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War Of Independence (1775–1783)

Ongoing political tensions between Great Britain and thirteen colonies became a crisis in 1774 when the British placed the province of Massachusetts under martial law. While shooting began at Lexington and Concord in 1775, the Continental Congress appointed George Washington as commander-in-chief of the newly created Continental Army, which was augmented throughout the war by colonial militia. General Washington was no great battlefield tactician—he lost more battles than he won—but his overall strategy proved to be sound: keep the army intact, wear down British resolve, and avoid decisive battles except to exploit enemy mistakes.

The British, for their part, lacked both a unified command and a clear strategy for winning. With the use of the Royal Navy, the British were able to capture coastal cities, but control of the countryside eluded them. A British invasion from Canada in 1777 ended with the disastrous surrender of a British army at Saratoga. With the addition in 1777 of General von Steuben, of Prussian origin, the training and discipline of the Continental Army began to vastly improve. France and Spain then entered the war against Great Britain.

A shift in focus to the southern American states resulted in a string of victories for the British, but guerrilla warfare and the tenacity of General Nathanael Greene’s army prevented the British from making strategic headway. A French naval victory in the Chesapeake led to the surrender of a British army at Yorktown in 1781, resulting in the Treaty of Paris in 1783, which recognized the independence of the United States.

Since many Americans of the revolutionary generation had strong distrust of permanent (or “standing”) armies, the Continental Army was quickly disbanded after the Revolution. General Washington, who throughout the war deferred to elected officials, averted a potential crisis and submitted his resignation as commander-in-chief to Congress after the war, establishing a tradition of civil control of the U.S. military.