The outcome of a war depends on far more than individual battles, but the battles are compelling to study; everyone has a favorite. The impacts of each one are numerous, and we can pontificate endless “what if” scenarios regarding the outcomes. There were, nonetheless, several battles that changed the momentum of the American Revolution – battles that stopped campaigns and caused changes in strategy. Although the outcome of every battle influenced subsequent events, only a few completely changed the momentum of a campaign or of the war itself. For a top ten list of game-changing battles, I first limited the scope to land battles fought on the North American continent. Then I considered whether the outcome of that battle changed the momentum of what was going on at the time. For example, the Battle of Brandywine was a momentous fight, but if the battle hadn’t occurred at all the overall result of the Philadelphia campaign would probably have been more or less the same; and, because the British won, they sustained momentum that they already had. An American victory at Brandywine would’ve been a game-changer – but that didn’t happen. In some cases it’s difficult to isolate battles from campaigns – Yorktown being a fine example – so I’ve mingled the two a bit. Here’s my list: some famous, some not so famous, but each one an event that shifted momentum from one side to the other and shaped the overall conduct of the war. Which battles would make your list?
Although more a series of skirmishes than a pitched battle, this clash of arms was the result of tensions that had built over a long period and changed the conflict from politics and social unrest to open warfare. “Ever since the 19th, we have been kept in constant alarm; all Officers order’d to lay at their barracks.”
This costly British victory helped shape the early course of the war by proving that intimidating force alone would not bring about victory. It also proved that there was no going back: the war would be a long one with no immediate diplomatic solution.