UNITED STATES HISTORY THROUGH FILM

The Revolution Episode 10:  “The End Game"

(and Hillbilly and The Patriot)

 

*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 west of the Proclamation Line, including those in 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.

 

*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 General Charles Cornwallis in charge of the British forces in the Carolinas.

 

*On 16 August, 1780, Cornwallis fought General Horatio Gates at the important crossroads of Camden, South Carolina.  Cornwallis had about 2,100 men while Gates had over 4,000, but disease had left at most 3,700 of Gates’s men fit for duty.  Of them, over 2/3 were militia who had never fought in a battle before.  Gates put them in front, with regular infantry and cavalry to support them.

 

*Gates’s untrained militia faced experienced British and Loyalist troops.  Many of them ran without firing a shot.  The more experienced American soldiers were ordered to advance, and some did well without even knowing that many of their comrades were fleeing—meaning that they ended up isolated in the field as the American line disintegrated, and eventually British cavalry were able to attack the American rear, forcing them to reterat.  Tarleton chased retreating Americans for twelve miles before turning back. 

 

*The Continental Army lost at least 1,000 casualties and most of its supplies, while the British lost 350 killed and wounded.

 

*Among the Americans who fled the battle was General Horatio Gates himself, who ran almost as soon as the militia did.  Within hours he was in Charlotte, North Carolina, 60 miles away, and by the 19th of August he was in Hillsborough, North Carolina, 180 miles away.

 

*After Gates’s embarrassing defeat at Camden, 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.

 

*Instead, over 1,000 militiamen from Southwest Virginia and modern East Tennessee mustered at Sycamore Shoals in modern Elizabethton to prepare to fight the British.  So many men volunteered to go that their leaders worried they would leave their homes completely undefended, and had to draft one out of every seven volunteers to stay behind.

 

*From 26 September to 7 October 1780, the Overmountain Men marched from Sycamore Shoals 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.

 

--Introduce Hillbilly:  The Real Story

 

-Hillbilly:  The Real Story was released in 2008 and described many aspects of life in Southern Appalachia, including looking at sensational and stereotypical topics like moonshining, snake-handling, and NASCAR, but also more serious topics like coal mining, TVA, violent strikes, and the settlement of what is now Upper East Tennessee and the Battle of Kings Mountain.  Parts of that segment were filmed in Elizabethton and people interviewed for the documentary include an ETSU professor and a Jonesborough town commissioner.

 

-Show Hillbilly:  The Real Story

 

*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.  There, the American commander, Daniel Morgan, ordered his militia to fire two shots and then retreat.  They did so, and the British chased them as they ran.  However, this led them into a trap, where more experienced American soldiers and cavalry managed to completely surround the British forces and capture or kill almost all of them, and they did so without mercy, because the British were commanded by Tarleton (who got away).

 

*After Cowpens, Greene decided to further weaken Cornwallis’s army by forcing them to pursue him across North Carolina, luring him after him with a series of small raids.  Cornwallis took the bait as he wished to destroy Greene, but to do so, he burnt many of his own supply wagons to allow his army to move faster.

 

*Greene prepared to fight at Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina.  He set his men up in three lines much as Morgan had done at Cowpens, but spread further apart in order to protect his flanks (but, in fact, separating his men enough that they could not support each other the way Morgan’s had done at Cowpens).

 

*Although Cornwallis was outnumbered, he marched his men across an open field towards the militia in the woods, sheltered behind rail fences.  Their rifles let them shoot the British soldiers before the British could return fire.  Eventually they got close enough to fire and then fought their way through the woods, taking terrible losses.

 

*The British were then able to attack the second, and then third lines of the Continental army.  The militia retreated, but the American cavalry charged to hold off the British.  At this point, Cornwallis ordered his artillery to fire grapeshot into the midst of the fighting, killing both American and British soldiers.

 

*At this point, Greene’s army retreated, but Cornwallis’s army was too worn out to follow.  Although technically the British won the battle, it was a Pyrrhic victory, as Cornwallis lost about a quarter of his forces, and was forced to move towards the Virginia coast for re-supply and reinforcement. 

