To help in testing schoolchildren, the American Revolution
of seventeen-seventy-six to seventeen-eighty-three,
also called the War of Independence,
which sounds more respectable, or the Revolutionary War,
is stated to have begun with a
Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776 and to have ended with
the Treaty of Paris of 1783. Adults may understand it as a conflict that
began substantially with the Crown Proclamation of 1763 giving the
western lands back to the Indians, and a shooting war was well under
way before the Declaration. I am apparently
thinking of a twenty years' war -
twelve years of restless peace and conflict, followed by
eight years of continual warfare, beginning with the
British march to Concord in1775.
The causes of conflict are themselves conflicts,
wars peacefully pursued, and wars, like this one, are conflicts
pursued by violent means. It must have a name in order to be discussed,
so let it be called here, anyhow, the Revolution.
The Revolution encapsulated seven various long-term conflicts
contributing directly to bloody exchanges:
1. The War of Independence, the violent attempt to separate from
Britain by beating off British forces despatched to preserve British
rule, is the conflict that holds all the others together.
2. The warfare between Loyalists and Patriots can be distinguished for
having its own life and meaning. Also participating in this conflict were
those who felt and acted as if they were at war against the religious
establishment; Anglican ministers were presumed to be Loyalist and
hunted down, imprisoned, and exiled.
3. Indian warfare in two large regions of the frontier, North and South,
constituted the continuation of traditional warfare and an inflamed
newer struggle for territory in the west.
4. To many it was a war of republicans against the institution of
monarchy. Embedded in this conflict was a struggle between the
young and old, even if no group could legally declare war in the name
of youth against age.
5. For many it was a war, though they may not have fully realized it, of
the merchant and manufacturing class - the bourgeoisie - against the
feudal class and mercantile state of England.
6. But there was a war, too, occurring, begun before now, of the
populists against the rich elite (whether Royalist or Patriot).
7. There was a formal international war, declared by France and Spain
against Britain, and by Britain against the Netherlands for helping the
Perhaps the best way to intelligize this multiplex conflict is to narrate
the course of the War for Independence plainly, interspersing and
following with enough comment on the associated conflicts to give
them their autonomous due. The beginning of the proper War might as
well be fixed at the incident on the Lexington green, where a British
contingent of 700 soldiers on the way from Boston to destroy supplies
and make arrests at Concord encountered a company of militia or
minutemen who seemed drawn up for offensive purposes and refused
to withdraw upon command. Arrogant and presumptuous Major
Pitcairn, who led the British, ordered a volley of fire and a bayonet
charge, leaving a score of casualties. The British reached Concord,
could make no arrests of such as Sam Adams and John Hancock, who
were supposed to be hiding out there. The munitions of the
Massachusetts militia had been removed.
Thereupon the British marched back under a continuous gunfire from
indignant farmers and militia in ambush along the route. Hundreds of
casualties were suffered.
The Battle of Lexington-Concord was one of some 1331 military
conflicts on land during the war. The next large encounter occurred in
Boston itself, where the Massachusetts militia had mobilized to
encircle a large British army and naval force which had come to
occupy the town and put down the rebellion. Here, at Breed's Hill,
near Bunker Hill, entrenched colonials were driven off
only following several costly attacks by the British.
The two battles mightily encouraged the Patriots and
informed the British and Loyalists of the difficulties lying ahead.
Washington arrived shortly after the battle, from Philadelphia, where
the Continental Congress, of which he was a member, had named him
to be Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. This was to be
composed of an all-colonial force under the Congress' direct control,
supplemented by the colonial militias.
The siege of Boston continued through the winter, until the British
decided they ought to proceed to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where far
fewer rebels existed, transporting with them a large number of
correctly fearful Loyalists.
Later on, heavily reinforced, they descended upon New York City,
where the Loyalists were strong and where they might best coordinate
the job of suppressing the rebellion, with Southern and Northern
regional headquarters. So the army and fleet set up a permanent
headquarters in New York, there remaining
comfortably until the end of the War.
As is common in warfare, everyone's plans failed and whose plan failed
last determined who in disgust would sue for peace and who would be
the victor. The initial plan of the British, to suppress the worst rebels,
the Yankees, failed, whereupon they sailed away. Meanwhile the
Continental Congress had been in session most of a year. Mutual
slanders and threats between the Congress and the King assured that
there was to be no peace without war. The King proclaimed a total
blockade of the Atlantic Coast. At great cost this was continued from
year to year. The Congress authorized any possessor of a boat and
crew and guns to prey upon British shipping.
