1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/American War of Independence
AMERICAN WAR OF INDEPENDENCE (1775–1781). This war, by which the United States definitely separated themselves from the British connexion, began with the affair of Lexington in Massachusetts, on the 19th of April 1775, and was virtually ended by the capitulation of Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia, on the 10th of October 1781. In this article the progress of the war itself is alone considered, its political side being treated under United States: History. From a military standpoint as well as politically it was a conspicuous and instructive conflict,—conspicuous, or even unique, as being the most famous struggle in history where colonial dependencies defeated their powerful parent state, and instructive as presenting exceptional conditions and consequent errors in the attempt to break down the revolt. The reasons for Great Britain’s failure appear in the progress of the war, which assumed two distinct stages, operations in the north followed by operations in the south. In point of time and energy military activity was about equally divided between these two fields. As the naval operations in connexion with the war have a European interest as well, they are dealt with in a separate section.
To strike at the rebellion first in the north was natural and inevitable. To King George and his ministry, Massachusetts was the hotbed of disloyalty, the head and front of opposition to Land operations.their colonial policy, and there coercion should begin. It was also a convenient point for a prompt display of authority, as the town of Boston was the headquarters of General Gage, recently appointed royal governor of Massachusetts and commander of the king’s troops in North America. He had with him four regiments of regulars, the initial force with which to overawe the restless and defiant population in his vicinity. While Gage is to be credited with advising his government that not less than 20,000 men would be necessary for the work in hand, he proceeded at once to suppress demonstrations around Boston. His principal expedition brought about the skirmish of the 19th of April 1775 (see Lexington), in which a detachment sent to seize some military stores collected at Concord suffered heavily at Lexington, Concord and other places, at the hands of the surrounding militia. This encounter roused the New England colonies, and in a few days some 16,000 of their townsmen marched in small bands upon Boston to protest against and resist further similar incursions; and in this irregular body we have the nucleus of the colonial forces which carried the war through. A noteworthy incident of the Concord affair, and characteristic of the attitude which the provincials had maintained and continued to maintain for another year, was the official representation to the king by the Massachusetts people that the regulars were the first to fire upon them, and that they returned the fire and fought through the day in strict defence of their rights and homes as Englishmen. They repeated their professions of loyalty to his majesty and the principles of the English Constitution. Conscious, nevertheless, that a struggle impended, they instantly sent word to all the other colonies, whose whig elements sympathetically responded to the alarm. The war had opened.
The home government extended its precautions and preparations. General (Sir) William Howe, who succeeded Gage in the chief command in October, and Generals (Sir) Henry Clinton and John Burgoyne were sent out at once with reinforcements. Cornwallis followed a year later. These four generals were identified with the conduct of the principal operations on the side of the British. The force at Boston was increased to 10,000 men. The American Congress at Philadelphia, acting for all the thirteen colonies, voted general defensive measures, called out troops and appointed George Washington of Virginia commander-in-chief. Before he reached the camp forming around Boston, a second and more important collision took place. On the 17th of June 1775 occurred the Bunker
Hill.battle of Bunker Hill (q.v.), in which, although victorious, the British suffered heavily, losing one-third of their force in storming the hastily constructed lines of the “rebels.” The latter’s most serious loss was that of General Joseph Warren, one of the prominent leaders of the revolutionary movement in Massachusetts. In moral effect the battle proved anything but a defeat to the Americans, who now drew a cordon of works around Boston, hemming Howe’s army in a contracted, and, as it proved, untenable, position. On the 3rd of July Washington took command of the American army at Cambridge and proceeded with what is known as the “siege of Boston,” which was marked by no special incident, and closed with the evacuation of the town by the British on the 17th of March 1776, Howe sailing away to Halifax, Nova Scotia. While the main interest centred at this point, the year 1775 was marked by two enterprises elsewhere. Fort Ticonderoga, the key to the passage of Lakes George and Champlain to Canada, was surprised and taken on the 10th of May by a small band under Colonel Ethan Allen, while Colonel Benedict Arnold headed an expedition through the Maine woods to effect the capture of Quebec, where Sir Guy Carleton commanded. Arnold joined General Richard Montgomery, who was already near the city, and the combined force assaulted Quebec on the 31st of December, only to meet with complete defeat. Montgomery was killed and many of his men taken prisoners. Demonstrations against Canada were soon discontinued, Arnold drawing off the remnant of his army in May 1776.
The events of 1775, though favourable to America, were but a prelude to the real struggle to come. For the campaign of 1776 both sides made extensive preparations. To the home government the purely military problem, although assuming larger dimensions and more difficulties, still seemed to admit of a simple solution, namely, to strike hard where the rebellion was most active and capable of the longest resistance. Defeated there, it would quickly dissipate in all quarters. As much more than one-half of the population and resources of the colonists lay north of Chesapeake Bay—New England alone having an estimated population of over 700,000 persons—it was only a question as to what point in this area should be made the future base of operations. Largely upon the representations of Howe, Burgoyne and others, it was determined to shift the field from Boston to New York city, from there to hold the line of the Hudson river in co-operation with a force to move down from Canada under Carleton and Burgoyne, and thus effectually to isolate New England.
