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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.


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); best on battles
  • West Point Atlas online


  • 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 (1983) 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.
  • 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
  • Trevelyan
  • 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). an analytical history of the war

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.
  • 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


  • 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


  • 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 online at 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 ources; highly recommended
  • Library of America. The American Revolution: Writings from the War of Independence (1995) 850pp table of contents
  • S. E. Morison; Sources and Documents Illustrating the American Revolution, 1764-1788, and the Formation of the Federal Constitution (1923) online edition
  • Dann, ed. John C. The Revolution Remembered: Eyewitness Accounts of the War for Independence (1980); from pension applications
  • Hibbert, C: Rebels and Redcoats: The American Revolution Through British Eyes, London, 2001
  • Martin, J. P. Private Yankee Doodle (1962); fascinating autobiography of an ordinary soldier who was everywhere
  • 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
  • Mason Wade (1945) vol 1