American Revolutionary War
The American Revolutionary War, also known as the American War of Independence, was initiated by the thirteen original colonies against the Kingdom of Great Britain over their objection to Parliament’s direct taxation and its lack of colonial representation. The overthrow of British rule established the United States of America as the first republic in modern history extending over a large territory.
Early British policy for empire in North America was one of salutary neglect. It largely left the settlers there alone to govern themselves. After 1763 Britain gained a new expanded Empire, and Parliament turned to the Navigation Acts to increase revenues. That provoked unrest among the Thirteen Colonies that continued into the next decade. To punish the 1773 Boston Tea Party, Parliament’s Intolerable Acts closed the port of Boston and suspended their colonial legislature, as Royal Governors then did elsewhere. Twelve colonial house assemblies sent delegates to the First Continental Congress. It coordinated a systematic boycott of British goods, then called for a second congress. The Second Continental Congress appointed George Washington in June 1775 as its commander in chief to create a Continental Army and to oversee the Siege of Boston. Their July 1775 Olive Branch Petition was answered by King George III with a Proclamation of Rebellion. Congress then passed the Declaration of Independence in July 1776.
After evicting the British from Boston in 1775, Congress then sponsored an attack on British Quebec, but it failed. The British commander in chief, General Sir William Howe then launched a British counter-offensive, capturing New York City. Washington retaliated with harassing attacks at Trenton and Princeton. In 1777, the British launched an invasion from Quebec to isolate New England. Howe’s 1777-78 Philadelphia campaign captured the city. But the British lost an army at Saratoga in October 1777. At Valley Forge that winter, Washington built a professional army. The American victory at Saratoga convinced the French to enter into treaties for trade and to defend US independence from Britain in 1778.
Spanish Louisiana Governor Bernardo Gálvez cleared British forces from Spanish territory. This allowed supplies north from the Spanish and American privateers for the 1779 Virginia militia conquest of Western Quebec. He then expelled British forces from Mobile, Alabama and Pensacola, cutting off British military assistance to their Indian allies in the interior South. 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 southern army retreat to Yorktown. A decisive French naval victory brought the October 1781 surrender of the second British army lost in the American Revolution.
In early 1782, Parliament voted to end all offensive operations in America, and in December 1782 George III spoke from the British throne for US independence. In April 1783, Congress accepted the British-proposed treaty that met its peace demands including independence and sovereignty west to the Mississippi River. On September 3, 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed between Great Britain and the United States, recognizing the United States, making peace between the two nations, and formally ending the American Revolution.
Taxation and legislationFollowing Cromwell's Interregnum in England after 1649, and then during the Stuart Kings after 1660, early British North American imperial policy was one of benign neglect. And unlike the Spanish colonial government of the same period, the British allowed native-born gentry to become Royal Council members in each colonial legislature. Following the accession of George III to the throne of Great Britain at the end of the Seven Years' War, Parliament increased revenues through the Navigation Acts to fund the war debt. They also were used to pay for greater administrative costs in the expanded British Empire brought by the territorial settlements at the Peace of Paris. American colonists resented the additional levies from Parliament because their local colonial assemblies had taxed them to contribute to the North American part of the British war, and their county militias had fought against the French and their Indian allies on the frontier.
Parliament passed the Stamp Act as a revenue measure in 1765. That began a new direct internal tax without consent of the local colonial assemblies. American colonial legislatures argued that they had exclusive right to impose taxes within their own jurisdictions. Colonists condemned the tax because their rights as Englishmen protected them from any tax from a Parliament in which they had no elected representatives. Parliament argued that the colonies were "virtually represented", an argument that was criticized throughout the British Empire. The act was repealed in 1766, but Parliament also affirmed its right to pass laws that were binding on the colonies. From 1767, Parliament began passing Townshend Acts to raise additional revenue for new royal officials to enforce a merchantile policy. It enacted new taxes on tea, lead, glass, and paper.
Collecting revenues proved difficult, even with new writs of assistance that gave the Crown's enforcement officers the power to make unlimited searches of a suspect without a warrant until the next king took the throne. When the British seized the sloop Liberty in 1768 on suspicions of smuggling, it triggered a riot. British troops were landed to occupy Boston and restore order. Seven years after the 1763 Peace, four consecutive Whig governments had overseen continuously declining relations in the American colonies. In 1770, the Tory Lord North gained office; he would be Prime Minister to George III through to the end of the Revolution, when the British defeat at Yorktown forced North's resignation. Enacting Lord North's tougher policy in America, Parliament threatened to extradite colonists to face trial in England as traitors, and tensions escalated when British garrison troops subsequently fired on rock-throwing civilians at the Boston Massacre.
In 1772, Rhode Islanders boarded and burned a customs schooner. In an effort to quiet colonial unrest, Parliament then repealed all taxes except the one on tea, passing the Tea Act in 1773. Colonial objections continued, and landing the tea for sale was compromised in all the licensed ports of Charleston, Philadelphia, New York City and Boston. But Boston was singled out as the instigator for the others.
At the widespread colonial resistance to its supremacy, Parliament reacted with punitive legislation. It closed Boston Harbor and the Royal Governor dissolved the independent colonial legislature. Other Royal Governors followed suit. Further measures allowed the extradition of American colonial officials for trial elsewhere in the British Empire. The Quartering Act allowed occupying British troops in private homes without the owner's permission. The colonists referred to the measures as the "Intolerable Acts", and they argued that the constitutional rights of their English Charters and their natural rights as free men were being violated. The acts were widely opposed among most colonial legislatures, where Patriots gained support from among neutrals, while Loyalist supporters were quieted.
Colonial responseThe elected members in the Royal 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. It passed the a compact declaring a trade boycott against Britain.
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. 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.
War breaks outAs the American Revolutionary War was to unfold in North America, there were two principle campaign areas within the 13 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. In the South, Patriots benefitted from early victories at Fort Sullivan and Moore’s Creek. After the 1778 Battle of Monmouth, war in the North stalemated into raids, and the main Continental Army watched the British army in New York City. Starting in 1779, the war shifted as the British initiated a new strategy to subdue the southernmost states then move northward. The British maneuvering out of Charleston through battles in South Carolina, North Carolina and into Virginia led to a combined American and French force cornering General Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown and the surrender of his army.
Well known for his accomplishments in the French and Indian War, Washington was unanimously confirmed by the Continental Congress on June 16, and he officially assumed command in the field at Cambridge, Massachusetts, on July 3. He 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. At Washington's discretion, the inexperienced officers and untrained troops were employed in a Fabian strategy rather than resorting to frontal assaults against Britain's professional army. During the war Washington lost more battles than he won, but he maintained a fighting force in the face of British field armies and never surrendered his troops.
Acting on intelligence, Gage planned to destroy stores of militia ordnance at Concord by way of Lexington to capture John Hancock and Samuel Adams, the two principle provocateurs of the rebellion. The operation was to commence before midnight while completing their objectives and retreating to Boston before multitudes of patriot militias could respond. However, the patriots also had a good intelligence network, which Paul Revere had helped organize. Subsequently, the Patriots learned of Gage's intentions before he could act, where Revere quickly dispatched this information and alerted Captain John Parker and the patriot forces in Concord.
