Analyze the reasons for the American victory and the British defeat during the Revolutionary war. (H)

Include a timeline and a brief explanation of each battle.
Key Terms
First Continental Congress (1774)
Patrick Henry
Samuel Adams
John Adams
George Washington
John Dickinson
John Jay
Joseph Galloway
Paul Revere
William Dawes
Samuel Prescott
Battle of Bunker Hill
Second Continental Congress (1775)
Patriots vs Loyalists
All major battles culminating with Yorktown
Treaty of Paris
Team of Steve A, Korey D and Kevin W

Reasons for American Victory

There were many reasons why the Americans were able to defeat the British during the Revolutionary War. The British had one of the largest armies in the world, and an unparalleled navy, but this alone could not win the war. The rebels had the home field advantage in a war that was unpopular in Britain. Furthermore, although they had a smaller, more poorly equipped army, they were fighting for a cause they believed in, while the British were 3,000 miles from their country, longing for home.

The First Continental Congress played a pivotal role in the soon to begin American Revolution. Outraged by British legislation such as the stamp act and the Intolerable Acts, delegates from every state except Georgia met in Philadelphia in September of 1774. The First Continental Congress resolved to boycott British goods, and advised each colony to raise a militia. This had an important impact on the American Revolution because the militias created by the colonies would face the British early in the war and would later constitute the Continental Army. The Boycott mandated by the Congress also served to inspire the preemptive British hostility which started the war at Lexington and Concord. The Continental Congress was not looking to start a war, however. In 1775, the Second Continental Congress dispatched the Olive Branch Petition, which pledged loyalty to the King and implored him to revoke the Intolerable Acts. Understanding that war was inevitable, however the Second Continental Congress founded the Continental Army, which would fight the war for the Colonies. (Stoff)

Patriot leadership also played a crucial part in starting and winning the American Revolution. Patrick Henry, a Virginia politician, created the Virginia Resolves in 1765, which declared Virginia’s legislative autonomy from Britain, and served as a precursor to the declaration of independence. He also worked to rally other patriots, through powerful speeches such as his “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!” speech(Axelrod). Another prominent patriot leader was Samuel Adams, a business owner from Boston, the birthplace of the revolution, who founded the Sons of Liberty to harass loyalist, stamp, and tax collectors, and is believed to have helped orchestrate the Boston Tea Party. He was also a member of the Continental Congress, and signed the Declaration of Independence(Axelrod). John Adams a lawyer and relative of Sam Adams, defended British soldiers in court after the Boston Massacre, despite being a patriot, and served in the Continental Congress, as well as the drafting committee for the Declaration(Axelrod). George Washington, a landowner from Virginia, was elected to lead the Continental Army because of his experience in as an officer in a Virginia militia during the French and Indian War, and his leadership skills(Stoff). John Jay was a New York Politician who served as president of the Continental Congress in 1778, and as a delegate to Spain in 1779 to seek their support and financial aid. Not every American politician during the Revolution favored the complete of breaking the Colonies’ ties with Britain( Joseph Galloway, a lawyer from Pennsylvania, drafted the Plan of Union, which called for the Colonies to be run by a board of democratically elected officials, as well as officials appointed by the King(Axelrod). John Dickinson, a Delaware lawyer, obstinately opposed separation from Great Britain while serving in Continental Congress. After the war, he remained in America and played a large role in the Constitutional Convention which worked to draft the Constitution( (Axelrod, Stoff,


Portrait of George Washington, commander of the Continental Army.

The geography of the colonies proved to be a major advantage for the rebels. Since many of the rebels were native colonists, they knew the terrain better than the British occupiers (Stoff). The size of the colonies was also important. Because of the colonies’ vast area, the British army could not maintain any semblance of a permanent presence throughout. Prior to the Revolution, headquarters were established in major ports and cities such as Boston. British mobility was limited by a lack of swift transportation and a need to remain in close proximity to headquarters. This also allowed the rebels to track the British armies with ease. During the war, Patriot rebels, who opposed British rule and wanted the colonies to separate from England, were able to watch the movement of armies in and out of Boston, and, after some time, surround the city, forcing the British to evacuate by sea (Axelrod). The British could not hold a presence everywhere, but had to move its armies to react to the movements of American armies and American supply depots. American rebels, such as the Minutemen, could live as civilians, and doubling as soldiers whenever they were needed, at a minute’s notice. This proved a significant advantage in battles such as the Lexington and Concord, where the Minutemen surprised the British in defending their stockpiles, or the Battle of Fort Ticonderoga, where the Green Mountain Boys raided the unprepared British fort. (Axelrod, Stoff)

