War of Independence BRITAIN

History AS - Unit 2

Situation in 1776

British Strengths

  • outnumbered America immensely - 8 million vs 2.5 million (500, 000 were slaves)
  • military superiority
  • by 1775 - Britain had army of 48, 647 officers + men + the Hessians provided Britain with trained troops (sent straight to America) + support of most Native Americans (America had to start from scratch)
  • Royal Navy - around 340 ships (America had around 50 - no major threat) - enabled Britain to reinforce + supply her forces, to move men along the American seaboard - blockade + attack American ports (75% Americans lived within 120km of the sea) - crucial advantage
  • Lord Sandwich - launched an immense ship-building programme - ensured that Britain always have command of the sea (even when France + Spain got involved)
  • financial superiority
  • (America had difficulty collecting taxes - Congress financed war with paper money)
  • Lord George Germain - replaced Dartmouth as Colonial Secretary (November '75) - task of coordinating British war effort - gave his commanders reasonable freedom
  • British bases - close to the 13 colonies; Canada, Newfoundland, Florida, the West Indian islands - launch attacks from them

American Problems

  • lacked unity - often remained as 13 separate states - own interests
  • Continental Army - many states were slow to bring up troops (+ many for only a short time) - Washington never had more than 20, 000 troops (often barely 5000)
  • militiamen had an unimpressive fighting force - often went home early too
  • lacked effective national government - Articles of Confederation - only limited powers upon central government - denied means to wage war effectively
  • American economy - disrupted by war - shortage of goods (due to demands of armies + British blockades) - troops were very short of munitions + weapons
  • throughout the war - Continental Army were equipped poorly + had poor clothing (Britain's manufacturing base let her produce great amounts of war materials)
  • supply shortages + soldiers often not paid - serious morale problems

American Strengths

  • Distance + Terrain for British - 4800km away from home (2/3 months for reinforcements + supplies to cross the Atlantic) - situations had often changed
  • difficult to wage war in a huge, unfriendly territory + coordinating land + sea operations over vast distances was almost impossible
  • terrain + supply problems - British forces couldn't really go more than 24km from a navigable river or sea
  • British army had little strength - strength of around 36,000 (not 48,000) - troops were scattered widely; Britain, Ireland, Gibraltar, Minorca, West Indies + Africa
  • only about 8,000 in America + in 1775, a quarter of the infantry was made up of men with less than a year's service
  • Royal Navy decayed after 1763 - Lord North didn't start preparing the navy for war until October 1776 (when he heard that France was) - many British ships were old + weak + Congress owned around 2,000 privateers (private boats)
  • Militiamen - would always turn out in large numbers in areas where the fighting took place - effectively political police - would round up + intimidate loyalists
  • helped as a fighting force - over 100, 000 Americans served time in the militias
  • Hessians - reputable for their theft (convinced many neutral/loyal colonists to support the rebels) + Indians encouraged many Americans to oppose Britain

British Problems

  • very unprepared - lost enthusiasm both militarily + politically in 1775
  • alienated loyal + friendly Americans - seizure of supplies + property (to accommodate troops) + harshness of martial law
  • North - not an inspired or inspiring leader
  • France + Spain - COULD join the war again (Britain's enemies)

British Strategy - 1776

  • many British leaders favoured seaboard strategy - gain control of American ports + blockade the rest of the coast - would minimise problems of fighting inland
  • BUT: would betray loyalists/lose their support
  • had failed in New England in 1775 - difficult with 1,900km of seaboard to cover
  • Canada had to be defended
  • British pressure for a speedy victory - seaboard strategy would be long + drawn out

American Strategy - 1776

  • LOYALISTS - many Americans did not support rebellion - by 1783, 19,000 Americans had enlisted in the British army (+ many blacks fought for the British also)
  • varied backgrounds + motivations - no united opposition to the patriots (unable to organise selves on a national level)
  • relied on British to lead + protect them - when forces left they were vulnerable + exposed - thousands were imprisoned/deprived of property - a few were executed

Military Operations

New York

  • mid-August - Howe commanded a 32,000-strong army (Washington had only 20,000) - Congress demanded Washington fight for New York + he tried to defend the whole city (army divided between Long Island + Manhattan Island)
  • Battle of Long Island (27 August) - Howe defeated the Americans (suffered 2000 casualties - 6 x as much as British)
  • had he pressed on, Howe could have destroyed the American forces (trapped on the Brooklyn shore of the East River) BUT Washington (+ army) escaped to the mainland (29 August) - Howe missed a great opportunity (did not press the advantage)
  • 15 September - 4000 of Howe's troops landed at Kips Bay in Manhattan - Washington managed to withdraw - effective delay for several weeks - Washington retreated back to New Jersey, fighting a 'defensive' war

American Retreat

16 November - British forces captured Fort Washington - 3000 American prisoners + immense quantities of weapons + supplies - army was in full retreat for next 3 weeks

