The Revolutionary War

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Reasons for Britain's adoption and failure of the Southern military strategy during the Revolutionary War

Summary:

Britain adopted the Southern military strategy during the Revolutionary War to capitalize on perceived Loyalist support and economic benefits in the South. However, it failed due to overestimating Loyalist numbers, underestimating Patriot resistance, logistical challenges, and guerrilla warfare tactics by American forces, which disrupted British supply lines and weakened their military effectiveness.

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Why did Britain adopt and fail with a Southern military strategy during the Revolutionary War?

The British decision to focus their strategy on the Southern colonies was largely based on the perception, partly a valid one, that there were more loyalists in the South than elsewhere in the colonies. The British reasoned that if they could encourage and energize the Southern colonists, these people would aid them in the war effort. Then, the campaign to overturn the rebellion would spread to the other colonies north of the Mason-Dixon line. In theory this, to a degree, made sense, but various missteps by the British and a basic misunderstanding of the methods by which the various rebel armies were fighting led eventually to the final failure of their efforts to stop the rebellion, culminating in Yorktown in October 1781.

In general the progress of the war, since its beginning, had principally been a movement from north to south. The fighting, of course, was initiated in New England in 1775. When the British were forced to evacuate Boston the following year, they then made New York the focus of their efforts, winning all the battles in the New York area and forcing Washington to retreat south through New Jersey but never actually destroying his army. His surprise victories over them at Trenton and Princeton demoralized the British and made other European leaders realize for the first time that the rebellion could actually succeed. In 1777, Howe landed in the Chesapeake Bay at Head of Elk, Maryland (today Elkton), quickly advanced north, defeated Washington again at Brandywine and then marched into Philadelphia. But the following year, he abandoned Philadelphia. In the meantime, the devastating defeat of Burgoyne's army at Saratoga showed that the British, despite seeming to be able to take American cities whenever they wished, were farther from quashing the rebellion than they had been at any time since the start of the fighting. With the news that the French had formed an alliance with the rebel government, the British began to realize they were in a quagmire, unable to make progress in spite of numerous victories in the field and the near disintegration of Washington's army in the winter of 1777–1778 at Valley Forge.

Hence the Southern strategy was developed, which was both something new and, as stated, also a kind of continuation of the general southward progress of the war. The British seemed to believe that if they were not able to end the rebellion in one region, they could move to another area and try again. But the manner in which this phase was conducted seemed to combine, in an even worse form, all the errors the British had previously made through the conflict to this point. For one thing, the brutal tactics they employed in the South had the effect of turning much of even the loyal population against them. Various officers, in particular General Tarleton, carried out actions that were seen as indiscriminately destructive. He burned property and killed farm animals throughout the Carolinas.

This was the key factor as to why the British "invasion" of the South backfired, for even if a majority of Southerners were loyalists and wished to remain under the Crown, they still did not want the war or its violence brought to their country. The appearance of the British became a catalyst for a savage internecine warfare amongst the Americans themselves. The Americans who were against the British were well organized. A small army of rural people who lived largely in the borderlands between North and South Carolina destroyed a British force at the Battle of King's Mountain in 1780. At the battle of Cowpens, Daniel Morgan's forces, using creative and unorthodox tactics, similarly defeated the British. Nathaniel Greene's army, though it did not actually win a single battle, fought the British over and over again, constantly losing but surviving to fight another day while exhausting the British. It became a classic war of attrition in which the British were unable to extend their supply lines. The British were eventually trapped at Yorktown between Washington's and Rochambeau's armies and the French fleet under De Grasse, which had arrived in a miracle of timing. This was the final straw for the British Parliament, who realized that the war would go on and on indefinitely without resolution, even if another army was sent across the Atlantic to replace Cornwallis's defeated forces. The Tory government fell, and the Whigs, who had been sympathetic to the Americans and against the war from the beginning, voted to begin peace negotiations.

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Why did Britain adopt and fail with a Southern military strategy during the Revolutionary War?

During the Revolutionary War, the British switched to a southern strategy that ultimately failed.  The British started fighting in New York. However, due to a variety of missteps, they weren’t successful in cutting off the New England colonies from the rest of the colonies.  After their defeat in the Battle of Saratoga, the British decided to move the fighting to the south. One of the reasons they did this was the lack of success they had fighting in the northern regions of the colonies. Another reason they moved to the south was that there were more loyalists living in the south. Believing they would receive more support from the loyalists, the British thought they might be able to win more battles here.  In the beginning of the southern campaign, the British had successes at places like Savannah, Charleston, and Camden.  Finally, the British knew that to win the war, they would have to defend the whole empire, including the south.  Ultimately, this campaign failed for many of the same reasons why it failed elsewhere. The British generals were not the best military men.  Some of them got their commands because of whom they knew instead of because of their military knowledge. As a result, they often made poor military decisions.  For many of the British soldiers, they really weren’t fighting for a cause. Unlike the Americans who had definite causes for which to fight (freedom and saving their lives to name a few), the British had hired soldiers to help fight the war.  Getting paid was a main motive for some of these soldiers. Additionally, as the war moved to the south, people in Britain were getting tired of the war. The British people expected a quick victory.  Instead, this war was becoming a long one.  Thus, support for the war dropped at home.  The British also didn’t know the land as well as the colonists did.  This was a decided disadvantage for the British. Finally, the help the colonists were getting from the rivals of Britain, aided the colonists in their fight. For example, the role the French navy played at Yorktown was crucial.  There were many reasons why the British moved the fighting to the south. There also are many reasons why this strategy failed.

