The American Revolutionary War was a war unlike others and shaped the future and course of America. It was the catalyst for our American independence and our inalienable rights, like the Second Amendment, and forged our great Nation. From 1775 through 1783, there were 165 principal engagements, such as Washington and his army’s victories at the Siege of Boston and Yorktown, the American victories at Trenton and Saratoga, the British victory at Bunker Hill, and the stunning British surrender at Yorktown. Many great classical weapons were used, and I’ll share some of these later in this article.
Sadly in 1775, when the Revolutionary War began and throughout it, muster rolls were very sketchy and did not include American soldiers’ race, ethnic identity, or other personal data. Pension records and other documentation did not exist for each individual soldier, including colonists, Native American Indian, enslaved Blacks, and Spanish warriors, as American allies. So, it is difficult to know the exact number of American soldiers and others serving in and/or with the Continental Army, Navy, and Marines. Many Native American Indians, for example, were integrated into colonial society, served with the Colonists, and were not included in the Census until 1890. And because of the missing, incomplete, or not kept records, it is also difficult to know the types of weapons and quantities of each type used by the Colonists, the British, and Native Americans in various battles and the war.
Black Slaves Served
Based on her research and her book “Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World,” Maya Jasanoff gives some interesting information. She says, “Approximately 20,000 Black enslaved men joined the British during the American Revolution. In contrast, historians estimate that only about 5,000 Black men (slaves) served in the Continental Army.” This was probably encouraged by a 1775 British order. Lord Dunmore, the British Governor of Virginia, proclaimed that freedom would be granted to enslaved workers of rebels who escaped to British custody in return for their bearing arms (British-preferred weapons mentioned later) and serving with His Majesty’s troops. Also, there were an indeterminate number and types of French and Spanish weapons used by slaves and others.
American Revolutionary War Deaths, Prisoners, & Diseases
Keeping in mind that it is difficult to know the number of Americans killed or wounded in the Revolutionary War due to incomplete or lack of records, estimates are available. An estimated 6,800 Americans were killed in action, and more than 20,000 were taken prisoner, which probably includes American Indians, according to Battlefields.org. This means of all Revolutionary War deaths, about 46% were Americans and allies, and the rest were British and allies. Historians believe that at least an additional 17,000 deaths were the result of diseases, which also likely included Native American Indians, slaves, and Spanish warriors. Diseases such as smallpox, malaria, and dysentery were commonly suffered by both Colonial and British soldiers. With the close-quarters environments of military encampments, many of these illnesses spread quickly. In 1775, John Adams said about the smallpox devastation that “smallpox is ten times more terrible than the British, Canadians, and Indians together.” Washington made a bold decision in 1777 to have all soldiers in his army inoculated against smallpox infection. A report from MountVernon.org indicates that due to Washington’s decision, “deaths by smallpox in the ranks dropped from 17% to a low of 1%.” Historian Elizabeth Fenn states in her book The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-1782 that “Washington’s resolution to inoculate the Continental forces must surely rank with the most important decisions of the war.”
Spain Supported American Colonists in Revolutionary War
Although Spain never signed an official agreement to fight with and support the United States, the two had a common enemy in Britain, a longtime Spanish rival. The eight-year war between the American colonies and Great Britain involved a key battle in Florida, led by the Spanish, and a victory in Pensacola, Florida, in 1781.
At that time, the British colony of West Florida stretched from the Mississippi River to Pensacola to the Apalachicola River near Tallahassee, where the colony of British East Florida began. Spain declared war on Britain in 1779, but not just to support the American cause. Spain’s goals were also for self-interest and strategic in nature. King Carlos III wanted to recover key positions in the Mediterranean Sea earlier lost to Britain, e.g., Gibraltar. Also, he wanted to preserve Spanish access to the Gulf of Mexico and Central America. General Bernardo de Gálvez, the governor of Spanish Louisiana, led an attack on British-held Pensacola and forced the town’s surrender on May 8, 1781. This is a source of pride for all Floridians. The loss of Pensacola by the British to the Spanish fighting for the colonists helped convince British officials that the war was becoming un-winnable.
