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Chapter 7: The War for America 1775-1783

Lecture to accompany the text The American Promise: A History of the United States, Volume 1 to 1877

Jason Holloway

on 2 October 2014

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Transcript of Chapter 7: The War for America 1775-1783

Chapter 7: The War for America, 1775-1783
Professor Holloway
1. The Second Continental Congress
1. The Second Continental Congress, continued...
2. The First Year of War, 1775-1776
4. The Campaigns of 1777-1779: The North and the West
5. The Southern Strategy and the End of the War
3. The Home Front
5. The Southern Strategy and the End of the War, continued...
How does the opening vignette relate to the rest of the chapter?
The Second Continental Congress meets on May 10, 1775 after the first battles of the war.
They decide on two tasks, one raise an Army and two explore possibilities for reconciliation.
Thomas Paine, Abigail Adams and the Case for Independence
Both sides of the war are uneasy about the start of the conflict.
For the Americans their untrained militia is fighting the most powerful military force in the world.
Also many people are still loyal to Britain causing concern of a fifth column.
For Britain the colonies are 3,000 miles away so distance will be a problem in supporting and maintaining large military forces.
Also they wished to regain the allegiance of the colonists, so their actions are limited.
Some of these issues will be repeatedly played out in the early years of the war.
The battlefield alone does not determine a war's outcome usually.
In 1776 both sides have partisans though most colonists are still in the middle.
Persuasion and force are used on the neutrals by both sides.
In most cases the rebels take control of local government and use it to punish those not committed to the cause.
The British treatment of prisoners of war also galvanizes neutral opinion.
Throughout this period the economy also starts collapsing leading to even more troublesome and desperate situations.
The Americans face difficult choices after the initial period of limited victories.
The war begins to expand into other North American territories.
The Americans start pressuring France for more open assistance
After France joins the war, followed by almost all of Britain's other European rivals, many in Britain think that the conflict now cannot be won.
The thought is that there is too much land, too many hostile people and the more that is occupied the weaker that the army in the field is.
Even the PM agrees with this but the King insists that the war continue.
They come up with a well-thought but desperate plan called the Southern strategy.
Another loss at the Battle of Cowpens in SC forces Cornwallis to retreat back to NC and then to invade Virginia.
There he takes over Williamsburg and Charlottesville, the capital, barely missing capturing the governor, Thomas Jefferson.
A large number of black slaves, about 4,000 join the army in VA.
It seems like Cornwallis is back on tract and succeeding in his mission.
6. Conclusion: Why the British Lost
Congressmen have to learn how to trust one another in this dangerous undertaking.
John and Sam Adams are amongst the more radical members, Benjamin Franklin is feared a British spy.
Many members still prefer reconciliation.
Many also believe that government needs a king to keep order and the colonies need British protection against other europeans.
Also people lament a potential loss of trade.
Most Americans do not favor independence though they only regard the King's authority not parliament's.
Most radicals at the congress come from Massachusetts, why?
Those representatives from MA understand the delay through John Adam's convoy metaphor.
Assuming Political and Military Authority
All agree though that a military force must be created and the continental army is formed with Washington as its leader.
Thomas Jefferson pens "A Declaration on the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms" which is subsequently issued by the congress.
Congress creates a system of currency to fund its' operations.
In a few short months the Continental Congress effectively establishes a national government without legal authority which is de facto independent.
General Gage receives reinforcements and instructions to attack rebels who had fortified Charlestown, a suburb of Boston.
General William Howe leads an assault known as the Battle of Bunker Hill, what is the shape of these events?
Afterward the British retreat back into Boston neglecting to take advantage of their victory.
Nine months later they abandon Boston without a fight.
During this time Howe inoculates his soldiers against smallpox, how does this work and why is it important?
What do the colonists fear the British are doing with those sick forced out of Boston?
Washington arrives to take charge of the forces and begins to impose a firm military hierarchy.
Pursuing both War and Peace
Congress also pushes forward plans for reconciliation.
The Middle Colonies are very favorable of this.
In July of 1775 they issue an appeal to the King known as the Olive Branch Petition.
It places the blame for the conflict on Parliament and the King's ministers but not the King.
It also seeks that colonial assemblies be recognized as separate parliaments under the King's aegis.
King George III rejects the petition and declares the colonists as traitors.
Reconciliation is now clearly out of question.
In January 1776, Thomas Paine publishes the pamphlet "Common Sense" which lays out the case for independence.
It strongly attacks the institution of monarchy and advocates its' replacement with representative government.
The pamphlet sells quickly and widely throughout the colonies.
