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Difference between revisions of "American Revolution, military history"

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===Primary sources===
===Primary sources===
* Commager, Henry Steele, and Richard Morris, eds. ''The Spirit of 'Seventy-Six: The Story of the American Revolution as Told    by Participants'' (1967); excellent collection of primary    sources
* Commager, Henry Steele, and Richard Morris, eds. ''The Spirit of 'Seventy-Six: The Story of the American Revolution as Told    by Participants'' (1967); excellent collection of primary    sources
* Dann, John C. ed. ''The Revolution Remembered: Eyewitness Accounts of the War for Independence (1980); statements from pension applications  
* Dann, John C. ed. ''The Revolution Remembered: Eyewitness Accounts of the War for Independence'' (1980); statements from pension applications  
* Hibbert, Christopher, ed. ''Rebels and Redcoats: The American Revolution Through British Eyes,'' (2001)
* Hibbert, Christopher, ed. ''Rebels and Redcoats: The American Revolution Through British Eyes,'' (2001)
* Library of America. ''The American Revolution: Writings from the War of Independence'' (1995) 850pp [ table of contents]
* Library of America. ''The American Revolution: Writings from the War of Independence'' (1995) 850pp [ table of contents]
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* ''Documents of the American Revolution, 1770-1783'' Ed. by K.G. Davies. 21 vols. (Irish Academic University Press, 1972), all the important British documents; available in large research libraries
* ''Documents of the American Revolution, 1770-1783'' Ed. by K.G. Davies. 21 vols. (Irish Academic University Press, 1972), all the important British documents; available in large research libraries
==External Links==
* [ links to many sources]
[[Category:History Workgroup]] [[Category:Military Workgroup]] [[Category:CZ Live]]
[[Category:History Workgroup]] [[Category:Military Workgroup]] [[Category:CZ Live]]

Revision as of 19:18, 23 June 2007

American Revolution: military history

This article deals with the military history of the American Revolution from 1775 to 1781. For the origins and the political history, see American Revolution. For the naval history see American Revolution, naval history

Boston 1775

Political tactics had failed, and the British sent a combat army to Boston to overawe the rebels. On April 18, 1775, Gage sent 700 elite troops to Concord, 21 miles from Boston, to seize illegal munitions stored there. Major John Pitcairn a month before wrote that "one active campaign, a smart action, and burning two or three of their towns, will set everything to rights." The minute men of Lexington blocked Pitcairn; someone unknown fired the first shot; the British pushed on to Concord. They found the munitions gone and began their return trek only to be stunned by the discovery the Americans were fighting back. Three thousand militia lined the route, firing muskets from behind stone fences. ("The Americans," noted General Israel Putnam, "are not at all afraid of their heads, though very much afraid of their legs; if you cover these they will fight forever.") The Yankee assault was well-planned and well-carried out. Only the timely arrival of a rescue party saved the redcoats, who suffered 270 casualties (versus 93 American casualties).

Fast riders sped word of the British aggression and American resistance up and down the coast. The news reached General Israel Putnam, age 67, as he was plowing his Connecticut farm. He instantly unhitched a horse, left word for his militia to follow, and galloped the 100 miles in 18 hours. Within days Boston was surrounded by 10,000 patriots, enlisted for the year, armed with muskets and ready to fight. Their opportunity came in June, at the Battle of Bunker Hill, when 2,400 redcoats attacked 1,600 patriots dug in on Breed's Hill (in front of Bunker Hill). Crouching low behind their breastworks, the Yankees were told to wait--"Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes!" The first two waves were mowed down; finally a bayonet charge took the hill. The redcoats won, at a stunning cost of 1,054 casualties, including a high proportion of officers. The Americans lost 400 casualties, and shattered the illusion that they would not or could not stand up to well-trained regulars.

Over the winter of 1775-76, the Americans sent expeditions to conquer Canada. Some of the habitants in French Canada welcomed the Americans and joined the invading army. Some supported the British colonial government. Most remained neutral. [1] The American invasion was hopeless. Short of supplies, outnumbered, sick with disease and too reckless, the Americans were whipped by the British regulars and Canada would continue to fly the Union Jack.

The British battened down in Boston, which was on a peninsula and could not be attacked without artillery on the hills around the city. Led by Henry Knox, a brilliant young clerk who had read military treatises and knew how to seize the moment, the patriots obtained 60 heavy guns from the capture of Ft. Ticonderoga, in upstate New York. Water traffic was controlled by the Royal Navy, so Knox organized ox teams that hauled the heavy guns across the snows and ice in winter 1775-76. When the guns finally arrived in Boston in March, 1776, the British in Boston were defenseless; they withdrew to the great British naval base in Halifax, Canada. The rebellion faced by their old enemy pleased the French, who began secret shipments of gunpowder, muskets and other vitally needed munitions, and allowed American privateers to use ports in France and the French West Indies.

