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Revolution, Independence, and Upheaval in American Society, 1776 - 1783. The American Revolution, and the consequences of the war. The Shot Heard ‘round the World. http://

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the shot heard round the world
The Shot Heard ‘round the World

the onset of the war 1775 1776

From the onset of the Revolutionary War, there was little or no reason for optimism in the Continental Army. Here’s why:

  • England had the most powerful Army and Navy in the World.
  • All Native American tribes were inclined to support the English.
  • All enslaved men and women were inclined to support the English.
  • Approximately one in three people counted himself or herself as a Loyalist.
The onset of the war, 1775 - 1776
american circumstances

Meanwhile, Americans were at a tremendous disadvantage in terms of organization.

The Continental Army had little money.

Americans distrusted standing armies.

There were almost no trained soldiers.

The equipment the soldiers carried was poor, and there were few factories or markets to make or procure more.

American Circumstances
advantages of the colonists 1775
The advantages the colonists held going into the war was a short list; however, they proved to be substantial in terms of fighting the conflict over the course of time.

Geography proved to be enormously important in this war, and Americans knew the lay of the land. This allowed for strategic victories both in small scale guerrilla style skirmishes and in larger conflicts – like Saratoga, or Yorktown.

The Americans were a vast, rural society, and in many instances, rural populations were the most patriotic. This meant that winning New York, Philadelphia, or other cities was not enough.

Allies: France, Spain, and Holland would all support the Americans when war erupted.

Advantages of the Colonists, 1775
the primacy of boston in the revolution
Since Boston was the focal point of many of the English attempts at subjugation – the Intolerable Acts in particular – it became the first front in the war. When the Continental Congress affirmed the Suffolk Resolves, it virtually guaranteed a violent rebuttal from King George III, and the Battles of Lexington and Concord, in the spring of 1775, were exactly that. The response of the Crown to the Declaration of Rights and Grievances and the Suffolk Resolves – which came virtually simultaneously, was prompt. The King was resolved that since diplomatic measures and proactive government had not squelched the rebellion, then “Blows must decide…”The Primacy of Boston in the Revolution
the battles of lexington concord
The onset of the war with England came in April of 1775, when it was ordered that John Hancock be arrested and that stockpiles of military weapons held by minutemen militias should be seized. Samuel Adams was also to be arrested that day. Outside the city, the famed silversmith Paul Revere and his accomplice, Dr. William Dawes, awaited a signal from the Old North Church bell tower. When the signal was given, Revere and Dawes set to warning minutemen of the invasion. The cache of weapons was reapportioned for the day, and the soldiers prepared for combat with a formidable opponent. The Battles of Lexington & Concord
the battles of lexington and concord
At Lexington, the British Army had believed that they would apprehend both John Hancock and Samuel Adams. They did not. Instead, a skirmish between a few dozen American militiamen and the regular British Army ensued. The British fired “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World” here, and eight (8) Americans died. Nine more men were injured

The Battle of Concord was more substantial. The arsenal there had been completely emptied by the minutemen, who were staged at the North Bridge – the entry into the town. During this battle, the Continental Army used guerrilla tactics and were largely successful at repelling the British invasion, driving the soldiers out of the region and back to Boston, and giving chase against a retreating British foe.

The Battles of Lexington and Concord
an undeclared war for england
The English occupying force in Boston was more than just aware of the Continental Army preparing in the heights of the city. George Washington would be appointed as the commander of the force – a ragtag group of poor men, free blacks, enslaved men, and bounty collectors who had virtually no military training. One in five was either enslaved or a free African-American. For now, though, the men were without his leadership.

For English General Thomas Gage, the challenge was to defend the city – which was now flooded with loyalists seeking protection – without escalating the conflict any more. He realized the armed militia were gathering outside the city, but was – by necessity – forced to equivocate and proceed with caution.

