American Revolutionary War
The American Revolutionary War (1775每1783), also known as the American War of Independence, was initiated by the thirteen American colonies in congress against Great Britain over their objection to Parliament's taxation policies and lack of colonial representation.[p] From their founding in the 1600s, the colonies were largely left to govern themselves. With the capture of French Canada in the French and Indian War and confirmation of British victory in 1763, 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 answered with punitive measures imposed upon Massachusetts, twelve colonies responded with the First Continental Congress to boycott British goods.[q]
Fighting broke out on 19 April 1775 when the British garrison at Boston were sent to destroy colonial Assembly powder stores and were harassed by Massachusetts militia at Lexington and Concord. In June the Second Continental Congress appointed George Washington to create a Continental Army and oversee the capture of Boston. When their Olive Branch Petition to the King and Parliament was rebuffed, the Patriots 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.[r] However the new British commander-in-chief, General Sir William Howe launched a counter-offensive, capturing New York City. Washington retaliated with harassing attacks at Trenton and Princeton. Howe's 1777每1778 Philadelphia campaign captured the city, but the British were defeated at Saratoga in October 1777. At Valley Forge during the winter of 1777每1778, Washington built a professional army with the important assistance of soldier-of-fortune General von Steuben.
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. But the American victory at Saratoga had captured an entire British field army, so France feared an early American settlement with Britain that would weaken the French position in the Americas. The French foreign minister now saw an opportunity to weaken the rival British and gain a new trading partner militarily dependent on them. The French subsequently made two treaties with Congress, the first for trade, and the second to "defensively" protect that trade in the 1778 Treaty of Alliance.[s] In the war for independence from Britain, the American cause was further helped the next year when Britain gained another enemy: Spain.[t]
In other fronts in North America, Governor of Spanish Louisiana Bernardo G芍lvez routed British forces from Louisiana. The Spanish, along with American privateers supplied the 1779 American conquest of Western Quebec (later the US Northwest Territory). G芍lvez 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 initial success taking Savannah, their losses at King's Mountain and Cowpens led to the British to retreat to Yorktown where it was besieged by a joint Franco-American force. A strategically decisive French naval victory brought the October 1781 surrender of the second British field army in the Revolutionary War. The war between Britain and the Bourbon alliance continued for another two years.[u]
After the surrender of General Cornwallis at Yorktown, the British lost their will to contest American independence. The Tory government fell, and Lord North was replaced by Whig Lord Rockingham. George III promised American independence, and Anglo-American talks began. The Preliminary Peace was signed in November, and in December 1782, George III spoke from the British throne for US independence, trade, and peace between the two countries. 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, the Treaty of Paris was signed between Great Britain and the United States. The conclusive treaties ratified by both Congress and Parliament were exchanged in Paris the following Spring.
Background and political developments
In the three years 1607每1610, English Jamestown, French Quebec and Spanish Santa Fe were established as North American outposts of three European great powers in their ongoing conflict and competition for the establishment of new colonies from 1688 to 1815. At the edges of each North American sphere of influence, frontier settlements were interspersed in a babble of languages. From the first English settlement in Virginia north were Algonkin, Iroquoian, Siouxian, French and English. Southerly were Iroquoian speakers in the Appalachian Mountains, Siouxian on the Atlantic coast, Muskogean in the southeast to the Mississippi, Spanish at the Gulf, and English on the seaboard. Just west of the Mississippi River were Siouan, French and Spanish.
Early English settlement in Virginia and Massachusetts under Elizabeth I and successor James I pointedly recruited veterans from European religious wars in the Eighty Years' War, such as Virginia's Captain John Smith. These brought "hard war" tactics against every foe, whether native, nation-state or pirate, and they effectively schooled their successors in each British North American colony.[y]
Just a decade before the Revolution, the North American French and Indian War spread to Europe and their territories as the Seven Years＊ War. At the 1763 Peace of Paris ending it, France was removed from North America, Spain expanded north and east to the Mississippi River, and the British formally abandoned the Stuart King colonial charters "from sea to sea", accepting a western boundary at the "middle of the Mississippi River" with free navigation on it "to the open sea". When the Europeans changed their maps, this caused major disruptions in their colonies, including military alliances, trade networks, and economic stability. The coming American Revolutionary War was set amidst this already unsettled world.
- Taxation and legislation
From their founding in the 17th century, the colonies were largely allowed to govern themselves; unlike the Spanish Americas, native-born property owners were allowed to participate in colonial government. Although London managed external affairs, the colonists funded militia for defense against New France and their indigenous allies. Once this threat ended with the eviction of France from North America in 1763, disputes arose between Parliament and the colonies as to how these expenses should be paid. With Britain's enlarged North American empire, the earlier Navigation Acts were expanded from mercantile regulation and repurposed for additional revenue.
Parliament sought to expand British American settlement north into Nova Scotia and south into Florida as a hedge against French and Spanish designs respectively. At the Proclamation Line of 1763, British policy was to limit warfare between the American colonists and Indians to increase their trade revenue directly to the Crown. But maintaining the frontier peace for interior trade required policing against illicit colonial settlement. And that required British garrisons in the formerly French forts ceded by the Indians. Limiting colonial westward expansion was to be paid for by the Americans themselves by the 1764 Sugar Act and the 1765 Stamp Act. The economic effect was crippling for New England. The next year, Whig Lord Rockingham was appointed to his first Prime Ministership (1765每1766), and repealed the Stamp Act when he paired it with the Declaratory Act.[z]
When the British royal authorities seized the sloop Liberty in 1768 on suspicion of smuggling, it triggered a riot in Boston. Relations between Parliament and the colonies worsened after Tory Lord North became Prime Minister in January 1770, an office he held until just after the British defeat at Yorktown. He pursued tougher policies, including a threat to charge colonists with treason, although there was no support for this in Parliament; tensions then escalated in March 1770 when British troops fired on civilians who were surrounding and harassing them with rocks in Boston.[aa]
After the 1772 Gaspee Affair when a customs vessel was destroyed in Rhode Island, Parliament repealed all taxes other than that on tea in an attempt to resolve the Crisis of 1772. Partly designed to undercut illegal imports, it was also recognized as another attempt to assert their right to tax the colonies, so it did nothing to quiet opposition. Following the Sons of Liberty protest at the Boston Tea Party in December 1773, Parliament passed a series of measures called the Intolerable Acts. While intended to narrowly punish Massachusetts, they were widely viewed as a threat to the liberty for all the colonies. The Radical Whig Patriots gained widespread support both in America and also among the Whig Opposition seated in Parliament.
