American Revolutionary War

American Revolutionary War
Clockwise: Surrender of Lord Cornwallis after the Siege of Yorktown, Battle of Trenton, The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill, Battle of Long Island, Battle of Guilford Court House
DateApril 19, 1775 – September 3, 1783
(8 years, 4 months and 15 days)
Ratification effective: May 12, 1784
(9 years and 23 days)
Eastern North America, Caribbean Sea, Indian subcontinent, Africa, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Indian Ocean
Thirteen Colonies
(before 1776)
United States
(after 1776)
Vermont Republic[1]
Kingdom of France France[2][3]
Spain Spain[4]
Dutch Republic Dutch Republic[5]

Kingdom of Great Britain Great Britain

Wappen-HK (1736-1804).svg Hesse-Kassel
Wappen-HK (1736-1804).svg Hesse-Hanau
Coat of Arms of the Principality of Waldeck and Pyrmont.svg Waldeck
Coat of Arms of Brunswick-Lüneburg.svg Brunswick
Wappen Brandenburg-Ansbach.svg Ansbach
Blason Principauté d'Anhalt-Zerbst (XVIIIe siècle).svg Anhalt-Zerbst
Commanders and leaders
George Washington
Thomas Chittenden
Kingdom of France Louis XVI
Spain Charles III
Dutch Republic William V
Kingdom of Mysore Hyder Ali
Kingdom of Mysore Tipu Sultan
full list...
Kingdom of Great Britain George III
Kingdom of Great Britain Lord North
Kingdom of Great Britain Lord George Germain
full list...

United States:
Army & Militia:
40,000 (average)[12]
200,000 (total served)[13]
5,000 sailors (peak 1779)[14]
53 frigates and sloops (total served)[14]
State Navies:
106 ships (total served)[15]
55,000 sailors (total served)[16]
1,697 ships[17]

63,000 French and Spanish (Gibraltar)[18][19]
146 ships-of-the-line (1782)[20]

American Indian Allies:


Great Britain:
48,000 (America peak)[21]
121,000 (global 1781)[22]
7,500 (Gibraltar)[23]
94 ships-of-the-line (1782)[20]
104 frigates (1781)[24]
37 sloops (1781)[25]
171,000 sailors[26]

25,000 (total served)[27]

2,365 (total served)[28]

29,875 (total served)[29]

American Indian Allies:

Casualties and losses

United States:
25,000–70,000 total dead[12][31]
6,800 killed in battle
10,000 POWs died
17,000 died of disease[32]

~7,000 dead
(2,112 in the United States)[33]
19 ships of the line (1,346 guns) lost[34]
30 frigates (988 guns) lost[34]

5,000 dead[35]
(124 in British West Florida)[36]
4,000 POWs died[37]
8 ships of the line (572 guns) lost[34]
11 frigates (326 guns) lost[34]

500 killed[35]

Total: 37,000–82,500+ soldiers dead

Great Britain:
43,633 total dead[38]
~9,372 killed in battle[39]
27,000 died of disease[12][40]
1,243 killed in battle
18,500 died of disease (1776–1780)[41]
42,000 deserted[42]
20 ships of the line (1,396 guns) lost[34]
70 frigates (1,978 guns) lost[34]
2,200 merchant ships (600 to American privateers) lost[34]
75 privateering ships lost[34]

7,774 total dead
1,800 killed in battle
4,888 deserted[12]

7,000 total dead
1,700 killed in battle
5,300 died of disease (estimated)[43]

Total: 78,200+ soldiers dead

The American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), also known as the American War of Independence,[44] was a war between Great Britain and its Thirteen Colonies in America which declared independence in July 1776 as the United States of America.[N 1]

After 1765, growing constitutional and political differences strained the relationship between Great Britain and its American colonies. Patriot protests against taxation without representation followed the Stamp Act and escalated into boycotts, which culminated in 1773 with the Sons of Liberty destroying a shipment of tea in Boston Harbor. Britain responded by closing Boston Harbor and passing a series of punitive measures against Massachusetts Bay Colony. Massachusetts colonists responded with the Suffolk Resolves, and they established a shadow government which wrested control of the countryside from the Crown. Twelve colonies formed a Continental Congress (with the exception of Georgia) to coordinate their resistance, establishing committees and conventions that effectively seized power.[45]

British attempts to disarm the Massachusetts militia in Concord led to open combat and a British defeat on April 19, 1775. Militia forces then besieged Boston, forcing a British evacuation in March 1776, and Congress appointed George Washington to command the Continental Army. Concurrently, the Americans failed decisively in an attempt to invade Quebec and raise insurrection against the British. On July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress voted for independence, issuing its declaration on July 4. Sir William Howe launched a British counter-offensive, capturing New York City and leaving American morale at a low ebb. However, victories at Trenton and Princeton restored American confidence. In 1777, the British launched an invasion from Quebec under John Burgoyne, intending to isolate the New England Colonies. Instead of assisting this effort, Howe took his army on a separate campaign against Philadelphia, and Burgoyne was decisively defeated at Saratoga in October 1777.

