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Colonial American military history is the military record of the Thirteen Colonies from their founding to the American Revolution in 1775.

George Washington in 1772 as colonel of the Virginia Regiment; painting by Charles Willson Peale

Contents

Militia

The beginning of the United States military lies in local governments which created militias that enrolled nearly all free white men. British regular army and Royal handled international wars.

In major operations outside the locality involved, the militia was not employed as a fighting force. Instead the colony asked for (and paid) volunteers, many of whom were also militia members.

After the local Indian threat ended (in most places by 1700), the militia system was little used, except for local ceremonial roles. At the end of the colonial era, as the American Revolution approached, the militia system was revived, weapons were accumulated, and intensive training began. The militia played a major fighting role in the Revolution, especially in expelling the British from Boston in 1776 and capturing the invading British army at Saratoga in 1777. However most of the fighting was handled by the Continental Army, comprising regular soldiers.[1]

Indian wars

In the early years of the British colonization of North America, military action in the colonies that would become United States were the result of conflicts with Native Americans, such as in the Pequot War of 1637, King Philip's War in 1675, the Susquehannock war in 1675–77,[2] and the Yamasee War in 1715. There also occurred slave uprisings such as the Stono Rebellion in 1739.

Dutch wars

Kieft's War was a conflict between Dutch settlers and Indians in the colony of New Netherland from 1643 to 1645. The fighting involved raids and counter-raids. It was bloody in proportion to the population; more than 1,600 natives were killed at a time when the European population of New Amsterdam was only 250.

Spanish wars

The British fought the Spanish in the War of Jenkins' Ear, 1739–1748. After 1742 the war merged into the larger War of the Austrian Succession involving most of the powers of Europe. Georgia beat back a Spanish invasion of Georgia in 1742, and some sporadic border fighting continued. The war merged into King George's War, which ended with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748.

France and Britain at war

Beginning in 1689, the colonies also frequently became involved in a series of five major wars between Britain and France for control of North America, the most important of which were Queen Anne's War, in which the British won French Acadia (Nova Scotia), and the final French and Indian War (1754–1763), when France lost all of Canada. This final war was to give thousands of colonists, including George Washington, military experience which they put to use during the American Revolution.

Britain and France fought a series of four French and Indian Wars—followed in 1778 with another war when France joined the Americans in the American Revolution. The French settlers in New France were outnumbered 15–1 by the 13 American colonies,[3] so the French relied heavily on Indian allies.

The wars were long and bloody, causing immense suffering for everyone involved. In the long run the Indians were the biggest losers; many were on the losing side, as Spain and France were defeated. When theBritish finally won full control the Indian power was sharply limited. Frontier settlers were exposed to sudden Indian raids; many were killed or captured, and even more were forced back from the frontier. One profitable form of wartime activity in which colonists engaged was privateering—legalized piracy against enemy merchant ships. Another was hunting enemy Indians for the purpose of scalping them and claiming the cash bounty offered by colonial governments.[4]

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King William's War: 1689–1697

"I have no reply to make to your general other than from the mouth of my cannons and muskets." Frontenac famously rebuffs the English envoys at the Battle of Quebec (1690)

King William's War (1689–97), also known as the "Nine Years War" and the "War of the League of Augsburg" was a phase of the larger Anglo-French conflict for colonial domination throughout the world. With his New England militia, Sir William Phips moved in 1690 to take the French stronghold at Quebec, commanded by Comte de Frontenac, the governor of New France. Phips's written ultimatum demanding Fontenac's surrender prompted Frontenac to say his reply would come only 'from the mouths of my cannon and muskets.' Having to reckon with Quebec's formidable natural defenses, its superior number of soldiers, and the coming of winter, Phips sailed back to Boston with his hungry, smallpox-ridden, and demoralized force. His failure shows a growing recognition of the need to replicate European combat techniques and move closer to England's war policy in order to achieve military success.[5]