- Colonial response
The elected members in the colonial legislatures, those who represented the smaller landowners in the lower-house assemblies, responded by establishing ad hoc provincial legislatures, variously called Congresses, Conventions and Conferences. They effectively removed Crown control within their respective colonies. Twelve sent representatives to the First Continental Congress to develop a joint American response to the crisis. [ab] It passed a compact declaring a trade boycott against Britain.[ac]
While the Congress also affirmed that Parliament had no authority over internal American matters, they also acquiesced to trade regulations for the benefit of the empire.[ae] Awaiting some measure of reconciliation from Parliament and the King's Tory government, Congress authorized the extralegal committees and conventions of the colonial legislatures to enforce the Congressional boycott. In the event, the boycott was effective, as imports from Britain dropped by 97% in 1775 compared to 1774.
Parliament refused to yield to Congressional proposals. In 1775, it declared Massachusetts to be in a state of rebellion and enforced a blockade of the colony. It then passed the Restraining Acts of 1775 aimed at limiting colonial trade to the British West Indies and the British Isles. New England ships were barred from the Newfoundland cod fisheries. These increasing tensions led to a mutual scramble for ordnance between royal governors and the elected assemblies.
British raids on colonial powder magazines 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. 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, two skirmishes were fought between Massachusetts militia and British regulars. The British sustained scores of casualties on their return to Boston after destroying the military stores at Concord.
- Political reactions
Even after fighting began, Congress launched an Olive Branch Petition in another attempt to avert war. George III rejected the offer as insincere because Congress also made contingency plans for muskets and gunpowder. The King answered militia resistance at Bunker Hill with a Proclamation of Rebellion, which further provoked the Patriot faction in Congress. Parliament rejected coercive measures on the colonies by 170 votes. The tentative Whig majority there feared an aggressive policy would drive the Americans towards independence. Tories stiffened their resistance to compromise, and the King himself began micromanaging the war effort. The Irish Parliament pledged to send troops to America, and Irish Catholics were allowed to enlist in the army for the first time.[af]
The initial hostilities in Boston caused a pause in British activity, as they remained in New York City awaiting more troops. That inactive response gave the Patriots a political advantage in the colonial assemblies, and the British lost control over every former colony. The army in the British Isles had been deliberately kept small since 1688 to prevent abuses of power by the King. To prepare for war overseas, Parliament signed treaties of subsidy with small German states for additional troops. 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.
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 this end, 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". Through secret correspondence the Committee shared information and forged alliances 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. Members included Thomas Paine, the committee's secretary, and Silas Deane who was instrumental in securing French aid in Paris.[ag]
Thomas Paine's pamphlet Common Sense boosted public support for independence throughout the thirteen colonies, and it was widely reprinted. At the rejection of the Olive Branch Petition, Congress appointed the Committee of Five consisting of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston 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 as violating English rights. On July 2, Congress voted for independence, and it published the declaration on July 4 which George Washington read to assembled troops in New York City on July 9.[ah]
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 a second stage, one of 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, there were in every colony and county, a mix of Patriots (Whigs) and Loyalists (Tories) who now went to war against their neighbors.[ai]
War breaks out
As the American Revolutionary War was to unfold 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 a US ally.
In the expanded Northern theater and wintering at Valley Forge, General Washington checked British operations 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 the Chesapeake Bay. Initially the British were successful, and Americans lost an army in their greatest defeat at Charleston in 1780. 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.
Sir Thomas Gage, the British Commander-in-Chief in America 1763每1775 and sitting Governor of Massachusetts, gathered intelligence of stores of militia ordnance at Concord. He made plans to secure the stores there by way of Lexington, where he aimed to capture John Hancock and Samuel Adams, the principal provocateurs of the rebellion at that time. The operation was planned as a one-day sortie, to be begun at midnight and catch the militia by surprise before they could respond. But the patriot intelligence network learned of Gage's intentions before he could act. Organizer Paul Revere quickly informed the countryside and alerted Captain John Parker commanding the Patriot forces in Concord.
British troops started out at midnight April 19, 1775. At Lexington, British troops faced off against militia and a shot was fired. After a skirmish there, the British destroyed supplies at Concord and withdrew to Boston. In the militia pursuit more than 200 British soldiers were killed. Overnight, local militia converged on and laid siege to Boston.
The next month 4500 British reinforcements arrived with generals William Howe, John Burgoyne, and Henry Clinton. On June 17, the British seized the Charlestown Peninsula at the Battle of Bunker Hill. The frontal assault on shallow American entrenchments cost the British over 1000 troops, and many officers fell to American rifle snipers. Surviving British commanders were dismayed at the costly attack which had gained them little, and Gage appealed to London to send a large army to suppress the revolt. But Howe soon replaced Gage as British commander-in-chief for North America.
To lead Patriot forces surrounding Boston, Congressional leader John Adams of Massachusetts nominated [[Virginia in the American Revolution|Virginia delegate George Washington for commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in June 1775. Washington had previously commanded Virginia militia regiments in British combat commands during the French and Indian War. He proceeded to Boston to assume field command of the ongoing siege on July 3. Howe made no effort to attack in a standoff with Washington, and Washington made no plan to assault the city. Instead, the Americans fortified Dorchester Heights.
In early March 1776, Colonel Henry Knox arrived with heavy artillery captured from a raid on Fort Ticonderoga. Under cover of darkness Washington placed his artillery atop Dorchester Heights March 5, 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, sailing to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Washington then moved his army south to New York.
Beginning in August 1775, American privateers had begun to raid villages in Nova Scotia, first at Saint John, then Charlottetown and Yarmouth. They continued in 1776 at Canso and then a land assault on Fort Cumberland.
British officials in Quebec began negotiating with Indian tribes to support them, while the Americans urged them to maintain neutrality. 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.[aj]
The second American expedition into the former French territory was defeated at the Battle of Quebec on December 31, and after a loose siege the Americans withdrew in May 6, 1776. An American failed counter-attack on June 8 ended their operations in Quebec. 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 Ticonderoga, ending the campaign. In November 1776, a Massachusetts-sponsored uprising in Nova Scotia was disbursed. The cumulative failures cost the Patriots support in local public opinion, and aggressive anti-Loyalist policies in the New England colonies alienated the Canadians. The Patriots made no further attempts to invade north.