Burgoyne's defeat had dramatic consequences. France formally allied with the Americans and entered the war in 1778, and Spain joined the war the following year as an ally of France but not as an ally of the United States. The British mounted a "Southern strategy" led by Charles Cornwallis which hinged upon a Loyalist uprising, but too few came forward. Cornwallis suffered reversals at King's Mountain and Cowpens. He retreated to Yorktown, Virginia, intending an evacuation, but a decisive French naval victory deprived him of an escape. A Franco-American army led by the Comte de Rochambeau and Washington then besieged Cornwallis' army and, with no sign of relief, he surrendered in October 1781.

Whigs in Britain had long opposed the pro-war Tories in Parliament, and the surrender gave them the upper hand. In early 1782, Parliament voted to end all offensive operations in America, but the war against France continued overseas. Britain remained under siege in Gibraltar but scored a major victory over the French navy. On September 3, 1783, the belligerent parties signed the Treaty of Paris in which Great Britain agreed to recognize the sovereignty of the United States and formally end the war. French involvement had proven decisive,[46] but France made few gains and incurred crippling debts. Spain made some territorial gains but failed in its primary aim of recovering Gibraltar.[47] The Dutch were defeated on all counts and were compelled to cede territory to Great Britain.


Taxation disputes

Parliament passed the Stamp Act in 1765 to pay for British military troops stationed in the American colonies after the French and Indian War. Parliament had previously passed legislation to regulate trade, but the Stamp Act introduced a new principle of a direct internal tax. Americans began to question the extent of the British Parliament's power in America, and the colonial legislatures argued that they had exclusive right to impose taxes within their jurisdictions.[48] Colonists condemned the tax because their rights as Englishmen protected them from being taxed by a Parliament in which they had no elected representatives.[49] Parliament argued that the colonies were "represented virtually", an idea that was criticized throughout the Empire.[50] Parliament did repeal the act in 1766, but it also affirmed its right to pass laws that were binding on the colonies.[51] From 1767, Parliament began passing legislation to raise revenue for the salaries of civil officials, ensuring their loyalty while inadvertently increasing resentment among the colonists, and opposition soon became widespread.[52][53]

Two ships in a harbor, one in the distance. On board, men stripped to the waist and wearing feathers in their hair throw crates of tea overboard. A large crowd, mostly men, stands on the dock, waving hats and cheering. A few people wave their hats from windows in a nearby building.
This iconic 1846 lithograph by Nathaniel Currier was entitled "The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor"; the phrase "Boston Tea Party" had not yet become standard. Contrary to Currier's depiction, few of the men dumping the tea were actually disguised as Indians.[54]

Enforcing the acts proved difficult. The seizure of the sloop Liberty in 1768 on suspicions of smuggling triggered a riot. In response, British troops occupied Boston, and Parliament threatened to extradite colonists to face trial in England.[55] Tensions rose after the murder of Christopher Seider by a customs official in 1770 and escalated into outrage after British troops fired on civilians in the Boston Massacre.[56] In 1772, colonists in Rhode Island boarded and burned a customs schooner. Parliament then repealed all taxes except the one on tea, passing the Tea Act in 1773, attempting to force colonists to buy East India Company tea on which the Townshend duties were paid, thus implicitly agreeing to Parliamentary supremacy. The landing of the tea was resisted in all colonies, but the governor of Massachusetts permitted British tea ships to remain in Boston Harbor, so the Sons of Liberty destroyed the tea chests in what became known as the "Boston Tea Party".[57]

Parliament then passed punitive legislation. It closed Boston Harbor until the tea was paid for and revoked the Massachusetts Charter, taking upon themselves the right to directly appoint the Massachusetts Governor's Council. Additionally, the royal governor was granted powers to undermine local democracy.[58][59] Further measures allowed the extradition of officials for trial elsewhere in the Empire, if the governor felt that a fair trial could not be secured locally. The act's vague reimbursement policy for travel expenses left few with the ability to testify, and colonists argued that it would allow officials to harass them with impunity.[60] Further laws allowed the governor to billet troops in private property without permission.[61] The colonists referred to the measures as the "Intolerable Acts", and they argued that their constitutional rights and their natural rights were being violated, viewing the acts as a threat to all of America.[62] The acts were widely opposed, driving neutral parties into support of the Patriots and curtailing Loyalist sentiment.[63][64]

Colonial response

The colonists responded by establishing the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, effectively removing Crown control of the colony outside Boston. Meanwhile, representatives from twelve colonies[65][66] convened the First Continental Congress to respond to the crisis. The Congress narrowly rejected a proposal to create an American parliament to act in concert with the British Parliament; instead, they passed a compact declaring a trade boycott against Britain.[67][68] The Congress also affirmed that Parliament had no authority over internal American matters, but they were willing to consent to trade regulations for the benefit of the empire,[69] and they authorized committees and conventions to enforce the boycott. The boycott was effective, as imports from Britain dropped by 97% in 1775 compared to 1774.[68]

Parliament refused to yield. In 1775, it declared Massachusetts to be in a state of rebellion and enforced a blockade of the colony.[70][71] It then passed legislation to limit colonial trade to the British West Indies and the British Isles. Colonial ships were barred from the Newfoundland cod fisheries, a measure which pleased Canadiens but damaged New England's economy. These increasing tensions led to a mutual scramble for ordnance and pushed the colonies toward open war.[72] Thomas Gage was the British Commander-in-Chief and military governor of Massachusetts, and he received orders on April 14, 1775, to disarm the local militias.[73]