"If we must fall,let us fall like men!" —William Pitt The Elder, 1st Earl of Chatham's final speech in the House of Lords, for the other side.note He then suffered a fatal stroke and collapsed on the floor, falling like a man.
Once upon a time, in 1765, The British Empire dominated North America, having won Canada from France in the Seven Years' War. However, a series of shifting and thus unresolved issues of authority and administrationnote foremost among them the maturation and sidelining of the colonies' legislatures met with misunderstandings, misjudgements and tragedies which led to most of the colonies of British North America forming a loose association, seceding from the Empire, and later declaring themselves the United States of America. In the beginning, maybe a third of the colonists felt this was justified; roughly a fifth never did, and a twentieth (5%) left the new country to remain the Crown's loyal subjects. This was the American Revolution, the era of King George III of The United Kingdom, General Charles Cornwallis, King Louis XVI of France, General Jean-Baptiste de Vimeur, The Franco-Spanish Armada (which failed, obviously), George Washington, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benedict Arnold, the Boston Massacrenote With a death toll of 5, it might be a stretch to call it a "massacre", and it was directly attributable to unruly civilians thinking it'd be fun to keep pegging snowballs and chunks of ice at armed soldiers after being asked to stop. While opinions ran hot at the time it's worth noting that the soldiers were acquitted at trial and their (defense) lawyer was none other than John Adams. the crossing of the Delaware, the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere (which was actually a group effort). As it would later be portrayed, this was a time when idealistic demagogues overthrew a tyrant and gave voting rights to the people — Well, if you were English or Scots (don't even mention the Irish and other foreigners), rich, land-owning, and male. The time of Modern Mythology in America, in short. In reality, it was a lot more complex, and in many ways far more divisive and terrible, and human - and British - than that.
Britain's colonies on the North American mainland were largely patriotic until after the Seven Years' War - which had been fought to defend the country's colonies and trans-atlantic trade from France. Though the British East India Company's victory over the French East India Company (with the help of royal fleets on both sides) was much more important in the long-term, Britain's sound victory in the Americas had three very important consequences there. First, the seizure and formal concession of French North America (modern Quebec) effectively removed the immediate security threat France had posed to British America. This meant that local elites no longer had any reason to avoid antagonising the central government in disputes between the two.
Second, the loss of its colonies was a huge blow to French Royal prestige; though Anglo-French relations hadn't been too great beforehand, what with the War of the Spanish Succession and the Thirty Years' War, but defeat on this scale made the House of Bourbon willing to pay a very steep price for revenge (just as soon as they weren't broke anymore).
Third, it left the British Crown short of cash; the war had only ended when it did because Britain had been less broke than France because the royal banking system of the latter was kind of a mess. Even so, the cabinet had to conduct an overhaul of the Crown's finances now that they didn't have all those special war-taxes. This meant the cutting of defense expenditure, limited campaigns against governmental corruption, moves to ensure the proper collection of taxes and new laws to close tax loopholes. This led the civil service to reexamine the colonies' fiscal relationship to the crown relative to other possessions. Local elites in the North American colonies worried that this could well mean for the first time the parliamentary introduction of indirect, revenue-raising taxes (tariffs, tolls, licenses etc.) in line with the Caribbean territories and the homeland itself, which would hit themselves hardest of all.
Despite the strong sense of patriotism and loyalty to the Crown that most colonists possessed, many colonists were unhappy with the government. King George III was in many senses the glue that held the United Kingdom of England, Scotland and Ireland together. It was to him that every subject pledged their tacit allegiance as one nation under God, regardless of who might actually govern them in day-to-day affairs. But King George was not his government; they were a separate entity, capable of being judged on their own merits. And as it happens, for the better part of a century many British citizens considered them Evil Chancellors, few more so than in British America. The American British had a somewhat distorted perception of the country's longer-term political issues due to their geographical remoteness and the Gossip Evolution that came with it. In this way, the American British came to perceive the national parliament at Westminster as being hopelessly corrupt and inefficient. Which, to be fair, it was; Cavendish Bentinck's government - toppled after one scandal too many in 1773 - was quite easily the worst administration Britain has ever seen.
Complicating things was that much of the American colonial populace was composed of descendants of the so-called religious "dissenters": Puritans, Quakers, Methodists, Baptists, and dozens of other small denominations who'd come to America to escape the iron hand that the Church of England had upon public life and where they were often prohibited from owning land or practicing professions.note To say nothing of the Germans who showed up in the country because their prince was a Catholic and didn't like Protestants—or was a Protestant and thought they were the wrong kind of Protestant—and the Dutch Reformed who had been there longer in the first place. Most common in north eastern colonies known as New England, these groups (collectively known as "Congregationalists") had spent nearly two centuries of mostly benign neglect developing their local political institutions. And as the name suggestions, these institutions naturally grew out of the direct democracy inherent in the congregational nature of their worship, although in fact Church of England-dominated Virginia possessed the oldest of the colonial legislatures. The upshot of this was that many colonists felt reluctant to follow the laws and policies set down by the Cabinet, despite being fairly co-operative with their own home-grown charter-based (often un-acknowledged by the crown, and thus not strictly legal) local assemblies. This belief in superiority of local representation was to prove to be the true sticking point. It effectively meant that while the colonists had no parliamentary representation of their ownnote The colonists — despite accounting for perhaps a fifth of the population of the British Empire by this point in time — had no Members of Parliament representing them. Scotland, a less populous region, had dozens., having grown accustomed to running their own affairs via local governments meant they had no desire for such representation either.
Since the signing of the Magna Carta, it had been the right of all Englishmen to be represented before the King in Parliament, through which all laws were passed and by which all taxes had to be approved. Just a century ago, the English Civil War had started when King Charles I had tried to collect taxes outside of Parliament, ending years after his execution at their hands when Parliament invited his son to become King and rule with their consent. More recently still, when another King started looking a bit too Catholic, Parliament invited a Dutchman, William of Orange, to take the Crown. He did so, without too much fuss, in what came to be known as 'The Glorious Revolution'. Long story short: by popular belief, the King ruled only with the consent of Parliament—and by extension, the people. And since the Cabinet and Parliament wielded the King's powers on his behalf (the "royal prerogative"), they ought to do the same in ruling with the consent of the people. In attempting to collect taxes from subjects who were not represented by Parliament, Cabinet was both exceeding its authority and (by omission and trying to render local institutions irrelevent) denying His Majesty's subjects their constitutional right to have a say in how they were governed.
Compounding this were administrative issues. Westminster had assumed a largely hands-off policy in regards to the colonies prior to the Seven Years War. Since the beginnings of British colonization the Crown had subsidized the colonies and protected them, but had little to do with their day-to-day affairs and had been largely content to let them manage themselves. The Government was far more interested in the sugar-rich islands of the Caribbean: they were not only three times wealthier than the entire North American colonies, but easier to tax as well, due not just to their smaller size but to a stronger military presence stemming from the proximity of French and Spanish interlopers. As a result, the American-born British aristocracy had gotten used to running the colonies by themselves, and thus did not take it well when Westminster started interfering in their affairs.
Tensions waxed and waned in the years after the Seven Years War as Westminster tried pushing the boundaries of collecting and enforcing new taxes in the colonies, asserting its supreme right to tax and legislate for the colonies in 1766. Reactions in each colony were different, but the New England colonies resented these attempts particularly fiercely. Much of this came from resentment at Westminster's refusal to officially acknowledge the Colonies' self-appointed legislatures, but a good deal of it came from good old-fashioned greed, as smuggled goods were cheap and career smugglers had no wish to be put out of business. As it was, many people resisted payment and the tax collectors were subject to enormous community pressure and occasionally even violence. Eventually a majority of (generally conservative and aristocratic) Ministers of Parliament came to see the issue less in terms of money and more in terms of their own authority. To them, it was no longer about the amount of money collected but rather their perceived right to collect the money at all. None of the controversial taxes were ever collected. As things stood, the colonies could theoretically have been appeased, or at least points of negotiation opened up, if Parliament had simply drawn up a few new electorates in North America, as they had done with Scotland and would in the not-too-distant-future do with Ireland: they'd have Westminster representation, but they would always be soundly out-voted by the majority of English Ministers of Parliament on issues concerning them. Of course, the logistics of representation of the colonies at Westminster in an era when it could take anywhere from 30 days to six months to get across the Atlantic—and there was no such thing as telecommunications—leave one to wonder if this was ever really a possible solution.
Matters came to a head with the destruction of the tea in Boston Harbor in December 1773, in the wake of a lull following the so-called "Boston Massacre", which itself followed the stationing of troops in Boston from 1768, as well as the various Acts and colonial counter measures dating back to the Stamp Act of 1765. The Crown had attempted to undercut tea-smuggling by arranging for a surplus of good quality British East India Company* Which, in true Mega Corp. fashion, had close links to the government; while the company itself wasn't state-owned, many of its primary backers were also prominent men in Parliament or in service to the Crown tea to be shipped to the colonies at low prices, resulting in legal taxed tea that would be better and cheaper than anything the smugglers could provide. Anti-tax protesters and smugglers alike opposed the move, and the locals refused to unload the East India Company's Tea cargoes for sale. Three company ships spent several weeks moored in Boston Harbor, holds full of tea, as the matter went back and forth between the authorities. Taking matters into their own hands, a group of local activists (smugglers calling themselves "The Sons of Liberty", after a line from a Parliamentary speech) dressed up as Amerindians and - forcing their way aboard - dumped the entire shipment overboard. The East India Company was a bit peeved at the enormous expense of this act of defiancenote It cost them the modern equivalent of around $4 million., and company executives used their considerable sway with Parliament to persuade them to enact a series of punitive measures against the culprits (and 'culprits') which in turn greatly inflamed public opinion in both Boston and the colonies in general and led to the first meeting of the Continental Congress, which would later become the colonies' revolutionary government.
Blood was finally shed in April 1775 at the battle of Lexington and Concord, when a reinforced brigade of regular troops on their way to Concord to confiscate the Massachusetts colony's military stores encountered a company of local militiamen on Lexington Green. No-one knows who fired the first shotnote Historian David Hackett Fischer has proposed the intriguing notion that may have been an accidental discharge by an officer observed to be having trouble controlling a fractious horse. (later described as "The shot heard 'round the world" because of the world-wide war that eventually resulted) but the outnumbered and unprepared militiamen were immediately routed and dispersed by the lead company of redcoats. Proceeding with their mission, the regulars soon found the entire countryside had been roused against them by "Paul Revere's ride" (which was actually a network of riders, though Revere himself did play a prominent role). Reaching Concord, they found themselves surrounded and then attacked by a much larger militia formation, and were forced to beat a fighting retreat up the "Battle Road" back to Boston. Their overriding reaction was one of shock and dismay that their own people were trying to kill themnote and were good at it. "Those people knew very much what they are about." Royal Marine Major John Pitcairn conceded ruefully in his report., and that the situation might not just 'get better' after all but instead lead to the second Civil War in a hundred years. Any remaining hopes that futher bloodshed could be averted were disbursed by the pitched battle fought between Army and Rebel forces at 'Bunker Hill' some two months later. Even then the negotiations continued until Westminster's rejection of the Continental Congress' Olive Branch Petition, which meant Civil War.
