Film Study Guide


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 war—in Georgia and the Carolinas—was 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 comparison—only 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.
  1. Parliament's decision to reorganize the British Empire after 1763 was the result of:
    1. colonial demands for more efficient government
    2. problems in the merchant community and the accompanying desire for regulation
    3. minor colonial unrest and the attempt to squash future protests before the situation became truly serious
    4. necessary administration over landholdings now twice as large as before the French and Indian War

  2. British policies after 1763:
    1. destroyed the economy in many of the American colonies
    2. stripped colonial assemblies of their authority
    3. created a deep sense of economic unease, especially acute in the cities
    4. actually benefited the colonial economy

  3. The choice of George Washington as commander of the colonial forces was sound because of his:
    1. knowledge of military affairs
    2. image among the people
    3. successful record as a military leader
    4. relaxed and informal manner among soldiers under his command

  4. The British marched on Lexington and Concord in order to:
    1. stop Paul Revere from warning local citizens
    2. seize ammunition and other supplies from the colonists and capture rebel leaders
    3. force Massachusetts to pay for tea dumped in Boston Harbor
    4. simply demonstrate their impressive strength to the area colonists

  5. At the outset of the Revolutionary War, the British made the false assumption that:
    1. other European powers would eventually come to the aid of the British
    2. the American colonists could be defeated without using the Royal Navy
    3. victory would not require a large commitment of manpower
    4. the Patriot forces would be no match for the highly-trained British regulars

  6. The best estimate regarding the numbers of Loyalists and Patriots throughout the colonies during the Revolution is:
    1. Loyalists probably comprised less than five percent of the total population
    2. most colonists were indifferent to the war, so there were actually very few of both Loyalists and Patriots
    3. except in New England, the amount of Loyalists far exceeded Patriots
    4. one-fifth were Loyalists, two-fifths were Patriots, and two-fifths were neutral

  7. "With General George Washington in dire need of information regarding movement of British forces in New York, this officer, a former Connecticut teacher, volunteered to go behind enemy lines. Caught with incriminating notes tucked in his shoe, he was hanged without recourse of trial. His alleged famous last words were: 'I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.'" The person described is:
    1. Maj. John André
    2. Capt. Nathan Hale
    3. Dr. Benjamin Church
    4. Gen. Benedict Arnold

  8. Historians consider the Battle of Saratoga to be the turning point in the Revolutionary War because:
    1. the American victory convinced France to enter the war against Great Britain
    2. Britain lost the support of the Six Iroquois Nations
    3. it spurred Thomas Paine to write Common Sense
    4. the death of General John Burgoyne sufficiently broke the British will to fight

  9. The British decision to confine its war efforts to the South after mid-1778 relied on all of the following strategic elements except:
    1. major assistance from the larger concentration of Loyalist forces in the region
    2. possibility of aid from area slaves who were offered freedom in exchange for fighting
    3. presence of superior sea power
    4. additional Indian allies from various southern tribes, especially those of the Iroquois Confederation

  10. In The Patriot, Benjamin Martin/Mel Gibson finally takes up arms against the British because:
    1. he is personally challenged by a British officer he despises
    2. friends and neighbors convince him that the American Revolution is a just war
    3. some of General George Washington's officers make public appeals for enlistments due to dwindling numbers within the Continental Army
    4. his home and family are violated by British soldiers

  11. All of the following were leaders of southern rebel militias during the Revolutionary War and were represented as part of the composite Benjamin Martin/Mel Gibson character in The Patriot except:
    1. William Dawes
    2. Francis Marion
    3. Andrew Pickens
    4. Thomas Sumter

  12. The military action throughout The Patriot is intended to:
    1. depict quite accurately the American successes at Trenton, Princeton, and Saratoga during 1776 and 1777
    2. resemble the war's initial engagements at Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill
    3. parallel the guerrilla warfare throughout the Carolinas after Britain decided to concentrate its war effort in the South
    4. show several early battles in the western frontier, including Fort Ticonderoga and Fort Stanwix, where the British were often aided by Indian allies

  13. "The shot heard 'round the world" is the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson's reference to:
    1. formal announcement on July 4, 1776, by the Second Continental Congress that its Declaration of Independence had been unanimously adopted by the colonies, and the subsequent public celebration in Philadelphia
    2. gunfire exchanged between Patriots and Redcoats at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, considered the military onset of the Revolutionary War
    3. the "midnight ride" of Paul Revere to warn Massachusetts colonists of the advancing British soldiers
    4. the summary execution of American spy Nathan Hale, caught behind enemy lines in New York during the fall of 1776

