United States History I & II
United States History I & II

United States History I & II

Lead Author(s): Sara Eskridge

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Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed

Norton

Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition

MacMillan

Roark, Johnson, Furstenberg, Stage, and Igo, The American Promise, 2 Volumes, 8th Edition

Pearson

Keene, Cornell, and O’Donnell, Visions of America, 2013

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Average price of textbook across most common format

Up to 40-60% more affordable

Lifetime access on any device

$63.90

Hardcover print text only

$87.99

Per volume

$79.60

Digital only

Always up-to-date content, constantly revised by community of professors

Constantly revised and updated by a community of professors with the latest content

In-Book Interactivity

Includes embedded multi-media files and integrated software to enhance visual presentation of concepts directly in textbook

Only available with supplementary resources at additional cost

Only available with supplementary resources at additional cost

Only available with supplementary resources at additional cost

Customizable

Ability to revise, adjust and adapt content to meet needs of course and instructor

All-in-one Platform

Access to additional questions, test banks, and slides available within one platform

Pricing

Average price of textbook across most common format

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed

Up to 40-60% more affordable

Lifetime access on any device

Norton

Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition

$63.90

Hardcover print text only

MacMillan

Roark, Johnson, Furstenberg, Stage, and Igo, The American Promise, 2 Volumes, 8th Edition

$87.99

Per volume

Pearson

Keene, Cornell, and O’Donnell, Visions of America, 2013

$79.60

Digital only

Always up-to-date content, constantly revised by community of professors

Content meets standard for Introduction to Anatomy & Physiology course, and is updated with the latest content

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed

Norton

Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition

MacMillan

Case, Fair, Oster, The American Promise, 2 Volumes

McGraw-Hill

McConnell et al., Visions of America, 2nd Edition

In-book Interactivity

Includes embedded multi-media files and integrated software to enhance visual presentation of concepts directly in textbook

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed

Norton

Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition

MacMillan

Case, Fair, Oster, The American Promise, 2 Volumes

McGraw-Hill

McConnell et al., Visions of America, 2nd Edition

Customizable

Ability to revise, adjust and adapt content to meet needs of course and instructor

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed

Norton

Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition

MacMillan

Case, Fair, Oster, The American Promise, 2 Volumes

McGraw-Hill

McConnell et al., Visions of America, 2nd Edition

All-in-one Platform

Access to additional questions, test banks, and slides available within one platform

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed

Norton

Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition

MacMillan

Case, Fair, Oster, The American Promise, 2 Volumes

McGraw-Hill

McConnell et al., Visions of America, 2nd Edition

About this textbook

Lead Authors

Sara Eskridge, Ph.DRandolph-Macon College, VA

Dr. Eskridge is a Professor of History at Western Governors University. She specializes in Civil Rights, Cold War, Southern, and Cultural History. She is the author of Rube Tube: CBS as Rural Comedy in the Sixties (University of Missouri Press, 2019) as well as several articles and book chapters on southern mediated images during the Civil Rights Movement and the Cold War.

Contributing Authors

Andrew WegmannLoyola University

Michael CarverCalifornia Polytechnic State University

Michael FrawleyUniversity of Texas of the Permian Basin

Linda ClemmonsIllinois State University

Angela HessCameron University

Sam NelsonRidgewater College

Volker JanssenCalifornia State University

Lance JandaCameron University

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Chapter 6: American Revolution


Chapter Overview

In the wake of their stirring Declaration of Independence, the American colonies faced the formidable task of turning the parchment proclamation into actual fact. Standing in their way was Great Britain, the military superpower of the age. Outgunned and outmanned, it appeared that the colonists had no chance of winning their war for independence. Complicating matters even further, the colonists contended with the presence of loyalists, fellow citizens who were still loyal to Britain and King George III—in effect, enemies within their midst. Following early decisive victories, British generals offered several peace overtures, each of which was refused. The colonists, however, possessed some strategic advantages. The British had to supply their troops from thousands of miles away, and across an ocean that took 6-10 weeks to cross. Eventually, too, the colonists received military aid from Great Britain’s chief rival, France. As the war dragged on, taxes were raised and British casualties mounted. Support for the war effort deteriorated on the British home front. In the end, despite a losing record on the battlefield, the colonists emerged triumphant.

The story of the American Revolution is a complex mix of colonial perseverance, British political and strategic mistakes, the courageous determination of thousands of nameless soldiers, and the leadership of George Washington. When the fighting began in earnest in the late summer of 1776, the colonists faced a daunting foe. The course of the war over the next seven years tested the commitment of even the most ardent patriot.

In the end, the American Revolution was not just a war for political independence, but a war that ushered in revolutionary social changes as well. New ways of thinking about gender, race, religion, and class began with the War for Independence and have reverberated through each age of the American experiment.

Chapter Objectives

  • Understand the military and strategic advantages and disadvantages for the colonists and Great Britain
  • Trace and explain the military history of the Revolutionary War
  • Understand the significance of the loyalists, the French, and George Washington, respectively, in determining the outcome of the war
  • Explain the political and social changes that resulted from the American Revolution


George Washington

It is fitting that the story of the American Revolution begins with George Washington. It fell to Washington to hold the cause for independence together on the battlefield as well as in the hearts and minds of Americans. Chosen in part because he was from Virginia, the most populous and wealthy American colony at the time, and in part to dispel the British assumption that the “rebellion” was strictly a Massachusetts problem, Washington embraced his role as commander-in-chief with a prescient sense of destiny for America’s future.

Spotlight on Primary Source

Examine the portraits of George Washington and King George III (Figures 6.1 and 6.2).

Figure 6.1: By virtue of his extraordinary leadership, George Washington embodied the spirit of the American Revolution. [1]​​


Figure 6.2: Portrait of King George III [2]​


Question 6.01

6.01 - Level 4

How are the portraits of George Washington and King George III similar? How are they different?

Click here to see the answer to Question 6.01.

Next, watch the short video here that describes the painting of George Washington in more detail. 

Question 6.02

6.02 - Level 4

Given the notable differences between the two portraits, what symbols reflect an "American identity" in the portrait of Washington specifically? What did Washington symbolize to Europeans?

Click here to see the answer to Question 6.02.


By the summer of 1776, Washington had already commanded the Continental Army for a year. He faced three challenges. The first and most formidable test was how to defeat the strongest military in the world. Washington believed that to be viewed as a credible fighting force, he had to wage war in a traditional European manner. However, without a trained army that matched British professionalism and experience, he learned that such a strategy was a losing proposition. Washington soon realized the importance of simply keeping his army in the field. To his credit, Washington adapted his command to the conditions and practicalities of the military situation.

His second problem went hand-in-hand with the first: how to forge a national army out of citizen-soldiers from three very different regions, all of which contained a large number of people who remained loyal to England. At this point in history, it is more accurate to call the nascent United States of America the Independent States of America. New Englanders viewed southerners more as foreigners than as countrymen, and the Southern feeling toward northerners was no different. Each colony’s allegiance was to itself alone. Most citizens referred to their colony as their country. Creating a cohesive army of Americans was one of Washington’s most undervalued military accomplishments.

The third difficulty Washington confronted was a tactical issue related to the two groups of soldiers under his command. The colonial militias represented one contingent. Each of the colonies contributed soldiers through their respective militias, voluntary citizen-soldier brigades akin to today’s National Guard. All able-bodied men aged 16-45, or in some cases, up to 60 years old, were required to keep a musket, bullets, and powder at the ready. Their original purpose was largely to defend against foreign aggressors, most prominently Native American tribes. Militia training was infrequent and not based on regular British army standards. When called upon, their role in the Revolutionary War was to support the Continental Army. These units, however, were separate from the regular army that Washington commanded.

The Continental Army, by contrast, was intended to embody the well-trained professional soldier. Unlike militia volunteers, who served at will, army soldiers enlisted for a tour of duty. Washington’s frustration with his own army and the militias reached a fever pitch on several occasions. But in yet another characteristic display of adaptation to his circumstances, Washington remained loyal to his men, a fact not lost on any of them, especially in the darkest days of the war.

The relationship between the Continental Army and the militias was a complex one that evolved from suspicion and even disregard to mutual respect. The militias represented an adjunct fighting force that enhanced the Continentals’ battlefield options when harnessed effectively. Despite several battlefield failures involving the militias, Washington and his other commanders eventually learned how to deploy them to the greatest tactical advantage. The militias alone could not have won the war, but at the same time, the Continental Army could not have won the war without the militias.

In sum, Washington’s overall challenge was to leverage the abstract cause of liberty into concrete results; namely, soldier recruitment, broad support for the war effort, and ultimately, victory. This may have been his greatest achievement, especially considering the meager support he received from the Continental Congress and how often his army fared badly on the battlefield against the British.

Question 6.03

6.03 - Level 2

Identify three of the challenges that Washington faced in fighting the Revolutionary War

Click here to see the answer to Question 6.03.