Upon this plan the new campaign opened in June 1776. Howe, heavily reinforced from home, sailed on the 10th from Halifax to New York and on the 5th of July encamped on Staten Island. Washington, anticipating this move, had already marched from Boston and fortified the city. His left flank was thrown across the East river beyond the village of Brooklyn, while his front and right on the harbour and North or Hudson river were open to a combined naval and military attack. The position proved untenable. Howe drove Washington out of it, and forced the abandonment of the whole of Manhattan Island by three well-directed movements upon the American left. On the 22nd of August he crossed the Narrows Long
Island.to the Long Island shore with 15,000 troops, increasing the number to 20,000 on the 25th, and on the 27th surprised the Americans, driving them into their Brooklyn works and inflicting a loss of about 1400 men. Among the prisoners were Generals J. Sullivan and W. Alexander, soi-disant earl of Stirling. (See Long Island.) Howe has been criticized, rightly or wrongly, for failing to make full use of his victory. Washington skilfully evacuated his Brooklyn lines on the night of the 29th, and in a measure relieved the depression which the defeat had produced in his army. On the 15th of September Howe crossed the East river above the city, captured 300 of the militia defending the lines and occupied the city. Washington had withdrawn his main army to the upper part of the island. A skirmish, fought the next day, opposite the west front of the present Columbia University, and known as the affair of Harlem Heights, cost the British a loss of seventy of their light infantry. Delaying until the 12th of October, Howe again moved forward by water into Westchester county, and marching toward White Plains forced another retreat on Washington. In the fight on Chatterton Hill at the Plains, on the 28th of October, an American brigade was defeated. Instead of pressing Washington further, Howe then returned to Fort
ton.Manhattan Island, and on the 16th of November captured Fort Washington with nearly 3000 prisoners. This was the heaviest blow to the Americans throughout the war in the north. The British then pushed down through New Jersey with designs on Philadelphia. Washington, still retreating with a constantly diminishing force, suddenly turned upon Lieutenant-Colonel Rall’s advanced corps of Hessians at Trenton on the 26th of December and captured nearly 1000 prisoners. This brilliant exploit was followed by another on the 3rd of January, when Washington, again crossing the Delaware, outmarched Cornwallis at Trenton, and marching to his rear defeated three British regiments and three companies of light cavalry at Princeton, New Jersey. Marching on to Morristown, Washington encamped there on the flank of the British advance in New Jersey, thus ending the first campaign fought on the new issue of American Independence, which had been declared on the 4th of July 1776. While these closing successes inspirited the Americans, it was undeniable that the campaign had gone heavily against them. Having raised a permanent force for the war called the Continental Line, they awaited further operations of the enemy. Following up the occupation of New York, Howe proceeded in 1777 to capture Philadelphia. Complete success again crowned his movements. Taking his army by sea from New York to the head of the Chesapeake, he marched up into Pennsylvania, whither Washington had repaired to watch him, and on the 26th of September entered the city. The Americans attempted to check the advance of the British at the river Brandywine, where an action occurred on Brandy-
wine.the 11th, resulting in their defeat (see Brandywine); and on the 4th of October Washington directed a well-planned attack upon the enemy’s camp at Germantown on the outskirts of the city, but failed of success. (See Germantown.)
Howe’s victorious progress in Pennsylvania was neutralized by disasters farther north. Burgoyne marched from Canada in June 1777, with a strong expeditionary force, to occupy Albany and put himself in touch with Howe at the other end of the Hudson. Driving the Americans under General Arthur St Clair out of Ticonderoga, and making his way through the deep woods with difficulty, he reached the Hudson at Fort Edward on the 30th of July. General Philip Schuyler, commanding the Americans in that quarter, retreated to Stillwater, 30 m. above Albany, barricading the roads and impeding Burgoyne’s progress. Dissatisfaction with his conduct led Congress to replace him in command by General Gates. On the 13th of August Burgoyne despatched a force to Bennington, Vermont, under the German colonel Friedrich Baum, to capture stores and overawe the country. On the 16th Baum was attacked by General John Stark with the militia from the surrounding country, and was overwhelmed. Colonel Breyman, marching to his relief, was also routed. The misfortune cost the British 1000 men. Equally unfortunate was the fate of an expedition sent under Saratoga.Colonel Barry St Leger to co-operate with Burgoyne by way of the Mohawk Valley. On the 6th of August he was met at Oriskany by General Nicholas Herkimer and forced to retreat. Despite these disasters Burgoyne pushed south to Stillwater, where he was defeated by Gates’s improvised army of continentals and militia in two battles on the 19th of September (Freeman’s Farm) and the 7th of October (Bemis’s Height). On the 17th he was forced to surrender. (See Saratoga, Battle of.) This disaster was followed by the alliance between America and France in 1778, and later by the addition of Spain to England’s enemies—events of far-reaching importance.
