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Lloyd Sealy Library
John Jay College of Criminal Justice

American History: The Revolutionary War: Major Battles and Campaigns

Guide for Library Research on The American Revolution

Battle of Lexington and Concord

Battle of Lexington and Concord

Battle of Lexington by François Godefroy 1775

The Battles of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts were the first battle between American Minutemen and the British army. It was an American victory that forced a British widthdrawal from the countryside back to Boston. The first shot of the battle became known in American history as "the shot heard round the world."

Siege of Boston

Henry Knox bringing cannons from Fort Ticonderoga down to Boston 1776

Henry Knox bringing cannons from Fort Ticonderoga down to Boston 1776

The Siege of Boston was a month long confrontation between the newly created Continental army and the British in the aftermath of the Battle of Lexington and Concord. American forces sought to capture Boston and bring about the surrender of the British army they trapped in the city. After a month the British concluded that they could not hold the city of Boston and widthdrew to bases in Halifax Canada.

Declaration of Independence

Declaration of Independence 1776

Declaration of Independence 1776

Written by Thomas Jefferson and amended by the Continental Congress the Declaration of Independence was approved on July 2 and adopted on July 4th 1776. The Declaration stated the grievances of the colonial citizens towards the tyrany of the British government and marked the official political separation between America and Great Britain.

Battle of Ticonderoga

Fort Ticonderoga New York State
 

Fort Ticonderoga New York State

Two Battles of Ticonderoga were fought during the Revolutionary War. The First Battle of Ticonderoga happened in 1775 and was an American victory that captured Fort Ticonderoga and it weaponry which was later used to besiege the British in Boston. The Second Battle of Ticonderoga was fought in 1777 and resulted in the British capture of the Fort.

Battle of Bunker Hill

The Battle of Bunker Hill by Howard Pyle

The Battle of Bunker Hill by Howard Pyle

The Battle of Bunker Hill was one of the first battles of the American Revolution. Colonial forces originally captured Bunker (and nearby Breed's) Hill as part of the siege of Boston, with the intention of trapping the British. Colonial forces widthstood two assaults by the British army but ran out of ammunition by the third attack. Though seen as a defeat for colonial forces at the time, in retrospect the Battle severely weakened British forces who had lost a large number of men in ultimately capturing Bunker (and Breed's) Hill. 

Battle of Quebec

The Death of General Montgomery at Quebec by John Trumbull

The Death of General Montgomery at Quebec by John Trumbull

The Battle of Quebec was a major American defeat in 1775. Colonial forces, following the capture of Fort Ticonderoga, sought to invade and capture Quebec. They were turned back by British and French Canadian forces.

Battle of Long Island

U.S. Army Artillery Retreat from Long Island 1776

U.S. Army Artillery Retreat from Long Island 1776

Following the British loss of Boston to rebel forces, the focus of fighting shifted to the area of New York. General George Washington sought to defend New York from capture by British forces but lost what became known as the Battle of Long Island (alternately known as the Battle of Brooklyn Heights). It was the first major defeat following the declartion of Independece by the Continential Congress. Washington and his army managed to evacuate from Brooklyn to Manhattan and escape destruction by the British but the battles fought in Manhattan also ended in defeat for American forces. Washington was forced to widthdraw entirely from New York City into New Jersey. New York City remained under British occupation for the remainder of the war.

Great Fire of New York

The Great FIre in New York City 1776

The Great FIre in New York City 1776

On September 21 1776 a fire broke out on the west side of New York City then mostly confined to the lower tip of Manhattan. 25 percent of the city burned to the ground during the fire which was suspected of having been set by rebel American forces to hamper British control of the city. Regardless of its condition in the aftermath, New York City remained occupied by the British until the end of the war in 1783.

Battle of Trenton

Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze

Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze

The Battle of Trenton was was fought on Christmas 1776. American forces surprised German mercenary forces (known as Hessians because they originated in the German state of Hesse) and after defeating them, captured almost everyone with very few losses. The Battle of Trenton was important in that it restored the American morale which was low following the massive defeats and evacuation of New York City.

Battle of Saratoga

Surrender of General Burgoyne at Saratoga by John Trumbull

Surrender of General Burgoyne at Saratoga by John Trumbull

The Battle of Saratoga in 1777 was a turning point in the Revolutionary War. American forces surrounded and defeated the British army under General Hohn Burgoyne at Saratoga in New York State. Burgoyne had intended to split the new country in half, cutting off New England from the rest of the country but failed. The Battle of Saratoga also marked the point when foreign powers, especially France, decided to give support to the American cause.

Valley Forge

The March to Valley Forge by William Trego

The March to Valley Forge by William Trego

Valley Forge is where George Washington and the Continental Army camped during the winter of 1777-1778. The troops suffered from harsh cold, starvation, and disease. Washington managed to miraculously hold the army together and together with news that the French would enter the war on the American side, the tempered army was able to leave in the spring of 1778 and recapture Philadelphia.

Treaty with France

Franco-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce Dual Language Manuscript February 6, 1778

Franco-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce Dual Language Manuscript February 6, 1778
From the General Records of the United States Government

In 1778 France officially recognized the United States and entered into a Treaty of Alliance. France then supplied the United States with much needed troops, supplies, and military - especially naval support. The 1778 Treaty of Alliance would last until 1800 officially despite being unofficially ended by the Neutrality Act of 1794.

Siege of Charleston

Sergeant William Jasper saves Flag at Fort Sullivan in Charleston SC June 28, 1776

Sergeant William Jasper saves Flag at Fort Sullivan in Charleston SC June 28, 1776

In 1779 the British shifted their strategy for the war by moving towards the south. In 1779 after a six week siege, the British army captured Charleston South Carolina.

Battle of Camden

Battle of Camden by Alonzo Chappel

Battle of Camden by Alonzo Chappel

The Battle of Camden in 1780 was another British victory in South Carolina following up on the capture of Charleston.

The Battle of King's Mountain

The Death of Patrick Ferguson at Kings Mountain by Alonzo Chappel

The Death of Patrick Ferguson at Kings Mountain by Alonzo Chappel

The Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780 was an American victory over Loyalist forces in South Carolina. The battle was important in that it came after many defeats in the area and improved moral among American forces.

The Battle of Cowpens

The Battle of Cowpens by William Ranney

The Battle of Cowpens by William Ranney

The Battle of Cowpens in 1781 was a turning point in the American southern campaign to liberate South Carolina from British control. This battle set into motion the events that ultimately led to the end of the war and the defeat of the British.

Battle of Yorktown

Surrender of Lord Cornwallis by John Trumbull

Surrender of Lord Cornwallis by John Trumbull

After the various battles in South Carolina left his army in terrible condition, General Charles Cornwallis retreated to the Virginia city of Yorktown. It was there in 1781 that a combined French and American army led by George Washington defeated and captured General Cornwallis and his army. This defeat was the last major battle of the Revolutionary War and forced Great Britain to decide to come to the negotiating table.

Treaty of Paris 1783

Signators To The Treaty of Paris by Benjamin West (Unfinished)

Signators To The Treaty of Paris by Benjamin West (Unfinished)

The Revolutionary War was officially ended by the Treaty of Paris in 1783. Great Britain recognized the independence of the United States and ceded territory to the new country that included everything between the Appalachian mountains and the Mississippi river. Britain also made peace with France through this treaty as well. The British would however remain in violation of the treaty by maintaining forts in the Midwest that would not be removed until the end of the War of 1812.