Stalemate in the North

Washington hoped to drive the British from New York City in a joint operation with the French. In July 1778, a French fleet under Admiral Charles Hector d’Estaing reached America. But the French warships were unable to cross a sandbar at the month if New York Harbor. Later that summer, a combined French and America effort to take Newport, R.I., also failed. In November, d’Estaing sailed southward to protect the French West Indies from British attack. Problems along the western frontier also troubled Washington in 1778. That year, the Loyalists and Iroquois Indians massacred frontier settlers in Pennsylvania and New York. Washington sent Major General John Sullivan to take revenge in 1779. Patriot troops burned Iroquois Villages and destroyed their crops. Many Iroquois starved to death as a result.

The War in the West, at Sea, and in the South

Great Britain charged its strategy after France entered the Revolutionary War. Rather than attack in the North, the British concentrated on conquering the colonies from the South. British leaders believed that most Southerners supported the king. Although the British failed to find as much Loyalist support as they expected, they defeated the Americans in several important battles. The patriots were forced onto the defensive in the South. But they attacked successfully in the west and at sea.

Fighting in the West

There was a broke out because land-hungry colonists crossed the Appalachian Mountains and settled on Indian territory. During the Revolutionary War, Indians raided white settlements in the wilderness with British encouragement. In 1778, Virginia sent militiamen led by Lieutenant Colonel George Rogers Clark to strike back at the British. Clark captured several settlements in what Southern Illinois and Southern Indiana are now. The British recaptured the settlement at Vincennes in Incenses across flooded countryside and took its British and Indian defenders by surprise in February 1779.

Fighting at Sea

The Congress established the Continental Navy in 1775. Its few ships had little effect on the war’s outcome. However, one American naval officer carried the war to British waters.

In April 1778, Captain John Paul Jones raided the coast of England. The following year, Jones engaged in battle the heavily armed British warship Serapis. Jones captures the Serapis, though his own ship, the Bonhomme Richard, was badly damaged and later sank. When the British demanded his surrender during the battle, Jones replied: “I have not yet begun to fight.”

John Paul Jones (1747-1792)

was the United States’ first well-known naval commander in the American Revolutionary War. He made many friends and enemies—who accused him of piracy—among America’s political elites, and his actions in British waters during the Revolution earned him an international reputation which persists to this day. As such, he is sometimes referred to as the “Father of the American Navy”.

Jones grew up in Scotland, became a sailor, and served as commander of several British merchant ships. After having killed one of his crew members with a sword, he fled to the Colony of Virginia and around 1775 joined the newly founded Continental Navy in their fight against Britain in the American Revolutionary War. He commanded U.S. Navy ships stationed in France and led several assaults on England and Ireland. Left without a command in 1787, he joined the Imperial Russian Navy and obtained the rank of rear admiral.

Savannah and Charleston

The first stage of Great Britain’s Southern strategy called for the capture of a major Southern port, such as Charleston, SC, or Savannah, GA. Britain would then use the port as a base for rallying Southern Loyalist and for launching further military campaigns. After its army moved on, the British expected Loyalists to keep control of the conquered area. Britain assumed it could be more easily to retake the North after overcoming resistance in the South.

Britain’s Southern Campaign opened late in 1778. On December 29, a large British force that had sailed from New York City easily captured Savannah. Within a few months, to British controlled all Georgia. The Congress named Major General Benjamin Lincoln, Commander of the Southern Department of the Continental Army. In October 1779, Lincoln and Admiral d’Estaing failed to drive the British away from Savannah. Afterward, d’Estaing returned to France, and Lincoln retreated to Charleston. A joint operation by French and American forces had again ended in failure, and Georgia remained in British hands.

The success at Savannah led the British to invade South Carolina. Early in 1780, the British forces under General Clinton landed near Charleston. They slowly closed in on the city, trapping its defenders. On May 12, General Lincoln surrendered his force of about 5,500 patriots almost the entire Southern army. Clinton placed General Cornwallis in charge of British forces in the South and returned to New York City.

The loss of Charleston and so many patriot soldiers badly damaged American morale. However, the British victory had an unexpected result. Soon afterward, the South Carolina patriots began to roam the Countryside, battling the Loyalists and attacking the British supply lines. The rebels made it risky for the Loyalists to support Cornwallis. The chief rebel leaders included Francis Marion, Andrew Pickens, and Thomas Sumter.


In July 1780, the Continental Congress ordered General Gates, the victor at Saratoga, to form a new Southern army to replace the one lost at Charleston. Gates hastily assembled a force made up largely of untrained militiamen. The rest of his men consisted of disciplined Continentals. He rushed to challenge Cornwallis at a British base in Camden, SC.

