The Revolutionary War began on April 19, 1775 at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. It would last six years, ending with General Cornwallis’s surrender in Yorktown, Virginia on October 19, 1781. More than 25,000 Americans died during this war. Considering that Great Britain was one of the most powerful countries in the world at the time, their victory was astounding.
George Washington was the leader of The Continental Army. He was a brilliant and inspiring general who eventually led relatively untrained soldiers to victory. Most of the soldiers were farmers or working men. They were promised $60 a year, food, and clothing for enlisting.
The British expected a quick victory. They defeated the rebels at Bunker Hill and captured New York, driving Washington and his men back to New Jersey. They captured Fort Ticonderoga and won battles at Brandywine and Germantown in Pennsylvania.
On December 25, 1776, Washington and his men crossed the icy Delaware River. At dawn, they captured Hessian (German) soldiers at Trenton, New Jersey. The following week, they won again at Princeton. The tide seemed to be turning.
During the summer of 1777, British General John Burgoyne hatched a plan to combine troops with two other forces in New York. If the plan had worked, the war probably would have been over. More than 10,000 American Patriots blocked their path. At the Battle of Saratoga in October of 1777, General Burgoyne surrendered 6,000 men. This was a tremendous victory of the Americans.
Realizing that the Americans had a chance of winning, France jumped in, sending money, supplies, and later troops and ships. France is often called America’s oldest ally. Without their help, the war might have had a very different ending.
The Continental Army spent the winter of 1777-1778 at Valley Forge. Cold, hungry, and sick, almost 25 percent of the army died. During this time, German volunteer, Baron Friedrich von Steuben, trained the soldiers. By spring, they were ready to fight.
In December 1778, General Henry Clinton attacked Charleston, South Carolina. The Americans were badly defeated here and the British controlled much of South Carolina and Georgia.
In the summer of 1781, British General Charles Cornwallis stationed his troops at Yorktown, Virginia where they were waiting for aid from British warships. Washington brought the Continental Army, as well as 5,000 French troops to Yorktown. At the same time, French naval fleets drove off the British ships. The British troops were trapped. Cornwallis surrendered on October 19, 1871. The Americans had won the war.
1. Enlist: to sign up as a soldier
2. Ally: a friend, partner
3. Surrender: to admit defeat
Questions and Answers
Question: What qualities helped the Americans win?
Answer: The British soldiers marched in straight lines as they charged into battle. The Americans made up their own rules. They hid behind rocks and trees, making it hard for the British to fight them. They knew the terrain well and could live off the land if necessary. Most important, though, was the Patriots’ belief in the ideals of freedom and democracy, which united them, even through hardship.
For example, Nathan Hale, a 21-year-old school teacher, volunteered to be a spy for the Continental Army. The British caught him and hanged him. Before his death, he said, “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” Many people shared his deep sense of patriotism and love for America.
VisitPBS Learning to watch a video about the Declaration of Independence and the 4th of July.
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