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WAR: 1775-1783

John Trumbull, Surrender of Lord Cornwallis, 1820

The American Revolution was a hard-fought war between scrappy volunteer soldiers and the professional army of an imperial power. Which side would you have picked as the likely winner? In this Theme we view the Americans' victory as a process, not answering how they won the war but exploring what they confronted, endured, and overcame to win the war. The nine sections focus on anticipating the war (and trying to avoid it), committing to one side or the other, leading the troops, sustaining the war effort, reporting its progress, fighting as soldiers and sailors, living as civilians during wartime, losing the war (the British, of course), and winning the war (those scrappy volunteer soldiers led by the resolute George Washington).

Sections in WAR

Each section presents primary resources, introductory notes, classroom discussion questions, and supplemental links.

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  1. Anticipating War
  2. Committing to War
  3. Leading the War
  4. Sustaining the War
  5. Reporting the War
  6. Fighting the War
  7. Living the War
  8. Losing the War
  9. Winning the War

Framing Questions

  • How did Patriot leadership—military, diplomatic, and governmental—promote and hinder the war effort?
  • How did the war affect Patriots, Loyalists, Indians, African Americans, and women? How were power relationships changed?
  • How were decisions by Britain and France critical to the outcome of the war?
  • Was victory the last achievement of the thirteen colonies or the first achievement of the new nation?

Image: John Trumbull, Surrender of Lord Cornwallis, oil on canvas, 1820 (detail). Courtesy of the U.S. Capitol, Office of the Architect of the Capitol.