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Why did Britain adopt and fail with a Southern military strategy during the Revolutionary War?

During the Revolutionary War, the British put into full force a military plan called the Southern Strategy once France became an American ally and entered the war in 1778. At this point, the British had to revaluate their plan, and under the leadership of British Secretary of State for the American Department, Lord George Germain, they decided that they would focus their efforts in the Southern colonies of Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, where they believed they would have the support of Loyalists—colonists who supported British rule.

However, the British did not ultimately receive the degree of Loyalist support that they had counted on. The brutal slaughter of American forces by the British cavalry under Colonel Banastre Tarleton and the very cruel practices that took place in the South under his leadership incited great resentment, and the Southern Strategy backfired.

Patriot guerrilla attacks on British supply trains and the morale-boosting American victory of 1780, the Battle of King's Mountain in North Carolina, further ensured the failure of the British Southern Strategy.

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Why did Britain switch to a southern military strategy in the Revolutionary War and why did it fail?

The British decided to shift the focus of the war to the Southern colonies in late 1778 for three main reasons. First, the war, which had primarily been fought north of Pennsylvania previously, had essentially become a stalemate by that time. While seldom losing battles, the British had failed to destroy the Continental Army in the field. The Continental Army won a stunning victory at the battle of Saratoga in late 1777, a setback that was followed in short order by the Franco-American alliance. Some British military leaders had advocated focusing the war on the southern colonies from the outset, and declining prospects in the north convinced planners to shift the focus of the conflict.

Second, British military leaders believed that the southern colonies were full of Loyalists who would flock to the king's standard once British troops showed up. There was truth in this belief—many in the southern colonies were decidedly lukewarm about the Revolution, and many were overtly Loyalists. But by and large the British were disappointed by the size of the Loyalist turnout, especially in the Carolinas. Loyalist forces did rise up to join the invading British, but a great many colonists attempted to remain neutral, and many took advantage of the opportunity to loot or settle old scores against neighbors. One large Loyalist force met with a stunning defeat at Kings Mountain on the North Carolina-South Carolina border.

There was therefore no widespread mobilization of Loyalists, which contributed to the failure of the campaign. What did happen is that a brutal civil war broke out in the Carolina backcountry, one characterized by retribution, property destruction, and violent fighting. One other factor in the thinking of British war planners was that the threat of rebellion by enslaved people in the region would weaken southern revolutionary resistance. Virginia's royal governor Dunmore had mobilized thousands of slaves early in the Revolution, and the threat of slave rebellion was at the front of revolutionary leaders' minds.

The British did not want a general slave rebellion either, but thousands of enslaved men and women flocked to British lines, even as revolutionary leaders attempted to keep them down. In the south, the revolutionary struggle for freedom took on another dimension as American revolutionaries sought their own liberty while taking brutal steps to deny it to the enslaved. Many of the enslaved people who cast their lot with the British Army wound up scattered throughout the British Empire.

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Why did Britain switch to a southern military strategy in the Revolutionary War and why did it fail?

The British had several reasons for moving the fighting to the South during the Revolutionary War. For one, the British weren’t experiencing much success in the North, and they had just lost the Battle of Saratoga. Britain hoped to cut the New England colonies off from the rest of the colonies. However, due to several factors, including poor military decision-making and leadership, the British failed to isolate the New England colonies.

The British also moved the fighting to the South because they had to defend the entire land that made up the thirteen colonies. Unlike the colonists, who could fight a defensive war and avoid major battles, the British needed to defend all of the areas that they controlled.

The British also hoped to get more support in the South. Many loyalists lived in the South, and the British hoped that they would be fighting in areas in which more people would support them.

This strategy ultimately failed, even though the British experienced some initial successes. The colonists were fighting on land that was more familiar to them than it was to the British. The colonists also didn’t have to go on the offensive. The longer the war lasted, there would be a growing number of voices in Great Britain to end the war. The colonists used guerilla-warfare strategies that helped them avoid major battles and helped to prolong the war. Also, they got help from France and from Spain. This help, which included supplies, money, and some soldiers, benefited the colonists significantly. The colonists were also fighting for a cause in which they believed. They wanted their independence, and some of the colonists knew they could be killed if the colonial war effort failed.

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Why did Britain switch to a southern military strategy in the Revolutionary War and why did it fail?

The American Revolutionary War featured armed conflict between the thirteen states of the former American colonies and the kingdom of Great Britain. The War was at first centered in the North but Britain was later to shift it to the South in what is known as the Southern Strategy. The reasons behind the shift in strategy include:

  • British territorial losses in the North and the recapture of New Jersey by General Washington and his army
  • The surrender and subsequent defeat of the British army under General Burgoyne at Saratoga
  • The Franco-American treaty where France saw the loss of the British as an opportunity to seek revenge and inflict more damage
  • The entry of Spain as an ally of France to support America in her quest for independence by providing military support

Due to the above reasons, Britain was forced to change her strategy and focused on the South, hoping that the high number of loyalists in the Southern States would strengthen their side. They however underestimated the growing Patriot population and logistical challenges leading to failure in the Southern Strategy.

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Why did Britain switch to a southern military strategy in the Revolutionary War and why did it fail?

The British switched to a southern military strategy after General Henry Clinton arrived in the colonies to take over command of British troops from William Howe.  Clinton decided that the British efforts in the North had failed and that they should move South.  The South, he felt, would be a better place for the British because it was believed that the South had many more Loyalists than the North did.  The British felt that they would be in friendlier territory there.  They would be able to draw on Tory strength to supplement the regulars.  They would build momentum by winning in the South and would then move back North to finish the job.

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