Even so it came as something of a surprise to most people when a full year after Lexington and Concord, a year in which most people still thought they were fighting to secure their rights as Englishman, that representatives of the colonies gathered together to declare Independence from Great Britain. That is to say, they wrote and signed a document "to put forth the reasons" as Jefferson later put it, for declaring their colonies were now "free and independent states". The importance of declaring such a permanent break with the government that would, if they were caught, get the conspirators hanged for treason is that they were trying to rally support for their cause - 'Give me Liberty or Give me Death' and all that - and they were also trying to get France on-side by showing that they really, really meant this rebellion business. As it was, it was a few years before Louis XVI felt confident enough in their resolve and ability to fight before he intervened. That they were also inspired by the radical political philosophers of the day — Hobbes, Rousseau, and especially Locke, who argued that authority depended upon the consent of the governed — becomes obvious upon reading the document itself.
What underpinned much of the popular support for the declaration was in large part due to Thomas Paine, a very smart young Englishman who wrote a best-selling pamphlet called Common Sense. Common Sense attacked the whole concept of monarchy in clear, unambiguous terms, using the Bible to decisively prove that God did not in fact like Kings, whatever people might say about 'giving unto Caesar what is Caesar's'. Combined with the usual railing against the corruption of parliament and the cabinet and the potential tyranny of all Kings in general, this provided a focus for a growing wave of anti-monarchist sentiment, decades of local tradition (along with their penchant for Locke and Hobbes) naturally led said anti-monarchists to favor a republican government. On July 2, 1776, the representatives of the Continental Congress voted to divorce the Thirteen Colonies from Great Britain. (However, the new nation wound up celebrating its Independence Day on July 4 because that was the day that the Declaration of Independence was approved and announced to the public.)
The Declaration was followed by a series of devastating military defeats. A large expeditionary force led by William Howe landed in Jamaica Bay, Long Island, and very nearly trapped and destroyed George Washington's army in Brooklyn. After what was left of the Patriot army escaped across the East River, Howe made another landing in Manhattan, and easily defeated the colonials again. The regulars threw the colonials out of Manhattan Island completely and sent them fleeing in panic all the way across New Jersey and across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. New York City and all of New Jersey had fallen into the hands of the British Army. Most of Washington's army had run away or been captured, and what was left was in dire straits.
General Howe, who had defeated the Americans but missed chances to surround and destroy them in Brooklyn and Manhattan, now decided that the weather in December 1776 was too cold for further campaigning and the Army went into winter quarters. Unfortunately for him, the difficulties in feeding and housing his troops conspired with the need to hold a great deal of captured territory to force Howe into disbursing his troops into smaller garrisons that were vulnerable to being cut off and defeated in detail.note This was not an idle concern. 18th century armies tended to denude the local countryside of everything edible by man or beast so armies had to keep moving to avoid starvation. Settling down for the winter required dispersing the troops widely enough to prevent starvation. Washington seized this opportunity and crossed back into New Jersey on Christmas night to capture the Hessian garrison at Trenton on Dec. 26. This victory, and another victory at Princeton a week later, greatly boosted American morale and eventually led the British to abandon New Jersey.
Once the weather got warm in 1777, Howe wasted much of the spring and summer before putting his army into boats, sailing up Chesapeake Bay, and capturing the by-now-American capital of Philadelphia. However, he again failed to win a decisive victory against Washington's army, and the ostensible coup in capturing the capital proved to be meaningless—in the decentralized Revolutionary United States, most authority lay in the hands of the states, and Congress had such a small associated bureaucracy it could just pack up and leave, which it did (decamping first to Lancaster, Pennsylvania and then further inland to York, PA). Meanwhile, an expeditionary force from Canada was decisively defeated at Saratoga in northern New York and shortly thereafter surrendered to the Americans. The intensity of the fighting and the result persuaded France that the rebels meant business and that this war would be a good opportunity to get revenge on Britain—even if it meant siding with people who they had once fought against and were opposed to everything they stood for (a strong monarchy, a large nobility, a vibrant Catholic Church). Seeing which way the tide seemed to be turning, the king of Spain also declared war on Britain, and the Dutch - the second-biggest commercial power after Britain—started to bankroll the French and the American rebels. The colonies were now the least of Britain's problems; they were now at war with three of the five major powers in Europe.
The transformation of a reluctant civil war into a world war with the foremost foreign powers of the day threatened Britain's holdings in the Caribbean and India. Britain itself was threatened, with the (Catholic) Irish making rumbles about siding with Britain's (Catholic) enemies again. All this led to a change in strategy. Having failed to achieve decisive victory in the northern colonies, in 1778 the Army shifted its efforts to the South, where there were more Loyalists (colonists still loyal to the Crown) and revolutionary fervor was weaker. The Southern strategy led to a series of successes. Savannah was captured and royal government was restored in Georgia. A Patriot army was captured at Charleston, South Carolina, another Patriot army was annihilated at Camden, and most of South Carolina returned to the Crown. Meanwhile, bitter over General Gates, his senior, stealing his credit, and politicians frustrating his military plans, General Benedict Arnold, hero of the failed Canadian expeditionary force and the great victory at Saratoga, defected back to the Crown in 1780. He conspired with the Army to hand over the Patriot fort at West Point, New York; the plot was discovered before he could act, however. Arnold defected without being caught and American morale suffered another body blow.
Just when things seemed darkest for the Patriot cause, the Americans again rallied. A Patriot victory at Kings Mountain, North Carolina in October 1780 was followed by an even bigger victory at Cowpens, South Carolina in January 1781, where some of the best units of The Army in South Carolina were captured. The Commander in South Carolina, Lord Cornwallis, abandoned that state and marched into North Carolina in pursuit of the main American army led by Nathaniel Greene. Cornwallis defeated Greene at Guilford Court House, but took too many losses in the process. He led his much reduced force into Virginia and conducted a series of raids in the lightly defended Virginia countryside. Finally Cornwallis was ordered by Henry Clinton, the Commander at New York—who feared an attack from Washington there—to march to the coast and establish a fortified position. Cornwallis chose the settlement of Yorktown, Virginia.
On the north side of the Virginia Peninsula, facing Chesapeake Bay, Yorktown was easy to defend, and assuming the Royal Navy could maintain control of the bay, easy to supply by sea. (Why do you think George McClellan and other Union generals fourscore and some years later would keep trying to base themselves in the same general area?) Unfortunately for Cornwallis, a French fleet seized control of Chesapeake Bay and beat back all attempts to displace them. This cut Yorktown off from relief by sea. Meanwhile the Franco-American army had left New York and was marching south. It arrived at the end of September and surrounded Cornwallis' army at Yorktown. Now completely cut off by sea and land, Cornwallis surrendered on Oct. 17, 1781, after enemy bombardment rendered Yorktown untenable.
This decisive defeat marked the collapse of Parliament's will to prosecute the war, and the end of major combat operations in North America. After further fighting between the French, Spanish, and British at sea, at Gibraltar, and elsewhere around the world, the Treaty of Paris (1783) ended the war and established the United States of America as an independent nation. A twentieth of the population of the former colonies, some hundred thousand people, emigrated to remain under the patronage of George III. Most loyalists emigrated to Canada, a milestone in the history of that nation which effectively secured it for the Empire by reducing the potentially rebellious French majority to a minority.
We should at this point note that the war was not just a squabble between white men (but good luck finding a textbook that discusses it). The Native Americans mostly allied with the British, as the crown had previously granted the Indians autonomy and prevented the colonists from encroaching on the Indian territories west of the Mississippi River and in the Ohio River Valley. The most powerful, and troublesome to the Americans, were the remains of the Iroquois Confederacy of New York (two of the original six confederate nations split off and allied themselves to the Americans) and the Chickamunga Cherokees of Tennessee and Kentucky. Armed and supplied by the British, they conducted night raids and ambushes on most frontier communities and fortifications. In retaliation, Washington dispatched John Sullivan and his army in 1779 to upstate New York, where they systematically razed 40 Iroquois villages in a scorched earth campaign, the ensuing famine broke the power of the Iroquois once and for all. At the same time, the British also had great support amongst the African slaves in America (the delicious irony of slave drivers agitating for freedom was not lost on anyone; Ralph Henry, the slave of Patrick "give me liberty or give me death" Henry, ran away to the British the week that quote was uttered). Most of the support was due to the Earl of Dunmore, the last governor of Virginia, who, critically outnumbered by the rebels, in 1779 offered freedom to any slave who joined the British. Not to be outdone by the Americans on the hypocrisy front, the slaves of loyalists were not freed. Over the course of the war, about 100 000 slaves escaped to the British (or tried to) and about 20 000 of them fought against the Americans as part of the all-black "Ethiopian Regiment" (which was mostly relegated to performing backbreaking logistic and support functions), which first saw action at the Battle of Kemp's Landing, where a black soldier managed to capture his former master. In fact, this was what galvanized the Southern states to seriously support the rebellion: the fear of a British-sponsored total slave uprising. At the end of the war, the remaining black loyalists were resettled in the Canadas or Nova Scotia (many of those later moved to Sierra Leone to found the first freedmen colony).
It would be a mistake, however, to think that the fledgling nation was now an incontrovertible fact. The United States of America were - 'were' and not 'was' because the constitution as known today had yet to be drafted and the federal government was very weak - under-populated, poor, debt-ridden and exhausted from a civil war which had practically torn them in half. They had no real army to speak of and no naval forces whatsoever. It remained to be seen if the secessionist colonies could form a strong and coherent state of their own or whether they would return to the Crown, by mutual agreement or by force. If there was one lesson history taught about republicsnote Like the English Civil-War-Commonwealth which became a dictatorship under Cromwell, and the Dutch 'Republic' which became a de facto monarchy under the House of Oranje/Orange. The Italian Republics (Tuscany, Venice, etc) kind of counted, but they were run by powerful guilds and merchant clans and were autocracies for all intents and purposes. it was that they inevitably failed, and the state of the republic in the following decades would seem to confirm this assertion. Ironically, the Republic's survival was ultimately due to the actions of some hundred powerful oligarchs acting against the wishes of the majority of the people. Together they conspired to write and have ratified by the states a constitution, one that bound the states under a central government, to keep the fledgling nation afloat. Out of this clandestine agreement came the Constitution and, later on, the Bill of Rights as Americans know it today - the point of the bill being to undercut popular opposition to their attempt to subvert the power of the states to which most people who remained owed their allegiance. It would be another half-century, and a war that nobody really wanted, before people could say with confidence that the new nation would be around to stay, in one form or another—and it would take another war, the world's first industrial war, to make the United States truly one nation, in a position to become what it became.