On August 16, 1780, the armies of Gates and Cornwallis had unexpectedly met outside of Camden and soon went into battle. The militiamen quickly panicked. Most of them turned and ran without firing a shot. The Continentals fought on until heavy casualties forced then to withdraw. The British had defeated a second American army in the South. The disaster at Camden marked the low point in the Revolutionary War for the patriots. They then received a further blow. In September 1780, the patriots discovered that General Arnold who commanded a military post at West Point, NY had joined the British side. The Americans learned of Arnold’s treason just in time to stop him from turning West Point over to the enemy.

Kings Mountain

Cornwallis victory at Camden in August 1780, led him to act more boldly. In September, he charged into North Carolina before the Loyalists had gained firm control of South Carolina terrorized suspected Loyalists. In addition, patriot frontiersmen turned out to fight the British.

In October 1780, the left wing of Cornwallis army, which was made up of Loyalist troops, was surrounded and captured at Kings Mountain, Cornwallis temporarily halted his Southern Campaign and retreated to South Carolina.

Cowpens and Guilford Courthouse

In October 1780, the Continental Congress named Major General Nathanael Greene to replace Gates as Commander of the Southern Army. Greene was a superb choice because he knew how to accomplish much with extremely few resources. Greene divided his troops into two small armies. He led one army and put Brigadier General Daniel Morgan in charge of the other. Greene hoped to avoid battle with Cornwallis for stronger force while he rebuilt the Southern army. Instead, Greene planned to let the British chase the Americans around the countryside. Cornwallis set out to trap Morgan’s army. Just before the British caught up with him, Morgan prepared for battle in a cattle-grazing area known as the Cowpens in northern South Carolina. On January 17, 1781, Morgan’s sharp-shooting riflemen quickly killed or captured nearly all the on rushing redcoats.

Nathanael Green (1742-1786)

was a major general of the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). He emerged from the war with a reputation as commanding General George Washington’s most gifted and dependable officer, and is known for his successful command in the Southern theater of the war.

Born in Warwick, Rhode Island, Greene was elected to the Rhode Island General Assembly and ran his family’s foundry. He came to oppose British rule in Rhode Island and formed a militia in 1774. The Second Continental Congress appointed Greene to the rank of brigadier general in the Continental Army in 1775, and promoted Greene to major general in 1776. He served as Washington’s subordinate in the New York and New Jersey campaign and the Philadelphia campaign, and was the Continental Army’s Quartermaster General from 1778 to 1780.

In December 1780, Greene was appointed to command the Continental Army in the southern theater of the Revolutionary War, replacing General Horatio Gates. He engaged in a successful campaign to harass the British forces under General Charles Cornwallis, limiting British control of the South to the coastal areas. After the war, he declined appointment as Secretary of War under the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union central government and received land grants from the several Southern states. He died at age 43 at his Mulberry Grove Plantation in Chatham County, Georgia in 1786. Many places in the United States are named after Greene.

The patriot victory at Cowpens enraged Cornwallis, and he pursued Morgan with ever greater determination. Greene rushed to join Morgan, hoping to crush Cornwallis weakened force. On March 15, 1781, a bloody exchange occurred at Guilford Courthouse in North Carolina. Although Cornwallis drove Green from the battlefield, the British had taken a battering. Cornwallis halted the chase after the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. He moved to Wilmington NC, where he gave his exhausted army a brief fest.


Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis (1738-1805)

was a British Army officer and colonial administrator. In the United States and the United Kingdom he is best remembered as one of the leading British generals in the American War of Independence. His surrender in 1781 to a combined American and French force at the Siege of Yorktown ended significant hostilities in North America. He also served as a civil and military governor in Ireland and India; in both places he brought about significant changes, including the Act of Union in Ireland, and the Cornwallis Code and the Permanent Settlement in India.

Born into an aristocratic family and educated at Eton and Cambridge, Cornwallis joined the army in 1757, seeing action in the Seven Years’ War. Upon his father’s death in 1762 he became Earl Cornwallis and entered the House of Lords. From 1766 until 1805 he was Colonel of the 33rd Regiment of Foot. He next saw military action in 1776 in the American War of Independence. Active in the advance forces of many campaigns, in 1780 he inflicted an embarrassing defeat on the American army at the Battle of Camden. He also commanded British forces in the March 1781 Pyrrhic victory at Guilford Court House. Cornwallis surrendered his army at Yorktown in October 1781 after an extended campaign through the Southern states, marked by disagreements between him and his superior, General Sir Henry Clinton.

Despite this defeat, Cornwallis retained the confidence of successive British governments and continued to enjoy an active career. Knighted in 1786, he was in that year appointed to be Governor-General and commander-in-chief in India. There he enacted numerous significant reforms within the East India Company and its territories, including the Cornwallis Code, part of which implemented important land taxation reforms known as the Permanent Settlement. From 1789 to 1792 he led British and Company forces in the Third Anglo-Mysore War to defeat the Mysorean ruler Tipu Sultan.