An undeclared War for england
the battle of bunker hill
The Battle of Bunker Hill

After the militia had ignored Thomas Gage’s order to disarm and disperse, he placed the responsibility of routing the men out of the high ground on fellow officer William Howe. What resulted was bloodshed on a scale never seen in New England. Howe’s men carried out a full frontal assault on an entrenched position on the high ground, which resulted in carnage. Nevertheless, it proved victorious. The Continental Army did not have the resources or ammunition to maintain their position; hence, after inflicting horrifying injury upon their enemy, the men retreated. The Battle of Bunker Hill, it has not been forgotten by historians, was actually fought on Breed’s Hill.

washington in command
When he took command of the Continental Army two weeks after the Battle of Bunker Hill, Washington was aghast at the undisciplined soldiers he inherited. The men were without training; the camp was fouled by human excrement and disease; the soldiers were sickly, malnourished, and inflicting great harm upon one another – indeed, friendly fire incidents resulted in deaths and injuries on an almost daily basis. Nevertheless, Washington had taken a command he could work with in the near future – and set to work on the liberation of Boston. Men were already at work capturing and dragging the guns of Fort Ticonderoga into place atop Boston’s heights.Washington in command
howe the english planned to win the war
By the spring of 1776, Gage, and thousands of loyalists had determined that the evacuation of Boston was merited, and had fled for Nova Scotia. The conduct of the war was left to the Howe brothers: General William Howe and his brother, Admiral Richard Howe. These men found allies in the elite, loyalist communities of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania; moreover, many of the backcountry farmers of the Carolinas were English sympathizers, as well. The men, however, failed to acknowledge that the support of the people was lukewarm; the people were low in number, and that the boorish behavior of the English soldiers and Hessian mercenaries was not winning any friends for the English cause.Howe the English Planned to win the war
the battle for new york city
After a frustrating attempt to capture Charleston, South Carolina resulted in an embarrassing defeat for Henry Clinton’s men. Unable to muster much support from loyalist bands in South Carolina, and seemingly cursed by the tides and lay of the land from which they launched their attack, the British packed up ship and reorganized in New York. That summer, the British arrived in New York with an army of over 30,000 men – more than the entire population of the city. They did not seek, however, to destroy the loyalist stronghold – for, they liked Americans in general. Instead, they wanted to provide an enormous show of force and embarrassingly defeat the fledgling leader – George Washington. Washington, who had rushed his Continental Army south to meet the British, was overwhelmed and forced to retreat.The Battle for New York City
the battle of trenton
After escaping the British Army in New York – and it is fairer to note that he was simply allowed to retreat from New York – Washington led his army west: across the Hudson River into New Jersey, and then across the Delaware River and into Pennsylvania. As the autumn of 1776 descended into winter, the Howe’s began to settle into their winter encampments. Still reeling from the loss of New York City and worried that once enlistments ran out for the Continental Army few of his men would re-up and even fewer would be recruited to the ranks, Washington was eager to score a victory before settling in for the winter. On Christmas Night, in the middle of a blizzard, Washington and his men crossed the Delaware River to strike Trenton. The British and their Hessian mercenaries were caught entirely off their guard, and surrendered. Just nine days later, another victory was gained at Princeton, NJ. The increase in morale made the attacks entirely worthwhile for the Army.The Battle of Trenton
funding the continental army
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the war for the Americans who had volunteered to serve in the Army – infected by the “Spirit of ’76” – was the complete disregard for the funding of the Army by the Congress and the states alike. During the first hard winter of the war, which Washington and his men spent in camp near Morristown, NJ, the Congress was unable to provide food or supplies for his army from Congress. When the Continental Congress authorized Washington to take the provisions by force from nearby farmers and community members, Washington opted not to – he was conscious of the harm the English Army was doing itself by treating American citizens as brutally as they had, and he would not repeat their error in judgment.Funding the continental army
graft and corruption in the american revolution

The historian Charles Royster, in his work, A Revolutionary People at War: The Continental Army & American Character reveals the extent of corruption and war profiteering during the War for Independence:

“Soldiers probably suffered much more directly from the graft of contractors or suppliers… Americans repeatedly sold defective food, clothing, gunpowder, and other supplies to their own army. Wagoners drained the brine from barrels of pickled meat to lighten their loads, then charged at the full weight for shipping spoiled meat; meat-packers drained the brine and replaced it with water – which kept up the weight but ruined the meat; barrels of flour arrived at camp with the flour in the middle scooped out; cobblers used odd scraps to make shoes that looked good when new but quickly fell apart; the army received blankets that, when opened, revealed that each blanket was only a fraction of the proper size; gunsmiths cheated the government when hired to repair arms; large quantities of gunpowder were “bad and not to be depended on.”