Militaries and Strategies

Great Britain possessed several advantages over the colonial rebels. First, its population numbered 11 million compared to the 2.5 million colonists, one-third of whom were either slaves or people who remained loyal to England. Second, the British enjoyed a vastly superior military. Its army was as well-trained as any in the world, and its navy equally powerful. By contrast, in the early stages of the war the Continental Army, supplemented with state militia volunteers, was woefully undermanned and lacked training in European warfare. Additionally, the colonies possessed no navy. Finally, the productive capacity of the British economy meant that they had plentiful access to the resources necessary to wage war. By contrast, George Washington suffered from irregular and unreliable congressional support for the war effort. A full-fledged government under the Articles of Confederation was not in place until 1781. From a strictly resource and military point of view, it appeared that the American independence fighters stood no chance against the mighty British.

The British believed that the Americans would give up after a decisive defeat. The presence of the loyalists and other colonists perceived as neutrals, waiting to see who would emerge victorious before committing to one side or the other, also worked in Britain’s favor. As much as one-third of the American population fell into this camp. Finally, destroying the Continental Army and occupying major colonial cities, like New York and Philadelphia, was considered a sure path to surrender negotiations.

Such calculations, however, did not take into account several advantages the colonists enjoyed, a number of which proved decisive in the end. Although its population was less than a quarter of Great Britain’s, the Americans were able to mobilize a far greater number of troops (Figure 6.3). By the end of the war, 220,000 Americans served in the war effort compared to 160,000 in the British army—which included 30,000 German mercenaries, known as Hessians, and another 20,000 loyalists. Supplying the troops became an intractable issue for the British as the war progressed. Food and military provisions had to be shipped across the Atlantic Ocean, a journey of 6-10 weeks, and then distributed to the various theaters of action, creating an ongoing logistical challenge. Most importantly, the costs associated with providing for the British military represented a significant drain on the British treasury and, by extension, on the British taxpayer. Finally, the Americans were fighting for a cause—their independence and liberty. The British, by contrast, were fighting for a less compelling motivation—maintenance of the status quo.

Washington’s strategy was dictated by the nature of his military circumstances and the domestic context. Acknowledging that he faced long military odds, Washington avoided battles of attrition. Well-chosen engagements that did not put the Continental Army at risk were the paramount strategic considerations. Washington eventually understood that the war was not about how many battles the British won or how much colonial territory they occupied. Rather, as long as the Continental Army survived, the cause of independence endured. Furthermore, the longer that the British army was compelled to live off the land and the possessions of the colonists, the greater the likelihood that they would alienate potential allies, turning erstwhile neutrals into patriot supporters.

The most important element of Washington’s strategy mirrored the desire to maintain the Continental Army. It rested on stretching out the war for as long as possible. A protracted war that frustrated the British population would lead to a political settlement. As long as the colonial armies won enough battles to extend the war, Washington believed that the British would eventually give up the fight, out of military frustration, economic cost, or both.

​Figure 6.3: Recruitment for service in the Continental Army was an ongoing concern for George Washington. How did this recruitment poster persuade men to enlist? [3]

Question 6.04

6.04 - Level 4

Discuss at least three of the military strengths and weaknesses of the British and the colonists. How did these factors contribute to each side’s respective military strategies?

Click here to see the answer to Question 6.04.

6.05 - Level 1

Which of the following military advantages did the British enjoy over the rebelling American colonies?

A

A better trained army

B

A larger army

C

Superior naval forces

D

More capable military leadership

E

Greater access to resources


Loyalists

Colonists who remained loyal to Great Britain and King George III were known as loyalists. They comprised about 20% of the colonial population, and their presence was problematic for the patriot cause. Not only were the patriots—commonly referred to as Whigs—fighting the British, but they also had to contend with sometimes unknown enemies within their midst. Whigs referred to the loyalist enemies as “Tories.” Tensions between Whig revolutionaries and loyalist Tories led to some of the most gruesome atrocities of the war (Figure 6.4). Both sides were guilty of violating common standards of 18th century warfare that prohibited civilians from being subject to combatant hostilities. This part of the conflict is accurately identified as America’s first civil war, since it involved Americans at war with other Americans.

​Figure 6.4: The Indians depicted in the cartoon represent patriots, not any native people. It was common during the revolutionary era to portray rebel colonists as Native Americans. [4]

Question 6.06

6.06 - Level 4

What does this broadside portray? How is it misleading to modern eyes?

Click here to see the answer to Question 6.06.

6.07 - Level 3

Click on one of the figures in this drawing that would best be described as a “Whig.”


6.08 - Level 3

Approximately how many American colonists remained loyal to Great Britain during the Revolutionary War?


The presence of loyalist strongholds was determined by two factors. First, loyalist sympathies were limited where elite Whig leaders engaged in propaganda campaigns to persuade the masses of the rightness of the cause, as in much of New England. Where Whig leaders were less committed to independence, as in New York, loyalists represented the majority. Second, the strength of loyalist sentiment was correlated to how recently British immigrants had arrived from the motherland. Recent immigrants were more likely to have retained their British identity, whereas second generation and older immigrant families were more thoroughly Americanized.

In addition to white loyalists, patriots contended with two other internal opposition groups. With some exceptions, Native Americans supported the British. Initially, the war was viewed as a “white man’s” conflict and tribes remained neutral. However, because most encounters between Indian tribes and American colonists were less than amicable, especially west of the Appalachians where colonists ignored both tribal and treaty boundaries, the bad feelings between the groups led most tribes to side with the British.

The second group of internal opponents to independence were slaves. Except for runaway slaves who joined the Continental army, most slaves volunteered to fight with the British. The promise of freedom that would follow a British victory put the majority of slaves squarely in the British camp.  


6.09 - Level 1

Approximately how many Hessians served in the British army?


6.10 - Level 1

How many colonists and British soldiers served in their respective armies? Separate your answers with a comma


6.11 - Level 1

Approximately how many slaves were there in the 13 colonies in 1775?


6.12 - Level 2

Where did loyalists tend to live?

A

Coastal cities with relatively large populations

B

Areas where Whig leaders were not strongly committed to independence

C

Places where recent British immigrants lived


Question 6.13

6.13 - Level 5

How could revolutionary leaders have reasonably expected victory given that less than fifty percent of colonists supported independence during the first year of the war?

Click here to see the answer to Question 6.13.

6.14 - Level 2

Which of the following groups was a major ally of the Continental forces?

A

Native Americans

B

Slaves

C

Recent British immigrants

D

None of the above


6.15 - Level 3

You are a loyalist who lives in rural Pennsylvania. You want to move to the northeastern city where you can find the most ideologically likeminded people. Click on the state on the map where you should go.


The First Year

Following the Battle of Bunker Hill in June 1775, a stalemate ensued over the fate of Boston, lasting for nine months. In March 1776, the British abandoned Boston and began preparations for an invasion of New York. This was mainly due to the arrival of Henry Knox, who brought with him 59 cannon captured from Fort Ticonderoga, in upstate New York, a trek of over 200 miles through mountainous terrain. Knox and Washington set up the artillery overlooking British positions. Knox’s initiative and determination in supporting the patriot cause quickly won him Washington’s favor. After the war, Knox would become the first Secretary of War under President Washington.

The commander of the British land forces, General William Howe, was joined by his brother, Richard Howe, admiral of the British naval forces. After taking New York, their plan was to drive north along the Hudson River and link up with British forces coming south from Canada. By controlling the Hudson, the British goal was to isolate New England and eventually force its surrender (Figure 6.5).

Figure 6.5: Map of Northern Theatre

With the British departure from Boston, Washington moved the Continental Army to New York and prepared for its defense. Fortifications were built or reinforced in Manhattan, along the East River, at Brooklyn Heights, and throughout New York City. Meanwhile, over the summer of 1776, the British invasion force gathered at Staten Island. It was an awesome display of men and materiel: 30,000 soldiers, an additional 10,000 sailors manning 30 battleships equipped with 1200 cannons, all supported by 300 supply ships. The armada represented the largest seaborne invasion force ever assembled and was not exceeded until the 20th century.

In a minor display of firepower, two British battleships proceeded up the Hudson, firing at will. Anticipating that the Americans would be cowed by this exhibition of force, the British sent an envoy to General Washington, proposing peace terms. Washington coolly rebuffed the offer. Despite his confident rejoinder, Washington knew that to defend the island of Manhattan without a navy was a nearly impossible task. He stationed 10,000 soldiers of his 18,000-man army on Long Island and waited for the British to attack.

The British offensive commenced on August 27. British and Hessian soldiers initially failed to dislodge the colonists from their position on the Brooklyn Heights, but then the British discovered an unguarded flank through an opening called the Jamaica Pass. General Howe left 5,000 men to occupy the frontline colonists and diverted his remaining 10,000 soldiers through the pass, where they were able to get behind the colonists. The Continental Army, not knowing where to fight the enemy, broke and ran. It appeared that the British were poised to achieve the decisive blow that they anticipated would bring about a swift end to the hostilities.