At least 4000 entrepreneurial Patriots took to the sea as privateers
with licenses to capture and sell British ships and their cargoes. It was
a major wartime industry, a private enterprise navy, employing
100,000 crew members. Shares as small as 1/96 of a single enterprise
could be purchased on the market. Thousands of prizes were seized in
the course of the War, several times more than the British captured.
Many Loyalists engaged in privateering as well, on behalf of the
British. Still it was a continuously losing battle, and when the French,
Spanish and Dutch got into the act, the British hurt as if by a perpetual
cannonading of the Thames docks.
Congress also thought to conquer Canada, with the hoped-for help of
a French-Canadian uprising. Two American columns worked their way
toward Quebec, and besieged the City throughout the fall. In
December their combined assault failed; one commander, Richard
Montgomery, was killed on New Year's Eve, 1775; the other, the yet
to become notorious traitor Benedict Arnold, was wounded. The
French-Canadians were unmoved.
Indeed, the Revolutionary cause appeared to lack appeal in many
places. Newfoundland and Nova Scotia were saved for the King. So
was the rich Island of Bermuda, although numerous sympathizers of
independence dwelt here. The Caribbean possessions - Barbados,
Jamaica, the Bahamas, Honduras, remained Loyal or apathetic. The
Floridas, that had become a haven for Georgia slaves, and were
making a beginning in fishing and agriculture, did not take the
Congress did not neglect the seas. It found two small boats and called
into being the American Navy: It despatched the boats to Bermuda,
where with the help of friendly (treacherous?) islanders, they could
make off with a load of munitions. (Not hearing of this, Washington
sent a boat later on for the same purpose, and it barely escaped
destruction by the alerted Bermudian forces.) Nassau, in the Bahamas,
may have been the first official American amphibious operation,
carried out by a Congressional raider.
The only true gunships that the Americans possessed were captained
by John Paul Jones, a Scottish-born former rum-runner and slaver
(who quit the trade in disgust), a thorough professional fighter who
fought everybody, including his associates. His first sloop knocked off
a number of British craft. Benjamin Franklin in France bought him an
old larger boat that he fixed up. On this "Bonhomme Richard," he
engaged the "Serapis," a first-class English ship, in a furious battle, left
his sinking ship, and boarded the "Serapis." He brought this to France
to repair. (After the War he could not receive command of the
American Navy, he found no employment for his talents in France, and
finally sold his services to Russia, where once more he was rejected by
the gang of Admirals, mostly incompetent, and sent off to the Black
Sea to fight the Turks in 1788. He won there a great battle, had the
credit snatched from him by Prince Potemkin, a favorite relative of
Empress Catherine, and returned to France, there to die a pauper.)
While Captain Jones went his dogged way, many an American
merchant was making his fortune on the seas, first by smuggling and
bribing his way past the British authorities and thereafter by smuggling
and bribing against the rules of his new country. He would also be
running a privateer or two. His main object was to get rich by selling
to the armed forces of the United States, then to the State militias,
both of whom insisted that he take at least most of his payments in
continental paper money or state notes; and then to such of the
civilians as had hard money in gold or silver at least in good part, then
to the British for hard money, then over the seas to buy products with
hard cash or partly on notes, then back to the United States to repeat
Very likely there was no such animal as a fully honest American
merchant in those 20 years of which we speak. It is not impossible that
the famous Robert Morris of Philadelphia, who had charge of
procurement for the nation and ran an import and export firm on the
side, who has been proven to have mixed up his moneys with the
government's moneys to his own advantage, stood in the first rank of
men of (partial) integrity, besides which he was a Patriot who did work
hard to win the War and would have been
hanged if it had not been won.
A noble fiscal gesture of the war was the gift of the King of France of
one million pounds of credit even before the Declaration of
Independence was proclaimed. This hard currency and credit was used
to buy and ship munitions to America. Without it, the Americans could
not hope to fight a major engagement. As the war went on, other
means were found: including making one's own materiel of war and
buying, yes, from British quartermasters and traders. Although they
could print thousands of pieces of paper called money, the Continental
and State governments could hardly put their hands on a coin of value:
Gresham's Law was working with a vengeance: "Bad money drives
out good money."
Farmers exhibited typical human conduct: given a starving army of
Patriots nearby to whom you mouth allegiance, given a crop of beans
and a head of cattle, given an American army purchasing agent with
paper money and a lawful right to ask you to sell these to him, given a
British purchasing officer willing to pay the same or a better price and
gold and silver to pay it with, to whom would you convey your goods?
Hint: British soldiers rarely went hungry. Hint: the American soldiers
often looked like scarecrows and went A.W.O.L. (absent without
leave) at the sound of a dinner bell. The surplus fertility of American
soil and a nimble needle and thread helped to
keep the American troops going.
