The War of American Independence is one of the most important checkpoints in American History, it began on 19 April 1775 with firefights at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. It came to an end on 28 June 1783, when a British force ceased operations against the French, who were helping the rebels in southern India. Excluding Vietnam, it was the longest war in the history of the United States to the twenty-first century. In one way or another, it touched every part of what had been British America, including not only the thirteen east coast colonies but also Canada and Native American country as well as the West Indies and the open Atlantic. The war destroyed one empire and created another.
1) The war became a global struggle when the French formally intervened in 1778
The French became aggressive in 1778, turning a war that had begun as a struggle in and for America into something much bigger. The British and French clashed in every area of the planet where they were in competition – in the West Indies, which became a major theater of operations; West Africa, where each side tried to seize the other’s slave trading bases, and in India, where the rival East India Companies struggled for dominance.
Most importantly for the British, French intervention threatened the home territories with invasion. As the British redeployed their forces to meet the challenges of this wider war, their chances of recovering the rebel colonies diminished greatly.
2) A significant number of white Americans remained loyal to the British crown
The conflict was more of a civil war than a conventional international contest. Estimates vary, but probably somewhere around a fifth of white colonists refused to accept a complete break with Britain.
Many of them had supported resistance to the claims of the British Parliament to tax the colonies, but they could not stomach a rejection of the link with the British crown. Some of these loyalists took up arms on the British side, and many of them migrated to Canada at the end of the war, providing the basis for its Anglophone population.
3) The British almost won the war in 1776
In late summer 1776, the British army caused a major defeat on Washington’s forces at the Battle of Long Island (also known as the Battle of Brooklyn). The British then went on to occupy New York City and chased the disintegrating remnants of the American army across New Jersey to the Delaware River.
By mid-December, many British officers assumed that the rebellion was on the verge of collapse. But just after Christmas, Washington boldly counter-attacked, reviving American spirits and ensuring that the war continued. Contemporaries blamed General Howe, the British commander, for not seizing the opportunity to crush the rebellion when he had the chance.
Historians have been kinder, recognizing that, even in the 1776 campaign, the British faced major logistical challenges supplying their army at such a distance from home, and that Howe had no wish to alienate Americans further by using brutal methods.
4) Independence was not the Americans’ original purpose
When the war began in April 1775, the colonies sought more autonomy within the British Empire, not complete separation. The Continental Congress, which led American resistance, petitioned King George III that summer, denying that independence was the Americans’ objective, and appealing to him to protect the colonies.
At this critical juncture, British ministers, and the king rebuffed the Americans and started to treat them as open and avowed enemies, making many of the colonists think that independence was the only option.
5) The French government helped the American rebels almost from the beginning of the war
Some French politicians feared the example a successful colonial rebellion might offer to their own overseas possessions, but the dominant view in Paris was that France should take advantage of Britain’s difficulties. Less than a year after the fighting started, the French government decided to support the Americans.
The rebels first received French arms and ammunition; these vital supplies were followed by large injections of cash, which continued throughout the war.