, until the Americans withdrew across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania in early December. With the campaign at an apparent conclusion for the season, the British entered winter quarters. Although Howe had missed several opportunities to crush the diminishing American army, he had killed or captured over 5,000 Americans.
The outlook of the Continental Army was bleak. "These are the times that try men's souls," wrote Thomas Paine, who was with the army on the retreat. The army had dwindled to fewer than 5,000 men fit for duty, and would be reduced to 1,400 after enlistments expired at the end of the year. Congress had abandoned Philadelphia in despair, although popular resistance to British occupation was growing in the countryside.
Washington decided to take the offensive, stealthily crossing the Delaware on Christmas night and capturing nearly 1,000 Hessians at the Battle of Trenton on December 26, 1776. Cornwallis marched to retake Trenton but was outmaneuvered by Washington, who successfully attacked the British rearguard at Princeton on January 3, 1777. Washington then entered winter quarters at Morristown, New Jersey, having given a morale boost to the American cause. New Jersey militia continued to harass British and Hessian forces throughout the winter, forcing the British to retreat to their base in and around New York City.
At every stage the British strategy assumed a large base of Loyalist supporters would rally to the King given some military support. In February 1776 Clinton took 2,000 men and a naval squadron to invade North Carolina, which he called off when he learned the Loyalists had been crushed at the Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge. In June he tried to seize Charleston, South Carolina, the leading port in the South, hoping for a simultaneous rising in South Carolina. It seemed a cheap way of waging the war but it failed as the naval force was defeated by the forts and because no local Loyalists attacked the town from behind. The loyalists were too poorly organized to be effective, but as late as 1781 senior officials in London, misled by Loyalist exiles, placed their confidence in their rising.
Saratoga and PhiladelphiaEdit
When the British began to plan operations for 1777, they had two main armies in North America: Carleton's army in Quebec, and Howe's army in New York. In London, Lord George Germain approved campaigns for these armies which, because of miscommunication, poor planning, and rivalries between commanders, did not work in conjunction. Although Howe successfully captured Philadelphia, the northern army was lost in a disastrous surrender at Saratoga. Both Carleton and Howe resigned after the 1777 campaign.
- Main article: Saratoga campaign
The first of the 1777 campaigns was an expedition from Quebec led by General John Burgoyne. The goal was to seize the Lake Champlain and Hudson River corridor, effectively isolating New England from the rest of the American colonies. Burgoyne's invasion had two components: he would lead about 10,000 men along Lake Champlain towards Albany, New York, while a second column of about 2,000 men, led by Barry St. Leger, would move down the Mohawk River Valley and link up with Burgoyne in Albany, New York.
Burgoyne set off in June, and recaptured Fort Ticonderoga in early July. Thereafter, his march was slowed by Americans who literally knocked down trees in his path. A detachment was sent out to seize supplies but was decisively defeated in the Battle of Bennington by American militia in August, depriving Burgoyne of nearly 1,000 men.
Meanwhile, St. Leger—half of his force Native Americans led by Sayenqueraghta—had laid siege to Fort Stanwix. American militiamen and their Native American allies marched to relieve the siege but were ambushed and scattered at the Battle of Oriskany. When a second relief expedition approached, this time led by Benedict Arnold, St. Leger's Indian support abandoned him, forcing him to break off the siege and return to Quebec.Burgoyne's army had been reduced to about 6,000 men by the loss at Bennington and the need to garrison Ticonderoga, and he was running short on supplies. Despite these setbacks, he determined to push on towards Albany. An American army of 8,000 men, commanded by the General Horatio Gates, had entrenched about 10 miles (16 km) south of Saratoga, New York. Burgoyne tried to outflank the Americans but was checked at the first battle of Saratoga in September. Burgoyne's situation was desperate, but he now hoped that help from Howe's army in New York City might be on the way. It was not: Howe had instead sailed away on his expedition to capture Philadelphia. American militiamen flocked to Gates' army, swelling his force to 11,000 by the beginning of October. After being badly beaten at the second battle of Saratoga, Burgoyne surrendered on October 17.
Saratoga was the turning point of the war. Revolutionary confidence and determination, suffering from Howe's successful occupation of Philadelphia, was renewed. What is more important, the victory encouraged France to make an open alliance with the Americans, after two years of semi-secret support. For the British, the war had now become much more complicated.
- Main article: Philadelphia campaign
Having secured New York City in 1776, General Howe concentrated on capturing Philadelphia, the seat of the Revolutionary government, in 1777. He moved slowly, landing 15,000 troops in late August at the northern end of Chesapeake Bay. Washington positioned his 11,000 men between Howe and Philadelphia but was driven back at the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777. The Continental Congress again abandoned Philadelphia, and on September 26, Howe finally outmaneuvered Washington and marched into the city unopposed. Washington unsuccessfully attacked the British encampment in nearby Germantown in early October and then retreated to watch and wait.
After repelling a British attack at White Marsh, Washington and his army encamped at Valley Forge in December 1777, about 20 miles (32 km) from Philadelphia, where they stayed for the next six months. Over the winter, 2,500 men (out of 10,000) died from disease and exposure. The next spring, however, the army emerged from Valley Forge in good order, thanks in part to a training program supervised by Baron von Steuben, who introduced the most modern Prussian methods of organization and tactics.
General Clinton replaced Howe as British commander-in-chief. French entry into the war had changed British strategy, and Clinton abandoned Philadelphia to reinforce New York City, now vulnerable to French naval power. Washington shadowed Clinton on his withdrawal and forced a strategic victory at the battle at Monmouth on June 28, 1778, the last major battle in the north. Clinton's army went to New York City in July, arriving just before a French fleet under Admiral d'Estaing arrived off the American coast. Washington's army returned to White Plains, New York, north of the city. Although both armies were back where they had been two years earlier, the nature of the war had now changed.
