Colonial protests that Britain proved incapable of handling morphed into a najor war forcing Britain to deply the largest expeditionary force in history until the two World Wars of the 20th century. Several different countries and their military forces would be drawn into the War. The major combatants were the American colonies and Britain. Native Americans also became involved, most but not all chosing to support the British. Critical to the Americn cause would be European allies, especially the French, but Spain also participated in the War. The Americans began the War with poorly trained and supplied colonil militias. Vital to the success of the revolution was Washington's efforts from the mommnt he arrived in Boston (July 1775) to build a well-trained Continental Army that could toe-to-toe with the British regulars. In addition to the militia and Continental Army the Americans also had a small navy consisting of privateers. Not commonly reported was the very substantial merchant fleet the colonies had. Some of these ships were turned into privateers. Few could fight it out with Royal Navy ships, but they sucessfully disrupted Brirish commerce. The core of the British force was the British Regular Army, but other forces would support the British effort. When fighting broke out in Massachusetts (April 1775), some 5,000-10,000 British soldiers were in the the 13 colonies, Canada, and the West Indies. Over the course of the War, the British would increase their commitment more than five fold and eventually lose two field armies. In addution to professional career soldiers, new recruits would be added. Adding to the British forces were American loyalists, German mercenries, run-away slaves, and Native Americans. The major British assett in addition to the Red Coat regulars was the Royal Navy. Ironically it would be the Royal Navy's failure in the Battle of the Capes (September 1781) that would lead to the American victory. The French played a major role in the American victory at first finncing the American effort and providing supplies. Eventually France would commit army and naval forces. Spain also committed its army and navy seizing Florida from the British, helping to secure supply lines to the Americans. Native Americans were also involved. Most tribes sided with the Brirish because of British eeorts to hild the Americans to the Eastern Seaboard, but some tribes sided with the Americans.
The Americans began the War with poorly trained and supplied colonil militias. There was no Cointinntal Army, only colonial militias of vsrying capabilities. Of course it was the Massaxchusettes militias that drive the Briutish Armny back fromn Lexingtob and Convord and nottled them up in Boston. And then wunder Gen. Washington's command drive themn from Boston. As it turned out, the most importanbt of these militias was what became the Marblehead Regiment which can be seem as the beginning of the Americn Navy. [O'Donnell] The Marbeleheaders gave Washington an amphibious capability without which the Continentl Army would not hsve survived the first year of the war. The Marbleheaders had more reaon thn most to despise thevBritish. The militias would also play a key role in the crucial Battle of Saratoga (October 1777). They converged on Saratoga in such numbers to aid the Continental Army that Gen. Burgoyne's army was overwhealmed. The Scotts-Irish make up of many of the frontier militias is important to note. This would show up gain when the British centured into the interior again at the Battle of King's Mountain (October 1780). The militia had strength's and weaknesses. The success of American commnders would in part knowing how to use the militia and hsving Continnytl army units to rely on. Gen. Daniel Morgan at Cowpens (January 1781) and Gen. Nathanael Greene at Gulford Couthouse (March 1781) brilliantly used the militias. They inflicted grevious losses pn the British--classic phyric victories. Gen. Corwallis had ruined his army. He had to abandon the Carolinas and decided to link up with roughly 3,500 men under British Major General Phillips and American-turncoat Benedict Arnold in Virginia. This would lead to the decisive Battle of Yorktown (October 1781) which for all practical purposes ended the War.
Vital to the success of the revolution was Washington's efforts from the moment he arrived in Boston (July 1775) to build a well-trained Continental Army that could go toe-to-toe with the British regulars. General Tadeusz Kościuszko and Baron Von Steuben played key roles in helping Washington build a professional army. In addition to the militia and Continental Army the Americans also had a small navy consisting of privateers. Not commonly reported was the very substantial merchant fleet the colonies had. Some of these ships were turned into privateers. Few could fight it out with Royal Navy ships, but they were helpful in disrupting British commerce, raising the cost of the War for Britain.