30 November - Lord Howe issued a proclamation - promised those who would be faithful to the king a 'free and general pardon' - thousands (in New Jersey) stopped supporting the rebels - seemed reasonable given the size of the British army

early December - Continental Army crossed the Delaware into Pennsylvania and Washington's army had decreased to 3000 men + the one-year recruitment would expire at the end of the month - Continental Army was about to collapse

8 December - British forces seized Newport, Rhode Island - excellent naval base

Trenton + Princeton

  • General Howe did not attack Philadelphia (could have destroyed American morale) - instead decided to go into winter quarters
  • Washington had time to regroup - militia joined - 6000-strong army - wanted victory
  • 25 December - he recrossed Delaware (with 1,600 men)
  • 26 December - he fell upon the unsuspecting Hessian troops at Trenton - captured over 1,000 prisoners (only 4 Americans wounded)
  • 3 January 1777 - British forces driven out of Princeton - forced the British to return most of their gains in New Jersey - Americans had new faith + hope
  • Washington rebuilt his army in winter quarters at Morristown (+ could keep an eye on British movements) - no major battle for a few months
  • American light infantry helped to stop British from searching - British troops were short of food + suffered extreme hardship


British Plans - 1777

Howe - Capture of Philadelphia

  • July 1777 - Howe began his move on Philadelphia, planning to move his 15,000-strong army by sea + sailed into Chesapeake Bay (soldiers - nearly 6 weeks on board transports)
  • the unwell army arrived only 64km closer to Philadelphia (since NY) - campaign not effectively opened until August
  • 11 September - Howe defeated Washington at Brandywine Creek - Americans lost 1,200 men (British lost half) - Howe missed another opportunity to destroy the army
  • 21 September - Howe won at Paoli then captured Philadelphia (26 September) - Congress fled to Lancaster and the rebellion continued
  • American forts blocked the route up the River Delaware to Philadelphia - British faced major supply problems
  • 4 October - Washington launched surprise counter-attack at Germantown (BUT Americans lost over 1000 casualties - twice as many as British)
  • November - Americans forced to evacuate forts at Delaware - allowing British naval access to Philadelphia - Washington escaped to Valley Forge (32km away)
  • Howe could have attacked/defeated the Continental Army here but remained in Philadelphia - missed another opportunity for victory

Burgoyne - Saratoga (beginning)

  • Burgoyne planned a southward offense from Canada - wanted to lead combined force (British regulars, Hessians, Indians, Canadians + loyalists) south through the Champlain + Hudson valleys to join with the main British forces in NY - very over-ambitious (!!)
  • Burgoyne left from Canada in June 1777 with 8000 men
  • 5 July - his army floated down Lake Champlain and recaptured Ticonderoga fortress (despite Americans having months to prepare) - next location --> Fort Edward
  • SHOULD HAVE sailed down Lake George BUT went through the wilderness (underestimated terrain) with 30 carriage baggage train (clothes + champagne) - militia blocked roads, destroyed bridges etc - took three weeks to travel 37km
  • Iroquois warriors were attacking loyalists/leaving the British army - Burgoyne then spent a month collecting supplies (600 men sent to Vermont but were attacked at Bennington (15-16 August) - all 600 killed or captured + similar thing happened to a relief party) - one-seventh of Burgoyne's army - dead/captured
  • another force had been trying to meet Burgoyne (under Colonel St Leger) but were stopped by local militia - Indians left St Leger's camp
  • Burgoyne had to stop the siege + retreat to Canada


Burgoyne - Saratoga (end)

  • Burgoyne was isolated (+ determined not to lose) but wanted to drive to Albany - Americans were prepared under Gates (had replaced Schuyler) and he had 7000 men by early September while Burgoyne pushed South with similar sized army
  • 19 September - the two forces clashed at Freeman's Farm - Burgoyne was 320km from Canada with limited supplies and significant casualties - needed to retreat
  • BUT 21 September - Burgoyne - letter from General Clinton - northwards from NY (Burgoyne wanted to push through American forces - 32km away in Albany)
  • 3 October - Clinton left NY with 3000 men, capturing forts in the Highlands + getting close to Albany but Gates held firm on Bemis Heights
  • 7 October - Burgoyne's attack failed (he lost 400, America lost 150)
  • 8 October - Burgoyne retreated to Saratoga (hoping Clinton's army might come to help) but by mid-October Gates had more than twice as many troops as Burgoyne (who was effectively surrounded)
  • 14 October - Burgoyne's 5895 troops would lay down their arms, march to Boston and board ships home on condition they did not again serve in America
  • 17 October - Burgoyne surrendered (the rebels had defeated the British)

Results of Saratoga - Why Was It Significant?