Iroquois Six Nations c. 1720

The Iroquois suffered heavily in King William's War and were brought, along with other western Indians, into the French trading network. The colonist treatment of Indian tribes after King Philip's war led directly the Wabanaki tribe's involvement in the war. Unlike tribes in southern New England, it retained significant power relative to the colonists and rejected attempts to exert authority over them. Treaties made during 1678–84 included concessions to Indian sovereignty, but such concessions were largely ignored in practice. Expanding settlements fueled tensions and led to Indian threats of a repeat of the violence of King Philip's War and offered an opportunity to the French, who wanted to counter English influence in the region. The lack of stability and authority evidenced by the imprisonment of Governor Andros in 1689 combined with existing grievances and French encouragement led to Wabanaki attacks on settlements on the Northeast coast, a pattern that would be repeated until the withdrawal of the French in 1763.[6]

Queen Anne's War

Queen Anne's War (1702–1713) was the second war for control of the continent and was the counterpart of the War of the Spanish Succession in Europe. The conflict also involved a number of American Indian tribes and Spain, which was allied with France.

Thomas Nairne, South Carolina's Indian agent, planned an expedition of British soldiers and their Indian allies to destroy the French settlement at Mobile, Alabama, and the Spanish settlement at Pensacola, Florida. The expedition never materialized, but the British did supply their allies with firearms, which the Tallapoosas used in their siege of Pensacola. Although these warriors proved their effectiveness in combining native tactics and European arms, the English failed to compensate them adequately and seriously underestimated their importance as the key to the balance of power in the southeastern interior. Consequently, by 1716 the Tallapoosas and other tribes had shifted allegiance to the other side and prepared to use what they had learned against South Carolina settlements.[7]

In 1704 French and Indian forces had attacked a number of villages and Deerfield, Massachusetts, was prepared for an attack. The attack came during the night of 28 February 1704; much of the village was burned, many were killed, and others were taken captive. Seventeen of the captives were killed along the way to Canada as they were injured and could not keep up, and starvation took additional lives. Eventually, 53 captives returned home, including one of the targets of the invaders, the Reverend John Williams. His accounts of the experience made him famous throughout the colonies.[8] South Carolina was especially vulnerable, and Charleston was hit by a raid by the French and Spanish fleets in the summer of 1706. French privateers inflicted serious losses on New England's fishing and shipping industries. The privateering was finally curbed when Britain provided military support to its American colonists resulting in the British capture of Acadia (Nova Scotia), the main base used by the privateers.[9] The war ended with a British victory in 1713. By the Treaty of Utrecht, Britain gained Acadia (which they renamed Nova Scotia), the island of Newfoundland, the Hudson Bay region, and the Caribbean island of St. Kitts. France was required to recognize British authority over over the Iroquois.

King George's War

King George's War, 1744–48, was the North American phase of the 1744–1748 War of the Austrian Succession. In 1745, naval and ground forces from Massachusetts in the Siege of Louisbourg captured the strategic French base on Cape Breton Island. The French regained the fortress at the peace treaty. The French led Indian allies in numerous raids, such as the one on Nov. 28, 1745 which destroyed the village of Saratoga, New York, killing and capturing more than one hundred of its inhabitants. The war merged into War of Jenkin's Ear against Spain, and ended with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748.

French and Indian War: 1754–63

Provincial troops, as distinct from the militias, were raised by the 13 colonial governments in response to annual quotas established by the British commanders-in-chief. These troops saw service in most campaigns and employment throughout North America during the Seven Years' War.

Virginia

Braddock was defeated near Fort Duquesne

The war began in 1754 as Virginia militia led by Colonel George Washington advanced into French-held territory near modern-day Pittsburgh. Washington was captured at Fort Necessity and released. He returned with the 2,100 British regulars and American colonials under British General Edward Braddock, which was decisively destroyed at the Battle of the Monongahela in July 1755.