Fighting broke out during the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, when patriots fired the first shot forcing the British troops to conduct a fighting withdrawal to Boston. Overnight, the local militia converged on and laid siege to Boston. On May 25, 4,500 British reinforcements arrived with generals William Howe, John Burgoyne, and Henry Clinton. During the Battle of Bunker Hill the British seized the Charlestown Peninsula on June 17 with a frontal assault costing many officer casualties to American rifle snipers. Surviving British commanders were dismayed at the costly attack which had gained them little, and Gage appealed to London stressing the need for a large army to suppress the revolt. Total British losses killed and wounded exceeded 1,000, leading Howe to replace Gage.
Congressional leader John Adams of Massachusetts nominated Virginia delegate George Washington for commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in June 1775. He had previously commanded Virginia militia regiments in British combat commands during the French and Indian War. Washington proceeded to Boston to assume field command of the ongoing Siege of Boston on July 3. Howe made no effort to attack in a standoff with Washington, who 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 did not want another battle like Gage's Bunker Hill, so he evacuated Boston. The British were permitted to withdraw without further casualties on March 17, and they sailed 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.
Meanwhile, British officials in Quebec began negotiating with Indian tribes to support them, while the Americans urged them to maintain neutrality. In April 1775, Congress feared an Anglo-Indian attack from Canada and authorized an invasion of Quebec. Quebec had a largely Francophone population and had been under British rule for only 12 years. A Massachusetts sponsored uprising in Nova Scotia had been disbursed in November, but The Americans expected that they would welcome liberation from the British. The second American expedition into the former French territory was defeated at the Battle of Quebec on December 31. After a loose siege, the Americans withdrew on 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. The invasion cost the Patriots their support in British public opinion, and their aggressive anti-Loyalist policies had diluted Canadian support. No further Patriot attempts to invade were subsequently made.
In Virginia, Royal Governor Lord Dunmore had attempted to disarm the 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, and he deferred to Congress, where he was also President. Dunmore ordered the ship's crews to burn Norfolk on January 1, 1776.
, June 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 colony in the British West Indies to secure additional ordnance there. On March 3, 1776, the Americans landed and engaged the British at the Battle of Nassau, but the local militia offered no resistance. The expedition confiscated what supplies they could and sailed for home on March 17. The squadron reached New London, Connecticut, on April 8, after a brief skirmish during the Battle of Block Island with the Royal Navy frigate on April 6.
Political reactionsAfter 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.
The initial hostilities in Boston caused a pause in British activity, 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.
to write the Declaration
Adams, Sherman, Livingston, Jefferson, Franklin
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. Later that evening a mob tore down a lead statue of the King, which was later melted down into musket balls.
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 and Loyalists who now went to war against their neighbors.
Patriots were those who supported independence from Britain in their states and a new national union in Congress. Loyalists remained faithful to British imperial rule. Loyalists were usually minorities in each population, the appointed colonial officials, licensed merchants, Anglican churchmen, and the politically traditional. They were concentrated around port cities, on the New England Iroquois frontier and in the South near Cherokee settlement. Tories saw any subjects of the King who pretended to remove their ruler for whatever reasons as committing treason, and George III was encouraged to convict those responsible with the death penalty.
In each state legislature, Patriots responded to the Loyalist challenge by passing Test Laws that required all residents to swear allegiance to their state. These were meant to identify neutrals or to drive opponents of independence into self-exile. Failure to take the oath meant possible imprisonment, forced exile, or even death. American Tories were barred from public office, forbidden from practicing medicine and law, or forced to pay increased taxes. Some could not execute wills or become guardians. Congress enabled states to confiscate Loyalist property to fund the war, and some Quakers who remained neutral had their property confiscated. States later prevented some Loyalists from collecting any debts that they were owed.
British New York counter-offensiveAfter regrouping at Halifax, 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. When 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, with General Thomas Mifflin's regiments in the rear guard.
The Staten Island Peace Conference failed to negotiate peace as the British delegates did not have authority to recognize independence to meet the rebel demands. Howe seized control of New York City on September 15 and unsuccessfully engaged the Americans the following day. He failed to encircle the Americans at the Battle of Pell's Point, then the Americans successfully withdrew. Howe declined to close with Washington's army on October 28 at the Battle of White Plains, but instead concentrated his efforts on a hill that was of no strategic value.
Washington's retreat had left his remaining forces isolated, and the British captured their Fort Washington on November 16. The British victory there took 3,000 prisoners and amounted to Washington's most disastrous defeat. Washington's remaining army on Long Island fell back four days later. Henry Clinton wanted to pursue Washington's disorganized army, but he was required to commit 6,000 troops to first capture Newport, Rhode Island in an operation that he had opposed. The American prisoners were subsequently sent to the infamous prison ships where more American soldiers and sailors died of disease and neglect than died in every battle of the war combined. Charles Cornwallis pursued Washington, but Howe ordered him to halt and Washington marched 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. Loyalist activity surged in the wake of the American defeat, especially in New York.
News of the campaign was well received in Britain with festivities held in London, public support reached a peak, and the King awarded the Order of the Bath to Howe. The successes led to predictions that the British could win within a year. Strategic deficiencies among Patriot forces were evident by Washington's dividing a numerically weaker army in the face of a stronger one, inexperienced staff misreading the situation, and their troops fleeing in the face of enemy fire. In the meantime, the British entered winter quarters and were in a good place to resume campaigning.
On the night of December 25–26, 1776, Washington crossed the ice-choked Delaware River and surprised and overwhelmed the Hessian garrison at Trenton, New Jersey, and taking 900 prisoners. The decisive victory rescued the army's flagging morale and gave a new hope to the Patriot cause. Cornwallis marched to retake Trenton, but his efforts were repulsed on January 2. Washington outmaneuvered Cornwallis that night and defeated his rearguard the following day. The two victories contributed to convincing the French that the Americans were worthwhile allies. Washington entered winter quarters at Morristown, New Jersey on January 6, though a prolonged guerrilla conflict continued. Howe made no attempt to attack, much to Washington's amazement.
British northern strategy failsIn 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.
, to Gen. Horatio Gates
Burgoyne's plan was to maneuver two armies by different routes and rendezvous at Albany, New York. Burgoyne set out along Lake Champlain on June 14, 1777, quickly capturing Ticonderoga on July 5. From there the pace slowed. The Americans blocked roads, destroyed bridges, dammed streams, and stripped the area of food. Meanwhile, Barry St. Ledger's diversionary column along the Mohawk River laid siege to Fort Stanwix. St. Ledger withdrew to Quebec on August 22 after his Indian support abandoned him. On August 16, a Brunswick foraging expedition was soundly defeated at Bennington, and more than 700 troops were captured. The vast majority of Burgoyne's Indian support then abandoned him in the field, but Lord Howe informed him that he would still launch their planned campaign on Philadelphia, but without his support from New York.
Burgoyne continued the advance, and he attempted to flank the American position at Freeman's Farm on September 19 in the First Battle of Saratoga. The British won, but at the cost of 600 casualties. Burgoyne then dug in, but he suffered a constant hemorrhage of deserters, and critical supplies ran low. The Americans repulsed a British reconnaissance in force against the American lines on October 7, with heavy British losses during the second Battle of Saratoga. Burgoyne then withdrew in the face of American pursuit, but he was surrounded by October 13. With supplies exhausted and no hope of relief, Burgoyne surrendered his army on October 17, and the Americans took 6,222 soldiers as prisoners of war.