Perhaps ironically, the French ended up suffering the most for their involvement despite being on the "winning" side and arguably the decisive factor in American victory. Heavy war debt drove the French monarchy even further into bankruptcy, and the king eventually had to call a meeting of the Estates General to raise taxes and fix the economy. However, the Third Estate (the one representing the commoners) had other plans on how to "fix" the country.
Also often forgotten, fellow-victor Spain regained its colony of Florida, which it had to give to the British after the Seven Years' War. It remained in Spanish hands until 1819.
The American Revolution is oddly underrepresented in American films, given its importance.
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Tropes from this time period include
Achilles in His Tent: At one time or another, many of the best Patriot officers went home in disgust and/or exhaustion at least temporarily (usually when someone was promoted over them by Congress). Occasionally, this was very convenient. John Stark (a very experienced and competent colonel), was available to command the New Hampshire and Vermont militia at Bennington, because he was retired from the army when they made a bunch of colonels into generals and left him off the list. He won the battle, got the promotion and went back to the army.
The Alliance: American rebels, the French, the Spanish, and the Dutch (yes, the Spanish and the Dutch were on France's side - while they still hated each other, and France, they just couldn't resist this golden opportunity to weaken Britain).
Anti-Villain: For the rebels, Benedict Arnold. Younger and less competent officers with better connections were forever being promoted over him, his competence and personal bravery were largely ignored and he was in serious debt. These and other issues besides counted for more than his lingering loyalties to his country when he made his Face-Heel Turn and re-joined the government's forces.
Back in the Saddle : Many veterans of the Highland regiments settled in Canada after the Seven Years War. When they heard about the revolution, many of them picked their weapons back up and formed the Royal Highland Emigrants.
The so-called Hessian mercenary troopsnote see Private Military Contractors, below, for why they can't really be considered as either Hessian or mercenaries were particularly good at killing people, and were feared for it. Their one weakness was the day after Christmas. Guess what kinds of times the rebels chose to surprise-attack them.
In reality, their weakness was arrogance, for the Hessians had received warnings from Loyalists that the Americans intended to attack Trenton. The warnings were dismissed, in large part because the Hessians had been dealing out one Curb-Stomp Battle after another to poorly-equipped and undisciplined Patriot forces and held them in utter contempt. Add to that the terrible weather conditions at the time and all they had to worry about was a very desperate American general with enormous brass balls...
David Hackett Fischer argues in Washington's Crossing that the reason they were unprepared was not that they were soused but that they had been on alert all day and were conspicuously tired. The reason for that is that there were a lot of hostile partisans in New Jersey due to their primitive hearts-and-minds techniques. This makes it Laser-Guided Karma.
George Rogers Clark's small army that re-captured Vincennes. Walking across Illinois when the whole state was flooded and it's winter is one of those "badasses only" gigs.
Richard Montgomery's and Benedict Arnold's (USA ...for now) march to Quebec.
Three words: The British redcoats. Their skill in both musket and bayonet, combined with their courage and determination, was a nasty combination that had already proven itself effective against the best armies their opposite numbers in Continental Europe could field. Early on in the war, American patriots attempted to engage the British army in straight battles. Until the Saratoga campaign, they never went well.
That said, at the beginning and near the end of the war, the British Army was a mess; soldiers would desert all the time, many Royal Navy sailors died from easily preventable diseases, they were unable to adjust their tactics to fight a non-European enemy, and they had so few reliable soldiers - well, unreliable when facing down their fellow British-man anyhow - that they had to bring in thousands of Germans from Hesse and Hanover to bolster their numbers. They would often get bested by forces that were far less professional, but drastically more vicious and determined, than they were.
The rebels also had desertion problems, an undisciplined militiaman might not see the problem in going home if it got too cold, or to help with the fall harvest. These were the "summer soldiers" and "sunshine patriots" Thomas Paine was complaining about when he wrote The American Crisis.
Badass Boast: John Paul Jones, when asked by a crewman of the HMS Serapis if he wished to surrender to the superior British forces, shouted back "I have not yet begun to fight!"
Upon seeing approaching British soldiers, he loaded a musket and ambushed them, killing one.
After that, he took out two pistols and killed two more.
After he ran out of ammunition, he drew his sword and took the British soldiers head on, as they had finally reached his position. He was shot in the face, beaten to a pulp, bayoneted 13 times and left for dead. When his neighbors found him, he was reportedly still trying to reload his weapons. Remarkably, he recovered from his injuries and went on to live another 18 years to the ripe old age of 98.
Beam Me Up, Scotty!: Paul Revere did not ride across Massachusetts shouting "The British Are Coming", since nearly everyone in the colonies still would have considered themselves British at that point. He likely didn't shout anything; it was a secret mission, after all. If he did say anything, it would likely would have been "the ministerial troops are coming" or, more likely, "the regulars are out."
Nathan Hale never actually said "I regret I only have one life to give for my country"; that comes from a play about him. What he did say, according to witnesses, was something along the lines of: "It is the duty of every soldier to follow the orders of his superiors." Whether he was justifying his spying activities or forgiving them for hanging him is not known.
Berserk Button: At the battle of Harlem, a British officer blew a hunting horn which infuriated the Americans and caused them to stop retreating and make a fight of it. The Brits won but they lost more than they expected.
BFS: Peter Francisco had nicknames like "the Virginian Hercules" and "Giant of the Revolution." He often used a sword in battle, but when he complained that the sword he had was too small, George Washington had a five-foot long broadsword made for him.
Black and White Morality: Unfortunately, a lot of American depictions of the war are tinged by the need for 'myth-making' as per nationalist beliefs in the eternal nature of the nation and the need for one's nation to look as good as possible so one can be proud in its semi-fictional accomplishments. As always, this was very much a Grey and Gray Morality Civil War.
Benedict Arnold was the most fearless battlefield general the Continental Army ever had: just read about his actions at Saratoga, or leading an invasion force into Quebec, or building on the spot the first U.S. naval force at Lake Champlain to delay a British invasion force. But then...
Big Good/Big Bad: King George III once commanded the loyalty if not the devotion of all his subjects. Then, after the rebellion and Paine's pamphlet, he came to be personally demonized by the republican rebels. In movies about the Revolution, expect him to be The Ghost with some British official/general fulfilling this trope on a smaller scale.
France, for the rebels. The American colonies may have had a fifth of the population of the British Empire when the war broke out, but France had thrice again Britain's population and a much larger and more experienced army to match. British naval supremacy was not yet a given in this period either, and with Spain coming to France's aid it was Britannia who was on the back foot at sea.
But for Me, It Was Tuesday: While the most important event in eighteenth-century US' history, in Britain it barely even registers what with the War of the Spanish Succession, the War of the Austrian Succession, the Seven Years' and (related) Anglo-Carnatic Wars, and the French Revolutionary Wars. The Revolution was very much a "war by proxy" for the Bourbons' France; just one more chapter in the centuries-long Anglo-French rivalry.
Canon Discontinuity: The Articles of Confederation, which were a disaster and largely led to the more federalist nature of the Constitution itself.
Also William Washington, a distant cousin of George.
Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys: Averted. The critical contributions of the French in both fighting and financing the war - with Dutch loans and Spanish... something (all three tied up significant British naval forces) - are often downplayed in modern Anglophone tellings, though most Americans are aware of them to some extent. The sheer number of towns named Lafayette alone should be indicative.
Colonel Charles Staunton of the American Expeditionary Force announced "Lafayette, we have come." when he arrived in France during WWI.
Church Militant: The American Priesthood of the Church of England was split right down the middle, and some even took up arms. Not only did ministers of the Church of England owe allegiance to His Majesty as their sovereign, but he was also the highest authority in the Church. Some back 'home' called the whole affair a 'Presbyterian rebellion'.
Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Charles Lee. He believed he was a better general than Washington, and made various ill-advised attempts to get full command of the American armies. It culminated in a serious breach of insubordination during the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse, and Lee was court-martialed. Years later, documents were found that revealed Lee had given the British suggestions on how to beat Washington while briefly held prisoner in 1777.
Horatio Gates, the highest-ranking officer at the Battle of Saratoga (who did little to actually win it - that was Arnold's doing), briefly became the focus of the Conway Cabal that tried to force Washington out of overall command. Gates did nothing to stop the attempt, but when the cabal was exposed he got himself re-assigned elsewhere. Gates later proved his worth by fleeing for his life during the Battle of Camden.
Benedict Arnold was painted this way by the US government, which was eager to quash any other defections, and his name is a euphemism for a traitor even today. Modern historians are kinder to him, as he himself repeatedly had the credit (and subsequent promotions) for his victories stolen by rival officers.
Cincinnatus: George Washington, given near-dictatorial powers by the Congress as leader of the nation's first army during the war emergency, resigned his commission and went home after the peace treaty was signed. He also voluntarily retired after two terms as President when he could have held that office as long as he wanted.
Cold Sniper: Daniel Morgan's "hit squad". He told them "Get up a tree and shoot that guy (General Fraser at 2nd Freeman's Farm) on the big horse over yonder." This kind of thing (specifically targeting officers) was really not done in European-style warfare at the time. Morgan wasn't interested in fighting a European-style war; he was interested in winning.
The German regiments (known colloquially but inaccurately as Hessians) also had their Jaeger companies — rifle armed scouting companies primarily composed of former hunters, gamekeepers, and poachers.
Colonel Bad Ass: Colonel Tye, the most feared and respected guerrilla commander of the Revolution, a freed African slave fighting on the British side. Note that he was not actually an officer; the 'colonel' part was an honorary rank given as a mark of respect.
Combat Pragmatist: Benedict Arnold is the poster child by ordering his troops to kill a captured British officer at Saratoga. The trope can be applied to the war in general, especially when it came to the Loyalist-Patriot skirmishes that sometimes involved killing civilians and the destruction of property. Ambushes were a dime a dozen, and both sides tried to persuade Amerindian tribes to side with them.
