Text of Video Narration

The American Revolutionary War forever changed the course of Western Civilization. It lead directly to the creation of the United States. This program will trace the course of the Revolutionary War using animated maps to indicate the strategies and movements of armies and the locations of important events.

Results of the French and Indian War

The United States is part of the larger North American continent. Let us return 230 years in the history of this continent, to the period immediately following the French and Indian War. As a result of losing the French and Indian War, France was obliged to give up her territories in North America to England and Spain, with the border between these two empires running along the Mississippi River.

While Spain was a waning power, England's star was rising. She now dominated North America. Her first act in this new role was to contain the American colonies, her allies and partners in the recent war. In 1763, young King George the Third proclaimed a line running along the Appalachian mountains, limiting the colonies from further expansion west.

The Colonies and some causes for separation

Let us look at the American colonies. The Appalacian Mountains formed a physical boundary containing the early colonists, but by 1770, colonial expansion was pushing west through them. Individual colonies had separate governments, each subject to the British Crown. They were increasingly self-sufficient. Within the colonies, tobacco was raised in Virginia and North Carolina, while rice was cultivated along the coast of South Carolina. Imported African slaves worked many of these fields to produce crops for export.

In the rest of the colonies, the rural population, which doubled in size every generation, raised grains and livestock. Two fifths of this produce was sold for cash, making the per-capita income of Americans the highest in the world. In New England, timber and some ironworks supported ship-building, fishing, and whaling. The city of Boston, in the colony of Massachusetts, was the most important port of the colonies.

In the years following the French and Indian War, the British insisted that the colonies be taxed for part of the cost of that war, as well as the cost of current defense. The colonies, unrepresented in Parliament, resisted this increase in British rule, as well as British control of trade, expansion west, and other colonial activities. Massachusetts was the leader in this agitation, followed by Virginia. Protest culminated in the "Boston Tea Party" of 1773, which provoked the British to declare Boston a non-port and quarter additional troops in the city.

Nature of militias and initial battles at Lexington and Concord

In 1774 the Massachusetts assembly, which served under the British governor in Boston, began meeting independently in nearby Concord, under the presidency of John Hancock, thus creating a second government for the colony. These representatives had access to the armed power of the people in the form of militias, created originally to fend off Indian and French raids. These militias were ordered to train for rapid response to British use of force.

One came in April of 1775. A British expedition set out at night, intending to capture arms stored in Concord. They were observed, however, by the patriot Paul Revere, who rode ahead to warn the countryside. Thus the British troops, who marched first to Lexington, were met by minutemen and the shot was fired heard round the world. When they arrived at Concord itself, more militias had gathered, and after another battle, the British were forced to retreat back to Boston, with additional militias arriving to join the pursuit. With this act of defiance, and the shedding of English blood, the American Revolutionary War began.

Declaration of Independence

Preview More and more militias arrived to surround Boston in a siege. Meanwhile, in the central city of the colonies, Philadelphia, in the colony of Pennsylvania, a Continental Congress voted George Washington commander-in-chief of the new army. Washington rode to Boston, enlisted and trained the militias into an army, rendered the harbor untenable, and thus forced the British to evacuate the city and sail to Halifax in Novia Scotia.

Washington surmised that the British would quickly return to occupy the port of New York City, in the state of New York, which includes Long Island. Therefore he rushed his army of 20,000 men to New York to build defensive systems against the anticipated attack. Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, a Declaration was signed on July 4, 1776, proclaiming the thirteen united states of America as an independent nation. On that same day the British landed in New York.

British and American war strategies

The British army from Halifax initially landed on Staten Island. They were soon joined by an additional force from England which included 12,000 German mercenaries. This was the largest force sent across the ocean in Britian's history.

The British strategy was to isolate New England, the heart of the rebellion. They would occupy New York and link up with a force marching south from Canada, thus cutting off New England from the rest of the colonies. For this plan to succeed, the British needed only a decisive victory over Washington's fledgeling army. As the British prepared for invasion, the Americans held their own council of war. This council was strongly influenced by Nathanael Greene, who argued that the outcome of the Revolution depended upon keeping an army in the field. The council agreed to fight a defensive war, protract the conflict and exhaust the British.

Battles of New York through Trenton

In order to defend New York, Washington fortified the Brooklyn Heights which commanded the approaches to the city. In August the British invaded Long Island, and met the Americans south of Brooklyn. By clever maneuvering, the British outflanked the American position. Complete victory was in sight, but a heavy fog permitted Washington to withdraw his troops to New York. The Americans retreated up the isle of Manhattan, battling the British in the Harlem Heights and again in White Plains, after which Washington divided his army and lost part of it. Washington gave up New York, and with a remnant of his army he retreated south to protect the seat of government in Philadelphia. He was pursued across the state of New Jersey by a British army under Lord Cornwallis, stopping at the Delaware River, which divides New Jersey from Pennsylvania.

On December 7, Washington's troops crossed the Delaware River, and they quickly prepared defenses. The British followed, but to Washington's great relief, they suspended operations without attempting a crossing. Instead, they went into winter quarters in the three nearest towns, including Princeton and Trenton.

Washington was in dire straits. Many of his remaining men would leave at the first of the year. He needed a win. Therefore, on Christmas eve, Washington recrossed the Delaware amid chunks of ice floating downstream. Two other groups of his army refused to cross. Once on the other side he captured Trenton, which was garrisoned by German mercenaries. 900 German prisoners were taken by the American army. Lord Cornwallis quickly marched down from Princeton, but Washington and his men slipped out of town, and marched to Princeton where they devastated Cornwallis' rear guard. The Americans then took up a strong winter position in the interior of New Jersey, while the British abandoned most of the state and returned to New York.

