The American Revolutionary War
known as the American War of Independence
. It has been mistakenly
called the American Revolution
but the American Revolution
began much earlier and was a larger scheme including the war.) was a war
fought between the British Crown and its colonies in North America, allied
with France, from 1775 to 1783. The eventual outcome was the recognition
of independence of the 13 southernmost of the colonies, as well as lightly
settled territories west to the Mississippi River.
Before the revolution most people in the British North American Colonies
considered themselves loyal subjects of the British Crown, with the same
rights and obligations as people in Britain. However, under the doctrine
of mercantilism the British considered the Colonies more as a resource
to be utilized for the benefit of their own economy and had little respect
for the Colonialists. This difference in perception led to a vicious circle
of Colonialists acting against what they saw as unfair policies, harsh
British reaction, followed by stronger Colonial reaction, leading to even
harsher British reaction -- all of this spiraling into the revolution.
As the Colonialists started rejecting the Crown they also started becoming
more radicalized in other ways, paying more attention to the idea of a
broad democracy and to people like Thomas Paine, who not long previously
would have been condemned as a leveller.
It should be noted however that a large proportion, probably a majority,
of the population did stay loyal or neutral during the war. Loyalists,
known as Tories, included members of the aristocracy who had a lot to lose
as well as recent immigrants who identified more with their birthplace
than their new home. Following the war many Tories were forced to flee
to Canada or Britain. Many Native Americans also opposed the revolution
realizing that they were likely to suffer more at the hands of independent
Americans than the British.
The revolution started in April 1775 when British troops quartered in
Boston attempted to seize munitions stored by colonial militias at Concord,
Massachusetts. Conflict spread and the outnumbered British garrisons in
the 13 Southernmost colonies were quickly defeated. Fort Ticonderoga fell
in May, Montreal in August. Boston was evacuated by British troops in October.
By the end of 1775 Britain's holdings in North America had been reduced
to the Canadian Maritimes and a besieged garrison at Quebec City in Canada.
In 1776, the British sent 75,000 troops to North America to quell the
rebellion. The colonists met in Philadelphia in June of 1776 and declared
independence from England on July 4, 1776. The colonial army proved no
match for the well-armed British and suffered an embarrassing series of
defeats in the Battle of Brooklyn Heights. By the end of 1776, Quebec,
New York City and much of New Jersey were in British hands. However, during
Christmas week, General George Washington, who had retreated into Pennsylvania,
crossed the Delaware River back into New Jersey and rolled up outlying
British garrisons at Trenton and Princeton. This established a pattern
that held for the rest of the war. The British controlled the territory
they occupied with major forces -- primarily New York City and Philadelphia.
The colonists controlled everything else.
In 1777, a force of 10,000 troops started down from Quebec to cut the
colonies in half. Simultaneously the much larger army in New Jersey moved
across the Delaware River and took Philadelphia -- the colonial capitol
and the largest city in North America. However, after retaking Ticonderoga
with little trouble, the Northern army suffered a series of serious defeats
at Bennington, Fort Stanwix and in two battles near Saratoga. By October
the 5,700 survivors found themselves surrounded, outnumbered and short
of supplies in the wilderness 130 miles (210 km) south of Montreal with
On October 17th General John Burgoyne surrendered an entire British
Army to the colonials. News of the surrender arrived in Paris hard on the
heels of news that colonial troops had caused supposedly invincible British
regulars to flee in disarray in the early stages of the Battle of Germantown.
Convinced by Benjamin Franklin and the news from North America that the
Colonials had a reasonable chance of victory, the French agreed to support
the colonists. Later on February 6, 1778 the Treaty of Alliance and the
Treaty of Amity and Commerce were signed by the United States and France
signaling official recognition of the new republic.
With the French in the war, the conflict settled into a war of attrition.
The Colonials were too weak to dislodge the British from Philadelphia and
New York. The British tried various strategies, but were unable to establish
permanent control over the countryside and the vast majority of the population.
The economy of the colonies slowly disintegrated and the British economy
-- drained by the costs of a War with France and supporting the large occupation
forces in America -- also suffered substantially.
In 1781, the British strategy changed to focus on the Southern colonies.
General Cornwallis led a force of 7,000 troops whose mission was to support
loyalists in the South. He was opposed by Nathaniel Greene who despite
losing every battle, was able to demoralize Cornwallis' troops. Running
low on supplies, Cornwallis moved his forces to Yorktown, Virginia to await
supplies and reinforcements.
Accounts of what happened next are remarkably diverse -- possibly due
to a desire by some American authors to minimize the French role in the
events. All sources agree that French naval forces defeated the British
Royal Navy on September 5th at the Battle of the Chesapeake, cutting off
Cornwallis' supplies and transport. Washington moved his troops from New
York and a combined Colonial-French force of 16,000 or 17,000 troops was
assembled and commenced the Battle of Yorktown on October 6, 1781. Cornwallis'
position quickly became untenable. On October 19th a substantial British
Army once again surrendered to the Colonials; as they marched out and turned
their weapons over, the British regimental band was instructed to play
a popular song of the day entitled "The World Turned Upside Down".
In April 1782, the British House of Commons voted to end the war with
the American colonies and the government of war proponent Lord North was
ousted. The British removed their troops from Charleston, South Carolina
and Savannah, Georgia in the Summer of 1782. In November 1782 a peace agreement
was reached and on February 4, 1783 Great Britain formally declared that
it will cease hostilities in North America. However the formal end of the
War did not occur until the Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3,
1783 and the United States Congress ratified the treaty on January 14,
According to data from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs,
the last surviving U.S. veteran of the conflict, Daniel F. Bakeman, died
on April 5, 1869 at the age of 109.
Important battles (in chronological order):
Battle of Lexington and Concord
Battle of Ticonderoga
Battle of Bunker Hill
Battle of Trenton
Battle of Princeton
Battle of Bennington
Battle of Saratoga
Battle of Yorktown
Some historical societies preserve what they interpret as the ideas of
the Revolution, including