Having suffered over 1,400 casualties compared to fewer than 400 for the British, Washington immediately grasped the gravity of the situation and ordered a night retreat. Under cover of darkness, rain, and fog, the remaining Continental army of 9,000 men and its artillery was ferried to Manhattan on a ragtag flotilla, including rowboats manned by fishermen (Figure 6.6). As this was the first significant military engagement after the Declaration of Independence, it was not a promising start for the newly “independent” nation.

Figure 6.6: Retreating from a battle is usually considered evidence of a lost cause. But for Washington, retreat was a tactic that supported the overall strategy of maintaining the Continental Army and protracting the war.​ [5]​


In this first major battle of the war in 1776, Washington displayed the cool resolve that characterized his leadership. Although the evacuation may have looked bad militarily, it was a decision that matched the strategy of keeping the Continental Army intact at all costs. In a symbolic act of leadership that further distinguished his command, the last man to board a boat in retreat was Washington himself.

The Battle of Long Island also revealed for the first time British General Howe’s indecisiveness, a flaw that benefited Washington several times over the course of the war (Figure 6.7). Howe’s failure to press the significant military advantage his army had earned, despite the urgings of his staff, essentially allowed Washington to escape and prepare to fight another day. Howe was a captive of the 18th century style of honorable warfare in which the enemy, when in a seemingly hopeless position, was given every opportunity to surrender. Had he pressed Washington, the British could have easily routed the rebel army and achieved a significant victory, possibly even ending the rebellion. It was a mistake that Howe repeated on several other occasions. At the same time, Washington’s luck and decisiveness confounded the British and allowed him to preserve the Continental Army.

Figure 6.7: General William Howe, commander-in-chief of the British forces, was criticized for his failure to destroy Washington’s Continental Army when he had several chances to do so.​ [6]

With his army in retreat, Washington further realized that until he was able to muster a trained army, his tactics would have to change. He reluctantly but wisely chose a hit and run strategy. The goal was to stay one step—literally one day—ahead of the pursuing British army. Such tactics had the dual benefits of frustrating the British and preserving the Continental army.

The military situation in New York City, however, remained problematic. The Continental Congress, cognizant of the symbolic importance of New York and confident that it could be recaptured, communicated their hope to General Washington that the city be spared destruction. With winter approaching, Washington realized that the British planned to make New York their winter billet. Considering that the city was also a Loyalist stronghold, Washington believed that the sound military tactic was to burn the city. This instance illustrates one of the many constraints General Washington operated under while acceding to the civilian leadership of the Continental Congress.

Whether attributable to enterprising soldiers or civilians, Washington’s wish came true. On September 20, the city was set ablaze. Before the British could control the conflagration, one-quarter of the city lay in ruins (Figure 6.8). Among the captured arsonists acting of their own accord was Nathan Hale, who just days earlier had volunteered to serve as a spy. At his execution, Hale uttered one of the most famous lines of rebel defiance: “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”

Figure 6.8: Burning New York City, though it would seem contradictory to the patriot cause, was a tactical measure designed to deprive the British of at least some of the city that served as their 1776-77 winter quarters. [7]

When General Howe resumed the offensive in October, Washington split his forces, sending 2,000 men to Fort Washington on the New York side of the Hudson and a similar force to Fort Lee on the New Jersey side of the river. Washington led the remainder of his army north to a location near present-day White Plains. Once again, the British smashed the Continental Army, and once again General Howe failed to finish the job. His hesitancy allowed Washington to regroup.

Howe succeeded, however, in capturing the fort, along with its 3,000 men, muskets, supplies, and cannon. For the Continental Army, neither men nor materiel were easily replaced, especially considering that war supplies were all manufactured in England. Confronted with militias abandoning the cause wholesale and carping field generals, Washington’s situation had grown more desperate. By early December, and following the abandonment of Fort Lee, Washington was in full retreat, moving the remains of his army into New Jersey. The situation was further exacerbated by the fact that enlistments were set to expire at the end of the month. Washington knew he needed a victory to keep the cause for independence alive.

Spotlight on Primary Source

Echoing the sentiments in his earlier Common Sense, Thomas Paine again took up his quill to address the crisis that Washington faced in The American Crisis (Figure 6.9).

These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to tax) but "to bind us in all cases whatsoever," and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God.

Question 6.16

6.16 - Level 3

What did Thomas Paine mean by “the American crisis”?

Click here to see the answer to Question 6.16.

Figure 6.9: Thomas Paine, just as he did by authoring Common Sense at a crucial moment in 1776, demonstrated his skill in rallying public support for the cause of independence with his pamphlet, The American Crisis. [8]​



In a masterstroke of daring, Washington planned a Christmas night raid on the Hessian encampment in Trenton. The password for the mission—Victory or Death—well described the stakes of the endeavor. Crossing the icy Delaware River with 2,400 men, Washington’s surprise attack on the morning of the 26th resulted in the killing, wounding, or capture of nearly a thousand Hessians (Figure 6.10). At last, General Washington could claim victory.

Figure 6.10: George Washington crossing the Delaware River on Christmas Day, 1776, to attack a Hessian encampment in Trenton, New Jersey was immortalized in this painting by Emmanuel Leutze. Though inaccurate in many details, it captures the heroic struggle that Washington led.​ [9]

The final battle of significance before both sides settled in for the winter occurred just a week later, at Princeton, New Jersey. Under the ruse of all night fires and a small garrison of men pretending to dig earthworks, Washington once again moved his men under cover of darkness, catching the British forces completely by surprise. This second minor victory—400 British soldiers killed or captured out of a force of 1,200—demonstrated that when the opportunity arose, Washington could successfully stage an offensive strike.

The psychological impact of Trenton and Princeton was inestimable. Nothing had gone well for the Americans in the first year of the war, but when news of the two victories reached the greater population, hope was restored. The victories also had a salutary effect on reenlistments. Washington pleaded with his men to stay the course, for the cause was greater than any of them, including himself. Every able-bodied soldier who could reenlist did. Once again, Washington demonstrated his remarkable capacity to seize the moment and to lead.  

Question 6.17

6.17 - Level 3

Discuss the challenges George Washington faced in leading the War for Independence.

Cick here to see the answer to Question 6.17.


6.18 - Level 1

The commander-in-chief of the British army in 1776 was General ________.


Question 6.19

6.19 - Level 4

Why were the battles of Trenton and Princeton significant?

Click here to see the answer to Question 6.19.

6.20 - Level 3

Match the term with the word or phrase most closely associated with it.

Premise
Response
1

Nathan Hale

A

“I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”

2

Trenton

B

German mercenary soldiers

3

Hessians

C

New Jersey

4

Battle of Long Island

D

New York

E

Massachusetts

F

Thomas Jefferson

G

Whigs


Turning Point

Despite the victories at Trenton and Princeton, it was clear by late 1776 that the American crusade would falter, if not fail altogether, without aid and assistance from a foreign power. All manufactured goods were imported from Great Britain. Once the existing stocks of gunpowder, cartridges, cannon, and muskets was either used up or lost, there was no replacing them, hence the necessity of obtaining foreign support.

The nation most likely to provide that assistance was France, Great Britain’s archrival. Still smarting from the disastrous loss of territory and prestige following the French and Indian War, the Continental Congress hoped that France could be enticed to seek some measure of revenge. Congress pinned their hopes on 70-year old Benjamin Franklin, America’s most famous citizen. Sent to France as America’s envoy, his sole purpose was to persuade King Louis XVI that the American cause was worthy of support.

Departing from the normally staid and protocol-defined limitations placed on diplomats, Franklin skillfully played up the persona of the virtuous American republican. Wearing a coonskin cap to elite Paris balls, Franklin symbolized the new American (Figure 6.11). Despite his popularity, however, the French government stood firm. They wanted to see some evidence that the American experiment was viable. The decisive victory the Americans so desperately needed would occur in the fall of 1777.

Figure 6.11: Benjamin Franklin served as the American envoy to France. His mission was to secure diplomatic and military support. Franklin shrewdly wore a coonskin cap to capture the popular imagination of the French which in turn advanced his cause.​ [10]


6.21 - Level 1

Which country did the colonists hope would come to their aid against the British army?


6.22 - Level 2

Click on the article of clothing that Benjamin Franklin frequently wore to symbolize American identity while serving as an envoy in Paris.


As was the custom in 18th century warfare, both sides hunkered down for the winter months of 1776-77. While General Howe was enjoying the pleasures of New York City, Washington and the remains of his army—just 3,000 men—were encamped at Morristown, New Jersey.

Following the winter hiatus, the new British strategy involved a three-pronged attack converging on Albany. First, they began joint maneuvers with General Howe heading north from New York City along the Hudson River, General John Burgoyne moving south from Canada through Lakes Champlain and George, and Barry St. Leger driving east from Fort Oswego on Lake Ontario along the Mohawk River. The armies were to meet in Albany, effectively cutting off New England from the rest of the colonies. On paper, the strategy would force Washington to divide his depleted army into three smaller contingents, none of which were large enough to repulse the British armies.