The core of the British force was the British Regular Army, but other forces would support the British effort. When fighting broke out in Massachusetts (April 1775), some 5,000-10,000 British soldiers were in the the 13 colonies, Canada, and the West Indies. Over the course of the War, the British would increase their commitment more than five fold, reaching 50,000 soldiers. In the process gthey would eventually lose two field armies. These were professionl career soldiers who volunteered for service, for vried reasons and coming from a wide swath of British life. Sime volunteered for persoal advncement. Others simply had no other prospects in life. Next to none volunteered for the cause of supressing rebellion.
In addution to professional career soldiers, new recruits would be added. Adding to the British forces were American loyalists, German mercenries, run-away slves, and Native Americans. The british massively increased their forces as the War evolved, nesitating a huge expenditure needed to support the war effort. One historian writes, "Throughout this massive increase, however, the nucleus of the army ciontinued to be Britain's career solduiers, the Britih regulars, the Red Coats." [Hagist] The major British assett in addition to the Red Coat regulars was the Royal Navy. It closed American ports, but bcould not stop actions by Americn privateers. The Royal Navy was the strongest naval force in the world, but woyld not be vdominnt until Trafalgar (1805). The French and Spanish fleets were still serious competitors. Ironically it would be the Royal Navy's failure in the Battle of the Capes (September 1781) that would lead to the ultimate American victory.
The French played a major role in the American victory at first finncing the American effort and providing supplies. Eventually France would commit army and naval forces. French material and financial support was of immense assistance. And the French Army and Navy would play a key roles. The French Navy would prove invaluable. American privateers assisted the war effort, but few could take on a Royal Navy vessel. And a fleet action was out of the question. The French brought that capability to the war effort. The French were more interested in the West Indies than aiding Washington, but even this was helpful to the Americans. It meant that the Britidh could not concentrate their forces to defeat the Colonists. The French Army and Navy would play a key role in the final climatic battle at Yorktown (September-October 1781).
Spain at the time of the Revolutionary War was a declining European power. But it was a power with a major empire and a substantial army and navy. And because of the War of the War of gthe Spsnish Secession had a Bourbon monarchy. This meant that France and Spain were allies. The Sanish were not willing to recognize the merucans, but like the French were anxious to regin territory lost to the British. Spain also helped finance and supply the American cause. The Cuban colony was helpful in delivering supplies to the Americans. Spain finally committed its Army and Navy after declaring war (1779). THe Spanish Army engaged British forces in the lower Mississipi. They seized Florida from the British, helping to secure supply lines to the Americans. West Florida at the time extended all the way to Louisiana. This was important because the Americans did not have army forces to accomplidh this nor the nval caobikity of supporting it. The Spanish did.
Native Americans were also involved in the Revolutionsry War. Surely the most complicated aspect of the War was the involvement of tghe various Ntive American tribes. Most tribes sided with the Brirish because of British efforts to hold the Americans to the Eastern Seaboard, but some tribes sided with the Americans. The Native American tribes offered some support to the British, but the British support for Native Americans adversely affected how many Americans b\viewed them. Many tribes tried to remain neutral as the war began. There are reports colonial militia attacking Native American who then began joining the British. Other tribes joined the British because of British efforts to prevent colonial expansion over the Applachins an into the Ohio Vally. This included the Royal Proclamation (1763) and the Quebec Act (1774). Both led to Colonial disaffection with the British. The Wabanaki Confederacy was an alliance formed by five northeastern tribes (the Penboscot, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Abenaki, and Micmac.
THese tribes were reluctant to join the war effort but some individual members did participate in some engagements. The Stockbridge-Mohican tribe in Western Massachusetts, sided with the Americans. This surprised the British as they has been long-standing allies and served in militia units during King George’s War, the French and Indian War, and Pontiac’s Uprising. The Shawnee in the Ohio River Valley. sided with the British. At first they tried to keep out of the conflict. As relations between the Colonists and British deteiorated, some 170 Shawnee families moved away from the Scioto River Valley to avoid getting drawn into the war. AS Colonial encroachment persisted, the Shawnee became divided on the WAr. The Shawnee tribes allied with the British threatened the Shawnee tribes if they sided with the colonists. The Delaware (Lenni Lenape) in the Ohio Valley sided with Americans. They signed a treaty with the United States Government, the Treaty of Fort Pitt (1778). The Miamiin the Great Lakes region sided with the British. They were not involved in any fighting until French cavalry officer Augustin Mottin LeBalme allied with the Colonists raided the Miami village of Kekionga and plundered the area for 12 days.