 

--Introduce The Patriot

 

     -The Patriot was released in 2000 and shows a highly fictionalised version of the Revolutionary War in the South.  It was filmed entirely in South Carolina and the costumes were well-researched to be accurate.  Most of the characters are fictional, although the main hero and the main villain are loosely based on historical figures, and a few historical figures do also appear.  Much of the story is exaggerated or invented, though, to such an extent that there were significant complaints in Britain, particularly from the descendants of the man upon whom the main villain was loosely based, and a formal demand for an apology from the City of Liverpool.

 

     -Benjamin Martin is a French and Indian War veteran and South Carolina farmer.  He is fictional character based loosely on the Swamp Fox and other guerrilla leaders, particularly Thomas Sumter (known as the Carolina Gamecock), and on the great sharpshooter and hero of the Saratoga Campaign and Cowpens, General Daniel Morgan.  One complaint about the movie is that while African-Americans are shown working on Martin’s farm, they are described as free men working for pay, which is highly unlikely in South Carolina in the 1770s.

 

     -Colonel William Tavington is an officer of British dragoons (soldiers who could fight on horseback or dismount to fight on foot).  He is very loosely based on Banastre Tarleton, an English officer who commanded the British Legion, a mixture of cavalry and infantry, almost all of the American Loyalist volunteers (who wore a distinctive green jacket, not the redcoats shown in the movie).  In the movie, he is a true monster, guilty of numerous war crimes; the man he was based on was ruthless and possibly guilty of massacring soldiers who tried to surrender, but not the monster shown in the movie (nor did he died in the Revolutionary War as shown in the movie—he returned in England and lived a long life, including being elected Member of Parliament for Liverpool).

 

     -General Lord Charles Cornwallis was considered one of the best generals the British had (although Washington had defeated him in the Battle of Princeton), and is depicted with reasonable accuracy in the movie.  After the Revolutionary War, he served as Governor-General of India (where he expanded British control over local rulers) and as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, which he helped make officially an equal part of the United Kingdom.  He then went back to India where he died of fever and is buried.

 

     -The Battle of Cowpens is presented as one of two climactic battles in the movie, although the battle as depicted actually combines elements of both the Battles of Cowpens and Guilford Courthouse, which were pretty similar battles in some ways (and also contains many elements of fiction).  It does show the common element of militia firing two shots and then retreating, drawing the British into a trap, and does include the element of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse of Cornwallis ordering his cannons to fire into the midst of a battle where they ended up hitting both American and British soldiers.

 

     -After that battle, the movie briefly describes the Battle of Yorktown accurately.

 

-Show The Patriot starting at 2:15:50

 

     -The movie shows Ben Martin killing Tavington’s horse, and while gruesome and offensive to modern sensibilities, targeting horses in warfare had been common since the ancient world.  Not only did it take away the advantages of fighting on horseback, but a soldier thrown off a wounded or killed horse might be injured or killed in the fall himself.  Furthermore, wounded horses flailing around on the battlefield would get in the way of enemy soldiers and distract them and perhaps even injure them if they got kicked by a wounded, panicking horse.

 

*Ultimately Greene and Washington, who had finally come south along with French troops under General Rochambeau, faced off against Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia with support from the French Admiral de Grasse, who had defeated British forces in the Chesapeake and prevented Cornwallis from being reinforced or rescued. 

 

*On 9 October, 1781, George Washington fired the first cannon against the British defences.  French ships under Admiral de Grasse also fired upon British ships in the York River.

 

*Washington soon ordered the construction of a new line of trenches closer to Yorktown, but was not able to completely encircle the town because two British earthworks, Redoubt Number 9 and Redoubt Number 10 blocked work on the right end of his line.  On 14 October, French forces attacked Redoubt #9 and American forces under the command of Alexander Hamilton stormed Redoubt #10.  Hamilton’s men quickly overwhelmed the British while losing only 9 killed and 25 wounded.  The French had more trouble, but also succeeded.

