The United States of America was never a guarantee, but there were a few battles during the American Revolution that started to make things look pretty good for us. Here are three decisive battles that helped the colonies secure a victory.
The Capture of Fort Ticonderoga
High school history classes don’t emphasize just how insane it was for American patriots to have any sort of confidence in their rebellion. This was a group of pissed-off farmers going up against the most powerful land and sea power of the mid-18th century. No one should have thought it was a fight that’d last longer than a week and a half. Two weeks, tops.
One of the possible sources for such insane confidence was the Capture of Fort Ticonderoga very early in the war—really, before it could even be classified as a war. On the shores of Lake Champlain in upstate New York on May 10, 1775, Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys mounted an assault. Allen and men like him had identified the lightly defended forts up near Canada as potential easy sources of weapons for the growing conflict and decided Fort Ticonderoga was the one to hit.
When we say assault, we should be more clear: Ethan Allen and his men took the fort without firing a single shot. Instead, they barged into the fort commander’s room while he was trying to put his pants on, then said they’d kill everyone in the fort if any of the British started shooting. Excepting the threatening of innocent civilians, we’d say that’s a brash, brazen way to get the first American war started, and would be in keeping with the reputation Americans had on the battlefield all the way up to the Second World War.
The Battle of the Brandywine
To understand why a defeat like the Battle of the Brandywine was decisive, you have to follow the movement of both armies. The British had captured New York City and knew their next objective was Philadelphia. They couldn’t go overland through New Jersey because they’d be harassed by rebel guerillas for the entire march. The next choice was the Delaware Bay, but they couldn’t go that way because Washington had turned the place into one giant booby trap. That left the Chesapeake.
The British landed at Elk’s Head (modern day Elkton, Maryland) and marched on what looked like a straight shot to Philly through Wilmington, Delaware, so Washington set up his defenses just outside Wilmington. But the British move was a feint, and the bulk of the army moved north. Washington intercepted them by Brandywine Creek just over the Delaware/Pennsylvania border. The battle was costly for both sides and ended up in a British victory. That meant the British would spend the winter in relative comfort in Philadelphia, while the rebels froze themselves to death (sometimes literally) at Valley Forge. But it also meant the army that left Valley Forge was far more formidable than the one that entered it. In a big way, defeat by the Brandywine allowed the Continental Army to transform itself into an actual army.
The Battles of Saratoga
The American cause was doomed if the rebels couldn’t prove they were a force to be reckoned with. France and Spain were natural allies for us, but they weren’t going to back a flash in the pan that might end up causing a much larger war in Europe.
In September and October of 1777, the rebels finally won that support by winning two decisive victories near Saratoga, New York. The first was on September 19 at the Battle of Freeman’s Farm. Virginia sharpshooters weakened British forces while the rest of the army charged in and engaged in close-quarters fighting. The battle ended with the British suffering two casualties for every American casualty, a ratio that was nearly never weighted in American favor.
The second was the Battle of Bemis Heights on October 7. British forces and their German allies found they were being encircled. They tried to break free, but American forces hammered away at them.
Between the two losses, General John Burgoyne, commander of the British forces in that area, was forced to surrender. The nature of the victories proved to the French that the American rebels were a viable ally and deserved more substantial support—support that would eventually contribute in a major way to Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown.