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The Most Significant Battles of the American Revolutionary War

The Most Significant Battles of the American Revolutionary War

The American Revolutionary War began on April 19, 1775. There wasn’t just one reason for the start of this battle between the colonists and Britain, but a culmination of events that led to that day. Seven significant events stood out as the catalysts of the war. The Stamp Act of 1765, the Townshend Acts (1767), the Boston Massacre (1770), the Boston Tea Party (1773), the Coercive Acts (1774),  the Battles of Lexington and Concord (1775), and the British attacks on coastal towns (1775-1776). Although the war may have begun with Lexington and Concord, it was the attacks on coastal towns that unified the northern and southern colonies in their desire for freedom.

When hostilities commenced between Great Britain and the North American colonies during the American Revolution, all the advantages seemed to be on the side of Great Britain, the largest empire in the world. For the next eight years, the two sides were locked in combat up and down the Eastern Seaboard which ultimately resulted in the defeat of the British Empire and the formation of the United States of America.

24/7 Tempo has compiled a list of the most significant battles of the American Revolutionary War. We based our list of engagements that involved at least 1,000 soldiers on each side. Among the sources we used in compiling our list were revolutionary-war.net, battlefields.org, and britannica.org. Most of the early major combat took place in New England and the Northeastern states. (It’s interesting to think what may have happened had the outcome been different. Would we still be worried about immigration, a key issue in our current presidential election – and debates – or would we have been concerned about other issues?)

The British saw numerous successes early in the conflict, with victories in Long Island and Manhattan in New York, and triumphs at Brandywine and Germantown in Pennsylvania. But overall success in the north eluded them. The British strategy of dividing the northern colonies failed, culminating in the loss at Saratoga that brought the French into the war. (See what guns helped win the Revolutionary War.)

The Royal Navy, which stood on par with no other, allowed the British to capture and occupy coastal cities like New York and Philadelphia fairly early in the conflict. However, their relatively small land army, though professionally trained and augmented with German troops hired by the British to join the army, (Hessian mercenaries) was not able to control the countryside, where 90% of the colonial population lived. 

Great Britain believed it had more Loyalist support in the South, which led to a shift in strategy, which seemed effective at first as British fortunes improved. They thwarted a siege of Savannah and emerged victorious in battles at Charleston and Camden, South Carolina. But their biggest loss in the south, the siege of Yorktown, was the final major battle of the war and led to peace talks that would pave the way for the creation of the United States. 

Here are the most significant battles of the American Revolutionary War.

Bunker Hill, Massachusetts

Source: Hulton Archive / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Source: Hulton Archive / Hulton Archive via Getty Images
  • Occurred on: June 17, 1775
  • Troop strength: American: 2,400; British: 3,000

Taking place early in the war on the outskirts of Boston, Massachusetts, this battle saw colonial forces, despite being outnumbered, put up fierce resistance against the British troops. Eventually, due to a lack of ammunition, they had to retreat. Although the British won the battle, they suffered heavy casualties — more than 200 killed and over 800 wounded — which boosted the morale of the colonial forces and showed that they were a formidable opponent.

Quebec, Canada

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Occurred on: Dec. 31, 1775
  • Troop strength: American: 1,200; British: 1,200

This battle was a failed attempt by American forces to capture the British-occupied city of Quebec, Canada early in the Revolutionary War. Led by General Richard Montgomery, the American colonists launched a surprise attack on the British-occupied city. Harsh winter conditions and strong British defenses proved too great a challenge, as the battle resulted in heavy American casualties, including the death of Montgomery. The American forces were forced to retreat, marking the first major setback of the war for the Americans.

Moore’s Creek Bridge, North Carolina

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Occurred on: Feb. 27, 1776
  • Troop strength: American: 1,050; British: 1,000

The battle occurred when loyalist forces, supporting British rule, attempted to cross Moore’s Creek Bridge to join British troops in the South. The American revolutionaries set up an ambush, and successfully defended the bridge, leading to a decisive victory. This was a significant victory for the American colonial forces as the battle crippled loyalist support in the region and helped solidify the colonists’ defense against the British in North Carolina.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Occurred on: June 8, 1776
  • Troop strength: American: 2,000; British: 1,000

British forces, led by General Guy Carleton, successfully defended the strategically beneficial Canadian town of Trois-Rivières against an American invasion. The American troops, commanded by General Benedict Arnold, sustained heavy casualties and were forced to retreat. This engagement proved to be a significant setback for the American forces, as it limited their ability to advance further into Canada and secure additional support for the Revolution.

Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina

Source: kenlund / Flickr

Source: kenlund / Flickr
  • Occurred on: June 28, 1776
  • Troop strength: American: 6,700; British: 4,500

Under the command of Sir Peter Parker, British forces launched an attack on Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina, where Colonel William Moultrie led a naval defense of some 6,700 American troops. The Americans successfully repelled the assault from 10 Royal Navy warships and 2,500 British troops, marking the first decisive American victory over the British Navy. The British fleet suffered significant damage and casualties, forcing them to abandon their efforts to capture the island.

Long Island, New York

Source: Archive Photos / Archive Photos via Getty Images

Source: Archive Photos / Archive Photos via Getty Images
  • Occurred on: Aug. 27-29, 1776
  • Troop strength: American: 10,000; British: 20,000

British forces attacked American troops during the Battle of Long Island, also known as the Battle of Brooklyn, in Long Island, New York, a little over a year after the start of the war. The Americans, led by General George Washington, were outnumbered and outflanked, sustaining heavy casualties when they were forced to retreat, crossing the East River to Manhattan. The victory allowed the British to gain control of New York City and establish a foothold in the region.

Harlem Heights, New York

Source: Kean Collection / Archive Photos via Getty Images

Source: Kean Collection / Archive Photos via Getty Images
  • Occurred on: Sept. 16, 1776
  • Troop strength: American: 1,800; British: 1,600

On the morning of September 16, 1776, British General William Howe led an attack on the American Continental Army near Harlem Heights in New York. After its recent defeat at the Battle of Long Island the previous month, the American forces successfully repelled the British attacks.

White Plains, New York

Source: Hulton Archive / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Source: Hulton Archive / Hulton Archive via Getty Images
  • Occurred on: Oct. 28, 1776
  • Troop strength: American: 3,100; British: 4,000-7,500

While inflicting a heavy toll on the British, this battle ended in defeat for the Americans. George Washington and the Continental Army gave up their position in White Plains following a series of defeats as the Americans had ceded New York City to the British earlier that summer. Washington continued a strategic retreat to New Jersey. Although the battle resulted in a British victory, the American forces avoided major losses and preserved their army for future battles.

Fort Washington, New York

Source: Fotosearch / Archive Photos via Getty Images

Source: Fotosearch / Archive Photos via Getty Images
  • Occurred on: Nov. 16, 1776
  • Troop strength: American: 3,000; British: 8,000

British forces, commanded by General William Howe, launched an assault on Fort Washington, on the northern end of Manhattan Island in New York. The fort, under the command of General Nathanael Greene and Colonel Robert Magaw, was a pentagonal earthwork position without ditches or palisades. It also lacked an interior source of water.

Despite fierce resistance, the superior British forces overwhelmed the American defenders. The capture of Fort Washington allowed the British to gain control over New York City, furthering Howe’s goal of completely removing American troops from Manhattan.

Fort Lee, New Jersey

Source: Fotosearch / Archive Photos via Getty Images

Source: Fotosearch / Archive Photos via Getty Images
  • Occurred on: Nov. 20, 1776
  • Troop strength: American: 2,000; British: 4,000

Fort Lee was opposite Fort Washington, on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. A line of sunken obstructions ran between the two forts to prevent British ships from passing up the river. After the capture of Fort Washington, the British prepared a coordinated attack on nearby Fort Lee, including a force led by General Charles Cornwallis.

The Americans were forced to abandon Fort Lee, and Washington soon decided to set up winter headquarters in New Jersey. The recent defeats resulted in heavy losses for the already under-supplied US Colonies. The British seized 146 cannons, 12,000 shots and shells, 2,800 muskets, and 400,000 cartridges.

Trenton, New Jersey

Source: MPI / Archive Photos via Getty Images

Source: MPI / Archive Photos via Getty Images
  • Occurred on: Dec. 26, 1776
  • Troop strength: American: 2,400; British: 3,000

General George Washington led American forces in their surprise attack on a Hessian army stationed in Trenton, New Jersey. “Hessian” refers to German troops hired by the British during the war. The Hessians, under the command of Colonel Johann Rall, were caught off guard.

The Americans achieved a decisive victory, capturing over two-thirds of the Hessians and suffering minimal casualties. The Battle of Trenton provided a much-needed boost to American morale and demonstrated Washington’s strategic acumen. It also reinvigorated the Revolutionary cause, encouraging more enlistments and support from the local population.

Assunpink Creek, New Jersey

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Occurred on: Jan. 2-3, 1777
  • Troop strength: American: 6,000; British: 8,000

The Battle of Assunpink Creek (also known as the Second Battle of Trenton), saw British troops, under the leadership of Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis, attack American forces near Assunpink Creek in New Jersey. The Americans, strategically positioned along the creek, successfully repelled several British attacks. Under the cover of darkness, Washington’s forces successfully withdrew from the battlefield, evading a potentially devastating defeat. This audacious counterattack shattered British forces, capturing 200 soldiers and inflicting light casualties.