In full control of nearly all parts of the 13 states, and realizing they had to break from London once and for all if they ever were to receive French aid, the new United States of America declared its independence in July, 1776. This was a proclamation of a state of affairs that had taken effect at least a year earlier, when the Continental Congress took over the forces around Boston and formally established a Continental Army. The army's mission thus was to preserve the status quo of a new nation that had seized control of its fate. The British had to crush that symbol, and reassert the supremacy of the Crown. The Royal Navy blockaded the American coastline. Washington and his armies had to trudge overland, while the British forces could be moved rapidly by water from point to point. Although they had the naval power to seize any one point, Britain never had the manpower to occupy all the rebellious colonies simultaneously. At least 200,000 soldiers would have been needed for that, and probably more. London did expand its army, but service was unpopular and it could not raise enough troops. Efforts to hire mercenary armies around Europe turned up only 30,000 men rented out by the rulers of Hesse-Cassel and other tiny countries. (The rulers were paid so much per soldier, with a bonus for those killed.) The 3,000-mile-long supply line drastically limited the number of troops that could be maintained in America. The supply line furthermore had to be constantly protected from American privateers (privately operated armed merchant ships with a license to attack British merchantmen.) London assumed that a small number of radicals, wholly unrepresentative of American opinion, had seized control. The solution was not to negotiate but to overthrow them. The reasonable Americans would see their duty as British citizens, and renew their allegiance to the Crown once they saw the invincible British army had arrived.


George Washington

When Congress took charge of the unorganized army at Boston in June, 1775, its consensus choice for commander in chief was George Washington, age 45. His military experience totaled five years in the French and Indian War, when he became colonel in charge of all Virginia forces at age 23. Now a wealthy tobacco planter, slaveholder, and political leader of Virginia, he had the stature, the energy, and the bearing of leadership the Americans needed. Washington had three roles during the war. In 1775-77, and again in 1781 he led his men against the main British forces. He lost many of his battles--save the last one--but always survived to fight another day. Second he was charged with organizing and training the army. He recruited regulars and assigned a German professional named von Steuben to train them. Steuben's homosexuality annoyed the straight Americans, but they needed all the help they could get. Washington had the major voice in selecting generals for command, and in planning their basic strategy. His achievements were mixed, as some of his favorites (like John Sullivan) never mastered the art of command. Eventually he found men who got the job done, like Nathaniel Greene. The American officers never equaled their opponents in tactics and maneuver, and consequently they lost most of the pitched battles. The great successes, at Saratoga and Yorktown, came from trapping the British far from base with much larger numbers of troops. Third, and most important, Washington was the embodiment of armed resistance to the Crown--the representative man of the Revolution. His enormous stature and political skills kept Congress, the army, the French, the militias, and the states all pointed toward a common goal. By voluntarily stepping down and disbanding his army when the war was won, he permanently established the principle of civilian supremacy in military affairs. And yet his constant reiteration of the point that well-disciplined professional soldiers counted for twice as much as erratic amateurs helped overcome the ideological distrust of a standing army. There was unanimous sentiment that he had to be the first president when the first election took place in 1788.

The Continental Army

The Continental army was organized along British lines. Washington was General (three stars) and Commander in Chief, reporting directly to Congress. He personally commanded the Main Army, which varied in strength from 6,000 to 18,000, and directed army wide staff commands. Washington supervised major generals (two stars) who commanded geographical divisions: Eastern (New England), Northern (New York), Highlands (West Point area of New York), Middle (New Jersey to Delaware), Southern (Virginia--the largest state--plus the Carolinas and Georgia), Western and Canadian. When the Main Army moved into a division, Washington assumed overall command there; most of the time it was based within a radius of 40 or 50 miles outside New York City. The divisional armies fluctuated in size, but usually comprised one to five brigades. Brigades comprised about 2,500 men commanded by a brigadier (one star) general. Congress approved 73 generals, 16 of whom had been officers in the British army (usually captains or majors), 36 in the colonial militias, and 21 with zero previous military experience. All that Nathanael Greene and Henry Knox knew about warfare came from reading manuals and military history, yet Greene was one of the two or three best fighters (after Benedict Arnold), and young Knox (born 1750) brilliantly handled Washington's artillery.[2]

The brigades were the main fighting units of the army. They were made up of five to ten regiments, which were called battalions when in battle. Some regiments were "Continental," that is, organized and controlled by Congress, with long terms of service. Other regiments were "militia," organized and controlled by the states, with short terms of service (usually one year). In addition to these standard regiments, when the Americans were doing well local militia companies suddenly showed up; they would depart whenever they pleased. Washington was infuriated at his lack of control over them. "They come in you cannot tell how, go, you cannot tell when; and act, you cannot tell where; consume your provisions, exhaust your stores, and leave you at last in a critical moment." He insisted that only a regular army with long terms of service could be properly trained, officered, moved from place to place, and counted upon to be around for a long campaign. But Washington was too awed by the professionalism of the British Army, and anyway the new American political and financial systems were much too weak to support a large standing army. Furthermore, most patriots deeply distrusted one. To this day historians debate whether in actual battle the militia fought as well as the Continentals. The Maryland Line and Delaware Line (militia) were outstanding, performing almost as well as the British regulars in executing tactical moves on the battlefield. In any case, a large standing army would have been a tempting target for the main British force. The basic British strategy in 1775-1778 was to track down and destroy Washington's main army. They hoped its destruction would lead to Americans coming to terms, which seems unlikely.[3]

