Congress created the Continental Army on June 14, 1775, and John Adams nominated George Washington to serve as the army's Commander-in- Chief. While there were over 230 skirmishes and battles fought during the American Revolution, these are the battles where General Washington personally secured his legacy as "First in War."

Siege of Boston

Siege of Boston

April 19, 1775 – March 17, 1776

result: american victory

Boston was a city under British occupation as a result of the conflicts at Lexington and Concord.  By the time George Washington took command of the Continental Army on July 3rd, the British had also seized Bunker and Breed's Hills. Washington set about transforming his untrained force of farmers and private citizens into an effective fighting force.

In November 1775, Henry Knox arrived at Washington's camp bringing cannons captured at Fort Ticonderoga, nearly 500 miles away.  Washington placed the cannons atop Dorchester Heights, within range of the British fleet and Boston. When the British commander, General William Howe, realized that this maneuver threatened his fleet and the safety of his troops in Boston, he evacuated the city and retreated to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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Battle of Long Island

Flanking Brooklyn Heights

August 27, 1776

Result: British victory

Following the successful siege of Boston, George Washington knew that it was only a matter of time before the British returned with more men, and he was certain that General Howe's objective would be the city of New York. Washington was correct, and in early July, the largest British fleet ever assembled to that point landed 32,000 men on Staten Island.  

While Washington strengthened his positions in lower Manhattan, he also fortified Brooklyn Heights, across the East River on Long Island. It was there, on August 27, 1776, that Howe landed his troops and succeeded in flanking the American position through the unguarded Jamaica Pass. While soundly defeated, Washington was able to execute a nighttime evacuation of Long Island that saved close to 9,000 troops.  

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Battle of Kip's Bay

September 15, 1776

result: british victory

Although George Washington made initial plans to hold New York after the retreat from Long Island, a council of war held on September 12th resulted in the decision to abandon the city.  British General Howe seized the opportunity and attacked the Continental Army before the withdrawal could be completed.   

Washington tried to rally militiamen fleeing from the onslaught of Howe's 9,000 troops, but retreated to Harlem Heights after being unable to stop the British advance.

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Battle of Harlem Heights

Battle of Harlem, J.R. Armytage, after Chappel

September 16, 1776

result: American victory

Having abandoned New York, George Washington joined his troops along a new defensive line at Harlem Heights on September 16, 1776.  Soon after he arrived, this position was tested by an advanced detachment of Howe's forces.

Although the Continentals were initially pushed back, reinforcements and a flank attack ordered by Washington resulted in a British retreat and Washington's first battlefield victory of the American Revolution.

 

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Battle of White Plains

Battle of White Plains

October 28, 1776

result: british victory

With the British army maneuvering to make his Harlem Heights position untenable, George Washington withdrew from the island of Manhattan, and established a new encampment further north near White Plains, New York.  

On October 28, 1776, a flank attack by the British on this new position resulted in the collapse of Washington's line. Thankfully, he was able to orchestrate an orderly withdrawal that preserved the army. Unfortunately, Washington's retreat further exposed Fort Washington, which remained garrisoned on Manhattan.

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Battle of Fort Washington

Battle of Fort Washington

November 16, 1776

result: British Victory

Following the defeat of George Washington's army at White Plains, New York, British General William Howe focused his army's attention on Fort Washington, the last post defended by the Continental army on Manhattan.  Although Washington hoped to abandon the fort, his officers convinced him that it needed to be held in order to keep British ships from ascending the Hudson River.

During a carefully-orchestrated, all-out attack on November 16, 1776, British and Hessian forces overwhelmed the fort's garrison after vicious fighting. When he heard the attack begin, Washington, who had stationed himself across the Hudson River in New Jersey, travelled across the river to the enter the fort and personally inspect its defenses. Several officers accompanied Washington, including Generals Israel Putnam, Hugh Mercer, and Nathanael Greene. They convinced Washington to leave the fort just 30 minutes before it was surrounded.  

