*Both sides had strengths and weaknesses:
British Strengths British Weaknesses American Strengths American Weaknesses
*Well-trained army
*World’s greatest navy
*50,000 Loyalist troops
*Indian allies
*30,000 Hessian mercenaries
*War unpopular
*War expensive and leads to high (and unpopular) taxes)
*British troops in distant, foreign, hostile territory, facing troops who use strange tactics
*Have to occupy a large area
*Familiar territory

*Internal supply lines

*Fighting for a just cause

*Small, poorly-trained army and navy

*In 1776, 32,000 British and Hessian troops under General Howe faced off against Washington’s poorly trained and ill-equipped army in New York.

*Washington needed a spy.  Nathan Hale volunteered and got some important information to Washington, but was caught on the way back.  Before he was hanged, he said ‘I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.’  His statue is outside the CIA building to-day.

*Washington engages the British on 27 August, 1776, and is beaten in the Battle of Brooklyn, but still holds a defensive position.  Knowing he cannot defeat the British, who have settled in to besiege his position, Washington flees Long Island under cover of darkness.  Describe the retreat across the East River with the aid of Colonel John Glover

*October, 1776, British capture New York City and the Continental Congress flees to Baltimore, and later to Philadelphia (when the British advance on Baltimore in March, 1777).

*December, 1776:  ‘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 their country; but he that stands it NOW, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.’  Thomas Paine, The Crisis.

*25 December, 1776, George Washington crosses the Delaware River and attacks 1,400 Hessians at Trenton, New Jersey on the 26th.  Almost all the Hessians were captured, while only 5 Americans were killed.  This was a tremendous boost in American morale, both in the army and in Congress.  Furthermore, the victory at Trenton allowed the capture of Princeton shortly afterwards, where the British had supplies Washington needed.  Even more important, after the battle of Trenton, France, England’s traditional foe, prompted by Benjamin Franklin, begins to send some aid, in the form of money and materiel—but not yet men or ships.

*11 September, 1777:  Washington is defeated at Brandywine (but not shot by Ferguson) and Philadelphia is occupied by British troops under General Howe, who chose to capture Philadelphia because both Congress and his favourite mistress were there.  Congress flees again, this time to nearby York, Pennsylvania.

*British attack from Canada.  In a series of skirmishes from 19 September to 7 October, 1777, Gates and Arnold fight  General John Burgoyne near Saratoga, New York.  Burgoyne barely beats the Americans on 19 September, and Gates relieves Arnold of command.  Expecting, but not receiving, reinforcements from Howe and Clinton in New York, Burgoyne tries a second, more desperate attack.  Gates uses successful defensive tactics, but Arnold sees a chance to do more.  He hops on his horse and leads a series of charges against different points on the British line.  He is again wounded in the leg.  Burgoyne retreats, but his camp is surrounded by a much larger number of Americans (20,000 vs 5-6,000) and he surrenders on 17 October.  This is the turning point of the war (according to most) because it was such a great American victory that France decided to assist America.  France had secretly helped the colonists for some time, sending money and weapons in order to hurt their old enemy England.  Spain began to send help shortly afterwards.  This ended up starting yet another world war in America, Europe, and beyond, just like in the French and Indian War.

*Winter 1777-78:  Army winters at Valley Forge in Pennsylvania, poorly supplied, and almost starves and freezes to death, but during this time the army is trained by the Prussian Baron von Steuben.

*The British and the Continental Army are now stalemated in New York, with the British in the city and the Americans just up the Hudson River.  However, the British have a plan.

*Benedict Arnold, hero and traitor, would sell West Point to the British if he could.

*There is some fighting in the west, as Americans attack British forts in the Ohio Valley and fight the British and their Indian allies.  The great American leader in the west was Colonel George Rogers Clark, who ultimately captured every British fort in what is now Indiana and Illinois.  This was important because the British had a number of forts throughout the west, and used them to stir up the Indians.  Detroit was a major centre of hair-buying.