Chief Little Turtle ebgaged the French firce and killed LeBalme and 30 of his men (November 5, 1780). The The Wyandot (Huron) tribe in the Great Lakes region sided with the British. Gen. George Washington ordered Colonel William Crawford to leda an expedition against the Wyandot town at Upper Sandusky, a reprisal against tribes who had sided with the British (May 1782). Crawford and his force was defeated. The Wyandot captured Crawford and burned him at the stake. The Iroquois Confederacy (the Six Nations) was an alliance of six tribes in northern New York and Canada (Cayugas, Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Senecas, and Tuscaroras). The Iroquois Confederacy were long-standing allies of the British. With the advent of the War, the Confederacy split. The Cayugas, Mohawks Onondagas, and Senecas sided with the British. The Oneida and Tuscarora sided with the Americans. The Americans at the beginning of the War attacked Iroquois towns in the Mohawk and Susquehanna valleys that were siding with the British. Washington ordered Major General Horatio Gates 'to carry the war into the heart of the country of the six nations; to cut off their settlements, destroy their next year’s crops, and do them every other mischief of which time and circumstances will permit.' (March 6, 1779). The Potawami tribe in the Great Lakes region wanted to remain neutral, but eventually sided with the Americans (1778). The Potawami were long-standing trading partners and military allies with the French. They fought with the French in the French and Indian War, but had no desire to fight another war. The Catawaba were a small tribe in the Piedmont area South and North Carolina. They sided with the Americans at the onset of the War. The Catawaba fought in numerous battles in South and North Carolina beginning with the campaign against the Cherokee (1776). The British executed their Southern Strategy invading the South (1780). The Catawaba villages became a temporary refuge for American troops retreating into the mountins. British troops attacked the villages burning their villages and confiscating their cattle and other goods. The Catawaba fled north to Virgini. When Lord Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, the Catawaba returned home. The South Carolinians rewarded them for their service. The Chickasaw was a southern tribe with about 4,000 members in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri. They sided with the British during the Revolutionary War. The Chickasaw were trading partners and loyal allies of the British throughout the 18th century. They continued to support them throughout the Revolutionary War. The Choctaw were one of the larger southern tribes with a population of 15,000 menbers. They had some 50 villages that were located in a strategic position in the lower Mississippi. Both the Americans and the British wanted it, but the Choctaw sided with the British.
The Choctaw patroled the lower Mississippi River against American attacks. The Creek were another large southern tribe with about 15,000 members in Georgia, Alabama, Florida, and North Carolina. They never formally joined either side, but were involvved in some venggements. The vtribe split on eho to support.
Access to European manufactured goods were their highest priority. The Cherokee were another southern tribe. They inhabited the hill country of the western Carolinas and Georgia. They sided with the British. Chief Dragging Canoe attacked the colonial frontier in retaliation for encroachments on their lands (spring 1776). The Colonial governments of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia organized retaliatory expeditions. [Brooks]
Brooks, Rebecca Beatrice. "Native Americans in the Revolutionary War," (November 15, 2018).
Hagist, Don N. British Soldiers American War (2012), 384p.
O'Donnell, Patrick. The Indispensables: The Diverse Soldier-Mariners Who Shaped the Country, Formed the Navy, and Rowed Washington Across the Delaware (2021).
Navigate the Children in History Website
[Return to Main Revolutionary War page]
[Introduction] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Climatology] [Clothing] [Disease and Health] [Economics] [Geography] [History] [Human Nature] [Law]
[Nationalism] [Presidents] [Religion] [Royalty] [Science] [Social Class]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Children in History Home]