United states of America: geography, history, culture

Physical Geography and climate of the USA. The civil and liberation wars in the USA. Causes of The Great depression and industrial revolution of USA. "Cold war" is in the United States: reasons and consequences. Public Holidays and Arts in the USA.

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1. Physical Geography of the USA

The U.S. is divided into 50 states and 1 district. Most of the States in central North America, The total area is more than 9 and a half million sq. km. The world's 3rd largest country. Three land borders: 2 with Canada and 1 with Mexico. The United States shares land borders with Canada (to the north) and Mexico (to the south), and a territorial water border with Russia in the northwest. The contiguous forty-eight states are otherwise bounded by the Pacific Ocean on the west, the Atlantic Ocean on the east, and the Gulf of Mexico to the southeast. Alaska borders the Pacific Ocean to the south, the Bering Strait to the west, and the Arctic Ocean to the north, while Hawaii lies far to the southwest of the mainland in the Pacific Ocean.

Forty-eight of the states are in the single region between Canada and Mexico; this group is referred to, with varying precision and formality, as the continental or contiguous United States, and as the Lower 48. Alaska, which is not included in the term contiguous United States, is at the northwestern end of North America, separated from the Lower 48 by Canada. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean. The capital city, Washington, District of Columbia, is a federal district located on land donated by the state of Maryland. (Virginia had also donated land, but it was returned in 1847.) The United States also has overseas territories with varying levels of independence and organization.

United States landscape varies greatly: temperate forestland on the East cast, the Mississippi-Missouri river system, the Great Lakes shared with Canada, Rocky Mountains west of the plains, deserts and temperate coastal zones west of Rocky Mountains and temperate rainforests in the Pacific Northwest, volcanic islands of Hawaii and Alaska.

2. Regions

united states geography war holiday

The geography of the United States varies across their immense area. Within the continental U.S., eight distinct physiographic divisions exist, though each is composed of several smaller physiographic subdivisions. These major divisions are:

Laurentian Upland - part of the Canadian Shield that extends into the northern United States Great Lakes area.

Atlantic Plain - the coastal regions of the eastern and southern parts includes the continental shelf, the Atlantic Coast and the Gulf Coast.

Appalachian Highlands - lying on the eastern side of the United States, it includes the Appalachian Mountains, the Watchung Mountains, the Adirondacks and New England province originally containing the Great Eastern Forest.

Interior Plains - part of the interior contentintal United States, it includes much of what is called the Great Plains.

Interior Highlands - also part of the interior contentintal United States, this division includes the Ozark Plateau.

Rocky Mountain System - one branch of the Cordilleran system lying far inland in the western states.

Intermontane Plateaus - also divided into the Columbia Plateau, the Colorado Plateau and the Basin and Range Province, it is a system of plateaus, basins, ranges and gorges between the Rocky and Pacific Mountain Systems. It is the setting for the Grand Canyon, the Great Basin and Death Valley.

Pacific Mountain System - the coastal mountain ranges and features in the west coast of the United States.

Highest Point:

Mt. McKinley, (Alaska) 20,320 ft. (6,194 m).

Highest Point: (continental 48 states)

Mount Whitney, (California) is the highest point at 14,495ft (4,418 m)

Lowest Point:

Death Valley, (California)(-282 ft.) (-86 m)

Mean Elevation: (average) 2,512 feet

Land Borders:

Alaska, USA - Canada 1,538 miles (2,475 km)

Canada - USA 3,145 miles (5,061 km)

Mexico - USA 1,951 miles (3,141 km)

Bordering Countries (2) Canada and Mexico


Coastlines: 12,383 miles (19,928 km)

Atlantic coastline: 2,069 miles (3,330 km)

Pacific coastline:+ Hawaii: 7,623 miles (12,268 km)

Gulf of Mexico coastline: 1,631 miles (2,625 km)

Alaska coastline: 1,060 miles (1,706 km)

3. Main Rivers

Colorado River

Beginning in the Rocky Mountains of northern Colorado, it moves southwest ending in the Gulf of California. It is (1,450 miles) (2,333 km) in length, and has formed numerous canyons along its winding path. The most famous of these is the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona.

The river has more than 30 electric power plants along its run and dozens of dams and reservoirs.

Columbia River

This wide, fast-flowing river begins in the Canadian Rockies of southeast British Columbia, Canada, flowing south through the State of Washington, then forming the natural border between Washington and Oregon. It ends in the Pacific Ocean and it is (1,152 miles) (1,857 km) in length.

Hydroelectric power development in the river basin brought inexpensive electricity to the Pacific Northwest, but it severely affected salmon spawning and local fish migration.

Mississippi River

It is the major river of North America and the United States (2,339 miles) (3,765 km). It flows from northwestern Minnesota south to the Gulf of Mexico, just below the city of New Orleans. It is a significant transportation artery and when combined with its major tributaries (the Missouri and Ohio rivers) it becomes the third largest river system in the world.