Students tend to become angry at the Continental Congress for
"making a mess of the new nation's finances." This is unfair. Money is
vital to all public operations. War is a public operation in large part
and is expensive. The people with money hated to be taxed; they were
fighting (so they said) against British taxes. So the Congress
borrowed. But it could only do so if people believed that they would
get their money back. Most of the time, there was not enough
confidence to borrow very much. Money could be printed on paper;
sellers would be required to accept it. This was done, but as soon as
there was too much paper or too little confidence existed in the paper,
the paper lost its value and became
"not worth a continental."
The States had similar problems and often competed with and were
stingy with Congress. The States sold Loyalist properties, which the
rich bought. They sold public lands (which the rich also bought). They
even gave over their claims to Western lands as the War drew to a
close but could not properly organize the sale of these for hard cash,
which was in short supply. So the troops camped, marched, and
fought on too little food and wore wretched clothing and ported not
the best of arms. They went off from camp and stole and
looted, but this also was not enough.
The primary American force turned out to be the Continental Army,
under Washington's overall command, but divided up in various ways
as the theaters of war developed. Its men were supposed to be
Patriots, representative of the citizenry as a whole, volunteers for a
year or more, regularly paid, dressed in proper uniform, and armed
with standard equipment. They were in fact none of these. They finally
achieved a full uniform as the war came to a close. They were poor
men of the unsuccessful or proliferate farming class, or of the
underclass; many had been forgiven a term as indentured servant, or
freed from slavery, or let loose from criminal conviction, or had newly
immigrated to the colonies.
The first "Emancipation Proclamation" was proclaimed by Lord
Dunmore, Governor of Virginia, in 1775, who announced freedom for
all rebel-owned slaves and indentured servants who quit and reported
in to the British forces. Some thousands responded; the slaves ended
up in the West Indies for the most part, the indentured servants in
England or in flight to the frontier. Virginia offered the bondsman
freedom for enlisting. Later Virginia granted freedom to slaves who
had served the Revolutionary cause. An estimated
5% of the American forces at any given time were
African-American, about 5,000 volunteers.
A few American soldiers were literate, and even wrote home on
occasion. Some had fled home or sought adventure. Some of all types
were inspired by the ideas of independence and equality. All were
promised land and bonuses. All had to soldier under badly-selected,
poorly trained officers. Each State was supposed to supply a quota and
the regiments were maintained by State origin, but sometimes the
States did not fulfill their quota, and no man no matter where from
was likely to be deemed unfit for service. The militias of the colonies,
then States after July 4, 1776, had hardly improved over time. These
were supposed to defend their States, but would also be sent to join
the Continental Army and assist its operations under its command.
Actually the question has often been asked and it is a major one: what
did keep the Revolution moving? What did keep the Army going at all,
miserable as it was a good part of the time? Much analysis has ended
in bafflement. There are those who would say that things could not be
so bad (even while every decade of research shows that the whole war
was that bad and worse). Others try to prove that this pathetic force
was genetically, mentally, and morally so superior that it could
stand any kind of deprivation and defeat. Still others say that there was
nowhere else to go, notwithstanding that the actual soldiers composed
only a small fraction of the total number of men of military age and
were physically competent, with plenty of places to go - like the hills
and the frontier and even into the British Army, for that matter.
More likely than any of these theories is one that can be carried back
into history from World War II. The small regular Army of the United
States before 1940 consisted largely of men low in education, social
background, and life expectations generally, and of pessimistic and
negative temperament - remarkably comparable to the rank and file of the
Revolutionary militias and Continental Army. Many were rural
Southern and many others were of recent urban immigrant stock. They
were paid relatively less than the Revolutionary War soldiers
($21/month less deductions vs. $6/month), but regularly, and were fed
much better and had sturdy uniforms. A caste system divided officers
and men. Often soldiers were called "riff-raff." Yet these men, along
with the Philippine Scouts, put in excellent performances against
fanatic highly-trained Japanese on Bataan and Corregidor in the early
weeks of the War, nor were their later contributions negligible.
The psychological components of such morale were explained later in
the War. Hundreds of controlled and scientifically composed
interviews were conducted, both of German and American soldiers,
who had been in battle under circumstances where only some major
fraction would be alive and unhurt after a month in action.
The major conclusion was that the men stuck it out because
they were among other men who were sticking it out.
Men, many of whom had no other friends left in
the world but these around them, lately acquired,
nevertheless found their end in life in the maintenance
of their spirit of cohesion.