A movement of importance, in 1778–79, was the expedition of George Rogers Clark, under the authority of the state of Virginia, against the British posts in the north-west. With a company of volunteers Clark captured Kaskaskia, the chief post in the Illinois country, on the 4th of July 1778, and later secured the submission of Vincennes, which, however, was recaptured by General Henry Hamilton, the British commander at Detroit. In the spring of 1779 Clark raised another force, and recaptured Vincennes from Hamilton. This expedition did much to free the frontier from Indian raids, gave the Americans a hold upon the north-west, of which their diplomats duly took advantage in the peace negotiations, and later, by giving the states a community of interest in the western lands, greatly promoted the idea of union.
In 1778 Sir Henry Clinton succeeded Howe in the chief command in America. With fewer resources than his predecessor had disposed of, he could accomplish practically nothing in the north. In June 1778 he evacuated Philadelphia, with the intention of concentrating his force at New York. Washington, who had passed the winter at Valley Forge, overtook him at Monmouth, N.J., and in an action on the 28th of June both armies suffered about equal loss. Thereafter (except in the winter of 1779, at Morristown) Washington made West Point on the Hudson the headquarters of his army, but Clinton avowed himself too weak to attack him there. In 1779 he attempted to draw Washington out of the Highlands, with the result that in the manoeuvres he lost the garrison at Stony Point, 700 strong, the position being stormed by Wayne with the American light infantry on the 16th of July. During the summer General John Sullivan marched with a large force against the Indians (all the Iroquois tribes except the Oneidas and part of the Tuscaroras siding with the British during the war) and against the Loyalists of western New York, who had been committing great depredations along the frontier; and on the 29th of August he inflicted a crushing defeat upon them at Newtown, on the site of the present Elmira. In addition several Indian villages and the crops of the Indians were destroyed in the lake region of western New York.
Meanwhile the co-operation of the French became active. In July Count Rochambeau arrived at Newport, Rhode Island. That place had been occupied by the British from 1776 to the close of 1779. An unsuccessful attempt was made to drive them out in 1778 by the Americans assisted by the French admiral d’Estaing and a French corps. The year 1780 is also marked by the treason of General Benedict Arnold (q.v.), and the consequent execution of Major André. Minor battles and skirmishes occurred until in August 1781 Washington conceived the project of a combined American-French attack on Cornwallis at Yorktown, Va., the success of which was decisive of the war (see below).
The inadequate results of the British campaigns against the northern colonies in 1776 and 1777 led the home government to turn its attention to the weaker colonies in the Campaign
in Georgia.south. Operations in the north were not to cease, but a powerful diversion was now to be undertaken in the south with a view to the complete conquest of that section. Success there would facilitate further movements in the north. An isolated attack on Charleston, South Carolina, had been made by Sir Henry Clinton and Sir Peter Parker as early as June 1776, but this was foiled by the spirited resistance of General William Moultrie; after 1778 the southern attempts, stimulated in part by the activity of the French in the West Indies, were vigorously sustained. On the 29th of December of this year Colonel Archibald Campbell (1739–1791) with an expeditionary corps of 3500 men from Clinton’s army in New York, captured Savannah, Georgia, defeating the American force under General Robert Howe. In the following month he pushed into the interior and occupied Augusta. General Benjamin Lincoln, succeeding Howe, undertook to drive the British out of Georgia, but General Augustine Prevost, who had commanded in Florida, moved up and compelled Lincoln to retire to Charleston. Prevost, making Savannah his headquarters, controlled Georgia. In September 1779 he was besieged by Lincoln in conjunction with a French naval and military force under Admiral d’Estaing, but successfully repelled an assault (October 9), and Lincoln again fell back to Charleston. In this assault Count Casimir Pulaski, on the American side, was mortally wounded. The prestige thus won by the British in the south in 1779 was immensely increased in the following year, when they victoriously swept up through South and North Carolina. Failing, as stated, to achieve any advantage in the north in 1779, Sir Henry Clinton, under instructions from government, himself headed a combined military and naval expedition southward. He evacuated Newport, R.I. (October 25), left New York in command of the German general Wilhelm von Knyphausen, and in December sailed with 8500 men to join Prevost at Savannah. Cornwallis accompanied him, and later Lord Rawdon joined him with an additional force. Marching upon Charleston, Charleston.Clinton cut off the city from relief, and after a brief siege, compelled Lincoln to surrender on the 12th of May. (See Charleston.) The loss of this place and of the 3000 troops included in the surrender was a serious blow to the American cause. The apparent submission of South Carolina followed. In June Clinton returned to New York, leaving Cornwallis in command, with instructions to reduce North Carolina also. Meanwhile an active and bitter partisan warfare opened. The British advance had been marked by more than the usual destruction of war; the Loyalists rose to arms; the whig population scattered and without much organization formed groups of riflemen and mounted troopers to harass the enemy. Little mercy was shown on either side. The dashing rider, Colonel Banastre Tarleton, cut to pieces (April 14, 1780) a detachment of Lincoln’s cavalry, and followed it up by practically destroying Buford’s Virginia regiment near the North Carolina border. On the other hand, daring and skilful leaders such as Francis Marion and Thomas Sumter kept the spirit of resistance alive by their sudden attacks and surprises of British outposts. Hanging Rock, Ninety-Six, Rocky Mount and other affairs brought their prowess and devotion into notice. By the month of August 1780, with the main British force encamped near the North Carolina line, the field seemed clear for the next advance.