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Evacuation of Fort Lee

Landing of British Forces near Fort Lee

November 20, 1776

result: british victory

After the fall of Fort Washington, George Washington made plans for the evacuation of Fort Lee, which stood across the Hudson River in New Jersey. In a letter written to John Hancock on November 19, 1776, the general wrote that "...Fort Lee was always considered as only necessary in conjunction with [Fort Washington]...," and that it would be abandoned as soon as provisions and other supplies were removed.

Unfortunately, a large British force succeeded in scaling the heights close to the fort on November 20, 1776. Faced with superior numbers, Washington called for the immediate evacuation of the fort, which resulted in the loss of dozens of cannon, 2-300 tents, and 1,000 barrels of flour.

Battle of Trenton

Approach to Trenton

December 26, 1776

result: American victory

After a string of defeats in New York, George Washington led his troops in a retreat through New Jersey, and across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania.  There, he faced dwindling supplies, desertion, and expiring enlistments. Realizing that his army desperately needed a victory, Washington planned for a nighttime crossing of the Delaware River in order to attack a Hessian garrison in the town of Trenton, New Jersey. 

Following a night of misery crossing the Delaware River in the midst of a winter storm, Washington's troops were in position to attack Trenton just after 8:00am.  Caught completely by surprise, the Hessian garrison put up a brief fight before surrendering.  

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Battle of Second Trenton

The Battle of Second Trenton

January 2, 1777

result: american victory

Washington's troops secured a tremendous victory in their surprise attack on the Hessian garrison at Trenton, New Jersey, but the general was not content.  He determined to recross the Delaware River in order to recruit additional militiamen and establish a secure winter encampment in northern New Jersey. While Washington made his plans, General William Howe tasked Lord Charles Cornwallis with bringing the area back under British control. 

The town of Trenton, New Jersey would once again become a battleground as Cornwallis made contact with Washington's troops. Cornwallis skirmished with Washington's troops on the outskirts of town, before assaulting Washington's main force, which was entrenched along Assunpink Creek. With only one bridge usable to attack Washington's position, the Continental army turned back three British assaults across the bridge.  Despite tremendous casualties, Cornwallis was determined to renew the attack the following morning. Unbeknownst to him, Washington decided to attack a smaller British force in Princeton. Washington left behind a small detachment of infantry and several cannons.  These troops fired occasional rounds at British positions, and kept fires burning along Washington's old line to convince Cornwallis that his main force was still there.  

Battle of Princeton

Washington at Princeton

January 3, 1777

result: American Victory

Following fierce fighting between Lord Charles Cornwallis and Continental troops at the Battle of Second Trenton, George Washington skillfully disengaged along his position at Assunpink Creek during the evening of January 2nd, 1777, in order to attack the British post at Princeton, New Jersey the following morning.

As dawn broke on January 3, 1777, Washington's force was spotted by British troops in Princeton under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mawhood. Although American troops faltered after fierce fighting with British light infantry, reinforcements and the appearance of George Washington turned the tide. Washington personally led the newly arrived troops into battle, exposing himself to the enemy's fire.  

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The Forage War

Area around the Morristown winter encampment

January-March, 1777

result: draw

After taking the offensive during the Trenton-Princeton campaign, George Washington shifted to a defensive strategy aimed at preserving his army and destroying resources desperately needed by his opponents.  

Known as the Forage War, this period was noted for several small engagements in which Washington's troops attempted to keep British soldiers from securing hay for horses and livestock, in addition to other provisions. Although it consisted of small battles and skirmishes, casualties could still be high. In one engagement, a large detachment made up of three regiments of British regulars and one battalion each of light infantry and grenadiers, clashed with an even larger American force resulting in almost 70 British soldiers killed and wounded. 

Battle of Brandywine

Battle of Brandywine

September 11, 1777

result: british victory

In August 1777, George Washington was confused.  His adversary, General William Howe, left northern New Jersey by ship and Washington was forced to guess his intentions and eventual destination.  Following a three-week journey at sea, Howe elanded at Head of Elk, Maryland, where the Susquehanna empties into the Chesapeake Bay. He was now poised to attack Philadelphia, the capital of the United States.  