When not fighting according to the European conventional method, the Continental forces would be accused of fighting "dirty", such as hiding behind cover whilst reloading while the Loyalist troops stood in rank-and-file whenever possible. The Continentals learned this themselves from their own battles in then-recent history.
The Howe brothers were Whigs and known American sympathizers. General Howe's wife Julia was American born, and is believed to have tipped off Joseph Warren that the army was marching to Lexington, leading Warren to dispatch Paul Revere and William Dawes on their famous ride. There's no proof but the circumstantial evidence is almost overwhelming, including the fact that Howe sent her back to England immediately afterwards and never spoke to her again.
Many officers refused to fight the rebels in the early part of the war, which is why The Crown shipped so many Germans over to suppress them. This began to change when said officers' men and friends started getting killed, and when the rebels declared that they were fighting against the King and not for him. The last straw came when the rebels invited the French and Spanish to help kill them. Suddenly, their talk of British patriotism and freedom from the oppression of monarchy seemed very hollow. That they would side with Catholic Absolute Monarchies that they had all fought together against for decades (if not, as most people like to see it, centuries) was the last straw for many Loyalists.
Cool Guns: The Pennsylvania Long Rifle. A splendid combination of craftsmanship, aesthetic attraction and lethality. However, riflemen of the time were vulnerable to cavalry because it lacked a bayonet—it was originally designed for hunting and frontier defense, where bayonets were unnecessary—and had a slow rate of fire. Eventually, tactics were developed so that riflemen would work in teams, with at least part of them always having a rifle loaded to fend off sudden cavalry attacks.
The Brown Bess, although not as lethal on a weapon-for-weapon basis because they were for line infantry, not skirmishers. However, they could be mass-produced, had a higher rate of fire (to put into perspective, one man with a long rifle would win a duel; 1000 against 1000 would be different except in broken terrain), was handsome -especially with the bayonet fixed-, and was the generic arm of the British infantry for generations.
The experience with the Revolutionary-era weaponry led directly to a critical development in the other major revolution going on at the time- the Industrial Revolution. The fact that both the Long Rifle and the Brown Bess took serious craftsmanship to make despite being made to a standard pattern is in large part responsible for the development of the American system of manufacturing- the idea that you could make a gun to a more-or-less standard pattern led to the idea you could make a gun part to a standard pattern, which, combined with the fact that the US started off pretty low on gunsmiths and ended up even lower, gave the country a reason to look for a means to manufacture guns en masse. Thus came the development of replaceable parts.
Mentioned for mechanical interest is the Ferguson's Rifle. Invented by a British officer assigned to Loyalist forces, it was one of first breech loading rifles to be put into practical use. Despite the obvious advantages of being able to load kneeling or prone and make a smaller target (which is hard with a muzzle loader), most experiments in breech loaders at the time were unsuccessful.
Colour Coded Armies: Brits are red, rebels are blue, Hessians are green, and when the French are lucky enough to turn up they're white. Paradoxically both Truth in Television and artistic license at the same time: With the technology of the time it made perfect tactical sense to wear brightly colored, distinct uniforms. However, while the British and French could afford uniforms for all their troops, the Americans were perpetually strapped for cash and most of their troops fought in whatever clothes they brought from home, with the exception of a few small units and wealthy officers until late in the war. Also, Hessian mercenaries employed by the British (Germans from Hesse-Kassel) had their own uniforms which did not in the slightest resemble those of any of the other combatants.
The rebels were unable to afford uniforms most of the time- when they could find uniforms, they would outfit themselves with them to protect themselves from the elements, and they weren't picky about the uniforms' origin or color. For a time, General Washington's troops marched in bright red uniforms from a shipment intercepted by privateers, because the alternative was freezing in the winter. The too-small footwear that was in the shipment? That got boiled and eaten due to lack of supplies at one point as well.
Courtroom Antics: The trial after the Boston Massacre. Not only was it an awesome display of courage by John Adams who defended the soldiers, it was a Crowning Moment Of Awesome and a Crowning Moment Of Britishness for both sides. Even on the brink of the second Civil War in a century, both factions had enough reverence for the rule of law to put the matter before that most English of institutions - a jury, and not just a judge - and stick by the court's ruling.
Benedict Arnold, who had been relieved of command, leaving his tent and leading a critical charge at the battle of Bemis Heights during the second battle of Saratoga. Winning that battle convinced the French to aid the states.
The Battle of Cowpens. Daniel Morgan tricks, traps, and destroys Banastre Tarleton's greatly feared army. With about 1,200 per side, the Americans lose about 150 killed and wounded. The British lose more than 1,000 killed, wounded, and captured.
Ben Arnold's balls-out awesome naval engagement (a draw) against a British flotilla coming from Canada at Valcour Bay. The rebels had no navy prior to this, but outfitted a force of 15 gunboats (with some 500 sailors) to head off the regulars' force of sloops, schooners, and cargo ships. Note that Valcour Bay is on Lake Champlain; both sides had to commandeer and build their ships before they could fight the battle, and the delay caused by the defensive action meant that the British expeditionary force was unable to take land before winter. When the British were able to land their troops the next year, they were defeated at Saratoga. This arguably led to Louis XVI's decision to declare war upon Britain.
John Paul Jones raiding villages and ships all over and around the British Isles, before leading a band of pirates to capture a 100-man, 14-gun frigate (HMS Drake) from the Royal Navy.
Cycle of Revenge: Civil Wars are notoriously slow to get started because nobody wants to be the first one to kill one's own countrymen. A proper Cycle of Revenge is essential to the conduct of a successful Civil War because if you don't get one going then everyone will just go home and the government probably wins by default. By the end it had taken off in a big way between British-American loyalist and revolutionary forces, especially in the South where the loyalists were strong.
Dance Battler: The British Army. Generally better-drilled, they could usually outmaneuver the Continentals and shoo away the militia. The rebels even added a verse to "Yankee Doodle" about Corwallis "leading a country dance". Strategically, the Contenentials probably had a better march rate. It was in actual battle that the British were faster.
Darkest Hour: In 1776, there was still very little support for the Revolution within the colonies, and it looked about to end as quickly as it started, after the American army suffered a string of disastrous defeats in and around New York. Paine begins The American Crisis with this chilling assessment: "These are the times that try men's souls."
The war was also considered the Darkest Hour in Britain at times, especially when it seemed as though the country was about to be subject to a Franco-Spanish invasion.
Dawn of an Era: Obviously, this was the beginning of the United States. But in a larger, ideological sense, the American victory inspired new lines of political and philosophical thought in Europe and the Americas. Within a few years of the American Revolution came the French Revolution and the Mexican War of Independence. When Spain was occupied by Napoleonic France in the Peninsular War, independence movements swept Latin America. A series of bloody civil wars later the entire Spanish Empire (except Cuba, Puerto Rico, and The Philippines) was lost, and the Portuguese Empire had lost Brazil as well. Nationalism, republicanism, and radicalism became powerful movements in 19th-Century thought, due in large part to the precedent set in America that a popular rebellion against an unpopular regime could not only be justified, but could also be successful.
"I was the last to consent to the separation; but the separation having been made and having become inevitable, I have always said, as I say now, that I would be the first to meet the friendship of the United States as an independent power".
Defensive Feint Trap: After realizing that the Americans wouldn't be reliably able to challenge the British in the open field for some time, George Washington took the strategy of simply keeping his army together and retreating when he had to. He did this knowing that America was just too big for the British to swallow, that there weren't any cities that were important enough that their loss might prove more unbearable than admitting defeat, and that logistics would be a nightmare in a hostile country, which it would soon become when it was well-foraged.
Greene followed the same strategy in the South. They even added a verse to Yankee Doodle about it, which references this trope and Dance Battler.
Designated Villain: King George III of the British Empire. Always described by Americans (both in movies and real life) as a "tyrant" (indeed most grade-school US children learn this vocabulary word AS they study this part of history), with most of the Declaration of Independence indicting him for his "tyranny". Perhaps he technically fit the definition but almost every other historical US villain (Santa Anna, Hitler, Tojo, Noriega, Hussein, Al-Qaida) were guilty of acts that were far, far worse than anything George III could be blamed for. Indeed, King Louis XVI of France, whose aid was indispensable to the Americans was a far less benevolent and socially conscious monarch than George III.
The Determinator: The Continental Army, which usually lost battles but won the war. Many of them marched barefoot, wore rags, and in general suffered a tremendous military poverty. But they kept going.
Horatio Gates at Camden. When his army collapsed, Gates hopped on his horse and rode for some sixty miles before finally stopping. He never commanded troops in the field again.
Paul Revere was accused of this after a disastrous campaign in Massachusetts where he acted as artillery commander. When the American forces were forced to retreat he supposedly disobeyed orders, fled the area ahead of his soldiers and left some of them behind to be captured by the British. Revere disputed the charges and even petitioned for a full court martial so he could be officially vindicated. He was ultimately cleared but his opponents maintained that it was a case of Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!. Ironically the general who filed the charges against Revere, was the grandfather of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who would immortalize Revere in "Paul Revere's Ride"
Drill Sergeant Nasty: Baron von Steuben the Hired Gun who trained the Continental Army at Valley Forge. Legend says he always kept a Cunning Linguist nearby during inspections to provide him a proper supply of English language profanity.
Enemy Mine: While fighting for independence from the constitutional monarchy of Great Britain, the Americans allied with the absolute monarchy of ancien regimeFrance.
Face-Heel Turn: Benedict Arnold. To this day he's a Trope Codifier in American colloquialism for "traitor". There's a famous (if probably apocryphal) story about Arnold leading a Loyalist raid late in the war and capturing some Patriot soldiers. When Arnold asked one of the captives what would happen if the rebels ever captured him, the soldier replied, "We'll remove the leg you wounded at Saratoga and bury it with full honors. The rest we'll hang." The Saratoga battlefield park has a memorial to Arnold. It's dedicated to the boot from Arnold's wounded leg, and pointedly does not name him while praising what he did then.
For loyalists, it's Benjamin Franklin. Of a much older generation than the other revolutionaries,note He was seventy at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which was somewhat unusual back then he had always thought himself an Englishman until he was publicly humiliated for leaking letters proving the governor of Massachusetts instigated Britain's tax policies. In fairness to Franklin, the manner in which he had been humiliated—a public and extremely one-sided interrogation by a vindictive Solicitor-General Alexander Wedderburnnote And at a place called the Cockpit because it had once literally hosted cockfights—was particularly demonstrative of the defects of the British system as it stood in the late 18th century. Franklin's response was "I'll make your King a small man for this."