Before Howe continued the Hudson campaign, however, he decided to open a second front. The objective was America’s capital city, Philadelphia. Leaving a skeleton force in New York City under the command of General Henry Clinton, Howe’s second questionable decision was the means he chose to move his army to Philadelphia. Rather than a shorter overland route, he had his army ferried south to Virginia and then returned north up the Chesapeake Bay. Despite the successful campaign—Philadelphia was captured in late September 1777—Howe wasted precious time, and to make matters worse, failed to communicate his plans to General Burgoyne. Fully expecting to meet up with Howe’s army, a force that presumably would have engaged the lion’s share of Washington’s army, Burgoyne’s smaller army found itself in an untenable military position.

General Burgoyne’s army, consisting of 9,500 British and Hessian troops, 2,000 camp followers (cooks, laundresses, officers’ wives, and children), and a supply train that stretched for a mile, left Canada in June. Sailing unencumbered down Lake Champlain, they reached Fort Ticonderoga, a key rebel stronghold at the southern tip of the lake, by early July. In a maneuver thought unachievable, Burgoyne ordered a detachment to ascend a nearby peak, Sugar Loaf, overlooking the fort. The colonial garrison occupying the fort woke up to find British cannon trained on them from the peak. The fort was quickly abandoned. The loss of Fort Ticonderoga dealt a significant blow to military and public morale.

Burgoyne was riding high from the victory at Ticonderoga, but a far greater challenge awaited: the American wilderness. Between Lake Champlain and the Hudson River lay a 23-mile gap of forest, swamps, bogs, hills, and ravines. The British army literally hacked their way through what for Europeans was a jungle, made more difficult by colonists felling trees in his army’s path. Over 40 bridges were built to traverse the swamps while the heat, humidity, and mosquitoes rattled even the most stalwart soldiers. The supply train of 30 cartloads of “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne’s personal possessions, including cases of champagne, further slowed their progress. It took a month for Burgoyne’s army to reach the Hudson (Figure 6.12).


Figure 6.12: British General John Burgoyne, also known as “Gentleman Johnny” for his lavish lifestyle during his 1777 campaign from Canada, suffered a bitter defeat at Saratoga, New York.​ [11]

Before proceeding on the next leg of the expedition to capture Albany, 100 miles to the south, Burgoyne had to wait for resupply. In desperate need of horses, he ordered a detachment of Hessians to nearby Bennington, Vermont where they expected to encounter friendly loyalists. Instead, they were repulsed by a combined force of Continentals and area militia units. Burgoyne lost a thousand men in the debacle as well as $10,000 in gold given to the Hessians to purchase horses and other supplies.

Undeterred by the recent communiqué from General Howe that he was on his way to Philadelphia, Burgoyne proceeded with the plan to conquer Albany. Within a month, he reached Saratoga, just 20 miles north of the objective.

Meanwhile, George Washington anxiously awaited word on General Howe’s movements. Thinking that Howe was going to meet Burgoyne, Washington was puzzled when Howe left New Jersey. Washington considered Howe’s army his main adversary, so he was anxious to learn what Howe was planning. After determining that Howe was ferrying his army to attack Philadelphia from the south, Washington began preparations for the defense of America’s capital.

The first battle of the campaign occurred in early September, at Brandywine Creek, 30 miles southwest of Philadelphia. Howe routed Washington’s force and inflicted twice as many casualties as the Americans. Washington, fearing the effect of news of another defeat, claimed otherwise. His staff had by now mastered the art of military disinformation. The Continentals also benefited from Howe’s failure to press the advantage, once again allowing Washington to regroup and preserve his army. Three weeks later at Germantown, Washington fell to yet another defeat. Desperate for a victory, Washington divided his army of about 10,000 men in an effort to outflank and trap Howe’s forces. Tragically, amidst a dense fog that enveloped the battlefield, confusion reigned and friendly fire took the lives of fellow rebel soldiers. Philadelphia was captured soon thereafter, with members of the Continental Congress fleeing for their lives.

Philadelphia was lost, but preserving the army was more important than maintaining the seat of the Continental government. It was a bitter pill for Washington to swallow. His critics, both inside the army and outside of it in Congress, lambasted Washington. But his resolve was unshaken, and the self-control he exhibited kept the cause of independence front and center rather than his own ambitions for glory.

Battle of Saratoga

The turning point of the Revolutionary War occurred in upstate New York at Saratoga, where General Burgoyne and his army were entrenched. With Washington shadowing Howe, General Horatio Gates assumed command of the northern half of the Continental Army. His army numbered 7,000 to Burgoyne’s 6,000-man force, reduced further from rampant illness to about 5,000 active service men. The initial fighting occurred on September 19 at a location named Freeman’s Farm. Thanks to the bold leadership of Benedict Arnold, the day’s fighting ended in a draw. Burgoyne dug in and waited for General Henry Clinton, Howe’s replacement, but Clinton’s progress was slow and Burgoyne, against the advice of his senior officers, chose to re-engage the rebels on October 7. Once again exhibiting bold, inspiring leadership, Arnold rallied the Continentals before being shot in the thigh. Within two days, Burgoyne was in full retreat. Surrounded, with no hope of resupply or of Clinton’s imminent arrival, Burgoyne was forced to accept surrender terms on October 17, 1777 (Figure 6.13).  


Figure 6.13: The victory at the Battle of Saratoga was the turning point of the war. [12]​


Two factors made the Battle of Saratoga a watershed event. First, the clash proved the worthiness of the Continental Army in matching the British army on the battlefield. Second, and of greater significance in the long term, the victory served as the springboard for French diplomatic recognition of the United States. It was the sign Benjamin Franklin and the French government had been waiting for, demonstrating that the Americans had a chance to defeat the British. French commitment to the American cause transformed the conflict in America into a world war, with Spain and the Dutch Republic joining the Franco-American coalition against Great Britain. For the Americans, it provided tangible hope of victory. With French military and economic aid, hopes for an end to the struggle soared. In June of 1778 the British sent a peace delegation to Philadelphia to negotiate an end to the war. The British offered to welcome America back into the Empire and rescind all British colonial policies since 1763. It was too late. Saratoga was a point of no return for the Continental Congress. 


6.23 - Level 2

Click on the location of the Battle of Saratoga.


Question 6.24

6.24 - Level 3

Why is the Battle of Saratoga considered the turning point of the war?

Click here to see the answer to Question 6.24.

Valley Forge

With the major battles of 1777 concluded by late fall, Washington and Howe’s armies settled in for the winter of 1777-78. The British, as they had the previous winter in New York, commandeered the city of Philadelphia. Washington, needing to remain vigilant of the enemy army, encamped 20 miles away at Valley Forge (Figure 6.14). The infamous association of Valley Forge with a winter of suffering for the Continental Army is justifiable. Soldiers endured abject hunger, inadequate clothing, and ramshackle shelter. The problem, however, was not in the availability of provisions or food stores—the fall harvest was among the richest in memory. Rather, it was the failure of the supply system, devised by the Continental Congress, to provide for the army. Washington was reduced to having his men build “Quaker Guns,” fake guns posted around the camp to dissuade a possible British attack. Washington’s army numbered about 17,000 troops upon entering Valley Forge. By the spring of 1778, desertions and deaths reduced his army to just over 5,000 men. William Howe could have easily destroyed Washington’s desperate army at Valley Forge but chose not to attack. For his multitude of failures, Howe was relieved of command.

Figure 6.14: There is no better example of General Washington’s frustration with the Continental Congress and its failure to supply his army with adequate provisions than the 1777-78 winter encampment at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. ​[13]


6.25 - Level 3

Click on the representations of Continental Army suffering in this rendition of Valley Forge.


6.26 - Level 1

In what year did the Battle of Saratoga occur?


6.27 - Level 1

Sort the battles below in chronological order.

A

Battle of Saratoga

B

Valley Forge

C

Fort Ticonderoga


Foreign Leadership

The only positive result to emerge from the trial of Valley Forge was a solution to the poor training Washington’s army had thus far received. The solution came in the form of a German military officer, Baron Friedrich von Steuben, who volunteered to support the colonial cause (Figure 6.15). Thoroughly acquainted with the training regimen of the Prussian army—arguably the ablest European soldiers—von Steuben transformed the Continental Army into the well-disciplined fighting unit that Washington had longed for since he first assumed command in 1775.

Figure 6.15: Baron von Steuben provided the Continental Army with the type of training it needed to fight the British army effectively. ​[14]

A second man who emerged from the crucible of Valley Forge would also play a major role in the remaining years of the war: a 19-year old French nobleman named the Marquis de Lafayette (Figure 6.16). His ties to the French nobility, his military contributions as an officer, especially at Yorktown, and his surrogate-son relationship to Washington all cemented Lafayette’s name in the annals of the American Revolution.