Once this feeling establishes itself among a core of men
in a squad or platoon, there is no dispersion of the group
as a fighting unit except by annihilation or by discharging
the core members. Probably this is the bond that
kept together American Revolutionary troops, who, by
other calculations, should have scattered to the winds.
On the frontier, the American forces were more irregular. Often they
were not English, but Scots-Irish, German, Dutch, French, and others.
They included local militias. They were opposed by Thayendanegea
(Joseph Brant) Chief of the Mohawks, who sailed to England there to
sign a treaty of alliance between the Iroquois Confederation and
Britain. The Onondagas were struck by smallpox and lost their
capacity for war. The Oneida and Tuscarora tribes
sided with the Rebels.
By 1778, the British and Indians were burning and killing along the
Pennsylvania frontier, so a punitive expedition of 4,000 men under
John Sullivan was despatched by General Washington. Following his
instructions, they killed whoever could be found and burned forty
Cayuga and Seneca villages and their fields. The Iroquois persuaded
the Southern Indian tribes to go on the warpath as well. In
consequence, South Carolina troops and a Virginia-North Carolina
force destroyed hundreds of small Cherokee settlements,
with their crops, and killed whoever fell into their clutches.
In the same year George Rogers Clark led a small expedition by boat
down the Ohio to the Mississippi River, entered the Francophone town
of Cahokia, opposite St. Louis, where he recruited enough French to
double his force of under two hundred men, and captured the town of
Vincennes on the Wabash River from its Anglo-Indian defenders. In
1782, the British told the Iroquois, who were still fighting ferociously,
to quit the war.
When the British cause was lost, Sir William Johnson, Indian
Commissioner and friend to the Indians, husband to several Indian
wives, a speculator in great land tracts, left the
United States with Mohawks and Highland Scot Loyalists for
Canada. (His family name had been MacShane.) Chief
Thayendanegea lived into the nineteenth century.
All was set for the next great land rush.
The British armed forces contained four elements, each making up
about a quarter of its numbers. About one-fourth were regular troops,
of about the same social composition as the Americans, but
constrained by a system of discipline and training much more severe
and effective. Not enough men, even given the mass of poor
unskilled males of the British Isles, volunteered for service.
Recruitment was heavy in Ireland. American
Loyalists also joined in some numbers.
The Army turned to Germany, there to recruit another quarter of the
British Army, typically from Hesse, whence all Germanic troops came
to be termed Hessians; they were also called mercenaries, but all
regular troops were paid; moreover, it is unlikely that the rank and file
of home troops were more patriotic than the foreigners, that is, not at
all so. A third of the German survivors took advantage of American
propaganda and deserted for money and land, or
retired in the colonies: instant patriots.
The Indian tribes allied to the British believed, properly so, that they
stood to be better treated by the British from London than by the
colonial governments, especially should these be freed from the Home
Country. The Indians were also better compensated by the British than
by the Americans. Scalp bounties were commonly paid. An
unknown number of Afro-Americans were freed to
fight with the British and many were impressed for labor
- as indeed, were Whites everywhere and by both sides.
The fourth quarter of British troops was made up by Loyalists,
organized as militias or special troops. They contained more men of a
higher social class than did the American troops and British regulars;
they had been threatened with or had experienced dishonor, beatings,
and eviction from their old homes. The Highland Scots of the back
country of the South also volunteered to fight for the King in some
numbers; they had come to America on Royal land grants. Yet
Loyalists generally presented some of the problems of the
We should count, alongside the Americans, the French army and naval
armada that were sent over and helped to deliver the decisive blows
against the British. At the siege of Yorktown there were as many
French soldiers as Americans, and the French fleet defeated and chased
off a British fleet that could not have been opposed at all by the
American forces. Also to be counted on the American side were
certain friendly Indian tribes, enemies of the
pro-British Iroquois nation.
Neither the Continental forces nor the state militias were adapted to
disciplined frontal confrontations in battle, and the militias were
employed tactically by placing them center up-front where they could
be relied on to fire once or even several times before retreating. Then
the Continentals would step in to
reform the caving line.
Most of the time the men had not enough to eat, and during at least
two winters, those of 1777 and 1778,
suffered gravely from malnutrition and cold.
So many deserted or took sick at Valley Forge
in the winter of 1778, or quit
when their short term was up, that the
Army could hardly muster a few hundred men.
If the British had left Philadelphia to attack it and pursue it,
the Army would probably have
vanished into the snows.
It is extraordinary that so few mutinies occurred, and these were so
mild. On the first day of 1781, a body of Pennsylvania troops, many
with booze under their belts, killed and injured officers standing in
their way and marched on the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.
