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2006-05-30 14:02


  (1775–83), conflict between 13 British colonies on the eastern seaboard of North America and their parent country, Great Britain. France later intervened as an ally of the independent states, and the war resulted in the colonies becoming a separate nation, the United States of America. It is also known as the American War of Independence.

  Causes of the Revolution.

  The end of the Seven Years' War (1756–63), which had its North American beginning in 1754 and was known in America as the French and Indian War, resulted in the final expulsion of France both from the continent of North America and from India. In both cases French power was replaced by that of Great Britain. As a result, Britain became the preeminent power in the western hemisphere and supreme on the high seas. It enjoyed an enormous and growing volume of maritime commerce. Britain's king, George III, who had succeeded to the throne in 1760, was determined to play an active role in governing the nation. Due to the king's ineptitude, however, the result was political instability and a lack of direction in national affairs at the same time that Britain's crisis with its American colonies developed.

  The Stamp Act.

  The Seven Years' War revealed to British officials the Americans' disregard for the NAVIGATION ACTS, (q.v.) and imperial authority. During the conflict, colonial merchants continued to trade with the enemy and smuggle goods, while colonial assemblies repeatedly refused to provide British military officials with men and supplies. The war left Great Britain with a considerable debt and expensive responsibilities to administer newly acquired territory in North America. Believing that the Navigation Acts should be enforced strictly and that the lightly taxed colonists should pay a share of the empire's defense costs, Parliament in March 1765 passed the STAMP ACT, (q.v.) to raise revenue. This act required the colonists to purchase and use specially stamped (water marked) paper for all official documents, deeds, mortgages, newspapers, and pamphlets. Violators would be prosecuted in vice-admiralty courts, without juries. Revenues derived from the act were intended to pay part of the cost of maintaining a permanent force of 10,000 British troops to prevent hostilities between the colonists and the Indians of the western frontiers.

  The Stamp Act provoked almost unanimous opposition among the colonists, who regarded it as a violation of their rights. They believed in a federal theory of empire that divided authority between the colonies and Great Britain. From their beginnings, the colonial assemblies had modeled themselves on Parliament and had legislated internal matters, including raising taxes and armies, and overseeing the judiciary. In practice, Britain was responsible for external matters such as declaring war and peace, presiding over foreign affairs, and regulating trade, Indian affairs, and the post office. To the colonists, the Stamp Act violated the right of English subjects not to be taxed without representation; it undermined the independence of their colonial assemblies; and it appeared to be one step in a plot to deprive them of their liberty.

  On these grounds a storm of protest arose against the Stamp Act. In the months before November 1765, when the act was to go into effect, riots organized by the SONS OF LIBERTY, (q.v.) broke out in colonial port cities and prevented British-appointed stamp distributors from assuming their posts. Colonial assemblies passed resolves denouncing the Stamp Act and petitioned Parliament requesting its repeal. To add strength to the formal protest, American merchants banded together in nonimportation agreements, pledging not to buy British goods. This colonial boycott was so effective that commerce between Great Britain and America came to a standstill. In October 1765 delegates from nine colonies met in New York City in the Stamp Act Congress and petitioned Parliament and the king concerning colonial grievances. Parliament repealed the Stamp Act in March 1766, yielding not to the colonists' constitutional objections to taxation, but to the demands of economically depressed British merchants.

  The Townshend Acts.

  Repeal of the Stamp Act left Britain's financial problems unresolved. Parliament had not given up the right to tax the colonies and in 1767, at the urging of chancellor of the Exchequer Charles Townshend (1725–67), it passed the TOWNSHEND ACTS, (q.v.), which imposed taxes on lead, glass, tea, paint, and paper that Americans imported from Britain. In an effort to strengthen its own authority and the power of royal colonial officials, Parliament, at Townshend's request, also created the American Board of Customs Commissioners whose members would strictly enforce the Navigation Acts. Revenue raised by the new tariffs would be used to free royal officials from financial dependence on colonial assemblies, thus further encroaching on colonial autonomy.

