The American Revolutionary War, which lasted from 1775 to 1783, was sparked by hostility between American colonists and the British government and led to American independence from Britain. Although the Colonists won the war for independence, they had to overcome several disadvantages to do so. Any of these problems, if not properly addressed, could have changed the outcome of the war.
Lack of Organization
At the beginning of the war, one of the most serious setbacks for the American colonists was the lack of an army. Americans had experienced battle during the French and Indian war as members of British militia; however, this experience had not provided substantial training and no standing army was available. In 1775, the Continental Congress created an army and placed George Washington at its head, but Washington experienced extreme difficulty training and organizing the troops. In addition to battlefield inexperience, Washington's army faced internal problems, including drunkenness, abandonment of guard duty, hygiene issues, theft and accidental deaths due to firearm discharges inside camp.
Lack of Navy
Prior to the Revolutionary War, the British fleet protected American colonists, who had not needed to construct their own warships. As a result, the Americans had no navy to defend them at the onset of the war. To correct this problem, the Continental Congress authorized the creation of the Continental Navy in 1775. Initially, the navy consisted of converted merchant ships, but a fleet of frigates were constructed and launched in 1776. British ships were technologically superior to the American fleet, however, and nearly all of the American ships were captured or destroyed.
Not all American colonists supported the war; those who were in favor of British rule were known as loyalists or Tories. The British Army attempted to organize the loyalists and offered incentives such as freedom to colonial slaves in return for service. To remedy this, the Continental Congress passed the Tory Act, which declared that loyalists who worked against the colonial cause should be disarmed and that any who were dangerous should be kept in safe custody. The Continental Congress was clear that the loyalists should not be treated poorly, but anti-loyalist sentiment was extremely high. In some areas, suspected loyalists were imprisoned, physically abused or killed.
Lack of Allies
Prior to the war, the American patriots had legally been British colonists and had not developed international alliances. In order to defeat the British, however, the colonists needed international support. To gain this support, the Continental Congress approached the French government, which provided money and support, eventually culminating in an alliance in 1778. The Spanish government was also allied with France, and as a result of the French relationship with the United States, the Spanish government joined the war against the British in 1779. The French alliance provided the Americans with supplies, weapons, men and ships, and proved to be one of the most decisive factors in the American victory.
- Library of Congress: The American Revolution, 1763-1783
- National Park Service: The American Revolution - Lighting America's Flame
- History World: The American Revolution
- The Library of Congress: The Tory Act: Published by Order of the Continental Congress, Philadelphia, Jan. 2, 1776.
- Library of Congress: The American Revolution, 1763-1783: Creating a Continental Army
- Naval History and Heritage Command: Vessels of the Continental Navy
- U.S. History: The Loyalists
- Portland State University: Loyalists in the Thirteen Colonies
- U.S. Department of State: Office of the Historian - Milestones: 1776-1783: French Alliance
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