Pondering the American Revolution

by Walter Mow

Considering the American Revolution and its eventual success, the probabilities of its failure loomed large. Fortuitous or Providence? In hindsight, we can only speculate as to the alternative possibilities, but we can take pride in the fact the United States is the oldest enduring republic in world history.

“If hindsight enhances our appreciation for the solidarity and stability of the republican legacy, it also blinds us to the truly stunning probability of the achievement itself. …without some measure of hindsight, some panoramic perspective on the past from our perch in the present, we lose the chief advantage – perhaps the only advantage – that the discipline of history provides…” (Joseph Ellis copyright 2000)

The very term “American Revolution” evokes a sense of solidarity and cohesion that was lacking in the beginning. Estimates of the population at the time of the revolution indicate a three way division with 1/3rd in support of the revolution; 1/3rd remaining loyal to the crown and the final third just wishing to be left alone.

The Pyrrhic victory by the British at Breed’s Hill left General Gage with a casualty list not to his liking; 1,054 dead and wounded, over 100 of which were commissioned officers. These represented a large segment of the British officer corps in North America. Colonial casualties numbered about 450, 140 dead, most of which died in the retreat from Breed’s Hill. The British only captured 30 Americans, most of them with grave wounds, unfortunately 20 died of their wounds while in British custody.

General Washington and his Army make a near miraculous escape from Long Island, avoid being trapped in New York and retreat across New Jersey; cross the Delaware River in a raging storm, take the Hessian garrison at Trenton, attack Princeton a few days later and escape to Morristown for the winter.

A rag tag naval force led by Benedict Arnold would stall the British drive into the Hudson Valley at the Battle of Valcour Island. The victory over General Burgoyne at Saratoga with another valiant effort by Benedict Arnold the following year stalled the second British effort to cut New England off from the rest of the colonies.

Defeats and narrow escapes plagued the Continental Army, yet they not only held together but displayed heart and depth with flashes of brilliant tactical and logistical skills; as evidenced by the raid by Brig. General Anthony Wayne at Stony Point or the raid by Lt. Col. Light Horse Harry Lee and Major Jonathon Clark on the British guns that controlled entry to New York Harbor on Paulus Hook.

As General Greene assumed command of the Continental Army in the south, he recognized and utilized the knowledge and efficiency of William Davidson, Andrew Pickens, Thomas Sumter and Francis Marion. Both Sumter and Marion tangled with Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton earning the nick names of the “Carolina Game Cock” for Sumter and the “Swamp Fox” for Marion.

Brig. General Daniel Morgan handed the hated Tarleton a startling surprise at the Cowpens, while raw militia devastated Loyalist troops at King’s Mountain with the cry of “Tarleton’s Quarter”.

The Continetal Navy had its share of disasters but the pluck of officers John Paul Jones, John Peck Rathburne, Lambert Wilkes and Gustavus Conyngham among others overshadowed the young Continetal Navy’s poor showing under Commodore Esek Hopkins and the ill fated “Penobscot Expedition” that would lead to a military court martial against Lt. Col. Paul Revere.

The American Revolution was an emotional roller coaster for the participants on both sides with exhilarating highs and devastating lows. But through it all, there was this glint of steely resolve in the Americans that baffled and stunned the British.

The world’s premier fighting force could not force an all out battle to settle things once and for all; Washington’s strategy of denial of battle sapped the British will, for scenic tours of the country side did nothing to end the conflict. But the continual minor skirmishes and ambushes took its toll on British moral and the never ending war and its burdens on the British economy sapped the will of the British populace at home.

When you look at the advantages of the power of the British Empire, even with the might of French involvement, it still is a most unlikely victory; and would stand as such were it not for a number of military blunders by the British military and the disdain in which they held the American Armed Forces.

It has been debated whether the British could ever truly subdue the North American continent, that its sheer size made holding and controlling it an impossible task. As a colonial holding that was confined to the eastern seaboard, subjugation may have been possible, but George Rogers Clark blew that out the window at Vincennes.

This nation is ours, given us by the founders, whether Fortuitous or Providence, but remember, “Freedom Is Not Free”

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