Missouri River

It begins in southern Montana in the Rocky Mountains, first flowing north then generally southeast across the heart of the United States, ending at the Mississippi River, just to the north of St. Louis, Missouri. It is the longest river in the United States (2,500 miles) (4,023 km).

Ohio River

Beginning at the junction of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers nesr Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, it runs southwest, ending at the Mississippi River on the Illinois and Missouri borders. It is (980 miles) (1,557 km) in length.

Rio Grande River

It is one of the longest rivers in North America. (1,885 miles) (3,034km). It begins in the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado, then flows south through New Mexico. It forms the natural border between Texas and the country of Mexico as it flows southeast to the Gulf of Mexico. In Mexico it is known as Rio Bravo del Norte.

Used for drinking water by both countries, the river is becoming more poluted as population centers that dot the river grow in size, and then dump sewage and pesticides into the water.

Sacramento & San Joaquin Rivers

The Sacramento (380 miles) (610 km) in length, begins in the Klamath Mountains of northern California, flowing southwest, then south to join the San Joaquin River, before entering San Francisco Bay. The San Joaquin comes out of the Sierra Nevada near Yosemite National Park. It flows north to meet the Sacramento River, east of San Francisco. It's namesake valley is one of the most fertile agricultural regions in the USA. (350 miles) (563 km) in length.

Snake River

This branch of the Columbia River begins near the Wyoming border and winds west and then north through the Pacific Northwest, ending near the southeast corner of Washington where it drains into the Columbia River. It plays a significant role in hydroelectric power generation, and its many tributaries are the life-blood of regional agricultural. (1,160 miles) (1,965 km) in length.

Yellowstone River

Beginning in the Rocky Mountains of northwest Wyoming, this beautiful river flows through Yellowstone Lake, then northeast through Montana ending near the North Dakota border. It is (671 miles) (1,080 km) in length.

Greatest Lakes:

Lake Superior-Ontario , Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, Lake Erie-Ontario, Lake Ontario-Ontario , Great Salt Lake-Utah, Lake of the Woods, Iliamna Lake-Alaska, Lake Oahe, Lake Okeechobee-Florida, Lake Pontchartrain-Louisiana, Lake Sakakawea-North Dakota, Lake Champlain- Quebec, Becharof Lake-Alaska, Lake St. Clair-Ontario.



Despite this waterfall's short season, when it's on, it's one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the US. The muddy Little Colorado River spills over Grand Canyon-like cliffs as the stream meanders its way towards its bigger brother further to the west. Add to this the terraced layers leading to the three-step 181ft cumulative drop and you have one of the most unique waterfalls found anywhere and hence earns a spot on the list.


I have to believe that this maybe one of the most beautifully situated waterfalls in the country. It almost seems too good to be true that you have a year-round waterfall gracing the picturesque coastline that have made Big Sur, California legendary. Who cares if this waterfall isn't powerful? It's still some 80ft tall, it spills almost directly into the Pacific Ocean, and it's one of the best places to witness where the ocean meets the sky. That's enough to make me biased towards this diminutive attraction and put it amongst America's Top 10.


Plunging some 370ft with a wide flow and unique shape, this maybe the best little-known waterfall (at least relative to the rest of the neighboring waterfalls) in California's prime nature retreat - Yosemite National Park. The reason why it's a bit lesser-known is because you have to hike to get views of it. Moreover, you'll have to brave your fear of heights to get a good view of it. Nonetheless, it's easily deserving of a spot on our list and should not be missed in a visit to the park.


Nestled deep in the remote Havasupai Indian Reservation (a side canyon of the world famous Grand Canyon in Northern Arizona), this special year-round waterfall is one of the most beautifully situated waterfalls in the country. Adding to its scenic allure are the blue-green waters of Havasu Creek, the travertine stalactites and dams surrounding the falls, and the red-rock scenery that makes the Grand Canyon possibly the nation's most visited National Park. Putting this unique waterfall on the list was a no-brainer.


One of the most iconic waterfalls in the US, this is the star attraction of the famous Columbia River Gorge, which itself boasts numerous waterfalls - many of which are serious waterfalls themselves. But this 620ft year-round waterfall with a concrete arched bridge over its lower drop as well as a historic lodge fronting it always draws millions of visitors each year. And after our visit to this waterfall, we don't blame them!


Collectively comprising the lowest steps of the Giant Stairway, this pair of giant waterfalls in Yosemite National Park, California could've easily stood on this Top 10 List separately. But we figured you ought to see both falls in one go so we put them together here. Vernal Fall has a classic rectangular shape and is said to plunge some 307ft. Nevada Falls has an unusual trapezoidal horsetail shape as the Merced River plunges then slides (some 594ft in total) its way down towards Vernal Fall.


