The Revolutionary War

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What are key turning points in the Revolutionary War and their impact?

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Given that the Revolution was ultimately successful, the turning points usually cited are ones that were victories for the Patriot side. These are well known: Trenton in December of 1776, in which Washington instantly reversed what had seemed a headlong descent into defeat occurring over the previous months; and Saratoga in September of 1777, in which Burgoyne's entire army surrendered. However, on the eight-year path to victory, there were also several turning points that temporarily seemed to indicate a British victory was imminent (though the fact that the Americans always lived to fight another day demonstrated the essential futility of the British effort).

The British victory at Brandywine in September 1777 and the subsequent occupation of Philadelphia forced Washington into an almost impossible situation in having to remove his army to Valley Forge, where he was unable to obtain an adequate supply of provisions for the men. There was also, presumably, a huge symbolism in the British takeover of the largest city, where independence had been declared a year and a half earlier. Yet the fact that Washington's army survived, and soon after the winter was over managed to secure a victory at Monmouth in New Jersey, indicated that the British had accomplished nothing, in spite of the enormous support they had had from the Loyalist crowd in Philadelphia. So, the winter of 1777–1778, though tragic for Washington's army, was nevertheless a turning point in favor of the rebellion.

The British victory at Charleston, South Carolina, in May 1780 was also what appeared to be a major triumph that would, or could, signal that the rebellion was close to being crushed. The British captured a strategic port, took thousands of prisoners, and confiscated enormous stocks of guns and ammunition. But ironically, this turning point was the beginning of the end for the British. Their new strategy was to bring the war to the southern colonies—since there were more Loyalists in the south than elsewhere, they assumed these people would help the British in quashing the rebellion. But once the British made their incursions into the south, their heavy-handed tactics backfired. Much of the initially neutral civilian population turned against the British. In the southern campaigns, there was no single turning point for the Patriots, at least until the final victory at Yorktown in October 1781. But there were smaller turning points, of which I would mention:

  1. The battle of Kings Mountain in October 1780. An ad hoc army of patriot militias defeated a force led by the British Maj. Ferguson (the inventor of the Ferguson rifle). It showed that there was grassroots and determined resistance to the British by the mountaineer Americans who lived in the western Carolinas.

  2. The Battle of Cowpens in January 1781. This Patriot victory crushed the feared British Col. Tarleton, who had created havoc across the Carolinas, and showed that innovative tactics by the Americans under Gen. Daniel Morgan could defeat the British.

  3. The series of engagements fought against Cornwallis by Gen. Nathaniel Greene during the southern campaign exhausted Cornwallis, in spite of each of the battles being a tactical British victory.

    With his forces worn down, Cornwallis did not have any viable options. Holed up in Yorktown, he was trapped by the arrival of Washington's and Rochembeau's armies and DeGrasse's fleet. The combined American-French victory finally made Parliament realize it was useless to continue fighting, and the decision was made to begin negotiations and grant independence to the colonies.
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The American Revolution (1775–1783) was a long and difficult war. What began as a civil war eventually became a world war as France and other nations joined the American side. Foreign aid was crucial to America's eventual triumph.

Early battles were fought around Boston and New York. The war's first battle at Lexington and Concord was an American victory. Heavy British losses at Bunker Hill led the British to evacuate Boston. Then the British occupied New York and defeated George Washington. By 1777, the British held New York and Philadelphia.

The tide turned in 1777–1778. An entire British army had to surrender at Saratoga, in northern New York. Then France entered the war on America's side.

But the war was not yet over. Britain still possessed a powerful navy and a professional army. The British tried to conquer the southern colonies, but they were finally defeated by the Americans' hit-and-run tactics.

The last battle at Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781 basically ended the war. Assisted by French troops and ships, George Washington forced another British army to surrender.

The surrenders of British armies at Saratoga and Yorktown were decisive turning points. Saratoga brought France into the war, and Yorktown convinced the British to give up and grant the Americans their independence.

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Two important points were the 1777-1778 winter at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania and the 1781 South Carolina Battle of Cowpens.

The Continental Army forces commanded by George Washington were not well equipped and the soldiers' commitment was tested during the winter of 1777-1778. They were encamped for six months at Valley Forge, on the outskirts of Philadelphia, which the British controlled. Washington worried that the army would disband, but they held on. Finally in June, new troops arrived and the army marched on to New Jersey.

In the South, where the British were in control, the Americans were determined to take the Carolinas. Near the town of Cowpens, South Carolina, through a combination of superior numbers and strategy, General Morgan's American forces defeated the British under Tarleton. This break in British control forced Cornwallis to change plans and paved the way for the decisive encounters at Yorktown, Virginia nine months later.

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There were several key points in the Revolutionary War. One key point was the Battle of Saratoga. The British had hoped to isolate the New England colonies from the rest of the colonies by winning at Saratoga. For various reasons, the British were unable to win this battle. This gave hope to the colonists that they could fight with the British and win important battles. It also sent a signal to England’s rivals, France and Spain, that the colonists had a real chance to win the Revolutionary War. The French and Spanish began to help the colonists after their victory at Saratoga. For example, they sent the colonists supplies and money.

Another key moment was the colonial victory at Yorktown. With help from the French navy, General Washington was able to surround the British at Yorktown. When General Cornwallis realized he was surrounded and had no way out of Yorktown, he surrendered. This victory brought the Revolutionary War to an end.

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