During the beginning of the American Revolutionary War, there were mixed results in terms of success for the Americans under Commander-in-Chief George Washington. The British had occupied Boston because of problems before the war, such as the Boston Tea Party, and the important port city was firmly held. General Washington was empowered by the Congress of the Second Continental Congress to bring together a Continental Army for him to lead. He would draw on the many militias in the colonies to form a larger, capable unit. Despite his empowerment and new position as supreme commander of the army, Washington was at a disadvantage because of the limited resources at his disposal.
Washington and some of his officers had experience in the French and Indian War that had preceded the American Revolution, but their experience was limited and was nothing compared to the knowledge and skill of the British officers. The Continental Army was undersupplied, and the lack of experience in the troops and the men commanding them prevented the colonial troops from having a strong strategic guideline they could use against the British. In spite of all of this, Washington and his troops had incredibly high morale and the will to fight against the British for their own independence.
General Washington was able to capture siege weaponry from the British and bring them to Boston. Here, Washington’s troops bombarded Boston and forced the British out. After the Siege of Boston, the Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, General Thomas Gage, was replaced by William Howe. Howe would be the Commander-in-Chief until he resigned in 1778. Under Howe, the British army was able to successfully strike back at the American troops in important cities along the coast.
General Howe defeated Washington after landing in Long Island and the British successfully took control of New York after routing the American troops. Howe’s troops were largely successful during these campaigns. One of the largest defeats Howe suffered during this time was at Trenton, New Jersey, where Washington’s troops raided the British on Christmas day. Howe’s mainly successful campaign came to a climax in 1777, where his army captured Philadelphia after battling American troops in Germantown and Brandywine. The capture of Philadelphia forced out the American Continental Congress, where it had been founded and convened. The Congress moved to Lancaster, avoiding capture that could have ended the Revolution. After the capture of Philadelphia, General Washington’s troops were forced to spend a harsh winter at Valley Forge.
During late 1777 in a campaign that took months to resolve British General Burgoyne invaded America from Canada and the Hudson, where he met American troops at the Battle of Saratoga. After all the fighting was finally over and Burgoyne’s troops were surrounded, the American army under Horatio Gates celebrated the victory that would come to be known as the major turning point of the war, and easily the most significant event during the American Revolution. The defeat at the Battle of Saratoga compelled Great Britain to offer peace terms to America, though it did not include independence and was therefore rejected by the Continental Congress. Perhaps the most significant consequence of the Battle of Saratoga was the commitment of French troops to American aid.
The French had been defeated by the British during the French and Indian War, and losing their empire in Canada ignited deeper resentment for the English. The British defeat at Saratoga convinced French statesmen that American victory was possible, as delegates who were sent to France were told that French aid would only be rendered in American forces could prove they could fight on their own. In addition to army troops as well as the navy that would eventually force an ultimate British surrender, the French offered America financial credit to help fund the war. With French involvement on the side of the Americans, the British military was forced to act strategically.
British troops left Philadelphia and moved north toward Canada, taking refuge in New York. This retreat was made more difficult by American troops that had been stationed at Valley Forge. Whereas the British navy was able to control the coastline, the intervention of the French navy forced supplies going to the British to be redirected, and the French navy made it difficult for the British to resupply. After Saratoga Howe stepped down as commander-in-chief and was replaced by Sir Henry Clinton. Clinton would serve as commander-in-chief through the downfall of the British effort in the war.
When faced with French intervention, Clinton moved his troops southward to begin a new strategy. British troops moved into Georgia and began from there, with Clinton’s troops seizing Fort Sullivan and the coastal city of Charleston, South Carolina. American resistance in the South was limited, and the success encouraged Clinton and the British to move in from the coast. These efforts were met with defeat after defeat, especially under British General Cornwallis. Cornwallis was defeated a number of times trying to attack North Carolina, including King’s Mountain in 1780 and Cowpens in 1781. Cornwallis resolved to move to Yorktown to regroup and set up, but he was surrounded by American and French troops and kept on land by the French navy. Cornwallis surrendered after nearly a month-long siege and the largest portion of British troops was eliminated.
If it had not been for the French intervention, Cornwallis and his troops may have been able to escape to sea and avoid capture, but the French intervention went far beyond troops and ships. The American economy had suffered during the war, as it was acting completely on its own for the first time and the abrupt sovereignty of America’s economy had several repercussions. Many American port cities were captured at one point or another during the way, disrupting exports and imports. Attacks on American shipping occurred when American ships could no longer rely on the protection of the powerful British navy. Slaves that had been driving the economy were enticed to join the British army, leaving many plantations yielding no help to the colonists. Breaking away from the British entirely meant a new form of currency, and inflation destroyed any attempts the colonists had of creating their own.
In the end, the Treaty of Paris, ironically where the end of the French and Indian War signaled French defeat, was signed and the colonies of America were officially free. The British were forced by the treaty to recognize the colonies as a new nation, and the territories the British had in America were turned over to the United States. A British presence remained in “British North America”, or Canada, and the Treaty attempted to alleviate harsh relations as best it could by returning prisoners of war to both sides and allowed England use of the Mississippi River, an important river for shipping in North America. With the Treaty of Paris, a new nation was born, but far from experiencing an end of its harsh times.
“The War of American Independence” by Thomas Conway
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