Meanwhile, Howe took command of a New York-based campaign campaign against Washington. Early feints failed to bring Washington to battle in June 1777. Howe then declined to attack towards Philadelphia further, either overland via New Jersey or by sea via the Delaware Bay, leaving Burgoyne's initiative launched from the interior unsupported.
Later in the fall with additional supplies, Howe recommenced the Philadelphia campaign. This time on advancing, he outflanked and defeated Washington on September 11, but failed to pursue and destroy the defeated Americans on two occasions; once after the Battle of Brandywine, and again after the Battle of Germantown. A British victory at Willistown left Philadelphia defenseless, and Howe captured the city unopposed on September 26. He then moved 9,000 men to Germantown north of Philadelphia. Washington launched a surprise attack there on Howe's garrison on October 4, but he was eventually repulsed. Once again, Howe did not follow up on his victory.
Howe, surprised by the American defenses, inexplicably ordered a retreat to Philadelphia after several days of probing at the Battle of White Marsh. He ignored the vulnerable American rear, where an attack might possibly have deprived Washington of his baggage and supplies. On December 19, Washington's army entered winter quarters at Valley Forge. Poor conditions and supply problems there resulted in the deaths of some 2,500 American troops. During Washington's winter encampment at Valley Forge, Baron von Steuben, introduced the latest Prussian methods of drilling and infantry tactics to the entire Continental Army.
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. Following the conclusion of the campaign, Howe resigned his commission, and was replaced by Henry Clinton on May 24, 1778. Clinton received orders 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. The two armies fought at Monmouth Court House on June 28, with the Americans holding the field, greatly boosting Patriot morale and confidence. By July, both armies were back in the same positions they had been two years prior.
Foreign interventionEarly in the war, it became clear to Congress that help from France was imperative. First, the British instituted a blockade on the Atlantic seacoast ports against military assistance that could not be challenged. Second, its army troop strength attrited by death, disease and desertion, and the states failed to meet recruitment quotas. Third, 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 the 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.
for John Paul Jones, renamed USS Bonhomme Richard
France, however, 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 would have to be declared, which was effected by Congress in July 1776. The Americans who had been covertly supplied by French merchants through neutral Dutch ports 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. The American victory at Saratoga convinced the French that supporting the Patriots was worthwhile, but doing so too late brought major concerns. King Louis XVI feared that Britain's concessions would be accepted and bring reconciliation with the Colonies. Britain would then be free to strike at French Caribbean possessions. 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 American independence. Spain was wary of recognizing a republic of former European colonies, and 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 Louisiana.
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. He was immediately instrumental in reconciling some of Washington's rival officers and he aligned some of the delegates in Philadelphia to support Washington in an otherwise indifferent Congress.
Congress also hoped to persuade Spain into an open alliance, as formally extended in the French treaty. The American Commissioners met with the Count of Aranda in 1776. But Spain was still reluctant to make an early commitment due to its Great Power concerns on the Continent. Nevertheless, the following year, Spain affirmed its desire to support the Americans so as to weaken Britain's empire.
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. 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 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 Republic 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 drafted a treaty of commerce with the Americans. Britain argued that these actions contravened the Republic's neutral stance and declared war 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 that Britain had made all necessary steps to avoid it and cited the British victories over France in the Seven Years' War as a reason to remain optimistic in the event of war with France. Britain tried in vain to find a powerful ally to engage France. It was isolated among the Great Powers, and French strength was not drawn off into Europe as in the Seven Years' War. Britain subsequently changed its focus from one theater, and diverted major military resources away from America. Despite these developments, George III still determined never to recognize American independence and to make war on the American colonies indefinitely, or until they pleaded to return as his subjects.
Stalemate in the NorthFollowing 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 felt 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, 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. In July, Clinton unsuccessfully attempted to coax Washington into a decisive engagement by making a major raid into Connecticut. That month, a large American naval operation attempted to retake Maine, but it resulted in a humiliating 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 ultimately failed to stop the raids. During the winter of 1779–80, 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 whole regiments mutinied over the conditions in early 1780.
In 1780, Clinton launched an attempt to retake New Jersey. On June 7, 6,000 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 André was captured. Arnold fled to British lines in New York where he justified his betrayal by appealing to Loyalist public opinion, but the Patriots strongly condemned him as a coward and turncoat.
at Vincennes, February 29, 1779
The war to the west of the Appalachians was largely confined to skirmishing and raids. In February 1778, an expedition of militia to destroy British military supplies in settlements along the Cuyahoga River was halted by adverse weather. Later in the year, a second campaign was undertaken to seize the Illinois Country from the British. Virginia militia, francophone 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 Americans counter-attacked and retook Vincennes, taking Hamilton prisoner.
On May 25, 1780, the British launched an expedition into Kentucky as part of a wider operation to clear rebel resistance from Quebec to the Gulf coast. Hundreds were killed or captured, but the initiative met with only limited success. The Americans responded with a major offensive along the Mad River in August which met with some success, but it did little to abate the Indian raids on the frontier. French militia attempted to capture Detroit, but it ended in disaster when Miami Indians ambushed and defeated the gathered troops on November 5. The war in the west had become a stalemate; the Americans did not have the manpower to simultaneously defeat the hostile Indian tribes and occupy the land.
War in the SouthThe British turned their attention to conquering the South in 1778 after Loyalists in London assured them of a strong Loyalist base there. Squadrons of the Royal Navy would be closer to the British Caribbean colonies to defend against attacking Franco-Spanish fleets. On December 29, 1778, Lord Cornwallis commanded an expeditionary corps from New York to capture Savannah, 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 they launched an abortive assault on Charleston, South Carolina. 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.
The primary British strategy for the following year 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, taking over 5,000 prisoners and effectively destroying the Continental Army in the south. Organized Patriot resistance in the region collapsed when Banastre Tarleton defeated the withdrawing Americans at Waxhaws on May 29.
British commander-in-chief Clinton returned to New York, leaving General Lord Cornwallis at Charleston to oversee the southern war effort. Few Loyalists joined him there. The initiative was seized by Patriot militias who won July victories at the Fairfield County, Lincolnton, Huck's Defeat, Stanly County, and Lancaster County. These effectively suppressed Loyalist support.
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 regulars and militias were defeated at the Battle of Kings Mountain, destroying any significant Loyalist support in the region. Cornwallis advanced into North Carolina despite the setbacks, gambling that he would receive substantial Loyalist support there. Greene evaded combat with Cornwallis, instead wearing the British down through a protracted war of attrition.
Washington replaced 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. Although later accused by his enemies of inaction and cowardice, Jefferson sent an emergency dispatch to nearby Colonel Sampson Mathews to check Arnold's advance.
By March, Greene's army had increased in size enough that he felt confident in facing Cornwallis who was far from his supply base. The two armies engaged near Guilford Courthouse on March 15. Accompanied by lieutenant colonel "Light Horse Harry" and his cavalry, the fighting went back and forth with the first British advance resulting in their retreat. The second clash occurred in a wooded area mostly involving Close-quarters combat. During the chaotic melee Cornwallis has his horse shot out from under him, however, Greene was beaten, but Cornwallis's army suffered irreplaceable casualties. The Americans further reduced his army in a war of attrition, and far fewer Loyalists were joining than the British had previously expected. Cornwallis's casualties were such that he was compelled to retreat to Wilmington for reinforcement, leaving the Patriots in control of the interior of the Carolinas and Georgia. >
Greene then proceeded to reclaim the South. On April 25 the American troops suffered a reversal at Hobkirk's Hill due to poor tactical control, but they continued to march 160 miles in 8 days, continually dislodging strategic British posts in the area nonetheless. 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 Charleston and Savannah.
