SS7 Chapter 06 Notes: The American Revolution

Section 1: The War for Independence (p. 144-151)

The Two Armies Face Off

The British felt they would crush the colonists. The colonists thought Great Britain would give up quickly after losing a few battles.

The British were confident because they had:

  • the strongest navy in the world
  • a well-trained army
  • great wealth from their worldwide empire
  • a large population (over 8 million people)

In comparison, the colonists had

  • a weak navy
  • no regular army, just local militia groups
  • a lack of fighting experience
  • a shortage of weapons and ammunition
  • some people who did not support the war.

As many as one in three people in the colonies may have remained loyal to Great Britain. They were called Loyalists, or Tories. Others thought a revolution would cause too much trouble or did not agree with the reasons for the war. People that believed the colonists earned their independence from the British empire were called Patriots.

Great Britain also had mercenaries, soldiers who were paid to fight. The Americans called them Hessians.

The Patriots had the advantages of fighting on their own land. The British would be fighting far from home. All of the British supplies and soldiers had to come from far away. They were also fighting for a great cause – their independence from Britain. This gave them strong motivation to fight. The Patriots’ greatest advantage was the leadership of George Washington.

Many of the troops were members of a local militia, or people who are called to fight when needed. Many needed to tend to their farms to support their families. Congress established the Continental Army so that soldiers could be trained and paid.

A few women were involved in the fighting. A legend says that a woman called “Molly Pitcher” fought in the war and brought pitchers of water to the soldiers. Deborah Sampson disguised herself as a man so she could join the fight, too.

Early Campaigns

The British outnumbered the Americans and won the battle, but lost many more troops. They quickly realized more troops were needed to fight the war.

The British had more men and more supplies. Many Patriot soldiers had no shoes, socks, or jackets. The British leader chased the Continental Army across New Jersey into Pennsylvania. They could have probably captured all of the Patriot troops, but they were satisfied that Washington was defeated, and he let him go.

General Washington did not give up. On Christmas night, he and his troops crossed the icy Delaware River and surprised a Hessian force camped in Trenton, New Jersey. Washington pushed back the British troops. The battles encouraged the troops to believe they could win.

British Strategy

The British had a plan to win in 1777. They wanted to cut off New England from the Middle Colonies. They needed to take Albany, New York, and control the Hudson River.

The British plan to take Albany and the Hudson River had failed. The Americans had won a huge victory at Saratoga. The American win at the Battle of Saratoga changed the course of the war.


Section 2: The War Continues (p. 152-157)

Gaining Allies

The United States needed help to win the American Revolution so it sent Benjamin Franklin to France in 1776. The Continental Congress hoped he would be able to win French support for the American war. Early on, the French secretly gave the Americans money for their cause but they did not want to openly take sides against Great Britain. However, when France discovered that the colonists defeated the British at the Battle of Saratoga, this all changed.

France and other nations now saw that the Patriots might win the war. Soon after France declared war on Great Britain and agreed to help the Americans with money, equipment, and troops.

Over the winter of 1777–1778, the Continental Army suffered through a hard winter. General Washington and his troops were camped in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. In Philadelphia, the British were comfortable and warm while Washington’s troops were miserable and cold. General Washington had to use all of his skills to keep his army together at Valley Forge. Despite the hardships, the Continental Army survived the winter and soon the troops grew stronger.

Life on the Home Front

The war affected the lives of everyone in the United States. Women raised their children and took care of their homes on their own. They also ran businesses and farms while their fathers, husbands, and brothers were away at war. Children lived without their fathers present.

The war also affected the Loyalists, or American settlers who supported Great Britain. Some Loyalists joined the British troops and fought against the Patriots in the war. Some were spies for Great Britain.


Section 3: Battlegrounds Shift (p. 158-163)

Fighting in the West

There were many Native American nations in the different colonies. Some of these nations took sides in the war between the Patriots and the British. Some helped the Patriots. More Native Americans decided to help the British. The Patriots had fought against them, taken land that belonged to them, and changed their way of life. To Native Americans, the British seemed like less of a threat.

The American Revolution was fought in many areas. One important area was along the western frontier, or land west of the Appalachian Mountains. The British and some Native Americans raided American settlements.

A lieutenant colonel in the Virginia militia named George Rogers Clark wanted to end the attacks on western settlers. He played an instrumental part in defeating the British and overtaking the west for America.