Graft and Corruption in The American Revolution
the turning point saratoga
The Turning Point: Saratoga

If 1777 seems awfully early in the conflict for a turning point victory, it is no less surprising that the mortal injury was self-inflicted. It was the poor decision-making of General John Burgoyne which brought the English to this crossroads, however, with an ambitious plan that was poorly researched, even more poorly communicated, and recklessly carried out in territory which was as unforgiving as it was unknown to the British.

saratoga the turning point
Burgoyne’s plan was to carve a path of destruction through the state of New York which would isolate New England from the remainder of the colonies. Driving his army south from Montreal towards Albany, it was Burgoyne’s intention to meet both Barry St. Leger – coming from west to east from Mohawk lands to the Hudson River Valley and the soldiers of William Howe. The plan, however, quickly fell to pieces:

Burgoyne had underestimated the terrain – and over packed; he was traveling luxuriously.

The Native American allies which Barry St. Leger had been counting on failed to emerge.

General Howe had left New York City and was completely unaware of Burgoyne’s predicament.

Saratoga: the turning Point
It was Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys – from what today we call Vermont – who stalled the progress of Burgoyne and his men as they attempted to “bushwhack” their way from Montreal to Lake Champlain and even farther south towards Albany. A vicious bloodletting ensued at Bennington, and eventually, Burgoyne and his men found themselves surrounded by the American Army led by Horatio Gates. On the battlefield, Gates shrank away from the action; indeed, Benedict Arnold was the most important leader during the heat of the battle. But he did receive Burgoyne’s surrender with grace. With Burgoyne’s surrender, the American colonists won something greater than the victory in battle – they won credibility. Within the coming year, France, Spain, and Holland would all commit themselves to the American War for Independence. Saratoga
winning formal recognition abroad
Happily, England was despised in Europe and had a host of enemies who were more than willing to help along the American Revolution – particularly when they came to the realization that American rebels were up to the task of winning their independence. At the top of the list of enemies was France, followed in close order by fellow Catholic nations Spain and Holland. After Saratoga, diplomats like the Benjamin Franklin had a much better time of it arguing that the Continental Army would be able to defeat the English – especially with a well placed naval blockade from the French and the deep pockets of a couple of European rivals at their disposal. Winning formal Recognition Abroad
the winter of 1777 valley forge
The winter of 1777-1778 was dreadful by all accounts. Foot soldiers lived in 14 x 16 cabins – a dozen to a fort. Blankets, coats, and firewood were all scarce. Requests for provisions were denied, and yet the men would remain committed to the cause of liberty for the United States. The Prussian military leader Baron von Steuben – a man who had purchased his military rank and still exaggerated considerably in seeking his position – was responsible for introducing military discipline to the soldiers – reinforcing Washington’s goals and making soldiers out of men. By the spring of 1778, the army was transformed – even if it remained undersupplied. The Winter of 1777 – Valley Forge
clinton abandons philadelphia for new york
Clinton Abandons Philadelphia for New York

Once France entered the war on the side of the American colonists, Henry Clinton felt unsafe in Philadelphia. The city was too easy to blockade, at the end of the Delaware Bay. He hastily fled for New York City. Although the major cities in the North were under British control, very little else was under British rule; the Northern region of the colonies remained in a stalemate.