The last British effort to stop Greene 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 confined the British to the Carolina coasts, undoing any progress they had made in the previous year. Minor skirmishes continued there until the end of the war.
America, east of the Mississippi RiverIn America east of the Mississippi River, though Spanish Louisiana territory ran west of it, Governor General Gálvez 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 underwrote an American campaign against the British 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 who had been guaranteed protection of the Catholic Church. Voters at their court house in Kaskaskia, were represented for three years in the Virginia General Assembly until the territory was ceded to the US Congress.
At the Spanish declaration of war with France in 1779, Governor Gálvez raised an army in Spanish Louisiana to initiate offensive operations against British outposts. First, he cleared British garrisons in Baton Rouge, Fort Bute and Natchez, capturing five forts. In this first maneuver Gálvez 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.
In April 1782 at the Battle of the Saintes, the British parried the French-Spanish invasion of Jamaica, then dominated the Caribbean Sea. In February 1783 Spanish lifted their siege of Gibraltar. A Spanish-US fleet captured Bahamas was returned at the peace. The belligerents had all lost heart for continued warfare. After George III announced for US independence in a Speech before the Throne before a joint session of Parliament in December 1782, the British proffered terms to the Americans in Paris, which were then approved by Congress April 1783. British "American settlement" allowed US fishing rights in Newfoundland and the Gulf of Mexico, along with "perpetual access" to the Mississippi River. The two British treaties with France and Spain settled their three-way swaps of imperial territory in September. The British settled their Fourth Anglo-Dutch War the next year.
British defeat in AmericaIn 1781, the British commander-in-chief in America was General Clinton, who was 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 had in turn had failed to detect the arrival of French naval forces in July. In Charleston, Cornwallis independently developed a 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.
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. 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 of his subordinate officers.
Expecting relief from Admiral Arbuthnot shortly to facilitate his withdrawal off the Virginia Peninsula, Cornwallis prematurely abandoned his outer defenses. These were promptly occupied by the besiegers, serving to hasten the British defeat.
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 dug in at Yorktown and awaited the Royal Navy.
The British had dispatched a fleet from New York under Thomas Graves 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 seas around Yorktown and cutting off Cornwallis from further reinforcements or relief. On the unexpected of the arrival of the French fleet, Cornwallis then failed in an attempt to break out of the siege by crossing the York River at Gloucester Point when a storm hit. Cornwallis and his subordinates were under heavy bombardment and facing dwindling supplies, they agreed that their situation was untenable. On October 17, 1781, after twelve hours of negotiations, the terms of surrender were finalized.
North Ministry collapseshad been the King's Prime Minister in Parliament since 1770. By the end of 1777 with the loss of the first British army, King George III had determined that in the event of his initiating a separate war with France, he would have to redeploy most of the British and German troops in America to threaten French and Spanish Caribbean settlements. In the King's judgment, Britain could not possibly fight on all three fronts without becoming weak everywhere. At the news of the French-US treaties for trade and defense arrived at London, British negotiators proposed a second peace settlement to Congress.
The Carlisle Peace Commission was sent across the Atlantic to make a formal presentation to Congress. Firstly, virtual self-government by a kind of "home-rule" was contemplated. It would recognize Congress, suspend all objectionable acts of Parliament, surrender Parliament's the right to taxation, and perhaps allow American representatives to the House of Commons. But secondly, all property would be restored to loyal subjects, their debts honored, with locally enforced martial law, Parliament to regulate trade, and the Declaration of Independence withdrawn. Parliament's commission was rebuffed by a Congress which knew the British were about to evacuate Philadelphia. Before it returned to London in November 1778, the commission directed a change in British war policy. Sir Henry Clinton, the new British Commander-in-Chief in America was to stop treating rebels as subjects whose loyalty might be regained. Now they were to be enemies fought with ruthless hate. Those standing orders would be in effect for three years until Clinton was relieved.
Prior to the surrender of Cornwallis's army at Yorktown, George III still had hoped for victory in the South. He believed a majority of American colonists supported him, especially in the South and among thousands of black slaves. But after Valley Forge, the Continental Army was an efficient fighting force. After a two-week siege at Yorktown by Washington's army, a successful French fleet, French regulars and local reinforcements, the British surrendered on October 19, 1781. Lord North exclaimed, “Oh God! It is all over." Nevertheless, Lord North rebutted the Whig resolution in Commons to end offensive operations in America. The speech postponed the inevitable several weeks.
But the mood of the country of Great Britain had changed since the 1770s. Member of Parliament Edward Gibbon had believed the King's cause in America to be just, and the British and German soldiers there to have fought bravely. But after Yorktown, he concluded, "It is better to be humbled than ruined." There was no point in spending more money on Britain's most expensive war, with no hope of success. Whig William Pitt argued that war on American colonists had brought nothing but ineffective victories or severe defeats. He condemned effort to retain the Americans as a "most accursed, wicked, barbarous, cruel, unjust and diabolical war." Lord North resigned. George III never forgave him.
From the time London learned of the surrender of a second British army, it was only two weeks before the Whig Opposition motion to end offensive war in America which was defeated by only one vote. Three days later, on December 15, George III made a Speech from the Throne to a joint session of Parliament announcing for American independence, peace and trade. Less than two months later on February 27, 1782, the Commons carried the motion by 19 votes. At a vote of no confidence against Lord North, the Rockingham Whigs came to power and opened negotiations for peace with the Americans. Rockingham died and was succeeded by the Earl of Shelburne. The British troops remaining in America were garrisoned in the three port cities of New York, Charleston, and Savannah. General Clinton was recalled and replaced by Guy Carleton who was ordered to suspend offensive operations.
Analysis of combatants
United StatesTo win the American Revolution, the United States had to outlast the will of the British Crown and its government in Parliament to subdue them. For the British to win the conflict, they had to defeat the Continental Army early in the war and force the dissolution of Congress.
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 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. 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 ArmyWhen 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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
Eventually, the Continental Army found capable officers such as Nathanael Greene, Daniel Morgan, Henry Knox, and Alexander Hamilton. One of Washington's most successful recruits to general officer was Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, a veteran of the Prussian general staff who wrote the Revolutionary War Drill Manual. Over the winter of 1777–78 at Valley Forge, von Steuben was instrumental in training the Continental Army in the essentials of infantry field maneuvers with military discipline, drills, tactics, and strategy.
The American armies were small by European standards of the era, largely attributable, to limitations such as lack of powder and other logistical capabilities. 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 militiamen for the Revolutionary cause in the eight years of the war, but there were never more than 90,000 men under arms at one time.
Over the entire course of the war, 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, Saratoga, and Yorktown 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. 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.
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. 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.
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. For example, in what was known as the Whaleboat War, American privateers mainly from New Jersey, Brooklyn and Connecticut attacked and robbed British merchant ships and raided and robbed coastal communities of Long Island reputed to have Loyalist sympathies.
