The French Army in the American War of Independence


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Maps of the Revolutionary War

For France, the defeat of hurt more than its pride as it forced the crown to scale back its imperial aspirations and exposed serious deficiencies in its military capabilities.

13 colonies

The lessons of defeat were not lost on the French. These efforts were essential to French success in the upcoming American war. The War of Independence began as a family squabble. During the s and s the British Parliament introduced a series of new colonial taxes.

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To members of Parliament, it seemed only logical that their cousins in America should help pay for their own imperial defense. Most colonists in the British Caribbean, who had firsthand experience of their vulnerability to attacks by sea, shared the same view.

In North America, however, the new taxes backfired. By the mids Parliamentary miscalculations, combined with a skillfully led and growing movement for autonomy among the colonists, led to outright revolt and the Declaration of Independence. From beginning to end, France supported the Americans in their struggle for independence. In the early stages of fighting, assistance came from idealistic young officers such as Gilbert du Motier, marquis de La Fayette , who volunteered his military expertise to help train and lead the Continental Army.

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Under the guise of neutrality, the French Crown secretly provided arms, uniforms, and other supplies. When the British defeat at Saratoga in presented the prospect of American success, however, France began to openly support the rebellion. In France formally recognized the colonists in the Treaties of Amity and Commerce, negotiated by Benjamin Franklin , a longtime friend of leading French scientists and philosophers and the first American ambassador to Paris.

Franco-American relations were far from perfect, but the mutually beneficial relationship endured for many years. French motives had more to do with the persistent Franco-British rivalry than the justness of the American cause.

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French merchants saw in the Franco-American alliance the possibility of expanding their share of trans-Atlantic trade. In no other battle was French military assistance more decisive than in the Battle of Yorktown. This contained a clause banning both Congress and France from making a separate peace with Britain and a commitment to keep fighting until the independence of the United States was recognized. Spain entered the war on the revolutionary side later that year.

Indeed, their report could only stress France's disputes with Britain; it avoided discussion in favor of simply acting.


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Now fully committed to the war, France supplied arms, munitions, supplies, and uniforms. The decision to send troops was taken carefully, as France was not sure how the Americans would react to a foreign army. The number of soldiers was carefully chosen, striking a balance that allowed them to be effective, while not being so large as to anger the Americans. The commanders were also carefully selected—men who could work effectively with the other French commanders and the American commanders. The leader of the French army, Count Rochambeau, however, did not speak English.

The troops sent to America were not, as has sometimes been reported, the very cream of the French army. They were, however, as one historian has commented, "for There were problems in working together at first, as American General John Sullivan discovered at Newport when French ships pulled away from a siege to deal with British ships, before being damaged and having to retreat.

Revolutionary Reflections: French Memories of the War for America

But overall, the American and French forces cooperated well, although they were often kept separate. The French and Americans certainly were quite effective when compared to the incessant problems experienced in the British high command. Arguably the key French contribution to the war came during the Yorktown campaign.

French forces under Rochambeau landed at Rhode Island in , which they fortified before linking up with Washington in Later that year, the Franco-American army marched miles south to besiege Gen. Cornwallis was forced to surrender to Washington and Rochambeau. This proved to be the last major engagement of the war, as Britain opened peace discussions soon after rather than continue a global war. France threatened British shipping and territory around the globe, preventing their rival from focusing fully on the conflict in the Americas.


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There were battles outside America in and as peace negotiations took place. Many in Britain felt that France was their primary enemy and should be the focus; some even suggested pulling out of the American colonies entirely to focus on their neighbor across the English Channel. Despite British attempts to divide France and Congress during peace negotiations, the allies remained firm—aided by a further French loan—and peace was reached in the Treaty of Paris in between Britain, France, and the United States.

Britain had to sign further treaties with other European powers who had become involved. Britain quit the American Revolutionary War rather than fight another global war with France. This might seem like a triumph for France, but in truth, it was a disaster. The financial pressures France faced at the time were only made worse by the cost of aiding the Americans.

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These fiscal troubles soon spiraled out of control and played a large role in the start of the French Revolution in

The French Army in the American War of Independence The French Army in the American War of Independence
The French Army in the American War of Independence The French Army in the American War of Independence
The French Army in the American War of Independence The French Army in the American War of Independence
The French Army in the American War of Independence The French Army in the American War of Independence
The French Army in the American War of Independence The French Army in the American War of Independence
The French Army in the American War of Independence The French Army in the American War of Independence
The French Army in the American War of Independence The French Army in the American War of Independence
The French Army in the American War of Independence The French Army in the American War of Independence
The French Army in the American War of Independence

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