The Revolutionary War: 1775–1783
1775 Battle of Lexington and Concord Second Continental Congress convenes
1776 Jefferson writes Declaration of Independence
1777 Battle of Saratoga
1778 France and United States form Franco-American Alliance
1779 Spain enters war against Britain
1781 British forces under Cornwallis surrender to Washington at Yorktown
1783 Peace of Paris signed to end war
George Washington - Commander of the Continental army
Lord Charles Cornwallis - Commander of British forces that surrendered at Yorktown
When war erupted in 1775, it seemed clear that Britain would win. It had a large, well-organized land army, and the Royal Navy was unmatched on the sea. Many of the British troops in the Revolutionary War were veterans who had fought in the French and Indian War. On the other hand, the Americans had only a collection of undisciplined militiamen who had never fought before. The American navy was small and no match for the thousand ships in the royal fleet. The state of the army did improve after George Washington whipped the Continental Army into a professional fighting force, but the odds still seemed heavily stacked in Britain’s favor.
Nonetheless, the Americans believed that they did have a strong chance of success. They had a lot at stake: unlike the British, they were fighting on their home turf to protect their own homes and families. Perhaps most important, they were also fighting a popular war—a majority of the colonists were patriots who strongly supported the fight for independence. Finally, though most Americans had no previous military experience, their militia units were usually close-knit bands of men, often neighbors, who served together in defense of their own homes. They elected their own officers—usually men who did have some military training but who also knew the territory well. This native officer corps was a great source of strength, and as a result,...