About 55,000 sailors served aboard American privateers during the war. 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.
Intelligence and espionageAt 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.
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 became the Army's first intelligence unit. Among the Rangers was Nathan Hale. When the British landed on Long Island with overwhelming force, the American army retreated to New York City on Manhattan Island. Washington directed volunteer Hale to spy on enemy activity behind their lines in Brooklyn. After the British attack on September 15, Hale was captured and with sketches of British fortifications and troop positions. Howe ordered Hale summarily hung without trial the next day.
After Washington was driven out of New York, he realized that he would need more than military might and amateur spies to defeat the British and earnestly made efforts to professionalize military intelligence with the aid of Benjamin Tallmadge. They created the Culper spy ring of six men. Washington promised members of the ring that their identities and activities would never be revealed. All name references had a number code, and the spies used vanishing ink for their messages. Among the more notable achievements of the ring was exposing Benedict Arnold's treasonous plans to capture West Point, along with his collaborator John André, Britain's head spymaster, and later they intercepted and deciphered coded messages between Cornwallis and Clinton during the Siege of Yorktown, leading to Cornwallis's surrender. By 1781, the amateur shortcomings of British intelligence had been corrected, enabling Clinton and Cornwallis to predict patriot movements and capabilities. However, the improvements came too late to reverse British misfortunes. During the war, Washington spent more than 10 percent of military funds on intelligence operations. Some historians maintain that, without the efforts of Washington and the Culper Spy Ring, the British would never have been defeated.
Great BritainThe 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. Theoretically, Britain had the advantage; however, many factors inhibited the procurement of a large army for an unpopular war at home.
Suppressing a rebellion in America presented the British with major problems. The key issue 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. The colonies had never been formally united prior to the conflict and there was no centralized area of ultimate strategic importance. Traditionally, the fall of a capital city often signaled the end of a conflict,
yet the war continued unabated even after the fall of major settlements such as New York, Philadelphia, 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. However, the overwhelming majority of the American population was agrarian, not urban, and the American economy proved resilient enough to withstand the blockade's effects.
The vastness of the American countryside and the limited manpower available meant that the British could never simultaneously defeat the Americans and occupy captured territory. One British statesman described the attempt as "like trying to conquer a map".
British forcesIn 1775, the standing British Army, exclusive of militia, comprised 45,123 men worldwide, made up of 38,254 infantry and 6,869 cavalry. Their Army had approximately eighteen regiments of foot, some 8,500 men, stationed in North America.
The British army at home had been deliberately kept small in peacetime to prevent abuses of power by the King. Despite this, eighteenth century armies were not welcome guests among British civilian populations, and 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 fell into corruption and inefficiency, resulting in many administrative difficulties once campaigning began.
By the end of hostilities in America at the close of 1781, the British Army numbered approximately 121,000 men globally, 48,000 of whom were stationed throughout the Americas. Of the 171,000 sailors who served in the Royal Navy throughout the conflict, around a quarter were pressed. This same proportion, approximately 42,000 men, deserted during the conflict. At its height, the Navy had 94 ships-of-the-line, 104 frigates and 37 sloops in service.
Commanders-in-chiefBritain had three commanders-in-chief from initial days to final conclusion. First was General Sir William Howe, commanding British forces in North America 1775-1778 following the Battle of Bunker Hill, but still during the London policy of "soft war", trying to reconcile the American colonists to pre-1776 King-in-Parliament rule. At the loss of an army at Saratoga and France initiating war with Britain, Congress rejected the peace offer at the Carlisle Commission, and Howe's replacement as British commander-in-chief in 1778 was General Sir Henry Clinton for the duration of the fighting. London changed its war policy with orders to ruthlessly pursue victory against the colonists as enemies. Clinton's tenure ended at the loss of a second British army at Yorktown, and he was replaced by Sir Guy Carlton in early 1782 after the British-American armistice. Carlton then successfully managed the British evacuation of American port cities in Savannah, Charleston and New York City.
Howe made several strategic errors that cost the British opportunities for a complete victory early on. After securing control of New York, Howe dispatched Henry Clinton to capture Newport against Clinton's judgement that his command could have been put to better use pursuing Washington's retreating army. Despite the bleak outlook for the revolutionary cause and the surge of Loyalist activity in the wake of Washington's defeats, Howe made no attempt to mount an attack upon Washington while the Americans settled down into winter quarters, much to their surprise.
During his planning for the Saratoga campaign, Howe was to choose between committing his army to support Burgoyne, or capturing Philadelphia, the rebel capital. Howe decided upon the latter, determining that Washington was of a greater threat. When Howe launched his campaign, he approached Philadelphia round-about through the Chesapeake Bay, rather than directly overland through New Jersey, or by sea through the nearby Delaware Bay. The passage via the Virginia Capes left him unable to assist Burgoyne even if it was required of him. That decision so angered Tories on both sides of the Atlantic, that Howe was accused in Parliament of treason.
At the Battle of White Marsh, Howe failed to exploit the vulnerable American rear, and then he inexplicably ordered a retreat to Philadelphia after only minor skirmishes. His withdrawal astonished both sides. However, there were strategic factors at play which compromised any aggressive action. Howe may have been dissuaded from direct assaults by the memory of the grievous losses the British suffered at Bunker Hill. During the major campaigns in New York and Philadelphia, Howe often wrote of the scarcity of adequate provisions available by local foraging, which hampered his ability to mount effective campaigns. Howe'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 food shortages.
During the winter of 1776–1777, Howe split his army into scattered cantonments. This decision dangerously exposed the individual forces to defeat in detail, as the distance between them was such that they could not mutually support each other. But the quantity of available food supplies in New York City warehouses was so low that Howe had been compelled to take such a decision. The garrisons were widely spaced so their respective foraging parties would not interfere with each other's efforts. This strategic failure allowed the Americans to achieve victory at the Battle of Trenton, and the concurrent Battle of Princeton. Howe's difficulties during the Philadelphia campaign were also greatly exacerbated by the poor quality and quantity of resupply directly from Britain.
Like Howe before him, Clinton's efforts to campaign suffered from chronic supply issues. In 1778, Clinton wrote to Germain complaining of the lack of supplies, even after the arrival of a convoy from Ireland. That winter, the supply issue had deteriorated so badly, that Clinton expressed considerable anxiety over how the troops were going to be properly fed. Clinton was largely inactive in the North throughout 1779, launching few major campaigns. This inactivity was partially due to the shortage of food. By 1780, the situation had not improved. Clinton wrote a frustrated correspondence to Germain, voicing concern that a "fatal consequence will ensue" if matters did not improve. By October that year, Clinton again wrote to Germain, angered that the troops in New York had not received "an ounce" of that year's allotted stores from Britain.
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 the 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.