In Virginia, Royal Governor Lord Dunmore had attempted to disarm the Assembly's militia as tensions increased, although no fighting broke out. He issued a proclamation on November 7, 1775, promising freedom for slaves who fled their Patriot masters to fight for the Crown. 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. Speaker Peyton Randolph in the last Royal Virginia Assembly session did not make a response to Lord Dunmore concerning Parliament's Conciliatory Resolution. Negotiations failed in part because Randolph was also President of the [[Virginia Conventions#First through fourth Revolutionary conventions, 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.
Fighting broke out on November 19 in South Carolina between Loyalist and Patriot militias, and the Loyalists were subsequently driven out of the colony. Loyalists were recruited in North Carolina to reassert colonial rule in the South, but they were decisively defeated and Loyalist sentiment was subdued. 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, but it failed and left the South in Patriot control until 1780.
Shortages in Patriot gunpowder led Congress to authorize an expedition against the Bahamas in the British West Indies to secure additional ordnance there. On March 3, 1776, the Americans landed and engaged the British at the Raid of Nassau, but the local militia offered no resistance. The expedition confiscated what supplies they could and sailed for home on March 17. 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.
British New York counter-offensive
After regrouping at Halifax, Nova Scotia, William Howe determined to take the fight to the Americans. He set sail 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. Facing off against the British at New York City, Washington realized that he needed advance information to deal with disciplined British regular troops. On August 12, 1776, 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.[ak]
Washington split his army to positions on Manhattan Island and across the East River in western Long Island. 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. Through the night of August 28, General Henry Knox bombarded the British. On August 29, an American council of war 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 rear guard.
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 did not have authority to recognize independence, only to offer pardons. Howe seized control of New York City four days later and unsuccessfully engaged the Americans the following day. 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, instead attacking a hill that was of no strategic value.
Washington's retreat isolated his remaining forces and the British captured their Fort Washington on November 16. The British victory there amounted to Washington's most disastrous defeat, losing 3,000 prisoners. The remaining American regiments on Long Island fell back four days later. General Henry Clinton wanted to pursue Washington's disorganized army, but he was required to commit 6,000 troops to first capture Newport, Rhode Island to secure the Loyalist port.[al] General Charles Cornwallis pursued Washington, but Howe ordered him to halt, leaving Washington to march away unmolested.
The outlook was bleak for the American cause; the reduced army had dwindled to fewer than 5,000 men and that number would be reduced further when enlistments expired at the end of the year. Popular support wavered, morale ebbed away, and Congress abandoned Philadelphia for Baltimore. Loyalist activity surged in the wake of the American defeat, especially in New York state. Once Washington was driven off Long Island, he realized that he would need more than military might and amateur spies to defeat the British. He committed to professionalize military intelligence and with the aid of Benjamin Tallmadge they launched the Culper spy ring of six men.[am]
In London, news of the victorious Long Island campaign was well received with festivities held in the capital. Public support reached a peak, and the King awarded the Order of the Bath to Howe. 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. In the meantime, the British entered winter quarters in the New York City area anticipating renewed campaigning the following Spring.
Two weeks after Congress withdrew to safer Maryland, on the night of December 25每26, 1776, Washington crossed the ice-choked Delaware River about 30 miles upriver from Philadelphia. His approach over frozen trails surprised Colonel Johann Rall and the Continentals overwhelmed the Hessian garrison at Trenton, New Jersey, taking 900 prisoners.[an] The celebrated victory rescued the American army's flagging morale giving new hope to the Patriot cause, and it dispelled much of the fear of professional Hessian "mercenaries". Cornwallis marched to retake Trenton, but he was repulsed at Assunpink Creek. That night in pursuit, Washington outmaneuvered Cornwallis and defeated his rearguard the following day. The two victories contributed to convincing the French that the Americans were worthwhile military allies.
Washington entered winter quarters from January to May 1778 at Morristown, New Jersey. There he received the hoped for Congressional direction to inoculate all Continental troops against small pox.[ao] Though a "Forage War" between the armies continued until March, Howe made no attempt to attack the Americans over the winter of 1776每1777, much to Washington's amazement.
British northern strategy fails
In December 1776, John Burgoyne returned to London to set strategy 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.
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. Burgoyne set out along Lake Champlain on June 14, 1777, quickly capturing Ticonderoga on July 5. From there the pace slowed. The Continentals under General Horatio Gates blocked roads, destroyed bridges, dammed streams, and stripped the area of food. 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 support abandoned him. On August 16, a Brunswick foraging expedition was defeated at Bennington where more than 700 troops were captured.
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, Lord Howe continued his planned advance on Philadelphia. Early feints failed to bring Washington to battle in June 1777. Howe then declined to attack towards Philadelphia on that front, hesitating to consider another approach, either overland via New Jersey or by sea at the Delaware Bay.[ap]
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 in, but he still suffered constant desertion, and critical supplies ran low. On October 7, a reconnaissance in force against the Continentals failed with heavy British losses during the second Battle of Saratoga. Burgoyne then 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 losing 6,222 soldiers as prisoners of war.
Howe renewed his Philadelphia campaign later in the fall with additional supplies, landing in Wilmington by sea. Advancing on September 11, he outflanked Washington south of Philadelphia and defeated him, but failed to pursue and destroy the defeated Americans. The British victory at Willistown left Philadelphia defenseless, and Howe captured the city unopposed on September 26. He then transferred 9,000 men to Germantown just north of Philadelphia. Washington launched a surprise attack there but was repulsed on October 4. Once again, Howe did not follow up on his victory. After several days of probing and an inconclusive engagement at White Marsh, Howe did not pursue the vulnerable American rear for their baggage train and supplies. The British commander had not previously anticipated Washington's counter attack, but now General Lord Howe inexplicably ordered his army to withdraw directly onto Philadelphia and into winter quarters.
Howe had failed to pursue and destroy the defeated Americans on two occasions; once after the Brandywine, and again after the Germantown. Though Washington's surprise at Germantown failed to result in another Trenton, European commanders including Frederick the Great were impressed with a capacity for fighting among the American regiments.[aq]
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. During the 1777-1778 encampment, Baron 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.
