On the night of April 18, 1775, 700 British soldiers under the command of Major John Pitcairn marched smartly out of Boston. Pitcairn's mission was to requisition rebel supplies (at Concord, 16 miles to the northwest) and apprehend "the principal actors and abettors in the provincial congress," namely Samuel Adams and John Hancock (at Lexington, on the road to Concord). Paul Revere and William Dawes raced their horses ahead to warn of the approaching Redcoats.
At dawn the British reached Lexington, where they were stopped in their tracks, if only momentarily, by a contingent of about 70 armed citizen-soldiers"Minutemen"led by Captain John Parker. When some of the Minutemen ignored Pitcairn's demand to disperse, the Redcoats attempted to simply march past the stalwarts, but a shot sounded. After a flurry of gunfire, the Patriots fled, leaving behind eight dead. One British soldier was wounded.
The British proceeded to Concord, where more gunshots were exchanged. Both sides suffered casualties. In the meantime, hundreds of colonists from throughout the countryside rushed to the area to harass the British regiment as it marched back to Boston. The British countered the snipers by sending advance squads ahead to clear the way. When the first day of the American Revolution ended, the British had sustained over 250 killed, wounded, or missing compared to less than 100 for the Americans.
Messengers sent by the Committees of Correspondence carried the news of Lexington and Concord throughout New England. Within a short time, 20,000 Patriot militiamen from neighboring colonies were assembled at Boston. Now, after several years of quarreling with Great Britain, the North American colonies found themselves in an irreversible state of military revolt.
For the next several months, both armies bumbled and stumbled, but by the end of 1776 the British, under General William Howe, had managed to occupy New York City and overrun New Jersey, thus isolating New England from the rest of the colonies. General George Washington's demoralized Continental Army was in full retreat.
A string of successes at Trenton, Princeton, and Saratoga followed by a firm stand at Monmouth Court House revived the spirit of the Continentals and brought France into the war against England. Suddenly, Britain was on its heels. As a result, Britain altered its war strategy in late 1778, concentrating its efforts in the southern colonies where it could rely on superior sea power, the supposed presence of many Tories, and the possibility of aid from area slaves. Although the American Revolution had broken out in New England, the hardest and most important fighting of the warin Georgia and the Carolinaswas yet to come. (Fighting thereafter in the North was limited to small-unit skirmishes.)
Accordingly, the new British commander, General Henry Clinton, sent forces under Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Campbell against Georgia, the weakest of the colonies. A solid victory at Savannah, aided by a large number of Loyalists, strengthened the British conviction that the South offered Britain's best avenue to victory in the war. Within a year, the rest of settled Georgia was overtaken.
Late in 1779, Clinton himself departed New England to effect conquest of the Carolinas. Charleston fell to the British in May of 1780; over 5,000 Continentals under General Benjamin Lincoln were forced to surrender. It was America's worst defeat of the war. Clinton thenceforth returned north with confidence that the able General Charles Cornwallis, in charge of some 8,300 Redcoats, would successfully complete the new southern offensive and finally bring an end to a war prolonged by British military ineptitude.
With the presence of British regulars, the southern colonies writhed in constant guerrilla warfare between Patriots and Tories. Rebel bands ambushed British supply trains, captured messengers, harried area Loyalists, and made forays against isolated British posts. Tory forces looted plantations, assaulted women, murdered suspected rebel supporters, and viciously mistreated prisoners.
Cornwallis did nothing to curb the savage behavior of the Loyalists (even some of his own soldiers were guilty of such misdeeds). Consequently, Britain lost the support of a growing number of civilians outraged not only by such shameful action, but also because all the unseemliness appeared to be conducted with the apparent approval of callous British officers.
Cornwallis began his southern campaign successfully, soundly defeating a large force of Americans under General Horatio Gates at Camden (South Carolina) in August. The British appeared to have the Carolinas in their fold. But ragtag frontier militias managed to keep the British at bay until the Continentals could regroup under a new commander, General Nathanael Greene.
In early 1781, a spectacular victory at Cowpens (South Carolina) and a strong stand at Guilford Court House (North Carolina) gained the upper hand for Greene. Cornwallis, sulking, withdrew northward toward Virginia. "I am quite tired of marching about the country in quest of adventures," he informed Clinton. A brilliantly coordinated maneuver between American and French land and sea forces at Yorktown left the exasperated Cornwallis no choice but to surrender. On October 19, 1781, over 7,000 Redcoats yielded their arms, effectively ending the Revolutionary War.
When news of Yorktown reached London, Parliament voted to abandon its efforts to suppress the American rebellion. After a long and complicated negotiation period, the Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3, 1783, confirming existence of the United States as an independent nation.