The threatening situation in the Carolinas alarmed Congress and Washington and measures were taken to protect the distressed section. Before Cornwallis could be brought to bay he was faced successively by four antagonists—Generals Gates, Greene, Lafayette and Washington. They found in him the most capable and dangerous opponent of the war. Greene called him “the modern Hannibal.” With Lincoln’s surrender of nearly all the continental soldiers in the south, a new force had to be supplied to meet the British veterans. Two thousand men, mainly the Maryland line, were hurried down from Washington’s camp under Johann de Kalb; Virginia and North Carolina put new men into the field, and the entire force was placed under command of General Gates. Gates marched towards Camden, S.C., and on the Camden.16th of August encountered Cornwallis near that place. Each army by a night march attempted a surprise of the other, but the British tactics prevailed, and Gates was utterly routed. The reputation he had won at Saratoga was ruined on the occasion by over-confidence and incompetence. De Kalb was killed in the action. General Greene, standing next to Washington as the ablest and most trusted officer of the Revolution, succeeded Gates. Cornwallis marched leisurely into North Carolina, but before meeting Greene some months later he suffered the loss of two detachments sent at intervals to disperse various partisan corps of the Americans. On the 7th of October 1780 a force of 1100 men under Major Patrick Ferguson was surrounded at King’s Mountain, S.C., near the North Carolina line, by bands of riflemen under Colonels Isaac Shelby, James Williams, William Campbell and others, and after a desperate fight on the wooded and rocky slopes, surrendered. Ferguson himself was killed. On the 17th of January 1781 General Daniel Morgan was attacked at Cowpens, south-west of King’s Mountain, by Colonel Tarleton with his legion. Both were leaders of repute, and a most stirring action occurred in which Morgan, with Colonel William Washington leading his cavalry, practically destroyed Tarleton’s corps. Despite the weakening his army suffered by these losses, Cornwallis marched rapidly through North Carolina, giving Greene a hard chase nearly to the Virginia line. On the 15th of March the two armies met at Guilford Court House Guilford Court House.(near the present Greensboro, N.C.), and a virtually drawn battle was fought. The British, by holding their ground with their accustomed tenacity when engaged with superior numbers, were tactically victors, but were further weakened by a loss of nearly 600 men. Greene, cautiously avoiding another Camden, retreated with his forces intact. With his small army, less than 2000 strong, Cornwallis declined to follow Greene into the back country, and retiring to Hillsborough, N.C., raised the royal standard, offered protection to the inhabitants, and for the moment appeared to be master of Georgia and the two Carolinas. In a few weeks, however, he abandoned the heart of the state and marched to the coast at Wilmington, N.C., to recruit and refit his command.
