Answers to your Revolutionary War questions
Washington et Rochambeau Print (Society of Cincinnati)
Who was who?
The colonists living in the British North American colonies who rebelled against the authority of the crown were known as patriots, revolutionaries, continentals, colonials, rebels, Yankees, or Whigs. However, those who remained faithful to the Crown were known as loyalists, Royalists, King’s Men, or Tories.
British authority and soldiers likewise acquired several monikers throughout the course of the war, and were synonymously referred to as the British, the Crown, Great Britain, lobster backs, and regulars.
Learn more: Key Figures of the American Revolution: The American Patriots | Key Figures of the American Revolution: The British and Loyalists
What were the populations of the two sides?
Great Britain had 8 million residents in 1775, and the 13 rebellious colonies about 2.5 million (of which half a million were slaves).
The largest cities in the colonies were Philadelphia, Pa, (43, 000), New York, N.Y. (25, 000), Boston, MA (16, 000), Charleston, S.C. (12, 000), and Newport, R.I. (11, 000)
The four largest American colonies were Virginia (447, 016), Pennsylvania (240, 057), Massachusetts (235, 308), and Maryland (202, 599).
When was the Revolutionary War fought?
Though preceded by years of unrest and periodic violence, the Revolutionary War began in earnest on April 19, 1775 with the battles of Lexington and Concord. The conflict lasted a total of seven years, with the major American victory at Yorktown, VA in 1781 marking the end of hostilities. The Treaty of Paris was signed two years later, in 1783, thus officially ending the conflict.
Learn more: Forging a Nation, an Overview of the Revolutionary War
What were some of the conflict’s highlights?
June 6, 1775 — The Battle of Bunker (Breed’s) Hill, Ma.
October 4, 1777 — The Battle of Germantown, Pa.
March 29, 1780 — The Siege of Charleston, S.C.
Learn more: Revolutionary War Timeline
Where were the battles fought?
General Washington, on horseback, leads his troops into the Battle of Princeton. (Library of Congress)
The majority of the war was fought in New York, New Jersey, and South Carolina, with more than 200 separate skirmishes and battles occurring in each of these three colonies. However, engagements were fought in every one of the original thirteen colonies, with additional military actions taking place in the modern-day states of Tennessee, Arkansas, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Alabama, and Florida.
How much territory did the British control during the war?
Though difficult to quantify with numbers and acreage, there can be little doubt that the British forces occupied geographically and geopolitically important areas throughout the course of the war.
They held several important Canadian forts and cities in Nova Scotia, Ontario, New Brunswick; remaining in control of these areas even following the American Revolution.
The British also controlled many key cities within the American colonies, with New York serving as its major base of operations for the duration of the war. They also temporarily possessed the cities of Boston and Philadelphia and held Savannah and Charleston until 1783 and 1782 respectively.
While the British held several key urban centers, it’s important to understand that 90% of the colonial population lived in the rural countryside outside of British control and influence. So, in essence, the British were only able to maintain power in areas with a strong military presence, i.e. the colonial cities.
How many soldiers served in the war?
Over the course of the war, about 231, 000 men served in the Continental Army, though never more than 48, 000 at any one time, and never more than 13, 000 at any one place. The sum of the Colonial militias numbered upwards of 145, 000 men.
France also dispatched a substantial force to North America beginning in 1779, with more than 12, 000 soldiers and a substantial fleet joining the Colonial Americans by wars end.
At its peak, the British Army had upwards of 22, 000 men at its disposal in North America to combat the rebellion. An additional 25, 000 Loyalists, faithful to Great Britain, participated in the conflict as well.
Nearly 30, 000 German auxiliaries, or Hessians, were hired out by German princes and served alongside the British for the duration of the war.
Learn more: The Fighting Man of the Continental Army
How many were killed or wounded?
Throughout the course of the war, an estimated 6, 800 Americans were killed in action, 6, 100 wounded, and upwards of 20, 000 were taken prisoner. Historians believe that at least an additional 17, 000 deaths were the result of disease, including about 8, 000–12, 000 who died while prisoners of war.
Unreliable imperial data places the total casualties for British regulars fighting in the Revolutionary War around 24, 000 men. This total number includes battlefield deaths and injuries, deaths from disease, men taken prisoner, and those who remained missing.
Approximately 1, 200 Hessian soldiers were killed, 6, 354 died of disease, and another 5, 500 deserted and settled in America afterwards.
What were the causes of the Revolution?
This cartoon, captioned "The able Doctor, or America Swallowing the Bitter Draught" dramatizes American dissatisfaction with British rule. (Library of Congress)
Through aiding the American colonists during the French and Indian War, the British government amassed an enormous debt thanks to the cost of raising, supplying, and funding an army on foreign soil. Expecting the Americans to shoulder some of the financial burden, Parliament levied several acts of taxation as a means to soften the blow.
The Sugar Act (1764), the Stamp Act (1765), and the Townshend Acts (1767) were merely some of the unpopular pieces of legislation placed upon the American colonies for the purpose of raising funds to pay the French and Indian War debt.
Years of unrest and discord followed. The Americans maintained that Parliament could make laws, but insisted only their elected representatives could tax them. The English felt that Parliament had supreme authority over the colonies.