While the Americans wintered only twenty miles away, Howe made no effort to attack their camp, which some critics argue could have ended the war. At the end of the campaign Howe resigned his commission, to be replaced by Henry Clinton on May 24, 1778. 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. Emerging for the 1778 campaign season, the two armies fought at Monmouth Court House on June 28, with the Americans holding the field and boosting Patriot morale.
Early in the war, it became clear to Congress that help from France was imperative. 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 attriting 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.
French foreign minister the Comte de Vergennes was strongly anti-British, and he had long sought a pretext for going to war with Britain since their conquest of Canada in 1763. The French public favored war, but Vergennes and King Louis XVI were hesitant, owing to the military and financial risk.
France would not feel compelled to intervene if the colonies were still considering reconciliation with Britain, as France would have nothing to gain in that event. To assure assistance from France, independence had to be declared, and that was effected by Congress in July 1776. The Americans who had been covertly supplied by French merchants 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. These proved invaluable in the American 1777 Saratoga campaign.
The British defeat at Saratoga caused British anxiety over possible foreign intervention. The North ministry sought reconciliation with the colonies by consenting to their original demands, but without independence. However the Americans were now bolstered by their French trade, and would settle for no terms short of complete independence from Britain. For the French, American victory at Saratoga convinced them that supporting the Patriots was worthwhile, but doing so too late would bring additional concerns. King Louis XVI feared that if Britain's concessions would be accepted and bring early reconciliation, then the rival of his ancien regime could strike at French Caribbean islands. To prevent this, France formally recognized the United States in a trade treaty on February 6, 1778, and followed that with a defensive military alliance guaranteeing that trade and American independence.[ar] 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.
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 Lafayette's "great zeal to the cause of liberty" and commissioned him a major General.[as]
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. But Spain was still reluctant to make a formal commitment to American independence due to other Continental balance of power interests, and fear for its American colonies where there had been two recent creole rebellions. However in 1779 Spanish First Minister Floridablanca affirmed his desire to support the Americans so as to weaken Britain's empire.[at]
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. 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. French supplies bound for America were also transshipped through Dutch ports.
The Dutch Republic traded with France following France's declaration of war on Britain, citing a prior concession by Britain on this issue. But despite standing international agreements, Britain responded by confiscating Dutch shipping, and even firing upon it. The Dutch joined the First League of Armed Neutrality with Austria, Prussia and Russia to enforce their neutral status. But The Republic had further assisted the rebelling Patriot cause. It had also given sanctuary to American privateers, and had drafte a Treaty of Amity and Commerce with the Americans. Britain argued that these actions contravened The Republic's neutral stance and Britain declared war on the Dutch as a belligerent in December 1780.
Meanwhile, George III had given up on subduing America while Britain had a European war to fight. 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. Britain could not find a powerful ally among the Great Powers to engage France on the European continent, so French strength was not drawn off into Continental engagements as in the Seven Years' War. Britain subsequently changed its focus into the Caribbean theater, and diverted major military resources away from America. Despite these developments, George III determined never to recognize American independence and to further make war on the American colonies indefinitely, or until they pleaded to return as his subjects.[au]
Stalemate in the North
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. French admiral the Comte d'Estaing had been dispatched to America in April 1778 to assist Washington. The Franco-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. The effort failed when the French opted to withdraw to avoid putting their ships at risk, disappointing the Americans. The war then stalemated. Most actions were 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. Clinton then unsuccessfully attempted to coax Washington into a decisive engagement by making a major raid into Connecticut. In July, a large American naval operation attempted to retake Maine (Massachusetts), but it resulted in a defeat. The high frequency of Iroquois raids compelled Washington to mount a punitive expedition which destroyed a large number of Iroquois settlements, but the effort did not stop the raids. During the winter of 1779每1780, the Continental Army suffered greater hardships than at Valley Forge. Morale was poor, public support fell away in the long war, the national currency was virtually worthless, the army was plagued with supply problems, desertion was common, and mutinies occurred in the Pennsylvania Line regiment and 300 of the New Jersey Line over the conditions in early 1780.
In 1780, Clinton launched an attempt to retake New Jersey. On June 7, 6000 men invaded under Hessian general Wilhelm von Knyphausen, but they met 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. A second attempt two weeks later was soundly defeated at Springfield, effectively ending British ambitions in New Jersey. Meanwhile, American general Benedict Arnold turned traitor, joined the British army and attempted to surrender the American West Point fortress. The plot was foiled when British spy-master John Andr谷 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.
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. 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 and then secured Vincennes, although Vincennes was recaptured by Quebec Governor Henry Hamilton. In early 1779, the Virginians counter-attacked to retake Vincennes, taking Hamilton prisoner. Clark secured western British Quebec as the American Northwest Territory in the Treaty of Paris concluding the war.
On May 25, 1780, the British launched an expedition into 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 G芍lvez'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 Major Clark. The British initiative under Colonel Henry Bird from Detroit was ended at the rumored approach of Colonel Clark.[av] 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. The Americans responded with a major offensive along the Mad River in August which met with some success, but without ending Indian raids.
The French soldier of fortune Augustin de La Balme led Canadien militiamen in an attempt to capture Detroit, but it was dispersed when Miami Indians led by Little Turtle attacked the encamped settlers on November 5.[aw] 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.
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, and British troops then moved inland to recruit Loyalist support. The initial Loyalist recruitment was promising in early 1779, but then a large Loyalist-only militia was defeated by Patriot militia at Kettle Creek on February 14. That demonstrated Loyalist need for the support of British regulars in major engagements. But the British in turn defeated Patriot militia at Brier Creek on March 3.
In June the British launched an abortive assault on Charleston, South Carolina that was followed by their withdrawal back to Savannah. The operation became notorious for its widespread looting by British troops that enraged both Loyalists and Patriots in the Carolinas. In October, a combined Franco-American siege by Admiral d'Estaing and General Benjamin Lincoln failed to recapture Savannah.