At Wilmington the British general faced a serious problem, the solution of which upon his own responsibility unexpectedly led to the close of the war within seven months. Instead of remaining in Carolina he determined to march into Virginia, justifying the move on the ground that until Virginia was reduced he could not firmly hold the more southern states he had just overrun. This decision was subsequently sharply criticized by Clinton as unmilitary, and as having been made contrary to his instructions. To Cornwallis he wrote in May: “Had you intimated the probability of your intention, I should certainly have endeavoured to stop you, as I did then as well as now consider such a move likely to be dangerous to our interests in the Southern Colonies.” The danger lay in the suddenly changed situation in that direction; as General Greene, instead of following Cornwallis to the coast, boldly pushed down towards Camden and Charleston, S.C., with a view to drawing his antagonist after him to the points where he was the year before, as well as to driving back Lord Rawdon, whom Cornwallis had left in that field. In his main object, the recovery of the southern states, Greene succeeded by the close of the year; but not without hard fighting and repeated reverses. “We fight, get beaten, and fight again,” were his words. On the 25th of April 1781 he was surprised in his camp at Hobkirk’s Hill, near Camden, by Lord Rawdon and defeated, both sides suffering about an equal loss. On the 22nd of May he attempted to storm the strong British post at Ninety-Six but was replulsed; and finally on the 8th of September he fought the last battle of the war in the lower southern states at Eutaw Springs, S.C. In the first part of the action Greene Eutaw
Springs.was successful after a desperate conflict; in the pursuit, however, the Americans failed to dislodge the British from a stone house which they held, and their severe loss in both engagements was over 500 men. The British lost about 1000, one-half of whom were prisoners. Better success attended the American partisan operations directed by Greene and conducted by Marion, Sumter, Andrew Pickens, Henry Lee and William Washington. They fell upon isolated British posts established to protect the Loyalist population, and generally captured or broke them up. Rawdon found himself unable with his diminishing force to cover the country beyond Charleston; and he fell back to that place, leaving the situation in the south as it had been in the early part of 1780. On the American side, Greene was hailed as the deliverer of that section.Cornwallis, meantime, pursued his Virginia project. Leaving Wilmington, N.C., on the 25th of April 1781, he reached Petersburg on the 20th of May. There he found Virginia campaign.British detachments, 2000 strong, composed of troops whom Clinton had sent down separately under Generals Benedict Arnold and William Phillips to establish a base in the Chesapeake, as a diversion in favour of the operations of Cornwallis in the Carolinas. Virginia at the moment presented a clear field to the British, and they overran the state as far north as Fredericksburg and west to Charlottesville. At the latter place Jefferson, governor of the state, barely escaped capture by Tarleton’s men. A small American force under Lafayette, whom Wayne reinforced during the summer, partially checked the enemy. At Green Spring, near Jamestown Island, Lafayette boldly attacked his antagonist on the 6th of July, but had to save himself by a hasty retreat. Early in August Cornwallis retired to Yorktown to rest and await developments. There he fortified himself, and remained until the American-French military and naval combination, referred to above, appeared and compelled his surrender. (See Yorktown.)
With this event war operations ceased. Preliminary articles of peace, signed on the 30th of November 1782, were followed by a definitive treaty concluded on the 3rd of September 1783. Charleston, S.C., was evacuated late in 1782; New York on the 25th of November 1783. The reasons of Great Britain’s misfortunes and failure may be summarized as follows:—Misconception by the home government of the temper and reserve strength of her colonists, a population mainly of good English blood and instincts; disbelief at the outset in the probability of a protracted struggle covering the immense territory in America; consequent failure to despatch sufficient forces to the field; the safe and Fabian generalship of Washington; and finally, the French alliance and European combinations by which at the close of the conflict England was without a friend or ally on the continent.
Bibliography. The most exhaustive reference work for this period is vol. vi. of Winsor’s Narrative and Critical History of America (Boston, 1887). Its nine chapters, prepared by different writers, give a complete review of the struggle, both military and naval, and each closes with numerous illustrative notes, editorial criticisms and a full list of authorities. The volume is interspersed, far more extensively and richly than any other treatise on the war, with reproductions of contemporary plans, maps, documents, portraits and prints. Supplementing Winsor and bringing the material down to recent date is Prof. C. H. Van Tyne’s American Revolution (Harper’s “Am. Nation” Series, New York, 1905), chap. xviii., on bibliographical aids and authorities. General histories of the war are mainly of American authorship, such as: George Bancroft’s History of the United States (Boston, 1883–1885) which, in spite of minor errors of fact and judgment, will remain standard; J. Fiske’s American Revolution (2 vols., Boston, 1891); Carrington’s Battles of the American Revolution (New York, 1876) is a critical study by a military officer; L. J. Lossing’s Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution (2 vols., New York, 1850–1859), not always accurate, but preserves local traditions and details. Monographs on single events or campaigns abound: Dawson’s papers on Ticonderoga, “Storming of Stony Point,” &c. (New York, 1866–); Johnston’s “Campaign of 1776 around New York” (L. I. Hist. Soc., 1877), “Yorktown Campaign” New York, 1881), &c.; Sargent’s Life of Major John André (Boston, 1861), one of the best of Revolutionary biographies: Gen. William Stryker’s Battles of Trenton and Princeton (Boston, 1898); and others mentioned in Winsor and Van Tyne.English works of importance are Lord Mahon’s History of England, vol. vi.; Sir George O. Trevelyan’s American Revolution (New York and London; vol. i., 1899; 4 vols. published, 1908), a new study of cabinet and parliamentary politics of the period, with review of the military events; Hon. J. W. Fortescue, History of the British Army, vol. iii. (1902); Stedman’s American War (2 vols., 1794); Col. Tarleton’s Southern Campaigns, 1780–1781 (London, 1787); the pamphlet controversy between Sir Henry Clinton and Lord Cornwallis (1783), see Winsor, vi., p. 516, n.; Burgoyne’s State of the Expedition from Canada in 1777 (London, 1780). (H. P. J.*)
The naval operations of the War of Independence divide themselves naturally into two periods. (1) From 1775 till the summer of 1778 the British navy was engaged in co-operating with the Effect of sea-power.troops employed against the insurgents, on the coasts, rivers and lakes of North America, or in endeavouring to protect British commerce against the enterprise of American privateers. (2) During the second period the successive interventions of France, Spain and Holland extended the naval war till it ranged from the West Indies to the Bay of Bengal. This second period lasted from the summer of 1778 to the middle of 1783, and it included both such operations as had already been in progress in America, or for the protection of commerce, and naval campaigns on a great scale carried out by the fleets of the maritime powers.