Anticipating the 1781 campaign year, General Lord Cornwallis with the British army Southern command in Charleston had written to both to Clinton, his Commander-in-Chief for America, and to War Minister Lord Germain in London. Cornwallis proposed an invasion into Virginia from Charleston to force a collapse of Patriot support throughout the South. Clinton objected, either counter-proposing that Cornwallis send reinforcements to New York City, or favoring a campaign farther north in the Chesapeake Bay region. Lord Germain wrote to Cornwallis to approve the General's plan, but Germain neglected to include Clinton in the decision-making, even though Clinton was Cornwallis's superior officer,
Cornwallis then decided to move into Virginia without informing Clinton. Once learning that Cornwallis had chosen Yorktown as a fortified forward base, Clinton delayed sending reinforcements, because his intelligence led him to believe that the bulk of Washington's army was still outside New York City. Admiral Romney was sent with a fleet to cover Cornwallis redeployment to Yorktown, but the British were turned away by a French fleet at the Battle of the Chesapeake on September 5, and French resupply of the besieging Washington and Rochambeau was landed successfully. Although scheduled to depart with a relief force for New York on October 5, Clinton was delayed. It was not until two weeks later on the day of surrender that 6,000 troops under Clinton departed New York sailing to relieve Yorktown on October 19, 1781.
LogisticsLogistical organization of eighteenth century armies was chaotic at best, and the British Army was no exception. No logistical corps existed in the modern sense; while on campaign in foreign territories such as America, horses, wagons, and drivers were frequently requisitioned from the locals, often by impressment or by hire. No centrally organized medical corps existed. It was common for surgeons to have no formal medical education, and no diploma or entry examination was required. Nurses sometimes were apprentices to surgeons, but many were drafted from the women who followed the army. Army surgeons and doctors were poorly paid and were regarded as social inferiors to other officers.
The heavy personal equipment and wool uniform of the regular infantrymen were wholly unsuitable for combat in America, and the outfit was especially ill-suited to comfort and agile movement. During the Battle of Monmouth in late June 1778, the temperature exceeded 100°F, and heat stroke claimed more lives than actual combat. The standard-issue firearm of the British Army was the Land Pattern Musket. Some officers preferred their troops to fire careful, measured shots, rather than rapid firing. A bayonet made firing difficult, as its cumbersome shape hampered ramming down the charge into the barrel. British troops had a tendency to fire impetuously, resulting in inaccurate fire, a trait for which John Burgoyne criticized them during the Saratoga campaign. Burgoyne instead encouraged bayonet charges to break up enemy formations, which was a preferred tactic in most European armies at the time.
Every battalion in America had organized its own rifle company by the end of the war, although rifles were not formally issued to the army until the Baker Rifle in 1801. Flintlocks were heavily dependent on the weather; high winds could blow the gunpowder from the flash pan, while heavy rain could soak the paper cartridge, ruining the powder and rendering the musket unable to fire. Furthermore, flints used in British muskets were of notoriously poor quality; they could only be fired around six times before requiring resharpening, while American flints could fire sixty. This led to a common expression among the British: "Yankee flint was as good as a glass of grog".
Provisioning troops and sailors proved to be an immense challenge, as the majority of food stores had to be shipped overseas from Britain. The need to maintain Loyalist support prevented the Army from living off the land. Other factors also impeded this option; the countryside was too sparsely populated and the inhabitants were largely hostile or indifferent, the network of roads and bridges was poorly developed, and the area which the British controlled was so limited that foraging parties were frequently in danger of being ambushed. After France entered the war, the threat of the French navy increased the difficulty of transporting supplies to America. Food supplies were frequently in bad condition. The climate was also against the British in the southern colonies and the Caribbean, where the intense summer heat caused food supplies to sour and spoil.
Life at sea was little better. Sailors and passengers were issued a daily food ration, largely consisting of hardtack and beer. The hardtack was often infested by weevils and was so tough that it earned the nicknames "molar breakers" and "worm castles", and it sometimes had to be broken up with cannon shot. Meat supplies often spoiled on long voyages. The lack of fresh fruit and vegetables gave rise to scurvy, one of the biggest killers at sea.
Recruitment, discipline and officersParliament suffered chronic difficulties in obtaining sufficient manpower, and found it impossible to fill the quotas they had set. The Army was a deeply unpopular profession, one contentious issue being pay. The rate of pay in the army was insufficient to meet the rising costs of living, turning off potential recruits, as service was nominally for life.
To entice voluntary enrollment, Parliament offered a bounty of £1.10s for every recruit. As the war dragged on, Parliament became desperate for manpower; criminals were offered military service to escape legal penalties, and deserters were pardoned if they re-joined their units.
Impressment, essentially conscription by the "press gang", was a favored recruiting method, though it was unpopular with the public, leading many to enlist in local militias to avoid regular service. Attempts were made to draft such levies, much to the chagrin of the militia commanders. Competition between naval and army press gangs, and even between rival ships or regiments, frequently resulted in brawls between the gangs in order to secure recruits for their unit. Men would maim themselves to avoid the press gangs, while many deserted at the first opportunity. Pressed men were militarily unreliable; regiments with large numbers of such men were deployed to remote garrisons such as Gibraltar or the West Indies, to make it harder to desert.
Discipline was harsh in the armed forces, and the lash was used to punish even trivial offences—and not used sparingly. For instance, two redcoats received 1,000 lashes each for robbery during the Saratoga campaign, while another received 800 lashes for striking a superior officer. Flogging was a common punishment in the Royal Navy and came to be associated with the stereotypical hardiness of sailors.
Despite the harsh discipline, a distinct lack of self-discipline pervaded all ranks of the British forces. Soldiers had an intense passion for gambling, reaching such excesses that troops would often wager their own uniforms. Many drank heavily, and this was not exclusive to the lower ranks. Some reports indicated that British troops were generally scrupulous in their treatment of non-combatants.
Britain had a difficult time appointing a determined senior military leadership in America. Thomas Gage, Commander-in-Chief of North America at the outbreak of the war, was criticized for being too lenient on the rebellious colonists. Jeffrey Amherst was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Forces in 1778, but he refused a direct command in America because he was unwilling to take sides in the war. Admiral Augustus Keppel similarly opposed a command: "I cannot draw the sword in such a cause". The Earl of Effingham resigned his commission when his regiment was posted to America, while William Howe and John Burgoyne were opposed to military solutions to the crisis. Howe and Henry Clinton both stated that they were unwilling participants and were only following orders.
Officers in British service could purchase commissions to ascend the ranks, and the practice was common in the Army. Values of commissions varied but were usually in line with social and military prestige; for example, regiments such as the Guards commanded the highest prices. Wealthy individuals lacking any formal military education or practical experience often found their way into positions of high responsibility, diluting the effectiveness of a regiment.
Heavy drinking among senior British officers is well documented. William Howe was said to have seen many "crapulous mornings" while campaigning in New York. John Burgoyne drank heavily on a nightly basis towards the end of the Saratoga campaign. The two generals were also reported to have found solace with the wives of subordinate officers to ease the stressful burdens of command. During the Philadelphia campaign, British officers deeply offended local Quakers by entertaining their mistresses in the houses where they had been quartered.
HessiansIn 1775, without sufficient popular support at home to supply enlistments for the British Army overseas, London had to look elsewhere to find the number of troops required put down an expanding revolt in the Thirteen Colonies. Britain unsuccessfully attempted to secure 20,000 mercenaries from Russia, and then it was denied use of the Scots Brigade from the Dutch Republic. Parliament finally managed to negotiate treaties of subsidy with certain mercenary German princes in exchange for auxiliary troops to serve in America. In total, 29,875 troops were hired for British service from six German states.