Face Death with Dignity: Nathan Hale getting hanged as a spy for the Americans. In turn, Major John Andre for the British who was hanged for his role in Benedict Arnold's betrayal.
Andre believed until the very end he would be shot, as an officer, rather than hanged. He was stunned to see the scaffolding but quickly accepted his fate, placing the noose around his own neck. Legend has it every American officer present were moved to tears.
For years there's been an unsupported contention that the Rebels wouldn't have hung Andre if the British hadn't hung Hale.
Famed in Story: Paul Revere was a noted artisan who would be famous for his silver even if he'd never mounted a horse. His fame (though he did play a central role in organizing the enterprise) is a large reason why it's known as "Paul Revere's Ride" even though at least 30 riders working in relays are known to have taken part. Revere's fame also made him an ideal subject for a poet seeking to produce a propaganda piece for the later The American Civil War
A Father to His Men: George Washington. He was figuratively like this for Lafayette, Alexander Hamilton, and a slew of other young officers who would go on to be major players in the young Republic's history.
Fatal Flaw: William Howe was undefeated in battle, but his lack of a killer instinct often allowed Washington's army to escape. This was likely because he fought thinking he could end the war by capturing important cities like Philadelphia. He was surprised that the rebels didn't surrender.
Feuding Families: It was common in the back country to choose a side simply because it was opposite the side The Clan next door picked.
Forgiveness: Thankfully yes. To the point where this can reliably sell to Americans. Not all civil wars die down so easily and America could have become another Ireland. Perhaps it helps that Americans can identify with the British due to a similar international position.
Four-Star Badass: None other than George Washington, leading his men into battle personally at Princeton and taking charge at Monmouth Courthouse. For the British, William Howe did the same at Bunker Hill, as did John Burgoyne at Saratoga.
In Washington's case, he was also posthumously promoted (in 1976) to General of the Armies -which is technically a six-star rank- "which ensures that no officer of the United States Armed Forces will ever outrank Lieutenant General George Washington".
Hellhole Prison: The Brits turned decommissioned warships into floating jails. The Jersey, or "Hell", was the most infamous.
Hero of Another Story: The French Royal Navy, as assisted by the Spanish Royal and Dutch Republican Navies. In the USA it's often downplayed -or else simply forgotten- that the conflict was in no way confined to North America. After 1778, King Louis aligned himself with Britain's Republican Secessionist Rebels and engaged British forces in many theaters around the globe, including South America, India, and the Caribbean. In fact, since the Americans had no navy to speak of, the French played a key role in keeping the British Navy occupied while the Americans could win a war of attitrition on the mainland.
Hide Your Gays: Why Baron Von Steuben couldn't give his services to European armies.
There appears to have been rumors that he was gay. It's not clear that those rumors were true. It is true that he never married and he left his estate to two of his former aides de camp, so, maybe? However, an incident recounted by one of his officers suggests that he carried a pendant with the portrait of a young woman in it and, when questioned about her, teared up and refused to discuss it beyond saying that she was very dear to him, so there's that as well.
Hired Guns: The Hessians, though they weren't hired guns in the strictest sense, nor, for that matter, were they all actually from Hesse. They were actually regular soldiers of the various German states of the period. The rulers of these states rented out units of their armies to Britain for a variety of reasons- chief among them being strapped for cash, but frequently also as a means of settling a debt to or extracting a favor from the Elector of Hanover, who happened at the time to be the same person as the King of Great Britainnote This sort of situation is called a personal union. In other words, the arrangement was closer to bribing a foreign state to participate in a war (a legitimate, if shady, practice even today) than hiring mercenaries. To cap it all off, a fair number of these "Hessians" were actually from Hanover, and weren't even rented out by their prince, who, as noted, was actually King George himself, and they were fighting for King (or, well, Elector) and Country as much as any redcoat.
There's also the fact that a real war is the best form of training, and troops on campaign overseas don't have to be fed. A bunch of them elected to stay (by deserting) rather than be repatriated overseas.
There were several Hired Guns on the Patriots' side as well. These were mostly unemployed officers providing technical experience for reasons running the gamut between Impoverished Patrician and We Help the Helpless. The most famous were Lafayette, Von Steuben and Casimir Pulaski.
Historical-Domain Character: Washington has a tendency to pop up toward the end of colonially-themed fiction to give a good word to the hero.
Pretty much every "Founding Father," really. Washington is merely the most popular.
Portraits do make you think he had a very intimidating Death Glare though.
Apparently Washington wasn't an exceptionally good tactician, but what he was really good at doing was organizing effective retreats, which was vitally important in a time when the Patriots didn't have many soldiers, and surviving in increasingly unlikely situations.
While he wasn't a genius on par with Cornwallis or Howe, Washington still had years of experience serving under various generals during the French-And-Indian/Seven Years war and was able to employ them to great effect. He could, at least, hold his own tactically against the likes of Cornwallis. Washington's biggest asset, however, was his ridiculous amount of luck! He had, for instance, three horses shot out from under him during the infamous Battle of Monongahela, a battle in which every other British officer, including Edward "The Bulldog" Braddock, was slain, wounded, or captured! As a result, he was able to escape capture by the British several times over and was able to have things go just the right way for him whenever he was able to win a battle against the British Army.
Washington was also the nation's first Spymaster, and it was his vast network of watchers and his skill with handling information that really helped him hoodwink the British Army more than once.
The Boston radicals, as led by people like Sam Adams and groups like the the Sons of Liberty, are generally viewed as plucky freedom-loving agitators. In truth, many of these groups were comprised of smugglers and angry men who could be quite brutal in their methods, such as burning down the homes of British officials, intimidating non-radical Bostonites, and generally being thuggish.
However they never actually killed anybody that can be documented. And they actually swept up after the Boston Tea party. Thuggish, yes, murderous, no, and neatniks, apparently.
Paul Revere is this trope and its inverse in spades. Largely ignored in the decades immediately following the Revolution, his reputation was first made by Longfellow's highly inaccurate poem after he and all other living witnesses were dead. Since then his reputation has gone up and down as succeeding generations felt the need to either affirm or debunk his story to reflect the tenor of their times, each group putting their own spin on the facts or, as in the case of this debunking Cracked.com article dispensing with the facts entirely. However, Republican pundit Sarah Palin famously proved that the pro-Revere side can be just as uninformed. It's reached the point where a "history of the history" of Paul Revere's ride occupies nearly a full third of a recent book on the subject.
Just to show that the silliness never stops, several Palin supporters tried to re-write the wikipedia article on Revere to conform with her version of the ride at the height of the controversy. Whether they thought they were "correcting" the record or intentionally spinning it is unclear.
Historical Villain Upgrade: "Brits are bad". They often commit gratuitous atrocities and are made a tyrannical European despotism rather than the original source of the very ideals of the rebels. Rebels got executed a lot (most executions were commuted because Britain was that strapped for men), but no loyalist ever seems to get his house burned down. Because there are no loyalists. Ever. Most people are unaware that the state of Georgia effectively returned to being a British colony for some time at the end of the war.
Truth in Television: As with all wars there were numerous atrocities (on both sides) including the Waxhaw massacre, where wounded American troops were bayoneted to death after surrendering, and the Battle of Kings Mountain (where Loyalist corpses were stripped, looted, and in some cases urinated on by the American troops, and a couple dozen prisoners were hanged).
Benedict Arnold also gets a huge dose of it; most history books (in the US anyway) largely or completely ignore that he was a valuable military leader for the colonials and his turn was not just a random thing he decided to do one morning. This is because honor is Serious Business, and he betrayed for gain. Modern historians do note the major contributions Arnold gave to the cause, yet they also note he was a bastard for betraying everything for money...
Hollywood History: One would almost think colonies in the South were sitting back, twiddling their thumbs the whole time for all the mention they get in history books. Forget that it basically forced the British to split their forces and that South Carolina hosted the most battles of any single colony. The revolutionaries were also working from North to South with the larger armies, and had Yorktown not gotten the forces to leave, the army would have continued on down.
Two reasons for this. First, what we remember of the Revolution is what Washington did. He wasn't in the South, and he wasn't at Saratoga (the most important American victory of the war!) so those are forgotten. Second, one could argue that the American performance in the South was best forgotten. The first two years after the British shifted their efforts to the Southern colonies were a series of disasters for the Americans: the fall of Savannah, the fall of Charleston and capture of the American army inside it, total defeat at Camden, and the reinstitution of full British government in Georgia. Also, the Loyalists were stronger in the South than anywhere else. It wasn't until Nathaniel Greene came south to take charge in late 1780 that things started to turn around.
Most egregious example: Washington's Crossing of the Delaware. The Hessians weren't sleeping, and they weren't drunk. Washington did not casually walk into Trenton and declare victory. The battle had been fought with fixed bayonets (because the American weapons were too wet to fire) in the middle of a snowstorm, with the Hessians, already on guard because guerrilla fighters had been crossing over the Delaware nearly every night, engaged the enemy in the field outside the city before falling back to defend from the town's side streets. As McCullough points out in 1776, it's incredible that "a battle of such extreme savagery" would result in no American combat deaths. The biggest weakness of the British defense of Trenton was the lack of fortifications, not a lack of preparedness. An actual Crowning Moment Of Awesome by General Washington.
Longfellow's "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" implies that Paul Revere rode alone, when in fact he was accompanied by two other people. He also got captured and detained by the British before he could reach Concord, and by his own account, confessed everything at gunpoint.
Probably because "Listen, my children, and you shall hear / of the midnight ride of Samuel Prescott" (The one rider who actually did make it to Concord) doesn't scan.
Also because this wasn't the first ride Revere made, nor the last and there's considerable evidence that he recruited Dawes in Boston just as he recruited Prescott along the way. There were at least 30 riders, not three, in a relay network spreading in all directions with some getting as far as New York, Philadelphia and Portland Maine. And witnesses to his so-called "confession" reported it as a Badass Boast that convinced the soldiers holding them to abandon their mission and flee.
Honor Before Reason: That soldier who almost killed Washington but refused because killing officers was bad form.
Invoked in the case of the Brown Bess musket: the barrel was bored to .75 caliber, but the actual musket balls were significantly smaller (anywhere from .5 to .71) to reduce fouling. This would make using it a waste of powder (since there wasn't a good seal behind the ball, the expanding gas could instead rush past the ball when fired) and give the balls an erratic trajectory, but that didn't matter much when the typical usage was in massed ranks firing at other massed ranks- someone on the other side would get hit, even if not the one that was aimed at.
