The American struggle for independence was a defining moment in world history, and many lives were lost in the struggle for independence. But just how many people actually died in the American Revolution?
The answer to this question is not as straightforward as you might think, as records from the time period are often incomplete or unreliable.
Early on in the conflict, the Continental Army suffered defeat after defeat and it was a miracle it remained together. Washington proved an expert in leading an organized retreat, and in regrouping the army to fight another day.
Eventually the tide began to turn towards the United States. The victory at the important Battle of Saratoga was a turning point, and the army emerged better trained after a harsh winter at Valley Forge. After a few years of stalemate in the northeast, the Americans finally cornered the British at the Battle of Yorktown, whose significance ultimately forced a decisive surrender of British forces.
Ultimately, the new nation succeeded in defeating the British Empire and gaining their independence, but it came at a massive price.
How Many People Died in the American Revolution?
Historian Howard Peckham compiled perhaps the best estimate as to how many Americans died in the American Revolution. Peckham estimates that 25,324 Americans died in the Revolutionary War, representing 0.9% of the total population of the time.1
The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that ~217,000 total Americans served in the war, translating to a staggeringly high death rate of nearly 12%. These figures go on to show that the American Revolution killed a higher percentage of those who served than in any other war in American history, aside from the Civil War.2
While the Americans suffered a high casualty rate on the field of battle, the vast majority of deaths came from disease and/or in British prisons. Upwards of ~17,000 of those who served died from disease, which included the ~8,500-11,000 Americans that died in British prisons.3
With limited resources and medical knowledge of the time, nations subjected prisoners of war to horrid conditions that resulted in an extremely high death rate. As the United States did not have an equivalent number of British prisoners to exchange, many Americans suffered for years under these conditions.
When considering the American Revolution, it’s essential to remember the ultimate sacrifice of the patriots who fought for this nation.
To learn more about US history, check out this timeline of the history of the United States.
1) Peckham, Howard H. 1910-1995. The Toll of Independence: Engagements & Battle Casualties of the American Revolution. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1974.
2) Department of Veterans Affairs
3) Cray, Robert E. “Commemorating the Prison Ship Dead: Revolutionary Memory and the Politics of Sepulture in the Early Republic, 1776-1808.” The William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 56, no. 3, 1999, pp. 565–90. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/2674561.