First Period.—The history of the naval war from 1775 to 1778 was made up of many small operations. The naval force at the disposal of the admirals commanding on the station, who until Lord Howe took up the command on the 12th of July 1776 were Samuel Graves and Molyneux Shuldham, was insufficient to patrol the long line of coast. A large part of such squadrons as there were was necessarily limited to aiding General Gage and Sir W. Howe at Boston, in seeking stores for the army and in supplying naval brigades. At other points of the coast the British navy was employed in punitive expeditions against the coast towns—as for example the burning of Falmouth (now Portland, Maine) in October 1775—which served to exasperate, rather than to weaken the enemy, or the unsuccessful attack on Charleston, S.C., in June 1776. It was wholly unequal to the task of blockading the many towns from which privateers could be fitted out. British commerce therefore suffered severely, even as far off as the Irish coasts, where it was found necessary to supply convoy to the Belfast linen trade. The Americans were not yet in a position to provide a fleet. On the 23rd of March 1776 Congress did indeed issue letters of marque and reprisal, and efforts were made to fit out a national force. But the so-called “continental” vessels which sailed with the commission of the Congress hardly differed in character, or in the nature of their operations, from the privateers. The British navy was able to cover the retreat of the army from Boston to Halifax in April 1776, and to convey it to New York in June. It assisted in the expedition to Philadelphia in July 1777. On the St Lawrence and the Lakes it was able to play a more aggressive part. The relief of Quebec by Captain—afterwards Sir Charles—Douglas in May 1776 forced the American general Arnold to retreat. The destruction of his squadron on Lake Champlain in October covered the frontier of Canada, and supplied a basis for the march of General Burgoyne in 1777 which ended in the surrender at Saratoga.
Second Period.—The disaster at Saratoga was followed in 1778 by war with France, which had already given much private help to the American privateers and to their forces in the field. The rupture came in March when the British ambassador, Lord Stormont, was recalled from Paris, but as neither fleet was ready for service, actual conflict did not take place till July. The French government was somewhat more ready than the British. On the 13th of April it despatched a squadron of twelve sail of the line and four frigates from Toulon to America under the command of the Count d’Estaing. As no attempt was made to stop him in the Straits of Gibraltar, he passed them on the 16th of May, and though the rawness of his crews and his own error in wasting time in pursuit of prizes delayed his passage, he reached the mouth of the Delaware on the 8th of July unopposed. The French government, which by the fault of the British administration was allowed to take the offensive, had three objects in view—to help the Americans, to expel the British from the West Indies and to occupy the main strength of the naval forces of Great Britain in the Channel. Therefore a second and more powerful fleet was fitted out at Brest under the command of the Count d’Orvilliers. The British government, having neglected to occupy the Straits of Gibraltar in time, despatched Admiral Byron from Plymouth on the 9th of June with thirteen sail of the line to join Admiral (Lord) Howe, Sir William’s brother, in America, and collected a strong force at home, called the Western Squadron, under Viscount Keppel. Keppel, after a preliminary cruise in June, brought d’Orvilliers to action off Brest on the 27th of July. The fleets were equal and the action was indecisive,—as the two forces merely passed one another, cannonading. A violent quarrel exacerbated by political differences broke out among the British commands, which led to two courts-martial and to the resignation of Keppel, and did great injury to the discipline of the navy. No further event of note occurred in European waters. On the coast of America the news of the approach of d’Estaing compelled the British commanders to evacuate Philadelphia on the 18th of June. Howe then concentrated his force of nine small line-of-battle ships at Sandy Hook on the 29th of June, and on the 11th of July he learnt that d’Estaing was approaching. The French admiral did not venture to make an attack, and on the 22nd of July sailed to co-operate with the Americans in an endeavour to expel the British garrison from Rhode Island. Howe, who had received a small reinforcement, followed. The French admiral, who had anchored above Newport, R.I., came to sea to meet him, but both fleets were scattered by storms. D’Estaing sailed to Boston on the 21st of August. Howe received no help from Byron, whose badly appointed fleet was damaged and scattered by a gale on the 3rd of July in mid-Atlantic. His ships dropped in by degrees during September. Howe resigned on the 25th of that month, and was succeeded by Byron. The approach of winter made a naval campaign on the coast of North America dangerous. The operations of naval forces in the New World were largely dictated by the facts that from June to October are the hurricane months in the West Indies, while from October to June includes the stormy winter of the northern coast. On the 4th of November d’Estaing sailed for the West Indies, on the very day that Commodore