New York campaigns

At Fort William Henry (south of Lake George, New York) in August 1757, British defenders were surrounded by an overwhelming French force and their Indian allies from several tribes. The British surrendered to the French after having been offered generous terms. Nonetheless, the Indian warriors, whose customs permitted the enslavement of some captured enemy soldiers and the scalping of others, ignored French efforts to prevent the massacre and killed or captured hundreds of the British force, including women and children. Some of those scalped had smallpox, and the scalps were brought to numerous Indian villages as trophies, were they caused an epidemic that killed thousands of Indians. In early July 1758, British General James Abercromby with a force of over 15,000 attacked General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm and his garrison of 3500 French and Canadian troops at Fort Carillon, which overlooked Lake Champlain. The British had 44 cannons, the heaviest weighing more than 5,000 pounds. The fort, later called Ticonderoga by the British, controlled access to French Canada. Abercromby's force included 5,825 red-coated British regulars including the Royal Highlanders. He had 9,000 colonials from Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and New Jersey. Some 400 Mohawk warriors joined in. Abercromby's attack was became disorganized and he suffered the worst British defeat of the war, with over 2,000 killed. He retreated and the campaign ended in failure.

Louisbourg

Meanwhile Lord Jeffrey Amherst captured the great French stronghold of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island (now Nova Scotia). Amherst's large British naval force of over 170 ships and 13,000 men came under furious attack by French defenders until British General James Wolfe found a safe landing spot out of sight of the French. The ultimately successful siege lasted seven weeks.

Canada

In London, prime Minister William Pitt named Amherst as his new commander-in-chief of North America. The Louisbourg victory opened the St. Lawrence River to future British incursions, and Amherst devised a three-pronged attack against French Canada for 1759: a push up the St. Lawrence to attack Quebec, another northward invasion from Albany by way of lakes George and Champlain, and pressure against the French in the West at Fort Niagara. The 1759 battle for Quebec City, fought on the Plains of Abraham decided the future of Canada as British forces under General James Wolfe defeated the French army of General Louis-Joseph Montcalm. Both generals were killed.

Memories

Anderson (2006) suggests the war played a pivotal precipitating role in the American Revolution, helped the United States to become an imperial nation, and should perhaps be known as "the War That Made America."

The Fort William Henry massacre has shaped American cultural attitudes toward Indians. It was only the best known episode of indiscriminate bloodshed and captive-taking and deranged relations between Indians and Anglo-American colonists. Even in Pennsylvania, a colony that had never known an Indian war before 1755, indiscriminate hatred of Indians became something like a majority sentiment by 1764. When most native groups sided with the British in the Revolution, the animosity only grew.[10] The American novelist James Fenimore Cooper wrote The Last of the Mohicans, (1826) a widely read novel that was adapted for several Hollywood films. Cooper refers to the dangerous "savages" and shows their willingness to kill. The book creates a lasting impression of the untrustworthiness and dangerousness of Indians in general. One long-standing theme in American popular culture has portrayed the Indians as revenge-seeking savages looking to scalp their enemies.[11]

The victory of Wolfe over Montcalm was a decisive moment in shaping the self-image of British Canada, while Francophone Canada has refused to allow commemorations.[12]

Pontiac's rebellion

Zone of action in Pontiac's Rebellion

In 1760 British commander Lord Amherst abruptly ended the distribution of gifts of ironware, weapons and ammunition to the Indians, a French practice that the Indians had come to rely on. Chief Pontiac (1720–1769), a chief of the Ottawa tribe assumed leadership in the Detroit area; other chiefs in the loose confederation of tribes directed attacks on all British forts in the Great Lakes area in the spring of 1763. Eight outposts were overrun, and English supply lines across Lake Erie were cut; assaults on Fort Detroit and Fort Pitt failed. At this point news arrived of the complete French capitulation and withdrawal from North America, and the uprising quickly collapsed. Few American military units were involved, as British regulars handled the action. London issued a proclamation in October 1763 forbidding whites to enter Indian territory west of the Appalachian Mountains, hoping to minimize future conflict and laying plans for an Indian satellite state in the Great Lakes region.[13]