A colonel commanded an American regiment, assisted by a lieutenant colonel and a major.[4] They usually were the organizers who recruited the regiment in the first place. The regulars had volunteered for different lengths of time (one year, three, the duration of the war), and regiments whose term had expired wanted to march home. Half the veteran officers and sergeants, and perhaps a third of the privates reenlisted; the rest called it a war and went home. It grew harder and harder to raise troops. Cash bounties were offered, a draft was imposed. A draftee could escape by paying a fine or finding a substitute; older men sent sons or younger brothers. The more established young men volunteered for war first; by 1777 it was the poor, the unemployed, immigrants, blacks, and drifters who entered the army. To organize the regiment a colonel's staff included a surgeon, quartermaster (supply officer), chaplain, paymaster, and an adjutant to quill the paperwork. The fighting power of the regiment comprised seven to ten companies, each commanded by a captain, assisted by a lieutenant or two, an ensign (the lowest ranking officer), four sergeants (who ran things), four corporals, and a drummer and fifer (to issue commands in battle). The privates, 30 to 70 per company, carried muskets, pitched their tents, cooked whatever food was available, and did what the corporals and sergeants ordered. The weakness of the American army was that the sergeants and officers had little or no experience in warfare, and the generals displayed more genius for back-room politics than for battlefield action. The Americans had great difficulty carrying off complex, coordinated maneuvers. When Washington tried a four-pronged attack at Germantown in 1777, everything collapsed in confusion. At least Washington learned his lesson: he did not have an army that could maneuver as well or fight on equal terms, so he never again tried.[5]

Most regiments were strictly infantry, armed just with muskets and bayonets. Sometimes elite troops were assigned to a light infantry company, which was always kept up to full strength. Brigade commanders would assemble all their light infantry companies into a special battalion for special missions. The British used light infantry more often and more effectively than the Americans, because their command and control structure worked better. A brigade might have one artillery company, with perhaps an artillery regiment assigned to department headquarters. Cavalry units (which fought on horseback) were rarely used. Dragoons were infantry who rode horses, but dismounted to fight. They appeared in southern campaigns, but were not used more often because few Americans owned suitable mounts, and the British could not handle the logistics of sending horses and all their fodder across the Atlantic. Furthermore Washington never learned to appreciate the strong advantages of mounted forces in covering great distances. On paper a regiment numbered 500 to 1,000 men. But it probably was not at full strength in the first place. At any one time, some soldiers were sick, some assigned elsewhere, some captured or dead or deserted, or just vanished. Having 350 men fit for duty was usual. When new recruits arrived they usually came in new regiments, but sometimes they filled out understrength old ones. Every year or two old regiments might be merged, reorganized or even disbanded as their one or three year enlistment terms expired.[6]

Hygiene and medicine

Associated with each regiment were civilian sutlers (who sold food and clothes in a sort of post exchange, or PX), wagoners, and often their wives. These women washed, cooked, sewed, nursed, and maintained morale, and were entitled to half rations. (Very few were prostitutes.) British and German regiments typically had far more camp followers; apparently American women disliked that kind of life. The Americans, "not being used to doing things of this sort, choose rather to let their linen, etc., rot upon their backs than to be at the trouble of cleaning 'em themselves." The lack of women had more dangerous consequences: "Many of the Americans have sickened and died of the dysentery brought upon them in great measure through an inattention to cleanliness. When at home their female relations put them washing their hands and faces and keeping themselves neat and clean, but being absent from such monitors, through an indolent needless turn of mind, they have neglected the means of health, have grown filthy, and poisoned their constitution by nastiness." Everyone scratched away at the parasitic mites that burrowed into the seams of dirty clothing. Those itching from scurvy were in fact seriously ill, and were sent to the regimental field hospital. It was a rude hut where the surgeon, surgeon's mate, and nurses (camp followers) did would little they could.[7]

Disease killed far more soldiers than did combat. Of the 100,000 to 150,000 men who served in U.S. forces at one time or another, about 6,800 died in battle, while disease carried away 10,000 in camp and 8,500 in British prisons. Putting thousands of men in close quarters, with bad sanitation and poor hygiene, was the prescription for epidemics. The care of the wounded was rudimentary; neither side had an ambulance service or corps of medics to apply first aid and rush the wounded back to field hospitals. A delay of several hours before any medical attention often meant bleeding to death, or the onset of fatal gangrene. Punctures made by bayonets were usually clean wounds with deep gashes; bayonets either killed immediately or offered a good chance for survival in an otherwise healthy soldier. The main function of bayonet charges, however, was not to stab the enemy but to frighten him into running away. Iron shrapnel from artillery and the lead musket balls produced torn, jagged wounds. Unlike the steel-jacketed high-velocity bullets of the late nineteenth century, the low-velocity one-ounce musket balls flattened on impact, ripped up flesh, traumatized tissue, and splintered bones. Chest, stomach and groin wounds were hopeless. Wounds of the face, neck and legs demanded immediate attention for there was still hope if the man did not go into shock. Blood transfusion was unknown so the surgeon stopped the bleeding with a tourniquet, calmed the wide-eyed patient with a slug of rum, opened the wound with a scalpel, and removed the fragments with forceps (or dirty fingers). The wound was cleaned with lint soaked in oil, bandaged, and changed daily. A serious leg or arm wound required immediate amputation to forestall gangrene; the operation took a half hour. Since the incision was made through healthy tissue, there was a better chance for survival if not much blood had been lost. Unfortunately, if the surgical patients were kept in the hospital more than a few days, they would probably catch, and perhaps die from an infectious disease--dysentery, typhoid, smallpox, or malaria. The surgeons were poorly trained (many not even doctors), and supplies were always short. Scarcely any effective drugs were available, though many popular remedies were tried, especially emetics and laxatives.