  • 21 October - Howe heard of the surrender (+ immediately offered to resign) - worried about situation in Philadelphia + asked Clinton to send reinforcement (Clinton was forced to leave the Highlands - a crucial area)
  • December - North sent a secret agent to Paris to contact American commissioners (Benjamin Franklin + Silas Deane) to explore possibilities for ending the war
  • February 1778 - North's Conciliatory Propositions - Britain will repeal the Coercive Acts, renounce the right to tax Americans + allow them to have their own army
  • Peace Commission (by Earl of Carlisle) appointed to try to negotiate end of war + the commissioners would have American representation in the House of Commons BUT after Britain denied them independence, there was no hope of negotiation

The Extension of War

French Alliance

  • Americans had always realised that French help was important (+ the French had an opportunity to pay back after the humiliating outcome of the Seven Years' War
  • France had secretly supplied the Americans with arms + gunpowder since almost the start of war + had encouraged young French army officers to fight in America
  • Louis XVI was reluctant to join the war as the French treasury was weak and he was unsure of what the outcome of war would be
  • Congress sent Benjamin Franklin to France, who persuaded King Louis to join the war + Saratoga helped overcome his doubts, making French intervention certain
  • 6 February 1778 - France + America signed two treaties (commercial agreement + a defensive alliance) - promised to wage war until American independence was assured + promised not to make peace separately
  • France joined in June 1778

Spanish + Dutch Intervention

  • April 1779 - Spain entered the war against Britain (to help FRANCE not America) - want to regain possessions lost to Britain (2 Floridas, Minorca, Gibraltar + Jamaica) - agreed to stay until American independence was secured (+ France agreed to stay until Spain recovered Gibraltar + Minorca)
  • 1780 - Britain declared war on Holland (thought she was aiding France + Spain)

The League of Armed Neutrality

  • formed by Russia, Sweden + Denmark in 1780
  • neutral ships could freely trade at ports of nations at war - no great threat to Britain but further isolated her + helped the USA's international position
  • Prussia, Portugal + Austria joined in 1781 + Naples in 1783

Britain - Missed Opportunities

  • early 1770s - France had proposed an alliance with Britain against Russia (France may not have helped America)
  • Britain failed to ally with Russia - France may not have helped America
  • If Britain had returned Gibraltar, Spain may not have entered the war

Results of French + Spanish Intervention

  • Britain's main concern was France:
  • French population - 25 million (double that of Britain + Ireland)
  • French army - over 150,00 strong + a supreme navy
  • British improvement:
  • by 1782 - Britain had 150,000 troops across the world
  • 1778 - Royal Navy had 66 ships available for service (by 1780 it had 95)
  • by 1783 - Britain had over 107,000 sailors + 617 ships of all types
  • by 1780 - only 29% British troops were serving in North America (55% guarding Britain against invasion)
  • mid-1780 - only 13% British ships were in American waters (41% in 1778) - had to defend West Indies, Gibraltar, Minorca + British possessions in Africa + India
  • weak European opponents:
  • weak French finances - limited war effort
  • Spanish financial issues - lessened access to gold + silver in American colonies - number of Spanish ships decreased + poorly trained officers with low standards
  • Holland - no longer a great power - only 13 ships in 1780 (most quite old)
  • British finances were far more stable - Britain could fight France, Spain + Holland while continuing the war with America
  • ALSO - the Europeans were more interested in striking at Britain than aiding America - less than 10,000 French troops were sent to America


Fighting in Europe

  • 27 July 1778 - British vs French - inconclusive sea battle at Ushant (off French coast)
  • Spain's entry added further strain to Britain
  • July 1779 - combined French + Spanish fleet of 66 ships headed north while 30,000 French troops prepared for an attack on the Isle of Wight
  • the Royal Navy (with only 45 ships) avoided offering battle - French + Spanish troops were ill with smallpox, scurvy + typhus, returning home after harsh winds (another French-Spanish fleet blocked access to the English Channel - sickness again prevented them from making the most of their position)
  • British troops forced to surrender in Minorca (February 1782) but Gibraltar managed to hold out (thanks to the Royal Navy bring supplies)


  • war along West African coast - improving access to supplies of slaves
  • the French failed to capture Senegal
  • 1779 - British forces captured Goree (a French fort)
  • 1782 - Britain captured several Dutch forts e.g. Accra - Gold Coast


  • British East India Company - personal army of native soldiers (60,000 strong) - took advantage of the Anglo-French war to occupy French posts
  • it captured various French ports; Pondicherry, Mahe, Madras etc.

The West Indies

  • many British felt that the West Indian colonies were more important to Britain than the American colonies - wanted to keep them secure (both France + Britain were eager to seize each other's land)
  • September 1778 - French forces captured Dominica then Britain took St Lucia
  • summer of 1779 - French Admiral d'Estaing seized St Vincent then Granada + once Spain joined the war, Jamaica (jewel in the British West Indian Crown) - vulnerable
  • February 1781 - Britain seized Dutch island of St Eustatius
  • June 1781 - the French failed to recapture St Lucia (but took Tobago) - continuing to capture St Eustatius, St Kitts + Montserrat
  • France + Spain began preparations to attack Jamaica BUT arrival of further British ships meant Britain outnumbered them
  • 8 April 1782 - de Grasse left Martinique, aiming to attack Jamaica + on 12 April, the two fleets met near the Isles des Saintes - the French lost five ships, de Grasse was captured and the attack on Jamaica was abandoned
  • Rodney + Hood had recovered command of the sea