The American Revolutionary War: Keeping Independence
Part 2: They Got What They Wanted
One of these secret meetings was the First Continental Congress, which met in Philadelphia in September of 1774. In all, 56 delegates from 12 colonies (all except Georgia) got together to decide what to do in response to what they saw as a growing problem.
Many Americans wanted war. They urged people to get their guns and fight the British. But the British army was large and well-trained. American leaders knew it would be a desperate fight.
The fighting began almost without warning. Paul Revere's famous ride let the people of Lexington and Concord know that the British were coming. The first shots were fired on Lexington Green on April 19, 1775. Neither side claimed victory, but several soldiers on both sides were hurt.
The British focused on Boston and New York in the early part of the war. In the famous Battle of Bunker Hill (June 1775), the British advanced up a steep hill for two straight days before finally capturing it. The American forces had lost the hill (and its commanding view of Boston) but had proved to themselves that they could fight against the British.
Both sides fought minor skirmishes, but no major battles were fought for several months after that. The following spring, 30,000 British troops arrived in New York harbor. With these kind of reinforcements, the British began winning battle after battle. These included Brooklyn, White Plains, and several other battles in and around New York city.
Further north, American attempts to invade Canada had ended in defeat. Even the famous seizure of Fort Ticonderoga (May 1775) had ended in a British victory two years later.
The Americans angered the British further by getting together for the Second Continental Congress and issuing the Declaration of Independence, which documented offenses to the American people committed by Britain's King George III.
Now that the Americans had declared themselves independent, they had to fight to keep it.
Desperate for some kind of success, American Commander George Washington led his men across the ice-packed Delaware River on Christmas night, 1776, and won a stunning victory against Hessian forces at Trenton, New Jersey. Moving quickly, Washington also beat back the British at Princeton a few days later.
But again, the British proved too strong. In a series of battles in Pennsylvania (including Brandywine and Germantown), the British drove the Americans steadily back from their homes and their families. The British under General James Howe occupied Philadelphia in the fall of 1777.
Things looked very bad for America. British troops were seemingly everywhere. They were winning every battle in sight.
Then came Saratoga.