While there are other similarly-sized waterfalls (or bigger) in the country, I'm partial to this 620ft year-rounder because its position frames Yosemite Valley (arguably the most beautiful valley in the world) opposite the imposing El Capitan. Ever heard of "The Gates of Yosemite Valley"? Indeed, this waterfall is part of the landscape imagery made famous by Ansel Adams and seen by just about every visitor thereafter (perhaps making it cliche to some). But on its own merits (ignoring the cliche aspect), there's no question it's one of the most beautifully situated waterfalls ever. Heck, the sight of the incomparable valley when we leave the Wawona Tunnel and head into the valley during spring still leaves a lump in my throat every time.


Including this over 300ft waterfall amongst America's Top 10 was compulsory. After all, its impossibly-scenic location at the head of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River makes this the must-see attraction of Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. That's saying something considering the park is more famous for predictable geysers and an abundance of wildlife that some consider America's version of the Serengeti.


This 2425ft waterfall is one of the tallest in the world and widely considered the crown jewel of Yosemite National Park's plethora of cliff-diving waterfalls. The falls is enjoyable from numerous spots where you can drive to as well as hike to. The only catch with this beauty is that it dries up by mid to late Summer as it runs through its massive winter snowpack very quickly thanks to its relatively bare, unforgiving granite drainage. Nonetheless, if it can induce superlatives from the likes of Ansel Adams, John Muir, Thomas Ayres, Francois Matthes, James Hutchings, and more, there's a good chance it can do the same to you, too!


The Granddaddy of the waterfalls in the United States, it easily surpasses all others in the country in terms of sheer power, size, popularity, and more. Shared between Western New York in the USA and Southeastern Ontario in Canada, bring your passport and experience this world famous attraction from both sides as well as the plethora of activities on offer here. We consider this waterfall to be one of the World's Big Three so it easily occupies the top spot amongst America's Top 10. If you could only see one waterfall in the country, besides crying, make sure not to miss this one!

4. Climate

Climate: mostly temperate, but tropical in Hawaii and Florida, arctic in Alaska, semiarid in the great plains west of the Mississippi River, and arid in the Great Basin of the southwest; low winter temperatures in the northwest are ameliorated occasionally in January and February by warm chinook winds from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. USA can be divided into six climate regions, excluding Alaska, Hawaii and outlying territories. The climate varies considerably between different regions.

Northwest Pacific:

(Includes states like Oregon and Washington to the crest of the Cascade Mountains)

This is the perhaps the wettest part of the country. There are scattered rain showers all year round. Temperatures are mild averaging around 40 degree F. (32.2 degree C). The summer months are pleasantly warmer but never too hot. You can see fogs along the coast during the warmer weather but the fog is less dense during mid-day.

Warm clothes: You will need extra warm clothes for winters like leather jackets, thermal jackets, warm inners, leather gloves etc.

Mid/South Pacific Rockies:

(Includes states like California, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Nevada)

These states have generally dry and delightful summers.

California has excellent weather all the year round, with the northern part of the state somewhat cooler (quiet chilly in the winter but seldom freezing). There are very few places in California that experience snow, and the state is known for its nice weather. Mostly all the cities have tolerable winters.

The winter months in the other states like Montana, Idaho and Wyoming can be very cold, with temperatures dropping well below 0 degree F. Colorado, Utah and Nevada are known for their excellent skiing.

Warm clothes: For California you will need warm clothes for winters. For the rest of the Mid-South Pacific region you will need warmer apparel.


(Includes states like Dakotas, Kansas, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana)

This region is moderately dry. Precipitation occurs mainly in late spring and early summer. Summers are pleasant but winter time can be harsh, with lots of snow and heavy chilly winds. Extremes within the Midwest can drop down to -50 degree F.

Warm clothes: You will need extra warm clothes for winters like leather jackets, thermal jackets, warm inners, leather gloves etc.


(Includes states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington DC, Maryland).

This entire area is moderately rainy. In winter, the region experiences heavy snow and freezing rain. Summers are usually pleasant, sunny and warm. The fall is especially beautiful in wooded areas.

Warm clothes: You will need extra warm clothes for leather jackets, thermal jackets, warm inners, leather gloves etc.


(Includes states like portions of Arkansas and Louisiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia)

Like the Northeast, this entire area experiences moderate rains fairly evenly throughout the year. The Spring, Summer and Fall seasons are all very pleasant. Some snow and freezing rain falls in winter but for the most part, the winters are quite mild and short lived.

Southern Florida, like California, usually has excellent weather all the year round.

Warm clothes: You will need moderate warm clothes for winters, but may need the extra warm ones for the cold weather that lasts for a very short duration of time.


(Includes states like Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and western portions of Arkansas and Louisiana)

This is the hottest and high rainfall region of the US. You must be prepared to face heavy rains accompanied with thunder storms, dangerous lightening and occasional tornadoes. The winters are generally short but some freezing rains do occur. The spring and fall seasons are quite long and temperatures are generally excellent. The summers are very hot with temperatures approaching and exceeding 100 degree F on many days.

Warm clothes: You will need moderate warm clothes for winters. Raincoats are a must.