Washington sent troops to deter them, but ordered that
they not be fired upon. He sent off to New York to obtain
some of their back pay,and in subsequent negotiations,
the men were allowed discharges from the Army.
Not long afterwards, some two hundred New Jersey
soldiers set off for the State Capital at Trenton to demand
compensation and reforms. They were surrounded. Two of their
leaders were quickly executed by firing squad.
Once, after Yorktown, a group of about 80 soldiers
invaded Philadelphia, demanding pay,
whereupon Congress adjourned and fled.
Washington's Army, come down from Boston in 1776 to engage the
British in New York, first met its enemy on Long Island, was defeated,
and retreated to Harlem. Washington suffered a second defeat on
Manhattan Island and withdrew Northwards, crossed the Hudson
River, and headed South until he arrived with his army in
Pennsylvania. Getting the Americans to fight a
major engagement was not easy.
Washington won striking minor engagements meanwhile. Meanly, on
Christmas night, while the Hessians of Trenton were in a drunken
stupor, Washington's force crossed from Pennsylvania and slew or
took prisoner most of them. Later he won a sharp battle at Princeton,
then had to retire in the face of superior numbers. But the British then
also retired, to New York City. These engagements had an enormous
morale value. Americans had shown themselves far less able to provide
for an army than to celebrate victories vociferously. This trait
continued for a long time.
The British Generals had an excellent but non-binding idea. If an army
from Canada could journey Southward along Lake Champlain towards
Albany and the Lower Hudson Valley, and if a second army could
march up the Valley, and the twain should meet, they would defeat any
minor opposition on the way and split the enemy between New
England and points South. So, during the summer of 1777, General
John Burgoyne's Army began trudging South.
Several small American forces ultimately under the overall command
of Horatio Gates, with strong assists from Benedict Arnold and others,
cleared his routes of potential irregular supporters and a small relief
force of regulars, and fired upon his columns incessantly. He arrived at
Saratoga, far short of his goal, turned this way and that, and settled
down beleaguered. Sensing the kill, every day the American Army
grew larger. Before long his situation was hopeless. He surrendered
the 5,000 survivors of his original army of
10,000 men in October.
The news shocked and thrilled the world. The French were so
confident now that the Americans were not a lame duck that a treaty
of alliance was promptly drawn up and, with the ebullient Franklin in
attendance, France agreed to go to war against Great Britain in aid of
the United States. The two events sealed the verdict of the Revolution:
the United States would be independent.
The English should better have quit then.
Because General Sir William Howe fancied the idea of capturing the
rebel Capital, the British Army of New York that should have gone to
meet the Burgoyne expedition sailed South to the Chesapeake region
and up the Bay and marched on toward Philadelphia, defeating an
attempt by Washington to stop it at Brandywine.
The British captured the capital city without difficulty, and
pondered what next to do.
America was so vast that there could be no thought of marching
everywhere. Unless the Loyalists could take over and hold vast
stretches without British army and naval help, the
war would last indefinitely.
Another battle was lost by Washington at Germantown.
He was trying to pry his way back into Philadelphia.
Washington did not wish a guerrilla war.
He simply had not enough men and equipment to face
the enemy's main body. This was probably just as well because
whenever the major forces met one another in pitched battle, the
British cannonading would be more ample and destructive to begin
with, the brilliant scarlet formations more depressing, and then the
British lines would hold and the American lines break. It may have
been beneficial to the cause,
that many American soldiers operated on the axiom,
"discretion is the better part of valor," and
"he who fights and runs away will live to fight another day."
If Washington and most other American generals had won their heart's
desire, they would have neatly lined up their men to fight against much
better trained and equipped professionals - with potentially disastrous
results. On the occasions when Washington was caught in the middle
of a retreat - as at the Battle of Manhattan-Harlem, and the Battle of
Monmouth, he would swear and curse at the retreating men (up to the
rank of General) and beat the m upon their heads with his
sword to turn them back.
Nobody was more favored by him than the wily Prussian Baron von
Steuben, who presented himself before Washington with a title and
military rank that were both fraudulent, but with a letter from Franklin,
and was appointed Inspector General and drillmaster, and who turned
out the troops in neat close order drill after a while, and introduced a
proper system of hierarchical relations into the confusion among the
ranks. (He was a homosexual, who was said to have enjoyed the favors
of Frederick the Great.) Washington's personal bodyguard troop was
composed of Pennsylvania Germans, who were more docile and
trustworthy than the rank and file generally.
With his expensive handsome wardrobe and other accoutrement,
whose cost was reimbursed by the Continental Congress
upon vouchers scrupulously tendered,
with his dashing young subalterns, Marquis de Lafayette and
Alexander Hamilton, with the aforesaid spit-and-polish household troop,
Washington was a reassuring figure to the formal French,
whose support was essential to victory.
