04 July 2008

Quick history lesson

One of the things that appears to be lacking in modern United States of America basic educational systems is how precarious the nation's position was on the 4th of July in the year 1776 when the Continental Congress agreed to pass the Declaration of Independence. Most of what I have heard from family members who are going through US History it appears to go something like this: Boston Tea Party, Declaration of Independence, Lexington and Concord, Valley Forge, and finally Yorktown with the war being won. All of it being in the space of few years and then the Constitution of the United States was adopted. It just wasn't like that. Rather the year 1776 was a very hard and rough year on the colonies and through shear luck that the Revolution wasn't crushed. So lets take a quick review of everything that occurred that year.

To start with after the debacle that was Lexington and Concord (for the British), the British Army retreated to Boston and hold up. The Rebel Army pursued them and basically a siege had been in place since the previous fall around Boston. The British Army was too weak to push out against the Rebels and the Rebels didn't have enough arms or men to push in. So basically they dug trenches and took pot shots at each other. January of 1776 saw a small Rebel army march overland to Fort Ticonderoga under Henry Knox retrieve the heavy artillery to help in trying to break the Siege of Boston. In March the rebels pull off a major surprise against the British by capturing the Dorchester Heights. This caused the British Army to board what Royal Navy ships in Boston Harbor and basically they left for Halifax. Meanwhile coming from Merry Ol'England was a large fleet loaded with additional troops. That spring the Continental Army saw its size shrink because a large number of the recruits were farmers from the New England states. They hadn't received pay from the Continental Congress and still had to pay for their farms and families back home. This was a standard thing through out the Continental Army for the duration of the war. The various recruits would tire of playing soldier or because of troubles at home they would just up and leave in the middle of the night and walk home. General George Washington marched the Army to New York that spring as well. He realized that if the British seized New York the colonies would be split in two between the New England states and the Southern States. One of the other things he did as well based on input from some of his fellow generals was split the Army and sent a portion of it north of Canada to try and seized Quebec. The thought was that all of the colonies needed to be free from the tyranny of King George the III not just the ones stretching from Maine south to the tip of Spanish Florida.
As it was the British Garrison troops from Boston settled in to Halifax along with a large number of Loyalists who were lifted out as well. The Continentals settled into New York.
In June the Continentals were beaten back from Quebec at the Battle of Trois-Rivieres. This basically ended the attempt to seize Quebec but it wouldn't be till 1777 that the Continental Army would leave from probing to gain Quebec. Washington's Army in New York meanwhile was trying to learn how to actually be an army. They were training on close order drill, how to load and fire their weapons in a timely manner, battle order, and various other items.
On July 4th after months of spirited debate Thomas Jefferson presented the Declaration to the Congress and they passed it.
By August most of the states had ratified it. By the fifteen of August a large number of Hessian troops, who were Mercenaries from the Prussian state of Hesse Kassel had landed at one end of Staten Island. Just days later the Battle of Long Island occurs where the Hessian and British Army were able to route the Continental Army. By shear luck the Continentals were able to hold the ferry landing going to Harlem from Brooklyn. This allowed a majority of the Army to escape. The next few months was just a series of running battles as the Hessians and British pushed hard against the Continentals, time after time the British saw the Continentals break ranks and run. At White Plains, At Harlem Heights, at Kip's Bay. The Continentals by that November were in full retreat across New Jersey with the Hessians and British nipping at their heels. By Christmas Washington has his troops in Pennsylvania and in and around Philadelphia for the Christmas holiday. The Hessians were in Trenton and the British were encamped up around Princeton, New Jersey. On Christmas night the Continental Army forded the Delaware river and set up in Trenton. Washington found out that the Hessians were celebrating the holiday in a typical Prussian way. Partying hard with booze and song. By the dawn of the 26th with the lose of only 5 men the Continentals dealt a heavy blow to the Hessians captured 948 and killed well over 1500. Afterwards Washington retreated back to Valley Forge to spend the rest of the winter.

Even before the Declaration there was a good chance the revolution could of been stopped. Even after the year 1776 it wasn't until 1783 that a peace treaty was passed the total war lasted 9 hard years in which a large amount of pain was spread up and down the colonies. It wasn't even until the end of the 1812 War that a large number of issues regarding the original Revolutionary War were felt to have been resolved to most people's satisfaction. There are a number of good books about the time period. The one that I would recommend everyone start with is "1776" by David McCullough. Then as you all play with fireworks and watch the shows tonight think hard about how close we came to not be separated from the United Kingdom.

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