Figure 6.16: Only 19 years old, Marquis de Lafayette won over George Washington with his youthful enthusiasm, his willingness to share the hardships that his fellow soldiers endured, his unstinting belief in the American cause, and his adulation for Washington. [15]​


1778-1779

With news of the French alliance and the survival of the army’s Valley Forge trial, 1778 promised better fortunes for the rebel cause. When the British decided to abandon Philadelphia, the tide appeared to have turned. William Howe’s replacement, General Clinton, marched his army overland rather than return to New York the way he came via the Chesapeake Bay. It proved a costly mistake when, on June 28 at the Battle of Monmouth, New Jersey, the retreating British army was caught in a rear guard action. With the British in full retreat the next day, Washington could rightly claim victory.

The appearance of success, however, proved illusory. With French entry into the war, the British were more than ever compelled to press on. Moreover, French military power would not contribute significantly to the rebel effort until 1781. It was also at this point that the hidden enemy of the rebel cause emerged: money. Without the power to tax, the Continental Congress was captive of each state’s willingness to print money, and presumably tax its citizens to back the currency. Money was printed, but taxes were not imposed, so inflation was rampant.

The 1778-79 winter cantonment at Morristown, New Jersey highlighted the problematic situation. Washington and his men suffered through a worse winter than at Valley Forge. Pleading with Congress for food and clothing, Washington warned that the army was on the verge of collapse. The fact that the army was faced with such destitute circumstances in a country with plentiful food supplies was not lost on either Washington or his men. A thousand men deserted, 3,000 died of hunger or malnutrition-related causes, and the survivors carried a bitter chip on their shoulders.

6.28 - Level 2

Sort the following American victories in the Mid-Atlantic region in chronological order.

A

Battle of Saratoga

B

Battle of Princeton

C

Battle of Monmouth

D

Battle of Trenton


The War in the Frontier West

The military parley between Washington and Howe, and later Clinton, obscured a second theater of the war waged simultaneously with the main arenas of action in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. A series of vicious battles in the western frontier had little impact on the eventual outcome of the war, but it did portend a future United States that would stretch to the Mississippi River. White settlers had steadily moved west of the Appalachians, into the Ohio Valley, as far north as Detroit, and into the western regions of the southern colonies. Everywhere west of the Appalachians, American settlers invaded tribal lands. Colonial arrogance, coupled with the British ability to offer more trade goods than the rebels, made it easier for the British to recruit native allies.

Frontier fighting was among the most savage in the war. Both sides committed atrocities that inspired repeated acts of vengeance. In the summer of 1778, a combined force of Iroquois and loyalists rampaged through the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania. Two-thirds of the patriot defenders were scalped and 1,000 homes laid to waste. In November, Cherry Valley in upstate New York suffered a similar fate. Led by the Mohawk warrior Joseph Brant (Chief Joseph), the 700-strong force of loyalists and Mohawks slaughtered men in their beds and murdered over 30 civilians. The 1778 attacks resulted in terror-stricken settlers abandoning their homes to seek shelter at forts, or in towns like Albany.

After the winter interlude of 1778-79, Washington ordered a punitive expedition against the Iroquois. In May, 1779 under the command of General John Sullivan, 2,500 Continentals joined by 1,500 New York militia cut a swath of destruction through the heart of the Confederacy. Iroquois villages were burned and food stores pillaged. Surviving Iroquois fled to Canada where, without food, hundreds succumbed to starvation during the harsh winter that followed. The Iroquois Nation never recovered.

Over the course of the next two years, Brant’s Mohawk warriors waged a campaign of reprisals throughout the New York and Pennsylvania frontiers. The bloodletting included attacks on the Tuscaroras and Oneidas, the only tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy that sided with the American rebels.

The story in the Ohio Valley was much the same as in rural New York and Pennsylvania. In western Kentucky, famed frontiersman Daniel Boone and his family were ambushed repeatedly. His 14-year old daughter, Jemima, and two friends were kidnapped, but resourcefully delayed their captors until her father rescued them. Boone and less than 50 men, women, and children held off 400 Cherokee and Shawnee raiders at Boonesborough. The Indians failed to drive out the white settlers.

In 1778, 26-year old Colonel George Rogers Clark led the rebel response aimed at ending British control of the Ohio Valley. With knowledge of the Franco-American alliance in hand, Clark first established a buffer of French settlements in Indiana and Illinois.The British commander in Detroit, Henry Hamilton, led a contingent of 500 British regular and Indian allies to root out the rebel force. After successfully wresting control of Vincennes, Indiana in December, Hamilton assumed that the fighting was over for the winter. The audacious Clark, however, had other ideas. Slogging through snowdrifts and flooding rivers, Clark and his small band arrived at Vincennes in February 1779. In a display intended to strike terror in the equally meager British force, Clark brutally executed five Indian captives in full view of the fort’s inhabitants, proclaiming that the British would suffer the same fate. Hamilton surrendered the fort without a fight.

The western regions of Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia had been occupied by the Cherokee for centuries. Steady encroachment into their lands by white settlers divided Cherokee elders from young warriors like Dragging Canoe. He refused to accede to questionable treaties and peace overtures, which he deemed acts of appeasement. Dragging Canoe and his supporters were unable to hold off militia units that routed Cherokee resistance in 1776 and 1778 and burned their capital city, Chota, in 1780. These frontier engagements left the Cherokee divided and in chaos.

In the end, though western Indian tribes won several small skirmishes, they inevitably suffered defeat when facing off against a full contingent of Continental Army and militia units. American victories foreshadowed a grim post-Revolution future for the Indian tribes living west of the Appalachians. The Iroquois Confederacy population was reduced by a third, while it is estimated the Cherokee shrank by 10,000 people. Territorial losses numbered millions of acres. Internecine wars weakened tribal unity, exacerbating an already dire situation. The post-revolution world of American ascendancy exploited those fractures. In short, the American Revolution was an unmitigated disaster for Native American tribes. 

Question 6.29

6.29 - Level 3

Give three specific examples of the impact of the fighting in the frontier west on Native American tribes who lived there.

Click here to see the answer to Question 6.29.

6.30 - Level 1

Which famous Indian chief fought against the colonists on the western frontier?

A

Chief Blackhawk

B

Chief Joseph

C

Red Jacket

D

Sitting Bull


The War in the South

Washington and his army continued to observe Gen. Henry Clinton’s forces, which were entrenched in New York City and protected by the Royal Navy in New York Harbor. The locus of military action shifted to the southern colonies of Georgia, North and South Carolina, and Virginia. The new British strategy, dictated in part by the failure to end the war by subjugation of the north, was premised on a critical assumption. By conquering the South, the British believed that the Middle Colonies and New England would recognize the futility of holding out and either succumb militarily or agree to peace terms. In addition, from a tactical perspective, by controlling port cities up and down the coast, British commanders could coordinate troop movements unobstructed by rebel forces (Figure 6.17).

Figure 6.17: The war in the southern colonies affirmed the colonists’ military strategy of engaging the British on its own terms, then retreating. This strategy succeeded in frustrating the British commander, Charles Cornwallis, and ultimately forced him to encamp his army at Yorktown.

The campaign began promisingly. In late 1778, General Clinton sent a 3,500-man force to capture Savannah, Georgia. It fell virtually unchallenged and from there, British troops fanned out and pacified the rest of Georgia. Next in line was South Carolina.

Leaving 10,000 troops in New York, Clinton sailed for Charleston at the end of 1779. Making landfall by February 1780, Clinton and his army of 9,000 besieged the city. On May 12, American General Benjamin Lincoln surrendered, losing 5,500 men, including 2,500 Continentals. Washington could ill afford such losses.

A triumphant Clinton returned to New York, leaving two-thirds of his men and the next phase of southern operations to Lord Charles Cornwallis (Figure 6.18). His task was to take the fight to South Carolina’s interior, where it was believed loyalists would rise up in support of their British liberators and then march north through North Carolina and Virginia. What he found instead was a seething civil war between loyalists and Whigs.

​Figure 6.18: British General Lord Charles Cornwallis was given the task of subduing the Carolinas and Virginia in the southern campaign of 1780-81. [16]

There were two dimensions to the war in the southern colonies. The first was the headline battles, in which the two main armies faced off against each other with the future of the American independence at stake. The second was a partisan struggle involving guerrilla bands of patriots waging war on bands of loyalists. In this case, however, the stakes were personal, not political. Acts of savagery and vengeance ebbed back and forth in the backwaters of Georgia and South Carolina. In one instance, a wounded Loyalist commander ordered that 13 wounded rebel captives be hanged in his home. He wanted to watch them die from his bedroom. Patriot rebels were no less gruesome.

To counter British successes in the South, and unbeknownst to Washington, the Continental Congress appointed Horatio Gates, the ostensible hero of the Battle of Saratoga, to take command. His 1,200 Continentals and 1,800 southern militia were no match for Cornwallis’s 2,500 British regulars. The battle at Camden, South Carolina ended on August 16, 1780 with Gates in full retreat. The entire Continental Army detachment, personally assigned to Gates by Washington and among the best of his remaining troops, was lost.