  Once again the colonists protested vigorously. In December 1767, John Dickinson, a Philadelphia lawyer, published 12 popular essays that reiterated the colonists' denial of Parliament's right to tax them and warned of a conspiracy by a corrupt British ministry to enslave Americans. The Sons of Liberty organized protests against customs officials, merchants entered into nonimportation agreements, and the Daughters of Liberty advocated the nonconsumption of products, such as tea, taxed by the Townshend Acts. The Massachusetts legislature sent the other colonies a circular letter condemning the Townshend Acts and calling for a united American resistance. British officials then ordered the dissolution of the Massachusetts General Court if it failed to withdraw its circular letter; the court refused, by a vote of 92 to 17, and was dismissed. The other colonial assemblies, which were initially reluctant to protest the acts, now defiantly signed the circular letter, outraged at British interference with a colonial legislature.

  In other ways, British actions again united American protest. The Board of Customs Commissioners extorted money from colonial merchants and used flimsy excuses to justify seizing American vessels. These actions heightened tensions, which exploded on June 21, 1768, when customs officials seized Boston merchant John Hancock's sloop Liberty. Thousands of Bostonians rioted, threatening the customs commissioners' lives and forcing them to flee the city. When news of the Liberty riot reached London, four regiments of British army troops—some 4000 soldiers—were ordered to Boston to protect the commissioners.

  The contempt of British troops for the colonists, combined with the soldiers' moonlighting activities that deprived Boston laborers of jobs, inevitably led to violence. In March 1770 a riot occurred between British troops and Boston citizens, who jeered and taunted the soldiers. The troops fired, killing five people. The so-called Boston Massacre aroused great colonial resentment. This anger was soon increased by further parliamentary legislation.

  Bowing to colonial economic boycotts, Parliament, guided by the new prime minister, Lord Frederick North, repealed the Townshend Acts in 1770 but retained the tax on tea to assert its right to tax the colonies. In order to rescue the British East India Company from bankruptcy, Parliament passed the Tea Act in 1773, reducing the tax on tea shipped to the colonies so that the company could sell it in America at a price lower than that of smuggled tea. The colonists, however, refused to buy the English tea. They viewed the Tea Act as another violation of their constitutional right not to be taxed without representation. Colonial merchants also feared that the act would allow the East India Company to monopolize the tea trade and put them out of business. In Philadelphia and New York City the colonists would not permit British ships to unload tea. In Boston, in the so-called Boston Tea Party, a group of citizens, many disguised as Indians, swarmed over British ships in the harbor and dumped the cargoes of tea into the water.

  Intolerable Acts.

  In retaliation, Parliament in 1774 passed a series of laws designed to punish the province of Massachusetts and demonstrate Parliament's sovereignty. These were the Coercive Acts, dubbed by the colonies the INTOLERABLE ACTS, (q.v.)。 The Boston Port Act closed that city's port to trade until its citizens compensated the East India Company for the destroyed tea. The Massachusetts Government Act altered the colony's charter by permitting the Crown rather than the House of Representatives to appoint the Governor‘s Council and by restricting town meetings to one a year and only for electing town officials. The Impartial Administration of Justice Act allowed a royal official or soldier accused of a capital crime in Massachusetts to be tried in England, where he would not have to face a hostile colonial jury. The Quartering Act allowed the billeting of British troops in uninhabited private buildings or barns. To oversee enforcement of the Coercive Acts, Parliament appointed as governor of Massachusetts Lt. Gen. Thomas Gage, commander of the British army in North America. Rather than seeing Parliament's actions, from its point of view, as sensible measures to centralize British authority in America or as legitimate efforts to share the expense of running an empire, many colonists saw in the Coercive Acts another attempt to deny them their rights as English subjects, subvert their colonial assemblies, and fuse military and civilian authority.

  First Continental Congress.

  The Coercive Acts secured for Massachusetts the support and sympathy of all the other colonies. The Virginia assembly called for a meeting of representatives from the 13 colonies and Canada to consider joint action against Parliament's encroachments on colonial rights. The meeting, known as the First Continental Congress, took place in Philadelphia in September 1774; it consisted of representatives from all 13 colonies except Georgia.

  The Congress did not seek independence from Great Britain but attempted to define America's rights, place limits on Parliament's power, and agree on tactics of resistance to the Coercive Acts. In October, the delegates adopted a Declaration of Rights and Grievances that denied Parliament's right to tax or legislate for the colonies and asserted that only the colonial assemblies had that power. They grudgingly conceded Parliament‘s authority to regulate trade. The Congress drew up the Continental Association, an agreement calling for the colonies to cease all trade with Britain until Parliament repealed the Coercive Acts. The Congress then adjourned, arranging for a second meeting in May 1775. By that time, however, hostilities had begun between Britain and the colonies.

