ADVANCED PLACEMENT AMERICAN HISTORY

The World Turned upside Down


*Although Washington beat the British at Trenton and Princeton, General Howe did not seen 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.  He would be supported by Lieutenant-Colonel Barry St. Leger, who would meet him at Albany after advancing up the Mohawk River Valley.  Howe planned to capture Philadelphia himself, whereafter he would march north to meet Burgoyne along the Hudson.

 

*At first, St. Leger did well in western New York, but an American attack on the camp of his Iroquois allies convinced most of them to go back home, while American agents convinced St. Leger and his remaining Indian allies that Benedict Arnold had raised a huge force threaten them with.  The rest of St. Leger’s Indians went home, and St. Leger was delayed so long that he was too late to help Burgoyne.

 

*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. 

 

*One of the first major battles was at Freeman’s Farm on the American left flank on 19 September, 1777.  The great American hero, Benedict Arnold (who had helped capture Ticonderoga and invade Canada) saw that Burgoyne planned to attack in force and finally got Gates to allow him to move men into position there. 

 

*Although the British eventually gained control of the farm, Arnold inflicted serious casualties (about 600, or 10% of the total force) on them, but Gates ignored Arnold’s work and did not mention him in reports of the battle to Congress, beginning a bitter feud between the two men.

 

*On 7 October, 1777, Burgoyne’s men attempted to make their way past the American fortifications at Bemis Heights.  Gates wanted to stay within the fortifications in the hope that the British would make a frontal assault on it.  Arnold was afraid the British would either escape or make a flank attack on their position, but Gates had told him to not to take part in the battle.

 

*Nonetheless, Arnold went into the battle, avoiding aides sent by Gates to tell him to leave the field.  Arnold had Daniel Morgan’s sharpshooters pick off the commander of the expedition sent to test the American lines, which badly damaged their morale.  He then led American troops against the British, rather than merely waiting for them to attack.  Arnold’s horse was shot and it fell on him, breaking his leg (which had already been shot).  Soon night fell and the battle ended, after the British lost over 900 men and the Americans about 150.

 

*This should have made Arnold a national hero, but Gates resented him  and tried to prevent him from getting the glory he deserved while Gates presented himself as the hero of the battle.  This made Arnold increasingly bitter.

 

*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, aside from some initial boasting about his abilities and Washington’s flaws after the Battle of Brandywine), 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).  They exchanged a series of letters with each other and passed rumours to others criticising Washington’s abilities.  Washington became so embarrassed and disgusted that he considered resigning from his post.

 

*Eventually some of the instigators were found out and humiliated and Washington was exonerated.  Some of the conspirators resigned from Congress; Conway resigned from the army (but continued criticising Washington until one of Washington’s generals, John Cadwalader, challenged him to a duel and shot him in the mouth on 4 July, 1778); although Gates kept his post his reputation was tarnished.  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.  Arnold was also charged with using his role as commander to profit from the purchase of supplies for the army.  He was cleared of all but two minor charges, but Washington rebuked him for his behaviour, driving him further to bitterness and he resigned from the Army.

 

*In April, 1780, though, he 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, with the help of other ships in his squadron (which defeated another British ship sailing with Serapis), 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.

 

*One day after the Battles of Lexington and Concord (20 April, 1775), Lord Dunmore tried to seize control of the gunpowder stores in Williamsburg, Virginia.  Locals sounded the alarm and the militia, some led by Patrick Henry, surrounded Williamsburg.  Dunmore further infuriated Virginians by offering freedom to any slave who would fight for the British and threatening to have the navy bombard Yorktown and burn Williamsburg to ashes if he was personally attacked.  Eventually Dunmore fled to a ship of the Royal Navy and tried to govern Virginia from there.

 

*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 of the settlements in Georgia. 

 

*Although American and French forces attempted to re-take Savannah, they accomplished nothing except taking significant casualties.  Soon the majority of American forces (aside from local militia) had withdrawn to Charleston, South Carolina.  Georgia would remain a Loyalist stronghold until the end of the war.

 

*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.

 

*On 29 May, 1780, at a place called the Waxhaws on the North Carolina/South Carolina border, about 400 Americans under Colonel Abraham Buford faced 270 British and Loyalist dragoons under Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton.  Tarleton asked Buford to surrender and he refused.  Tarleton’s forces then attacked and began to overwhelm the Americans.  What happened is unclear, but apparently Buford tried to surrender, but his horse was shot while he was waving the white flag—either intentionally or unintentionally is unknown.  Some Americans began to fight back again, and the British, possibly thinking they were violating their surrender, began to attack indiscriminately, even hacking with swords at men kneeling with their hands over their heads.  Almost the entire force was killed or captured, and Tarleton won a reputation for being a butcher.


*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.  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.


*Just as Tarleton was given the task of hunting down the Swamp Fox and other partisans, 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 these 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 the country waste with fire and sword.

 

He told his own men

 

Gentlemen:—Unless you wish to be eat up by an inundation of barbarians... I say, if you wish to be pinioned, robbed, and murdered, and see your wives and daughters... abused by the dregs of mankind—in short, if you wish or deserve to live, and bear the name of men, grasp your arms in a moment and run to camp.

 

The Back Water men have crossed the mountains.... If you choose to be degraded forever and ever by a set of mongrels, say so at once, and let your women turn their backs upon you, and look out for real men to protect them.

 

*From 26 September to 7 October 1780, militiamen from Southwest Virginia and modern East Tennessee marched from Sycamore Shoals in 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 King's Mountain.

 

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


*Another British defeat was at Cowpens, South Carolina, on 17 January, 1781, where by having the militia fire two shots and then retreat and then using hidden reserves, American forces managed to completely surround British forces and capture or kill almost all of them, and they did so brutally, because the British were commanded by Tarleton (who got away).


*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 in North Carolina, Greene forces Cornwallis to burn most of his supplies in order to be able to move fast enough to catch up with him.  He finally did, at Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina, on 15 March, 1781.  Greene used the same tactics as at Cowpens, until Cornwallis felt compelled to fire artillery over his own men, winning a Phyrric victory.


*Ultimately Greene and Washington, who had finally come south along with French troops under General Rochambeau, faced off against 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 the 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 of stiff formality.  He wrote his own book on how to be a gentleman, outlining all the rules for good behaviour, so he would always have a reference, and never make a wrong move.  His principles always guided him, and 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 7 September, 2015.
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