Along with their military support, Spain supplied the American colonists with desperately needed arms, blankets, shoes, and currency. While Spain’s influence on the Revolutionary War was significant, perhaps the most profound impact was the broader American Revolution’s impact on Spain.
There were many significant battles of the American Revolution, but there were eight battles that were significant in terms of turning points in the war and morale builders to strategic military advantages. Here below are the eight battles that I choose to show the impact of this war. Of course, there are many other battles, victors, commanders, and casualties of war. The facts displayed are from battlefields.org.
Selected Key Battles of the American Revolution
80 American Indian Nations Were Involved in the War
In 1775 when the Revolutionary War started, it is estimated that more than 250,000 Native American Indians lived east of the Mississippi River. They formed more than 80 Indian nations and spoke dozens of languages and dialects. And they had their reasons for getting involved in the war or not. Native Americans were highly concerned about how to best keep their independence, culture, traditions, and land in the midst of a war. Some sided with the British, and some with the Colonists.
Native American Indians Made Major Contributions to Both the British and American Colonists
Native American Indians from many tribes made very significant major contributions to both the British and the American Colonists during the Revolutionary War. They served both sides as scouts, soldiers, hunters, traders, trappers, and diplomats. Their knowledge of the land, its resources and trails, rivers, animals, various Indian tribes and customs, and the inherent dangers and opportunities were immense. Native American Indians’ contributions played critical roles in battles, decisions, encampments, acquiring sustainable food, and major events that shaped the outcome of the war. Their people, land, communities, and culture were forever affected by the war’s outcomes.
British Advantages Over Americans for Indian Support
An independent United States dedicated to westward expansion seemed to pose a far greater threat for most Native Indians than the British, who had placed some limits on colonial encroachment on Native American lands. These British limits were the main reason Native American Indians supported the British. The British had numerous other advantages over the Americans in getting the support of Native Indians. With much greater financial resources, stockpiles of cannons, muskets, gunpowder, tents, and other basic resources, and control of the sea, British officials could supply the trade goods (like firearms, ammunition, gunpowder, metal cooking utensils, tools, and cloth) that Native people had come to rely on.
Native American Indian Allies to American Patriots
The majority of American Indian Nations allied themselves with the British in order to preserve their culture and stop encroachment upon their lands. But, some supported the Patriots and their cause because of personal ties, shared religious beliefs, or mistreatment by the British in the past. In previous British wars, Native Americans associated with the losing side were often indentured or enslaved by the British. Some Native Americans believed that the American patriots would help them peaceably control their Native lands and help them stop the many prevalent new diseases, e.g., smallpox and cholera. These American Indian allies included large numbers from the Oneidas, Tuscaroras, Mohicans, and the Stockbridge Nations.
Key American Indians that Fought in the Revolutionary War
Many American Indian nations fought in the Revolutionary War. After hundreds of years of peaceful coexistence and cooperation among many Indian nations, it came to an end during this war. The Indian nations were divided on which side to join and did not always make unanimous decisions about which side to support. And they sometimes changed sides and support.
The Cherokee Indian nation was split between a faction that supported the colonists and another that sided with the British. The Creeks supported the British. The Iroquois Confederacy, an alliance of six Native American Indian nations in New York, was also divided by the war. Two of the Indian nations in the Confederacy, the Oneida, and the Tuscarora, sided with the Americans, while the Mohawk and other nations, such as the Cuyaga, Seneca, and Onondaga, sided with the British to defeat the American colonists. The Native American Indian Mohican nation at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, joined to support the American militiamen in Boston in 1775.
The Oneida American Indian Nation Supported Colonists
The “People of the Standing Stone,” or Oneida American Indian Nation, was and is based in central and upstate New York, south of Lake Ontario. The Oneida maintained close trade, business, and personal relations with the colonists. Because of their far North location, they were able to avoid the land conflicts faced by other Native nations. They wanted to remain neutral and keep the Iroquois Confederacy together, but tensions and pressures forced them to choose a side. The Onedia decided to support the Revolutionaries and became America’s first ally. The Oneida warriors were used by the Continental Army to scout British camps, spy and intercept British communications, troop movements, and strategies. They also helped colonists by foraging for food and harassing British posts and were excellent warriors. Oneida Chief “He Who Takes Up The Snow Shoes” was a strong fighter, and note him and his wife “Two Kettles Together” in the classic photo below at the Battle of Oriskany (Thanks to the Oneida Indian Nation and Don Troiani.)