A misconception about the Revolutionary War is that the clever rebels revolutionized warfare by breaking ranks, and taking cover, while the stupid British army clung to the conventional tactic of fighting from formation, marching out in the open while getting shot at (Valis). This misconception springs from the first battle of the Revolutionary War: the Battle of Lexington and Concord. This battle started because the British, fearing full-scale rebellion, dispatched forces from Boston to destroy suspected ammo dumps in the towns of Lexington and Concord. The rebels were tipped off by observers of the British movements, and prepared for the British arrival. The most famous of the observers were Paul Revere, William Dawes, and Samuel Prescott, who rode through the countryside towards Concord warning the militia. All three were captured, but Dawes and Prescott quickly escaped, and continued to Lexington. Revere, who is the most famous of the riders, did not manage to escape and finish the route, but was released after questioning(Paul Revere Memorial Association). After skirmishing with the American at Concord, the British officers ordered a retreat, and they headed down the roads back to Boston. The Rebels pursued them, shooting the confused British from concealed positions in the woods and structures flanking the British route to Boston(Logan). The Rebels were not a completely unorganized, rag-tag, loose-cannon fighting force as one would be lead to believe. Many had served in state militias, during the French and Indian War. They knew different forms of drill, had a command structure, and follow orders. One problem they faced is that they had not yet been consolidated into one fighting force. The drill and orders of Massachusetts units were different from those of New Hampshire. Their loyalties also lay in their perspective colonies, and not to America(Axelrod). This proved a significant problem because it made it difficult for commanders to give orders to their troops. Washington’s goal was to consolidate these various units into one organized Continental Army. This army was to emulate European armies in its tactics, where applicable, not the Indians, as some rebels did early in the war, due to experiences in the French and Indian war(Livingston). Fighting from ranks was not always feasible because of the forested terrain of America, which varied from that of Europe(Axelrod). Earlier in the war, the rebels also did not have the equipment to justify fighting from ranks. Using ranks was important for armies with artillery, because artillery pieces were slow and difficult to maneuver, requiring protection. If one was not using ranks, the enemy would be able to penetrate to the artillery and munitions, and destroy or capture it. Ranks were necessary to protect valuable artillery(Valis). Ranks are also intimidating. The small arms of that period were not very accurate due to poor quality powder, and sub-caliber ammunition, which allowed for quicker reloads(Valis). The lead musket balls would leave the barrel from different angles, with different spins, making the guns impossible to aim accurately. For this reason, armies would fire from ranks, in the same direction, assuming that some rounds had to hit. Generally, a bow in the hands of a decent archer would be more accurate than a musket, albeit with a closer effective range. The reason firearms were originally adopted over the bow was not for their combat effectiveness, but because of intimidation (Poole). A gunshot looks and sounds scarier than a silently fired arrow. The ranks, which combined many simultaneous gunshots, capitalized upon this intimidation factor, making it easier to force an enemy retreat.(Valis, Paul Revere Memorial Association, Logan, Axelrod, Livingston, Poole)

Continental soldiers fighting from ranks.

The British also resorted to guerilla tactics when they were feasible. During the battle of Brandywine, the British were tipped off by loyalist, which is a colonist which supported British rule of the colonies, who identified the location of a rebel encampment, which had been sent back to harass British forces. They sent Major General Charles Gray to destroy the encampment. He ordered his men to remove the flints from his muskets, fix bayonets, and slaughter the sleeping enemies. They only fired their rifles after the rebel encampment was panicking. They managed to slaughter 150 rebels that night, and the incident was dubbed the Paoli Massacre(Axelrod). This is far from a conventional military strategy. It was a guerilla tactic, which capitalized upon the enemy’s fear and panic. As was the case for the rebels in Lexington and Concord, the British required accurate intelligence and an element of surprise for this strategy to work. The Americans or British could not fight an entire war using these strategies because they lacked sufficient intelligence of the enemy’s position, or the coordination to carry out so many such attacks. Both the Americans and British resorted to hit-and-run tactics, and took advantage of cover if the situation provided. They both also resorted to conventional military tactics if there was a need to take enemy ground. The Americans did not win the war because they developed innovative tactics, which no European army had seen prior(Axelrod, Valis).