The Patriot (2002) stars Mel Gibson as Benjamin Martin, swept into the American Revolution when the war invades his South Carolina farmland, violates his home, and threatens his family. Martin emerged from the French and Indian War a hero, but decides to renounce fighting forever, choosing instead to devote his life to raising his family (he is a widower) and managing his plantation. His decision to remain impartial once the Revolutionary War breaks out is so steadfast that he is viewed by many friends and neighbors as apathetic and unpatriotic. In fact, Martin becomes incensed when he learns that his oldest son, Gabriel (Heath Ledger), longs to fight the British. When British soldiers march onto his plantation and, unprovoked, abuse his family and burn their home, Martin resolves to punish those responsible.
The Martin character is an amalgamation of several real-life figures. Francis Marion, the "Swamp Fox," and his band (unique among southern militias because it included blacks) hampered British lines of communication between Charleston and the interior. Rebels under Thomas Sumter, the "Fighting Gamecock," caused havoc among Loyalists throughout central South Carolina. The guerrilla corps assembled by Andrew Pickens (often joined by Elijah Clarke's men) skirmished Loyalists in the Georgia backcountry and played a key role in the American victory at Cowpens (January 1781). The "over-the-mountain men," a group of sharpshooting backwoods raiders from the Carolinas and Virginia, led by Isaac Shelby, Richard Campbell, and John Sevier, trapped a large number of Tories at King's Mountain in western South Carolina (October 1780), forcing their surrender.
Some Continental officers complained that the rebel militias lacked discipline, that such factors as homesickness or harvests made them unreliable, and even that under conventional fire they did not fight well. Nevertheless, as guerrilla fighters, they proved invaluable, for it was the pesky resistance of the southern militias that would eventually thwart the British offensive in the Carolinas.
Martin's chief nemesis is the repulsive Colonel William Tavington, played by Jason Isaacs. He is the movie's fictional parallel of Colonel Banastre Tarleton, whose notorious Tory Legion ransacked homes and destroyed fields, raped plantation women, and murdered colonial militiamen after their surrender. Despite reprimands from superior officers, Tarleton did not temper his irregularities. His action at Waxhaw Creek, South Carolina (May 1780), was especially shameful. Disregarding a flag of truce, his troops bayoneted to death 113 Virginia Continentals and wounded nearly 200 others. It was later determined that an average of 16 wounds had been inflicted on each corpse. In The Patriot, Tavington/Isaacs is every bit as despicable.
The climactic unspecified battle in The Patriot is a hybrid of two real engagements that took place within a two-month span during early 1781 in the western expanse of the Carolinas. The strategy used by the Americans in the movie's battle is similar to what General Daniel Morgan and Andrew Pickens actually devised at the Battle of Cowpens (South Carolina) to defeat Tarleton. Pickens instructed his militia to fire two shots and then retreat across an open meadow. By design, the appearance of enemy collapse would invite a mad British rush (characteristic of Tarleton) directly into an ambush by Morgan's concealed troops. The ruse worked perfectly. As Tarleton saw Pickens and his men scatter, he ordered a charge, only to find his Green Dragoons double-flanked. After a momentary recovery, the British, overwhelmed, turned tail and fled in confusion. Tarleton himself barely escaped the battle. He left behind over 900 troops killed, wounded, or captured, amounting to about 90 percent of his entire force! American losses were miniscule by comparisononly 12 dead and 61 wounded. Cowpens was the worst defeat for the British since Saratoga four years earlier.
When news of Tarleton's defeat reached General Charles Cornwallis, he was anxious to avenge the loss (Tom Wilkenson portrays the austere British commander). He set out in hot pursuit of Morgan, abandoning equipment and supplies to move quickly. Two months later, at the Battle of Guilford Court House (North Carolina), Cornwallis confronts Morgan, who had joined with additional Continentals under General Nathanael Greene. Though the battle is indecisive, the British suffer heavy losses. Cornwallis, humbled, forfeits the Carolina campaign and heads northward to Yorktown. Meanwhile, Greene and the guerrilla forces of Marion, Sumter, and Pickens fanned out to pick off isolated British garrisons in the Carolinas and Georgia.
The story within The Patriot is a fictional composite of several real-life characters and events of the American Revolution's southern phase. The manner in which the Martin/Gibson and Tavington/Isaacs characters are developed creates the classic tale of virtue and villainy, though neither figure was as sheer as the movie would have its viewers believe. For example, in one particularly unsettling scene, Tavington/Isaacs herds a group of townspeople into a church, then bars the door and sets it ablaze. There is no record of Tarleton committing such an atrocity. As for the assortment of people Martin/Gibson represents, Marion was known for mistreating his slaves, including sexual impropriety. Both Sumter and Pickens offered enlistment "bounties" in the form of slaves (confiscated from Loyalist estates) to entice recruits. Predictably, hero and villain clash in the movie's final bloody episode, though Tarleton's fate was quite different from that of Tavington/Isaacs in The Patriot.
In spite of its historical flaws, The Patriot can provide important lessons about the Revolutionary War, if viewed mindfully. The film's R rating is based on some violent battle scenes.
Select the best response for each item according to information learned by viewing The Patriot, as well as through lecture and assigned reading.
Choose one of the following. Your response should be 3-5 typed, double-spaced pages and include a list of sources used (minimum of two required).