Though American colonists were ultimately victorious in the Revolutionary War, they faced numerous disadvantages throughout the conflict. The Continental Army, for example, was inadequately supplied, poorly organized and understaffed. Other problems, like the lack of political unity or a stable currency, added to the list of American disadvantages.
When Gen. George Washington first met the Continental Army he was to command, he was discouraged by the lack of order among his troops and their lack of supplies. In addition, the Continental Army struggled to recruit soldiers. While the Continental Congress authorized an army of up to 75,000 men, Washington's army never enlisted more than 18,000 at a single time. This was partly because many soldiers preferred to fight in local militias that rarely coordinated strategically with the Continental Army. Several mutinies occurred throughout the war, when soldiers deserted to tend their fields, and others protested their lack of pay and insufficient supplies.
While the British had diplomatic relations across the world, the Americans had virtually none. The British were able to employ well-trained Hessian troops, while the Continental Congress sent representatives such as Benjamin Franklin overseas to beg for recognition and aid. France and Spain were hesitant to offer support. France, for example, initially saw Washington's defeat in New York City in 1777 as reason to avoid a full alliance. That changed in 1778, when France officially supported the colonists.
With bills for the Continental Army piling up, the Continental Congress in Philadelphia needed currency to finance its costs. Unfortunately, the Congress's creation of the Continental only worsened the colonies' finances. Unlike the British pound sterling, which was considered a reliable currency, the Continental was almost worthless. Congress issued too many notes, and did so only by backing the Continental's value on "future tax revenues." This unreliable backing led few Americans to use the currency, and it quickly devalued. Congress had to continue financing the war through debt.
Not all Americans supported the American Revolution. New York City was a center of loyalist activity. When Washington's army was defeated in New York and forced to retreat in 1776, the city became a safe place for the British to temporarily station troops before deploying to New Jersey and Pennsylvania. This type of loyalist activity was therefore highly problematic for the Continental Army's strategy. Different loyalties split families. Benjamin Franklin's own son William, for example, was a devout loyalist and rarely spoke to his father during or after the war.
- PBS: Chronicle of the Revolution: George Washington
- U.S. History: 13b.: The War Experience: Soldiers, Officers, and Civilians
- U.S. Department of State: Office of the Historian: French Alliance, French Assistance, and European Diplomacy during the American Revolution, 1778 to 1782
- History: This Day in History: Congress Issue Continental Currency
- U.S. History: 11b.: Loyalists, Fence-Sitters, and Patriots
- Boston Federal Reserve Bank: History of Colonial Money
- Library of Congress: The American Revolution: John Bull and Uncle Sam: Four Centuries of British-American Relations
- Columbia University: American Revolution: Defeat and Victory in New York
- University of Houston: Digital History: The Revolutionary War
- Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images