The colonial cause reached its lowest point in 1780. Washington was forced to keep watch over Clinton’s army in New York, thus no progress was made by the great commander. For its part, the Continental Congress was ineffectual at ensuring that the Continental Army had the provisions needed to prosecute the war successfully. As a consequence, troop mutinies arose that threatened the very existence of the Continental Army. French military aid was slow to arrive and when it did, the army commitment was much smaller than anticipated. Only Washington’s skillful political maneuvering, promises to fund back pay, securing badly needed provisions, and offers of early discharges averted the complete dissolution of the Continental Army.

Then came news of the most infamous betrayal in American history. General Benedict Arnold, the true hero of Saratoga, and America’s most inspirational commander, had gone over to the British (Figure 6.19). Snubbed on several occasions for promotions and then humiliated by the Continental Congress for minor transgressions, Arnold accepted a bribe of money, land in Canada, and British military rank. Washington’s response to the news captured his despondence: “Arnold has betrayed us! Whom can we trust now?” The name Benedict Arnold would forever be condemned as the most notorious traitor in American history.

​Figure 6.19: The name Benedict Arnold is commonly associated with any treasonous activity. His switching sides during the Revolutionary War was a serious blow to the revolutionary cause, both on the battlefield and in terms of morale. [17]

The debacle at Camden, South Carolina led Washington to replace Horatio Gates with one of his ablest generals, Nathaniel Greene. The army Greene commanded was no match for Cornwallis’s British regulars, but backcountry fighting was not the same as open, 18th century European-style warfare. Greene led Cornwallis on a fox chase through the interior of North and South Carolina . Greene’s success was not pinned on winning battles, but on frustrating Cornwallis. The most famous of the rebel leaders was Francis Marion, named “the Swamp Fox” by the British, who deftly exploited South Carolina’s swamps as escape routes or as sanctuaries following hit and run attacks on British forces (Figure 6.20).

​Figure 6.20: Francis Marion was given his nickname, “the Swamp Fox,” by his British adversary, Banastre Tarleton, who unsuccessfully tracked Marion through the swamps of South Carolina. Marion’s guerrilla warfare tactics immeasurably increased British frustration in their attempt to gain control of the southern colonies. [18]

As the British were drawn further from their coastal supply lines, they resorted to plundering the countryside, turning erstwhile loyalists into Whig sympathizers. By extending Cornwallis’s army and its supply lines, Greene succeeded in forcing the British commander to abandon the campaign in the Carolinas.

The tide turned back in favor of the Americans at the Battle of Cowpens in mid-January, 1781. Greene dispatched a general into the South Carolina backcountry with orders to re-establish militia support. Cornwallis countered by sending the most feared British cavalryman, Banastre Tarleton, in pursuit. Exploiting Tarleton’s reputation for reckless attacks, the army devised a plan with multiple charges from different directions. The combined Continentals and militia units succeeded in forcing Tarleton and the British infantry into a full retreat. The victory rallied the Carolina militia for the next major engagement.

Greene adopted the tactical maneuvers seen at Cowpens in subsequent engagements. On March 15, at Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina, Cornwallis lost a third of his army. Although American forces withdrew, Cornwallis chose not to pursue Greene. Instead, he retreated to the North Carolina coast, essentially giving up on the once-promising effort to vanquish rebels from the south. After resting his army, in one of the most fateful decision of the war, Cornwallis pointed his troops north, to Virginia. There, they would establish a new base of operations at Yorktown.

The End of the War

Up to this point in the war, French military support had been limited. Following the 1777 victory at Saratoga and the subsequent treaty recognizing the American cause in the spring of 1778, French military aid chiefly consisted of faltering naval duels with the British and the encampment, but not mobilization, of a 5,000-man infantry at Newport, Rhode Island. French General Rochambeau harbored grave doubts about the viability of the American cause and was reluctant to commit his army to any venture that did not promise positive results. In short, French military aid had been a non-factor up until that point, but circumstances changed in the fall of 1781.

Lord Cornwallis, believing that Virginia was the key to conquering the South, rampaged into the heart of the colony. Leading the way was none other than the reviled traitor, Benedict Arnold. To stall the British offensive, Washington sent Lafayette and 1,200 Continentals into Virginia. Washington assumed that a sizeable portion of the 50,000-man Virginia militia would join Lafayette; he was wrong. Lafayette was only able to harass his superior opponent, now 7,000 strong. Inexplicably, echoing his abandonment of the Carolinas, Cornwallis retreated back to the Virginia coast and the port city of Yorktown.

After confirmation that Cornwallis was entrenched in Yorktown, Washington briefly considered an assault on New York before reluctantly agreeing that a coordinated naval-infantry gambit with the French could trap Cornwallis and his entire army in Yorktown (Figure 6.21). Everything depended on the French navy. Most of the fleet was in the West Indies, fighting to secure the lucrative sugar islands. Rochambeau sent a letter to the French admiral, imploring him to sail for the Chesapeake in order to blockade the passage to Yorktown. The second, smaller French fleet harbored at Newport, Rhode Island, would ferry supplies and heavy cannon for the siege to follow.

Figure 6.21: George Washington is portrayed here on the eve of his ultimate triumph at Yorktown. The rider to Washington’s right is Lafayette and in the background to his left on horseback is Alexander Hamilton. [19]​


Washington left a skeleton force outside New York to maintain the pretense that an assault was possible while 5,000 French soldiers joined 2,500 Continentals for the long march to Yorktown. It took three weeks, until the end of September, for the armies to reach Williamsburg, just two miles from Yorktown. There, they were joined by 9,000 Virginia and Maryland militia. The most important development, however, was that the French navy had eluded the British navy and arrived with 29 ships and 3,000 more French soldiers.

General Cornwallis, sensing the gravity of the situation, sent an urgent appeal to General Clinton in New York for reinforcements, including naval support. Clinton agreed and mustered the necessary forces by early October. Cornwallis’s task was to hold on.

After ten days of preparation by the French-American allies—earthworks, temporary fortifications, trenches, and cannon placements—the siege of Yorktown began on October 9th. The withering artillery barrage continued unabated for a week. In a desperate bid to break out of Yorktown, Cornwallis attempted to ferry his army across the York River under cover of darkness before gale force winds scuttled the maneuver. The next day, Cornwallis sent his letter of surrender. The final surrender document was signed on October 19, 1781 (Figure 6.22). Cornwallis’s entire 8,000-man army were prisoners of war. In a cruel irony, Clinton’s reinforcements, delayed by bad weather, began their mission to Yorktown on the same day. It was too late to make any difference.

​Figure 6.22: Unable to bring himself to surrender to Washington, General Cornwallis sent his second in command. Washington calmly responded to the sleight by sending his own second in command to accept the surrender. [20]


The momentous victory at Yorktown sent shock waves across the Atlantic. King George III stubbornly refused to acknowledge the obvious ramifications of Yorktown, but his prime minister, Lord North, immediately understood what it meant, declaring, “Oh God. It is all over.”

Question 6.31

6.31 - Level 4

Outline what happened at the Battle of Yorktown. Why did Washington and his army prevail? What was the significance of the battle?

Click here to see the answer to Question 6.31.

The final negotiation of peace terms, however, proved more challenging than anyone imagined. Negotiations began in earnest in June 1782, but dragged on for over a year due to territorial disputes between France and Spain. Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, and John Adams were charged with negotiating the treaty deal. The primary American terms were boldly clear: recognition of American independence, removal of all British troops, acknowledgement that the western boundary of the United States was the Mississippi River and its northern boundary the Great Lakes, and fishing rights off the Grand Banks of Canada. The British countered with a stipulation that prewar debts to British merchants be honored and loyalists receive compensation for their losses. Ultimately, the United States obtained everything they asked for, acquiescing to Britain’s demands with the understanding that the state governments would shoulder the fulfillment responsibility. The Treaty of Paris between the United States of America and Great Britain was signed on September 3, 1783. Independence was no longer simply a declaration on a piece of paper; it was reality.

For George Washington, the end of the war required two acts of leadership that cemented his greatness. The first involved quelling a group of disgruntled officers clamoring for their back pay from Congress, at gunpoint if necessary. There were also rumblings of staging a military coup, taking power from the inert Continental Congress and making Washington king of America. In what came to be known as the Newburgh Conspiracy, so named because of the army’s location in Newburgh, New York, Washington pleaded that they not set aside all they had fought for in the name of short-term gain. In a gesture that again demonstrated Washington’s instinctual sense of the moment, he produced a pair of spectacles that he needed to read a letter from Congress promising their back pay. No one had ever seen him wearing glasses in public. Washington plaintively confessed that he had grown both old and blind in his eight years of service to the cause of independence. The conspiracy collapsed at the thought of betraying Washington’s honor.

His second act was unprecedented in the annals of history. Military leaders before and after Washington, having led their nation to victory, invariably assumed political power. Washington did not, thus preserving the principle of civilian authority over the military, a bedrock proposition of democracy. In his own words, “the sword was the last resort for the preservation of our liberties, so it ought to be the first thing laid aside when those liberties are firmly established.”

