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Why The British Lost The Revolutionary War

The American Revolution refers to the period in history in which the Thirteen Colonies that became the United States of America gained independence from the British Empire. Many battles and tactics against the British were needed to obtain independence from them, including The Battle of Lexington, Bunker Hill, Saratoga, etc. Ultimately, the Americans succeeded in gaining Independence and winning the war.

However, victory seemed out of reach for the Americans during the war; the Americans had fewer soldiers and weapons while the British had the most formidable army in the world and flourished in soldiers and weaponry. There are significant reasons why the British lost the war despite having the upper hand in terms of weaponry and soldiers. Some of these include the British fighting on American land, General Howe’s lack of judgment, and the surrender of Lord Cornwallis and his soldiers.

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One of the significant factors that contributed to Britain’s loss was that the war was fought on American soil. The American soldiers were knowledgeable of the ways of the land; they knew the terrain. To many of the British soldiers, the terrain of Northern America was a new experience for them; they were fighting in unknown territories. With the war taking place in the United States, American commanders could position their troops around natural barriers. The British had difficulty attacking them and used rivers and other terrains to benefit them against the British.

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During 1777, the second phase of the war, Britain devised a campaign to split America into two parts to tackle the conflicts in a more organized manner. Under this campaign, William Howe would head north from New York City to Albany while another force led by John Burgoyne would come south from Canada to meet him; together, they would engage in warfare. First, they would attack the Mohawk Indians and upper approach forces to Albany. However, Howe misjudged; instead of following through with the plan, Howe decided to attack Philadelphia to discourage the Patriots, gain favor of Loyalists, and end the war.

While Howe was in Philadelphia, Burgoyne and his soldiers started out fighting well; they had seized Fort Ticonderoga. After that, however, things would take a drastic turn. In another battle (in Vermont, August 16, 1777), Burgoyne’s army was severely decimated by American forces at Bennington. They were short of materials, and with all help cut off, the British were forced to retreat to Saratoga. At Saratoga, General Horatio Gates surrounded Burgoyne and made him surrender on October 17, 1777. This was a significant turning point and the war and paved the way for America.

Britain might not have had to retreat to Saratoga if William Howe had not abandoned his plan. Partially due to his misjudgment, America began its road to victory and Britain to its demise. Even in the south, Britain had become successful. They were winning battles and had weakened the Continental army. But once again, victory slipped through the hands of Britain due to misjudgments of William Howe. He had several opportunities to place a final attack on the Continental Army but invariably chose not to.

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This allowed George Washington to retreat and regroup, to re-strengthen the already weakened army. Not only this, but Howe also did not attack the army at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-1778. At Valley Forge, the soldiers were hungry and weak; an attack would have turned the war in Britain’s favor. So, instead of attacking, Howe spent the winter with his mistress, drinking alcohol and relaxing. Due to this lack of attack, the war was turned highly towards America’s favor, and a final phase of it (which brought upon the surrender of Lord Cornwallis) sealed the American victory.

During the end of the war, George Washington, French commanders Jean Baptiste de Rochambeau and Francois Joseph Paul de Grasse set out to capture Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, this would ensure the defeat of the British. Washington and Rochambeau marched an army from New York to Virginia to join with other French forces while de Grasse sailed with soldiers to the Chesapeake Bay and the York River. Because of the precision of the positioning, they were able to capture Cornwallis and his troops.

On October 17, 1781, after some resistance, Cornwallis surrendered he and his army of 7,000 men. Though this didn’t win the Americans the war immediately, it put them way ahead of the British. This incident brought forth outcries in England against continuing the war; about two years later, after hardly any significant battles, the Americans and the British signed a final treaty on September 3, 1783. This sealed the defeat of the British.

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The fact that the war was fought on American soil, William Howe’s misjudgments, and the surrender of John Cornwallis, all made Britain lose the war. This is despite their supremacy in both weaponry and soldiers. In the end, America was more determined and the British did not put their supremacy to use, hence William Howe’s failure to attack. These are the reasons the British lost the war.


  • Brinkley, Alan I. American History. 9th ed. NY: McGraw-Hill, 1995. 132-36.
  • Why the British Lost The Revolutionary War David Young, 250 10/23/08
  • Mr.Fabrey, IB History of the Americas

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