Natural resources: coal, copper, lead, molybdenum, phosphates, uranium, bauxite, gold, iron, mercury, nickel, potash, silver, tungsten, zinc, petroleum, natural gas, timber

Environmental Problems:

Habitat loss represents a major environmental issue which affects not only the biodiversity of ecosystems, but humans as well. A report by the U.S. Geological Survey identified grasslands, savannas, and barrens as the most critically endangered habitats in the United States, with losses up to 98 percent of the original habitat at European settlement. As a result, the Nature Conservancy estimates that 217 plant species and 71 animals special became extinct. With this loss of habitat, there is an increased risk of human-wildlife conflicts as populations struggle to meet their ecological needs.

Air pollution impacts every aspect of life in the United States and on the planet. Air pollution is so deadly because of its mobility. It can cause environmental issues far from its source, not unlike NSP. It can pollute the soil and aquatic resources through acid rain formation. It affects plants by negatively impacting their physiology, causing low crop yields and a reduction in plant vitality.Air pollution also affects humans. Pollutants in industrial emissions cause anything from minor throat irritation to aggravation of existing respiratory conditions, to an increased risk of cancer.

What are some of the environmental issues in the United States? The problems with the most widespread impacts represent some of the greatest threats. These environmental issues show that national as well as local solutions are necessary to reduce the impacts on the environment. It is only through recognition of the existing problems and scrutiny of current practices can solutions be developed. Acid rain is a serious environmental problem that affects large parts of the United States and Canada. Acid rain is particularly damaging to lakes, streams, and forests and the plants and animals that live in these ecosystems.

5. War for Independence

Causes of the War.

The first of a series of wars of independence that ended European control of both North and South America. The conflict between Britain and her American colonists was triggered by the financial costs of the Anglo-French wars of the previous thirty years, in particular the Seven Years War (1756-63). A principal theatre of conflict had been in North America, where it was felt that the colonials had failed to play their part either financially or in the fighting. In the years immediately after the war, the army in North America consumed 4% of British government spending. This cost, combined with the victories over the French had increased British interest in their colonies. Ironically, those victories had also removed one element tying the Americans to Britain - fear of French strangulation. In 1756, the French held Canada, the Ohio Valley and the Mississippi, isolating the British colonies on the eastern seaboard. By 1763 that threat had been removed.

At the heart of the division between the colonists and Britain was a fundamentally different concept of the purpose of the colonies. To the British, their American lands were there largely to provide raw materials to Britain and be consumers of British manufactured goods. This feeling expressed itself in an increasing control and restriction of American trade and industry that helped to build up resentment, especially in New England, where manufacturing goods for export to the southern colonies was already an important part of the local economy. In contrast, many of the colonists saw themselves as carving a new society from the wilderness, unrestricted by decisions made 3,000 miles away across the Atlantic.

These pressures were tolerable as long as British regulation of the rules was fairly lax. However, in the decade before the colonies rebelled there was a new level of interest in exploiting the American colonies. The first move was an attempt to limit further expansion by the colonies. In 1763 it was decided to draw a border behind the existing colonies, along the line of the Alleghenies. The land to the west was to be left to the Indians, who were to be encouraged to become consumers of British goods. New colonists were to be encouraged to go north to Nova Scotia, where they could produce much needed timber for the navy, or south to Florida. This limit on their expansion caused much discontent amongst the colonies, costing many, including George Washington, a good deal of money.

The next increase in the tension came in 1765 with the Stamp Act and a trade act know as the Sugar Act. It was the Stamp Act that caused the most protest. This was a direct tax, levied on the paper required for legal transactions and on newspapers. It had been proposed in 1764, and the Americans had been given the year to suggest alternative methods of raising the money needed to administer and defend the colonies. Instead, this year was used to organise opposition to the act.

The Stamp Act caused hostility for a variety of reasons. First, the policy of limiting westward expansion that it was intended to help fund was not popular in the colonies. Second, it was the first direct taxation to be imposed on the colonies from London. All previous taxation had been in the form of trade duties. Finally, the act brought to the fore an issue that was bound to eventually emerge - the status of the legislative assemblies that existed in several of the colonies. In Britain they were considered to be subordinate to Westminster on all issues, in the colonies a new theory emerged that the Westminster Parliament had control over imperial issues, but not over colonial taxation. Combined with a boycott of British goods, the riots caused by the Stamp Act caused the fall of the government of Lord Grenville. The new government of Lord Rockingham repealed the Stamp Act in 1766, but at the same time passed a Declaratory Act confirming Parliamentary authority over the colonies.

The next government attempt to raise money was the Revenue Act of 1767. Put forward by Charles Townshend, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, this was a scheme based on indirect taxes on trade, organised across all of the colonies by a board of commissioners. Townshend suggested that the proceeds could fund both the armed forces needed on the borders, and a civil list that could free royal governors from any need to rely on colonial assemblies for funding. The government had reasonable grounds to expect that this new approach would be acceptable - during the controversy over the Stamp Acts the colonists had accepted the validity of indirect taxation - but instead it was to face protest on both sides of the Atlantic.