When a regiment was on the march, it would send out foragers to buy (or acquisition) whatever food, fodder and fuel the local farmers had not hidden away. British, French and German supply officers paid real money. Americans could pay only with depreciating Continental paper, or in near-worthless certificates. The job of forager was as unpopular as it was essential, and often was assigned to black troops. The officers were responsible for their own food and clothing, using their pay or, more often, their private wealth. The pay, when it occasionally arrived, seldom was enough to buy much. Their relatives sent along boots and blankets. The privates, however, depended on the quartermaster corps for shoes, clothes, blankets, and everything else, and routinely were disappointed. They mutinied from time to time--the only effective way they could signal Congress and the people that the system was not working. The mutinies were not refusals to fight, nor attacks on officers, and the men calmed down quickly enough when their generals and colonels promised them relief. As for the officers, they demanded, and finally got, a Congressional promise of eventual pensions (half-pay for life) and land grants in the west.

Comparison with British army

The British officers were convinced the Americans would not and could not fight. Hilarious anecdotes circulated about their inept soldiering in the French and Indian War. "They are raw, undisciplined, cowardly men," insisted the First Lord of the Admiralty. The British misperceptions of the American character typified the widening gap between London and the fast maturing colonies. The rank and file British soldiers were recruited from very low social ranks, were treated shabbily by their sergeants and officers, and held in contempt by everyone. The British private was a cog in the machine, not an individual. His duty was to obey his superiors immediately, without flinching or thinking. The main tactic of the infantry was to march as close as possible to the enemy, form ranks, then fire volleys of muskets regardless of enemy fire. Severe flogging was the punishment for any disrespect; the European ideal was that the soldier should fear his officers more than the enemy. British privates enlisted for life, attracted by the free food and clothing. Patriotism was scarcely a factor. American militiamen were part-time soldiers and full-time citizens and voters. They were individualistic, with their own needs and priorities, so they evaluated military service on their own terms. The instructions for recruiters in Maryland required "great Regard to moral Character; Sobriety in particular." "You are to inlist no Man who is not able bodied, healthy and a good marcher, nor such whose attachment to the liberties of America you have cause to suspect. Young hearty robust men who are tied by Birth or Family Connections to this County; and are well practiced in the use of firearms are by much to be preferred." Recruits thus were integrated into their community, and reflected its values, aspirations and fears. The militia elected its own junior officers, and judged their performance with a critical eye. When their enlistments expired, they went home. (Deserters went home too, and the community protected them. The American desertion rate was a very high 20 to 25 per 100 men per year.)

The British army of 1775 had a fearsome reputation that was not fully deserved. Britain normally fought its wars by subsidizing allies, like Prussia, that did the real fighting. The army was therefore quite small for a global empire. In 1775 it had worldwide only 49,000 men: 39,000 infantry, 2,500 artillery, and 6,900 cavalry. The average soldier, aged 30, had been nine years in the ranks, but that did not mean he was well trained. Since there had been no warfare for a dozen years, only the older men had battlefield experience. In peacetime the British army was scattered about in small units, the men often boarded in private homes. In America the men lived in barracks and were drilled six hours a day, with calisthenics, goose-step marching, and musket loading. However, there were no field exercises that would give the officers a feel for maneuvering thousands of men. Parliament expanded the forces quickly after Lexington, authorizing 40,000 more soldiers. Enlistment meant lifetime service, however, and only the most destitute men looked upon it is an attractive deal. They were not quick studies, and had narrow perspectives. Never were they permitted to take any initiative or question their orders. did not know what they were fighting for, except to avoid the iron discipline of their sergeants and lieutenants. The Hessians were even less eager for warfare--they had not volunteered and were not even paid. Realizing this weakness, Americans appealed to them to desert and join the American cause. Most Hessians looked at Americans as ferocious savages, but some changed their opinions. Hessian prisoners were held in German-speaking areas of Pennsylvania, and hired out to local farmers. Only 60 percent of the mercenaries returned to Germany; 23 percent died; 17 percent deserted and became Americans.


