ADVANCED PLACEMENT UNITED STATES HISTORY
The World Turned Upside Down

*While the Continental Congress was debating independence, the British under General Sir William Howe planned to invade New York and New Jersey with the help of his brother, Admiral Lord Richard Howe.  Together they had about 25,000 regulars and 10,000 sailors, the largest expeditionary force Britain would amass prior to World War I.  Washington was only able to muster about 19,000 soldiers, mostly militia.

*Among Howe’s soldiers were about 9,000 German mercenaries hired through King George III’s connections with Germany as Elector of Hanover.  Because over half of them were from the state of Hesse-Kassel (and some of the others were from Hesse-Hanau) all of them were called Hessians by the Americans.  They formed highly trained and disciplined units, and as a whole they had a reputation for cruelty.

*Despite the bravery of the Continental troops, they were forced off Long Island and out of New York City, leaving America's second largest city in British hands, where it would remain until 1783.  However, Washington was able to keep his army together, and prepared to fight another day, in part through leaving large camp fires burning during a night escape so that the British thought the retreating Americans were still in camp.

*During the fighting in and around New York, Washington needed a spy to go behind British lines.  However, spying was considered dishonourable:  one officer said ‘I am willing to go and fight them, but as for going among them and being taken and hung like a dog, I will not do it.’  Eventually Nathan Hale of Connecticut agreed to do it and had some success making notes in Latin about British troop numbers and movements until a Loyalist recognised him as a rebel sympathiser and turned him in with the suggestion that the British search his shoes.  When they did they found his notes, charged him with spying, and hanged him.  His last words were (according to tradition) ‘I regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.’

*Washington eventually withdrew into Pennsylvania.  Congress itself abandoned Philadelphia.  Washington’s army was down to 5,000 men, about a quarter the size it had been in the summer, and many men’s enlistments were about to run out—most soldiers only signed on for a few months or a year.  As the year came to its close, Washington expected to have an army of about 1,400 men in the New Year.

*At this time, Thomas Paine began writing the series of pamphlets he entitled The Crisis, beginning the first volume with the words

THESE are the times that try men's souls.

The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.

*The British had also moved into New Jersey, as had their Hessian mercenaries, although as the weather worsened, General Howe moved back to New York City, leaving New Jersey to his subordinates. 

*Encouraged by the success of several small raids against the British and Hessians in New Jersey, and knowing that his men outnumbered the Hessians in Trenton, Washington planned a daring night attack across the Delaware River.  He would cross on Christmas night, hoping the catch the Hessians tired from their Christmas celebrations at dawn on the 26th.

*Bad weather, including ice in the river, slowed their crossing, and they did not arrive on the Jersey shore until 3 AM (instead of Midnight).  Some of Washington’s men did not manage to cross at all due to the weather.  However, a blizzard hid the approach of Washington’s soldiers from the Hessians while local patriots were able to guide Washington’s men to Trenton.

*The Hessians were caught off guard, although a sentry managed to sound the alarm, and the Hessians were able to form a line that provided some resistance.  However, they were not able to hold off the American forces, particularly as American artillery began firing into their ranks--some of the artillery was commanded by Alexander Hamilton, who had to keep his finger over the touchhole of his cannon to keep it from freezing over.  Miscommunication led to the Hessians splitting their forces until they finally fell apart as Colonel Rall was mortally wounded.

*22 Hessians were killed, 83 seriously wounded, and 896 captured.  A few managed to escape because they were on the far end of the town from where the attack began.  Washington only lost two men killed and five wounded (one of whom was Lieutenant James Monroe, who was wounded in the shoulder and nearly bled to death—he carried the bullet in his body for the rest of his life), although many men died the next day of illness, exposure, and exhaustion.

*Although this was not a large battle, and Washington crossed back into Pennsylvania shortly afterwards, it offered a great lift to American morale, encouraging re-enlistment and breaking the Hessians’ reputation as unbeatable killing machines.

*The Battle of Princeton a week later was another small, but important, American victory. 

*After these victories, France, England’s traditional foe--prompted by Benjamin Franklin who had recently arrived in France and charmed the sophisticated people of Paris with his wit and humour, as well as his fame as a writer, scientist, and inventor--began to send some aid, in the form of money and materiel, but not yet men or ships.

*Although Washington beat the British at Trenton and Princeton, General Howe did not see these battles as significant losses, and he planned a major invasion of the Hudson River Valley and an attack on Philadelphia.

*Howe placed the conquest of New York under the command of Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne, who planned on moving from Quebec, down Lake Champlain, to capture Albany and control the Hudson River.  Howe planned to capture Philadelphia himself, whereafter he would march north to meet Burgoyne along the Hudson.