In the following year, the primary British strategy in America hinged on a Loyalist uprising in the South. Cornwallis proceeded into North Carolina, gambling his success on a large Loyalist uprising which never materialized. In May 1780, Henry Clinton captured Charleston inflicting the largest defeat suffered by the American cause in the Revolutionary War, 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 British Colonel Banastre Tarleton defeated the withdrawing Americans at Waxhaws on May 29.[ax]
British commander-in-chief Clinton returned to New York, leaving General Lord Cornwallis at Charleston to oversee the southern campaign. Cornwallis ended the Spring 1778 policy to parol Patriot militia who would return home not to fight Royal authority again. The new commander now required an oath of allegiance that entailed a promise to fight former American comrades in arms. Backcountry resistance stiffened. Cornwallis confiscated leading rebel plantations, leading neutral "grandees" to side with Patriots. Patriot militias clashed with Loyalist militias and elements of Tarlton's American Legion throughout July and August at 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, win or lose.
In July, Congress appointed General Horatio Gates with a new command to lead the American effort in the south. By mid-August 16, 1780, he had lost the Battle of Camden, and Cornwallis was poised to invade North Carolina. 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 ranged beyond mutual support. In early October the Tory militias were defeated at the Battle of Kings Mountain, dispersing Loyalist support in the region.
Despite the setbacks, Cornwallis advanced into North Carolina, gambling that he would receive substantial Loyalist support there. Greene evaded combat with the advancing British, without a protracted war of attrition. Washington replaced southern army commanding General Gates with General Nathanael Greene at the beginning of December 1780. Greene was unable to confront the British directly, so he dispatched a force under Daniel Morgan to recruit additional troops. Morgan then defeated the renowned British Legion, on January 17, 1781, at Cowpens. Cornwallis subsequently aborted his advance and retreated back into South Carolina.
The British launched a surprise offensive in Virginia in January 1781, with Benedict Arnold invading Richmond, Virginia. It met little resistance. Governor Thomas Jefferson escaped Richmond just ahead of the British forces, and the British burned the city to the ground.[ay]
By March, Greene's army had increased in size enough that he felt confident to face Cornwallis who was now far from his supply base. The two armies engaged near Guilford Courthouse on March 15. Accompanied by lieutenant colonel "Light Horse Harry"[az] and his cavalry, the fighting went back and forth with the first British advance forcing back the Americans. A second clash in a wooded area with close-quarters combat drove Greene from the field, but Cornwallis's army had suffered irreplaceable casualties. The Americans now maintained contact with Cornwallis in a war of attrition, while the British retreated to coastal Wilmington, North Carolina for reinforcement. The Patriots were left in control of the abandoned Carolinas and Georgia interior.
General Greene then reclaimed the South for the Patriot cause. On April 25 the American troops suffered a reversal at Hobkirk's Hill due, but they continued to march 160 miles in 8 days, dislodging strategic British posts in the area as they proceeded. They recaptured Fort Watson and Fort Motte on April 15. 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.
The last British effort to stop Greene's advance occurred at Eutaw Springs on September 8, but the British casualties were 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.
Mississippi River theater
Spanish Louisiana, Luisiana territory ran west of the Mississippi River, but Governor General G芍lvez had been allowing covert aid to George Washington by Pittsburgh via New Orleans. 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.
In the Virginia militia campaign of 1778, General George Rogers Clark founded Louisville, and cleared British forts in the region. Clark's conquest resulted in the creation of Illinois County, Virginia. It was organized with the consent of French-speaking colonials guaranteed protection of the Catholic Church. Voters at their court house in Kaskaskia, were represented for three years in the Virginia General Assembly.[ba]
At the Spanish declaration of war with France in 1779, Governor G芍lvez raised an army in Spanish Luisiana to initiate offensive operations against British outposts. First, he cleared British garrisons in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Fort Bute and Natchez, Mississippi, capturing five forts. In this first maneuver G芍lvez opened navigation on the Mississippi River north to US settlement in Pittsburg. His Spanish military assistance to Oliver Pollock for transport up the Mississippi River became an alternative supply to Washington's Continental Army, bypassing the British-blockaded Atlantic Coast.
In 1781, Governor Galvez and Pollack campaigned east along the Gulf Coast to secure West Florida including British-held Mobile and Pensacola. The Spanish operations crippled the British supply of armaments to British Indian allies, effectively suspending a military alliance to attack settlers between the Mississippi River and Appalachian Mountains.[bb]
British defeat in America
In 1781, the British commander-in-chief in America General Clinton garrisoned in New York City. He had failed to construct a coherent strategy for British operations that year, owing to his difficult relationship with his naval counterpart Admiral Marriot Arbuthnot. Arbuthnot in turn had failed to detect the arrival of French naval forces in July. In Charleston, Cornwallis independently developed an aggressive plan for a campaign in Virginia to cut supply to Greene's army in the Carolinas, expecting the Patriot resistance in the South would then collapse. Lord Germain, Cabinet Secretary of State for America in London agreed, but neither official informed Clinton.
Washington and the Comte de Rochambeau discussed their options. Washington pushed 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. Franco-American movements around New York caused Clinton a great deal of anxiety, fearing an attack on the city. His instructions were vague to Cornwallis during this time, rarely forming explicit orders. However, Clinton did instruct Cornwallis to establish a fortified naval base and to transfer troops to the north to defend New York.
Cornwallis maneuvered to Yorktown to establish a fortified a sea-base of supply. But at the same time Lafayette was maneuvering south with a Franco-American army.[bc] The British dug in at Yorktown and awaited the Royal Navy. 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. Though 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, serving to hasten the British defeat.
A British fleet commanded by Thomas Graves set sail from New York to rendezvous with Cornwallis. As they approached the entry to the Chesapeake Bay on September 5, the French fleet commanded by Admiral de Grasse decisively defeated Graves at the Battle of the Chesapeake, giving the French control of the waters surrounding Yorktown and cutting off Cornwallis from further reinforcements or supplies. Cornwallis then attempted a breakout over the York River at Gloucester Point, only to fail when a storm hit. Under heavy bombardment with dwindling supplies, the British determined that their situation was untenable.[bd] On October 17, 1781, after twelve hours of negotiations, the terms of surrender were finalized. Yorktown was the last major battle on the American mainland, but Britain fought France and Spain elsewhere for two more years.[be]
Strategy and commanders
In the American Revolutionary War, the national strategy for victory and the commander operational choices for success were different for the two sides. The 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.
In London, the government at Westminster 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 for the Scots after 1704, admitting local Members of Parliament. To win the "American war" in this rebellion, the British Ministry had to defeat the Continental Army early in the war and force the dissolution of Congress, allowing the King's men to take up local colonial administration again. The map on the right shows the principal military operations on both sides over the course of the Revolution, with the British in red and the Americans in blue. The timeline along the bottom notes the course of battle victories, with most British in the first half, and most American in the second half of the war.