The Americans were notoriously sloppy, dirty and careless; formations were ragged, and routine discipline was at best erratic. To the martinets in red coats this proved that the rebels did not know how to make war. American officers had to learn how to elicit self discipline among their men. Parades and smart uniforms enhanced pride in the unit, which gradually became the community the long-terms regulars identified with. As drill master von Steuben later explained to a Prussian visitor, "You say to your soldier, 'Do this' and he doeth it; but I am obliged to say 'This is the reason why you ought to do that,' and then he does it." The redcoat was easy to order around. The Americans only followed orders they felt were correct; if the scene were too dangerous they would run away. If the generals were doing poorly they would go home. Conversely, if the officers could motivate them they would fight well, and if the enemy seemed in trouble they would suddenly show up by the thousands, as they did at Boston (1775), Saratoga (1777) and Yorktown (1781). The American militiaman, contrasted with a redcoat regular, was better educated, more easily trained, more accustomed to wilderness more acclimated to the disease environment, and more familiar with firearms. He was a full participant in the war because this was a struggle his home community was waging for its own independence and freedom.

Honor and ideology inside the armies

Europeans measured the qualities of officers not in terms of initiative, ingenuity or community ties, but in terms of honor and elevated social status. British officers were gentlemen, or even titled aristocrats who had purchased their commissions for huge sums of money. They had not attended a military academy; aristocrats thought their status alone made them deserving of command. Warfare was a way of enhancing the honor of their family; military hierarchies reflected social hierarchies, with a vast gap between top and bottom. The American armies had an amazingly small social differential between officer and private-- typified by the story of the captain-barber cutting his men's hair, or the colonels who cobbled boots for prisoners. According to the "Republican" ideology that had seized the American mind, it was the duty of every citizen to work for the good of the community. Sacrifice, especially the risk of life in battle, was the highest form of virtue. The bravest soldiers, the ones most dedicated to the cause, were therefore the ones with the highest virtue, and thus deserved to be officers. Their men ought to follow their orders not because of aristocratic status, or obedience to the King, but because the officers most nearly embodied the spirit of liberty and community. The officers had to uplift the men, help them reach their full potential as true Americans. Conversely, the most horrible status was that of traitor: the person who put alien allegiance ahead of civic virtue and loyalty to community. The Loyalists were traitors, and worst of all was Benedict Arnold, the hero who became a turncoat. King George, by the Coercion Acts and the imposition of martial law, was challenging the very existence of an autonomous American community. To give in would be slavery; to resist, the highest form of virtue. "Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?" called out Patrick Henry of Virginia. "I know not what course others may take, but for me give me liberty or give me death!"

British victory at New York City, 1776

The Patriots' glorious spring of 1776 gave way to disasters in the summer and fall for the fledgling Continental army and its inexperienced commander. The British Royal Navy had complete control of the seas (since the French were still neutral). They could move large forces anywhere on the coastline much faster than the Americans could build defenses or march in reinforcements. As Washington discovered, "The amazing advantage the Enemy derive from their Ships and the Command of the Water, keeps us in a state of constant perplexity and the most anxious conjecture." Throughout the war the British strategy focused on cities. They realized that the colonies did not have a true center like London, but the cities were all accessible by sea, and they all contained large Loyalist contingents who wined and dined the British officers, leaving the mistaken impression that most Americans "really" favored the King. New York City was a prime target--it had the best port in the colonies, and could be used to isolate the New England region. Congress demanded that Washington defend Manhattan island (population 22,000) and nearby Long Island. But any defense was hopeless in the face of 30 British warships with 1,200 guns, and 10,000 sailors, not to mention the hundreds of transports that carried nearly half of the British army--32,000 trained regulars. This powerful force-- 45% of the Royal Navy and by far the most formidable fighting unit on the globe--was assembled only because King George III himself demanded action, and his minister for American affairs Lord George Germain brilliantly solved the logistic challenge. It was commanded by Major General William Howe and his older brother Admiral Richard Howe. Fortunately for the American cause, the Howes were trying to be conciliatory; a massive show of force on land and a tight blockade at sea would show the Yankees how insane their rebellion was, inducing them to accept the generous pardons which Howe was prepared to offer. Conciliation would be a better route to reunion, Howe felt, than annihilation of the rebel armies. But annihilation it nearly was. Washington foolishly divided his 28,000 men between Long Island and Manhattan, and neglected to defend his flanks. Instead of charging head-on, as they did in Boston, the Redcoats used their mobility to land troops in the rear, A surprise amphibious landing trapped Washington at the Battle of Long Island (Aug 1776). Miraculously he evaded the fleet and escaped to Manhattan. But another amphibious landing trapped him again. A second miraculous escape took Washington north of the city. Washington had been whipped. Any remaining American taste for offensive warfare like the siege of Boston or the invasion of Canada dissolved in the face of British superiority in numbers and assault capability. Disorganization, shortages of supplies, fatigue, sickness, and above all, lack of confidence in the American leadership resulted in a melting away of untrained regulars and frightened militia. As Washington grumbled, "The honor of making a brave defence does not seem to be sufficient stimulus, when the success is very doubtful, and the falling into the Enemy's hands probable." The Connecticut contingent shrank from 8,000 to 2,000 in a matter of days. At White Plains. north of New York City, Washington again lost, and had to retreat to the hills of New Jersey. Meanwhile two major American forts, Lee and Washington, were surrounded and captured with 2,800 prisoners and the loss of sorely needed artillery and supplies. Manhattan and Long Island would fly the Union Jack until 1783. In December, 1776, the British seized control of New Jersey. The defeats were humiliating, but indecisive because the Howes neglected their opportunities to crush the insurgents. After all the casualties, captures, departures and desertions, Washington had only 16,000 men left--half the force he started with. He would never again battle the main British army, but would try to pick away at detachments and outposts. He knew the Redcoats could seize any city or other point they chose, but the new nation was so decentralized that it had no nerve center to be immobilized. Above all, Washington's goal was to keep his army alive as proof that the Revolution persisted.