William Hotham was despatched from New York to reinforce the British fleet in those waters. On the 7th of September the French governor of Martinique, the marquis de Bouille, had surprised the British island of Dominica. Admiral Samuel Barrington, the British admiral in the Leeward Islands, had retaliated by seizing Santa Lucia on the 13th and 14th of December after the arrival of Hotham from North America. D’Estaing, who followed Hotham closely, was beaten off in two feeble attacks on Barrington at the Cul-de-Sac of Santa Lucia on the 15th of December. On the 6th of January 1779 Admiral Byron reached the West Indies. During the early part of this year the naval forces in the West Indies were mainly employed in watching one another. But in June, while Byron had gone to Antigua to guard the trade convoy on its way home, d’Estaing first captured St Vincent, and then on the 4th of July Grenada. Admiral Byron, who had returned, sailed in hopes of saving the island, but arrived too late. An indecisive action was fought off Grenada on the 6th of July. The war now died down in the West Indies. Byron returned home in August. D’Estaing, after co-operating unsuccessfully with the Americans in an attack on Savannah, in September also returned to Europe. In European waters the Channel had been invaded by a combined French and Spanish fleet of sixty-six sail of the line, Spain having now joined the coalition against Great Britain. Only thirty-five sail of the line could be collected against them under the command of Sir Charles Hardy. But they came late and did nothing. The allies retired early in September and were not even able to molest the British trade convoys. In the meantime the Spaniards had formed the siege of Gibraltar.
So far the British navy had stood on the defensive, without material loss except in the West Indies, but without triumph. The operations of 1780 went on much the same lines. The British government, not feeling strong enough to blockade Brest and the Spanish ports, was compelled to regulate its movements by those of its opponents. In the Channel it was saved from disaster by the ineptitude of the French and Spanish fleets. The only real success achieved by this numerically imposing force was the capture on the 8th and 9th of August of a large British convoy of ships bound for the East and West Indies carrying troops. But on the American coast and in the West Indies more vigour was displayed. Early in the year Admiral Marriot Arbuthnot was sent to take command in North America. On the French side the count de Guichen was sent with reinforcements to the West Indies to take command of the ships left in the previous year by d’Estaing. He arrived in March, and was able to confine the small British force under Sir Hyde Parker at Gros Islet Bay in Santa Lucia. In May M. d’Arzac de Ternay was sent from Brest with seven line-of-battle ships, and a convoy carrying 6000 French troops to act with the Americans. He had a brush with a small British force under Cornwallis near Bermuda on the 20th of June, and reached Rhode Island on the 11th of July. During the rest of the year, and part of the next, the British and French naval forces in North American waters remained at their respective headquarters, New York and Newport, watching one another. The West Indies was again the scene of the most important operations of the year. In February and March a Spanish force from New Orleans, under Don Bernardo de Galvez, invaded West Florida with success. But the allies made no further progress. At the close of 1779 Sir George Rodney had been appointed to command a large naval force which was to relieve Gibraltar, then closely blockaded, and send stores to Minorca. Rodney was to go on to the West Indies with part of the fleet. He sailed on the 29th of December 1779 with the trade for the West Indies under his protection, captured a Spanish convoy on his way off Finisterre on the 8th of January, defeated a smaller Spanish force near Cape St Vincent on the 16th, relieved Gibraltar on the 19th, and left for the West Indies on the 13th of February. On the 27th of March he joined Sir Hyde Parker at Santa Lucia, and Guichen retired to Fort Royal in Martinique. Until July the fleets of Rodney and Guichen, of equal strength, were engaged in operations round the island of Martinique. The British admiral endeavoured to force on a close engagement. But in the first encounter on the 17th of April to leeward of the island, Rodney’s orders were not executed by his captains, and the action was indecisive. He wished to concentrate on the rear of the enemy’s line, but his captains scattered themselves along the French formation. In two subsequent actions, on the 15th and 19th of May, to windward of Martinique, the French admiral would not be brought to close action. The arrival of a Spanish squadron of twelve ships of the line in June gave a great numerical superiority to the allies, and Rodney retired to Gros Islet Bay in Santa Lucia. But nothing decisive occurred. The Spanish fleet was in bad health, the French much worn-out. The first went on to Havana, the second to San Domingo. In July, on the approach of the dangerous hurricane season, Rodney sailed for North America, reaching New York on the 14th of September. Guichen returned home with the most worn-out of his ships. On the 6th of December Rodney was back at Barbadoes from the North American station, where he was not able to effect anything against the French in Narragansett Bay.
