America's revolution was both a civil war within British North America
and, by 1778, part of a world war involving European powers. The
British fought the war with an army of professional soldiers, lifetime
recruits who were subject to strict military discipline. They also
employed soldiers from German states and a large number of loyalists,
American supporters of British rule who formed their own military
units and fought against patriot forces.
The patriots, those who favored independence,
developed their own Continental Army, which consisted initially
of New England militiamen besieging the British in Boston and then
of soldiers supplied by various colonies. They also relied on local
militia units, whose members served for short terms, and partisan
forces, especially in the South. The Marquis de Lafayette, Baron
Friedrich W. A. von Steuben, and other European officers made significant
contributions to the patriot cause. So, too, after 1778, did French
soldiers and sailors, especially in the 1779 siege of British-held
Savannah and in helping Washington's army trap Lord Cornwallis's
large British force at Yorktown in 1781.
With an overall goal of slowing the advance
of white settlement, American Indians were divided in their loyalties.
Depending on local conditions, they joined the side they thought
would favor their interests. Although Southerners opposed their
use, some 5,000 African Americans fought side by side with whites
for the patriot cause and their own freedom; tens of thousands more
enslaved African Americans sought freedom with the British forces.
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