Qualities of George Washington

In his first year of battle George Washington revealed his character. Like others of the Founding Fathers, he had a broad range of capacities. Trenton was almost insignificant as a military victory; it was recaptured by the British in a few days. But its political effect on the colonies was electric. Men rushed to enlist. By having at his command both military and political capacities, as well as others, Washington proved to have the necessary qualities for the birth of a nation. The finest horseman of the colonies, he held in a firm grip the fate of America.

Hudson River as a geographic feature and route of Burgoyne attack

The Hudson River was a key geographic feature in the defense of early America. The Hudson River is in the state of New York. It runs from the port of New York City north towards Canada, where it nearly connects with Lake Champlain and the Richelieu River, which runs into the St. Lawrence. This water corridor was an invasion route between Canada and the colonies throughout the existence of early America.

British take Philadelphia and Americans retreat to Valley Forge

As a result of the French and Indian War, Britian now held the French areas of Canada, including Quebec and Montreal. In 1777, a British army moved south from Canada, along the Hudson-Richelieu Corridor, intending to meet with a British army coming up from New York-- but that army had been diverted by Washington! Instead of linking with the invasion from Canada, General Howe preferred to chase Washington for a second year, and capture the nominal capital of the rebels, Philedilphia. Washington resisted this plan but failed. The British army captured Philadelphia, and thus spent the winter of 1777 comfortably established in the largest city of the colonies. The Continental Congress left Philedelphia before the capture and continued meeting further south. The American army retreated to nearby Valley Forge, where they barely survived a winter of bitter cold and near starvation.

Americans win a Saratoga and France enters the war

Meanwhile the British invasion force in the north was left in the field, stranded in the wilderness. It was captured intact by American militias and army units at Saratoga. Almost 6,000 British troops were taken. This major win provided justification for France, who sought revenge for the earlier French and Indian war, to enter the Revolutionary War on the side of America. She greatly increased her financial and material support for the rebels, and more important, opened new theaters of war. As with the French and Indian War, the American Revolutionary War now expanded into a world-wide conflict between France and England.

Loyalists and the war in the south

In America itself, this conflict was partly a civil war. Colonists who supported England, which was in fact the legal government, were called loyalists. Militias of loyalists, sometimes allied with Indians, fought the rebels in the frontiers and in the south.

Now faced with an expanded war with France, soon joined by Spain, the British rethough their strategy for North America. Their focus turned to the southern colonies, where the loyalists were thought to be in the majority. England would abandon Philadelphia and retreat to New York in the north; but in the south she would occupy major southern ports. Expeditions would be sent from these coastal enclaves into the interior to pacify the countryside and rally the loyalists.

The colonies in the south were Georgia, in the far south, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia. In 1778 a British force sailed from New York to Savannah, Georgia, and it quickly captured that port. An expedition up the Savannah river captured Augusta, and Georgia was back in the British Empire.

In 1780 a second British force sailed from New York to Charlseton in South Carolina. This port was captured after a bitter seige, and a determined British army under Lord Cornwallis, the most aggressive of the British field commanders, set out from it to conquer the Carolinas. Cornwallis conquered land, but he could not defeat the American forces in the south, which were small, mobile groups. The rebels lost battle after battle, retreating to the hills and mountains only to return again. After a flurry of activity in Virginia, Cornwallis retreated to Yorktown on the Virginia coast to establish a British base for future operations.

Stalemate in New York and arrival of French troops

In the north, the British continued to hold New York. The American army shadowed them from the Hudson Highlands north of the city. For three years this army dwelled in the mountain redoubts. This was perhaps Washington's most difficult period in maintaining a revolutionary army in the field. West Point was the key point in the American defensive system, controlling the Hudson River at the narrowest passage. Benedict Arnold almost succeeded in selling West Point to the British in 1780, the darkest year of the infant republic. In that year a French army landed at Newport in the state of Rhode Island. In 1781, this French army crossed the state of Connecticut to mass with the American army on the Hudson.

Victory at Yorktown

Now the American Revolution was drawing to its conclusion. France provided the French fleet to fend off the British fleet, but only for two months. And Yorktown, rather than New York, was chosen as the target for this large-scale, Franco-American venture. Washington quickly and skillfully converted his plan for an attack on New York to a feint, or fake attack, which would hide the real movement of the bulk of his army to Virginia, passing through Philadelphia, and the state of Maryland. The French fleet arrived and took control of Chesapeake Bay. The British fleet sailed south to support Cornwallis there, but it discovered the French fleet waiting for it. After losing a short battle, the British fleet returned to New York.

The seige of Yorktown by combined French and American forces was conducted to meet the European standards. Without hope of reinforcement or evacuation by sea, Cornwallis surrendered his army within a few weeks. This defeat was of sufficient size for the British government to cease operations in the colonies.

Peace treaty and geopolitical results

Two years later, in 1783, Britian signed a peace treaty in Paris with representatives of the United States led by Benjamen Franklin. Britian generously ceded to the new nation all of her holdings west of the colonies to the Mississippi. She gave Florida back to Spain and kept only Canada in the north for herself. Meanwhile the Spanish expanded their claim north to include the entire west coast of North America, based on a presence in California.

The American Revolutionary War successfully subdued the belligerent European powers on this continent. France regained nothing despite her crucial role; England was defeated and withdrew to Canada, where many loyalists emigrated, and New Spain remained distant and non-threatening. The thirteen colonies, now the United States, thus had ample time to form a new nation, one founded not on the divine right of Kings, but on a Constitution to be arrived at democratically and voted into power.