To counter Howe's move towards Philadelphia, Washington positioned his 16,000 men along Brandywine Creek and its main crossing at Chadds Ford. While his position was strongest at the center and on the left flank, Washington's right flank was not secured by natural terrain and was vulnerable to attack.  Rather than force a crossing with his entire force at Chadds Ford, Howe took advantage of unguarded crossings north of Washington's position to threaten the American right flank. Although Washington reoriented his right flank to meet Howe's advance, his troops eventually retreated and British forces entered Philadelphia two weeks later.

 

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Battle of the Clouds

September 16, 1777

result: draw

Although he was defeated at the Battle of Brandywine, George Washington's troops were able to withdraw from the fight in good order, and they continued to shield Philadelphia from the advance of General William Howe.

The two opposing armies appeared close to another major battle on September 16, 1777, but a severe thunderstorm coupled with torrential downpours limited the engagement to minor skirmishing before ruined ammunition and washed out roads halted the fighting.

 

Battle of Germantown

Cliveden Mansion

October 4, 1777

result: british victory

After his defeat at Brandywine and the British capture of Philadelphia, George Washington was looking for an opportunity to strike back at General William Howe's forces.  He would have his chance in early October, when Howe divided his army and encamped at Germantown, seven miles northeast of Philadelphia, with 9,000 troops.   

On the night of October 3, 1777, Washington's troops set out on a 16-mile march that he hoped would result in a coordinated attack on the Germantown encampment by four converging columns. Although initially successful in surprising Howe and pushing his forces back, late arrivals by Washington's flanking columns and stubborn resistance from British soldiers trapped in Cliveden, a mansion they occupied in the rear of the American forces, resulted in an eventual victory for Howe.  

  

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Battle of White Marsh

Plan of the Battle of White Marsh

December 6-8, 1777

result: draw

Just 16 miles from Philadelphia, George Washington positioned his troops in a fortified encampment that allowed him to carefully monitor the situation in British-occupied city. British General William Howe sought to defeat George Washington's army before it could enter winter quarters, and marched a large column to attack.  

After inconclusive skirmishing, and a failed flank attack by Howe, Washington withdrew inside his fortifications to await a British assault. Deciding that Washington's position was too strong to attack, Howe returned to Philadelphia, and General Washington eventually moved his army into winter quarters at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.   

Battle of Monmouth

Washington at Monmouth

June 28, 1778

result: draw

Following his selection as a replacement for General Howe, General Sir Henry Clinton ordered British troops to withdraw from Philadelphia in order to safeguard New York City from a possible attack by American and French forces. George Washington decided that the British retreat from Philadelphia provided his troops with the perfect opportunity to attack.  

General Charles Lee would lead an advanced guard of 5,000 troops meant to harass and occupy the British rear guard until Washington could arrive with another 6,000 men. On June 28, 1778, Lee engaged the rear of the British army, but found himself being pushed back by British reinforcements.  Much to Washington's dismay, Lee began to withdraw his troops from the battlefield.  When Washington arrived with the remainder of the army, he relieved Lee of command, established a strong defensive line, and turned back repeated British assaults leaving his army in command of the field.

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Siege of Yorktown

Washington at Yorktown

Map of the Siege of Yorktown

September 14 - October 19, 1781

result: american victory

Between 1778 and 1781, after the British withdrawal from Philadelphia, George Washington placed his army outside of New York and waited for an opportunity to attack the forces of General Sir Henry Clinton while the British waged a largely successful campaign across the south.   

Late in the summer of 1781, the British, specifically Lord Cornwallis, finally made the mistake Washington had been waiting for. Cornwallis entrenched his army around Yorktown, Virginia, where he waited for either reinforcement from Clinton or evacuation to New York.  Washington quickly moved south with his French allies and coordinated with the Marquis de Lafayette to keep Cornwallis in place. At the same time, French naval forces maintained control over access to the Chesapeake Bay, which prevented naval assistance and reinforcements from reaching Yorktown.

Washington fired the first American cannon of the siege.  The capture of key portions of the British entrenchments, and the opening of a second allied siege line signalled the end for Cornwallis, who formally surrendered on October 19, 1781.

 

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