The Revolutionary War started as a dispute over taxes. The British Parliament needed revenues to pay off the debt from winning the French and Indian War. They believed that since they provided troops to protect the American colonies it was their right to collect taxes from them. The colonials believed that Parliament had no grounds to tax them as they were not represented.
Some believe that the Boston Tea Party marks the point of no return for hostilities between England and Colonial America.
Hostilities escalated across Colonial America until the Battle of Lexington and Concord started on April 19, 1775 with the "shot heard 'round the world."
George Washington's involvement in the Revolutionary War started with his election to the First Continental Congress by the Virginia House of Burgess. At the Second Continental Congress, in May 1775, Washington, with considerable lobbying from John Adams, was appointed Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. At this point, Washington was Commander and Chief and the only member of the Continental Army.
On June 23, 1775, Washington and a party of his hand picked military advisers set out to join the Revolutionary War in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts militiamen were holding the British in Boston. During his trip to Massachusetts he passed through New York City. The battle of Bunker Hill was fought while Washington was in New York.
Washington's first military act in the Revolutionary War was to perform a thorough assessment of the Massachusetts army. He found that the army lacked discipline and other essentials. There were only 36 barrels of gun powder. There were only 12,000 soldiers. Had the British decided to attack they would have routed the Colonials. Washington kept the powder situation secret from everyone and quickly worked to restore supplies. Washington's strategy was to continue the blockade and prevent the British from leaving Boston. The blockade lasted longer than anyone had anticipated and no one had made preparations for winter. Most of the troops service ended on December 31, 1775.
In May 1775, a Colonial force led by Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen captured Fort Ticonderoga. The cannons captured at the fort were the main prize.
Henry Knox led an expedition that brought the cannons from Fort Ticonderoga to Framingham in January 1776. The path that Knox took from Fort Ticonderoga to Framingham is known as Knox Trail.
On March 4, 1776, Washington used the cannons to surprise the British in Boston and take Dorchester Heights. The cannons from Ticonderoga and a daring plan gave the Colonials their first victory of the Revolutionary war and chased the British from Boston.
The British fleet retreated up the coast to Canada. Washington knew they would return and that their landing spot would be New York City. Control of New York would enable the British to sail their fleet up the Hudson and cut New England off from the rest of the Colonies. If they could accomplish this they would easily win the Revolutionary War. On April 13, 1776 George Washington reached New York City. He immediately set about to fortify the city against attack by blockading the East River.
On July 3, 1776, a reinforced British fleet reached New York Harbor. The fleet included 20,000 British troops and 10,000 Hessian troops. On July 4, 1776 the Declaration of Independence was signed. A few days later news of it reached Washington in New York. After weeks of planning the British finally landed on the tip of Long Island on August 21, 1776. When the British army engaged the Colonials, the Americans retreated back to a fortress at Brooklyn Heights. With the fortress at Brooklyn Height surrounded, the British General delayed the siege enough for Washington to plan an escape. The Colonial Army left the fortress during the night without warning the British. The Colonials escape meant that the Revolutionary War would continue.
On October 12, 1776 the British fleet sailed up the East River. In an attempt to contain the British in New York City, Washington stationed colonial troops at New Castle, Fort Washington in Harlem Heights, and Fort Lee in New Jersey. The defenses at Fort Washington were poorly designed. On November 16, 1776 the British forces attacked Fort Washington. Taking nearly 3.000 troops and supplies. With Fort Washington in British control Fort lee was indefensible. Washington led the retreat from Fort Lee across New Jersey. The retreat was a low point in the Revolutionary War for the Continental Army.
Washington's force was too small to defend the inhabitants of New Jersey. With no protection from the Colonial Army the residents of New Jersey were left with no choice but to secure their safety by pledging allegiance to King George and the British army. With the advancement of the British troops, the Continental Congress fled from Philadelphia to Baltimore. Washington and the Continental Army crossed over the Delaware River in December 1776 for the first time in the Revolutionary War.
Washington sent word to General Lee that he was to take all of the troops available to him and mount a counter attack on British troops operating in New Jersey. Before Lee could act, he was captured by the British. The British prepared for the winter of 1776 - 1777 by stationing most of their troops on Manhattan, Staten, and Aquidneck (near Newport, RI) islands. The closest garrison to Washington was in Trenton, NJ where 2,000 - 3,000 Hessian troops were stationed. Washington took his men back over the Delaware River in a driving snow storm to attack the Hessian camp. The snow storm hid the Continental Army and the surprised Hessians surrendered. There were no Colonial casualties. The Colonials captured 900 prisoners and 6 cannons. After the victory, Washington led his troops and their spoils back across the Delaware. The victory at Trenton helped Washington recruit more soldiers into the Continental army. Over half of the army reenlisted for the 1777 campaign. The victory at Trenton turned some momentum in the Revolutionary War back to the Colonials.
