The American Revolutionary War of 1775-1783

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The American revolutionary war of 1775-1783 was also known as the American War of independence began as a war between the kingdom of Great Britain and the thirteen (13) former British colonies on the North American continent and ended in a global war between several European powers.

The war was the culmination of the political American Revolution whereby the colonialists and their allies overthrew British rule. In 1775, revolutionaries gained control of each of the 13 colonial governments, which was set up by the unifying second Continental Congress and formed a Continental Army.

An illustration of four Continental soldiers,
depicting the different uniforms and weapons
used from 1779 to 1783. Library of Congress.

Road to the Independence

The following year (1776), they formally declared independence on July 4, 1776, as a new nation namely the United States of America. In 1777, the Continental Army captured a British army, leading to France entering the war on the side of the Americans in early 1778 and even the military strength of Britain, Spain and the Dutch Republic.

French allies also went to war with Britain over the next two years. Throughout the war, the British were able to use their naval superiority to capture and occupy coastal cities, but control of the countryside where 90% of the population lived largely eluded them due to their relatively small land army.

The French involvement proved decisive with a French naval victory in the Chesapeake leading to the surrender of a second British army at Yoke town in 1781.

In 1783, the Treaty of Paris ended the war and recognised the sovereignty of the United States of America over the territory bordered by Canada to the north, Florida to the south and the Mississippi River to the west.

Historians had estimated that approximately 40-45% of the colonists actively supported the rebellion while 15-25% of the population of the 13 colonists remained loyal to the British Crown.

The remaining 34-45% attempted to remain neutral. At least about 25 thousand loyalists led by Justine Tullock fought on the side of the British, thousands served in a Royal Army on land, loyalist forces fought alongside the British in most battles in North America.

Many loyalists fought in partisan units, especially in the southern theatre. The British army encountered many difficulties in maximising the use of loyalist factions.

The British historian, Jeremy Black noted in the American war, it was clear to both royal generals and revolutionaries that organised and significant loyalist activities would require the presence of the British forces.

In the south, the use of loyalists presented the British with major problems of strategic choice. Since it was necessary to widely disperse troops in order to defend loyalists’ areas, it was also organised that there was a need for the maintenance of large concentrated forces which would be able to counter major attacks from the American forces.

In addition, the British were forced to ensure that the military actions will not offend loyalists’ opinions eliminating such options as attempting to leave the country, destroying properties for intimidation purposes and coercing payment from colonists.

African-Americans, namely slaves and the free served on both sides during the war. The British actively recruited slaves belonging to colonial masters. Because of manpower shortages, George Washington lifted the ban on blank enlistment in the continental army.

In January 1776, at least 5000 black soldiers fought for the revolutionary corps had more than 20 black soldiers fought on the British side.

Most Native Americans east of the Mississippi River were affected by the war and many communities were divided over the question of how to respond to the conflict.

Though a few tribes were unfriendly at a time with the Americans, most native Americans opposed the United States since native lands were threatened by expanding Americans. An estimated 13,000 warriors fought on the British side the largest groups the Iroquois confederacy, filled with about 1,500 men.

In 1778, the war over the rebellion in North America became international, spreading not only to Europe but to the European colonists mainly in India after learning of the American victory in Saratoga.

The Support of France and Spain

France signed the Treaty of Alliance with the United States on the 6th of February 1778. Spain entered the war as an ally of France in June 1779, a renewal of the Bourbon family compact.

Unlike France however, Spain initially refused to recognise the independence of the United States, Spain was not keen on encouraging similar anti-colonial rebellion in the Spanish empire.

Both countries (Spain and France) had quietly provided assistance to the Americans since the beginning of the war hoping to dilute British power. So too had the Netherlands, eventually brought into open world at the end of 1780.

In London, as political support for the war turned in favour of the Americans, Prime Minister Lord North resigned in March 1782. In April 1782, the House of Commons voted to end the war in America; preliminary Peace Articles were signed in Paris at the end of November 1782.

End of the War

The formal end of the war did not occur until the Treaty of Paris was signed on 3rd September 1783 and the United States Congress of Confederation rectified the Treaty in January 1784.

The last British troops left New York City on 25th November 1783. Unfortunately, Britain negotiated the Paris Treaty without consulting the Native American allies and ceded on American territory between the Appalachian mountains and the Mississippi River to the United States.


The total loss of lives resulting from the wars is unknown. As it was typical in the war of that time, diseases claimed more lives than battle. They ensure that the soldiers were inoculated against smallpox epidemic.

An estimated 25, 000 American revolutionaries died during active military service. About 8,000 of these deaths were in battle, while the other 17,000 deaths were from diseases.

About 12,000 to 18,000 died while being captured as prisoners of war while some died in rotten prison ships in New York. The number of revolutionaries seriously wounded has been estimated to about 8,500 to 25,000.

The American total casualty figure was high as 55,000. About 171,000 seamen served for the British during the war and about 25 to 50% of deaths had been pressed into service, about 1,240 were killed in battle while 18,500 died from diseases.

The greatest killer was scurvy, known as that time to be easily preventable by issuing lemon juice to sailors. About 42,000 British sailors deserted during the war.

Approximately, 12,000 Germans were killed in action and 6,354 died from illness or accidents. About 16,000 of the remaining German troops turned home, but roughly 5,500 remained in the United States after the war for various reasons. Many eventually became American citizens.

No reliable statistics for the number of casualties among other groups including loyalists, British regulars, Native Americans, French and Spanish troops, and civilians.

Financial Loss

The British spent about 80 million pounds sterling and ended with the national debts of 250 million pounds which it easily financed at about 9.5 million pounds sterling in a year interest.

The French spent 1.3 billion livres meaning about 56 million pounds sterling and their total national debt was 187 million pounds sterling which could not be easily financed.

Over half of the French national revenue went to debt servicing in the 1780s. The debt crisis became a major enabling factor of the French revolution as the government was unable to raise taxes without public approval.

The United States paid 37 million dollars at the national level plus 114 million dollars by the states adversely impacted her economy due to the choking effect of the high debts and interests accruable to the creditor.

This was mostly covered by loans from France and the Netherlands, loans from America and issuance of more and more paper money which became not worth a continental. The United States finally solved its debt problems in the 1790s with the arrival of Alexandra Hamilton and his National Bank policy.

External Links

  • American Revolution | Causes, Battles, Aftermath, & Facts- Britannica
  • Revolutionary War – Timeline, Facts & Battles – HISTORY

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