*Burgoyne sent out messengers, scouting parties, and raiding parties meant to capture supplies, but many were captured or killed.  Soon Burgoyne was cut off and low on supplies.

*With Washington trying to defend Philadelphia, General Horatio Gates was sent to New York to take command of the American Army.  He and Burgoyne began to manoeuvre around each other in a series of battles known as the Saratoga Campaign. 

*The great American hero, Benedict Arnold also played a decisive role in leading American troops, and was badly wounded in battle, but his contributions were not recognised by Congress.

*Following a series of defeats, Burgoyne retreated to the north, but by the 13th was completely surrounded and on 17 October, 1777, surrendered his entire army:  about 6,000 men, most of whom were kept in prison camps for years to come.

*One of the most important results of the battle was that it helped Benjamin Franklin to convince the French, who had secretly supported America for about a year, to openly form a perpetual alliance with the United States in 1778 now that it was clear that Americans could beat a major British army.  In years to come, Spain and the Netherlands would also declare war on Britain, and the American Revolution would lead to warfare in Europe as well.  Even before that, in 1777, Morocco had become the first country to recognise America as an independent country.  Because French help would be so important in America’s eventually victory, Saratoga is often considered the turning point of the Revolutionary War.

*While Burgoyne was invading New York, Howe was invading Pennsylvania.  Washington tried to stop him by manœuvring between Howe and Philadelphia, and fought him at the Battle of Brandywine.

*The battle went badly for Washington, in part because his men, while individually brave and effective in small units, lacked the discipline and training to work together as a large force.  His men were forced to retreat, and the British pursued them until nightfall.

*On 26 September, 1777, Howe captured Philadelphia, but Washington did not surrender (contrary to Howe’s expectations, as typically the capture of a nation’s capital brought a war to an end in the 18th century).

*Washington did nearly lose his position, however, due to the actions of a number of officers (including General Horatio Gates) and members of Congress who thought Washington was an amateur and were disappointed with his performance.  This was not the first time this had happened—General Charles Lee had written letters to Congress late in 1776 trying to convince them to replace Washington with himself.  However, the Conway Cabal was more serious.

*Named for General Thomas Conway (although he actually had a relatively minor role in the affair), the Conway Cabal was a group of officers and congressmen who plotted to replace Washington with another officer, perhaps Horatio Gates (who had just won his great victory at Saratoga). 

*Eventually some of the instigators were found out and humiliated and Washington was exonerated.  One thing that saved Washington was that an influential French nobleman serving in Washington's army, the Marquis de Lafayette, expressed the view to Congress that France viewed Washington and the American Cause as inseparable, and Congress could not afford to offend France.

*Conspiracy was only one of Washington’s problems in the winter of 1777-1778.  His men had gone into winter quarters at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.  There his men built cabins to protect themselves from the harsh winter, as about two thousand starved, froze, or died of disease.  The one benefit of the long winter at Valley Forge was that during the winter the American Army finally received professional training.

*Friedrich von Steuben had just arrived from Germany, where he (falsely) claimed he had been a general in the Prussian Army and a Baron in the German nobility.  He developed the drill that would be used by the US Army until the War of 1812 and trained Washington’s soldiers in conventional warfare, particularly the use of the bayonet, which the Americans had not used effectively before (making them even more terrifying in the hands of the British).

*Another highlight of the winter at Valley Forge was the announcement of the Alliance with France.  This also changed the British war strategy, as Britain felt the need to take a more defensive stance.  Howe also resigned from command in America in 1778 and in May was replaced by Henry Clinton, who was told to abandon Philadelphia and return to New York so his forces would not be spread too far out.

*As Clinton retreated from Philadelphia, Washington made plans to attack him, and did so at Monmouth Courthouse, New Jersey on 28 June, 1778.

*After a bad start to the battle, Washington rallied fleeing soldiers, stopped the British pursuit, and began to push them back, in the first major use of the bayonet by American soldiers. 

*Although the British retreated during the night and made it to New York, this battle proved the value of von Steuben’s training, and the British army remained in New York for the rest of the war.  Although there was still fighting and intrigue in the North, after 1778 the main action of the war shifted to the South.

*Nonetheless, both the British and Continental Armies kept large forces in the North, mostly guarding New York City (either from the inside or the outside), and during this long standoff, the most infamous act of treachery in American history occurred.

*Benedict Arnold felt he never got the respect he deserved for his victory at Ticonderoga and his vital role in the Saratoga campaign.  Furthermore, after Washington placed him in charge of the city of Philadelphia in 1778, he met and married Peggy Shippen (the daughter of a Loyalist), a woman famous for her beauty and her expensive tastes who soon ran through Arnold’s personal money.