At this point only New England, in the heart of the conflict, desires independence.
Abigail Adams writes several interesting letters to her husband noting the difficult slave owners will have in supporting a war for liberty.
Likewise she also argues for more rights for women in general.
John Adams essentially dismisses her concerns but is forced to consider reasons why things are the way they are.
Besides "Common Sense", another thing hastening independence is a potential alliance with France.
France offers supplies and military support only if the colonies agree to a permanent separation with Britain.
The British also start hiring large numbers of German mercenaries which also increases pro-independence support.
By May 1776 only four colonies don't support independence, mostly the Middle Colonies with larger loyalist populations.
The vote for independence is postponed until July but Jefferson is still tasked with preparing a potential document declaring separation.
The Declaration of Independence
On July 2nd all states accept the motion for independence except New York which abstains.
A committee analyzes Jefferson's work which contains many philosophical ideas claiming radical natural rights, what are some of these concepts?
A large list of grievances is composed blaming the King for the issues leading to this point.
The idea that slavery is an evil practice and the King's fault is struck out of the final draft.
On July 4th, 1776 the Declaration of Independence is formally adopted.
New York shortly afterward changes its vote so that it is unanimous.
In early August the official copies on parchment are signed though many still express doubt.
Why do the printed copies distributed in the colonies lack signatures?
"We must all hang together. Otherwise we shall most assuredly hang separately."
The American Military Forces
The Americans claim they are defending against invasion but really it is a rebellion.
There is high motivation to fight and the potential manpower is large too.
What were some of the issues and constraints that the militias have?
Various enlistment strategies are used but people have to believe the war will be won.
In the end 230,000 enlist or 1/4 of the white male population.
Women also serve in a number of functions.
There is a ratio of 1 woman to 15 men in the Continental Army or about 20,000 serving throughout the conflict.
They also carried food, water and ammo on the battlefield sometimes.
At first blacks are excluded but eventually slave owners paid for each one enlisted.
They are stationed in segregated units with white officers.
5,000 African-Americans serve in the war on the rebel side, mostly from the Northern colonies.
With issues of who is a traitor coming up, neutrality is increasingly not an option.
Military service is one way to demonstrate politics.
Ultimately the American army has many issues as they are clearly not up to European standards of fighting but they also are not the rabble that the British thought either.
The Americans have an easy strategy in contrast with the British.
The British one is not as clear and much more complicated.
They ultimately want to put down the rebellion and restore their authority but how will they do this?
It is not enough just to defeat and destroy the Continental Army but they also have to conquer an insurgent population.
Also there is no true capital as congress moves frequently.
Additionally the British will capture and occupy all major port cities but 95% of the colonists live in the country.
Britain's goal requires finesse and is not to destroy the country but to restore colonial authority.
British generals at first are reluctant to destroy or confiscate property or otherwise antagonize the population.
To win the British must conquer and occupy lots of land which requires a large army supplied through the port cities from overseas.
The British assume too that many loyalists will assist.
What was the earliest British plan to subjugate the colonies?
The British Strategy
Quebec, New York and New Jersey
The Americans launch an attempt to conquer Quebec in late 1775 before British reinforcements arrive.
They take Montreal before failing in front of Quebec due to the weather and smallpox.
In August 1776 the British land 45,000 men south of New York City.
Washington arrives with 20,000 and is defeated at the Battle of Long Island though Howe does not push his advantage.
The British take New York and Washington holds them there for a few months until he is forced to retreat.
Washington retreats to Philadelphia where Howe inexplicably waits and eventually puts his army into winter quarters on the Delaware thinking the Americans will not attack.
Also he is aware that their enlistment period ends on the 31st.
On Christmas Day at dawn, Washington leads a surprise attack across the Delaware and attacks the British's German soldiers' camp.
This is a huge victory for the Americans and for two weeks Washington continues his attacks until settling into winter quarters in northern New Jersey with much higher morale for his forces.
In the first year of the war, the Americans had a few proud moments but truthfully their army barely survives the battles.
The most important thing allowing this survival was the reluctance of the British to push their military advantage when they had it.
The Committees of Correspondence begin to take over all aspects of local government and enforce rebel dictates.
This is rarely challenged and many realize that neutrality is not viable as the conflict continues.
The position of women increase during the war, why?
A Ladies' Association is formed in 1780 to collect money for the army.
Patriotism at the Local Level
The poor treatment of loyalists is more than matched by the poor treatment of American prisoners of war.
The Americans expect the treatment of POWs to be the same as in Europe where they are not seen as criminals.
The British however refute this and view them as traitors and hence worst than criminals.