On December 23, 1783, General Washington formally surrendered his military commission to Congress at Annapolis, Maryland. In the end, George Washington achieved god-like status, not by securing power, but by giving it up. Even King George III was moved to comment. When told by an American visitor that Washington would likely relinquish his commission and return to Mt. Vernon after the war, the King remarked, “If he does that, sir, he will be the greatest man in the world.”


6.32

Which of the following was not a demand made by the United States during the peace talks with Britain after the Revolutionary War?

A

Recognize American independence

B

Remove all British Troops

C

Accept the Mississippi as the western boundary of the new nation

D

Pay restitution for all losses suffered during the war


Question 6.33

6.33 - Level 4

What was significant about Washington’s refusal to become “king” of America?

Click here to see the answer to Question 6.33.

Spotlight on Primary Source

George Washington is considered the “father” of the United States, both for his role in leading the successful war for independence and for his tenure as America’s first President. But Washington, like the other founding fathers, was a slaveowner. It is sometimes difficult to square the revered status Washington holds in the American imagination with his ownership of other human beings. In this video (beginning at the nine minute mark), historian Henry Wiencek explores Washington’s moral journey, from slave owner to emancipator. 

Question 6.34

6.34 - Level 5

What were the crucial moments in Washington’s change of heart regarding slavery? Why do you think he was the only one of the founding fathers to emancipate his slaves?

Click here to see the answer to Question 6.34.


Political and Social Significance

The American Revolution succeeded in achieving the goal of independence from Great Britain. The war also changed political and social life in the United States, affecting every person from every walk of life.

A major social change occurred in class relations. Prior to the war, there were strictly defined expectations that defined the relationship between common people and the gentry, the upper class of colonial society. Commoners were expected to exhibit deference in all contexts toward the gentry. The war experience, however, sensitized colonial elites to the necessity of respecting the sacrifices made by men of lesser means to their shared cause. Baron von Steuben captured the sentiment best. In training officers, all from the upper class gentry, he urged them to look out for the needs of their men, explain, not just order, and always seek their “love.” For their part, soldiers expected respect for their courage and willingness to sacrifice their lives. Class distinctions remained relatively unchanged by the war, but a greater sense of egalitarianism began to emerge in which merit, not birth, was a legitimate pathway to social and political advancement.

The people most profoundly affected by the war were African Americans, both enslaved and free. Of the 500,000 African Americans residing in the United States in 1776—one-fifth of the total population—only about 25,000 were free, most of whom lived in the North. For all African Americans, but especially for slaves, the war offered a chance to prove the proposition that “all men are created equal.”

The majority of slaves sided with the British, who offered the best chance for securing freedom. The first offer of emancipation dated to November 1775 when the royal governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, declared that any slave who joined the British army would be granted his freedom. Then in 1779, the Philipsburg Proclamation went a step further by offering not only freedom in exchange for a slave’s enlistment in the British military, but land. The British decision to harness slaves was both practical and strategic. Practically, the slaves could fill a manpower void; strategically, the measure deprived Americans of a key labor force. The British assumed that together, these factors would weaken the colonists’ ability and resolve to wage war.

The largest number of slaves fled bondage during Britain’s 1780-82 campaign in the southern colonies. More than 20,000 slaves joined the British army, including seventeen of George Washington’s slaves who escaped to a British ship on the Potomac. Most slaves were employed in support roles, such as cooking or building fortifications, but some served as soldiers. Their ultimate fate was mixed. When, for example, the situation at Yorktown became desperate, thousands of African Americans were forced out of the encampment, running for their lives from American forces. When the war was over, some were sold back into slavery by British officers seeking a quick payday. Exact figures are not known about how many slaves actually obtained their freedom. What is known is that by the war’s end there were approximately 50,000 fewer slaves in America.

For his part, General Washington was initially averse to African Americans serving in the Continental Army. After all, as a slave owner, he stood to lose his Mt. Vernon labor force. Owing to pressure from Lafayette and Alexander Hamilton, among others, Washington accepted with equanimity the integration of black conscripts into the army. Most notable was an all-black Rhode Island regiment organized in 1777. By war’s end, over 5,000 African Americans had served honorably in support of the revolution. Not until the 20th century would the United States military be as racially integrated as the 18th century Continental Army.

The war’s largest impact on slavery was the legal abolishment of the institution in the North. By the turn of the century, every northern state except New Jersey and New Hampshire ended the practice. New Jersey followed in 1804 and in the absence of any slaves in New Hampshire, it effectively died there as well.

The situation in the South offered some hope, although slavery was not abolished. More avenues for manumission (to be set free from slavery) by one’s owner became available. For example, a bond was no longer required from the owner guaranteeing his slave’s good behavior. If a slave wasn’t manumitted while his owner was alive, some were freed upon their owner’s death. This was the case with George Washington, the only slave owning founding father to do so. The resulting free black population in the South grew to 5% and served as a living testament to the contradiction of slavery and freedom. Free blacks established enduring institutions of social support and cohesion—churches, in particular.

The positive impact of the Revolutionary War era on women, in comparison to African Americans, was not as dramatic. The traditional women’s sphere centered on the duties of wife, mother, and homemaker. Despite these strictures, women participated in revolutionary activity in a variety of ways. As seen in Chapter 5, women played crucial roles in the economic boycott and non-importation efforts. During the war, Philadelphia women raised money for the soldiers, a practice that spread to New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia. As camp followers, women filled crucial voids in the Continental Army as laundresses, cooks, and nurses. A few women even served in combat. The most famous was Deborah Sampson, who escaped detection as a woman for over two years.

The burden of sustaining families suffering from the exigencies of war naturally fell to women. And when it came to providing for their families, women sometimes acted audaciously. In one instance, a band of women marched on a merchant who hoarded foodstuffs and charged exorbitant prices. When he refused their demands, a woman physically accosted him and forcibly took his keys to the warehouse. The women helped themselves. It also fell to the wives of property owning patriot soldiers to maintain their farms or, in other cases, to run their small businesses. These women achieved a new sense of self-sufficiency that extended into the postwar period and beyond.

Possibly the greatest strides toward equality were made among middle and upper class women. In the postwar era, companionate marriage emerged as an alternative basis for marriage. Mutuality served as its foundation in which both partners valued the other as friends or companions, emotionally and intellectually. A prime example was the marriage of Abigail and John Adams. In her remarkable correspondence with husband and future president John Adams, Abigail highlighted the blatant contradiction represented in the purpose of the revolution and the treatment of women. Her trenchant insights served as the bellwether of women’s ongoing struggle for equal rights.

Question 6.35

6.35 - Level 4

Explain at least three of the consequences of American independence on the institution of slavery in North America.

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Spotlight on Primary Source

Letter to John Adams from Abigail Adams, 31 March 1776.

...In the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.
​Figure 6.23: Abigail Adams is considered among America’s first feminists. Abigail’s correspondence with her husband and future President, John Adams, pointed out the revolutionary patriots’ inconsistent stance toward liberty in denying the same to women. [21]


6.36 - Level 1

What political principle did Abigail Adams invoke in justifying the threat of a women’s rebellion?



The compromise that emerged from the contradiction Abigail Adams so eloquently articulated is captured in the term “republican motherhood.” Revolutionary era mothers were charged with the responsibility of instilling in the next generation of sons the sacred, republican ideals won in the war. It was, in short, their patriotic duty. This mission, however, continued to confine women to their traditional sphere. Resolving the paradox of republican motherhood in which women could influence, but not participate in the public sphere as full-fledged citizens, would require a sea change in male attitudes, a challenge all subsequent generations of women sought to overcome.

American religion was profoundly affected by the ideals of the struggle for independence and liberty. The Great Awakening, as discussed in Chapter 5, psychologically prepared the masses for revolution. In the context of the war, a British victory raised the specter of an established Church of England throughout the colonies. Such a development threatened over a century of evolving respect for religious freedom and tolerance, albeit primarily for different Christian faiths.

The most important post-war statement on religious freedom came from the pen of Thomas Jefferson. His Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom guaranteed Virginians the absolute right to religious freedom. Its influence extended beyond Virginia, serving as a model for other state constitutions and eventual incorporation into the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In short, the foundation for the twin pillars of religious freedom and the disestablishment of religion from the state received a tremendous boost from the American Revolution.

Conclusion

The human cost of the American Revolution was greater than might be imagined. Twenty-five thousand people died from war-related causes, representing 1% of the total population, the equivalent of over three million Americans in 2016. Thousands more died from diseases like smallpox. It was a wrenching experience that touched virtually every American in some way. The American Revolutionary War generation was without doubt “the greatest generation” of the 18th century. 

With its victory, the independent United States of America faced its next great test: how to reconcile liberty with centralized government power. Like the revolution itself, the task would be accomplished through fits and starts as well as moments of despair and hope.

The road to war, recounted in Chapter 5, began with the words of Benjamin Rush, the Philadelphia-born physician and signer of the Declaration of Independence. He also served in the Continental Army as a surgeon general. Following the victory at Yorktown, Rush offered a prophetic statement for the future: “The American War is over, but this is far from the case with the American Revolution. On the contrary, nothing but the first act of the great drama is at a close.”  


