War of Independence (detail of Boston massacre print)

Fighting the War

The Northern Campaign

For most of 1776, outmatched American troops engaged the British in brief battles and quickly retreated, enduring many defeats and celebrating a few small successes. Nevertheless, the British failed to crush the rebellion.

In 1777, the British planned a three-pronged attack to divide and conquer the northern colonies once and for all. One force of British regulars, Iroquois allies, and loyalist militia (colonists who remained loyal to Britain) would march south from Canada toward Albany. A second army would push north from British-occupied New York City to meet them. A diversionary force would invade western New York.

But in August, the western invasion was repulsed at Fort Stanwix. In September, British troops in Manhattan were sent south to Philadelphia. And in October, Continental troops—reinforced with large numbers of local militia and Indian allies—stopped the British advance at Saratoga.

At the outset of the war, the six Iroquois nations pledged their neutrality: “We are unwilling to join on either side of such a contest,” declared the Oneida in 1775, “for we love you both—old England and new.” But shortly afterward, the Oneida and Tuscarora sided with the patriots; the Mohawk and most other Indians sided with Britain.

At least 1,000 British coalition forces were killed in two days of horrific fighting at Saratoga; nearly 5,000 surrendered and most were held as prisoners of war until 1783.

Following the stunning American victory at Saratoga, France openly declared its support and recognized American independence. Holland, Spain, and France provided gold, arms, gunpowder, uniforms, and medicine, as well as cattle and horses. Their troops and warships challenged Britain worldwide, transforming the war for American independence into a war that Britain could not win.


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