The British crowd many POWs in old warships where circumstances quickly deteriorate.
The Continental Congress sends supplies for POWs but the British divert them to war usage.
What is the right of habeas corpus?
In 1777 Parliament suspends this right for people engaged in treason in the colonies?
The American treatment of POWs is comparatively very good and many are allowed significant freedoms while being well-supplied for.
Prisoner exchanges do occur throughout the war.
All in all 15,000 are held captive by the British and 2/3 die.
This is higher than the number of casualties during the war which was 5,000.
The British treatment of POWs caused many neutrals to rethink their positions.
Prisoners of War
By 1776, 1/5 of colonists are loyal and 2/5 are neutral.
The loyalists often come from the elite classes with closer ties to Britain.
They largely fear democratic tyranny of the masses, public disorder, etc.
They prefer aristocratic monarchical system of governance for stability.
Most known loyalists, called Tories by the patriots, were royal officials.
Also many are merchants, lawyers, etc.
Many other groups are pro-British just because they were the less dominant group in their home regions.
Most Native American tribes are neutral but eventually favor the British.
Loyalism exists everywhere in the colonies though it is often silenced.
In many ways the revolutionary war is also a civil war.
The loyalists are most active between 1774-1776 when the nature of the conflict is still unsure.
During this period the loyalists often engage in written debates with the patriots.
In 1776 a group of loyalists in New York sign the 'Declaration of Dependence'.
The Loyalists
In June of 1775, the 2nd Continental Congress declares Loyalist to be traitors.
They pass laws authorizing punishments for various 'traitorous' crimes.
Sometimes extra-judicial actions occur to loyalists as well.
Large questions remain over what happens with loyalist property confiscated during the war and with the women associated with it.
There is a host of potential punishments for loyalism that proves to many loyalists of the truth of their fears of democratic tyranny.
"It is better to be ruled by one tyrant 3,000 miles away, or 3,000 tyrants one mile away?"
During the war 7,000-8,000 loyalists flee to England and 28,000 to Canada.
The British strategy depends on loyalists to hold territory they reconquer but the British are unable to protect them.
The British strategy has difficulties in good measure because they cannot rectify this issue.
Who is a traitor?
The war is very expensive so the Continental Congress begins to print lots of money.
What problems does the Continental Dollar have?
States are also printing their own money.
As the currency becomes unstable, government bonds and land grants are used as money too which likewise depreciate over time.
The issues with currency are very demoralizing to the population.
Attempts to fix prices just causes further issues.
Debt becomes advantageous to have.
Black markets begin to spring up everywhere.
British goods are more openly traded as a result of these issues.
Financial Instability and Corruption
General Burgoyne has 9,200 men in Canada and starts to march to Albany.
He is forced to travel with extensive supplies as well.
He takes Fort Ticonderoga without a struggle.
After a slow march south taking over a month his supply lines begin to be overly stretched out.
In theory, Howe in New York City should have marched north to meet Burgoyne but instead he launches a surprise attack on Philadelphia.
Burgoyne has misguided hopes for support from Native American and loyalist groups along the way.
His potential allies are defeated in a small but complex engagement.
As a result the British are stuck isolated in Saratoga with supplies rapidly dwindling.
Burgoyne's Army and the Battle of Saratoga
The Americans under General Horatio Gates arrive and attack the British multiple times.
The British win these first battles but ultimately are forced to surrender on October 17, 1777.
This is the first major American victory of the war and a huge moral boost.
Howe does however capture Philadelphia and the British propose a negotiated end to the war without full independence which is rejected by the Continental Congress.
The Continental Army still has major difficulties and its winter quarters at Valley Forge sees many die and many desert over the harsh winter.
Also significant issues with military supplies exist due to war profiteering.
The war essentially pauses between late 1777 to mid 1778 on the Atlantic coast though conflict in the Ohio valley deepens.
Most Native American tribes are fighting solely for continued freedom though they see that their interests are better served with the British.
In upstate New York whole tribal villages are destroyed and their inhabitants forced to flee to British forts in the region.
Almost all the Ohio Valley Native Americans, 150,000 in total, side with the British.
Those that initially side with the Americans mostly switched by war's end.
Why do most tribes side with the British?
In the South, many Cherokee villages are likewise destroyed and their inhabitants pushed out.
George Rogers Clark leads an army that takes over the British forts in the Northwest and his barbaric actions terrify both the Native Americans and the British.
Ultimately there is no good strategy for Native American tribes during the war.
The War in the West: Indian Country
Alone the Americans cannot defeat the British.
Furthermore Native American alliances further increase the odds against them.
