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The American Revolution. Major Carlos Rascon. References. Dupuy and Dupuy, The Encyclopedia of Military History , pp. 708-725 Fuller, A Military History of the Western World , Vol. II, Chronicles 9, 10; ch. 9,10; pp. 271-340 Weigley, The American Way of War , pp. 3-39. Learning Objectives.

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The American Revolution

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The American Revolution

Major Carlos Rascon

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  • Dupuy and Dupuy, The Encyclopedia of Military History, pp. 708-725

  • Fuller, A Military History of the Western World, Vol. II, Chronicles 9, 10; ch. 9,10; pp. 271-340

  • Weigley, The American Way of War, pp. 3-39

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Learning Objectives

  • Know the U.S. and British strategies and objectives, and how they changed.

  • Be familiar with key campaigns and the policies that contributed to their success.

  • Describe the factors that contributed to the British losses.

  • Describe how the intervention of the French assisted the U.S.

  • Understand the changes in warfare precipitated by the American Revolution.

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Causes of the War

  • British defeat French in French/Indian War

    • Defeat of Indians removes colonists’ perceived need for British protection

    • War costly for Brits and need add’l income

  • Stamp, Navigation, and Revenue Act force colonists to pay for protection

  • 1770 Boston Massacre – 5 dead after protesting taxation w/o representation

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Causes of the War (cont.)

  • Quartering Act

    • Colonists forced to house British troops

    • 3rd Amendment of the Constitution

  • Real Causes

    • Colonists had intellectual differences with British gov’t

    • Spirit of independence brought about by frontier life

    • Belief in democracy over oligarchy

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Colonial Strategy

  • Partisan warfare through local militia

  • Strategy of attrition

    • Gradual wear down or weakening

    • Long lines of comm/supply for English

    • English resolve is weak

    • English has enemies in Europe

  • Colonialists split 1/3 rebel, loyalist, and indifferent causing civil war

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British Strategy

  • Break colonies in half at NYC

    • Break lines of communication and supply

    • Separate passion from provision

  • Economic warfare

    • Blockade

    • Counterfeiting

  • England’s Royal Navy

    • Able to move freely along long coastal strip

    • No critical points to maneuver against

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Battle of Lexington19 Apr 1775

  • Brits send 700 troops to destroy arms stash in Concord

  • “Minute Men” meet Brits at Lexington

  • Eight colonists dead, 10 wounded – American Revolution begins

  • Buys time to remove arms

  • Public sentiment becomes strongly anti-British

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Bunker (Breed’s) HillJun 1775

  • New “Continental Army” takes position on Breed’s Hill

  • British conduct frontal assault

    • Poor judgement – flanks/rear exposed

    • 40% casualties for Brits (1,100 dead)

  • Colonials repel two assaults but run out of ammo

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Results of Bunker Hill

  • Colonists convinced standing army was unnecessary

  • Showed colonial determination

  • Gen Howe forever failed to press victories

  • New colonial tactics:

    • Simple defensive

    • Hold at the Hudson

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SaratogaOct 1777

  • Brits only hold NYC, part of RI & Philadelphia

  • Brit plan is to hold on to major city, isolate North, and gain southern sentiment

  • Burgoyne moves south from Canada

    • Plan to take Albany, NY

    • Meeting up with Howe in NYC to cut North from South

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Follies at Saratoga

  • Burgoyne sets off with an overbundance of supplies/equipment

    • Movement extremely slow (1 mile/day)

    • Guerillas could easily stay ahead and slow further

  • The success of guerillas led to more partisan support

  • Burgoyne’s forces quickly wore down

  • Delays allow colonials to reinforce and win

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Significance of Saratoga

  • Turning point of Revolution

  • French enters war, aligning with colonists

  • Brits now move focus to the South

  • Spain and Holland soon join war

    • British forced to protect its own borders from aggressors

    • British concerned about about long ocean supply lines

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Southern CampaignLate 1778

  • Brits felt there were more loyalists in South

  • Southern resources more valuable

  • Brits win small victories but unable to pacify countryside

  • Greene vs Cornwallis

    • Greene sacrificed mass for manuever

    • Smaller forces more easily could live off land

    • Provided add’l rally points for local militia

    • Tempted Cornwallis to split his forces

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Battle of Cowpens17 Jan 1781

  • Daniel Morgan – Colonial leader

    • Very charismatic

    • Expects only two good shots before falling back

    • Eliminates unseasoned troops fleeing

  • Numerically equal forces but Americans ¾ militia

  • Colonials envelop Brits with militia and cavalry

  • Brits lose 9/10th of men due to overconfidence

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  • Cornwallis consolidates forces

  • French defeat British ships at Battle of Capes

  • Americans to front; French to rear

  • Brits surrender 17 Oct 1781

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British Forces

  • Classic 18th century European army

    • Linear tactics

    • Well-trained soldiers

  • Loyalty suspect in England

    • English sympathy for colonies

    • Employment of Hessians (mercenaries)

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American Forces

  • Most local militia for local defense

    • Troops often under-trained

    • Quick to flee under fire

  • Von Steuben becomes IG

    • Discipline instilled – little before his tenure

    • Streamlined musket loading & uniformity

    • Standardized training – speed and marksmanship

  • Length of service impeded tactics

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Impact of French

  • Anxious to regain international position

  • French repeatedly help American cause:

    • Loans of money

    • Use of French ports by American privateers

    • Protected American vessels near French waters

  • Made English uneasy at home

  • French Navy critical at Yorktown

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Failures of England

  • Initial plan could have worked

    • Didn’t act with resolution

    • Adequate forces were never provided

  • Lacked unity of command and comm

    • Commanders uncertain of objective

    • Lord Germain directed from England

    • Indecisive and slow to act

  • Brits unable to exploit Royal Navy

  • Focused on terrain (cities) instead of enemy

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Rifle (minority)

More accurate

Longer to reload

No bayonet

Good guerilla weapon

Musket (majority)

Accurate fire


Individual targets


Brown Bess musket

Volley fire

No target picked

Video 4 min Brown Bess

Weapons of the Era

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Impact on Warfare

  • Democratization of warfare

    • “Well regulated” militia

    • Balanced rights with obligated military service

    • Impact of “people’s army” fighting for a cause

    • New concept of total war for total victory

  • Changed tactics

    • Rifle makes linear tactics difficult

    • Brits adopt American tactics (cover and concealment)

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  • Causes for the war

  • Colonial and British strategies

  • Various battles and tactics

  • English short-comings

  • French contributions

  • Weapons of the Revolution

  • Impact on warfare

  • Video 8min Rifleman

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