The revolt for and against colonial independence between British subjects in 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 settled for its own economic strength and European balance of power. By 1775, British American colonies supplied of raw materials for its ships and one-third 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.
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 self-proclaimed themselves states independent of 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 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 to break the European mutually beneficial system 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 now went to war among their neighbors. These divided variously in each state along both multi-ethnic and multi-religious lines. Every faction and element had veterans from the conflict between Britain and France fifteen years before, there were officers and sergeants on every side practiced in the arts of both Indian frontier warfare, and in the European infantry line formations of musketry.
Third, there was an international war, outside the American Revolution removed from it, but also intervening and influencing it. 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. In the two years from 1778 to 1780, more countries with their own colonial possessions worldwide went to war against Britain for their own reasons, including the Dutch Republic to assert 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. 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.
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 a Mother Country that lay six to twelve weeks away by sail. They were spread across most of the North American Atlantic seaboard stretching 1000 miles. Most farms were remote from the seaports; control of four or five major ports did not give British armies control over the inland areas. Each state had established internal distribution systems.
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. The state legislatures independently funded and controlled their local militias. In the American Revolution, they would train and provide Continental Line regiments to the regular army, each with their own state officer corps. Motivation was also a major asset. Each colonial capital had its own newspapers and printers. The Patriots had more popular support than the Loyalists. British hoped for the Loyalists to do much of the fighting, but they did much less than expected.
- Continental Army
When the war began, Congress lacked a professional army or navy, and each colony maintained only local militias. Militiamen were lightly armed, had little training, and usually without uniforms. Their units served for only a few weeks or months at a time and lacked the training and discipline of soldiers with more experience. Local county militias were reluctant to travel far from home and they were unavailable for extended operations. The new Continental Army suffered significantly from a lack of an effective training program and from largely inexperienced officers and sergeants. The inexperience of its officers was somewhat offset by a few senior officers. Each state legislature appointed officers for both county and state militias and their regimental Continental Line officers, but Washington was permitted to choose and command his own generals, although sometimes he was required to accept Congressional appointments.[bf]
However, if properly employed their numbers could help the Continental armies 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. The Congress established a regular army on June 14, 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.[bg]
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 all pointed toward the common goal. 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 a Fabian strategy rather than risking frontal assaults against Britain's professional soldiers and officers. The American commander-in-chief spent more than 10 percent of his total military funds on intelligence operations. Without the efforts of Washington and the Culper Spy Ring substantially increased effective allocation and deployment of Continental regiments in the field. 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 he never gave up fighting for the American cause.
The American armies were small by European standards of the era, largely attributable to limitations such as lack of powder and other logistics.[bh][bi] 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 war years, but there were never more than 90,000 men under arms at one time.
American officers as a whole never equaled their opponents in tactics and maneuver, and they lost most of the pitched battles. The great successes at Boston (1776), Saratoga (1777), and Yorktown (1781) came from trapping the British far from base with much larger numbers of troops. Nevertheless, after 1778, Washington's army was transformed into a more disciplined and effective force, due largely to training by Baron von Steuben. 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.
Though Congress had responsibility for the war effort and getting 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. Congress evolved in its committee oversight, establishing the Board of War which included members of the military. But the Board of War was also a committee ensnared with its own internal procedures, so Congress created the post of Secretary of War, appointing Major General Benjamin Lincoln in February, 1781. Washington worked closely with Lincoln in coordinating civilian and military authorities and took charge of training and supplying the army.
- Continental Navy
During the first summer of the war, Washington began outfitting schooners and other small sea-going vessels to prey on ships supplying the British in Boston. Congress established the Continental Navy on October 13, 1775, and appointed Esek Hopkins as the Navy's first commander. The following month, Marines were organized on November 10, 1775. The Continental Navy was a handful of small frigates and sloops throughout the Revolution for the most part.
USS Alliance, Capt. Barry won the last engagement
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. 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. After Yorktown, all US Navy ships were sold or given away. For the first time in America's history she had no fighting forces on the high seas.
Congress primarily commissioned privateers as a cost savings, and to take advantage of the large proportion of colonial sailors found in the British Empire. Overall, they included 1,700 ships, and these 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.[bj] About 55,000 sailors served aboard American privateers during the war.
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. But over time, the Continental Army acquitted itself well in the face of British regulars and their German auxiliaries known to all European great powers. The battles such as the Battle of Bennington, the Battles of Saratoga, and even defeats such as the Battle of Germantown, all proved decisive in gaining the attention and support of powerful European nations such as Bourbon France and Spain, and the Dutch Republic, who moved from covertly supplying the Americans with weapons and supplies to overtly supporting them.
The decisive American victory at Saratoga spurred France to offer the Americans a treaty of trade. The two nations also agreed to a defensive treaty of alliance to protect their trade, that 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.
On June 13, 1778, France declared war on Great Britain, and it invoked the French military alliance with the US. That ensured additional US privateer support for French possessions in the Caribbean.[bk] 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 Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781.[bl]
In 1775, the British Isles held a larger population than the thirteen American colonies combined. The population of Great Britain and Ireland in 1780 was approximately 12.6 million, while the Thirteen Colonies held a population of some 2.8 million, including some 500,000 slaves. Nevertheless, fighting all thirteen rebelling colonies in America across the Atlantic presented the British with major problems beyond those they encountered in the Williamite War or the 1745 Rising across the Irish Sea. The key difference was distance; it could take up to three months to cross the Atlantic, and orders from London were often outdated by the time that they arrived.
Politically and economically, the British American colonies had never been formally united prior to the conflict and there was no centralized area of ultimate strategic importance. In the provinces warred over in Europe, the fall of a capital city often signaled the end of a conflict. Yet the American war continued unabated even after the fall of major settlements including Philadelphia where Congress met, New York and Charleston. Britain's ability to project its power overseas lay chiefly in the power of the Royal Navy, allowing her to control major coastal settlements with relative ease and to enforce a strong blockade of colonial ports. Nevertheless the overwhelming majority of the American population was agrarian, not urban. The American economy proved resilient enough to withstand the blockade's effects. The vastness of the American countryside and the limited manpower available to a British occupying army meant that the British could never simultaneously defeat the Americans and occupy captured territory.[bn]
- British Army
Britain had four commanders-in-chief from initial days of the American colonial revolt to the final conclusion of the British-American civil war. They commanded a royal army with a legacy of successful fighting in North America. From 1754 to 1763, the British and their colonially funded militia auxiliaries had successfully expelled the French from the North American continent.