Washington, however, was not finished. On Christmas Day, 1776, he crossed the ice-filled Delaware River and surprised the Hessian winter encampment at Trenton, New Jersey. Over 900 of the 1,400 Germans were captured, and 22 killed; only 4 Americans were dead. Washington followed up this brilliant stroke with a lightning attack on Princeton, New Jersey, on January 2. The overcautious General Howe decided to retreat to New York, abandoning New Jersey and thousands of Loyalist supporters. Only a small part of the great British army had been defeated, and yet New Jersey was lost. Washington broke all the rules. Well- behaved armies spent six "winter" months (December through May or June) in camp, not in the field. It was rude indeed to interrupt Hessians sleeping off their Christmas parties. And it was audacious to challenge a much larger, much better equipped enemy with a ragged, hungry little force. But battles are won by audacity, and Washington's bold moves revived patriot spirits and demonstrated to the British that conciliatory tactics would never bring the Americans to heel.


Reference books

  • Boatner III, Mark M. Encyclopedia of the American Revolution (1966); excellent guide to details
  • Fremont-Barnes, Gregory, and Richard A. Ryerson, eds. The Encyclopedia of the American Revolutionary War: A Political, Social, and Military History (ABC-CLIO, 2006) 5 volume paper and online editions; 1000 entries by 150 experts, covering all topics


  • Barnes, Ian and Charles Royster. The Historical Atlas of the American Revolution (2000)
  • Cappon, Lester. Atlas of the American Revolution (1976); best coverage of society, economics and politics; thin on military
  • Symonds, Craig L. A Battlefield Atlas of the American Revolution (1986); good on battles
  • West Point Atlas excellent coverage of major battlesonline


  • Ferling, John ed., The World Turned Upside Down: The American Victory in the War of Independence (1988).
  • Higginbotham, Don. Revolution in America: Considerations and Comparisons. U. of Virginia Pr., 2005. 230 pp.
  • Martin, James Kirby. In the Course of Human Events: An Interpretive Exploration of the American Revolution (1979), short survey (ISBN: 0882957953)


  • Alden, John R. A History of the American Revolution (1989), general survey; strong on military (ISBN: 0306803666)
  • Higginbotham, Don. The war of American independence: military attitudes, policies, and practice, 1763-1789 best scholarly overview; online through ACLS History E-Book
  • Lancaster, ed. Bruce. The American Revolution (American Heritage Library) (ISBN: 0828102813) (1985), heavily illustrated
  • Martin, James Kirby, and Mark E. Lender, A Respectable Army: The Military Origin of the Republic, 1763–1789 (1982), short
  • Matloff, Maurice. American Military History (1989) US Army textbook online
  • Middlekauff, Robert. The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763–1789 (1982) online edition
  • Miller, John C. Triumph of Freedom, 1775-1783 (1948) online edition
  • Stokesbury, James L. A Short History of the American Revolution 304p.
  • Weintraub, Stanley. Iron Tears: America's Battle for Freedom, Britain's Quagmire: 1775-1783. Free Pr., 2005. 375 pp.

Surveys: British perspective

  • Bicheno, H. Rebels and Redcoats, The American Revolutionary War, London 2003
  • Black, Jeremy. War for America: The Fight for Independence, 1991. British perspective
  • Dupuy, R. Ernest, Gay Hammerman and Grace P. Hayes. The American Revolution: A Global War (1976)
  • Flavell, Julie and Conway, Stephen, eds. Britain and America Go to War: The Impact of War and Warfare in Anglo-America, 1754-1815. U. Press of Florida, 2004. 284 pp.
  • Lecky, William Edward Hartpole. The American Revolution, 1763-1783 1898 by leading British scholar; online edition
  • Marston, Daniel. The American Revolution, 1774-1783. Routledge. 2003. 95 pp survey online edition
  • Mackesy, Piers. War for America, 2nd edition, 1993. British perspective
  • Nelson, Paul David. "British Conduct of the American Revolutionary War: A Review of Interpretations," The Journal of American History, Vol. 65, No. 3 (Dec., 1978), pp. 623-653 in JSTOR
  • Wrong, George M. Canada and the American Revolution: The Disruption of the First British Empire. 1935. by Canadian scholaronline edition

Indians and Canada

State, regional and local studies

  • Robert A. Gross, The Minutemen and their World (1976). re Massachusetts
  • Mitnick, Barbara J., ed. New Jersey in the American Revolution. Rutgers U. Pr., 2005. 268 pp.
  • Higginbotham, Don. The War of American Independence: Military Attitudes, Policies, and Practice, 1763–1789 (1971, 1983). an analytical history of the war online via ACLS Humanities E-Book.

