In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section American War of Independence

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Biographies
  • Journals
  • US Government Open-Source Documents
  • Diplomacy
  • Loyalists
  • Indians
  • African Americans
  • War and Society

Military History American War of Independence
Ricardo A. Herrera
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 July 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0011


What had once been the preserve of popular writers trumpeting American battlefield prowess against British military conservatism has become an increasingly sophisticated field of study, albeit not without its professional challenges. Indeed, in the years since the rise of new military history in the 1960s and 1970s, academic historians have entered the fray and contributed deeper analyses and more sophisticated, critical, and nuanced narratives to the field. Three broad concentrations characterize histories of the American War of Independence. The first, a traditional vein, lends itself to the operational and institutional realms of the war, those of campaigns, battles, logistics, and of the armies and navies. Almost a Miracle by John Ferling (see Ferling 2007, cited under General Overviews) stands out for its breadth and its stress on the war’s contingent nature. Some works purposefully overlap with the other concentrations—political and diplomatic, and social and cultural. One landmark study, Charles Royster’s A Revolutionary People at War (Royster 1979, cited under Continental Army), considers military service within a cultural context, while E. Wayne Carp’s To Starve the Army at Pleasure (Carp 1984, cited under Continental Army) overlaps the political realm. Political and diplomatic emphases continue as a vibrant subset. One of the more significant works, Brendan Simms’s Three Victories and a Defeat (Simms 2009, cited under Diplomacy), places the war within Britain’s larger diplomatic and grand strategic context. Naturally, social and cultural histories have also played a role in the direction and shape of scholarship, such as in Caroline Cox’s A Proper Sense of Honor (Cox 2004, cited under Continental Army), which clearly evinces the impact of Royster 1979. Standing back, these three broad threads, each distinctive, but not without some degree of overlap, constitute the main thrusts in the history of the American War of Independence. Necessarily, any bibliography dealing with a subject examined so often, and so well, must be highly selective.

General Overviews

Surveys vary in scope and treatment. Middlekauff 2005 is a broad but sophisticated narrative of Revolutionary America. British conduct of the war is treated in Robson 1955 in chapters that might be read separately, while Mackesy 1993 analyzes the war through British strategic concerns, integrating ministerial politics. Middleton 2012 offers a fresh perspective on the war in an Atlantic context. For a thematic understanding of American military policies and practices, see Higginbotham 1983. For accounts emphasizing the contingent nature of the war, Ferling 2007, Griffith 2002, and Black 1998 are useful studies.

  • Black, Jeremy. The War for America: The Fight for Independence, 1775–1783. 2d ed. Burton-on-Trent, UK: Wrens Park, 1998.

    A concise narrative history, this work challenges the assumption of an inevitable American victory and suggests that British leaders had the realistic possibility of achieving a negotiated peace early in the war. Organized thematically and chronologically, it is well illustrated and written for a general readership.

  • Ferling, John E. Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

    Well researched and wide-ranging, stressing the war’s contingent nature and its relationship to war in the early modern era. Devotes attention to leading characters and their roles in shaping decisions and outcomes.

  • Griffith, Samuel B., II. The War for merican Independence: From 1760 to the Surrender at Yorktown in 1781. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002.

    A solid, but limited synthesis addressing politics, diplomacy, and military affairs in North America. Strongest treatment in military concerns. Originally published as In Defense of the Public Liberty: Britain, America, and the Struggle for Independence—From 1760 to the Surrender at Yorktown in 1781 (New York: Doubleday, 1977).

  • Higginbotham, Don. The War of American Independence: Military Attitudes, Policies, and Practices, 1763–1789. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1983.

    Survey of American military policies and practices ranging from the late colonial period to the end of the war. Thematic and chronological organization integrating military, social, and political history. Emphasizes American society’s close connections and relationship to the states’ militias and the Continental army. First published in 1971 (New York: Macmillan).

  • Mackesy, Piers. The War for America, 1775–1783. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.

    Analysis of war from the British imperial and grand strategic perspectives. Considers policy formulation and the execution and interplay of domestic and European politics, as well as the inability of British political and military leaders to grasp the nature of the rebellion. First published in 1964 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).

  • Middlekauff, Robert. The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763–1789. Rev. and exp. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

    Comprehensive narrative of the Revolution and the war giving thorough consideration to the political, social, and economic developments. Integrates the war within the fuller considerations of the Revolution.

  • Middleton, Richard. The War of American Independence, 1775–1783. New York: Pearson, 2012.

    Far-reaching synthesis of the war in its Atlantic-world context. Narrative and analytical, it weaves diplomatic, political, and military history together, noting British imperial and geopolitical overreach and giving due credit to French naval power and American independence.

  • Robson, Eric. The American Revolution in Its Political and Military Aspects, 1763–1783. London: Batchworth, 1955.

    Critical analysis of British aims and conduct of the war. Uneven editing due to the author’s death before final draft and submission.

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