the role of the french
While it would probably have been impossible to win the Revolutionary War without French intervention, the French were nevertheless a fickle ally. They were fighting the war for their own interests – just as the Americans were – and only supported Washington and his Continental Army to the extent that it advanced France’s goals for participation in the contest. Therefore, when it came time to execute battle plans or coordinate between land and sea, the French Navy was often no where to be found. They were in the Caribbean, protecting their own interests in the sugar islands there from English attack. Washington had to work around this – while coopering with French commanders on the ground in America.The Role of the French
the fall of the citadel and charleston
After having been repulsed in their first efforts to capture the port of Charleston in South Carolina, a second initiative carried out by Henry Clinton had far superior results in the winter of 1779 and 1780. The result of this battle turned the course of the war in the South. Previously, Patriots had held the city, and Loyalists worked in disorganized guerrilla bands to fight against them. Now, Loyalists held the city of Charleston, and the American militias were forces to take up guerrilla tactics. Several bloody battles ensued between smaller groups of soldiers. It is here that Francis Marion – “The Swamp Fox” – won his reputation. The film “The Patriot” is a wildly exaggerated story which caricatures Marion.The fall of the Citadel and Charleston
the battle of king s mountain
Another of the more outstanding leaders of the roaming bands of patriots in the South was Thomas Sumter, who led his own group of irregulars into battle in the backcountry of South Carolina against bands of Loyalists. The most famous – and bloody – battle in this region was at King’s Mountain. There, Sumter refused to even allow the Loyalists to surrender to his forces, surrounding them and picking them off one by one. The vicious nature of the fighting in the backcountry was a grim reminder of how horrible war is – even as more formal rules of engagement were in place between the more organized armies in the conflict. The Battle of King’s Mountain
the regular armies in the south
The Regular Armies in the SOuth

Meanwhile, in the conflicts between the Continental Army and the British, Americans led by Horatio Gates – the hero of Saratoga – had suffered crushing defeats, the worst of which was at Camden, South Carolina. Gates would be replaced by the younger and more energetic Nathanael Green. Although Green’s Army could not defeat the larger and better trained men of Lord Charles Cornwallis, they were determined to lead him on a merry chase before retreating. Perhaps his most important contribution was to instill greater discipline in his own men, who had been guilty of much plunder and mistreatment of locals. Green attempted to make reparations and even went so far as to propose pardons for loyalists and create alliances with local tribes. Gift-giving schemes won over all but the Creeks. Green would then devoted himself to a strategy of self-preservation. He would make Cornwallis chase his army from sunup to sundown.


Green dispersed several of the groups at his command to harass the English lines and create disorder. At the battle of Cowpens, American riflemen under the command of Daniel Morgan stood their ground against an oncoming enemy attack in a meadow in South Carolina, and although largely outnumbered, they repulsed the British. So frustrated was Cornwallis after this disheartening loss, that he decided to launch an offensive to capture Nathanael Green’s Army – but he would have to catch them first. And Green and his army would prove to be elusive.

the battle of guilford courthouse
The Battle of Guilford Courthouse

The Battle of Guilford Courthouse ensued in the spring of 1781, when Cornwallis and his army finally caught up with Nathanael Green’s men and forced them to fight. The conflict was bloody and both sides would suffer staggering loses. The Americans would escape and retreat yet again, though, leaving Cornwallis disgusted. Ultimately, he and his men would head north, hoping for better luck in Virginia. There, luck would not improve.

treason at west point
Treason at West Point

As Lord Cornwallis was tracking northwards, in pursuit of Nathanael Green’s men, a treasonous scandal was coming to light in the North. Benedict Arnold, hero of the Battle of Saratoga and one of the key figures in procuring the guns of Ticonderoga at the outset of the war, was discovered consorting with the enemy – attempting to give the keys to the fort at West Point to the British. Although the plot was discovered and put to a halt, the blow to morale which resulted from the discovery of treachery from one of the most revered leaders of the cause was painful. His name is now associated the worst treason.

washington and rochambeau
Washington and Rochambeau

General Rochambeau and George Washington did not see eye to eye regarding strategy as the war came to its conclusion in the 1780 – 1781. Indeed, Washington believed that an assault on New York City – a stronghold of the loyalists and Great Britain’s army and naval strength – was a high priority. Rochambeau, however, though Washington’s plan superfluous, and believed that following Washington’s command would be a bit like the tail wagging the dog. He had already sent orders to the French naval commander Admiral De Grasse to make haste for the Chesapeake – for the combined force would attempt to corner and siege Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown.

victory at yorktown 1781
Victory at Yorktown, 1781

The Continental Army, led by Washington – along with French soldiers under the command of Rochambeau, cornered Cornwallis’s men on the peninsula near Yorktown. With Admiral de Grasse en route to the Chesapeake, the army would surely be cornered and a siege would result in his eventual surrender. Although Henry Clinton attempted to intercept the French Navy before they reached the Chesapeake, his action was too late, and siege began in earnest in the summer. The action was a who’s – who of the Revolutionary War, with Washington, Rochambeau, Lafayette, Anthony Wayne and Baron von Steuben all playing important roles in the maneuvers. Meanwhile, aiding Cornwallis was the traitor Benedict Arnold. The outcome, however, was predictable enough. Cornwallis surrendered October 19, 1781. Although this would be the last major conflict point during the Revolutionary War, there were many smaller scale events to follow, and major diplomatic missions.

in the aftermath of yorktown

Fighting continued between bands of Loyalists and Patriots – less organized units of men who fell upon each other in the backcountry – particularly in the South.

