The American War for Independence

George Washington at Verplanck's Point by John Trumbull
Photo caption

George Washington at Verplanck's Point by John Trumbull

The decision of Britain's North American colonies to rebel against the Mother Country was an extremely risky one. Although each colony had its own militia—of varying quality—there was no Continental Army until Congress created one, virtually from scratch, in 1775. This army, placed under the command of a Virginian named George Washington, would have the unenviable task of taking on the world's largest empire, with a first-rate army, supported by what was at the time the most formidable navy in history. Indeed, it was no doubt with these risks in mind that the Continental Congress waited until July 1776—more than a year after the outbreak of hostilities—to issue a formal Declaration of Independence.

This is not to say that the Americans lacked advantages of their own. In order to fight the colonists the British had to maintain a large army on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean—over 3,000 miles away from home. Moreover, this army actually had to conquer an area much larger than Great Britain itself; the Continental Army, on the other hand, could win simply by preventing this from happening. Even so, the first years of war were difficult ones for the Americans, and ultimately it required substantial aid from France to bring the war to a successful conclusion.

In this unit, consisting of three lesson plans, students will learn about the diplomatic and military aspects of the American War for Independence. Through an examination of original documents and an interactive map they will learn about the strategies employed by both sides, and how those strategies played out in reality. They will study the most important military engagements, both in the North and the South. Students will also become familiar with the critical assistance provided by France, as well as the ongoing negotiations between the Americans and Great Britain.

Guiding Questions

What hardships and difficulties did the Continental army face in the early years of the war, and how were they able to sustain the war effort in spite of those challenges?

Why did the decision of the British leadership to move the war into the South prove unsuccessful?

How successful were the Americans in obtaining their goals in the Revolutionary War?

Learning Objectives

Explain the significance of the battles of Lexington and Concord on both America and Great Britain.

List the expectations that the Continental Congress had of George Washington, and assess how well he met them.

Articulate the problems that the Continental Army faced during the early phase of the war.

Explain how Washington and his men turned the tide in the North in 1777-78.

Identify the most important military engagements and explain their significance.

List the major terms of the Franco-American alliance, and explain their importance to the cause of independence.

Identify the most important military engagements in the South and explain their significance for the outcome of the war.

Explain the role that African-Americans played in the southern phase of the war.

Describe the American peace feelers of 1775, and why the British rejected them.

Describe the British peace offers of 1776 and 1778, and why the Americans rejected them.

Explain why Britain was willing to grant American independence by 1782.

Articulate the main provisions of the 1783 Treaty of Paris.