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EARLY BATTLES BETWEEN BRITAIN AND THE PATRIOTS

The fighting between the patriots and the British loyalist forces began to look like more than just a family feud when the patriots surprised some British forts in northern New York and hauled off their cannons. With the extra firepower, the patriots marched up Bunker Hill (actually, Breed's Hill), overlooking Boston.

The British eventually dislodged the patriots, but not without losing a lot of men. The British burned a couple of seaports; the patriots invaded Canada and beat some Loyalist soldiers in the South. Then the British hired German professional soldiers, the Hessians, to help them defeat the colonists.

Congress didn't officially declare the United States independent until 14 months after the first shots were fired. With both sides shooting away, Congress's hesitation for more than a year shows how close the colonies still felt to Britain. Another sign of how difficult it was to break the bond with Mother England was the fact that around one in six colonial people remained loyal to the British crown. Not only did Loyalists not want to leave Britain, but they were also ready to fight the patriots who did.

Problems faced by the British

Like any occupying power, the problem for the British army was that it really controlled only the ground it was standing on. Although as many as 50,000 Loyalist colonists fought alongside the British at one time or another, their numbers weren't enough to keep any large part of America loyal to the king after the king's army left town.

Things got pretty hot for Loyalists when the British army wasn't around to protect them. Patriots weren't above going from tar-and-feather parties to destruction of Loyalist property and violence that bordered on terrorism. At the war's end, some 80,000 Loyalists moved out of the country to Canada or Britain.

Problems the patriots faced

The problem for the patriots was that the British had a larger and better-trained army — at least 35,000 British and Hessian troops supported by 500 ships. Washington had, at most, 18,000 men, mostly poorly trained and equipped. Although by the end of the war, Washington had around 8,000 properly trained regular-army Continental soldiers, many of the minuteman volunteers who made up most of the army were good for little more than a minute in a stand-up battle. Sniping from behind rocks went only so far in a real war; sooner or later, the armies had to face each other across an open field. Minutemen volunteers tended to fire a round or two and then head home to their farms. Developing soldiers who would stand up to British cannon and massed musket fire took years of drilling and combat experience.

Slaves: Fighting for both sides

Thousands of African slaves fought with the British because they were promised freedom if they did. Many, but not most, were helped out of the country when the war ended. The black Loyalist Colonel Titus Tye became legendary for capturing supplies and patriots. Blacks fought for the Revolution as well: A black soldier is shown right next to Washington in the famous picture of Washington crossing the Delaware.

 
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