How did the colonist manage to win the war? What were the key reasons why the strongest military nation in the world (England) lost the war?
The American Revolution had been going on for quite some time as taxation without representation was quite a contentious issue in the colonies in the mid 1770’s. Naturally the British sought to impress their point of view on the colonists with rather brute force and this undoubtedly led to substantial friction between the ruling class and the colonial people.
The situation got worse with the Boston Tea Party when the colonists dumped British products in the sea to demonstrate their rebellion against unjust taxation without representation where they felt that their natural rights were being impinged upon. This triggered off the war where the British initially gained the upper hand although slowly and through inspired leadership, the Americans managed to actually win the war against superior forces and quite unbalanced military odds.
Initially the British forces routed the ill organised and ill equipped American colonists and easily conquered New York and other positions of strategic importance leaving the Americans on the brink of defeat. Several governors in important states such as New Jersey remained loyal to the Crown and this put added pressure on the colonists who appeared pretty leaderless and without much initiative.
Initially as well, British naval superiority managed to control practically all the important American seaports creating a situation where a naval blockade was the order of the day. Naturally this continued to put added pressure on the colonists who were at their wits end to come up with some sort of counterattacking measure, that is until George Washington entered the fray.
Pressure was growing internally in Britain as the war was costing huge amounts of money to the Exchequer and aprt from that, King George III was quite unpopular with the public, especially due to his belligerent stance towards the Americans. Additionally a considerable number of other nations began aiding the Americans in their quest for liberty and these included the French and the Dutch who provided large sums of moeny to the independence cause although this eventually bankrupted France’s economy and led to the French Revolution.
The British also presumed that the ‘colonial rabble’ would be quickly suppressed but they reckoned without the courage and innovation of most of these patriots who were rather adept at guerilla and smash and grab warfare. In fact in the early battles of Lexington and Concord, the British won with ease but the Americans learnt from their mistakes and quickly began to adapt them to the battlefield. The coming of age of battle hardened commanders such as George washington and patrick Henry also aided the colonists cause no end and created a situation where the Americans could fight their own battles according to their skills and territorial advantages.
The British also employed African Americans and native American Indians to fight against the colonists to various results. More often than not, these forces were quite unreliable and although the British offered them promises of liberty and independnec as well as land, the fighting spirit of the Indians especially could not really be counted upon. As always the British underestimated the fighting prowess of the colonists who were growing from strength to strength with each day that passed.
Territory and all that
A distinct advantage which the colonists held over the British was their knowledge of the territory, something which they used constantly and regularly. Thus in battles where the British initially gained the upper hand, they were always outgunned and outfoxed in the end by the Americans who retreated further into their own territory and then made that regular counterattack which eventually won them the battle.
Washington also employed some outstanding militray tactics which were also crucial and decisive in various encounters. His crossing of the Delaware River when it was frozen over with ice remains one of the high points of the whole war and was crucial to enable the colonists to gain the upper hand.
The territorial advantage was also used during some lighter skirmishes and as the American began to receive help from other foreign nations, the situation improved. French and Dutch troops also fought alongside the colonists and helped them with military tactics which eventually enabled the colonists to outgun and outfox the British on several counts.
A war on too many fronts
Another reason why the British lost the war is that they were spread over too many fronts and with the interference of other foreign nations, they began to over spread their resources creating a situation where they had to spend vast amounts of money just to keep their armies in the colonies. This war of attrition continued to negatively impact the Exchequer with the British public continually indignant on the situation and clamouring for an end to the war.
Additionally the war also had far reaching implications in other British colonies such as India and the West Indies where the British forces embarked on a full scale naval campaign against the French and Dutch fleets. This led them to capture substantial amounts of territory in these countries while their initial cause of keeping America was severely affected.
The suppression of a rebellion in the United States was also a curious one in the sense that where in other countries, the capture of a cpital city normally meant the end of a war or battle, this was not the case in the United as the war continued without stopping after the capture of several capitals such as Boston, Philadelphia and New York. Another factor which impeded the British was the continued need to balance the allegiance of the loyalists with their needs as these were being put under considerable pressure to switch sides. This created several anachronistic situations throughout the conflict and as the war began to turn awry for the British, loyalists felt under increasing pressure to throw their lot alongside the colonists.
Conclusion – the main points of defeat for the British in the war
The principal reason for the British defeat was undoubtedly the colonist’s capabilities of learning from their mistakes and adapting to new and largely successful military tactics. The strategic knowledge of the terrain was also a hugely important factor in this regard and the British who could have been more knowledgeable on this issue definitely lost the upper hand here.
Foreign intervention was another crucial issue as with several countries intervening, the British became spread over too many fronts thus creating a situation where they were thinly spread while the colonists could strike at their own time and tempo. The fact that Britain then enggaed in other foreign wars far from the original territory of America also resulted in a pretty unbalanced conflict.
Financial considerations have also to be taken into account here as the British spent millions of pounds on the war with subsequent strains on their finances. This led to clashes between the Prime Minister and the King who was constantly obsessed with his idea of keeping America within the British sphere of influence while William Pitt the Pm realised that the country could not continue going on spending money at such a rate on a cause which now appeared to be lost. British intransigence on this issue led to King George III becoming distinctly unpopular with the British public and this also led to a faster conclusion of the war.
McCullough D (2006), 1776, Simon and Schuster