Subverted in the case of the Pennsylvania Long Rifle and other simliar rifles, whose primary use prior to the war was reliably shooting game animals at range (which unfortunately meant they weren't designed to attach bayonets, to their detriment when the fighting inevitably became close).
Joisey: They don't call it "The Crossroads of the Revolution" for nothing. New Jersey's strategic location between New York City and Philadelphia (the colonies' largest cities, both of which served as the US capital at various points) made New Jersey an extremely important battleground. George Washington crisscrossed the state during the war fighting numerous major battles here.
Lady Macbeth: Peggy Shippen, young, sexy, Loyalist wife of Benedict Arnold, who egged him on to treason.
The Lancer: Marquis de Lafayette, to Washington. Lafayette was helpful in getting France to side with the colonies, and proved to be Washington's most trusted officer. Washington practically adopted the young man in all but name.
Mama Bear: Mary Ludwick Hayes, AKA "Molly Pitcher"
The Men First: Washington was on the last boat during the desperate retreat from Brooklyn Heights.
Mildly Military: The Colonial Militia, reports of whose prowess were greatly but notalwaysexaggerated. Even militia can have a good day once in a while, especially when fending off a frontal assault. The main thing they did in the war was dominate no-mans-land because the enemy couldn't spare the manpower, and ensured that the Continentals got recruits that had already been through a form of basic training.
One disadvantage may have been simply that a militia officer was the neighbor of his men in normal life and thus unlikely to have the proper ruthlessness that is often needed to be enterprising. In a passive defense with simple orders that is less of a problem.
Another distinction that bears keeping in mind is that between the militias of the eastern coastal regions and those on the western frontier bordering (or, in some cases, on the other side of) the Appalachian Mountains. The former territory had been thoroughly civilized for a number of years, to the point where before the Revolution militia drilling was largely a formality. In the latter, the settlers were already used to fighting for their survival in some fashion or another on a daily basis and were thus both willing and eager to be as ruthless as necessary to protect their homes.
Final point: The performance of any militia was directly proportional to how much service they'd seen in the Seven Years War. New England and New York? quite a bit. The coastal south? not so much.
Moral Event Horizon: Just as a MEH changes the tone of a work, and turns audiences firmly against a villainous character, several events in the Revolution DRASTICALLY altered the way one side was seen or tolerated by the other.
In the eyes of numerous figures in Parliament (largely those with connections to the British East India Company), the Boston Sons of Liberty crossed the horizon when they dumped tea into the harbor.
It wasn't just a matter of dumping a bunch of boxes into the water, it constituted multiple cases of assault, intimidation, and very expensive property damage.
In the eyes of the colonists (including people who had been undecided on whose side to take) King George III crossed the horizon when he brought in German troops and hired "mercenaries" (in reality, contracted with some of his German cousins to let him use their armies for a bit in exchange for some financial assistance) to subjugate the more rebellious colonies.
In the eyes of the folks back home, the Colonials crossed this when they formed an alliance with the French. You know, the enemy since, like, forever! Most of the Colonials with military experience had fought them as part of His Majesty's armed forces not more than thirty year prior!
On the colonial side of things, the most hated MEH committed by the government before actual hostilities began was the passing of the aptly-nicknamed Intolerable Acts. Originally intended as punishment for the Sons of Liberty, many colonists - including those who didn't even live in Massachusetts - considered the measuresnote Including a 'Quartering Act' making it clear that The Army had the right to request the use of buildings for its troops to live/'quarter' in, the closing of Boston's ports, and the dissolution of Massachusetts' self-appointed government unforgivable attacks on their rights.
During the war, the British viewed the American habit of shooting officers to be a Moral Event Horizon.
For the Indians, it was Washington's order to destroy the 4 Iroquois tribes helping the Brits. They would call him and all future presidents "Burner of Villages".
There's also the Battle of King's Mountain, where loyalists were killed by patriot militia, then their bodies were looted, stripped and in some cases urinated on.
Finally, the Battle of Waxhaws. British dragoons engaged some Continental army forces, and began kicking their asses. As the patriot forces called for surrender, the British commander Tarleton's horse was struck by a shot and fell. The dragoons believed the patriots had shot their commander (he was actually OK) while calling for surrender, and proceeded to slaughter them down to the last man. Afterwards, "Tarleton's Quarter" became a battle cry for patriot forces everywhere, denoting that British and loyalist troops would not be taken prisoner. Nice job breaking it, Tarleton.
It should be noted that due to Tarleton's men believing him dead (as well as being on foot when the rest of his men were still mounted and engaging with the enemy, this meant he was unable to be seen or heard by them, and therefore incapable of giving an order to ceasefire), it is very likely that the Rebels, themselves, were the reason they were all killed. This is basically the reason why it was considered bad form to kill an officer on the battlefield; an army without an officer is an armed mob.
"The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world..."
My Country, Right or Wrong: William Howe fought for Britain out of loyalty, not because he believed Parliament was right about taxing the colonies.
Averted by many British officers who refused to fight because they felt the war was morally wrong. Many of them changed their minds when the American rebels allied with the despotic French and Spanish, considering this to represent a hypocritical betrayal of the principles of liberty the Americans espoused.
Washington's failure to bring Benedict Arnold to justice.
William Howe's failure to administer the coup de grace and finish off Washington's army in the 1776 campaign.
Never Live It Down: Lord Charles Cornwallis will always be remembered as the man who surrendered the British forces at Yorktown. Never mind that he became a Marquis for putting down Tippu Sultan's rebellion and that he crushed the uprising of the United Irishmen, which led to Ireland finally being incorporated into the UK.
Never Tell Me the Odds: By the end of the war Britain stood alone against the French and Spanish Empires, the Dutch Republic, the Kingdom of Mysore (in India), and a dismally large band of her own nationals who'd risen in rebellion in North America. The book The Very Bloody History of Britain dubbed it "The War Against Just About Everybody".
It should be noted that Britain could only ever bring a tiny fraction of her strength on the rebels to bear due to the difficulty in transporting larger forces and their better generals past the Dutch-Franco-Spanish fleets and to the American theatre.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: King Louis may not have realized that he would bankrupt himself and screw France over economically by helping the revolutionaries against Britain. This bankruptcy more than anything else led to The French Revolution.
Howe's capture of Philadelphia, which was good publicity but strategically irrelevant, stopped him from helping Burgoyne at Saratoga. The American victory there convinced France to declare war on Britain, turning a colonial uprising to a world war.
Congress's refusal to promote Benedict Arnold while more politically-connected but militarily-inept men got promoted over him helped push Arnold into treason. Well, between that, his wife, and the poor wages...
Numerological Motif : 1777, Year of the Bloody Sevens, or (because of the shape of the numeral seven) Year of the Hangman.
Oh Crap: When Continental forces in Fort Ticonderoga finally realized that British cannon on the nearby Mount Defiance/Sugar Loaf Hill could shell them without fear of retaliation, they left the fort altogether. They had been warned of the possibility earlier, but did not take it seriously until Burgoyne's Canada-based expeditionary forces proved otherwise.
Outlaw: These prospered excruciatingly during the time because both armies and governments were busy with each other. Both sides of the conflict found them occasionally useful.
Perspective Flip: Although actions such as the Royal Proclamationnote Which prevented further settlement west of the Thirteen Colonies until Native land rights had been dealt with and the Quebec Actnote which recognized the rights of recently-conquered New France to its Catholic faith and civil law tradition were decried by the American colonists, from a Canadian standpoint they were actually beneficial: The Quebec Act provided an essential base that allowed French-speaking Canadians to maintain their identity and civil rights, which they enjoy even today. The Royal Proclamation is still seen by Canadian aboriginals as a recognition by the British Crown (under which Canada is still governed) of their territorial and treaty rights, and is used as a basis for land claim negotiations going on even today.
Pirates: Or privateers. Baltimore was very enthusiastic over this capitalistic way of waging war for the sake of Patriotism and Plunder. And let's not forget John Paul Jones, who, although starting off as a free-lancing privateer, became the "father of the American Navy".
Private Military Contractors: Subverted. The Hessiansnote They also weren't really Hessian—only some came from Hesse. are often called this. The reality was more complicated and rather creepier—or less so, depending on how you see it. In the 18th century, the minor German states of the Holy Roman Empire all had well-trained, professional armies, but being minor German states they tended not to fight all that many wars of their own. However, their rulers were keen to live as high of the hog as possible, and were therefore more than happy to rent their armies to foreign powers, particularly if they owed that power a favor. Most of the Hessians were these. The rest were not even minor-state Rent-a-Regiments: they were the lawful soldiers and subjects of a certain Georg, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneberg and Elector of Hanover, who happened to be the same person as George III of Great Britain. In other words, in legal terms, they had the same relationship to the conflict as an Irishman (subjects of a monarch who was also monarch of a belligerent). This makes it complicated, to say the least.
Pyrrhic Victory: Lots, but Bunker Hill is the most well-known. Although the British won that battle (mainly because the Continentals ran out of ammunition), their casualties were FAR higher than the Continentals'. In another one, the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, the British technically won because they drove off the Continental troops, but they also lost a quarter of their troops in a mere 90 minutes.
General Greene's avowed strategy was to inflict as many casualties as possible before abandoning the field. It worked.
Joseph Galloway, according to some, was a member of the First Continental Congress but eventually cleaved to the British and was head of civil government in Philadelphia during the British occupation. There is some dispute on this point, however, as Galloway had always been a moderate favoring increased colonial autonomy within the British Empire, and had advocated a position of peaceful reconciliation at the Congress. When the Second Continental Congress voted for independence and war, his moderate position became untenable, and he had to take sides; viewing himself British first and foremost, he chose the Loyalists.
In 1857, documents were found implicating Gen. Charles Lee of giving British Gen. Howe suggestions on how to defeat Washington's forces. Lee did this while a prisoner during the winter of 1777, and was released during a prisoner exchange back into Washington's command. It didn't help that Lee was convinced he was a better general than Washington and back-stabbed his superior officer on several occasions.
Race Against the Clock: The reason for the attack on Trenton, or at least its timing (Dec. 26, 1776), was that most of Washington's army was scheduled to evaporate in five days, when their enlistments expired on New Year's 1777. Washington had to do something with the men while he still had them. (The victory helped him convince some of the troops to stick around until the army could be reconstituted).
Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The Continental side was more or less strapped for funds for most of the war (see Colour Coded Armies). The Continentals didn't have much of a navy to speak of (the French supplied one), and when everything was said and done, the treaty ending the war was signed in Paris (because the world saw it as another war between France and England, with France winning this time aroundnote This isn't to say the French couldn't fight; this is to say that they had lost two ofthe last three rounds and drawn the third.).
