The American Revolutionary War: Military Forces

Figure 1.--

Native Americans were also involved in the Revolutionsry War. Surely the most complicated aspect of the War was the involvement of the various Native American tribes. Most tribes sided with the British because of British efforts to hold the Americans to the Eastern Seaboard, but some tribes sided with the Americans. [Brooks] The Native American tribes offered some support to the British, but the British support for Native Americans adversely affected how many Americans 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 British and Native American Indian tribes cooperated in impeding colonial efforts to cross the Appalachins and enter the Ohio Valley. [Blckmon} With the advent of the War, the British were hard pressed to maintain their position in the colonies and after Saratoga with Burgoyne's surrender lost control of the frontier. Here the heavily Scotts-Irish population was fiercely anti-British and British support of Native Ameicans inflamed them further.

The North

The Wabanaki Confederacy

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 Great Lakes


The Miami in 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 engaged the French force and killed LeBalme and 30 of his men (November 5, 1780).


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.

Iroquois Confederacy

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.

Ohio Valley


The Shawnee in the Ohio River Valley sided with the British. Conflicts with the Cherokee in Kentucky were vcommon, but they also suded with the British. [Blackmon] 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 American Revolution resulted in a dramatic change in the conflicts over land along the American southern frontier. Before the Revolution Native American tribes and British authorities hd some success of limiiting Colonist movermnt over the Aplschins. Land concessions were limited and designed to have limited impact on Indian societies. As a result, the frontier remained lrgelly peaceful With the breakout of the War, the British lost the ability to control the frontier. And Colonists began to move into the territory of the Creeks, Shawnee, and especially the Cherokee. The War in the south before the arrivl of the British took on a savage character. Indians, Loyalists, and Patriots all attempted to defend their communities and land. The Cherokee Nation stuck at the Colonists along the Frontier (1776). The souther colonies struck back and razed Cherokee towns and destroyed their food supplies. The sitution was complicated. If the Native Americns attacked both Loyalists and Patriot settlenrs it would unite the Colonists, adversely affecting both Native Americans and the British. As it were, the Native Americans attacked Patriot settlements which dominated the Frontier with Loyalist and British support. Thus when the British invaded the souther colonies (1780). The Patriots faced a two-front War. [Blackmon]


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 Virginia. 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. This became critical as the British executed their southern strategy. A historian explains, "As the Chicksaws and Chickamagas attacked the Cumberland settlements , on the other side vof the two-front war, the British had landed an invasion force in South Carolina and laid seige to gthe largest city in the south, Charleston. When the revolutionaries surrendered that city on May 12, 1780, the entire naure of the struggle changed radically. The outlook for the war along the southern frontier looked bleak for revolutionaries as it did througout the south." [Blackmon]


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 and prevent a southern route for brining in supplies..


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 involved in some engagements. The tribe split on who 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 had a contested friontier with thev Shawnee in Kentucky. They began to call it a 'dark nd bloody ground'. [Blackmon] At the same time, they and the Shawnee sided with the British. [Blackmon] 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]


Blackmon, Richard D. Dark and Bloody Ground: The American Revolution Along the Southern Friontier (2012), 336p.

Brooks, Rebecca Beatrice. "Native Americans in the Revolutionary War," (November 15, 2018).

Hagist, Don N. British Soldiers American War (2012), 384p.


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Created: 10:13 PM 2/23/2019
Last updated: 10:13 PM 2/23/2019