A major disadvantage the Americans faced were the comparative sizes of the Continental and British militaries. At the close of 1775 the Continental army had approximately 27,500 soldiers, while the British had approximately 55,000 soldiers, 28,000 sailors, and 270 warships in America (Axelrod). An advantage the Americans did have was that every soldier they did manage to enlist was fighting for a cause they believed in. The British soldier, on the other hand, was far from home, fighting in an unpopular war, only because he was ordered to do so. They were professional soldiers, but they had less personal motivation to fight(Axelrod).

The French and Indian War, also known as the Seven Years War, greatly influenced the American Revolution. Great Britain lost much capital fighting the Seven Years War, which counteracted the benefits of the American colonial investment. Twelve years later, people in England were fed up with the colonies, which seemed only to be causing trouble. While there was no shortage of manpower in the Seven years war, when 300,000 Englishmen enlisted, only 30,000 enlisted to fight the American uprising(Axelrod). The Americans were fighting a guerilla war, and so, public opinion of the war in England was important. If public opinion in England dropped too much, they would surely withdraw. The French and Indian War served to lower England’s morale. America was considered a troubled region. England also made many enemies during the war. The French, who had been defeated by Britain, and lost a vast territory in Canada, were the first to recognize America as a nation, and supported it with arms, troops, and a navy. This turned the tide of the American Revolution. America did not have a navy, and was facing a blockade by the British Royal Navy, the largest navy in the world. With the French Navy on its side, America would be able to combat the blockade of the Royal Navy. Spain also joined to fight Britain in the American Revolution. Spain committed troops to fight Britain in the South, because it feared British expansion in North America(Axelrod). The involvement of France and Spain in the American Revolution played a major role in American victory. The American Revolution ended with the Battle of Yorktown, a coalition of American and French forces managed to circle General Cornwallis’ army in the coastal city of Yorktown. The French navy, which managed to capture the Chesapeake Bay, destroyed all hope of reinforcements for Cornwallis, and prevented evacuation by sea or across the bay(Logan). If the French had not supported the Americans, there would have been no such encirclement or victory, as the Americans did not have a navy to speak of. Cornwallis’ troops may have been evacuated, and the war would have dragged on far longer. Since the French did support America, Cornwallis’ army was captured and an armistice was reached with the Treaty of Paris 1783.(Logan, Axelrod)

Timeline of Major Battles Culminating with Yorktown

April 19, 1775
Battle of Lexington and Concord First battle of the American Revolution where British, en route to destroy colonial ammunition and weapons stockpiles in Lexington and Concord, skirmished with waiting colonists, who had been forewarned of the British assault, and were forced to retreat back to Boston.(Worcester Polytechnic Instituture)May 10, 1775
Battle of Fort Ticonderoga A band of 83 Green Mountain Boys, rebels from Vermont, led by Ethan Allen, raided the fort at night during stormy weather, overpowering the sentries and capturing the fort. It was an important victory because Fort Ticonderoga’s proximity to Lake George and Lake Champlain made it the gateway to Canada from upstate New York. Its capture also supplied the rebels with 78 cannons, 6 mortars, and 3 Howitzers, as well as various small arms and munitions.(Axelrod)
June 17, 1775
Battle of Bunker Hill This battle took place in Charleston, across the harbor from Boston. Bunker Hill was an entrenched position from which militia could fire upon British ships. For this reason, the British needed to take it. The battle actually took place on Breed’s Hill. William Prescott ordered the continental troops to move their position since Bunker Hill was located on a peninsula. This was a problem because it was exposed to naval bombardment, and was easy for the British to surround, preventing colonial retreat. The British were forced to charge American fortifications, and were able to capture them, but this turned out to be a pyrrhic victory, as they suffered 1054 casualties, and only inflicted 450. The battle of Bunker Hill is considered the bloodiest battle of the American Revolution.(Axelrod)
February 27, 1776
Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge 1500 British loyalists in North Carolina formed a militia and set out to join a group of British troops near the coast which was tracking a patriot militia group. He patriot militia anticipated the movements of the loyalist, and entrenched itself at an end of the Moore’s Creek Bridge, a choke-point. As the loyalists marched across the bridge, the patriots open-fired. In this battle they captured 850 loyalists, as well as the many supplies the loyalist were traveling with. This battle was not important in scale, but served as a blow to British and southern loyalist morale.(Axelrod)
November 13, 1776(Montreal) December 30, 1776(Quebec)
Battles for Montreal and Quebec Colonial forces under Richard Montgomery left Fort Ticonderoga and captured Montreal. The combined forces of Montgomery and Benedict Arnold later attempted to take Quebec. They were unsuccessful. Montgomery was killed in the battle, and Arnold was wounded. The idea behind these excursions into Canada was that the French-Canadians would also be sick of British rule, and would join or support the American cause. This campaign was a failure because the French Canadians did not support the Americans.(Logan)
August 26-30, 1776
Battle of Long Island At night the British landed a massive army of 10,000 in New York, which at that time had the largest concentration of Continentals, over 19,000. They attacked the Americans from 3 sides, and when Americans retreated to the fortified Brooklyn Heights, dug in. Washington, fearing the annihilation of the Continental Army, evacuated his troops under the cover of a storm. This retreat allowed the British a beachhead in New York.(Logan)
December 25-26, 1776
Battle of Trenton George Washington led Continental soldiers in a surprise attack against Hessian soldiers encamped at Trenton, New Jersey, on Christmas night. They crossed the Delaware, silently marched to the camp, and skirmished with the mercenaries. In the skirmish, 106 Hessians were killed or wounded, and about 1,100 were taken prisoner. The Continentals only suffered 4 casualties. This battle was significant as it served to raise the rebels’ morale after many losses, such as the Battle of Long Island.(Logan)
September 11, 1777
Battle of Brandywine This battle took place south of Philadelphia near the Delaware border. Washington’s troops were drawn out their positions in the city by a large British scouting regiment, which was believed by Washington to be the bulk of British General Howe’s army. The British sent soldiers and Hessian mercenaries to flank the Continental soldiers, forcing the American forces to retreat towards Philadelphia, the nation’s capital. The Battle of Brandywine is significant because the momentum the British gained there allowed them to push to and capture Philadelphia. Fortunately, Congress and the bulk of the Continental Army escaped, allowing the revolution to continue.(Axelrod)
October 4, 1777
Battle of Germantown Germantown contained a large concentration of British General Howe’s troops. Washington attacked the Germantown encampment, instead of an area with a weaker concentration of British troops, in order to send the message that the Continental Army was not defeated by the failure in Brandywine. Washington failed to capture Brandywine, suffered 673 casualties, along with 400 Continentals captured, while the British suffered 535 casualties. The only positive outcome of the battle was that it gave the Americans an image of tenacity, and inspired the French to support them.(Axelrod)
September 19, - October7, 1777
Battle of Saratoga There were two phases of the Battle of Saratoga. The first phase was the fight for Freeman’s Farm, the British fought from the farm’s fields, as the American marksmen fired from the woods. The British suffered 600 casualties, compared to America’s 319, but managed to capture the farm. In the second phase, the British, sick of waiting for reinforcements, attacked a powerful Continental encampment at Bemis Heights. The Americans were able to flank and encircle the British, inflict heavy casualties, and force unconditional surrender by British General Burgoyne. This battle was important because it was the first significant victory for the Continentals since the loss of Philadelphia, and this victory convinced the apprehensive and prospective French supporters that the Americans had a chance of defeating the British. Louis XIV did not want to join a losing cause.(Axelrod, Logan)
September 28,-October 17, 1781
Battle of Yorktown The British army under General Cornwallis had been cornered in the coastal city Yorktown. The French navy controlled the Chesapeake Bay, preventing evacuation by ship, and a coalition of 16,000 American and French soldiers under the command of Washington and Rochambeau laid siege to the city. The British forces were unable to evacuate, and were forced to surrender. This battle was important because it was the last major battle in the war.(Logan)


Battle Map of the American Revolution


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Worcester Polytechnic Institute. “Battle of Lexington and Concord.” 2011.
Livingston, Craig. Lone Star College-Montgomery.“CHAPTER 6: THE REVOLUTIONARY REPUBLIC. 2011.

Valis, Glenn. “Tactics and Weapons of the Revolutionary War: A basic overview of how the weapons of the American Revolution were used and why.” 3/31/02.

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Independence Hall Association. ”John Dickenson”. . 2011.
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George Washington

Written by: Steven Ayotte