An international war, 1778–1783 Edit
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In 1778, the war over the rebellion in North America became international, spreading not only to Europe but to European colonies in the West Indies and in India. From 1776 France had informally been involved, with French admiral Latouche Tréville having provided supplies, ammunition and guns from France to the United States after Thomas Jefferson had encouraged a French alliance, and guns such as de Valliere type were used, playing an important role in such battles as the Battle of Saratoga,. George Washington wrote about the French supplies and guns in a letter to General Heath on 2 May, 1777. After learning of the American victory at Saratoga, France signed the Treaty of Alliance with the United States on February 6, 1778, formalizing the Franco-American alliance negotiated by Benjamin Franklin. Spain entered the war as an ally of France in June 1779, a renewal of the Bourbon Family Compact. Unlike France, Spain initially refused to recognize the independence of the United States, because Spain was not keen on encouraging similar anti-colonial rebellions in the Spanish Empire. Both countries had quietly provided assistance to the Americans since the beginning of the war, hoping to dilute British power. So too had the Dutch Republic, which was formally brought into the war at the end of 1780.
In London King George III gave up hope of subduing America by more armies while Britain had a European war to fight. "It was a joke," he said, "to think of keeping Pennsylvania." There was no hope of recovering New England. But the King was determined "never to acknowledge the independence of the Americans, and to punish their contumacy by the indefinite prolongation of a war which promised to be eternal." His plan was to keep the 30,000 men garrisoned in New York, Rhode Island, Quebec, and Florida; other forces would attack the French and Spanish in the West Indies. To punish the Americans the King planned to destroy their coasting-trade, bombard their ports; sack and burn towns along the coast (as Benedict Arnold did to New London, Connecticut in 1781), and turn loose the Native Americans to attack civilians in frontier settlements. These operations, the King felt, would inspire the Loyalists; would splinter the Congress; and "would keep the rebels harassed, anxious, and poor, until the day when, by a natural and inevitable process, discontent and disappointment were converted into penitence and remorse" and they would beg to return to his authority. The plan meant destruction for the Loyalists and loyal Native Americans, an indefinite prolongation of a costly war, and the risk of disaster as the French and Spanish assembled an armada to invade the British Isles. The British planned to re-subjugate the rebellious colonies after dealing with their European allies.
When the war began, the British had overwhelming naval superiority over the American colonists. The Royal Navy had over 100 ships of the line and many frigates and smaller craft, although this fleet was old and in poor condition, a situation which would be blamed on Lord Sandwich, the First Lord of the Admiralty. During the first three years of the war, the Royal Navy was primarily used to transport troops for land operations and to protect commercial shipping. The American colonists had no ships of the line, and relied extensively on privateering to harass British shipping. The privateers caused worry disproportionate to their material success, although those operating out of French channel ports before and after France joined the war caused significant embarrassment to the Royal Navy and inflamed Anglo-French relations. About 55,000 American sailors served aboard the privateers during the war. The American privateers had almost 1,700 ships, and they captured 2,283 enemy ships. The Continental Congress authorized the creation of a small Continental Navy in October 1775, which was primarily used for commerce raiding. John Paul Jones became the first great American naval hero, capturing HMS Drake on April 24, 1778, the first victory for any American military vessel in British waters.
French formal entry into the war meant that British naval superiority was now contested. The Franco-American alliance began poorly, however, with failed operations at Rhode Island in 1778 and Savannah, Georgia, in 1779. Part of the problem was that France and the United States had different military priorities: France hoped to capture British possessions in the West Indies before helping to secure American independence. While French financial assistance to the American war effort was already of critical importance, French military aid to the Americans would not show positive results until the arrival in July 1780 of a large force of soldiers led by the Comte de Rochambeau.
Spain entered the war as a French ally with the goal of recapturing Gibraltar and Minorca, which it had lost to the British in 1704. Gibraltar was besieged for more than three years, but the British garrison stubbornly resisted and was resupplied twice: once after Admiral Rodney's victory over Juan de Lángara in the 1780 "Moonlight Battle", and again after Admiral Richard Howe fought Luis de Córdova y Córdova to a draw in the Battle of Cape Spartel. Further Franco-Spanish efforts to capture Gibraltar were unsuccessful. One notable success took place on February 5, 1782, when Spanish and French forces captured Minorca, which Spain retained after the war. Ambitious plans for an invasion of England had to be abandoned.
West Indies and Gulf CoastEdit
There was much action in the West Indies, with several islands changing hands, especially in the Lesser Antilles. At the Battle of the Saintes in April 1782, a victory by Rodney's fleet over the French Admiral de Grasse frustrated the hopes of France and Spain to take Jamaica and other colonies from the British. On May 8, 1782, Count Bernardo de Gálvez, the Spanish governor of Louisiana, captured the British naval base at New Providence in the Bahamas. Nevertheless, except for the French retention of the small island of Tobago, sovereignty in the West Indies was returned to the status quo ante bellum in the 1783 peace treaty.
On the Gulf Coast, Gálvez quickly removed the British from their outposts on the lower Mississippi River in 1779 in actions at Manchac and Baton Rouge in British West Florida. Gálvez then captured Mobile in 1780 and forced the surrender of the British outpost at Pensacola in 1781. His actions led to the Spanish acquisition East and West Florida in the peace settlement.
India and the NetherlandsEdit