*In 1779, friends of Peggy put Arnold in touch with the British high command.  Soon Arnold was corresponding regularly with Major John André, who had recently been placed in charge of the British spy efforts.  Arnold began providing information about troop locations and movements.  Eventually, André asked for the plans for West Point, a major fort on the Hudson River.

*By late 1779, Philadelphia was being searched for Loyalists and the Arnold and Shippen families were being harassed. 

*In April, 1780, Benedict Arnold was offered the command of West Point, which he accepted.  Soon he was passing information to the British again, eventually offering to sell the plans for West Point to Clinton.  He also started weakening West Point’s defences, choosing not to repair weak points and leaving West Point almost completely unguarded.

*Finally, Clinton offered Arnold £20,000 for the plans and Arnold accepted.  In September, 1780, André and Arnold met, and Arnold wrote André a pass to get safely back to British lines.  However he was intercepted and recognised as a British officer in civilian clothing.

*Arnold found out about André’s capture and escaped to British lines, but André was tried and hanged.  Arnold was made a general in the British army, served against the Continental Army on several occasions, and later retired to England.

*During the same time, the young American navy and the privateers given letters of marque by Congress (and sometimes ships by the French) were raiding British commerce and occasionally winning dramatic victories over the Royal Navy.

*The most famous of these battles was won by John Paul Jones in the Bonhomme Richard, a gift from the French, against HMS Serapis on 23 September, 1779.  Both ships were badly damaged, and Bonhomme Richard was beginning to sink, when Jones's chief gunner tried to surrender.  Jones threw his pistols at him, knocking him out.  When the British captain asked if Jones wanted to surrender, he said, 'I have not yet begun to fight.'  Eventually Jones won the battle, although his own ship sank two days later and he sailed back to France with the ships he had captured.

*Although the early phases of the American Revolution were primarily fought in the North, there were a few battles in the South as well, before the focus of the war turned that way in the late 1770s.

*On 28 June, 1776, Sir Henry Clinton led an attack on Charleston, South Carolina.  Charleston’s defence was led by William Moultrie.  He built a fort of palmetto trees and sand on Sullivan’s Island in Charleston Harbour.  The green palmetto trees were soft and the cannonballs bounced off them, and the British attack failed. 

*In July, 1776, the British Indian Agent John Stuart encouraged the Cherokee to attack the people of the Watauga Association, a community along the Watauga and Nolichucky Rivers that had governed itself west of the Proclamation Line since 1772--making them, according to Theodore Roosevelt, and first truly independent government created on the American continent and, according to Lord Dunmore, a dangerous example to the rest of America.  The Wataugans defended themselves by building forts in modern Elizabethton and Bluff City and counter-attacking on the Long Island of the Holston in modern Kingsport.  The Wataugans held off the attacks and petitioned North Carolina to be recognised as the Washington District, and later Washington County, in that state.

*After Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga and Clinton’s retreat from Philadelphia, the British began to concentrate on the South.  For one thing, it was felt that there were more Loyalists in the South who might support the British army if it moved into that area.

*On 29 December, 1778 a British force of 3,500 troops sent from New York by Henry Clinton captured the city of Savannah, by far the largest settlement in Georgia. 

*On 11 April, 1780, Clinton laid siege to Charleston, which was under the command of General Benjamin Lincoln.  A month later, on 12 May, Lincoln was forced to surrender along with over 5,000 men—the worst defeat of the war for America, and the largest surrender of American forces until the surrender of Bataan in 1942.

*Many of the prisoners were loaded on prison ships, on which as many as three-fourths of the prisoners may have died.  Among those who died on Charleston’s prison ships was the mother of Andrew Jackson, who had gone there to tend the sick and wounded prisoners of war.

*Still, with the fall of Savannah and Charleston, Southern Loyalists became much bolder in fighting back against the Revolutionaries, and soon much of the South was embroiled in a civil war, as loyalists and patriots attacked each other over the issues of the war or used them as an excuse to settle old grudges.

*As most of the Loyalist and Patriots in Georgia and South Carolina were not organised as part of a regular army, some of them turned to guerrilla warfare.  One of the most famous guerrilla leaders was Francis Marion.  In his youth he had been a sailor in the Caribbean (until his schooner was sunk by a whale), and he had fought against the Cherokee in the French and Indian War.

*He was given a commission in 1776, and only escaped capture at Charleston in 1780 because he was at home recuperating from a broken ankle.  When he recovered, he gathered what militia he could and began a guerrilla war against the British.  He attacked small groups of soldiers and captured supplies, then vanished into the woods and swamps of South Carolina, where the British could not find him.  Banastre Tarleton was among the officers charged with hunting him down, but he had so little luck that he said, ‘As for this damned old fox, the Devil himself could not catch him.’  Afterwards Marion was known as the Swamp Fox.