They could let themselves believe in an America.
While the outlying reaches of the Anglo-American Empire stood for
the Empire or at least within it without too much revolutionary
agitation, they were sorely disturbed by the coming of Loyalists exiles,
quadrupling the population of Canada, for instance, and flooding in
upon the Floridas and the Caribbean island possessions. Naturally,
Spanish, Dutch and French opposition forbade
using their possessions for refuges.
In the course of the War, the Spanish captured East and West Florida
with Mobile, Pensacola, and St. Augustine, Honduras, the Bahamas,
and blocked British entry of the Mississippi River. The Dutch lost St.
Eustatius Island, where the first American boat anywhere had received
a national salute, and where an enormous traffic in war goods was
taking place. Admiral Graves, the Briton who captured it, became
rich in consequence.
The colonies, now States, could count on a certain hostility in the
areas such as Ontario that received Loyalists, enduring long after
Americans of a later day, confident of their national virtue, assumed
that anyone speaking English in the Americas was "just like them."
Virginia's royal Governor called the Loyalists to arms as soon as the
Continental Congress acted to war against Britain. He was defeated
but managed to burn down Norfolk. In North Carolina, the Highland
Scot settlers, donees of land by the Crown, joined with Regulators,
who, we recall, hated the Coast people who had frustrated their
demands for representation, and attempted resistance to the rebel
takeover, but were soon defeated by a Patriot contingent.
They had intended to join up with British regulars coming up under the
leadership of Cornwallis and Clinton. The British resorted to
Charleston, but were met with heavy and successful resistance to both
army and navy units.
In 1778 heavy British forces landed near Savannah and with the help
of Florida Loyalist irregulars captured Savannah from its small
American garrison. They then marched up to Charleston, destroying
and looting plantations and settlements on the way. They found the
city ready to fight them and suffered through a heavy siege before they
triumphed over the bottled-up American army of General Benjamin
Lincoln. The surrender of about 5,500 men was
comparable to the loss of the British at Saratoga three years earlier,
but no one any longer could take the outcome of
a given battle as a prognostication of the
victor in the War.
Congress now appointed the Hero of Saratoga,
General Horatio Gates, to command the army of the South.
He moved from one disaster to another.
He ventured to confront a section of Cornwallis' army at Camden,
South Carolina and was trounced. His command did
not stop retreating until it reached Hillsborough, North Carolina,
160 miles away over hill and dale.
Just when Cornwallis thought that he had pacified South Carolina,
two of his lieutenants, not the nicest of men,
who had been leading an army of Loyalists
on a vengeful rampage of the back country, encountered
difficulties. An army of Patriot irregulars and populists,
that was composed, led, and manned in large part by
second generation Scots-Irish and North English Borderers,
descended upon them.
One part of the army under Ferguson was annihilated;
prisoners of war were killed offhand.
Tarleton of the second part had his come-uppance
two months later after a new Rebel commander for the
Southern Theater, Nathanael Greene, had arrived.
Daniel Morgan, despatched to harass Cornwallis, was
attacked by Tarleton's force, and backed against the Broad River.
With nowhere to turn, his militia stood like rocks and inflicted
crippling losses upon the onrushing Loyalists and British.
Upon the next round, Greene's army, pursued by Cornwallis, was
made to stand and fight a pitched battle at Guilford's Courthouse: here
Greene posted his militia in the front rank and ask them only to fire
three shots before withdrawing. As they dodged off,
the British rushed in and were subjected to heavy fire from their flanks.
Then Greene broke contact, and Cornwallis departed for reinforcements
and supplies. Greene marched up and down,
losing more than winning, yet holding his army,
and inflicting painful damage upon the enemy.
But, meanwhile, Cornwallis had decided that Virginia would be a
profitable arena, and there was joined by General Benedict Arnold.
Arnold was now a British commander, after having been a brilliant
American officer and Commander at West Point. (In the most famous
episode of treason of a war burgeoning with treasonable acts, he had
tried to sell out West Point to the British; the capture of an
intermediary disclosed the plot and he had fled.)
Cornwallis, feeling a need for continuous support from abroad,
chose Yorktown on the Chesapeake as a fortifiable location
where he might receive the expected English fleet.
Meanwhile, far to the North, Rochambeau,
relieved from a British naval blockade, marched his
6,000 hitherto largely inactive French
troops Southward to join Washington's force
for an attack upon New York City.
But before they launched their attack, word came from the West Indies
that a powerful French fleet under Admiral de Grasse,
carrying 3000 soldiers, was headed for Chesapeake Bay.