The presence of foreign soldiers speaking German-only caused considerable anxiety among the colonists, both Patriot and Loyalist. Newspaper accounts viewed them as brutal mercenaries. It was also true that diaries of Hessian soldiers voiced objections to occasionally bad treatment of colonists at the hands of the British Army. Some officers had ordered property destruction and prisoner execution.
British soldiers were themselves often contemptuous in their treatment of Hessian troops, despite orders from General Howe that "the English should treat the Germans as brothers". The order only began to have any real effect when the Hessians learned to speak a minimal degree of English, which was seen as a prerequisite for the British troops to accord them any respect.
LoyalistsWealthy 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.
militia fight alongside British regulars, Battle of Jersey 1781
Recruiting adequate numbers of Loyalist militia to support British military plans in America was made difficult by intensive local Patriot opposition nearly everywhere. To bolster Loyalist militia numbers in the South, the British promised freedom and grants of land to slaves who fought for them. Approximately 25,000 Loyalists fought for the British throughout the war.
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 British from using the harsh methods of suppressing revolts that they had used in Scotland and Ireland. The Crown's cause suffered when British troops looted and pillaged the locals 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. Conversely, Loyalists were often emboldened 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 the British service. Their British Legion was a mixed regiment of 250 dragoons and 200 infantry, supported by batteries of flying artillery 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.
British America and EmpireThrough 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. The immediate replacement of General Gage with General Howe followed the large casualties suffered in a frontal assault against shallow entrenchments at Bunker Hill. 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.
As a part of the Anglo-French Second Hundred Years' War, beginning 1778–9, France and Spain again declared war on Britain. The British were forced to severely limit the number of troops and warships that they sent to America in order to defend the British homeland and key overseas territories. The immediate strategic focus of the three greatest European colonial powers, Britain, France, and Spain, all shifted to Jamaica. King George abandoned any hope of subduing America militarily while simultaneously contending with two European Great Powers alone.
The small size of Britain's army left them unable to concentrate their resources primarily in one theater of war with a Great Power ally as they had done before in the Seven Years' War allied with Prussia. That left them at a critical disadvantage. London was compelled to disperse troops from America to Europe and the East Indies. These forces were unable to mutually support one other, exposing them to defeat worldwide.
off Guadaloupe; America had accepted peace for independence
Nevertheless, the British secured a preliminary peace settlement in America, and it was agreed to in Congress April 1783. British military successes worldwide from 1782 to 1784 led to their ability to dictate their Treaty of Versailles with France, their Treaty of Versailles with Spain, and their Treaty of Paris with the Dutch Republic. Following the end of British engagement in conflicts worldwide 1775–1784, the Empire had lost some of her most populous colonies in the short term. But in the long term, the economic effects were negligible. With expanding trade in America with the US, and expanding colonial territory worldwide, she became a global superpower 32 years after the end of her many conflicts throughout the American Revolution and Napoleonic Eras.
Debate persists over whether a British defeat in America was a guaranteed outcome. Ferling argues that long odds made the defeat of Britain nothing short of a miracle. Ellis, however, considers that the odds always favored the Americans. He holds that the British squandered their only opportunities for a decisive success in 1777 because William Howe's strategic decisions relied on local Tory militias while underestimating Patriot capabilities. Ellis concludes that once Howe failed, the opportunity for a British victory "would never come again". Conversely, the US military history published by the US Army argues that an additional British commitment of 10,000 fresh troops in 1780 would have placed British victory within the realm of possibility.
FranceTo begin with, the Americans had no major international allies. Battles such as the Battle of Bennington, the Battles of Saratoga, and even defeats such as the Battle of Germantown proved decisive in gaining the attention and support of powerful European nations such as France and Spain, 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 a defensive treaty of alliance with the United States to guarantee its independence from Britain. It was conditioned on Britain initiating a war on France to stop it from trading with the US. Spain and the Netherlands 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. King George III feared that the war's prospects would make it unlikely he could reclaim the North American colonies. During the later years of the Revolution, the British were drawn into numerous other conflicts about the globe.
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. The final elements for US victory over Britain and US independence was assured by direct military intervention from France, as well as ongoing French supply and commercial trade over the final three years of the war.
African Americans—slave and free—served on both sides during the war. The British recruited slaves belonging to Patriot masters and promised freedom to those who served by act of Lord Dunmore's Proclamation. 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. Some of the men promised freedom were sent back to their masters, after the war was over, out of political convenience. Another all-black unit came from Saint-Domingue with French colonial forces. At least 5,000 black soldiers fought for the Revolutionary cause.
Tens of thousands of slaves escaped during the war and joined British lines; others simply moved off in the chaos. For instance, in South Carolina, nearly 25,000 slaves fled, migrated or died during the disruption of the war. This greatly disrupted plantation production during and after the war. When they withdrew their forces from Savannah and Charleston, the British also evacuated 10,000 slaves belonging to Loyalists. Altogether, the British evacuated nearly 20,000 blacks at the end of the war. More than 3,000 of them were freedmen and most of these were resettled in Nova Scotia; other blacks were sold in the West Indies. About 8,000 to 10,000 slaves gained freedom. About 4,000 freed slaves went to Nova Scotia and 1,200 blacks remained slaves.Iroquois Confederacy was shattered as a result of the conflict, whatever side they took; the Seneca, Onondaga, and Cayuga tribes sided with the British. Members of the Mohawks fought on both sides. Many Tuscarora and Oneida sided with the Americans. The Continental Army sent the Sullivan Expedition on raids throughout New York to cripple the Iroquois tribes that had sided with the British. Mohawk leaders Joseph Louis Cook and Joseph Brant sided with the Americans and the British respectively, and this further exacerbated the split.
Farther west, conflicts between settlers and Indians led to lasting distrust. In the Treaty of Paris, Great Britain ceded control of the disputed lands between the Great Lakes and the Ohio River, but the Indian inhabitants were not a part of the peace negotiations. Tribes in the Northwest Territory banded together and allied with the British to resist American settlement; their conflict continued after the Revolutionary War as the Northwest Indian War.
Early in July 1776, Cherokee allies of Britain attacked the western frontier areas of North Carolina. Their defeat resulted in a splintering of the Cherokee settlements and people and was directly responsible for the rise of the Chickamauga Cherokee, bitter enemies of the American settlers who carried on a frontier war for decades following the end of hostilities with Britain. Creek and Seminole allies of Britain fought against Americans in Georgia and South Carolina. In 1778, a force of 800 Creeks destroyed American settlements along the Broad River in Georgia. Creek warriors also joined Thomas Brown's raids into South Carolina and assisted Britain during the Siege of Savannah. Many Indians were involved in the fighting between Britain and Spain on the Gulf Coast and up the Mississippi River, mostly on the British side. Thousands of Creeks, Chickasaws, and Choctaws fought in major battles such as the Battle of Fort Charlotte, the Battle of Mobile, and the Siege of Pensacola.
WomenWomen played various roles during the Revolutionary War. Some women accompanied their husbands when permitted. Martha Washington was known to visit the American camp, for example, and Frederika Charlotte Riedesel documented the Saratoga campaign. Women also acted as spies on both sides of the Revolutionary War. In some cases women served in the American Army in the war, some of them disguised as men. Deborah Sampson fought until her sex was discovered and she was discharged, and Sally St. Clare died in the war. Anna Maria Lane joined her husband in the Army, and she was wearing men's clothes by the time of the Battle of Germantown. According to the Virginia General Assembly, 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". Other women fought or directly supported fighting while dressed as women, such as the legendary or mythical Molly Pitcher. 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 regular forces. She is referred to as the female Paul Revere. Other women also accompanied armies as camp followers, selling goods and performing necessary services. They were a necessary part of 18th century armies, and they numbered in the thousands during the war.