The First Iroquois Battle: Oneida and the Battle of Oriskany, 1777, with Chief Hanyerry
The Oneida Native Indians assisted the Continental Army at the famous Battle of Oriskany in New York’s Mohawk Valley on August 6, 1777. During this battle, the Oneida provided 150 warriors to General Horatio Gates’ army. Oneida warriors battled against the Seneca, Cayuga, and Mohawk allies of the British. The very famous painting just above by Don Troiani shows the Oneida war Chief Tewahangarahken (Hanyerry), “He who takes up the snowshoes,” and his wife Tyonajanegen (Two Kettles Together) fighting alongside the Continental Army in the thick woods of the Mohawk River Valley. Chief Hanyerry suffered a musket ball through his wrist, so his wife, Two Kettles Together, loaded his muskets so he could continue to fight, as shown in the painting. Both sides suffered heavy casualties, and both sides claimed victory. The Battle of Oriskany was only the start of continuous fighting between the six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy during the war.
Weapons in the Revolutionary War
Just as today, the type of conflict significantly affects the choice of weapon and tactic. And the culture largely affects the craftsmanship skills, availability, and acceptance of certain weapons, e.g., the Indian nations. Although different weapons were used by American Colonists, the British, and Native Americans, most used the same types of weapons. At that historical time, there were just not that many different models of various classes of weapons being produced. Indian warriors, like the Mohawk, the Tuscarora, and the Oneida, were skilled at quick offensive hit-and-run tactics and one-on-one fighting. They primarily used tomahawks, bows and arrows, the war club, knives, spears, and muskets. The bow and arrow worked so well, in fact, that American Indians relied on this traditional weapon long after they adopted firearms from the Europeans. Despite popular belief, they preferred them to the rifle and pistol even into the 1800s.
American Indians Traded for Northwest Fur Trade Muskets
American Indians obtained long guns through exchange at trading posts. Imported from England, Belgium, and France and available in the American Colonies, the musket gun became a popular trade item for tribal members. Possibly the most iconic fur trade firearm was the Northwest Fur Trade Musket, as shown just above. This weapon was manufactured specifically for the fur trade and marketed to American Indians. But even with the popularity of firearms, American Indians still depended on their bows and arrows. They were used by all tribes when hunting buffalo on horseback. This musket was introduced in 1775 and instantly became popular with American Native Indians. The longer 42-inch barrel “fusil” was the most common and was a very lightweight, easy-to-use musket.
Arrowheads were the point of arrows and were used by the early Native Americans as well as by other people. Not only were arrowheads used for war, but also for hunting animals as well. Arrowheads are now considered artifacts and are typically displayed in museums. When I was young, I found about ten flint arrowheads with triangle and straight-stem points on my grandparents’ land in Ohio. Most, like myself, do not realize the many varieties and styles of arrowheads, so here is a brief chart of them.
Rather than relying solely on stone, bone, or antler to produce arrowheads, American Indians relied on flint and metals such as iron, copper, and brass. The Hudson Bay Company had brought factory-made arrowheads to North America as early as 1671. John James Audubon, an American ornithologist, naturalist, and painter, noted how American Indians made their own metal points to hunt buffalo. “The different Indian tribes hunt the Buffalo in various ways: some pursue them on horseback and shoot them with arrows,” Audubon observed, “which they point with old bits of iron or old knife blades.”
Some Muskets, Rifles, Flintlock Pistols, & Other Weapons
The “Brown Bess” muzzle-loading, smoothbore musket was one of the most commonly used weapons in the American Revolution. It was used by both British and American colonists, but mainly by the British. This .75 caliber flintlock musket fired a single shot ball or a cluster-style shot which fired multiple projectiles giving the weapon a shotgun effect. There were two types of Brown Bess: the Short-Land Pattern and the Long-Land Pattern. The Short Land was shorter, less bulky, and less heavy than the Long Land. Most American colonists used the Long-Land Pattern.