*After capturing two of the major port cities in the South, Clinton returned to New York and left Cornwallis in charge of the British forces in the Carolinas.

*On 16 August, 1780, veteran British forces defeated the largely inexperienced Americans at the Battle of Camden.  General Gates, who had commanded at Saratoga, was so demoralised by this defeat that he outran his own army in the retreat, and kept going for about three days and into the next state.  Washington replaced him with General Nathaniel Greene.

*Major Patrick Ferguson was given command of the western wing of Cornwallis’s army, made up of well over 1,000 Loyalists, and told to protect the rest of the army and hunt down the rebels.  Ferguson soon planned to lead an attack over the mountains to deal with those men who had settled beyond the Proclamation Line. He told them to join him, or he would march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay waste to the country with fire and sword.

*From 26 September to 7 October 1780, militiamen from Southwest Virginia and modern East Tennessee marched from Sycamore Shoals in modern Elizabethton to Kings Mountain on the North Carolina/South Carolina border.  Ferguson swore that God Himself could not get him off that mountain.  However, in about an hour, about 900 frontiersmen defeated his force of about 1,100 Loyalists, and shot (and buried) Ferguson on top of Kings Mountain.

*After this, Cornwallis had to turn back towards the coast and Loyalists were much less willing to openly support the Crown.  Some consider Kings Mountain the turning point of the war in the south, and credit it with keeping the southern colonies independent.

*There were other battles in the south as the British General Cornwallis manoeuvred with the American General Nathaniel Greene throughout the Carolinas.  In a series of marches across North Carolina, Greene forced Cornwallis to burn most of his supplies in order to be able to move fast enough to catch up with him. 

*Ultimately Greene and Washington, who had finally come south along with French troops under General Rochambeau, surrounded Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia.  Supported by the French fleet under Admiral De Grasse, they defeated Cornwallis, who surrendered on 19 October, 1781 while British musicians played a tune called 'The World Turned upside Down.' 

*This was the last major battle of the war in America, although fighting continued elsewhere, and the Peace of Paris was not signed until 1783.

*In the Peace of Paris, 1783, Great Britain recognised the independence of the United States, set the northern border of the US where it presently is with Canada (more or less), established the Mississippi as the border between the US and Spanish Louisiana, with the Mississippi forever open to navigation by both nations and Great Britain, gave Florida back to Spain, required British troops to be removed from US territory, and theoretically secured liberty and property (and remuneration) for Loyalists, although at least 65,000 of them left for Canada, other British colonies, and Britain herself.

*George Washington has been called the indispensable man—the man America could not have done without.  This may seem odd, considering he lost most of his battles, was not extremely well-educated, and was disliked by many of his fellow general officers, who were jealous of his position.

*However, it is important to understand that George Washington was the figure America needed at the time.

*Washington, more than any other commander, understood how to fight the British in America.  He did not have to win battles or protect cities, he merely had to keep his army intact and harass the British until he could make them tire of the war effort.  He lost most of his battles, but kept his army together to fight another day, until the decisive moment came at Yorktown, when he seized victory.  This strategy, perhaps not brilliant, but nonetheless effective, won the war.

*He was a man of honour and character, and his principles always guided him.  His hero was the Roman dictator Cincinnatus, who accepted absolute rule when the Roman Republic was threatened, won his battles, resigned his power, and returned to his farm.

*Washington’s greatest moment came at Newburgh, New York, when the war was almost over.  Most of the army had not been paid, many men were unhappy, and most were disgusted by Congress’ poor performance.  At Newburg in 1783, a group of planned to ask him to lead them and the army on Congress, demanding their back pay and either taking over the country or moving west and setting up a new country with Washington as king.

*Washington discovered the plot, and on 13 March, 1783, called a meeting of his officers where he spoke against the plan, telling his men to ignore the plan ‘as you value your own sacred honour.’  He then pulled out a letter from a Congressman describing Congress’ plans to respond to the army’s complaints. 

*Before reading it, he put on his spectacles, which most of his officers did not know he even needed.  He said, ‘Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown grey but almost blind in your service.’  He then read the letter and walked out of the meeting, leaving his officers behind him in tears.  Thus, Washington's integrity saved the young nation from the path of so many other revolutions.

*In November the British evacuated New York City.  In December, Washington resigned his commission, saying he only wished to retire to his estate on Mount Vernon.

*If nothing else, this proved true the words of King George III, who had recently asked the American painter Benjamin West what Washington would do after the war.  West said he thought Washington would resign and return to private life; the king replied, ‘If he does that, sir, he will be the greatest man in the world.’


This page last updated 4 August, 2018.
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