The War at Sea

The war was also fought at sea. The United States did not have a strong navy. Great Britain had a very powerful navy and it blocked American ports and harbors. This stopped ships from coming or going with people or supplies. This is known as a blockade.

Something had to be done to break the blockade. So Congress gave special permission to about 2,000 privately owned merchant ships to have weapons attached. The ships could then capture enemy ships and take their cargo. These ships were called privateers. They played an important role in the American Revolution because they captured more British ships than the American navy.

Fighting in the South

The British had more troops and supplies during the American Revolution, but they realized that they would not be able to win quickly. They came up with a new strategy to win the South.

The British believed they could use strong Loyalist support and their naval power to help them win the South. The British did not get the Loyalist support they hoped for. They also had to deal with American hit-and-run tactics. Patriot forces would attack the British by surprise, and then disappear again. Francis Marion, called the “Swamp Fox,” was a successful Patriot leader in the South. He was quick and smart, and he hid from the British easily in the eastern South Carolina swamps.

Other countries were also keeping Great Britain distracted in the South. In 1779, Spain declared war on Great Britain and provided the colonists supplies and weapons throughout the war.

Some settlers in the South were neutral, meaning they did not take sides. The British told these local people that they must support them. The British said if the locals did not help them, they would hang their leaders and destroy their land. This angered the Americans who lived in the mountains of the South. They formed a militia.  It was British actions such as these that turned people from neutral to Patriots.

Cornwallis (the most famous British general) and his troops went north into Virginia and set up camp at Yorktown. Both Marquis de Lafayette and Anthony Wayne went south into Virginia to push Cornwallis back. The battle for the South was entering its final phase.


Section 4: The Final Years (p. 164-169)

Victory at Yorktown

While battles were going on in the South, General Washington and his troops were in New York. They greeted new French forces (soldiers) that were there to aid the colonist in combatting the British.

General Washington had a plan. He wanted to attack an army base in New York commanded by British General Clinton. A second fleet of French ships was expected. The attack would happen when that force arrived.

General Washington and Comte de Rochambeau waited, but the second French fleet never arrived in the North. Instead, Washington learned that the fleet would arrive at Chesapeake Bay (Maryland/Virginia). They could help fight General Cornwallis, who was camped on the Yorktown Peninsula. Cornwallis was in a dangerous position. There was only one direction on land for escape. This had been blocked and now the second French fleet would block escape by water as well.

General Washington changed his plan to attack General Clinton in New York. He and Rochambeau would take their troops to Virginia to fight against Cornwallis. This plan was kept a secret. General Clinton did not know they were gone until it was too late.

The Continental forces at Yorktown were ready and cornered Cornwallis and his troops. British ships could not reach Cornwallis to help him escape. Washington’s plan had worked perfectly.

Although Cornwallis did not surrender immediately, the Continental Army cut them off from supplies and communication.  It took a little time but eventually Cornwallis had no option but to surrender. The Patriots won the Battle of Yorktown.

Independence Achieved

Yorktown was not the last battle of the American Revolution. Yet the British realized that the fight was finished. The war was too costly to continue.

Both sides sent representatives to France to work out a peace agreement. The first draft of the Treaty of Paris was ratified, or approved, by Congress. The final agreement was signed in September 1783. The treaty was a success for the Patriots. Great Britain agreed to recognize the United States as an independent nation along with other agreements.

The Continental Army was kept active during the creation of the treaty. The soldiers wanted to get paid and were angry because they were owed money. Some thought they should use force against Congress if they were not paid. General Washington stepped in to settle the dispute. He asked the soldiers to be patient. He also asked Congress to meet the soldiers’ demands. Congress agreed. General Washington showed his superior leadership once again.

Even though the British were strong, the Americans won the war because they had certain advantages.

  • Americans fought on their own land for a cause they believed in. They knew the land and how to use it, often using ambushes to surprise the enemy.
  • The British fought a war far from home. Their troops and supplies had to be shipped in. The British also had a hard time controlling the Americans even when they captured major cities.
  • The Americans also had help from many others countries such as France and Spain.
  • The British could not fight against the power of independence. Americans fought hard because they believed in what they were fighting for. They wanted to protect their land, their families, and their freedom.

This spirit spread to other places in the world as well. Shortly after the American Revolution, French rebels fought for freedom. This idea also took root in the French colony of Saint Domingue, which is now Haiti.