Four days after the victory Washington moved the Continental Army back to Trenton and setup camp between the Assunpink Creek and Delaware River. British General Cornwallis led a troop from New York seeking revenge for the loss at Trenton. Cornwallis and the British army tried to cross the Assunpink but were turned back. After this encounter, Washington and the Continental Army broke camp during the night and slipped past Cornwallis and marched on towards another British encampment at Princeton. On January 3, 1777 an advanced Colonial guard ran into two British regiments that were moving to join Cornwallis at Trenton. The Continental army engaged and forced a British retreat. The army then moved on and captured a 3rd British regiment stationed at Princeton. After the victory at Princeton, the Continental Army setup camp at Morristown New Jersey for the remainder of the winter.
On July 24, 1777 the 170 top sail vessels and 50 - 60 smaller boats from British navy sail from New York harbor towards Philadelphia. British General Howe's intent was to lure the Continental Army into a decisive battle and crush the rebellion. Washington moved to protect Philadelphia, but his defenses were insufficient. On September 11, 1777 Philadelphia fell to the British. General Cornwallis led and a force of 2,000 troops occupied Philadelphia. General Howe and 5,000 troops camped at Germantown, PA. Washington moved troops from New York to Pennsylvania to fortify his army. On October 3, 1777 the Colonial Army attacked Howe's light infantry and pushed it back to the main line. The British army countered and eventually forced the Colonial Army to retreat. In the Colonies, it was viewed as another defeat. In Europe, the ability of the Colonials to raise an army that was capable of attacking the British was viewed with amazement and is believed to have given the French the confidence needed to support the Colonial cause. The European sentiment would prove to be an important aspect in the Revolutionary War.
Unable to find a way to attack Philadelphia, Washington decided to move his army to Valley Forge, PA for the winter. Washington was against looting the local farms to supply his army and the Continental Congress continued to have difficulty supplying the army so the troops at Valley Forge were forced to suffer. The misery at Valley Forge lasted for two months. By February 1778, the men had completed their log cabins and moved out of the tents. The local landscape and wildlife provided plenty of firewood and sufficient food for the remainder of the winter. The army stationed at Valley Forge was able to complete training that would prove valuable for the remainder of the Revolutionary War.
In May 1778, France recognized the independence of the United States. Shortly after, General Howe was recalled to England and replaced by Sir Henry Clinton. Clinton evacuated Philadelphia to consolidate British forces in New York. After some debate, Washington decided to attack the British on their march from Philadelphia to New York. The Continental Army engaged the British in Monmouth County, New Jersey. General Lee, who led the original attack, almost lost the battle. Washington arrived and was able to reorganize the Colonial Army and counter attack. The battle ended in a standstill with the British completing their retreat to New York. It was the first battle where the Colonial forces were able to battle the British to a draw on open field and improved the military reputation of the army and its commanding officer.
During the winter of 1778 - 1779 the American colonies were struggling with serious inflation caused in part by the Revolutionary War and the inability of Continental Congress to collect revenues to pay for it. Limited funds meant Washington had to adopt a strategy that allowed him to reduce expenses until the financial situation could be improved. Which in turn would enable the army to pay more soldiers and buy more supplies. The portion of the army that remained wintered at Morristown Heights, New Jersey.
Growing tired of Washington's waiting game and needing a victory for moral in England, the British turned their attention towards the Southern States. On October 25, 1779 the British navy left New York and proceeded to Charleston, South Carolina. In May 1780, Charleston fell to the British. The Continental Congress moved General Gates down to stop the British march through the south.
On July 10, 1780 a French fleet under the command of the Conte de Rochambeau landed at Newport, Rhode Island. The fleet was sent to serve under American command. However, Washington's initial pleas for the French to engage were not heeded. French troops did not join forces with the Colonials until July 1781. At the same time Cornwallis moved his army operating in the south to Yorktown, VA to fortify it. The British were concerned that the French fleet operating in the French West Indies would attack New York. Rochambeau believed it better to focus on a southern port. In August 1781, Rochambeau notified Washington that a French fleet under De Grasse would arrive in the Chesapeake on September 3, 1781. Washington and Rochambeau needed to march their armies from New York to Virginia to meet up with the fleet. Before leaving the armies setup fake camps in New Jersey to hide their movement and make the British believe that the attack was coming to New York. When Cornwallis realized he was under attack he attempted to fortify Yorktown instead of flee. The French forces led a methodical siege of Yorktown and on October 17, 1781 Cornwallis surrendered. The French and Colonials captured 7,241 soldiers, 840 seamen, and 244 pieces of artillery. The fall of Yorktown was the last major battle of the Revolutionary War. On April 18, 1783 hostilities between the Colonials and the British ended. On May 25, 1783 the British evacuated New York.