The Battle of Saratoga convinces the French that the nation is viable.
In February 1778, a formal alliance is reached promising significant military support.
The French navy is the most important component of this assistance.
Why were the French reluctant at first to support the Americans?
Why did France ultimately join the war?
French support materializes slowly throughout 1778 and 1779 causing many Americans to complain.
The French Alliance
How is the new strategy different than the old one?
In the South the British seek to rely on the slaves and the non-slave holding whites.
Georgia falls quickly in December of 1778 and the colony is quickly reorganized.
Washington is still far away outside NYC guarding against General Henry Clinton.
The Americans try to defend Charleston but are badly defeated and South Carolina is reconquered.
Slaves start to flock to the British army, what do they do with them?
General Charles Cornwallis is given authority in the South with 4,000 troops to continue its pacification.
By mid-1780 South Carolina is firmly under British military rule.
The British start to reconstruct the loyalist base of the colony similarly to in Georgia.
The Americans try again to counter British moves in the region and at the Battle of Camden General Gates is heavily defeated with only 700 of his 3,000 troops left.
American prospects for victory are at a low point again.
Georgia and South Carolina
British plans are successful in part due to information from American General Benedict Arnold.
He was a good commander but feels cheated by the Continental Congress and in late 1779 starts to work for the British.
He is in command of West Point and attempts to turn it over to the British giving them command of the Hudson.
Ultimately his plan is discovered and he is forced to flee into exile.
Treason and Guerrilla Warfare
Great issues over treason in American society but also inspires a new burst of patriotism.
Between Arnold's treason and the defeat at Camden a new resistance movement starts up in western South Carolina.
The backcountry of the South soon becomes areas of deadly guerrilla warfare.
In SC alone over 6,000 guerrillas prevent loyalist control from cementing over the colony again.
In this theater, the rules of war are neglected by the partisans.
The British strategy depended on loyalists to hold reconquered territories but again this is not possible here either.
General Cornwallis ultimately invades North Carolina not as a show of strength but rather to attempt to stop the flow of arms to the rebels in SC.
While he is gone the loyalist troops of SC are slaughtered at the Battle of King's Mountain.
It is clear that Britain now cannot even hold two of the thirteen colonies.
Cornwallis moves on to Yorktown, VA where he waits for reinforcements from NYC.
For the Americans this is the point that the French alliance firmly enters into play.
A large French expeditionary force arrives in Rhode Island in mid-1780 along with a naval squadron.
The French fleet takes off to the Chesapeake Bay and prevents the British Fleet from being able to resupply Cornwallis.
After a five day naval battle the French are completely in control of the coast of VA.
A joint Franco-American army of 16,000 trap Cornwallis' army of 7,500 in Yorktown.
Supplies begin to run low and disease starts to ravish Cornwallis' force.
After a twelve day siege he concedes defeat and surrenders on October 19, 1781.
The Southern Strategy has thus failed and all major military operations in the war have come to a halt.
The war last another two years as skirmishes occur but a peace treaty is being discussed.
The British still hold New York, Charleston, and Savannah but the Continental Army is waiting outside NYC.
The Treaty of Paris is signed on September 3, 1783 marking the end of the war.
The ten articles of the treaty make peace between the US and Britain with side treaties including the other European powers.
In the treaty Britain acknowledges American independence with a boundary at the Mississippi.
Also all British troops are to be withdrawn and all debts are still valid and to be collected.
The British are supposed to not withdraw slaves either.
The Losers and the Winners
The British ultimately do not follow all the provisos of the treaty 100% such as the withdraw from all US territory and the return of all slaves.
Most colonists with the win during the war but the loyalists and the slaves will suffer and some will be exiled.
Questions remain as to what would have happened with the slaves in the South had the British won the war.
Similarly to the Seven Years' War, Native Americans are completely neglected by the Treaty of Paris.
Open conflicts with Native American tribes with the Americans would continue in many cases up until 1795 or even until 1813.
The British in the end evacuate the last American cities in late 1783 and the war is over with independence achieved.
Why were the British convinced they would win the war, what advantage did they have?
Why did Britain lose the war?
The abdication of royal authority allowed the rebels to take over the reigns of government.
Supply difficulties and a reluctance to pillage the country also undermined efforts.
There was a lack of support for loyalists which was necessary for their plans to succeed.
Multiple and extensive foreign intervention, mainly French, also turned the tide of the conflict.
In the end the war lasts for six years and two more of negotiations and effects everyone in the former colonies.
The issues and the language used to justify independence becomes important for the structure of the new state and would eventually be used by other groups in ways unintended by the founding fathers.
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