  Lexington and Concord.

  The first armed encounter of the American Revolution took place in Massachusetts, where the British force in Boston numbered some 3500 men. General Gage was aware that the militia members of the outlying towns were being trained and reorganized into active elements known as minutemen, ready for immediate service. Ammunition and military stores were being gathered under direction of a Committee of Safety acting for the provincial assembly. On the night of April 18–19, 1775, Gage, under orders from Lord North, sent out about 800 men to seize munitions being gathered at Concord, some 29 km (about 18 mi) from Boston. The move did not escape the vigilance of the Committee of Safety, whose mounted messengers, including a local silversmith named Paul Revere, spurred into the countryside to give the alarm. Early on the morning of April 19, the advance guard of the British force exchanged fire with a party of militia at Lexington; eight Americans were killed, and the British continued marching on to Concord. Lt. Col. Francis Smith (1720?–91), the British commander, found militia companies assembling near Concord. Most of the military stores had already been removed, and a British attempt to seize one of the two bridges near the town was forestalled by an American counterattack. More militia companies were appearing. Smith, having sent back for reinforcements, took his time reassembling his men for the return march to Boston. That 800 British regulars should be seriously threatened by colonial militiamen, no matter how numerous, was impossible for a British officer to conceive. Smith's men, however, were tired and low on ammunition. Combined with persistent, if inaccurate, American sniping from the cover of hedges, trees, and buildings, the British retreat became a disorganized flight by the time the troops met a supporting force of 1400 men under Brig. Gen. Hugh Percy (1742–1817)。 British reinforcements checked the Americans briefly and enabled the retreat to continue in somewhat better order. When the regulars reached Boston, British casualties numbered 273, American casualties less than 100. Militia companies from at least 23 towns took part in this operation, which was nothing less than an uprising in arms of a whole countryside against the British. The American offensive did not end with chasing the invaders back to Boston; militia forces kept coming, closing in on the city, which remained under siege from April 20, 1775, until the British evacuation on March 17, 1776.

  Second Continental Congress and the Siege of Boston.

  The Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia on May 10, 1775, to face the fact that the New England colonies had taken arms against the king's troops. The delegates quickly established the Congress as the central government for “The United Colonies of America,” adopted the troops engaged in the siege of Boston as their own “Continental Army,” and by unanimous vote appointed George Washington as commander in chief. This was a deserved tribute to the high military reputation Washington had earned as an officer of the Virginia troops in the French and Indian War. It was also a shrewd move to nominate a Virginian, who would likely bring southern support to a war being waged by an army mostly composed of New England militia. The vote was taken on June 15; Washington received his commission on June 20 and without delay set out for Boston to take up his new responsibilities. Despite preparations for war, most Americans still hoped for reconciliation with Britain. To that end, the Congress adopted the Olive Branch Petition, affirming American loyalty to George III and asking the king to disavow his ministers' policies.

  Meanwhile, Gage had received reinforcements, raising the strength of his garrison to 8000 men. He now felt that his forces were strong enough to occupy the heights overlooking Boston from the north at Charlestown and from the south at Dorchester. The colonists had advance notice of his intention and on the night of June 16–17, 1200 Americans under Col. William Prescott (1726–95) occupied Breed's Hill, overlooking Charlestown and the Boston waterfront, and began digging in. (The original purpose had been to hold nearby Bunker Hill. Although the orders were changed, the ensuing engagement is known as the Battle of Bunker Hill.) On June 17, Gage sent Maj. Gen. William Howe with about 2500 infantry to storm the position. The British were confident that in a conventional battle they could defeat the American militia. Two British assaults were beaten off with severe losses. A carefully prepared third attack penetrated the American lines. The Americans, almost out of ammunition and without bayonets, fell back in some disorder to Bunker Hill; later they withdrew from this position as well. British losses were heavy, with about 1000 men killed and wounded; the Americans lost less than half that number. Technically, the battle was a victory for the British because they had driven the Americans from Breed's Hill, but when measured by damage inflicted on the enemy, the Americans had won.

  News of the Battle of Bunker Hill and the Olive Branch Petition reached London at the same time. George III refused to receive the petition, and on August 23 proclaimed New England in a state of rebellion. Parliament followed suit by declaring all the colonists rebellious and making their ships subject to seizure. As the magnitude of British casualties at the Battle of Bunker Hill became known, the government realized that it was facing a genuine war and replaced Gage with Howe.

  On July 2, 1775, Washington assumed command of the American forces with a total strength varying from 13,000 to 17,000, as men came and went almost at will. Washington devoted his immediate efforts to training and reorganizing the army. He could not press the siege of Boston without heavy artillery. For that he would have to wait until winter, when frozen roads and rivers would enable his soldiers to drag overland to Boston the cannon that had been captured on May 10, 1775, when Col. Ethan Allen of Vermont's Green Mountain Boys and Col. Benedict Arnold of Connecticut had surprised and captured the British fort at Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain.

  In August American forces under Gen. Richard Montgomery invaded Canada; they took Montréal in November, but the next month, after linking up with a second force under Arnold, the Americans were defeated at Québec, where Montgomery was killed.

  During the winter of 1775–76, Col. Henry Knox, Washington's chief of artillery, brought 59 heavy guns and mortars from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston. On the night of March 4, 1776, Washington occupied Dorchester Heights, overlooking Boston from the south, and began emplacing his newly arrived artillery there. Howe, taken by surprise, realized that he must storm those gun-crowned heights if he hoped to hold Boston by sea; instead, recognizing his untenable position, on March 17 Howe embarked his 11,000 troops and more than 1000 Loyalists and sailed for Halifax, N.S.

  The British Invasion of the North.

  Washington was under no illusion that Howe's departure from Boston meant the end of British attempts to reduce the colonies to submission. George III and Parliament were not likely to give up at a first rebuff, and already word had come that Britain was recruiting mercenary troops from Germany. Howe had withdrawn only to reorganize and receive reinforcements. Washington foresaw that when Howe returned, New York City, with its spacious harbor and immediate access to the interior by way of the Hudson River, was the most likely place for the British to launch their invasion.

  While the Continental Congress in Philadelphia began to think seriously of declaring the independence of the colonies from Great Britain, Washington in New York was wrestling with the problems of preparing to resist a British invasion, which this time was sure to be made in great force. On June 29, 1776, General Howe arrived off Sandy Hook, N.J., with a fleet commanded by his brother, Adm. Richard Howe. In this fleet were transports carrying troops of the strongest expeditionary force Britain had ever sent overseas. When fully assembled, this force would number 32,000 troops including 8000 German mercenaries, most from Hesse-Kassel, Brunswick, and Hesse-Hanau. In the leisurely manner that was typical of all his operations while commanding the British army, Howe waited nearly two months before attempting a landing in force. To face this attack, Washington had fewer than 20,000 men, of whom nearly half were inexperienced soldiers.

  While both sides prepared for battle, American reluctance to declare independence was diminishing. In November 1775 the desire of southerners for reconciliation with Great Britain withered when the Virginia governor, Lord John Dunmore, offered freedom to any slaves who would rebel against their masters and join the British army. The idea of independence gained overwhelming popular support following the publication of Thomas Paine's Common Sense in January 1776. His pamphlet, published anonymously, attacked George III, calling him "the Royal Brute," and denounced monarchy as a form of government. Paine's arguments dissolved any lingering attachment to Great Britain and removed the last psychological barrier to declaring independence. On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress adopted a Declaration of Independence declaring that the colonies "are and of right ought to be free and independent States." Thereafter the Americans fought not as rebellious British subjects, but as citizens of a sovereign nation repelling invasion by a foreign power.

  Battles around New York.

  Washington had taken up positions on Long Island and Manhattan Island awaiting Howe's opening move. On Aug. 22, 1776, it came at last, as British troops began landing in Gravesend Bay. During the next five days the American troops were driven back to Brooklyn Heights, where they were defeated in the Battle of Long Island. They were removed in boats across the East River to Manhattan during the night of August 29–30, under Washington's personal supervision and without interference by a greatly superior enemy force. Still moving with great caution, Howe pushed Washington's forces northward; an indecisive skirmish on Manhattan Island was followed by the Battle of White Plains (October 28), also without a clear victor. In November Howe's forces took the two forts Washington had constructed to keep the British fleet from using the Hudson River. Washington retreated southwestward across New Jersey and then (December 8) across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. Convinced that the Americans were thoroughly beaten and that the Continental Congress would sue for peace, Howe did not pursue Washington, but merely established several outposts in New Jersey and settled down in winter quarters to wait for spring.

  Trenton and Princeton.

  Howe had not underestimated the weakness of the American army toward the end of 1776. It consisted of fewer than 3000 men, badly clothed and equipped and poorly fed. In spite of strenuous efforts by Washington and others to recruit new troops, few citizens cared to join an army that appeared on the point of collapse. Total defeat and the end of the new nation seemed to be at hand, but by a masterstroke of strategy, Washington kept the cause alive.

  On Christmas night, in a blinding snowstorm, Washington led his troops across the Delaware and with a surprise attack overwhelmed some 1200 Hessian soldiers in Trenton, taking more than 900 prisoners. On January 3 Washington struck again, routing three regiments of a British force in the Battle of Princeton. He then took up a strong position on high ground at Morristown in north central New Jersey. The British retreated to New York, leaving the revitalized American army in full control of New Jersey.

  The Campaign of 1777–78.

  British strategy for the campaign of 1777 was determined by the secretary of state for the American Department, Lord George Germain, who prepared to put down the rebellion before the end of the year. He planned to divide the colonies in two, separating New England, already blockaded by sea, from the southern colonies. A British army under Maj. Gen. John Burgoyne was to land in Canada and move south from Montréal to Albany, N.Y. Another force of British and Indians under Col. Barry St. Leger (1737–89) was to move east from Lake Ontario through the Mohawk Valley and meet Burgoyne's troops at Albany. The plan was too complicated to be successful on such rough terrain and with poor communications. St. Leger marched east to Fort Stanwix but was unable to capture it, and he retreated on the approach of a relief force under now Maj. Gen. Benedict Arnold.


  Burgoyne, with about 7000 men, was at first successful. On July 6 he took Fort Ticonderoga, and by July 29 he had reached the upper Hudson River, where he waited for additional supplies from Canada. Meanwhile, he sent a Hessian foraging party east into Vermont; this force was cut to pieces in the Battle of Bennington by Vermont and New Hampshire militia. The battle not only cost Burgoyne heavy casualties but stimulated American militia enlistments. He proceeded south in September but was further depleted in two battles near Saratoga with militiamen and Continental troops under Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates. On October 17 Burgoyne surrendered his army, with less than 5000 men, to Gates.

  Howe's capture of Philadelphia.

  Germain approved both Burgoyne's plan for British troops to cut off New England from the south, and Howe's plan to move south with the main British army and attack Philadelphia. Such plans, Howe imagined, would quickly end the war. He landed (August 25) at the head of Chesapeake Bay and marched on Philadelphia. Washington vainly tried to check him at Brandywine Creek, Pa., but on September 26 Howe entered Philadelphia. Before his advance, the Continental Congress fled, first to York, Pa., and then to Baltimore. On October 4, Washington attacked Howe at Germantown, just north of Philadelphia, but was defeated after hard fighting. Washington, with about 11,000 men, then went into winter quarters at Valley Forge. A few months later he was joined by Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, the Prussian officer who would help forge the Continental army into a professional fighting force and take part in the Battle of Monmouth and the siege of Yorktown.

  The French alliance.

  The year 1777 marked the turning point of the war in favor of the American cause. France, defeated by Great Britain in 1763, had been sending money and supplies secretly to the colonists since the beginning of the Revolution. The American victory at Saratoga and the fight waged by Washington at Germantown convinced the French that the Americans now had a good chance of winning the war. In February 1778, France recognized the independence of the colonies and signed a treaty of commerce and alliance with the new nation. Thereafter, French support for the U.S. with arms, clothing, and money was open rather than clandestine, and Washington's great hope for French naval assistance off the American coast would soon be realized. A French fleet commanded by Charles Hector Théodat, comte d'Estaing (1729–94), sailed for America in April 1778. Warned by admiralty dispatches, Adm. Richard Howe and Lt. Gen. Sir Henry Clinton, who had succeeded Gen. William Howe in command of British troops at Philadelphia, decided on immediate evacuation of that city. They feared that d'Estaing‘s superior fleet would interrupt their sea communications with New York. Many Loyalists in Philadelphia, like those in Boston, had supposed themselves safe, but now they had to flee. These people, along with the heavy army equipment, were loaded into Adm. Howe's ships and reached New York City safely. Clinton evacuated Philadelphia and marched north across New Jersey. He was pursued by Washington, who overtook and attacked him at Monmouth Courthouse on June 28. Washington's troops fought hard but were not victorious and retreated in some confusion.

  D'Estaing's French fleet with 12 ships of the line (the battleships of the 18th century) arrived off the mouth of the Delaware on July 8, found the British fleet gone, and reached Sandy Hook on July 14. There the French admiral established contact with Washington's headquarters and planned to attack Adm. Howe‘s inferior naval force. At the last moment, d'Estaing decided not to risk his heavy ships because of low water on the bar. Instead, he planned to drive the British out of Newport, R.I., but was prevented from doing so by Adm. Howe's skillful tactics and by a gale that scattered both fleets. D'Estaing then went to Boston to refit and sailed for the West Indies on November 4.

  The Changing Character of the War.

  During 1779, neither the American army nor the British force in New York was strong enough for major operations, but the advantage was the Americans'. Washington had accomplished his primary object: to prevent the British from reconquering the northern colonies by keeping British forces off balance until a well-trained Continental army could be organized to support the militia. The latter could not fight pitched battles by itself, but it did prevent the British from reconquering much American territory. No British army could sustain itself in an armed and hostile countryside except in close contact with its seaborne supplies. At the beginning of 1779, the Americans were no longer fighting alone against Great Britain. Spain had joined France, and Britain faced the prospect of a major European war. Consequently, more and more British naval and military forces would be taken away from the war in America.

  The British Campaign in the South.

  The king's ministers, faced with Burgoyne's surrender, the entry of France into the war, and mounting parliamentary opposition, formulated a new strategy. The government's military proposals envisioned the conquest of the southern colonies, one by one, beginning with Georgia. After establishing a friendly civil government, the British would march northward, extending their base of operations. Central to this strategy was the active participation of southern Loyalists, who, it was believed, would rise up, help defeat the rebels, and direct the new civil governments. The British turned to this southern strategy on the dubious advice of exiles who exaggerated the number of Loyalist Americans and the ease with which the British could separate the southern colonies from the revolutionary movement. A southern campaign was attractive to British officials because it permitted them to continue military operations with a minimum increase in manpower and, by demonstrating southern Loyalist support, placate parliamentary opposition to the war. On Dec. 29, 1778, the new strategy was implemented when a British seaborne expedition of 3500 men from New York captured Savannah. They then proceeded to regain control of other settlements in Georgia.

  Farther to the west, an American expedition under George Rogers Clark began the new year by capturing the British fort at Vincennes (in what is now the state of Indiana)。 This success established American power in the entire region north of the Ohio Valley. Later in the year, Washington sent a strong force under Gen. John Sullivan into western New York to destroy the lands and villages of the Iroquois Confederacy. Washington hoped to end the British-instigated Indian raids on border settlements in New York and Pennsylvania. The surprise capture of the British post at Stony Point on the Hudson River by Gen. “Mad Anthony” Wayne in July was followed in August by Maj. Henry Lee's capture of a small British garrison at Paulus Hook on the Jersey shore.

  In the south the war was going against the Americans. Congress had sent Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln (1733–1810) to Charleston, S.C., to command the Southern Department. On Oct. 9, 1779, he joined with the French forces of d'Estaing in a hastily prepared assault on Savannah, which was beaten off by the British with heavy allied losses. D'Estaing then sailed for France, as his orders from Paris required. Lincoln's army was besieged in Charleston by a British seaborne force of 8000 men under the command of Gen. Clinton. Lincoln's 3500-man army was shut up in the city and, in May 1780, was forced to surrender. Clinton thereupon returned to New York, leaving Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis, second in command of the king's forces in British North America, with some 7000 regular and Loyalist troops to complete the conquest of the Carolinas. Although Cornwallis was a more energetic commander than Howe, he still had to face the problem of maintaining British troops in a hostile countryside. He routed an American force under Gen. Gates at Camden, S.C., on August 16, but partisan warfare again spread throughout the Carolinas. Two British columns were overwhelmed in the Battle of Kings Mountain on October 7 and at Cowpens on Jan. 17, 1781. In March, Cornwallis fought a bloody but inconclusive battle at Guilford Courthouse in North Carolina, against Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene, Gates's able successor in the American Southern Department. Short of supplies, Cornwallis then withdrew to Wilmington, N.C. Thereafter he moved north into Virginia and fortified a position at Yorktown, on the sea-flanked peninsula thrusting into Chesapeake Bay between the York and Gloucester rivers. Greene, meanwhile, cleared the Carolina back country of British forces and shut the remainder up in Charleston. He won no battles, but retained control of the countryside.

  In the north, Washington had been greatly encouraged by the arrival (July 1780) in Newport, R.I., of about 6000 French troops under Gen. Jean Baptiste de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau. The British had taken their troops out of Newport earlier in the year to build up forces for their southern campaign. In September, however, Washington discovered the treachery of Maj. Gen. Benedict Arnold, who had planned to surrender the key fortress of West Point to the British. Arnold, warned that his plot had been discovered, escaped to a British warship in the Hudson River.

  Pressures for peace.

  For two years Washington had been working toward a decisive conclusion of the war. An intelligence service led by Benjamin Franklin, one of the American commissioners in Paris, kept him informed of events in Great Britain and France. As a result of these reports, Washington was convinced that British public opinion definitely was turning against continuing the American war. One more British military disaster such as that at Saratoga would bring irresistible pressure on the king and his ministers to make peace and recognize American independence. Washington knew that British armies could not stay in the interior but always had to return to the seacoast for supplies. He had patiently tried to trap the British army between the American land forces and a superior French fleet off the coast. If this could be done for a sufficient period of time the American forces could compel another massive British surrender. Franklin had impressed on the French ministry the importance of this idea. Fortunately for the Americans, French ministers, eager to avenge the loss of their colonial empire to Great Britain, had labored to build the French navy to the highest level of efficiency in ships and in training for war.

  In September 1779 the fleets and armies of France and Spain attacked the British fortress of Gibraltar. Great Britain could not afford, either strategically or economically, to lose its precious gateway to the Mediterranean. Because Gibraltar could be reinforced and supplied only by sea, its support became the most important responsibility of the British fleet.

  The standard British strategic principle in a war with France was to maintain overwhelmingly superior fleets and to blockade the two principal French ports at Brest on the Atlantic and at Toulon on the Mediterranean. If a French fleet went to sea, it was relentlessly pursued. In 1781, however, the Royal Navy did not have enough ships of the line to blockade both French ports and at the same time to supply the garrison at Gibraltar, which required continuous fighting to break through the allied fleets off that port. The escape of the French fleet from Toulon in 1778 was one result of British naval weakness. In 1781, when Gibraltar was especially hard pressed, the admiralty had to leave Brest unguarded also, so 29 French ships of the line under Adm. Fran?ois Joseph Paul, comte de Grasse, were able to sail from Brest on March 22, bound initially for the West Indies but with orders to be off the American coast in July and August.

  Washington learned of the French fleet's departure on May 22 and with Rochambeau planned to attack Clinton in New York City. In June, French troops were recalled from Newport, R.I., to join Washington's forces. The New York offensive never materialized, however, because Clinton's forces, reinforced by an additional 3000 German troops, were too strong, and the New England militia failed to come forward in sufficient numbers.


  On August 14 Washington received word that de Grasse was bringing the French fleet to Chesapeake Bay. He immediately decided to attack Cornwallis at Yorktown, Va. The troops of Washington and Rochambeau marched south, leaving a containing force to watch Clinton in New York. De Grasse's fleet arrived at the Chesapeake capes on August 30, drove off a British fleet under Adm. Thomas Graves (1725?–1802), and established a tight blockade of Cornwallis's army. Some 16,000 American and French troops and Virginia militia, under Washington's command, laid siege to Yorktown. Cornwallis made several vain attempts to break through allied lines, but on Oct. 19, 1781, he was obliged to surrender.

  Treaty of Paris.

  Yorktown marked the end of serious hostilities in North America, although peace negotiations dragged on until the Treaty of Paris was signed on Sept. 3, 1783. Great Britain recognized the independence of the former colonies as the United States of America and acknowledged its boundaries as extending west to the Mississippi, north to Canada (with fishing rights in Newfoundland), and south to the Floridas.

  Washington, to whose decisiveness and determination the victory was due, took leave of his officers in New York City on Dec. 4, 1783, surrendered his commission to Congress at Annapolis on December 23, and, in words that were somewhat less than prophetic, took leave "of all the employments of public life."

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