Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The American Revolution, Y'all!

Most of my readers are Americans, and so have probably heard about a little dust-up that the Colonial Americans got into with Great Britain in 1776. Here in the States, we tend to refer to that little disagreement as the American Revolution.

As American children, we all learned about the Revolutionary War in school. We learned about the Boston Massacre, we learned about the Battles at Lexington & Concord, we learned about the Battle of Bunker Hill, and Washington Crossing the Delaware, many of us even learned that the Battle of Saratoga (in 1777) was the pivotal moment in the war.

Most of what we were taught about the American Revolution is absolute garbage.

Let me tell you where the American was decided: In the southern states. Yes, most Americans don't realize that the most pivotal battles of the American Revolution... the ones that militarily decided the outcome of the war, were fought in The Carolinas and Virginia.

During the early years of the war, the British figured that the way to get those obstreperous Yankees back in line would be to control the principal American cities of Boston, New York and Philadelphia. The strategy was effective, but since the British weren't able to completely wreck Washington's Army in the field, stronger measures were needed.

The British sent an entire army under General John "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne, from Canada, to find and rout the rebel Americans in New York state, but after the defeat and surrender of Burgoyne's army at Saratoga, in 1777, the British abandoned that strategy and decided to fight in the south because there was much less revolutionary fervor there, especially in South Carolina.

The war in the south was a particularly bloody affair, with many pitched battles between not only the American and British armies, but between patriot and loyalist militia's that spent a great deal of time marauding and destroying the homes, crops, and livestock of their neighbors who supported the "wrong" side. The battle of King's Mountain was such an affair. This bloody battle was fought entirely between patriot and loyalist militias.

The British captured Charleston in May of 1780 (two of my was a direct ancestor) were captured with the 1st South Carolina Cavalry), then began operating in earnest. Here is where it gets interesting!

The British would have had their way in South Carolina had it not been for the particular effectiveness of hit and run (insurgent) warfare conducted by Francis Marion, who later became known as the "Swamp Fox" for his ability to hit the British forces, and disappear into the murk swamps, before British firepower could be decisively brought to bear.

In August of 1780, General Horatio Gates (a retired British officer) was in command of the American forces during the disastrous Battle of Camden, after which he was replaced by General Nathaniel Greene, who was smart enough to know that he didn't have to beat the British to win, all he had to do as keep fighting from time to time without destroying his army as he did.

In January of 1781, the British were decisively beaten at the battle of The Cow Pens. Continental troops and local militia practically destroyed the Cavalry/Dragoon Brigade of Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton. The effect of the battle was that the people of the Carolina back-country saw that the British could be beaten in the field, causing them to much more fully support patriot efforts. The tide was turning.

In March of 1781, the British won what history calls a "victory" over the Continentals and militia at the battle of Guilford Courthouse (Greensboro, North Carolina). The victory was so costly for the British, that their combat power in the southern states was broken. They abandoned the Carolina's and went into defensive positions around Yorktown, Virginia.

General George Washington, whose northern armies were girding themselves to dislodge the British from their strong defense in New York city, was informed of the retreat of Lord Cornwallis' troops to Yorktown. He was also aware of the fact that the French Admiral, Le Comte De Grasse was sailing with a strong squadron to the Virginia capes to support an attack by the Americans. Washington, along with the French commander, Le Comte De Rochambeau, marched their combined armies south to Yorktown, and laid siege to Cornwallis' army.

The French navy, having beaten the British at the battle of the capes, prevented Cornwallis' army from being evacuated from Yorktown, sealed the fate of the British forces. Withstanding constant artillery barrages, Cornwallis knew that his position was untenable. He also knew that no relief was coming. He was beaten.

Cornwallis' proud army was forced to capitulate, and march out of Yorktown to the place now known as "the surrender field" and lay down their arms, artillery*, drums, and colors.

With the surrender of British forces in the south, the British, although still strong in New York, knew that the time for negotiating had come. Major combat operations in the American War for Independence came to a halt.

Mission accomplished... This time, it's for real.

So, there you have it. The next time some windbag starts banging on about some northern revolutionary battle, look them in the eye and say: "Oh, sure... that battle was important, but everyone knows the the Revolution was won in the south!"

* Some of the British (and American) artillery are still sitting at the Yorktown battlefield, shamefully exposed to the weather!


Brillig said...

Hahaha. Yes, indeed. You sound just like my father--a brilliant man who grew up in Virginia. He was always bothered that so many of the text books that we used in school were published in Boston and therefore had, um, a bit of a slant to them. Anyway, I agree with this post. Daddy raised me with truth. You'll do the same for your daughter.

Janet said...

If that's what you post when you don't have time to think of something, I can't imagine how impressive you'll be when you do. Well done, sir!

jessabean said...

My hometown is Yorktown, so you best believe I let people know where the Revolution ended, ESPECIALLY when they say "Oh, Yorktown, Pennsylvania?"

soccer mom in denial said...

My brain is this big (thumb and first finger barely touching) compared to you. This is terrific.

My memories of Lexington, MA is taking canoe rides with my family.

Lady M said...

A great educational post! Thanks.

Gunfighter said...

Thanks, Brill!

Janet, strange things run through my head, but you know I love history, and it kills me how little people know about the Revolution. What can I tell you?, I'm a geek.


A Yourktowner? How cool! Whenever we get to the Williamsburg area, I reserve a large part of a day to wander around the battlefield, just imagining the enormity of what happened there.


Oh, please!



soccer mom in denial said...

You deserve more comments about this. It is well written, thoughtful and funny. I learned something. Kudos to you.

And yes, you're brain, as we say up here, is wicked big!

Bryan G said...

I don't think I've ever read anything that contradicts your rough sketch of events in the late Revolution. Certainly Cowpens doesn't get as much coverage as it deserves (the little "Patriot" movie rendition notwithstanding).

But the war was the war. The war may have been won in the South, but I'm not sure that political subdivision claiming the dirt the armies were standing on when they faced off is super-significant. I would say that as quickly to a Northern braggart as to a Southern one. Yeah, the southern battles were the finishers, but it was the northern battles that got them there, as the facts that you outline bear out. And I think that's poetically fitting for a way for "American" independence. It shows something which would take our country many many decades to figure out: we all need each other. It's not about Virginia and it's not about Massachusetts. It's about America. At least it makes me feel good to think so.

Gunfighter said...

Hello Bryan, and welcome!

I don't disagree with anything you said. However, I would like to point out the the thrust of my post was that cookie cutter education seldom tells the complex story of the Revolution.

My post was meant to supplement what most people knownot to denigrate what others did. It wasn't my intent to undercut the heroic achievements that took place at Germantown, Monmouth, Harlem Heights, Bunker Hill, Connecticut Farms, N.J. (near my home town!),Stony Point (gotta love a guy like "Mad" Anthony Wayne), not to mention activities at Valley Forge and Other places.



DevilDawg said...

My direct ancestor fought with Francis Marion and was his neighbor, both living on the Pee Dee River in SC. The movie "Patriot" is about these men.

I think you brushed over King's Mountain since it is often said to be the turning point in the south. It was the battle that showed the British could be beaten in the field.

Patrick Ferguson, who led the loyalist militia said he would never be taken off King's Mountain. He wasn't, he was buried there.

Gunfighter said...

Devil Dawg,

I also had direct ancestors who fought not only with Amrion, but also with the South Corolina dragoons at Chalreston.

King's Mountain was important, but not because it showed that the British could be beaten in the field... because nearly all of the soldiers who fought there, on either sided, were born in the Carolinas.