 

*At this point, Washington was able to shell Yorktown from three different directions at once.  The British tried to counterattack on the 15th, but were repulsed. 

 

--Introduce The Revolution Episode 10:  “The End Game”

 

     -The Revolution was a 13-part mini-series on the History Channel in 2006.  The entire series runs from the Boston Massacre through George Washington’s presidency.  Episode 10:  “The End Game” covers events in 1781 (aside from the Battle of Cowpens), including the Battles of Camden, Guilford Courthouse, and Yorktown.  Overall, it is accurate, and the costumes and settings are good.

 

     -Show The Revolution Episode 10:  “The End Game”

 

     -#3 mentions that Congress did not have the power to tax, and that was true.  Congress could request funds from the states, but had no way to enforced those requests, and only about 1/6 of Congress’s requests were actually paid.  This would continue to be a problem after the Revolution, and would be a major reason for the creation of the US Constitution in 1787.

 

     -#27 mentions Mount Vernon, which was Washington’s home, which he inherited from his older half-brother Lawrence Washington.  Lawrence Washington had served as a marine during the War of Jenkins’ Ear on board Admiral Edward Vernon’s flagship, and named his estate Mount Vernon in the Admiral’s honour.  Admiral Vernon, besides being a great naval commander, is also remembered for introducing grog to the Royal Navy.  Grog is a mixture of rum and water.  Prior to 1740, British soldiers were given one pint of rum a day, but they often drank it all at once or saved it and drank several pints at once, making them too drunk to work, so Admiral Vernon required that their daily pint of water be mixed with one gallon of water, so that it would be a bit weaker and harder to store over the long term.  It was called grog because Admiral Vernon often wore a coat made of a type of cloth called grogram, a cheap cloth (now mostly used for ribbons) that he liked better than more expensive clothing.

 

     -#37 is true:  Cornwallis refused to meet with Washington in person, claiming to be ill, but sent his second-in-command, Charles O’Hare, in his place.  O’Hare offered Cornwallis’s sword to Rochambeau, but he shook his head and pointed to Washington.  Washington refused to take his enemy’s sword from his subordinate, and instead had Benjamin Lincoln, who had been humiliated at Charleston, take it.  To this day Cornwallis’s sword is on display in the White House.

 

     -#38 is true, although Jacky was actually Washington’s step-son, with the full name John Parke Custis.  Washington had no biological children, probably having been left sterile by small pox in 1751, although it is possible that Martha Washington suffered injuries during the difficult birth of her fourth child (also named Martha, but nicknamed Patsy) that left her sterile.  Marha’s first husband died young, leaving her a large fortune, including five estates, which she managed very well even before marrying George Washington.  Only two of her four children, Jacky and Patsy, were still alive when she married George Washington, and he raised them as his own children, despite the fact that Jacky made some very bad financial deals as a young adult, was seen as a poor member of the House of Burgesses when he was elected to that job (Washington told him that even if he didn’t know enough to be a good Burgess, at least he could try to show up on time), and was a bit of a disappointment to his parents.    The ‘camp fever’ that killed him was probably typhus or dysentery.  He did manage to have seven children, four of whom lived to adulthood, and although most of his land was eventually sold to pay off his debts, part of his estate is now Arlington National Cemetery.

 

*On 17 October the British offered to negotiate, and on the 19th Cornwallis signed the Articles of Capitulation.  8,000 British and Hessian troops marched out of Yorktown between a line of American troops and a line of French troops and into captivity.  Their fifes and drums played the tune ‘The World Turned Upside Down.’ 

 

*Cornwallis refused to meet with Washington in person, claiming to be ill, but sent his second-in-command, Charles O’Hare, in his place.  O’Hare offered Cornwallis’s sword to Rochambeau, but he shook his head and pointed to Washington.  Washington refused to take his enemy’s sword from his subordinate, and instead had Benjamin Lincoln, who had been humiliated at Charleston, take it.  To this day it Cornwallis’s sword on display in the White House.

 

*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, 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 22 January, 2022.
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