Bennington, Vermont

Source: Jen Lobo / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

Source: Jen Lobo / iStock Editorial via Getty Images
  • Occurred on: Aug. 16, 1777
  • Troop strength: American: 3,000; British: 1,450

American forces, led by General John Stark, engaged British and German troops commanded by Colonel Friedrich Baum near Bennington, Vermont. Militia and Continental soldiers decisively defeated the British forces after heavy fighting. The victory at Bennington was a significant turning point as it disrupted British plans and secured crucial supplies for the Continental Army.

Brandywine, Pennsylvania

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Occurred on: Sept. 11, 1777
  • Troop strength: American: 14,600; British: 15,500

Despite a valiant defense, the American forces were outflanked and suffered a defeat in Brandywine. The British victory allowed them to advance and capture Philadelphia, the capital of the North American colonies at the time. To avoid a complete catastrophe, Washington directed Nathanael Greene’s division to serve as a protective force, allowing the Continental Army to safely retreat towards the northeast.

Freeman’s Farm, New York

Source: Americasroof / Wikimedia Commons

Source: Americasroof / Wikimedia Commons
  • Occurred on: Sept. 19, 1777
  • Troop strength: American: 6,000; British: 7,200

One of the longest land battles of the American Revolutionary War is also known as the First Battle of Saratoga. This battle saw American forces, led by General Horatio Gates, clash with British troops commanded by General John Burgoyne near Freeman’s Farm in New York. The battle was part of a larger campaign to control the Hudson River.

Though both sides suffered heavy casualties, the engagement ended inconclusively. Both armies maintained their camps without significant movement for the following three weeks until they clashed once more at the Battle of Bemis Heights.

Paoli, Pennsylvania

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Occurred on: Sept. 20, 1777
  • Troop strength: American: 2,500; British: 1,200

Also known as the Paoli Massacre, this battle began when the British launched a surprise nighttime assault, emerging from the woods, resulting in a brutal and one-sided engagement. The Americans suffered heavy casualties and were unable to mount an effective defense. The Battle of Paoli was a devastating defeat for the American forces, leaving a lasting impact on the Revolutionary War in Pennsylvania. General Anthony Wayne, who commanded the Continental troops, was brought up on charges of misconduct but was found not guilty.

Germantown, Pennsylvania

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Occurred on: Oct. 4, 1777
  • Troop strength: American: 11,000; British: 9,000

The Americans launched a surprise attack just outside Philadelphia, but encountered difficulties due to fog and confusion. General Washington was planning to destroy the British detachment at Germantown using a double envelopment maneuver. Despite initial setbacks, the British prevailed and the Americans were forced to retreat. The battle did not significantly change the strategic positions of either army.

Bemis Heights-New York

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Occurred on: Oct. 7, 1777
  • Troop strength: American: 12,000; British: 6,600

The battle of Bemis Heights, near Saratoga, New York ended in the first British surrender in world history. Led by General Horatio Gates, the Americans defeated British forces commanded by General John Burgoyne. The battle played a crucial role in turning the tide of the war, as the victory by the North American colonists convinced France to formally ally with the American cause.

Monmouth-New Jersey

Source: ooocha / Flickr

Source: ooocha / Flickr
  • Occurred on: June 28, 1778
  • Troop strength: American: 14,300; British: 17,660

The battle of Monmouth took place near present-day Freehold Borough on an extremely hot day, with both sides initially experiencing tactical ups and downs. The Americans ultimately held their ground and forced the British to withdraw during the night. The battle took place three years into the war and showcased the growth in discipline and training of the Continental Army.

Rhode Island

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Occurred on: Aug. 29, 1778
  • Troop strength: American: 10,100; British:7,000

This battle occurred near Newport and involved, for the first time, a combined force of American and French troops, led by General John Sullivan and General Marquis de Lafayette, against the British garrison under General Sir Robert Pigot. The battle was part of an attempt by the Americans to recapture Newport from British control. The attack did not succeed, largely because of high winds and rain, and ended in the British maintaining their position.

Savannah, Georgia

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Occurred on: Sept. 16-Oct. 18, 1779
  • Troop strength: American: 5,500; British: 3,200

This siege was an attempt by American and French forces, led by General Benjamin Lincoln and Admiral Charles-Henri d’Estaing, to capture the city from the British defenders commanded by General Augustine Prevost. The series of assaults and bombardments on the British fortifications ultimately failed, and the American and French forces suffered heavy losses and were forced to abandon their attempts to retake the port city.