In Britain the protest came from those merchants whose exports were being taxed and then boycotted. In America the Revenue Act aroused deep suspicion. The talk of a civil list convinced many that the Act was designed to impose absolute authority from Britain. With an expected yield of only Ј40,000, it was unlikely that any money would be left after the army had been paid for, so these fears were unjustified, but the more radical voices amongst the colonists were able to link the Declaratory Act and the Revenue Act and create a British plot to destroy all colonial liberties. The Revenue Act was commonly held to have overstepped the natural laws that limited the authority of Parliament. From Massachusetts Samuel Adams issued a circular letter calling for common action against the Act. At first this letter appeared to have had little impact, until Lord Hillsborough issued a counter-circular to the colonial governors instructing them to ignore Adams' letter, while the Massachusetts assembly was suspended. The Massachusetts protest now became a focus of discontent, convincing many, including George Washington that the British government was intent on gaining total control of the colonies. A campaign of non-importation was launched, although the smuggling of English goods did not stop.

Non-importation hit the American ports hard, especially Boston, where lawless conditions eventually forced the British to post troops in the city. Meanwhile, a change of government in Britain brought Lord North to power (1770). By 1769 the British government had decided to abolish all but the duties on Tea, and in 1770 Lord North removed all the other duties. Tea was retained in part as a symbol of sovereignty and in part because it raised just over Ј11,000 each year.

At the same time non-importation collapsed in the colonies as the spread of lawlessness convinced colonial opinion that resistance to the Revenue Act was threatening the stability of society. On 5 March 1770 a Boston mob attacked a company of soldiers guarding the customs house. The soldiers stood firm until one was knocked down by the rioters at which point the soldiers were ordered to fire, killing five of the rioters ('Boston Massacre'). While some radical campaigners saw this as a sign of what they saw as the brutality of British rule, much colonial opinion was repulsed by the actions of the mob. This was especially true in New York, where a radical leader, Alexander McDougall, had used the economic crisis in the port to threaten the authority of the New York Assembly. A conservative reaction set in in New York and at the end of the summer of 1770 New York abandoned non-importation, which soon collapsed across the colonies, leaving only an unwillingness to drink taxed tea.

For the next three years it looked as if the danger of a colonial revolt had been averted. Lord North made little or no effort to interfere in the colonies, while in America inter-colony rivalry revived, as typified by the activities of the Green Mountain boys. However, this image was false. The return to even grudging loyalty only lasted for as long as the British didn't act. Expectations and attitudes on the two sides of the Atlantic were too far apart for any permanent understanding to be established within the Empire.

It was this gulf that gave the issue that finally led to war its potency. The crisis was caused by the financial losses suffered by the British East India Company as it moved from trading concern to political authority. Part of Lord North's plan for restoring the fortunes of the company, seen as vital for reducing the national debt, was a scheme for disposing of the Company's Tea surplus. Previously, East India Company tea had to imported into England, where it paid 1s tax before being exported to American by English middlemen, who paid a further 3d. North gave the Company permission to sell direct to the American colonies, paying only the 3d duty. If implemented this would have halved the cost of tea in the colonies, from 20s. per pound to only 10s.

This new policy worried the radicals in the colonies. The boycott on Tea was the only protest against British rule that was still effective, and there was a great fear amongst radical opinion that this new cheap tea would end that boycott. In New York and Philadelphia, where smuggling was rife, the boycott of taxed tea was secure, but Boston was seen as a weak point. Too well policed for smuggling, the radicals were afraid that if tea was landed in the port, it would be drunk across the colonies, breaking the boycott. Their reaction was to prevent the tea from being landed. On 16 December 1773 a group of Boston radicals, dressed as Indian braves, dumped thousands of pounds worth of tea into the harbour, a protest immortalised as the Boston Tea Party.

The British reaction was critical. A low-key response could have defused the situation, but instead Lord North decided on confrontation. The reaction to events in Boston in 1770 led the government to expect that the other colonies would once again repudiate radical action in Massachusetts. However, the actions taken by Lord North's ministry could not have been more offensive to colonial sensibilities. Early in 1774 a series of acts, called the 'coercive' or 'intolerable' acts in the colonies, were passed in an attempt to restore order in Boston and Massachusetts. The port was closed until the lost tea had been paid for. The governor was given the power to transfer trials to Britain. Boston was made to provide barracks for troops inside the town. Finally, the constitution of the colony was changed. Massachusetts had a two chamber system, with an elected house of representatives who had the power to appoint the upper house, or councillors. This was now changed so that the Crown could appoint the councillors.

Rather than isolating Massachusetts, these acts united the colonies in protest. In particular, British interference with the constitution of one of the colonies was felt to threaten all. At the same time news of the Quebec Act reached the colonies. This was a sensible response to the problem facing in Canada of ruling a largely French population, only recently conquered. It allowed for tolerance of French Catholicism, even giving the Catholic majority a place on the new Canadian council. Canada's borders were also expanded to include the areas of Illinois and Detroit, where there was already a French population. In the thirteen colonies this act caused great hostility. Once again westward expansion had been blocked. Worse, at least as far as New England was concerned, was the tolerant attitude to Catholicism. The colonial response was the first Continental Congress, which met in Philadelphia in September 1774.