The rambling operations of the naval war till the close of 1780—directed by the allies to such secondary objects as the capture of West Indian islands, or of Minorca and Gibraltar, and by Great Britain to defensive movements—began to assume a degree of coherence in 1781. Holland having now joined the allies, the British government was compelled to withdraw part of its fleet from other purposes to protect the North Sea trade. A desperate battle was fought on the Dogger Bank on the 5th of August between Sir Hyde Parker and the Dutch admiral Zoutman, both being engaged in protecting trade; but Holland did not affect the general course of the war. The allies again failed to make a vigorous attack on the British forces in the Channel. They could not even prevent Admiral George Darby from relieving Gibraltar and Minorca in April. The second of these places was closely invested later on, and was compelled to surrender on the 5th of February 1782. But a vigorous policy was carried out by France in the West Indies and America, while she began a most resolute attack on the British position in the East Indies.
In the West Indies Rodney, having received news of the breach with Holland early in the year, took the island of St Eustatius, which had been a great depot of contraband of war, on the 3rd of February. The British admiral was accused of applying himself so entirely to seizing and selling his booty that he would not allow his second in command, Sir Samuel Hood, who had recently joined him, to take proper measures to impede the arrival of French forces known to be on their way to Martinique. The French admiral, the count de Grasse, reached the island with reinforcements in April. Until July he was engaged in a series of skilful operations directed to menacing the British islands while he avoided being brought to battle by Rodney. In July he sailed for the coast of North America, whither he was followed in August by Sir S. Hood, Rodney having been compelled to return home in ill-health.
On the coast of North America the war came to its crisis. In the earlier part of the year the British at New York and the French at Newport continued to watch one another. In April the British admiral Arbuthnot did indeed succeed in baffling an attempt of the French to carry reinforcements to the American cause in Virginia. The action he fought off the capes of Virginia on the 16th of April was ill conducted, but his main purpose was achieved. Washington, who was wisely anxious to concentrate attack on one or other of the centres of British power in Virginia or New York, had to wait till the arrival of Grasse before he could see his ideas applied. The French admiral gave the allies a superiority of naval strength on the coast of Virginia, and Lord Cornwallis, the British commander, was beleaguered in Yorktown. Admiral Thomas Graves, Arbuthnot's successor, who had been joined by Hood from the West Indies, endeavoured to drive off the French fleet. But the feeble battle he fought on the 5th of September failed to shake the French hold on the Chesapeake, and Grasse having been reinforced, Graves sailed away. Yorktown fell on the 19th of October, and the war was settled as far as the coast of North America was concerned.
The French admiral, having rendered this vital service to his ally, now returned to the West Indies, whither he was followed by Hood, and resumed the attacks on the British islands. In January and February 1782 he conquered St Christopher, in spite of the most determined opposition of Hood, who with a much inferior force first drove him from his anchorage at Basseterre, and then repulsed his repeated attacks. The next purpose of the French was to combine with the Spaniards for an attack on Jamaica. Sir George Rodney, having returned to his command with reinforcements, baffled this plan by the series of operations which culminated in the battle of the 12th of April 1782. (See Saints, Battle of.) No further operations of note occurred in the West Indies. At home Howe relieved Gibraltar for the last time in September and October 1782.
The war in the East Indies formed a separate series of episodes. In 1778 the British authorities had little difficulty in seizing the French settlement of Pondicherry. A naval engagement of a very feeble kind took place on the 10th of August in the Bay of Bengal, between the British naval officer in command and M. de Tronjoly. But the French were too weak in these seas for offensive movements, and therefore remained quiescent at Bourbon and Mauritius till the beginning of 1782. In the spring of 1781 the bailli de Suffren was sent to the East with a small squadron; on his way he fell upon a British force which had been sent to take the Cape from the Dutch, and which he found in the Portuguese anchorage of Porto Praya, on the 16th of April. Having provided for the security of the Cape, Suffren went on to the French islands. He sailed from them early in 1782 to carry out a vehement attack on the British forces in the Bay of Bengal. From the 17th of February 1782 to the 20th of June 1783 he fought a series of fine actions against Sir Edward Hughes, by which he secured a marked superiority on the water. Though he had no port in which to refit and no ally save Hyder Ali, he kept the sea and did not even return to the French islands during the north-easterly monsoon. Suffren failed in his main purpose, which was to make such a capture as would put his government in a strong position during the negotiations for peace. But his capture of Trincomalee in July 1782 in spite of Sir Edward Hughes, and the heavy loss he inflicted on the British fleet in several of the actions he fought, constitute the most honourable part of the French naval operations in the war.