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The last battle of the American Revolution wasn’t the Battle of Yorktown, as is often taught, but a battle across the globe in India, some historians say.
The Battle of Cuddalore, a 1783 naval battle in India between Britain and France, is believed to be the last battle in the Revolutionary War by a growing number of historians, challenging what most American children learn in the classroom, according to a July 4 report from CNN.
“Americans and almost all historians of the United States until just recently focused almost exclusively on the Revolutionary War within the 13 colonies that rebelled against the British,” Kathleen DuVal, a history professor at the University of North Carolina, told CNN. “But in just the past decade or two, historians have broadened their focus and started to write about the Revolutionary War as being, as you say, a world war.”
Viewing the conflict from a broader international scope, DuVal concludes that the last battle of the American Revolution was fought by Britain and France off the coast of Cuddalore, India, in June 1783 — nearly two years after the Battle of Yorktown.
While DuVal and other historians acknowledge the importance of America’s 1781 victory at Yorktown in bringing Britain to the negotiating table, they note that it took until November 1782 for the U.S., France, and Britain to agree on peace terms and until 1783 for the peace treaty to actually be signed.
As the Journal of the American Revolution notes, George Washington himself never knew Yorktown would be considered the end of the war, but he “felt it was his absolute duty to keep the Continental Army together until there was a final peace treaty signed and approved.” The online magazine also notes there were at least 44 clashes of the Revolution that took place worldwide between Yorktown and the signing of the Treaty of Paris — including the Battle of Cuddalore.
According to historians, the American Revolution sparked conflict far beyond the 13 colonies. They note that the hostilities between Britain and France in America spilled over into conflict in Europe and the Caribbean — even in India, where both powers had established colonies.
“When France entered the war in 1778 as an American ally, the British East India Company immediately moved to attack France’s Indian colonies, drawing both countries’ Indian allies into the fight,” the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia says on its website. By 1783, France’s garrison in Cuddalore was an important British target since India was vital for British supplies and commerce during the war.
While a preliminary peace treaty ending the Revolutionary War had already been agreed upon by June 1783, news had not reached British and French troops in India, similar to how the news of the Treaty of Ghent did not reach British and American forces in New Orleans in time to prevent the dramatic last battle of the War of 1812.
Britain besieged the French base in Cuddalore, and the French navy successfully drove off British ships guarding the shore to provide reinforcements. After an attempt to break Britain’s land siege on June 25, the French withdrew. French officers were planning another offensive, but the plans came to a halt on June 30 when news about the peace finally arrived.