When this Congress met it demanded the repeal of all colonial legislation passed since 1763. Until this demand was agreed to, Congress agreed to block all imports and exports to and from Britain other than those crops which the southern states depended on, to refuse to pay any taxes to Britain and to prepare to resist any British troops. However, the Congress did not at this stage want independence. Despite this, conflict was now inevitable. In British eyes Congress was an illegal body, not to be dealt with. Even so, opinion was split on how to respond to American discontent. In November George III was already certain that there would be fighting, but there were still conciliatory voices in Parliament. In America, General Gage, now Governor of Massachusetts as well as commander in chief of the British forces in North America, warned that the discontent was widespread and requested large-scale reinforcements, but back in Britain the scale of the trouble was not yet appreciated. Lord North was not alone in seeing Massachusetts as the heart of the problem, and in April 1775 that idea was reinforced by the first fighting.


The War begins

The first shots of the war were fired in Massachusetts. Here the most rebellious of the colonies was faced by General Thomas Gage, Governor of Massachusetts and commander-in-chief of all British troops in North America. Lord North had considered the colony to be in revolt from February, but failed to appreciate either the scale of the discontent in Massachusetts or that it was also present across the other colonies.

The fighting began with a relatively minor skirmish. On 19 April 1775 Gage despatched a column to seize an arms cache thought to be at the town of Concord, only 16 miles from Boston. Unluckily news of the expedition leaked, and at Lexington the British encountered a small force of American militia. It is not known which side fired the first shots of the war, but the militia withdrew and the British continued to Concord. However, it was the return to Boston that revealed the scale of the revolt and the weakness of the British position. Outnumbered by hostile forces, the British column was being slowly destroyed by sniping until it met up with a relief force at Lexington and was able to return relatively safely to Boston.

News of the fighting spread quickly, and Gage soon found himself besieged in Boston by an irregular but large force, which quickly dug itself in. Meanwhile, Gage was waiting for reinforcements. On 26 May they arrived, led by three major-generals who were to play an important part in the war - William Howe, Henry Clinton and John Burgoyne.

Encouraged by his reinforcements, Gage decided to strengthen his position by capturing key hills that overlooked Boston on its island, and threatened the harbour. The Americans learnt of this plan, and fortified Breed's Hill on the Charlestown peninsular north of the harbour. The resulting battle of Bunker Hill (17 June 1775) was a disaster for the British. Although they did manage to capture the American positions, it was at the cost of half of their force killed or wounded.

Bunker Hill effectively knocked the main British army out of the war for the next year. For nine months it remained in Boston, now commanded by Howe, who failed to appreciate the weakness of the American forces facing him.

Washington and the Continental Army

The dominating figure of the war now entered the scene. On 15 June 1775 George Washington was appointed commander of the new Continental army, created in the same month out of the forces besieging Boston. Washington was to face formidable problems in his task. First amongst them was the persistent belief in the ability of the militia to win the war without a permanent professional army. This belief in the militia system had been one of the problems faced by the British in their attempts to raise taxes in America. His second problem was that troops from the different colonies were often unwilling to serve away from their colony, or in mixed units with men from other colonies. A third problem was that the army was not properly supplied, a problem that remained for most of the war. Fourth, many of his men were serving for short periods of time and several operations, such as the 1775 invasion of Canada, were adversely effected by enlistments ending. Finally, the rebellious attitude that had prompted many to join the army also made them resistant to taking orders from officers they had not selected. Washington was to have frequent problems getting men to accept the principle that the best man should have a post, not simply the one who had served for longest. Washington's most important contribute to the war was the patience with which he turned the forces he found outside Boston into an army that was eventually able to take on regular British troops on the battlefield. The Revolt Spreads

Away from Boston there were very few resources that could be used to maintain Royal authority. Over the summer of 1775 news of the fighting around Boston inflamed revolutionary activity across the colonies. A series of Royal governors were forced to flee to the safety of Royal Navy ships. All across the colonies, sizable militias were formed, leaving the small British garrisons vulnerable. A lack of appreciation of the scale of unrest meant that little or no aid could be expected until the following year, if at all. This allowed the American cause to gain vital momentum.

Invasion of Canada

The only American setback of 1775 came in their invasion of Canada. Their invasion was based on the expectation that the recently conquered French of Quebec would rush to the aid of the invasion. If that had happened, then the weak British garrison of Canada, already used to reinforce Boston, could have been overwhelmed. As it was, the French population was relatively happy under British rule, and the Americans found themselves operating without popular support.