The Continentals' victory is often attributed to gross incompetence within the British ranks, as much as the Revolution was caused by gross mismanagementnote i.e. arbitrary taxation leading to rebellion, to suppression, to stronger rebellion, to harsh suppression, to ultimatums on either side.... In Britain proper, political opinion was sharply divided, with a coalition of businessmen (who wanted colonial markets open) and a public sympathetic to the philosophical aspects of the Revolution; on the other side, there were those few wanting to suppress the rebels hard (a faction that historian Eugen Weber describes as "The Stupid Party", on the basis of the British army's usual conduct in the war- losing of their own accord more than being defeated).
"Rashomon"-Style - Rarely -if ever- mentioned in history lessons in Britain; when it is, it is generally taught as an extravagant form of tax avoidance.
To be fair, while for Americans this is the single-most important event in their history, for the British it's really just one more thing that happened during the 18th Century. In fact, the Colonial Rebellion was not even at the top of their list of Things To Worry About. They were much more worried about the Spanish, the French, and the Dutch. That and Britain has a hell of a lot of history to work through. Students are already going to get taught about the war through osmosis of American sources, so it tends to get pushed to one side due to simple time constraints.
"The Reason You Suck" Speech: The Declaration of Independence. Go past the lyrical, poetic "we hold these truths to be self-evident" part, and read the long, angrily-worded and overblown list of offenses supposedly committed by King George III against his subjects in the American colonies. The point of this part of the declaration was to appeal to King Louis XVI by showing that they weren't going to give up and that they were more than willing to accept his majesty's intervention against his majesty George III.
Part of this interpretation is due to our modern tendency to interpret "the King" as a personal attack on George III when it was intended to be a symbolic reference to the monarchy. It's a reminder that even though others rule in his name the king is still ultimately responsible for their actions. It's another sign of their influences showing, in this case Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan. And there is no indication within the historical record that they did this to impress another King so much as they wanted to justify their actions to their whig supporters in Parliament.
Reassigned to Antarctica: Sir Henry Clinton, William Howe and John Burgoyne were respectively sent to Gibraltar, Spain and Ireland. Cornwallis avoided this fate and saw a lot of action in India against the Maratha.
Rebellious Rebel: The Loyalists or "Tories". John Adams' offhand guess that a third of the colonists were Loyalists was probably high, but they were a substantial minority. Most were passive if British forces were not not on the scene, but they were a significant factor throughout the colonies, even in the rebellious hotbed of New England. They were probably more influential than the rebels in the southern colonies, and as a result the war shed most pretenses of civility in the South, especially the deep south.
Red Baron: Generals Burgoyne, Clinton and Howe together were called "The Triumvirate of Reputation".
Burgoyne had one of his own: "Gentleman Johnny".
Red Oni, Blue Oni: Hot-headed John Adams and cool-tempered Ben Franklin during their stint as American diplomats in France.
Refuge in Audacity: John Paul Jones's raids on Whitehaven and St. Mary's Isle. For reference, those two places are located in England and Scotland. The fact that an American ship was able to launch a raid on the British mainland caused a significant loss of faith in Britain's armed forces.
Rousing Speech: Washington's militiamen were fleeing in panic at the Battle of Princeton. Washington rode up to them himself and, while under fire from the enemy, said "Parade with us my brave fellows! There is but a handful of the enemy and we shall have them directly!". It worked.
Washington gave an even better speech at the Newburgh Conspiracy gathering. A group of angry officers had gathered to plot an overthrow of Congress due to their not getting paid over the last several years. Washington showed up to dissuade them, but they remained unmoved. Preparing to read a letter from Congress promising action was underway, Washington paused and said "Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country." It moved the mento tears to see Washington admit to how the war had personally cost him, and the conspiracy ended. Congress eventually arranged for the pay and full pensions for the officers for a five-year period.
Again, the Rebels had a problem with this as well, especially among the militia. Men who joined up to defend their own homes often failed to see any value in going on to defend other people's homes when the tides of war moved elsewhere.
Part of this is due to Values Dissonance. Contemporary observers were actually struck by the relative lack of atrocities (by either side), at least when compared to prior wars, because influential people on both sides realized that public opinion mattered. People on both sides were shocked by news of Tarleton's terror campaign in the South, and it might have caused more disaffection with the war in England than it did in America.
The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified: Showing the truth might be appropriate for a serious historical work, but if it's a mass audience movie you don't say anything bad about the founders.
Shocking Defeat Legacy: For the Americans, the series of defeats around New York City in the fall of 1776 that nearly destroyed Washington's army. For the British, the loss of one entire army captured by the Americans at Saratoga, and the loss of another army captured by the French and Americans at Yorktown, as well as the loss of numerous colonies that would grow to eclipse them in less than two centuries.
The Siege: For many contemporaries the most interesting military action of the war was the successful defence of Gibraltar by its British and Hanoverian garrison against the combined naval and land forces of Spain and France from 1779 to 1782.
The Social Expert: Paul Revere. His position as a silversmith made him a bridge between the rich and the working classnote As a smith, he worked with his hands and had apprentices from the working classes. As a silversmith, only rich people could buy his wares, and since there weren't that many silversmiths in Boston back then and he was one of the finest, most of Boston's wealthy had been to his shop or commissioned something from him. and he knew pretty much everybody in Boston. He belonged to more patriot organizations than anyone else and effectively served as the communications director for the Sons of Liberty. There's a reason why it's called Paul Revere's ride, even though he never made it to Concord.
Sorry That I'm Dying: Nathan Hale. "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country." Do note that "[his] country" and Great Britain were not the same thing, in his opinion - he was referring to the colony/country of 'Connecticut'.
The Spymaster: George Washington. He oversaw American spying operations, especially the Culper ring run by able spy Benjamin Tallmadge. Other than the blemish of Nathan Hale's capture and hanging, the American spy networks performed well, keeping Washington fully appraised of British activity and allowing him to pull off some daring feints- such as discreetly moving Washington's entire army from New York/New Jersey into position at Yorktown, leading to General Cornwallis' epic defeat.
The Starscream: George Washington seemed to collect a few of these (including both Benedict Arnold and Horatio Gates), but the most overt of these was Charles Lee, who was very vocal about his opinion of himself being the overall commander of the Continental Army. However, his efforts to undermine Washington through inaction backfired, as he was captured easily by the British once, and a second time, court-martialed for failing to initiate an attack on the British on Monmouth. Years later, it came out that he had actually been supplying the British with information on American positions and Washington's strategy while in captivity. At any rate, the court-martial led to his being dismissed from the army dishonorably and he died before the war ended with his reputation in tatters.
To be fair to Arnold, he never seemed to want Washington's top job that both Gates and Lee aspired to, he merely wanted the recognition and a job promotion for the funds he needed in his personal life. When Congress kept snubbing him, that was when he turned...
George Washington was not this by any means. In fact he was something of a General Failure when it came to battlefield tactics, being repeatedly worsted in battle by William Howe. But the attack on Trenton was his idea, and it worked like a charm.
As a tactician, he may have been unimaginative and unimpressive, but Washington as an actual military strategist (tactics being something very distinct from strategy in military terms) was brilliant. He knew the British could only ever truly defeat him by destroying his army, so Washington based his own strategy on simply keeping his army together at all costs and frustrating the British at every turn. The defeats he suffered at Long Island, White Plains, and Brandywine may have destroyed another commander, but Washington kept fighting, kept the British tied down in and around New York, and eventually, won the war. Furthermore, Nathaniel Greene, Washington's Lancer, used a variation of this strategy to slowly wear down Cornwallis when the war shifted south, a strategy that did in fact lead to victories at King's Mountain and Cowpens after the debacle of Camden.
In fairness to Washington, many of his tactical plans were fairly solid and only spoiled by poor discipline among the troops, lack of numbers or ammunition, and even at times faulty intelligence (see the Battle of Brandywine, where poor knowledge of the local fords allowed Washington to be outflanked in an otherwise good defensive position). A strategy centering around just keeping your army intact doesn't really work if you don't have the tactical ability to extricate yourself from bad situations when you get drawn into them. Whenever the army itself was up to the task, Washington could manage some quite spectacular tactical victories (such as at Trenton, Princeton and Monmouth).
It was said that Washington's greatest strength as a military commander was that he was one of the best men of his time of conducting retreats. This sounds like a left-handed compliment until you consider just how difficult it is to get men to retreat under fire while still maintaining military cohesion and discipline. For a less competent officer, or with poorly trained troops, it is far too easy for a retreat to turn into a rout. As a character in the Horatio Hornblower books said: Once you allow your men to run, they will never stop.
Subculture : In some ways this was a war between two coalitions of subcultures, some of whom took sides opposite their opponents from earliercivil wars.
According to Kevin Phillips in The Cousin's Wars, Yankees took the rebel side and Londoners took the Loyal Opposition, as both were descended from Puritans. Scottish Highlanders on both sides of the ocean supported the crown, and the Irish tended to be rebels. In general the more traditionalist cultures favored the crown and extreme Protestants the rebels. Quakers were more-or-less neutral, and of course German Pacifists (Amish, Mennonites, etc) mainly wanted to be left alone. Good luck with that one.
Took a Level in Badass: The Continental Army spent the beginning of the war running for their lives. After the disastrous winter at Valley Forge they came back bigger and badder than ever. They still suffered their share of defeats but the British hardly recognized them as the same army they had fought six months earlier.
Specifically, the first battle after the winter was the conflict at Monmouth Courthouse when Washington wanted to defeat the British forces retreating from Philadelphia. When the first hour went badly, Gen. Charles Lee called for a full retreat which normally meant the troops would flee in a disorganized mess. However, Washington himself showed up, verbally tore Lee a new one, and used the drilling training taught by von Steuben to regroup his forces and turned the rout into a stalemate. It was the first time the Continental Army stood its ground when the fight wasn't going their way, and it impressed the British enough to change their focus towards fighting in the southern half of the colonies.
Training the Peaceful Villagers: A number of European military officers helped train the Americans. Prussian officer Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben became a major general of the Continental Army, wrote the Revolutionary War Drill Manual, and served as General George Washington's chief of staff. This whole thing was, in fact, part of the Continental Congress's grand strategy; by fielding a professional army that could defeat the British on their own terms, they would be adding legitimacy to their cause.
Unwitting Pawn: The French, who were left holding the empty moneybag when peace was signed.
Warrior Poet: British general John Burgoyne fancied himself an actor and playwright, and was Johnny was at the end of writing an opera before beginning his canada campaign.
