History Week 5. The American War for Independence

American War for Independence

It was war. After the intolerable acts had been put on the people of Massachusetts in 1773 for the event named the Boston Tea Party, the American colonists were starting to support the idea of all out war with Britain. This was further headed by the 1774 Continental Congress, in which 12 of the thirteen colonies sent a total of 55 delegates to submit a list of grievances against King George III of England. These petitions were dismissed by the British, and just the next year, in the month of April 1775, the first shots of the American Revolutionary war were fired.

It started on April 19th, 1775, when 700 British troops set out from Boston to confiscate colonial arms which had been stored in the village of Concord. But the Americans were forewarned by Paul Revere, a colonist who, when he heard of the British plans, rode to the two towns of Lexington and Concord to warn the colonists of the British approach. As the British marched through Lexington, which was on the way to Concord, they were met by a contingent of 80 colonist militia. It was then that a shot from unknown source, was fired. This was the first shot of the war.

In the confusion that ensued, both sides started to fire on each other. Eight colonists were killed. The British then started to march on Concord. When the colonists in Concord heard about the fighting, they prepared themselves and hid the stored weapons in the town. When the British column arrived, they dispersed into the town to search for the weapons.   Meanwhile, a band of militia had gathered on a Bridge, to see what would happen next. This contingent was attacked by the British force, yet the colonists managed to drive the British all the way back to Boston, subsequently laying siege to the city.     

Although the British were besieged, Thomas Gage, commander over the British forces, had a plan. This was to take the Breed and Bunker hills which were just outside Boston and from there conduct more effective operations against the hundreds of militia outside Boston. The colonists heard of the plan though and at the battle of Bunker hill, they managed to inflict huge losses on the British, though they did initially lose the hills to the Redcoats.     

Thus the war started and with it, the hope for American independence. The Colonists immediately started to organise themselves, with men like George Washington, Benedict Arnold and Nathanael Greene being appointed as generals over the newly organised colonial army. But the British also saw some leadership changes. In 1775 William Howe was appointed major general over all British forces in America. This proved to be a wise decision on behalf of the British, as Howe quickly smashed Washington’s forces at the battle of Long Island after which the British captured New York and devastated fort Washington. After these British victories, the Americans managed to retain New Jersey with the two famous battles of Trenton and Princeton. But the Americans were still far from winning the war. Then, in 1776, a British army under commander John Burgoyne, was soundly defeated and captured at the battle of Saratoga. 

This battle convinced France, who was Britain’s worst enemy, to recognise America as independent and to enter the war on the side of the Americans. This was probably the turning point in the war, as  the French started supplying America with weapons, ships and troops. But the cold winter of 1777 forced the continental army to seek refuge in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Here the army suffered great loss of men due to disease and starvation.

The Americans were not defeated though, and they emerged from the terrible winter of 1777 a more disciplined army, due to army drills done in Valley Forge. By this time, Spain had joined France in a treaty with the colonies by recognising America as a separate country by the Declaration of independence, which was formed in 1776. Suddenly, Britain was faced by three nations helping each other to expel the British from North America. 

These new alliances meant that Britain’s military resources were stretched, as George III, unwilling to focus his armies entirely on America, stationed troops closer to Europe. This stretching of military resources would prove to be a mistake and was one of the reasons the war would end in American victory.

Meanwhile, the fighting in the northern theatre in America, had begun to abate. With neither side able to make much headway, the war shifted from the north to the south, as the British started focusing more of their troops in the southern sector in 1778, hoping to gain some advantage over the colonists. This shift of troops was almost immediately rewarded with success, as British troops captured Savannah in late 1778 and then managed to capture Charleston in 1779. After these defeats, Congress appointed Horatio Gates, the American commander of American troops at the Battle of Saratoga, to go down south and thwart British attempts to gain control there. Although he had won the battle of Saratoga, Horatio was defeated by the cunning British Commander Cornwallis at the Battle of Camden in 1780. 

But the British soon found themselves fighting on borrowed time. With France and Spain supporting America, and Spain also declaring war on Britain, the latter soon found that her military resources were strained. Any reinforcements that were sent to America, took weeks to arrive in the colonies, while the continental army, already bolstered by French troops, could simply recruit many willing men from the colonies. 

The noose started to tighten as Cornwallis’s army, pursued by a French force, took refuge in Yorktown, Virginia in 1781. Despite advice to make an effort to secure the town and prepare to defend against a combined French and American attack, Cornwallis simply waited, believing that he would soon be relieved by Henry Clinton, another British general.

As the French and American forces started closing in on Yorktown, a more permanent co-operation took place between the French and the Americans, as both sides saw that they needed to cooperate well if they wanted to win at Yorktown. This led to the decision to get the French fleet to cut off Cornwallis. This being completed and with Yorktown under severe bombardment from the besieging forces, Cornwallis gave up the hope for reinforcements and surrendered to the allied forces. This defeat signalled the end of the war, as enthusiasm for the war collapsed in Britain and the British government started organising the withdrawal of British troops.

Thus ended the American Revolution, with Britain losing one of her largest colonies and a new nation being formed. America has risen to becoming the most dominant world power and it all started with separation from Britain. 

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