The campaign began slowly, with one advance along Lake Champlain starting in May and continuing until the surrender of St. Johns on 2 November. Another force further north was defeated outside Montreal on 25 September. Finally, a third force of 1050, under Benedict Arnold, was sent through Maine to the St. Lawrence. This force, reduced to 600 on the march, arrived outside Quebec on 9 November. Facing them was a hastily formed force commanded by Major-General Guy Carleton, the British commander in Canada. Most of his regular troops had been captured, so the defence was based on Loyalists, French militia, sailors and marines, with a small core of regulars.

Despite their apparent strength, the American force in front of Quebec, one thousand strong by early December, suffered from one major handicap - their soldiers period of service was due to end on 31 December. Faced with this, the Americans attempted to take the city by assault early on 31 December (battle of Quebec). The failure of this assault ended the best chance the Americans had for victory in Canada.


The British Respond

The British response to the revolt was to be directed by the new Secretary of State for the American colonies, Lord George Germain, who held the post from November 1775 until he was replaced in February 1782. Germain had been disgraced after his role in the battle of Minden (1759). He had spent the intervening years attempting to rebuild his reputation, which may help explain his aggressive stance as Secretary of State. Despite his distance from the fighting, Germain was to control most British strategy during the war.

By the start of 1776 it was clear even in Britain that the colonial revolt was not the work of a small number of malcontents. The British response was to plan what was then the biggest transatlantic expedition ever carried out. Troops sent from Britain were to be sent to three separate theatres of war, there to reinforce the troops already present. The first campaign was to be in Canada, where the American invasion was to be repulsed, followed by a march down to the Hudson. The second was to be sent to reinforce the forces in Boston, to be used to capture New York and perhaps meet up with the army marching down from Canada. Finally, a third force was to be sent to the south, where it was confidently expected that the loyalists would rise against the rebels as soon as a British army arrived. Two of these three expeditions would achieve at least partial success, but the year ended with the British no nearer to ending the revolt.


The main event of 1776 was not to come on the battlefields. On 4 July 1776 the Declaration of Independence was signed. The desire for independence had not been amongst the causes of the war, but at the start of 1776 Tom Paine published Common Sense. This challenged the idea that reconciliation with Britain was possible and instead spoke out strongly for the idea of independence. This work sold over 100,000 copies, and made public a debate that had been happening in private. Over the first half of 1776 the mood shifted towards independence, with several states making it clear that they would support the idea. Finally, on 7 June a motion to declare independence came before Congress. After a series of debates, Congress postponed their final decision until 1 July, but also appointed a committee to draft a declaration in case one was needed. This committee, dominated by Thomas Jefferson, finished the draft on 28 June, just in time for Congress. By this point all the states apart from New York had approved independence although Pennsylvania was also unconvinced. Congress finally approved a slightly modified declaration on 2 July. On 4 July the Declaration of Independence was approved by Congress, although New York did not sign until 15 July.

The Declaration of Independence was a momentous event. It gave a clarity to the American cause that it had previously lacked, and that the British were never to gain. It played a part in convincing foreign powers to help the rebels, overcoming a fear that a reconciliation between Britain and the colonies could cause any intervention to backfire. It also made any hopes of a peaceful settlement much less likely - Independence once declared could not easily be surrendered.

Clearance of Canada

Despite the failure of their assault (see battle of Quebec), and a manpower shortage caused by expiring periods of enlistment, the Americans attempted to maintain their siege of Quebec. Already hampered by their lack of proper siege equipment, the Americans were also short of money, and on 4 March declared anyone who would not take their paper money to be an enemy. What little local support they had enjoyed now evaporated. Their position in Canada was only secure while the ice prevented the British from sending relief forces in. When the ice broke, the American garrison at Montreal departed, while the army besieging Quebec withdrew when a British relief force arrived on 6 May. The Americans withdrew nearly one hundred miles up the St. Lawrence to Sorel at the junction with the Richelieu River. Reinforced, the American force advanced back up the St. Lawrence and attempted a surprise attack on the British camp. The resulting battle of Trois Rivieres (Three Rivers, 8 June 1776) resulted in an heavy American defeat, rapidly followed by the abandonment of the Canadian adventure, not to be repeated until the War of 1812.

Failure In The South

The southern expedition went wrong almost from the beginning. The naval expedition under Sir Peter Parker was meant to leave Cork on 1 December 1775, arriving off Cape Fear in early February, allowing time for a campaign in the south before moving on to New York. It was confidently expected that General Henry Clinton, commanding the land forces already in the area, would find many loyalists ready to join the British. However, the loyalists had been defeated at Widow Moore's Creek on 27 February, two weeks before Clinton arrived (12 March), while the fleet didn't leave Cork until mid February 1776. The first ships reached America on 18 April, but the rest of the fleet trailed in, Cornwallis (commanding the reinforcements) only arriving on 3 May. The British troops were in a poor condition, especially the reinforcements, who had spent three months at sea, and Clinton would have preferred to abandon any plans in the south.