We Are Struggling Together: True of both sides. America was of course divided between loyalists and rebels (and even just within the rebels there were divisions). It's less well known that the war was also opposed by many in Britain, especially before the entry of traditional enemies France, Spain and the Netherlands into the conflict. Many British officers refused to fight due to believing the Americans had legitimate complaints, and several British cities (mostly ports that were losing out on trade) petitioned Parliament in opposition to the war.
We Have Reserves: Cornwallis at the Battle of Guilford Court House; and the colonies, strategically. The British were at the end of a long supply tether and could not have gotten enough numbers to actually conquer the colonies without instituting mass conscription- which it was simply not worth it to do. The Americans were close to large sources of recruits for the Continentals and could always find a lot of militia to do -well, something. Tactically, the American and British armies tended to be of comparable sizes.
We Win Because You Didn't: A major part of the Continentals' battles were to make any British gains too costly, or to outright deny them something. Bunker Hill, as noted above, is even referenced in this trope's page image.
Wham Line: Thomas Paine's suggestion of American independence: "'Tis time to part".
The Wild West: The back country, known at the time as "The dark and bloody ground", specifically. Where some of the nastiest things took place and nobody had much regard for The Laws and Customs of War.
Won the War, Lost the Peace: France, Spain and Holland got nothing out of helping win the war while Britain continued to be America's partner in trade. Louis XVI of France got much less than nothing, actually, as the sizeable debt that his government ran up while supporting the Americans led to The French Revolution and his execution just a few years after the American Revolution ended.
Wooden Ships and Iron Men: Britain's blockade of France devastated its economy. However, the French Navy played a pivotal role at Yorktown.
Young Future Famous People: Many, of course, as the Revolution made reputations. Lieutenant James Monroe took a bullet in the shoulder at Trenton and nearly bled to death before a Patriot surgeon tied off the wound. Forty years later, he was elected President of the United States.
Many British leaders of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars were young officers in this war. Even Nelson's ship HMS Victory made its first wartime appearance here.
Thirteen-year-old Andrew Jackson, serving as a militia courier, was captured by the English. After he refused to clean a British officer's boots, said officer slashed at Jackson's head with a sword, giving the future President scars he bore for the rest of his life.
And in a very odd coincidence, virtually every great writer of America's silver age of literature (Alcott, Emerson, Dickinson, Hawthorne, and Thoreau just to name a few) was either born, grew up, or lived in Concord Massachusetts at some point in their lives.
A young French engineer who served with distinction on Rochambeau's staff was Louis-Alexandre Berthier, later known as Napoleon's outstanding chief-of-staff and Butt Monkey.
An even more impressive rise was that of another Frenchman, a poor orphaned boy who enlisted in the Régiment d'Auxerrois in 1778 and spent much of his time in America being racked with various diseases before coming back to France and settling as a peddler in 1784. His name was Jean-Baptiste Jourdan and ten years later he was hailed as the "saviour of the French Republic" for his victory at Fleurus.
Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: The Founding Fathers were well aware that, having signed the declaration of Independence, they'd be tried and probably hung for treason if they were ever captured by the British forces- assuming Loyalists didn't get to them first (see Franklin's bit about having to hang together, lest they all "hang separately").
A straighter example was American partisansnote Partisans here refers to irregular military units acting as resistance/guerrila forces. Rebels who act like conventional troops are in sort of a grey area and Continentals were no exception; often treated no worse then POWs from a sovereign state would have been (which is not saying much). Partisans were in fact considered illegal combatants and hanged out of hand. The fact that many partisans had been provoked by excessive foraging wasn't considered.
Zerg Rush: The British were VERY fond of bayonets, probably because the less well-drilled Americans had a hard time staying put when facing an altogether too-numerous collection of sharp pointy things coming at them with little to fight back with (since the Americans' guns could not, for the most part, attach bayonets of their own).
British tactical doctrine generally tried to ensure that their troops fired second in open field engagements. The goal was to close with the enemy and spook them into firing first, then take advantage of the long reload times to close the distance before firing their own volley at short range while the enemy was still reloading. That done, they would "charge"note "charging with bayonets" was actually done at a regular marching pace. Running with sharp objects (as is frequently seen in modern media portraying the war) is widely considered a bad idea with bayonets fixed. This is not at all as crazy as it sounds, provided it was properly timed; many rebel forces were broken in just this manner. Bayonets were actually used more as a psychological weapon, which was helped by the fact that if you were attacked by the triangular blade, it left a nasty, gaping wound.
As mentioned above, many Americans weren't equipped with bayonets, especially toward the early years, possibly because a musket was useful in peacetime for hunting but a bayonet wasn't. It wasn't until arms started shipping from overseas that Americans used bayonets widely. Furthermore, the Pennsylvania Long Rifle couldn't fit a bayonet. It was common for Americans to make do with tomahawks. To be fair to the Americans, most forces at the time couldn't resist a properly set-up bayonet charge. It was just that the British maneuvering skill and the American lack of bayonets allowed the British to set up a proper charge more often.
The battle plan for Cowpens exploited both the British fondness for Bayonets and the Militia's fear of them. The militia were ordered to fire two volleys then retreat before the inevitable bayonet charge, leading the charge-disordered redcoats into a trap where they could be fixed in place by a smaller force of bayonet-wielding Continental Regulars while the militia (and cavalry) swung around to take them from behind. Worked like a charm.
It's also notable for subverting and averting the usual portrayal of the Revolution as a glorious patriotic war, instead showing it as the painful breaking of England and America's once loving relationship
What happens when one combines mystic powers, a traitorous Ben Franklin and a failed revolution? Two Words: Code Geass.
DC character Thomas Haukins, aka Tomahawk, fought on the Rebel side.
DC character Gerald Shilling, aka Lord Shilling, was Tomahawk's Tory arch-enemy.
Miss Liberty, a DC masked hero, fought on the Rebel side.
Captain Steven Rogers, a namesake ancestor of Captain America's, fought on the Rebel side.
Sir William Taurey, a Tory (natch) was killed by Captain Steven Rogers during the Revolution. His descendant, also named William Taurey, attempted to undo the American Revolution; he was stopped by Captain Rogers' Descendant, Captain America.
Immortal MARVEL character Ulysses Bloodstone was a major in the Continental Army and fought alongside Captain Steve Rogers.
There was an Elseworlds story about Superman arriving on Earth earlier than expected and he was raised by British parents and he ended up fighting against the revolutionaries.
General Wallace Worthington, an ancestor of Warren Worthington's (aka The Angel from The X-Men) fought on the Rebel side.
Lady Jean Grey (an ancestor of Jean Grey's ) and Patrick Clemons (both members of the Philadelphia branch of The Hell Fire Club) fought on the Tory side.
The multiple-volume Prelude to Glory series takes readers through most of the war in detail, through the perspectives of several fictional characters interacting with the historical ones in various theaters of action. The series begins shortly before the war does (as in, the Saturday before the Lexington-Concord Battle that set it off) and follows it through to its end and setting up the fledgling nation.
Cornwell's Sharpe series also includes a recurring character whose family supported the losing side of the Revolutionary War and was forced to leave the colonies.
The Alexander Swift stories by Edward D Hoch, which describe the adventures of a Rebel intelligence agent during the Revolution.
Jeff Shaara adds two historical fiction novels to his repertoire in the style of his The American Civil War novels, Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure (as well as his father's Killer Angels):
Rise To Rebellion follows events from the Boston Massacre up through the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Although the Battle of Lexington and Concord, Battle of Bunker Hill, and some other early engagements are covered, much of the novel centers around the lead-up to the outbreak of hostilities and focuses primarily on the politicians of the First and Second Continental Congress. Particular attention is paid to Adams.
The Glorious Cause picks up almost immediately after, starting with the disastrous attempts to defend New York and continuing through the end of the war. Unlike the first part, the military struggle forms the central plot in the second book and the focus shifts primarily to Washington, Greene, Cornwallis, Howe, Lafayette, and other military leaders in the conflict. Efforts by Franklin to secure foreign aid and recognition are also pivotal, while the involvement of political leaders such as Adams and Jefferson becomes relegated more to the background.
Several works by James Fenimore Cooper, such as The Spy written in 1821 about the actions of a spy ringleader for the American rebels. The plot twist at the end reveals the spymaster to be George Washington, which at the time wasn't a well-known fact to most Americans.
Simon Hawkes Time Wars book The Hellfire Rebellion is set in colonial Boston just prior to the outbreak of hostilities and actually does an excellent job summarizing the various political factions at play at the time.
The Swamp Fox, a Disney TV show about the adventures of Rebel guerrilla leader Francis Marion, the eponymous Swamp Fox. Starred Leslie Nielsen.
Younger readers who know Nielsen solely as a comic actor may be disappointed: the show was not primarily a comedy.
Many episodes of the Fess Parker Daniel Boone tv series were set during the Revolution.
The Young Rebels The 1970 colonial version of The Mod Squad. It featured Louis Gosset Jr. as the rebel Token Minority, but otherwise notable for a rural Pennsylvania setting that looked amazingly like rural Los Angeles.
Turn focuses on the Culper Spy Ring in New York City.
Many Colonization games, although you can also play in alternate realities where it is the French, Spanish, or Dutch colonies that are most successful in the Americas and rebel against their respective monarchies.
According to the lore of Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden, rather than the American Revolution, the war was fought between the British Empire and Jickleberg. The army wasn't led by George Washington but Crispus Attucks (or in this case, Clispaeth Ryuji Atuck), the war lasted for 666 years and the end result is The Cyberpocalypse.
Assassin's Creed III is set during this time period and covers many famous and decisive battles, with the Player Character a Native American who meets Washington, Samuel Adams, Marquis de Lafayette, Paul Revere and others. It's also a Warts and All perspective.
Most of the episodes dealing with the American Revolution debuted in 1975 or 1976, when the country was in full-blown Bicentennial Fever. Criticizing, even vaguely or by implication, the Founding Fathers wouldn't have gone over well. So, for example, in "No More Kings" it's strongly implied that there had always been an understanding that the colonies would eventually become independent, and George III was just a fat, apoplectic, greedy tyrant who reneged on that promise.
Parodied briefly in an episode of The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, when Billy and Mandy travel through time with a time travelling remote. Notably, it takes a stab at both sides instead of the usual one-sided depiction. While the British are depicted in the usual Hollywood manner, speaking with thick cockney accents, the Americans are depicted as a bunch of fratboys only interested in fighting for fighting's sake.
Time Squad goes back to Revolutionary times in a couple of occasions.