UNITED STATES HISTORY THROUGH FILM

The Revolution Episode 5:  “Path to World War”

 

*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, 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) 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 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).

 

--Introduce The Revolution Episode 5:  “Path to World War”

 

     -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 5, “Path to World War” focusses on the Saratoga Campaign, but also includes Howe’s capture of Philadelphia.  Overall, it is accurate, and the costumes and settings are good.

 

     -Show The Revolution Episode 5:  “Path to World War”

 

     -#16 mentions the rifle invented by Patrick Ferguson.  It was the first breech-loading rifle used by the British Army.  It had an area in breech (the area around the lock and trigger) that screwed out so that a ball and gunpowder could be inserted without having to ram them down the barrel.  Furthermore, as a rifle, it was more accurate than a musket.  However, they were never widely adopted by the British Army because they were slow and expensive to produce, had to be cleaned frequently, and had a weak point near the screw-out plug so that they broke relatively easily.

 

     -#30 mentions Ethan Allen, a leader of the Green Mountain Boys, a group of Vermont militia.  During the American Revolution, Vermont declared independence not only from Britain, but also from New Hampshire and New York, both of which claimed it.  Furthermore, Vermont continued to be an independent republic until 1791, when some of their leaders considered joining Canada, and President Washington said that if Vermont did not join the United States, he would invade and take over Vermont himself—and that is how Vermont became the 14th state.

 

     -#30 and #36 mention Because Benedict Arnold not getting the credit he deserved for the victories as Ticonderoga and Bemis Heights (both of which played a large role in America winning independence).  This would make him increasingly resentful, and he would later attempt to sell the plans for the fortress at West Point to the British and would even join the British Army and lead troops against American forces, making him the most famous traitor in American history.

 

*In the winter of 1777-1778.  Washington’s men went into winter quarters at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.  There they 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).


 



This page last updated 4 February, 2019.
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