The Revolutionary War
The Revolutionary War
The SAT II U.S. History will not ask you specific questions about facts during the Revolutionary War, such as the names of generals or the succession of battles. It is more important to know about the events leading up to and following the war. This short summary of the war will help you put those events into a greater context.
Sizing up the Competitors
After the delegates at the Second Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence, the two sides readied themselves for war. The numbers were heavily in Britain’s favor. In 1776, 11 million people inhabited the British Isles. Only 2.5 million lived in the newly formed United Sates, and not all of the colonists favored independence.
The colonists were able to build an army about equal in size to the British forces, but while British forces were well-trained veterans backed by the powerful British navy, the American forces were poorly funded and under-trained. The Continental Army and local militias could not compete with the Redcoats (British troops) in pitched battles. For this reason, American forces fought few major battles during the first year of the war—when they did fight, they lost badly.
The colonists found much-needed allies in their war against Britain when, in 1778, France joined the war on the American side. Within two years Spain and the Dutch Republic had also declared war against Britain. Caught in an international war, the British had to split their troops between Europe and North America. With their forces thus divided, the British relied more and more on loyalists to fight in the colonies, and soon found that they had overestimated loyalist support.
Division Among the Colonists
The signing of the Declaration of Independence ignited a sharp division in the colonies between the Whigs, in favor of independence, and the Tories, British loyalists and sympathizers. Approximately 20 percent of free Americans were Tories. Tory influence was most powerful in the Middle Colonies and in Georgia. Slaves also made up a significant number of Tory loyalists, responding to Britain’s promises of freedom for any slave who fought to restore royal authority. The most prominent Whig strongholds were New England, Virginia, and South Carolina.
War in the North
Early in the war, General George Washington’s forces around New York were driven back to Pennsylvania by the superior British forces. Beginning on Christmas 1776, Washington fought back and won decisive victories at Trenton and Princeton, New Jersey. In October 1777, the Continentals (colonists) won another decisive victory at the Battle of Saratoga. This victory raised the U.S. army’s morale and convinced France to recognize U.S. independence and to join the war against Britain.
In early December 1777, 11,000 troops under George Washington’s command marched through the snow to spend the winter at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where they regrouped and trained. In June 1778, these newly trained troops met the British at the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse, which lasted six hours in 100º heat. The battle ended when the Redcoats retreated, bringing victory in the North to the Americans.
War on the Frontier
The British enlisted the help of Native Americans all along the American frontier. In modern Illinois and Indiana, bands of militiamen from Kentucky and elsewhere ventured into the wilderness to combat British attempts to establish forts and to ally with Native Americans. Farther east, the Americans led an attack against the pro-British Iroquois, burning some twenty villages to the ground, destroying a million bushels of corn, and forcing the Iroquois into Canada.
War in the South
In 1778, France joined the war against Britain, as did Spain and the Dutch Republic in 1779 and 1780, respectively. Finding themselves in a larger war than they’d anticipated, the British turned their attention to the South, where the seaports provided the flexibility necessary to carry out a geographically broad assault, and loyalist influences were far stronger than they were in the North. The British gained control of the Continental garrison at Charleston, South Carolina in May 1780. In August 1780, they crushed a group of poorly trained Continentals at Camden, South Carolina. The British troops continued to win battles between March and September 1781, though not without a significant cost to their forces.
The War Ends
Washington moved his forces from New York toward Yorktown, Virginia, where the British had established a new base. Near Yorktown, Washington joined 2,500 French troops and a small American force. In October 1781, these troops besieged the British base until the smaller British force surrendered. The defeat crushed the Redcoats’ fighting spirit as well as British public support , effectively ending the war.
King George III initially refused to admit defeat, but official peace talks finally began in June 1782. The Treaty of Paris of 1783 was signed in September 1783. In it, the British recognized American independence and defined the borders of the United States as follows: the northern border along Canada, the western border along the Mississippi, and the southern border along Spanish Florida (a line disputed by Spain). The treaty stipulated that the Continental Congress would recommend restoration of confiscated property to loyalists, and Britain agreed to evacuate its troops.
With the Treaty of Paris of 1783, the British recognized American independence and agreed to evacuate their troops. The United States borders were set along Canada, the Mississippi, and Spanish Florida.
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