Returning to Britain in 1794, Cornwallis was given the post of Master-General of the Ordnance. In 1798 he was appointed Lord Lieutenant and Commander-in-chief of Ireland, where he oversaw the response to the 1798 Irish Rebellion, including a French invasion of Ireland, and was instrumental in bringing about the Union of Great Britain and Ireland. Following his Irish service, Cornwallis was the chief British signatory to the 1802 Treaty of Amiens and was reappointed to India in 1805. He died in India not long after his arrival.

Green challenged the British posts in South Carolina during the spring of 1781. The patriots fought several small battles but failed to win clear victories. Yet the fact that a rebel army moved freely about the countryside proved that Britain didn’t control the Carolinas.

The End of the War

The fighting in the Revolutionary War centered in Virginia during in 1781. In January, the traitor Benedict Arnold began conducting raids in Virginia for the British, who had made him a brigadier general. Arnold’s troops set fire to crops, military supplies and other patriot property. General Washington sent Lafayette with a force of Continentals to rally Virginia’s militia and go after Arnold. Cornwallis rushed into Virginia in the spring of 1781 and made it his new base in the Campaign to conquer the South. However, Cornwallis had violated Britain’s Southern strategy by failing to gain control of North and South Carolina before advancing northward. General Clinton believed that the Southern campaign was therefore doomed. He also feared an American attack on his base at New York City. Clinton ordered Cornwallis to adopt a defensive position along the Virginia coast and prepare to send his troops north. Cornwallis moved to York town, which lay along Chesapeake Bay.

Surrender at Yorktown

The last major battle of the Revolutionary War was fought t Yorktown. French and American forces cooperated to deliver a crushing defeat to British forces under Cornwallis. About 5,500 French soldiers had reached America in July 1780. They were led by Lieutenant General Jean Rochambeau. Washington still hoped t drive the British from New York City in a combined operation with the French. In August 1781, Washington learned with the French fleet under Admiral Francois Grasse was headed toward Virginia. Grasse planned to block Chesapeake Bay and prevent Cornwallis from escaping the sea. Washington and Rochambeau rushed their forces Southward to trap Cornwallis on land. A British naval force sailed from New York City and battled Grasse at the month of Chesapeake Bay in early September. But after several days, the British ships returned to New York for repairs.

By late September 1781, Cornwallis knew that he was in trouble. A combined French and American force of about 18,000 soldiers and sailors surrounded him at Yorktown. The soldiers slowly and steadily closed in on the trapped British troops. Cornwallis made a desperate attempt to ferry his forces across the York River to safety on the night of October 16. But a storm drove them back. Cornwallis asked for surrender terms the next day. The surrender at Yorktown took place on October 19, 1781. More than 8,000 men laid down their arms as a British band reportedly played a tune called “The World Turned Upside Down”. They represented about a fourth of Britain’s military force in America. Britain’s defeat at Yorktown didn’t end the Revolutionary War. The fighting dragged on in some areas for two more years. However, British leaders feared they night lose other parts of Britain’s empire if they continued the war in America. Cornwallis’ defeat at Yorktown brought a new group of British ministers to power early in 1782. They began peace talks with the Americans.

The Treaty of Paris

Peace discussions between the Americans and the British opened in Paris in April 1782. Richard Oswald, a wealthy merchant, represented the British government. The statesman Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay, negotiated for the United States. The Congress instructed the American delegates to consult with the French before they took any action. But the Americans disregarded the instructions and concluded a preliminary peace treaty with Great Britain on November 30, 1782. The Congress approved the treaty on April 15, 1783, and it was signed on September 3, 1783. The Treaty of Paris recognized the independence of the United States and established the new nation’s borders. The United States territory extended went to the Mississippi River, north to Canada, east to the Atlantic Ocean and south to about Florida. Britain gave Florida to Spain. The treaty also granted the Americans fishing rights off the coast of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. In addition, it instructed the Congress to recommend that the states restore property taken from the Loyalists during the war. The last British soldiers were withdrawn from New York City in November 1783.

Results of the War

As a result of the war, the 13 British colonies threw off royal rule. They established governments ruled by law and dedicated to the guarantee of certain basic rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

War losses

About 7,200 Americans were killed in battle during the Revolutionary War. Approximately 8,200 more were wounded. 10,000 others died in military camp from disease or exposure. Some 9,500 died in prison after being captured by the British. American military deaths from all causes during the war thus numbered about 25,7000. 1,400 soldiers were missing. British military deaths during the war totaled about 10,000.