THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION AND THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR

THE AMERICAN CRISIS

Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense, penned these famous words in The American Crisis during the difficult days of the Revolutionary War. 

These are the times that try men's souls: the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it NOW, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like Hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly. Tis dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to set a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.

GENERAL MILITARY PERSPECTIVE OF THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR

Comparison of the belligerents

Said of the American militia: 

By George Washington, commander of the Continental Army: ATo place any dependence on them is assuredly resting on a broken staff.@

Also by Washington: "There was an unaccountable kind of stupidity in the lower class of these people."

James Wolfe: AThe dirtiest most contemptible cowardly dogs you can conceive of.@

--British advantages

*Stronger navy

*Better trained army though officer corps not at same level of expertise as naval officers.  Army officers were promoted not on merit, but by purchasing their ranks.

*Financial structure

*25%-33% of Thirteen Colonies= population, called Loyalists or Tories, probably supported the British (plus another third of population who would waver until they saw which way things are going-thus if Britain achieved battlefield victories, these undecideds would stick with the crown).  Probably 30-50,000 Loyalists fought with the British.

*Motivation: questionable, had to hire German mercenaries (Hessians) to fight.

--American advantages

*Conditions of victory more easily achievable-- British must achieve outright victory, Americans must merely avoid losing.

*No center of gravity exposed to British

*Militia availability

*Britain had to utilize navigable rivers in order to supply troops.

*Britain had world responsibilities to cover at the same time.

*Motivation: fighting for their lives and for a cause

*Selected foreign officers came to support the patriot cause, among them Marquis de Lafayette, Baron von Steuben, Baron de Kalb, Count Pulaski and Thaddeus Kosciusko

Leadership of Washington

Washington demonstrated great tenacity and strength of character throughout the war. He was the best known colonial military leader, though he had enjoyed no success in French and Indian War. Washington adapted his strategy and tactics to fir the situation as the war progressed.  Upon his appointment as commander in chief by the 2d Continental Congress, Washington initially supported attacks into Canada which failed, and then he stood and defended New York City.  After suffering three defeats at the hands of William Howe, at the battles of Long Island (Brooklyn Heights), Harlem Heights, and White Plains, and having come close to losing his entire Continental Army, Washington finally understood the importance of his army to the patriot cause.  These defeats around New York City caused Washington to switch to a philosophy of sustaining the Continental Army, and to limit his attacks against the British to those that had a high probability of success, attacks such as those against Princeton and Trenton at Christmastime, 1776.  

As the war dragged on into 1781, however, Washington feared that the life might go out of the patriot cause because of his failure to achieve victory.  He seemed determined to attack the British in their defenses around New York City, an attack the British would certainly have welcomed.  It would give the Redcoats a chance to defeat Washington and end the war on terms favorable to the British.  Patriot leaders such as Charles Lee and Lafayette argued against the attack, and Admiral de Grasse refused Washington's request to support the offensive by entering into New York Harbor.  De Grasse took a chance instead to move his fleet to the entrance of Chesapeake Bay and help trap Cornwallis at Yorktown.  Washington in turn sent Lafayette to Yorktown to deal with Cornwallis on land.  With a real opportunity for success, Washington brought the rest of his men, along with French troops under Rochambeau, and finally forced Cornwallis to surrender. 

Strategy:

The Americans could stay on strategic and tactical defense which normally results in a complete absence of a decision, which would achieve their goal of avoiding losing. Every time the Americans go on the tactical offense, it has to be measured against what a defeat would lead to, but if success was ever achieved, that left the British further from their goal.

Britain searched for a strategy that led to outright victory. They had to must go on the strategic and tactical offense to achieve their goal. They tried to build on loyalist support, first in the South which failed with the defeat at the Battle of Moore=s Creek Bridge, then from Boston they advanced against New York City in1776.  When their New York offensive failed in 1777 at Saratoga, the British again reverted to a southern strategy, which ended in ultimate failure at Yorktown.

French Alliance

After Gates=s spectacular victory at Saratoga and Burgoyne=s surrender of 8,000 soldiers, France was prepared to make an alliance with Americans.  The patriot effort would be greatly enhanced with such an alliance, while the French could get a measure of revenge against the British for their loss in French and Indian War.  The Americans now had two choices, to fight and win, or accept a Parliamentary offer of home rule which was received after the victory at Saratoga.  The patriots chose to continue to fight for independence. French incurred more financial costs to bear which had serious repercussions for that nation in 1789 (the revolution which overthrew the monarchy occurred that year).  While French military assistance did not have a significant impact until 1781 on the battlefield at Yorktown, when the French navy under Admiral de Grasse blocked Lord Cornwallis's escape route, their financial assistance had helped the Americans from the very beginning of Revolutionary War.

Hessians - German mercenaries from the German state of Hesse who fought for the British during American Revolution.  It became practice for the American Patriots to refer to any mercenary soldier who fought for the British as a Hessian, even those not from Hesse.
Tories - Americans who were supportive of the British, also called Loyalists, roughly 25-33% of the population in the Thirteen Colonies.  Tories were strongest in the New York City area, and in the upcountry of North and South Carolina.
Reconciliation Bill - After the British loss at Saratoga, Parliament considered seeking an end to military actions and a political agreement with the American Patriots, which would have given the Americans virtual independence relative to internal/domestic decisions, or, in effect, "home rule."

Why did Americans win?

1. French assistance

2. British incompetence

3. Nature of the conditions of victory

4. Leadership of Washington, Lafayette, von Steuben, etc.

5. Won over support of people, Patriots more representative of American views than Loyalists.

REQUIRED READING

Tindall, chapters 4 & 5

TERMS TO KNOW

Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill, Princeton and Trenton, Battle of Long Island, Harlem Heights and White Plains, Brandywine, Monmouth, Saratoga, Yorktown, Cowpens - names of the best known battles of Revolutionary War  
Valley Forge       
George Washington - commander, Continental Army  
Marquis de Lafayette,   Baron von Steuben,  Baron de Kalb, Count Pulaski, Thaddeus Koscuiosko - soldiers of fortune who came to North America to fight for the Patriot cause
John Burgoyne,  William Howe, Richard Howe, Henry Clinton, Lord Cornwallis - leading British officers sent to North America to destroy the patriot cause
Conditions of Victory   
French-American Alliance  
Nathaniel Greene, George Rogers Clark, Dan Morgan Horatio Gates - American military leaders who commanded  'continentals' against the British
Continentals - American regular troops who fought the British, alongside militia men  
Home Rule    Treaty of Paris (1783)   
Hessians - British-hired mercenaries who fought against Americans. Since many of them came from the German state of Hesse, Hessians became the common name for all mercenaries fighting for British
Tories - Americans who remained loyal to the King and Parliament.  Also called Loyalists. Commonly believed to represent about 25-33% of population in the Thirteen Colonies, and most likely to be found around New York City, or North Carolina-South Carolina border
Minutemen - American militia   
2d Continental Congress  

SAMPLE TEST QUESTIONS

Discuss the reasons why the Americans were able to win the Revolutionary War.

What battle stands as the most important in determining the final outcome of the Revolutionary War?

Who wrote Common Sense?

Who lost the Battle of Saratoga?

RECOMMENDED READING

George F. Scheer and Hugh F. Rankin,  Rebels and Redcoats.

Norman K. Risjord, Representative Americans: the Revolutionary Generation.