The Charleville Musket was imported from France into the United States in large numbers, due in part to the influence of Marquis de Lafayette. And, of course, the French were our allies in the Revolutionary War. Its musket ball was undersized to reduce the effects of powder fouling. It was 60 inches long and weighed less than the Brown Bess at ten pounds, so it was preferred for carry. The Charleville heavily influenced the design of the Springfield Musket later.
The Pennsylvania Long Rifle
Long rifles were used by snipers and light infantry throughout the Revolutionary War. It was developed by a Swiss gunsmith in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who put spiraling grooves in the barrel, called “rifling.” This made it extremely accurate, up to 300 yards, compared to 100 yards for the smoothbore muskets, like the Brown Bess. It came in calibers from .40 to .62. Drawbacks were the low rate of fire due to the complicated reloading process, the impossibility of fitting it with a bayonet, the high cost, and the extensive training required to realize its full potential. So General Washington argued for a limited role of rifles in the army, while Congress was more enthusiastic and authorized several rifle companies.
Flintlock Pistols of General George Washington- 1775
George Washington had several pistols, some bought, some gifted. He seemed to prefer pistols over long guns. His original ornate flintlock pistols of walnut, brass, and silver and gold inlays are showcased at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point Museum. The pistols were made by John Hawkins and Richard Wilson in London in 1748, and the name of the maker is stamped on the lockplate. The George Washington Flintlock Pistols are elegant in their design, combining simple, clean lines with tasteful decoration. George Washington’s nameplate is on the grip.
The barrel is brass-colored, and the stock is hardwood. The side- and lockplates are cast and engraved, as are the escutcheon and trigger guard. Escutcheons and side plates feature military trophies, flags, cannons, drums, lions, and unicorns. The handle butt features a grotesque mask. The flintlock mechanism has a gooseneck hammer.
General George Washington’s Flintlock Pistols used in Revolutionary War
Washington Pistol’s Sold for $1,986,000 in 2002
These saddle pistols shown above were originally given to Washington by his French ally, Marquis de Lafayette, and were used by Washington throughout the Revolutionary War. The pistols feature beautiful gold inlays and detailed rococo carvings. After his death, the pistols were acquired by President Andrew Jackson, who later gave them back to Washington’s family. In 2002, the pistols were sold at a Christie’s Auction for a record-breaking $1,986,000 dollars. The buyer was the Mellon Foundation, who then donated them to the Fort Ligonier historic site and museum at Pittsburg.
Tomahawk or War Club
A tomahawk, or war club, was often used by Native American Indians during the Revolutionary War. They were made of stone and wood and were used for different survival purposes, in combat, and as tools. They were very useful for close-quarter fighting or hand-to-hand combat because they could be thrown short distances. They usually had a light wooden handle with a thin square blade, and some had a thick protruding spike at the end of the blade.
Interestingly, tomahawks were used throughout the Vietnam War as well in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They had many uses, like cutting through jungle brush, chopping, slicing, and digging to survive, breaching doors and locks, and in hand-to-hand combat, like the early Native American Indians.
Bows and Arrow
Native American bows were made of wood, and the most powerful bows had sinew (animal tendons) to make them springier. Some tribes used composite bows made from animal horns and layers of sinew, which were the most powerful American Indian bows, able to shoot an arrow completely through the body of a buffalo. When horses were introduced to the Americas, most Native Americans began to favor short bows since they could be fired from horseback. American Indian arrows nearly always had feathers to make them fly straighter.
Native American Indian Tribes in the American Revolution
Fought for the British
- Abenaki (fought for both)
Fought for the Colonists
- Stockbridge Mohicans
- Abenaki (fought for both)
The End of the American Revolutionary War
The Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War between Great Britain and the United States, recognized American independence, and established borders for the new nation. Peace talks in Paris included American Peace Commissioners Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, and John Adams. After eight years of grueling fighting, the war was formally over when the Paris Treaty was signed on September 3, 1783, after two years of negotiations after Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown.
Success and Peace, Loyal American Patriots!
Note: This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only. This article should not be relied upon as accurate for all situations, individuals, and historical events. The author recommends that you consult your own research authorities for your understanding and use of this information. The author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever.
© 2023 Col Benjamin Findley. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning, or any other means without prior written permission. For copyright information, contact Col. Ben Findley at [email protected].
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