But in 1775, the greatest concern for military security was the wealthiest possessions of Britain, which were eagerly coveted by other European powers. Many of these possessions were in the Caribbean, with Jamaica alone out-producing revenues of all the thirteen American colonies. The British Army garrisoning America for civil order amounted to 8,500 men among 2.8 million inhabitants.[bo] The British army at home in the British Isles had been deliberately kept small in peacetime to prevent abuses of power by the King.[bp] Despite Parliament's limits on them, the successor eighteenth century regiments were not welcome guests among British civilian populations. They were regarded with scorn and contempt by the press and public of the New and Old World alike, derided as enemies of liberty. The idle peacetime Army after 1763 fell into corruption and inefficiency, resulting in many administrative difficulties once campaigning began a decade later.
The first commander of British forces in America following the 1763 Treaty of Paris was long-serving General Lord Thomas Gage. He had been installed in the flush victory days immediately following the end of the French and Indian War in America, tasked with expanding the British colonial administration into the French cessions in North America. Following a successful raid on militia stores at Concord, Massachusetts, General Gage found himself bottled up in Boston port. In an effort to break out, his Bunker Hill assault cost high casualties from a frontal assault against the shallow American entrenchments at Bunker Hill, and frontier militia rifle-fire.[bq]
General Gage was immediately replaced with General Sir William Howe who then commanded British forces in North America 1775每1778. Both commanders had been light infantry commanders in America during the French and Indian War, but now General Howe had a command advantage, as he received large numbers of reinforcements of both British and German troops, horse and artillery. Lord Howe's tenure continued the London policy of "soft war" under the influence of back-bencher Whigs in Parliament. Tory Prime Minister Lord North was cautious in his selection for command because senior general officers on the British Army rolls refused to serve in America to put down the revolt. Through the American crises of 1775, the British leadership discovered it had overestimated the capabilities of its own troops, while underestimating those of the colonists. Strategic and tactical reassessments began in London and British America. Both British military and civil officials soon acknowledged that their initial responses to the rebellion had allowed the initiative to shift to the Patriots, as British authorities rapidly lost control over every colony.
But Howe subsequently made several strategic errors that cost the British offensive initiative. The general's tardiness in launching the New York campaign awaiting supplies, and his reluctance to allow Cornwallis to vigorously pursue Washington's beaten army, have both been attributed to food shortages. During the winter of 1776每1777, Howe split his army into scattered cantonments. This decision dangerously exposed the individual forces to defeat in detail, but low food supply in New York City warehouses required dispersed regimental foraging parties. Washington took advantage at Trenton and Princeton. Howe's difficulties during the next year's Philadelphia campaign were also magnified by the poor quality and quantity of resupply directly from Britain.
In Howe's initial approach to capture Philadelphia, was by sea via the Chesapeake Bay, so he was unable to assist Burgoyne and no surprise was achieved. That decision so angered Tories on both sides of the Atlantic that Howe was accused in Parliament of treason. Howe may have been dissuaded from direct assaults by the memory of the grievous losses the British suffered at Bunker Hill. But at the surrender of General John Burgoyne and the loss of a British army to the Continental Army at Saratoga, Howe was recalled.
Howe's replacement as British commander-in-chief in 1778 was General Sir Henry Clinton.[br] He would serve for the duration of British campaigning in North America. London changed its war policy with recommendations to ruthlessly pursue victory against the colonists as enemies. General Sir Clinton was professionally regarded in the British Army as one of the best-read experts on campaign tactics and military strategy. But like Howe before him, Clinton's efforts to campaign suffered from chronic supply issues. Clinton was largely inactive in the North throughout 1779, launching few major campaigns. By 1780, the situation had not improved.[bs]
To emphasize his disappointment, Clinton had asked London that Admiral Mariot Arbuthnot be recalled. Arbuthnot's relief was meant to be Admiral Sir George Rodney from his Leeward Islands command in late 1780, but Arbuthnot appealed to the admiralty. The replacement was upheld and Rodney took command in New York, but not before Arbuthnot narrowly turned back a French navy attempt in March 1781 to reinforce Lafayette in Virginia at the Battle of Cape Henry.[bt]
The following spring in Charleston, General Lord Cornwallis commanded the British southern army in a campaign north into Virginia to force a collapse of Patriot support throughout the South. Although approved by Colonial Secretary Sir George Germain in London, General Clinton in New York was not notified either of adopting the plan or the beginning of the campaign. Clinton delayed sending reinforcements because he believed the bulk of Washington's army was still outside New York City, then at the attempt, Admiral Romney's relief fleet to Yorktown failed.
Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown and the loss of a second British army to the Continental Army effectively ended British attempts to retake America. Clinton was relieved and replaced by Sir Guy Carleton. On taking command of British forces in America, Carleton then successfully managed the British transport of Loyalists to Nova Scotia and British East Florida, then evacuated British troops from American port cities in Savannah, Charleston and New York City.[bu]
In 1775 at the onset of the American War of Independence, the British government lacked sufficient popular support to fully officer and man the regular British regiments in the numbers required to subdue the rebellion in colonial America. After seeking military aid from Russia's Catherine the Great, several German princes from Hesse-Cassell and elsewhere in the Holy Roman Empire Germanies were presented with an opportunity to hire out their professional regular army units for service in America.[bv]
Britain had long been their best customer and now to put down the American rebellion, George III arranged treaties of subsidy to hire the needed soldiers, affording the German princes large profits. Their cost per soldier was higher than before, but about half the expense per man for Parliament to maintain a Native American warrior. Service in America to put down a British insurrection made the Hessians[bw] the focus of national sentiment and public political debate in Britain, France, and for the first time, in the Germanies.[bx] In March 1776 the controversial treaties were debated in the British Parliament.[by] The opposition was soon taken up by the Continental Congress.[bz]
American newspapers covered the parliamentary debates in detail, printing and reprinting key speeches on the treaties. In October the only German-language newspaper publishing in the colonies, the Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote reported a British plan to send 10,000 German troops to Boston and New York, with a rumored additional 10,000 Middle-Rhineland Hanoverians to garrison new fortifications at colonial expense. The prospect of foreign occupation led most German-American settlements that had migrated from the Upper Rhine Plain to give up their allegiance to Britain. Generally Americans now believed that Britain fully intended to use hired foreign soldiers against the rebellion, which only served to increase the enlistments into the Continental Army.[ca] During this time, rumors that Britain was sending contingent of peace commissioners also circulated throughout the colonies. However, when copies of the treaties between Britain and the German princes became public,[cb] advocates for independence felt they had the proof they needed that foreign soldiers would soon be on their way. With Britain shown to be determined to go to war, the idea of reconciliation now seemed naive and hopeless.[cc]
Before the actual arrival of the Hessians, Americans had expected and the British had feared that many of the foreign troops would desert.[cd] Thinking along the same lines, on August 9, 1776, the American Congress directed Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin to author and print up "handbills" to disperse among the Hessians, promising them large land holdings and civil liberties if they joined the American cause. The British launched a counter-campaign to dissuade the Hessians from desertion by creating negative stereotypes of the Americans, threatening that if they deserted they would likely be hung by angry and resentful colonists for meddling in a war that was not theirs.[ce]
First arriving in August on Staten Island as reinforcements, the Hessians would soon participate in the Battle of Long Island. During the course of the war, the German regiments were an essential part of the British war effort, augmenting British commands that were unlikely to subdue the rebellion alone. Hessian recruits replaced German unit losses among the various British divisions. By the end of the war nearly 30,000 Hessians had served in America. From this total 17,000 returned to Germany, while more than 12,000 never returned.[cf]
Revolution as civil war
Wealthy Loyalists wielded great influence in London and they were successful in convincing the British government that the majority view in the colonies was sympathetic toward the Crown. Consequently, British military planners pinned the success of their strategies on popular uprisings of Loyalists that never materialized. That they continued to deceive themselves on their level of American support as late as 1780, only a year before the close of hostilities. Recruiting adequate numbers of Loyalist militia to support British military plans in America was made difficult by intensive local Patriot opposition nearly everywhere.[cg]
Approximately 25,000 Loyalists fought for the British throughout the war. While Loyalists may have numbered about twenty-percent of the entire settlement population,[ch] they were concentrated in communities with larger percentages among those living among large plantation owners in Tidewater Virginia and North Carolina, and in South Carolina who produced cash crops in tobacco and indigo comparable to global markets in Caribbean sugar.
From early on, the British were faced with a major dilemma. Any significant level of organized Loyalist activity required a continued presence of British regulars. The available manpower that the British commands had in America was insufficient to protect Loyalist territory while at the same time countering American offensives. The Loyalist militias in the South were vulnerable to strings of defeats by their Patriot militia neighbors. The most critical combat between the two partisan militias was at Kings Mountain. The Patriot victory there irreversibly crippled any further Loyalist militia capability in the South.
During the early war policy administered by General Lord Howe, the need to maintain Loyalist support prevented the Crown from using the traditional methods of suppressing revolts that had been used in Scotland and Ireland. The British cause suffered when their troops ransacked local homes during an aborted attack on Charleston in 1779, enraging both Patriots and Loyalists. After Congress rejected the Carlisle Commission settlement offer in 1778 and London turning to "hard war" during General Lord Clinton's command, neutral colonists in the Carolinas were often driven into the ranks of the Patriots whenever brutal combat broke out between Tories and Whigs. But Loyalists likewise gained advantaged when Patriots resorted to intimidating suspected Tories by destroying property or tarring and feathering.
One outstanding Loyalist militia unit provided some of the best troops in British service. Their British Legion was a mixed regiment of 250 dragoons and 200 infantry, supported by batteries of flying artillery[ci] Under the command of Banastre Tarleton in the South, it gained a fearsome reputation in the colonies for "brutality and needless slaughter". Nevertheless, in May 1779 the Loyalist British Legion was one of five regiments taken into British Army regular service as the American Establishment. After the Battle of Cowpens in January 1781, British Legion survivors amounting to 14 percent of those engaged were consolidated into the British garrison at Charleston.
Women played various roles during the Revolutionary War. They accompanied their husbands when permitted. Martha Washington was known to visit the American camp, for example, and Frederika Charlotte Riedesel documented the Saratoga campaign. Predominantly women accompanied armies as camp followers, selling goods and performing necessary tasks in hospital and camp. They were a necessary part of 18th century armies, and they numbered in the thousands during the war.
Women also assumed military roles. Women acted as spies on both sides of the Revolutionary War. In some cases women some fought, directly supported combat, or performed military service while dressed as women, such as the legendary or mythical Molly Pitcher. Anna Maria Lane joined her husband in the Army, and she was wearing men's clothes by the time of the Battle of Germantown. The Virginia General Assembly later cited her bravery, Lane "performed extraordinary military services, and received a severe wound at the battle of Germantown", fighting dressed as a man and "with the courage of a soldier".
On April 26, 1777, Sybil Ludington rode to alert militia forces of Putnam County, New York and Danbury, Connecticut, warning of the approach of the British. She has been referred to as the "female Paul Revere". Some few others disguised themselves as men. Deborah Sampson fought until her sex was discovered and she was discharged; one, Sally St. Clare died in the war.
Until the early 1920s, the role of African Americans in the Revolutionary War was generally ignored, particularly that of the estimated 500,000 slaves living the Thirteen Colonies. American historians like Edward Eggleston focused on the 5,000 African-Americans who fought for the Patriots, while others such as John Fiske claimed relationships between "master and slave were so pleasant, the offer of freedom fell upon uninterested ears." In reality, following Lord Dunmore's Proclamation of November 1775, an estimated 100,000 slaves joined the British in return for freedom and land grants.
In January 1776, George Washington lifted the ban on black enlistment in the army, telling Congress state recruitment was inadequate and there was no other way to replace Continental Army manpower shortages from disease and desertion. Small all-black units were formed in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Another all-black unit for the Patriot cause came from Saint-Domingue with French colonial forces. In addition to the 5,000 in the Continental Army and Navy, another 4,000 African-Americans served in various military roles. These included state militia units, privateers, teamsters driving wagons, servants to officers, and spies. While some of these received land grants or Congressional pensions in old age, others were sent back to their masters after the war was over, despite having been promised their freedom.