By expelling the French Empire from North America, the British victory made it impossible for the Iroquois and other native groups to keep their autonomy by playing rival powers against one another. The Indians who had been allied of France realized their weak position when the British began to treat them as if they, not the French, had been conquered. They reacted with violence to Britain's abrupt changes in the terms of trade and suspension of diplomatic gift giving, launching an insurrection to teach the British a lesson in the proper relationship of ally to ally. By driving British troops from western forts in and sending raiding parties that caused panic as refugees fled east, the Indian coalition forced the British to rescind the offending policies and renew giving gifts. By 1764, as the various tribes came to terms with Britain, Indian leaders realized that their war-fighting ability was crippled. Without a competing empire to arm and supply them, they simply could not keep fighting once they ran out of gunpowder and lead.[14]

The Proclamation of 1763 angered American settlers eager to move west; they largely ignored it, and saw the imperial government as an ally of the Indians and an obstacle to their goals. As Dixon (2007) argues, "Frustrated by their government's inability to contend with the Indians, back country settlers concluded that the best way to insure security was to rely on their own devices" Such actions eventually pushed them into direct conflict with the British government and ultimately proved one of the main forces leading to backcountry support for the American Revolution.[15]

See also

References

  1. ^ John Shy, A People Numerous and Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence (2nd ed. 2008)
  2. ^ See "The Susquehannock War 1675-77"
  3. ^ In 1690 New France had about 12,000 inhabitants, while the American colonists numbered over 200,000. By 1760 the numbers were about 60,000 and 1.6 million, respectively.
  4. ^ Anderson (1960)
  5. ^ K. A. J. McLay, "Wellsprings of a 'World War': an Early English Attempt to Conquer Canada During King William's War, 1688–97," Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 2006 34(2): 155–175,
  6. ^ Jenny Hale Pulsipher, "'Dark Cloud Rising from the East': Indian Sovereignty and the Coming of King William's War in New England," New England Quarterly 2007 80(4): 588–613
  7. ^ Steven Oatis, "'To Eat up a Village of White Men': Anglo-Indian Designs on Mobile and Pensacola, 1705–1715," Gulf South Historical Review 1998 14(1): 104–119,
  8. ^ John Demos, The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America (1995)
  9. ^ Verner W. Crane, "The Southern Frontier in Queen Anne's War," American Historical Review Vol. 24, No. 3 (Apr., 1919), pp. 379–395 in JSTOR
  10. ^ Anderson (2006)
  11. ^ Michael Hilger, From Savage to Nobleman: Images of Native Americans in Film (1995); Peter C. Rollins and John E. O'Connor, eds., Hollywood's Indian: The Portrayal of the Native American in Film (1998).
  12. ^ See Desmond Morton, "Who really won on the Plains of Abraham?" Financial Post Nov. 10, 2009
  13. ^ Howard H. Peckham, Pontiac and the Indian Uprising (1947); Richard Middleton, Pontiac's War: Its Causes, Course, and Consequences (2007)
  14. ^ Anderson (2006); David Dixon, Never Come to Peace Again: Pontiac's Uprising and the Fate of the British Empire in North America (2005).
  15. ^ David Dixon, Never Come to Peace Again: Pontiac's Uprising and the Fate of the British Empire in North America (2005), quoting p. xii

Further reading

  • Anderson, Fred. The War That Made America: A Short History of the French and Indian War (2006), excerpt and text search
  • Carp, E. Wayne. "Early American Military History: A Review of Recent Work," Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 94 (1986) 259–84
  • Ferling, John E. Struggle for a Continent: The Wars of Early America (1993), to 1763
  • Gallay, Alan, ed. Colonial Wars of North America, 1512–1763: An Encyclopedia (1996) excerpt and text search
  • Leach, Douglas Edward. Arms for Empire: A Military History of the British Colonies in North America, 1607–1763 (1973)
  • Peckham, Howard H. The Colonial Wars (1965), excerpt and text search
  • Rodger, N. A. M. The Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain, 1649–1815 (2006)

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