Charleston, South Carolina

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Occurred on: March 29-May 12, 1780
  • Troop strength: American: 6,577; British: 17,347

British forces, led by General Sir Henry Clinton, launched a siege against the city, which was defended by American troops commanded by General Benjamin Lincoln. The British bombardment inflicted heavy damage on Charleston’s defenses, leading to the surrender of American forces on May 12, 1780. The capture of Charleston was a significant victory for the British, as it provided them with a strategic stronghold in the southern colonies and severely weakened the American cause in the region.

Connecticut Farms, New Jersey

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Occurred on: June 7, 1780
  • Troop strength: American: 5,000; British: 6,000

The battle marked one of the final significant encounters of the Revolutionary War and formed a crucial part of General Washington’s defensive measures against the second British invasion of New Jersey. The British launched an assault on the Connecticut Farms village, which triggered fierce resistance from the American troops. Consequently, the village suffered extensive destruction.

Camden, South Carolina

Source: Bigskybill / Wikimedia Commons

Source: Bigskybill / Wikimedia Commons
  • Occurred on: Aug. 16, 1780
  • Troop strength: American: 3,700; British: 2,230

British forces, led by General Charles Cornwallis, engaged American troops commanded by General Horatio Gates. The battle ended in a resounding victory for the British, with the American forces suffering heavy casualties and loss of position. The defeat resulted in the elimination of organized American resistance in South Carolina, allowing Lord Cornwallis to proceed with his invasion of North Carolina.

Cowpens, South Carolina

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Occurred on: Jan. 17, 1781
  • Troop strength: American: 1,065; British: 1,150

American forces faced British troops commanded by Colonel Banastre Tarleton in a battle that resulted in a decisive victory for the Americans, who skillfully executed a tactical maneuver known as a double envelopment, an attack on two sides of an army formation. The British suffered significant casualties and were forced to retreat. The Battle of Cowpens boosted American morale, weakened British forces in the South, and played a pivotal role in the ultimate American victory in the Revolutionary War.

Guilford Court House, North Carolina

Source: H. Charles McBarron / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Source: H. Charles McBarron / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
  • Occurred on: March 15, 1781
  • Troop strength: American: 4,400; British: 2,385

This battle marked a turning point in the Southern campaign, and although the British technically won the battle, it was seen as a Pyrrhic victory as Lord Cornwallis suffered heavy casualties and his army was significantly weakened. He was forced to relocate his forces to Virginia. The American forces also withdrew, preserving their army for future engagements.

Blandford, Virginia

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Occurred on: April 25, 1781
  • Troop strength: American: 1,000; British: 2,500

British forces, led by General William Phillips, attacked the town of Blandford, which was occupied by American troops under the command of General Peter Muhlenberg. Despite being outnumbered, the American troops put up a strong resistance against the advancing British forces and skillfully executed a disciplined retreat across the Appomattox River, successfully evading the enemy’s attempt to flank them. Eventually, the American defense held, inflicting heavy casualties and forcing the British to retreat.

Chesapeake, Virginia

Source: Archive Photos / Archive Photos via Getty Images

Source: Archive Photos / Archive Photos via Getty Images
  • Occurred on: Sept. 5, 1781
  • Troop strength: French ships: 24; British ships: 19

The naval battle of Chesapeake carried significant consequences for the British as the Royal Navy used the Chesapeake Bay to transport reinforcements. The battle featured the French fleet, led by Admiral de Grasse, engaging the British fleet under Admiral Thomas Graves. The French victory secured control of the bay, denying British reinforcements and leading to the successful siege and surrender of General Cornwallis at Yorktown.

Eutaw Springs, South Carolina

Source: statelibrarync / Flickr

Source: statelibrarync / Flickr
  • Occurred on: Sept. 8, 1781
  • Troop strength: American: 2,200; British: 2,000

The battle resulted in heavy casualties on both sides, but the Americans successfully held their ground and forced the British to retreat. The British’s endeavor to pacify the South by garnering support from Loyalists had already faltered even before Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown.

Siege of Yorktown, Virginia

Source: ooocha / Flickr

Source: ooocha / Flickr
  • Occurred on: Sept. 28-Oct. 19, 1781
  • Troop strength: American/French: 19,900; British: 9,000

The battle was a decisive engagement in which combined American and French forces, led by General George Washington and General Jean-Baptiste de Rochambeau, laid siege to British forces commanded by General Lord Cornwallis. The siege resulted in Cornwallis’s surrender, effectively led to the recognition of American independence, and paved the way for the eventual end of the Revolutionary War, marking the final significant land battle of the American Revolutionary War fought on North American soil.

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