This was in July. So the two generals decided
to leave a force at New York to dissemble a siege, and
hurry their major forces South to Virginia to
unite with De Grasse and converge upon Cornwallis.
On August 30 De Grasse landed his 3,000
soldiers in support of Marquis de LaFayette's small army,
which had been skirting around Cornwallis' force.
On September 5, Admiral Graves and the Royal Navy appeared, and
the next day, De Grasse gave battle. Graves withdrew, leaving
command of the sea approaches to the French, and sailed to New
York to repair his damaged ships. Cornwallis had nowhere to go and
prepared for siege. De Grasse sent ships up Chesapeake Bay to ferry
the armies of Washington and Rochambeau to the Yorktown area, and
now there were a total of 16,000 men besieging the
British army of 8,000.
This was not an impossible disparity to give battle, but Cornwallis held
off. When a French force captured a major redoubt, and a second task
force under Alexander Hamilton, Washington's most trusted staff
officer, captured a second redoubt, Cornwallis thought
that he must sooner or later admit defeat.
So, only eighteen days after the siege began,
on October 17, 1781, he gave up.
He asked to surrender to the French, with some reason, but the French
graciously (or meanly, depending upon your point of view)
insisted that Washington do the honors. When Cornwallis
pleaded that he was too ill to appear for the ceremony, Washington
turned over the task to another as well.
His mortification eased by time,
Cornwallis went on to become Governor of India, where he
established a fine record for reform of the administration of
that great civilization.
Not much combat ensued thereafter.
Acts of madness and vengeance would continue for some time.
Many prisoners of war had yet to be brutalized, to take sick, to die.
Painstaking research has offered us some conclusions
on the casualties of the septuple war. Before citing
and analyzing them, we figure that they were insignificant in
relation to the increase in the American population that was occurring.
Like women of North Vietnam and Viet Cong, two centuries later,
living amidst terrible loss of life and destruction,
women of Revolutionary America were far outbreeding
the killing rate of their enemies. During the 20-year Crisis and War,
the population of the thirteen colonies and States grew
from about 1.7 millions to about 3 millions,
by nearly two-thirds. Obviously the War was not occupying
all of people's energies nor forbidding immigrants. Nor was there any
shortage of manpower for the armies and navies.
In a total of 1331 military engagements and 218 naval engagements of
the Revolution of which there is record, a total of 7,174 Patriots were
killed, 8,241 wounded, and 18,572 captured. An unknown but large
number deserted. Unromantic death came not only to many of those
reported killed, but also to 8,500 of those taken prisoner, and to
10,000 more who died of disease in their own American camps. In
addition to the 5,674 dead, many deaths occurred aboard the
hundreds of privateers which prowled the seas for eight
years. There were uncounted murders all over the country,
and many deaths from hardship of those in flight
or deprived of sustenance. Too, a large but unreported
number of Loyalists were killed in battle;
moreover, their camp death rate and prison death rate
were as bad as the Patriots' rates.
Hence, on the one hand, the casualties appear unimpressive;
probably four million Americans lived during this period,
which would give us 1% dying as a result of the War.
(In the five years of World War II, the Soviet Union lost 12%
of its immense population.) On the other hand,
once a person was touched by the War, survival without death
or injury was very much less likely. If one considers solely the Patriot
deaths in relation to the estimated 200,000 men who served at one
time or another, the resulting 12.5% rate is typical of eighteenth
century warfare. (One does not know how to fit in the 100,000
crewmen of the privateers.)
Records were not kept for German or Royalist casualties
by the British army. Since the British maintained
larger forces under arms than the Patriots generally, their casualties
may have been higher, and their casualty rate perhaps would be nearer
15%. Indian casualties were heavy in relation to the numbers engaged,
often because Americans took no prisoners.
Nor for the people "unengaged" was it a comfortable war.
Most things were in short supply, even those
such as furnishings that had for a few years been coming
on the market. Many soldiers, all too many, had
wives and children. Often these became camp followers, along with
others whose fathers or husbands were not soldiers. None had
adequate means. They cared for the men and earned money by helping
others without women. Philadelphia and other places boasting of
"brotherly love" expelled the women and children of men who were
fighting with the British enemy. At Wilmington, the British evicted 21
patriot women with their children. When the town was retaken, the
same order was given to Tory women, but a petition of Patriot wives
objected on grounds that the women had not been ones who had
expelled them earlier.
Women moved around a lot, and were often suspected
of conveying intelligence. In 1780 in Albany County, a
Board for Detecting and Defeating Conspiracies gathered
cases against 32 women and over 400 men.