*There are also battles upon the sea.  Although the American Navy is much weaker than that of Great Britain, American ships, many of them privateers, do seize about 600 prizes.  One of the most successful officers in the American Navy was John Paul Jones, who, using three ships given him by the French, captured a superior British vessel after 3½ hours of fighting thanks in large part to a refusal to give up.  Halfway through the battle, when things were not going his way, the British commander asked Jones if he was ready to surrender, and Jones replied ‘I have not yet begun to fight.’

*There were a lot more Loyalists in the south than elsewhere, so the British moved south.  In December, 1778 Savannah, Georgia fell, and in May, 1780 Charlestown was captured.  3,465 American regulars were captured, along with many cannon and other supplies.  It was the worst surrender of American forces until the fall of the Philippines in the Second World War.

*May 29, 1780:  At a place called the Waxhaws on the NC/SC border, about 400 Americans under Col. Abraham Buford faced 270 British dragoons under Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton.  Tarleton asked Buford to surrender and he refused.  Tarleton’s forces then attacked and began to overwhelm the colonials.  What happened is unclear, but apparently Buford tried to surrender, but his horse was shot while he was waving the white flag—either intentionally or unintentionally is unknown.  Some Americans began to fight back again, and the British, possibly thinking they were violating their surrender, began to attack indiscriminately, even hacking with swords at men kneeling with their hands over their heads.  Almost the entire force was killed or captured, and Tarleton won a reputation for being a butcher.

*August, 1780:  The British defeat the Americans at the Battle of Camden.  General Gates, who commanded at Saratoga, is so demoralised that he outruns his own army in the retreat, and keeps going for about three days and into the next state.

*Ferguson began to rally loyalists in the Carolinas, and issued his warning to the people living across the Proclamation Line.  He told them to join him, or he would march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay the country waste with fire and sword.

He told his own men

‘Gentlemen:—Unless you wish to be eat up by an inundation of barbarians, who have begun by murdering an unarmed son before the aged father, and afterwards lopped off his arms, and who by their shocking cruelties and irregularities, give the best proof of their cowardice and want of discipline; I say, if you wish to be pinioned, robbed, and murdered, and see your wives and daughters, in four days, abused by the dregs of mankind—in short, if you wish or deserve to live, and bear the name of men, grasp your arms in a moment and run to camp.

‘The Back Water men have crossed the mountains; McDowell, Hampton, Shelby and Cleveland are at their head, so that you know what you have to depend upon. If you choose to be degraded forever and ever by a set of mongrels, say so at once, and let your women turn their backs upon you, and look out for real men to protect them.’

*September-October 1780, militiamen under John Sevier and other commanders marched from Sycamore Shoals in Elizabethton to Kings Mountain on the NC/SC border.  There about 1,400 frontiersmen defeated a force of about 1,100 Loyalists.  Some consider this the turning point of the war in the south, and credit it with keeping the southern colonies independent.

*Another British defeat was at Cowpens, SC, 17 January, 1781, where by using hidden reserves, American forces managed to completely surround British forces and capture or kill almost all of them, and they did so brutally, because the British were commanded by Tarleton (who got away).

*There were other battles in the south as the British General Cornwallis manoeuvred with the American General Nathaniel Greene throughout the Carolinas.  In a series of marches in North Carolina, Greene forces Cornwallis to burn most of his supplies in order to be able to move fast enough to catch up with him.  He finally did, at Guilford Courthouse, NC, on 15 March, 1781.  Greene used the same tactics as at Cowpens, until Cornwallis felt compelled to fire artillery over his own men, winning a Phyrric victory.

*Ultimately Greene and Washington, who had come south, faced off against Cornwallis at Yorktown, VA.  Supported by the French fleet under Admiral De Grasse, they defeated Cornwallis, who surrendered on 19 October, 1781.  Show the video, if possible.

*This was the last major battle of the war in America, although fighting continued elsewhere, and the Peace of Paris was not signed until 1783.


This page last updated 2 September, 2003.