Military: North

  • Fischer, David Hackett. Washington's Crossing (2004), Pulitzer prize winner; study of 1776-77 online excerpt
  • Ketchum, Richard M. Winter Soldiers: The Battles for Trenton and Princeton (1973)
  • McCullough, David. 1776. 386 pp.
  • Reed, John F. Campaign to Valley Forge: July 1, 1777–December 19, 1777 (1965)
  • Savas, Theodore P., and Dameron, J. David. A Guide to the Battles of the American Revolution. 2006.
  • Taaffe, Stephen R. The Philadelphia Campaign, 1777–1778 (2003).
  • Ward, Christopher. The War of the Revolution, 2 vols., 1952, a good narrative of all the major battles.
  • Wallace, Willard M. Appeal to Arms (1951); good on battles
  • Wrong, George M. Washington and His Comrades in Arms: A Chronicle of the War of Independence (1921) by a Canadian scholar online edition
  • West Point Atlas online


  • Creasy, Sir Edward; The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World 1908 online
  • Ketchum, Richard M.; Saratoga: Turning Point of America's Revolutionary War; 1997, ISBN 0-8050-6123-1
  • Mintz, Max M.; The Generals of Saratoga: John Burgoyne and Horatio Gates; 1990, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-04778-9;
  • Nickerson, Hoffman; The Turning Point of the Revolution: Or, Burgoyne in America (1928) online
  • Patterson, Samuel White; Horatio Gates: Defender of American Liberties Columbia University Press, 1941 online
  • Stone, W. L. The Campaign of Burgoyne, (1877) online

Military: South

  • Crow, Jeffrey C. and Larry E. Tise, eds. The Southern Experience in the American Revolution (1978)
  • Higgins, W. Robert ed. The Revolutionary War in the South: Power, Conflict, and Leadership (1979)
  • Lumpkin, Henry. From Savannah to Yorktown: The American Revolution in the South (1981)
  • John S. Pancake, This Destructive War: The British Campaign in the Carolinas, 1780-1782 (1985)
  • Hugh Rankin, The North Carolina Continentals (1971)
  • Theodore Thayer; Nathanael Greene: Strategist of the American Revolution (1960) online edition
  • Russell F. Weigley, The Partisan War: The South Carolina Campaign of 1780-1782 (1970); portrays guerrilla war, like Vietnam
  • Wallace, Willard M. Appeal to Arms (1951); good on battles
  • Ward, Christopher. The War of the Revolution, 2 vols., 1952, a good narrative of all the major battles.
  • Wilson, David K. The Southern Strategy: Britain's Conquest of South Carolina and Georgia, 1775-1780. U. of South Carolina Pr., 2005. 341 pp.


  • Adams, Randolph G. "A View of Cornwallis's Surrender at Yorktown." American Historical Review 1931 37(1): 25-49. Issn: 0002-8762 online at Jstor
  • Clement, R: “The World Turned Upside down At the Surrender of Yorktown”, Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 92, No. 363 (Jan. - Mar., 1979), pp. 66-67 (available on Jstor)
  • Greene, Jerome. Guns of Independence: The Siege of Yorktown, 1781 (2005)
  • Ketchum, Richard M. Victory at Yorktown: The Campaign That Won the Revolution (2004)
  • Morrissey, Brendan and Adam Hook. Yorktown 1781: The World Turned Upside Down (1994) British perspective
  • Tuchman, Barbara W. The First Salute 1988, chapter on battle
  • Willcox, W: “The British Road to Yorktown: A Study in Divided Command”, The American Historical Review, Vol. 52, No. 1. (Oct., 1946), pp. 1-35 in JSTOR
  • Wood, W. J. Battles of the Revolutionary War, 1775–1781. ISBN 0-306-81329-7 (2003)
  • Wright, J: “Notes on the Siege of Yorktown in 1781 with Special Reference to the Conduct of a Siege in the Eighteenth Century”, William and Mary Quarterly, 2nd Ser., Vol. 12, No. 4 (Oct., 1932), pp. 229-249, ONLINE AT jstor

Soldiers: American

  • Bodle, Wayne. Valley Forge Winter: Civilians and Soldiers in War (2002)
  • Buchanan, John. The Road to Valley Forge: How Washington Built the Army That Won the Revolution. 2004. online edition
  • Fischer, David Hackett. Paul Revere's Ride (1995)
  • Gross, Robert A. The Minutemen and their World (1976). re Massachusetts
  • Kennett, Lee. French Forces in America, 1977.
  • Neimeyer, Charles P. America Goes to War: A Social History of the Continental Army (1996) 244p.
  • Royster, Charles. A Revolutionary People at War: The Continental Army and American Character, 1775–1783 (1979)
  • Shy, John. A People Numerous and Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence, 1976.