The two most famous women of the Revolution,
she who manned a cannon, Barbara (Hauer) Fritchie,
and she who conveyed intelligence, Molly (Maria Ludwig) Pitcher,
were German-Americans. Elizabeth Burgin of New York managed
the smuggling of 200 American prisoners out of New York;
her husband died in patriotic service;
a bounty was placed on her head;
she was reduced to poverty afterwards and could obtain no help.
In 1779 the women of Philadelphia solicited
from door to door and collected $300,000 in paper currency.
They wanted to give every soldier several dollars to use as he wished.
Washington objected that they would spend it on liquor,
and would lose their respect for the paper money.
Finally they produced 2200 linen shirts for the soldiers.
When he received the news from Yorktown late in 1683, Lord North,
Prime Minister, realized the game was up and resigned. Four months
after Yorktown, the House of Commons voted to end the war, and a
peace-making ministry of pro-Americans was sworn in. Now the
English tried for a separate peace with the Americans in order to
divide them from the French. This succeeded in part, because the
general treaty was so long in coming.
The Spanish wanted Gibraltar back: but the British position was:
anything else, yes, Gibraltar no. The Americans had promised the
French not to make a separate peace; the French had promised the
Spanish not to make a separate peace. Finally Spain was temporarily at
least appeased by getting back the Floridas instead of Gibralter. That
this meant another wrenching move for the many Royalists who had
taken refuge in Florida disturbed the British negotiators and King not a
little - but not a lot. Involved Indian nations were not
party to the Treaty. They were by now too weak and
divided to demand a voice.
The American negotiators, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Laurens (freed
from the Tower of London where he had landed after being captured
at sea), and John Jay particularly, suspected that the French, in their
efforts at compromising the parties, might give away America's
western lands to the Spanish. Jay's suspicion was probably not
justified. The French Minister Vergennes was angry with the
Americans' failure to stick to their treaty, but the Americans excused
themselves, saying that they wanted to get their terms down on paper,
and the treaty would not be finally effective until the French and
British came to their own final accord.
Not until September 3, 1783, was the Treaty of Paris finally signed.
Great Britain recognized the independence of the United States of
America. The whole of the land West to the Mississippi was
conceded to the United States. Distortions of all boundaries
marked the best maps -- such as the Mitchell Map -- of the day.
The United States agreed to recommend to the States that
they turn back to the Loyalists confiscated property, and
to place no legal obstacles in the way of British
merchants trying to collect on debts owed them at
the start of the Revolution. (Little was done
on either score.) The United States might be quite
pleased with the Treaty of Paris.
That the Revolution was a social war is agreed by experts
but conveys little meaning to the average American.
Possibly this occurs because the disgusting aspects of
the War are rarely exposed to public view or in schoolbooks.
I mentioned in the last chapter that in the preliminaries
of the war there were frequent episodes of mob violence and that
gangsterism was common throughout the colonies. Nor need we be
reminded that the governors, officials, and half the rich and cultured
families of thirteen autonomous colonies did not abandon their
precious possessions and friends and neighbors and flee because they
lost a pacific election. They were terrorized by a great many incidents
of destruction of property, of threats, of beatings, of the agony and
ignominy of tar-and-featherings, of shots in the night, of menacing
graffiti, and they were expecting an intensification of all of this,
including jailing in loathsome places without any of the rights of
Englishmen that the Patriots were vaunting.
Many of the ruffians and vigilantes of these days were youths and
boys, who were being born and growing up in the twenty years of the
Revolutionary cycle. The baby boom was unending, even if the flow of
immigrants was temporarily diminished. A great many of the legions of
young felt that they were beset by their elders. Frequent declarations
went to reveal that this was a war against patriarchy, against the
father-figure of the King, against the old order of the world, against
the repression of the disadvantaged younger generation in favor of the
old, against the highly privileged elders.
The printed and oral propaganda that had deluged the young from
birth, stressing the worth and sanctity of age, was heard now as so
much blather. The young fought the war. Early demands for a younger
voting age, for abolition of the laws of primogeniture that gave all
property to the eldest son, and for more respect and power in general,
increased as the war went on.
The young formed a larger proportion of the population.
The egalitarian manners of the Americans,
noted everywhere by everybody,
were not a simple function of the political philosophy
of Paine and Jefferson, but were engendered by the
preponderance of young of free and equal, if low, status.
Withal, there was a loss of the higher culture in America.
Many of the cleverest Bostonians were forced to depart.
The colleges were weakened. So too with the other colonies.
The youth movement of those times had too little
background in the arts and sciences to search out and
work at a new and promising culture .
(Nor did the youth movement, nearly two centuries later,
do much better).