  14. Throughout the Revolution, the Continental Army was plagued with all of the following except:
    1. desertions and expiring enlistments
    2. inadequate pay
    3. lack of training and discipline
    4. shortage of food, clothing, and medical supplies

  15. The biggest distortion from fact in The Patriot regarding the assorted character of Benjamin Martin/Mel Gibson is:
    1. the overall success of his militia against the British
    2. that he battled Colonel William Tavington/Banastre Tarleton head-to-head
    3. the implication that he was a person of impeccable virtue
    4. that he owned a plantation and had any sort of tie to family

  16. General Charles Cornwallis once complained, "When a Storm threatens, our friends disappear." He was referring to:
    1. southern Tories
    2. France and Spain
    3. Colonel Banastre Tarleton's troops
    4. frontier militias

  17. The primary means by which Congress financed the Revolution was:
    1. borrowing from other nations, especially France and Spain
    2. printing paper money as needed
    3. taxing the wealthy
    4. minting gold and silver coins

  18. "On Christmas night, General George Washington's troops ferried across the ice-clogged Delaware River, then marched nine miles through a wicked snow storm to attack at dawn the next day. The Hessians were taken completely by surprise. Their commanding officer ignored Loyalist intelligence reports that the Continentals were approaching. Instead, he stayed up through the night drinking and playing cards with some of his officers." The battle described is:
    1. Bunker Hill
    2. Trenton
    3. Guilford Court House
    4. Brandywine

  19. Women made numerous substantial contributions during the American Revolution, including all of the following except:
    1. accompanied their soldier husbands to army camps where they would perform "housekeeping" tasks such as cooking, washing, and mending
    2. replacements for black slaves as field hands on some southern plantations, thus enabling the slaves to enlist in local militias
    3. serving as spies, for which they were inherently suited because of their freedom to mingle in camps
    4. assisting soldiers on the battlefields, often as nurses, but sometimes bravely replacing fallen soldiers at their posts

  20. Though shown in The Patriot, no solid historical evidence exists to support:
    1. especially bloody guerrilla warfare between southern Loyalists and Patriots
    2. abuse of common townspeople by Colonel William Tavington (aka Banastre Tarleton)
    3. sound defeat of British troops at Cowpens by a combined force of Carolina militia and Continental soldiers
    4. lackluster British military leadership throughout the war

  21. The prime strategy used to defeat the British at Cowpens was a/an:
    1. all-out frontal assault by cavalry forces
    2. planned retreat and ambush
    3. surprise attack during the middle of the night
    4. artillery bombardment

  22. All of the following were provided for in the Treaty of Paris except:
    1. cancellation of American debts owed to British subjects
    2. western boundary established at the Mississippi River
    3. official recognition of independence from Great Britain
    4. unlimited fishing rights off the coast of Newfoundland

  23. The artist whose works include The Battle of Bunker's Hill, The Declaration of Independence, and The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown is:
    1. Ralph Earl
    2. Emanuel Leutze
    3. John Trumbull
    4. Benjamin West

  24. A direct social change brought about by the American Revolution was the:
    1. general emancipation of slaves who fought with the Continental Army
    2. virtual gender equality in matters of suffrage, property ownership and inheritance, and divorce preceedings
    3. complete fulfillment of the separation of church and state principle
    4. wholesale elimination of property qualifications for voting

  25. The Patriot is best described as a/an:
    1. dramatic production which portrays some general aspects of the Revolutionary War in a realistic manner
    2. story based on actual characters and events
    3. highly fictionalized version of the Revolutionary War, far removed from true historical analysis
    4. accurate reproduction of a specific incident in history

Choose two of the following. Your response should be 2-4 typed, double-spaced pages and include a list of sources used (minimum of two required).
  1. Was the American Revolution more of a political, economic, or social upheaval? Use specific examples to strengthen your argument.

  2. Describe any three of the following events and evaluate their impact on the American revolutionary movement—Stamp Act Congress; Boston Massacre; Boston Tea Party; Intolerable Acts; First Continental Congress; Thomas Paine's Common Sense.

  3. "The American Revolution was not so much won by the American colonists as it was lost by the British." Analyze this statement.

"These are the times that try men's souls."