Bloody warfare continued on the Frontier, often involving Native American tribes with varying degrees of interest in the outcome of the larger conflict. British military outposts and forts in the West would be occupied all the way through the War of 1812…

The British continued to occupy most of the major cities in the American colonies: Charleston, New York, Savannah, and to a lesser degree Philadelphia.

The Parliament, however, passed legislation to stop funding the Revolutionary War efforts in March of 1782, effectively calling a cease-fire from afar.

In the Aftermath of yorktown
negotiating the treaty of paris 1783

Benjamin Franklin, the elder statesman of the new American Republic; John Adams the patriotic if prudish New Englander, and John Jay, the aristocratic New Yorker, were assigned with the task of negotiating the Treaty of Paris.

The Congress gave the men the power to negotiate, but insisted that they tie themselves and their allegiance to France – instructions which were dismissed out of hand by all three men.

They insisted upon the pre-condition that the United States would be treated as an independent nation from the beginning of the negotiations.

Negotiating the Treaty of Paris, 1783
terms of the treaty of paris 1783

Independence for the United States of America.

All English possessions from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River was ceded – the Northern boundaries approximately the same as the present borders with Canada, the Southern boundaries at Florida.

Americans were granted fishing rights off the coast of Newfoundland.

The British agreed to evacuate all forts in the Northwest Territory – today’s Ohio River Valley. (They did not.)

Americans promised to pay on their debts to England and to restore the property of the Loyalists who had fled the United States or had their belongings seized. (They did not.)

Terms of the Treaty of paris, 1783
major implications of the revolutionary war on society redefinition of liberty
How the United States Changed Socially, Politically, and Economically due to the Outcomes of the Revolutionary War.Major Implications of the Revolutionary War on Society - Redefinition of Liberty
the plight of the enslaved
Given the language of the Declaration of Independence and other Revolutionary tracts distributed around the time of the War for Independence, it is surprising that the topic of abolition of slavery did not receive any greater consideration than it did during the period. Indeed, the British had a far superior offer for enslaved people during the war – emancipation for service in the armed forces. But whether they served with the Continental Army or for the British, black soldiers would be paid less and placed in the most dangerous and laborious positions. Some slaves fled for urban centers where they might “pass” as free blacks; others joined Native American tribes. Those who joined the British roles were generally forced to emigrate to the Caribbean, Canada, British-controlled Florida, or to colonial possessions in Africa, like Sierra Leone. American blacks were rarely guaranteed emancipation.The plight of the enslaved
manumission and emancipation
The traditional argument that you cannot cast judgment upon the Founding Fathers because their beliefs were a product of their times does not hold well in light of the many Americans who recognized the irony and hypocrisy of celebrating independence and liberty in a nation which endorsed slavery. British soldiers taunted, “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for Liberty among the drivers of Negroes?” James Otis, Thomas Paine, and Benjamin Rush – along with the African-American poet Phillis Wheatley – all recognized the crime against humanity. Washington freed all of his slaves upon the death of his wife. Certainly the Founding Fathers missed an opportunity to act boldly and righteously in order to end slavery in America.Manumission and emancipation
the fate of loyalists in america
Loyalists were exiled from the American colonies – at least for a period of years – and faced crippling economic losses. Against the stipulations of the Treaty of Paris of 1783, most loyalist property had been seized and sold. Reparations, although promised, were rarely paid in spite of some earnest protests by Americans. Of the estimated 100,000 loyalists who left the American colonies, most went to the islands of New Brunswick or Nova Scotia, or some other part of Canada. Others went to islands in the Caribbean. For those who opted to emigrate to the Mother Country, they soon found that whatever their status in the American colonies, it was greatly reduced in England – many would perish in poverty on the island.The Fate of Loyalists in America