Between the War for Independence and Operation Iraqi Freedom, the armed forces of the United States have participated in twenty-one principal wars and in numerous smaller conflicts and operations. In each of these American men and women have paid a high price for the nation's freedom, selflessly sacrificing life or limb for an honorable cause.
Principal sources of information for the figures, explanatory text and illustrations appearing below include the National Archives and Records Administration; U.S. Navy Historical Center; Department of Defense; Department of Veterans Affairs; and The Oxford Companion to American Military History, from which all quotations are taken.
Revolutionary War (War for Independence), 1775 - 1783
The War for Independence, when viewed in proportion to contemporary population and wealth, destroyed more lives and property than any American war since then, with the exception of the Civil War. Except for the Vietnam conflict, it also lasted longer than all other American wars. While Americans often remember the Revolution in relatively straightforward terms-as a struggle for independence between the American patriots on the one hand and the British mother country on the other-the war was in fact much more complex. Fighting against the American patriots were British and German regular troops, Indians allied with the British, and American militias loyal to the British crown. Roughly forty percent of the population remained uncommitted to either side.
Fighting on the patriot side were allied Indian tribes as well as French military forces, who supported the rebel cause both in the United States and in Europe by engaging the British in a colonial fight for independence that ultimately became worldwide in scope. British officers who had served in the colonies during the French and Indian War (1754-1763) believed the Americans would prove to be "leaderless, lazy, and militarily ineffectual." They expected high rates of desertion among the American forces, and "assumed a lack of toughness in the rebels--who they thought--would collapse at the first application of force." In this, of course, the British were mistaken.
We still remember the Revolutionary War for its many outstanding examples of American heroism and perseverance, perhaps the most famous of which remains the harrowing winter encampment at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where the Continental Army under George Washington suffered terribly under conditions of extreme privation. Having been recently defeated by the British at the Battle of the Brandywine, Philadelphia, Germantown and then the Delaware River, Washington's bedraggled army continued to train throughout the winter and emerged in the spring "tougher and better organized than ever."
Fought on land by regular, militia and guerrilla forces, and at sea (with the French navy providing invaluable assistance to the Americans on the Atlantic as well as the Mediterranean), the War for Independence wore out all its principal participants long before the fighting came to an end in the Spring of 1782. American victory--and with it independence--seemed constantly in jeopardy, and yet by war's end, the British government faced "severe financial peril and a public sick of war."
American Casualties, Revolutionary War
Branch of Service Battle Deaths Non-Mortal Wounds Army 4,044 6,004 Navy 342 114 Marines 49 70 Total 4,435 6,188
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1775 - 1783