Parker on the other hand was keen for action. There were reports that the defences of Charleston were in poor condition and so it was decided to attack Sullivan's Island, whose fortifications guarded the southern approaches to Charleston Harbour. The British plan was to launch a two pronged attack - Clinton with 2,000 men would wade across shallows linking Sullivan's Island to Long Island, while Parker bombarded the fortifications from the sea. However, on the day of the attack, 28 June, the weather and the seas were not as the British had expected them to be. The water between Long Island and Sullivan's Island was far too deep to wade, while Parker was unable to get his ships as close as he had expected and came under a devastating fire from the American guns. When night fell the British ships were forced to withdraw, having suffered serious damage. With the failure of the attack on Charleston British activity in the south ended for two years.

Attack on New York

The main British army began the year blockaded in Boston. Outside the city Washington had managed to put together a formidable army of over 17,000 men by February. He had also built up his stocks of artillery and powder to the level where he could carry out a proper siege. In Boston the British army had endured months of boredom punctuated by occasional alarms, and discipline in the army was poor. General Gage had now been replaced by General William Howe, who was had been given permission to evacuate Boston if the situation justified it. Howe was convinced that he should leave, but did not have enough ships for a proper evacuation and was waiting for more transports when, on 2 March, the Americans began their artillery bombardment. They then captured the Dorchester Heights, overlooking Boston Harbour. The British position was now untenable, and Howe decided to withdraw in the ships he already had. After destroying the military supplies in the city, Howe and his army departed for Halifax on 17 March. The Americans let him go in peace in return for an agreement not to burn the city before he left.

Halifax was itself a poor location for an army. Supplies were still limited and the weather appalling, but Howe settled down for months while he planned his attack on New York. Now Boston was secure, the Americans were concentrating their forces around New York and building up the defences. Howe decided to wait until Clinton and the army in the south could join him.

Howe finally decided to move in June. The British fleet was sighted on 29 June and the British army landed on Staten Island on 3 July. After Clinton arrived in mid-August Howe had 32,000 men under his command. Washington was faced by a serious problem. He was outnumbered, had limited supplies and no naval support. He had two main islands to defend - Long Island and Manhattan Island. If he split his forced between the two islands, Washington was well aware that they could be split in two and defeated in detail, but he had little or no choice. The Brooklyn Heights on Long Island overlooked New York. If they fell to the British then the city would be fatally exposed. Washington posted troops around Brooklyn village and fortified the hills surrounding the area.

Howe made his move on 22 August. 15,000 men were landed on Long Island. Facing them the Americans were defending the Heights of Guan, a line of hills breached by four passes. Three were strongly held, but the furthest out was only guarded by five men. The British started to move on 26 August and early on the 27th they surprised the five guards and were able to march behind the American positions. The resulting battle of Long Island was a resounding British victory. The Americans were forced back into Brooklyn. Howe did not attack the American positions, recognising that it would have to be evacuated. Sure enough on 29-30 August Washington evacuated his position at Brooklyn.

Howe now decided to try and trap Washington in New York. Congress now made it clear that Washington was not to risk being trapped in the city. He decided to withdraw to Harlem at the north end of Manhattan Island. While the Americans were engaged in this, Howe moved again. On 15 September he landed at Kip's Bay, overwhelming the militia defending the bay, and almost capturing Washington, who had ridden from Harlem on hearing of the British landings. The British had a chance to capture a large part of Washington's army but the forces still in New York managed to slip away along the west side of the army. The next day saw the 'battle' of Harlem Heights, a skirmish brought on by British carelessness and the last American victory for some time. The British were now free to occupy New York, where they were greeted by cheering crowds of loyalists.

Howe now had a chance to inflict a crushing defeat on Washington's demoralised and outnumbered army. The Americans were digging in on the Harlem Heights, but again Howe outflanked them on the water, landing on Throg's Neck on 12 October. Washington was forced to withdraw, this time to White Plains. Once again Howe delayed. Finally on 28 October the British attacked again (battle of White Plains) and again inflicted a defeat on Washington. Again Washington withdrew, this time to North Castle. This time Howe did not follow, turning instead to Fort Washington, which with Fort Lee guarded the Hudson. By this point it was already clear that the Royal Navy was able to get past the forts without serious danger, and Washington considered abandoning the forts before being persuaded by the local commander, Nathanael Greene, and the commander of Fort Washington Robert Magaw that they could hold the fort. This was soon to be proved false. On 16 November Howe launched his attack on the badly planned American lines around the Fort. The American lines collapsed on three sides, and when the retreated troops reached Fort Washington, Magaw quickly decided to surrender. A few days later Fort Lee was also captured by the British.

The American position was now perilous. 2000 militiamen had departed at the end of their period of service. Washington with 3000 men retreated as fast as he could towards Pennsylvania with Cornwallis in pursuit. The British were also tired, and the roads increasingly muddy, but Cornwallis still came close to catching Washington at New Brunswick on 1 December, but was under orders to proceed no further until Howe joined him. Once Howe arrived the chase began again, and again the British came close to catching Washington, but the Americans were able slip across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. For a week Howe searched for boats to cross after the Americans, but with the weather turning cold he decided to send his army into winter quarters on 14 December.

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