AftermathAfter the surrender at Yorktown Washington expressed astonishment that the Americans had won a war against a leading world power, referring to the American victory as "little short of a standing miracle". On April 9, 1783, Washington issued orders that he had long waited to give, that "all acts of hostility" were to cease immediately. That same day, by arrangement with Washington, General Carleton issued a similar order to British troops. British troops, however, were not to disband until a prisoner of war exchange occurred, an effort that involved much negotiation and would take some seven months to effect.
Treaty of ParisThe British-Thirteen Colony conflict had lasted over six years from 1775 Lexington to 1781 Yorktown. About three years into the conflict, France and the US struck an agreement at the Treaty of Alliance that promised those two would consult before concluding peace with Britain for US independence. Then the next year, France and Spain consorted in secret at the Treaty of Aranjuez to promise those two would fight until Spain gained Gibraltar, at the choke-point passage between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. After the Yorktown defeat and Parliament's resolution to end American fighting, British Prime Minister Shelburne sought to separate the US from warring France by strengthening the US so it would not depend France militarily. The French long-term interest was a weak US to ensure a future military alliance against Britain. Earlier Parliamentary resolutions to end offensive action in North America were extended on December 5, 1782. In a Speech from the Throne to the joint session of Parliament, George III offered the US Congress independence, peaceful trade, and ultimately to forge "a bond of permanent union between the two countries" based on religion, language, interest and affection.
In Paris, the three Euro belligerents in the Anglo-French War floated distinctly different proposals for an "American Settlement" to apportion territory to the United States. The French had the most restrictive plan, with a western boundary for the US at the Appalachian Mountains, matching the British 1763 Proclamation Line. The Spanish allowed for some additional Mississippi River Basin upland just west of the Appalachians for the US. But it also requires that the British cede its colony of Georgia to Spain in violation of the Franco-American alliance of 1778.
Britain and the US signed the preliminary peace treaty in November 1782 that met its four peace demands: independence, territory to the Mississippi, navigation to the sea, and fishing off Newfoundland. Congress endorsed it in April 1783, and the “conclusive” treaty on September 13, 1783 in Paris between Britain and the US alone. Britain had also signed preliminary agreements with France and Spain to end their separate war in separate treaties, signing those two additional conclusive Anglo-French Treaty of Versailles for British-French territorial settlement worldwide, and then the conclusive Anglo-Spanish Treaty of Versailles for the British-Spanish territorial settlement worldwide. The US ministers negotiating the British-US peace were John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, and for Britain, David Hartley of Parliament and Richard Oswald, Britain's Peace Commissioner. Adams, who was a leading participant drafting the treaty, maintained that its negotiations represented "one of the most important political events that ever happened on the globe".
Following the British defeat at Yorktown, English public will evaporated for continuing the government's war to suppress the Thirteen Colony rebellion. Three months later on February 2, 1782 the House of Commons voted against further offensive war against the US. Six weeks more, American General George Washington and British General Sir Guy Carleton entered into an end of hostilities between the belligerents at New York City.
Britain was under attack around the world from the navies of France, Spain and the Netherlands. Prime Minister Lord Shelburne sought to bring an early end to the American Revolutionary War by accepting American independence, and in hopes of separating the US from France, he met their demands for territory west to the Mississippi River. The British government could then commit the British garrisons at New York and Charleston to attack French and Spanish West Indies. To speed the US negotiators, Britain offered Newfoundland fishing rights to the US, denying France exclusive rights; France and Spain would now sign their treaties after the Anglo-American fait accompli. The two separately negotiated the treaties of Versailles with France and with Spain addressed issues of mutual concern, such as a European “continental balance of power", reciprocal colonial territory swaps, and trade agreements among their respective worldwide colonial empires.
As for British Indian allies in America, Britain never consulted them at any time prior to treaty negotiations, then it forced them to reluctantly accept the treaty. But the following year Britain underwrote formerly allied Indians for attacks against US settlers west of the Appalachians on territory Britain had ceded by treaty. The largest sustained British ally Indian war of this period was the Northwest Indian War 1785–1795. Britain's extended war policy on the US continued to try to establish an Indian buffer state below the Great Lakes as late as 1814 during the War of 1812. However, the last uniformed troops departed east coast port cities, on November 25, 1783, marking the end of British occupation in the new United States.
The US armies had been furloughed home, disbanded as of Washington's General Orders on Monday June 2, 1783. As directed by a Congressional resolution of May 26, all noncommissioned officers and enlisted were furloughed "to their homes" until the "definitive treaty of peace", when they would be automatically discharged. Once the treaty was signed Washington resigned as commander-in-chief for his Army retirement at Mount Vernon.
Casualties and lossesThe total loss of life throughout the conflict is largely unknown. As was typical in wars of the era, diseases such as smallpox claimed more lives than battle. Between 1775 and 1782, a smallpox epidemic broke out throughout North America, killing 40 people in Boston alone. Historian Joseph Ellis suggests that Washington's decision to have his troops inoculated against the disease was one of his most important decisions.
Between 25,000 and 70,000 American Patriots died during active military service. Of these, approximately 6,800 were killed in battle, while at least 17,000 died from disease. The majority of the latter died while prisoners of war of the British, mostly in the prison ships in New York Harbor. The number of Patriots seriously wounded or disabled by the war has been estimated from 8,500 to 25,000. The French suffered 2,112 killed in combat in the United States. The Spanish lost a total of 124 killed and 247 wounded in West Florida.
A British report in 1781 puts their total Army deaths at 6,046 in North America. Approximately 7,774 Germans died in British service in addition to 4,888 deserters; of the former, it is estimated 1,800 were killed in combat. Around 171,000 sailors served in the Royal Navy during British conflicts 1775–1784; approximately a quarter of whom had been pressed into service. Around 1,240 were killed in battle, while an estimated 18,500 died from disease. The greatest killer at sea was scurvy, a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency. Around 42,000 sailors deserted worldwide during the era. The impact on merchant shipping was substantial; 2,283 were taken by American privateers.
Financial debtsCongress had immense difficulties financing its war effort. As the circulation of hard currency declined, the Americans had to rely on loans from France, Spain, and the Netherlands, saddling the young nation and its states with crippling debts. Congress attempted to remedy this by printing vast amounts of paper money and bills of credit to raise revenue, but the effect was disastrous: inflation skyrocketed and the paper money became virtually worthless. The inflation spawned a popular phrase that anything of little value was "not worth a continental".
At the start of the war, the economy was flourishing in the colonies in spite of the British blockade. By 1779, however, the economy had almost collapsed. By 1791, the United States had accumulated a national debt of approximately $75.5 million. The French spent approximately 1.3 billion livres aiding the Americans, equivalent to 100 million pounds sterling.
Britain spent around £80 million and ended with a national debt of £250 million, generating a yearly interest of £9.5 million annually. The debts piled upon that which Britain had already accumulated from the Seven Years' War.
- compiled by the United States Army Center of Military History
- from Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture