Related Content

Related Overviews

battle of Lexington

Battle of Bunker Hill

Declaration of Independence

George Washington (1732—1799) revolutionary army officer and president of the United States of America

See all related overviews in Oxford Reference »


More Like This

Show all results sharing this subject:

  • History


Show Summary Details


American War of Independence

Quick Reference


The American revolution against British rule. It was triggered by colonial resentment at the commercial policies of Britain and by the lack of American participation in political decisions that affected their interests. Disturbances, such as the Boston Tea Party (1773), developed into armed resistance in 1775 (for example at Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill), and full-scale war, with the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Britain, fighting 3000 miles from home, faced problems of supply, divided command, slow communications, a hostile population, and lack of experience in combating guerrilla tactics. America's disadvantages included few trained generals or troops, a weak central authority unable to provide finance, intercolonial rivalries, and lack of sea power. The French Alliance (1778) changed the nature of the war. Though France gave only modest aid to America, Britain was thereafter distracted by European, West Indian, and East Indian challenges.

The course of the war can be divided at 1778. The first, northern, phase saw the British capture of New York (1776), their campaign in the Hudson valley to isolate New England culminating in defeat at Saratoga Springs (1777), and the capture of Philadelphia (1777) after the victory of Brandywine. The second phase switched British attentions to the south, where large numbers of Loyalists could be recruited. Philadelphia was relinquished (1778) and George Washington camped at West Point to threaten the British headquarters at New York. After Clinton's capture of Charleston (1780), Cornwallis vainly chased the Southern Army under Greene before his own exhausted army surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia (October 1781), effectively ending hostilities. Peace was concluded at Paris (1783).

Despite frequent victories, the British did not destroy Washington's or Greene's armies and could not break the American will. America's success has been depicted as influencing the French Revolution (1789) and subsequent revolutions in Europe and South America.

American War of Independence. 1776–83 The British strategy of attempting to break up the union of the colonies was initially successful, when Howe captured New York and forced Washington to retreat to Pennsylvania. However, Burgoyne's surrender at Saratoga raised American morale and persuaded the French to make an alliance with them. Having failed to cut off New England, the British began a southern campaign. Over 5,000 Americans surrendered at Charleston, but Cornwallis was trapped at Yorktown and, denied reinforcements by the French blockade, was forced to admit defeat. Source: MAPS IN MINUTES™ © RH Publications (1997)

Subjects: History

Reference entries