Pre-Class Discussion Questions

Class Discussion 6.01

Class Discussion 6.01 - Level 4

Why was French diplomatic recognition and military support so important to the success of the American Revolution?

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Class Discussion 6.02

Class Discussion 6.02 - Level 5

The psychology of revolution and war is as important—indeed often more important—than what happens on the battlefield. Discuss examples of how this phenomenon manifested itself in the American Revolution.

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Class Discussion 6.03

Class Discussion 6.03 - Level 4

How was American society changed by the American Revolution? Consider race, gender, religion, and class.

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Class Discussion 6.04

Class Discussion 6.04 - Level 5

Against all odds, how and why did the colonists win the American Revolution? What were at least three of the key factors that contributed to the colonists' victory?

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Class Discussion 6.05

Class Discussion 6.05 - Level 5

It is said that George Washington embodied the American Revolution. If you were an educated, politically aware colonist, explain your reasoning for either supporting or rejecting Washington's leadership and role in the creation of the new nation.

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Suggested Additional Material

Ellis, Joseph. His Excellency: George Washington (2004).

Fleming, Thomas. Liberty: The American Revolution (1997).

Kerber, Linda. Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (1980).

Raphael, Ray. A People’s History of the American Revolution: How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence (2001).

Roberts, Cokie. Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation (2004).

Tuchman, Barbara W. The First Salute: A View of the American Revolution (1988).


Answers to In-Chapter Discussion Questions

Answer to Question 6.01

Both men are standing and looking away, perhaps at some future goal or perhaps at something from the past. The backgrounds are similar with outside light coming in from partially drawn draperies. Both portraits have a table.

The differences include each man’s posture and the placement of their hands. Washington’s posture is more open, especially with his outstretched right arm. His sword is held in a non-threatening manner (his hand is not in the sword handle). King George, by contrast, has his right hand on his hip in a haughtier pose. His left hand is on an object, something like a globe, that conveys a sense of control. The king’s left foot placement also conveys a sense of power. Washington is dressed in a more humble manner than the king, who is dressed in all his elegant finery.

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Answer to Question 6.02

Washington’s portrait diverges from traditional European portraits in how he is dressed. Normally, the subjects of European portraiture are dressed in their finest clothing, like the king’s ermine. Washington, by comparison, is dressed plainly.

Symbols that reflect an American identity include the small American flag on the back of the chair, the table legs that resemble a bundle of sticks symbolize the unity of the various American states, the books on the table are American books, not European. Washington had come to symbolize freedom.

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Answer to Question 6.03

Some of the main challenges were: (1) he was facing the most powerful and best trained army in the world at the time; (2) his own army was comprised of soldiers from all the different regions of colonial America, who had not yet forged a sense of common identity; (3) he had to balance his Continental Army with all the local colonial militias.

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Answer to Question 6.04

Response should focus on the contrast between the professional, well-supported British military versus the poorly trained, irregularly supported colonial army which in turn determined each side’s strategy. For the British, battlefield victories and occupation of major cities leading to increased loyalist support and a political settlement versus the colonial strategy of preserving the Continental Army and protracting the war until the British gave up.

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Answer to Question 6.06

This broadside portrays the civil war aspect of the revolutionary war. It is misleading because it appears that Native Americans are murdering loyalists when in reality the Indians are patriot whigs.

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Answer to Question 6.13

The revolutionary leaders were counting on both strategic, military factors as well as the cause of independence itself. Regarding the former, stretching out the war for as long as possible and maintaining the Continental Army was crucial to success on the military front. In turn, success on the battlefield would reinforce and rally support for the cause.

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Answer to Question 6.16

Paine portrayed “the American crisis” as an issue of will rather than of might. He challenged the colonists to stand and fight against tyranny and struggle for the higher ideal of freedom.

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Answer to Question 6.17

Responses should identify how Washington adapted his tactics and strategy to accommodate the unique military circumstances of the war; how he effectively melded the militia units with the regular Continental Army; and, how he placed the cause of liberty and independence above all other concerns, military and personal.  

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Answer to Question 6.19

Response should emphasize the psychological importance of the battles, placing them in the context of the string of losses Washington had endured through 1776.

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Answer to Question 6.24

Response should focus on its military significance for the Continental Army and its diplomatic significance in securing French support.

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Answer to Question 6.29

The fighting in the western frontier was disastrous for native people generally, but especially for the Iroquois Confederacy and the Cherokee. The Confederacy was divided in their support between the British and the Americans. After the punitive raids led by John Sullivan, the Confederacy never recovered its former status. The Cherokee suffered a similar fate. Overall, despite brave resistance against the militarily superior continentals, Native American tribes west of the Appalachians lost millions of acres of land and were driven apart.

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Answer to Question 6.31

Response should review how the French and American armies coordinated their efforts with the French navy in cutting off Cornwallis from any hope of reinforcements or resupply. The reason the battle was significant stems from the size of Cornwallis’s army that he surrendered and the psychological impact the defeat had on support for the war in England.

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Answer to Question 6.33

His decision to reject the very real possibility of a military coup was nearly unprecedented in world history, a major break from thousands of years of victorious military commanders assuming political power. While Washington was not an intellectual figure in the mold of Jefferson, Paine, or Madison, by asserting the need for civilian rule over government, he made possibly the single most consequential decision in the history of democracy. 

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Answer to Question 6.34

A series of moments leading up to his 1799 dream compelled him to free his slaves. The auctioning of children and separating them from their families seemed to gnaw at Washington’s conscience, beginning with the raffle that he was a co-sponsor for in 1769. By 1775 he refused to break up slave families and instructed his purchasing agent to inquire with potential slave purchases whether they would accede to being separated from their families. His manager reported that both male and female adults would rather die than be separated from their families. He outlined several plans to free his slaves, but never did so. The final moment of truth, prior to his dream, was the impending sale of a Custis granddaughter selling inherited slaves, including girls as young as four. He could no longer countenance the practice of slavery and said that if a war over slavery between north and south ever ensued, he would move to and side with the north.

Answers may vary on why Washington was the only founding father to free his slaves, but it is clear that owing to the struggles that he faced and overcame during the revolutionary war (and later as the country’s first president), he was not one to accept the status quo when challenged by new circumstances. Moreover, he had the courage, as demonstrated by his war leadership and presidency, to stand for what was best for the country, not necessarily what was best for himself. Other founding fathers did not have that capacity.

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Answer to Question 6.35

It is an irony of history that the war which established some of the founding principles of equality and democracy in the modern world also served to perpetuate and prolong the most hierarchical and anti-democratic institution of modernity – slavery. In Britain, and across their empire, the social movement against slavery was already gaining steam. By cutting ties with Britain, slavery would continue to persist in the United States for nearly another century. At the same time, the revolutionary ideals would undercut the concept of slavery: it soon became abolished in the northern states, and a small but significant population of free blacks would become an important first step to emancipation.

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Answers to Pre-Class Discussion Questions

Answer to Class Discussion 6.01

It cannot be underestimated how important the French role was in securing American independence. Diplomatic recognition widened the war from ostensibly a British civil war into a world war. Equally important, French military aid proved critical to sustaining the American army, counterbalancing Britain’s overwhelming naval advantage, and providing a much needed psychological boost to the American struggle.

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Answer to Class Discussion 6.02

This phenomenon is particularly important for understanding how the Americans were able to maintain the struggle for independence over an 8-year period that included many low points that could have ended the cause. Discussion should identify several of those points, militarily (e.g., losses of New York and Philadelphia), non-support from the Continental Congress (e.g., Valley Forge), the defection of Benedict Arnold, etc.

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Answer to Class Discussion 6.03

The social changes wrought by the American Revolution are what made the war truly revolutionary. If the war had only rearranged political leadership, it would not have been a revolution. But with the changes that began to take shape for slaves/African Americans, for women, for class relations, and for religious freedom, America’s future was set on a new social path. Discussion should focus on each of these harbingers of change.

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Answer to Class Discussion 6.04

Discussion of significant battles, Washington’s leadership, colonial war strategy and tactics, French diplomatic recognition and military support, and British blunders all contributed to the American victory.

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Answer to Class Discussion 6.05

Discussion should focus on his leadership qualities, both in military terms as well as in his ability to keep the revolutionary cause at the forefront, over and above all other considerations. Discussion of battles he led, the choices he made militarily and politically, and his ability to inspire/lead should all point to how he transcended the revolution.

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Image Credits

[1] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[2] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[3] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[4] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[5] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[6] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[7] Image courtesy of he Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. (1776). Representation du Feu terrible a Nouvelle Yorck Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e3-b9b0-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.

[8] Image courtesy of the Lilly Library in the Public Domain.

[9] Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the Public Domain.

[10] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[11] Image courtesy of Special Collections Toronto Public Library under CC BY-SA 2.0.

[12] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[13] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[14] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[15] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[16] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[17] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[18] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[19] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[20] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.