British army & Loyalists

  • Atwood, R. The Hessians, 1980.
  • Billias, George A. ed., George Washington's Opponents (1969) essays on the chief British generals
  • Frey, Sylvia. The British Soldier in America: A Social History of Military Life in the Revolutionary Period (1981)
  • Smith, Paul H. Loyalists and Redcoats: A Study in British Revolutionary Policy, 1964.
  • Van Tyne, Claude Halstead. The Loyalists in the American Revolution (1929) online edition



  • Billias, George A. ed. George Washington's Generals (1964)
  • Higginbotham, Don. Daniel Morgan: Revolutionary Rifleman (1961)
  • Rankin, Hugh. Francis Marion: The Swamp Fox (1973)

George Washington

  • John Alden, George Washington: A Biography (1984);
  • Freeman, Douglas Southall George Washington: A Biography (7 vols., New York, 1948–1957); also one-vol abridged edition
  • Lengel, Edward G. General George Washington: A Military Life. Random House, 2005. 450 pp.
  • Lodge, Henry Cabot. Washington (1889) older biography online edition
  • Palmer, Dave. The Way of the Fox: American Strategy in the War of Independence (1975)


  • Billias, George A. ed., George Washington's Opponents (1969) essays on the chief British generals


see American Revolution, naval history

  • Dull, Jonathan. The French Navy and American Independence: A Study of Arms and Diplomacy, 1775-1787, 1975.
  • Morison, Samuel Eliot. John Paul Jones (1959)
  • Syrett, David. The Royal Navy in American Waters, 1989.


  • Christopher Duffy, The Military Experience in the Age of Reason (1988), on European methods
  • Peterson, Harold L. The Book of the Continental Soldier (1968); uniforms, weapons, gear
  • Peterson, Harold L. Arms and Armor in Colonial America, 1526-1783 (1956)


  • Brunswicker (Hessian) prisoners online
  • Naval prisoners (1913) online
  • Dandridge, Danske. American Prisoners of the Revolution (1910) online at Google
  • Knight, Betsy. "Prisoner Exchange and Parole in the American Revolution," " online at JSTOR


  • Bell, Jr. Whitfield. John Morgan: Continental Doctor (1965)
  • Blanco, Richard L. Physician of the American Revolution: Jonathan Potts (1979)
  • Peckham, Howard H. The Toll of Independence (1974), casualties by battle
  • Reiss, Oscar. Medicine and the American Revolution: How Diseases and Their Treatments Affected the Colonial Army (278p.) (1982)
  • Saffron, Morris Harold. Surgeon to Washington, Dr. John Cochran, 1730-1807 (1977)


  • Carp, E. Wayne. To Starve the Army at Pleasure: Continental Army Administration and American Political Culture, 1775-1783 (1984); best study of supply problems
  • Risch, Erna. Supplying Washington's Army (GPO, 1981)


  • Higginbotham, Don. "The Early American Way of War: Reconnaisance and Appraisal," William and Mary Quarterly 44 (1987) 230-73; valuable overview in JSTOR
  • Higginbotham, Don. "American Historians and the Military History of the American Revolution," The American Historical Review, 70#1 (Oct., 1964), pp 18-34. in JSTOR
  • Nelson, Paul David. "British Conduct of the American Revolutionary War: A Review of Interpretations," The Journal of American History, Vol. 65, No. 3 (Dec., 1978), pp. 623-653 in JSTOR
  • Syrett, David. "The British Armed Forces in the American Revolutionary War: Publications, 1875-1998," The Journal of Military History, Vol. 63, No. 1. (Jan., 1999), pp. 147-164. in JSTOR

Primary sources

  • Commager, Henry Steele, and Richard Morris, eds. The Spirit of 'Seventy-Six: The Story of the American Revolution as Told by Participants (1967); excellent collection of primary sources
  • Dann, John C. ed. The Revolution Remembered: Eyewitness Accounts of the War for Independence (1980); statements from pension applications
  • Hibbert, Christopher, ed. Rebels and Redcoats: The American Revolution Through British Eyes, (2001)
  • Library of America. The American Revolution: Writings from the War of Independence (1995) 850pp table of contents
  • Martin, J. P. Private Yankee Doodle (1962); fascinating autobiography of an ordinary soldier who was everywhere
  • Morison, S. E. Sources and Documents Illustrating the American Revolution, 1764-1788, and the Formation of the Federal Constitution (1923) online edition
  • Washington, George. Writings (1988) (Library of America edition) 440 letters and key documents. online table of contents
  • Washington, George. The Papers of George Washington: Revolutionary War Series. University Press of Virginia. Latest volume is Vol. 14: March-April 1778. ed by Philander D. Chase, 2004. 832 pp.
  • Documents of the American Revolution, 1770-1783 Ed. by K.G. Davies. 21 vols. (Irish Academic University Press, 1972), all the important British documents; available in large research libraries

External Links

  • Mason Wade (1945) vol 1
  • Higginbotham, (1983)
  • Higginbotham, (1983)
  • The colonelcy of a British regiment was honorific; the lieutenant colonel was in actual command.
  • Buchanan, (2004); Royster, (1979)
  • Fischer (2004)
  • Linda K. Kerber, “History Will Do It No Justice: Women’s Lives in Revolutionary America” (1987) online at [1]; Saffron (1977); Reiss (1982)