Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Gabrielle from chicago, IL. Gabrielle Wonders, “How were Americans able to win the Revolutionary War?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Gabrielle!
America…the land of the free…the home of the brave…these are phrases Americans sing frequently. The President of the United States is often referred to as the leader of the free world. Americans often quote the Declaration of Independence when discussing their freedoms.
But the freedoms Americans cherish were not free. They came with the high cost of war. What started out as a small collection of British colonies did not become the United States of America until a ragtag band of revolutionaries fought for their independence.
In 1775, a violent skirmish between colonial militia members and British troops at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts signaled the start of the Revolutionary War. Also known as the American Revolution and the United States War of Independence, the conflict would quickly grow from a small civil war to a full-blown international conflict.
By the time the British surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781, the Americans had basically won their independence. Fighting would finally come to a formal end in 1783.
American history courses teach us much about why the Americans wanted their independence from Great Britain, and we know the important dates and facts about their ultimate victory. But exactly how did they ever succeed in their mission with the odds stacked against them in every way?
The British military was the best in the world. It had conquered much of the world and prevailed in war after war over the past century. It was well-trained, fully-equipped, and 50,000 troops strong. If you add in the 30,000 Hessian (German) mercenaries hired to fight the colonists, the British forces outnumbered the colonial forces four to one, as George Washington never commanded a force of more than 20,000 troops at one time.
Moreover, the colonial troops were mostly inexperienced, unskilled, poor, unprepared, and undisciplined youth. They were also often divided by competing loyalties, as there remained a significant group of colonists, known as Loyalists, who were loyal to Great Britain.
Despite these disadvantages, the colonists prevailed due to a number of factors, great and small. For example, the sheer size of the colonies made them almost impossible to conquer. Although the British were able to maintain control of a few of the large cities for a while, they did not have the manpower to control the vast areas of countryside where the patriots were able to regroup and focus their efforts.
The British also failed to take advantage of the Loyalists throughout the colonies. They didn't fully trust them and preferred to rely instead on their own army. This allowed the patriots to diminish Loyalist efforts to help the British.
The colonists under George Washington also fought a different type of war that British forces were not used to. They avoided large-scale confrontations and instead struck quickly in guerrilla-style attacks that they had learned and developed during recent wars with Native Americans.
None of these things would have likely brought victory, however. The key factor that turned the tide for the Americans was the intervention of other nations into the conflict. Without the help of Spain, the Netherlands, and especially France, it's unlikely the colonists would have prevailed.
Ultimately, the Americans prevailed due to their spirit and the fact that they were fighting for something they believed in. Popular support for the Revolutionary War was overwhelming. In the end, the British desire to maintain economic control over the colonies could not match the intense desire of the colonists to be independent and free.