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American Revolution, military history

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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

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 galluped 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.
  1. Mason Wade (1945) vol 1