Friday, November 11, 2011

Where will you be when the Revolution Comes?

Today is Friday November 11. It is Veteran's Day in the United States. A day to remember all those who have served our nation.

As I have indicated here before, I had a previous career as a Social Studies teacher, teaching American History. I was also an American History major in college. Now, much has been made this year to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the US Civil War, but let us not forget the first real war that made a difference for Americans, the Revolutionary War.

Here's a list of myths regarding the American Revolution. There might be a quiz later. There is more information at the link (from Smithsonian Magazine).
  1. Great Britain Did Not Know What It Was Getting Into - the British Government was prepared to counter the colonies actions with military force as early as January 1774, when word of the Boston Tea Party reached London. A secondary question was also considered: Could Britain win such a war? The passage of the Coercive Acts — or Intolerable Acts, as Americans called them sought to punish the colony of Massachusetts for the Tea Party. Parliament also installed Gen. Thomas Gage, commander of the British Army in America, as governor of the colony. This was a huge miscalculation. In September 1774, colonists convened the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia and planned to embargo British commerce until all British taxes and the Coercive Acts were repealed. The British government (under Prime Minister Lord North) still believed the Americans would pose little challenge in the event of war. Government leaders and King George decided that backing down meant losing the colonies.
  2. Americans Of All Stripes Took Up Arms Out Of Patriotism - While the term “Spirit of ‘76” referred to the colonists’ patriotic zeal it is not entirely true. Soon enough the colonists discovered how difficult and dangerous military service could be and enthusiasm waned. It required an Act of Congress in 1777 that mandated men who enlisted must sign on for three years or the duration of the conflict, whichever came first.
  3. Continental Soldiers Were Always Ragged And Hungry - Accounts of shoeless continental army soldiers leaving bloody footprints in the snow or going hungry in a land of abundance are all too accurate. The Army’s supply system, imperfect at best, at times broke down altogether; the result was misery and want. But it, too, was not altogether accurate. American forces received shipments of heavy clothing arrived from France at the beginning of the winter in 1779. Conditions faced by the troops varied widely.
  4. The Militia Was Useless - America's first settlers adopted the British militia system, which required all able-bodied men between 16 and 60 to bear arms. Some 100,000 men served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. However, some Americans emerged from the war convinced that the militia had been largely ineffective. Militiamen were older, on average, than the Continental soldiers and received only perfunctory training; few had experienced combat. This was demonstrated at Camden, South Carolina, in August 1780, when militiamen panicked in the face of advancing redcoats. Throwing down their weapons and running for safety, they were responsible for one of the worst defeats of the war. However, in 1775, militiamen had fought with surpassing bravery along the Concord Road and at Bunker Hill. Nearly 40 percent of soldiers serving under Washington in his crucial Christmas night victory at Trenton in 1776 were militiamen. In New York state, half the American force in the vital Saratoga campaign of 1777 consisted of militiamen. The militia had its shortcomings, to be sure, but America could not have won the war without it.
  5. Saratoga Was The War’s Turning Point - On October 17, 1777, British Gen. John Burgoyne surrendered 5,895 men to American forces outside Saratoga, New York. It was a loss of nearly one-quarter of those serving under the British flag in America in 1777. It resulted in persuading France to form a military alliance with the United States. But Saratoga was not the turning point of the war. There are four other key moments during the several years the Revolution was fought that can be identified. First was the combined effect of victories in the fighting at Concord in April 1775 and later at Bunker Hill near Boston. After the bitter defeat of Washington at Long Island, the second turning point came with Washington's sneak attack at Trenton in late December 1776, he achieved a great victory, destroying a Hessian force of nearly 1,000 men; a week later, on January 3, he defeated a British force at Princeton, New Jersey. The third event did not take place on a battlefield, when Congress abandoned one-year enlistments and transformed the Continental Army into a standing army, made up of regulars who volunteered—or were conscripted—for long-term service. Finally, the campaign that unfolded in the South during 1780 and 1781 marks the final turning point of the conflict. Unable to quell the rebellion in New England and the mid-Atlantic states, the British turned their attention in 1778 to the South, hoping to retake Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. Although the British enjoyed several early successes, the colonists were not broken. In April 1781, unable to crush the insurgency in the Carolinas, Lord Cornwallis took his army into Virginia, where he hoped to sever supply routes linking the upper and lower South, but ultimately led to his surrender to Washington at Yorktown.
  6. General Washington Was A Brilliant Tactician And Strategist - It is a generally accepted idea that the American Revolution could not have been won without the leadership of George Washington. In fact, Washington’s missteps revealed failings as a strategist. In August 1776, the Continental Army was routed in its first test on Long Island in part because Washington failed to properly reconnoiter and he attempted to defend too large an area for the size of his army. In the fall of 1777, when Gen. William Howe invaded Pennsylvania, Washington committed his entire army in an attempt to prevent the loss of Philadelphia. During the Battle of Brandywine, in September, he once again froze with indecision. Later, Washington was painfully slow to grasp the significance of the war in the Southern states. For the most part, he committed troops to that theater only when Congress ordered him to do so. Washington also failed to see the potential of a campaign against the British in Virginia in 1780 and 1781, prompting Comte de Rochambeau, commander of the French Army in America, to write despairingly that the American general “did not conceive the affair of the south to be such urgency.” Indeed, Rochambeau, who took action without Washington’s knowledge, conceived the Virginia campaign that resulted in the war’s decisive encounter, the siege of Yorktown in the autumn of 1781.
  7. Great Britain Could Never Have Won The War - Once the revolutionary war was lost, some in Britain argued that it had been unwinnable. In reality, Britain might well have won the war. The battle for New York in 1776 gave England an excellent opportunity for a decisive victory, but General Howe let Washington and his army slip away. Britain still might have prevailed in 1777, when London ordered Howe to advance up the Hudson River and rendezvous at Albany with General Burgoyne, who was to invade New York from Canada. Though the operation offered the prospect of decisive victory, Howe scuttled it. Believing that Burgoyne needed no assistance and obsessed by a desire to capture Philadelphia—home of the Continental Congress—Howe opted to move against Pennsylvania instead. He took Philadelphia, but he accomplished little by his action. Meanwhile, Burgoyne suffered total defeat at Saratoga. After 1777, both Washington and John Adams assumed that unless the United States and France scored a decisive victory in 1781, the outcome of the war would be determined at a conference of Europe’s great powers. It was only by Cornwallis’ stunning defeat at Yorktown in October that cost Britain everything but Canada.

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