The order that I had to visit these locations is out of sync with the actual timeline of events so I decided to wrap them into two megaposts. This one is about the American Revolutionary War, when we broke away from the British Empire.
1775: Beginning of the War – The Shot Heard Round the World
On April 19, 1775, the first two battles of the American Revolution were fought at what’s now Minuteman National Historical Park in Lexington and Concord.
This is often referred to as “The shot heard round the world,” because peasants rising up against the most powerful empire in the world was something that just didn’t happen at that point in history.
Responding to escalating acts of police violence by British forces, the people in the hills above Boston began training militia forces and stockpiling weapons and supplies for what they saw as the inevitable widespread future conflict. A force of 700 British forces was sent to Lexington and Concord to seize those weapons and supplies.
Paul Revere and other messengers rode ahead of the British force, waking up the militia along the way and raising the alarm about the British marching into the hills. The weapons and supplies were quickly moved to another safe house, and when the British arrived the next morning, they found an empty building where the supplies had been.
The British force had divided to hold several key bridges while also sending a sizeable force to the place where they thought the weapons and supplies would be. 96 British forces were sent to hold the Old North Bridge. They found themselves staring across at 400 colonial militia. The British fired on the militia, killing several of them. The militia fired back. This was the shot heard round the world, the start of the revolution.
After the colonists shredded that first group at the Old North Bridge, they chased the whole British force all the way back to Boston and then laid siege to Boston and eventually captured the city. By the time the colonial militia reached Boston, they numbered over 4,000.
When I visited the Old North Bridge, I encountered a red coat! I only had a finger gun, but I did what had to be done.
1776: Declaration of Independence
I know what you’re thinking. Wouldn’t this have happened before the battles started? Well no. The battles described above were actually just random ordinary citizens deciding to kill British soldiers of their own accord. It wasn’t an organized resistance at that point. These ordinary citizens were responding to a long history of injustice including the Boston Massacre and the British response to the Boston Tea Party.
The declaration of independence was the political establishment deciding to get on board with the open rebellion that was already under way. I mean who likes paying taxes? Certainly not the wealthy owners of slave empires. This was a huge opportunity for people like Thomas Jefferson to reduce their taxes by jumping on the bandwagon of popular support for independence from the British Empire.
I also visited Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello
I visited the home of the man who wrote the declaration of independence and gave us the phrase “all men are created equal.” (Though some men are created 2/5 more equal than others)
Jefferson died owning hundreds of slaves, many of whom were his own children as he had raped their mothers. The Jefferson estate decided to “make things right” by ruling that anyone who can prove their ancestor was raped by Jefferson now has the right to be buried at his home in Virginia alongside the man who raped their ancestor. Why would anyone want that? I don’t know. Does that in any way make his crimes better? No.
1776: Washington Crossing The Delaware
On Christmas night in 1776, Washington crossed the Delaware with his army to execute a successful surprise attack on the British-allied Hessian garrison in Trenton.
The Delaware was considered impassible under those conditions, so this was a huge gamble on Washington’s part. It paid off and it has since inspired centuries of folk art, stories, and songs.
This example illustrates the way this war was not about winning in the usual way. This was a war of attrition. Washington did not engage the opponent, he harassed them and wore them down with quick surprise attack and retreat maneuvers.
1781: Battle of Yorktown – End of the War
To be clear, America did not win the revolutionary war. The British lost it.
By the end of the war, the British controlled almost all the territory and major cities in America. Cornwallis was the main general in charge of the British war efforts in America. He set up his main base at Yorktown which provided a perfect central location to manage logistics, communications, and his navy.
Washington was in full guerilla mode at this point. The American and French armies were scattered across the land doing small guerilla attacks on supply lines and bases.
In preparation for this final battle, Washington ordered Lafayette to harass the British headquarters at Yorktown in order to divert Cornwallis’ attention while all the French and American armies secretly combined together before marching on Yorktown.
When the time was right, the French Navy attacked the British headquarters at Yorktown from the sea while Washington and Rochambeau attacked with overwhelming force from land. The British had designed their nerve center to resist the kinds of small guerilla attacks Lafayette and the Americans had been launching at Yorktown and all over the country, not knowing that Washington had secretly assembled an enormous army of over 16,000 men. This was double the size of Cornwallis’ garrison at Yorktown. The impregnable anti-guerilla fortress was no match for this overwhelming force.
The final nail in Cornwallis’ coffin was when Alexander Hamilton himself led a land envelopment attack, cutting off Cornwallis’ access to his now shredded fleet and stealing his cannons. There was no way for Cornwallis to escape and so he surrendered.
A Melodramatic Surrender
Always one for aristocratic melodrama, Cornwallis sent an officer to actually do the surrendering. He also ordered that his surrendering troops march in between the French and American garrisons and face the French army when surrendering (not the Americans). During the surrender, the British army band played the song, “The World Turned Upside Down.” In response, Lafayette ordered the French band to play, “Yankee Doodle.”
The British general who was sent to surrender on Cornwallis’ behalf walked up to Rochambeau and tried handing him his sword. Rochambeau pointed across the field to Washington. The general walked over to Washington who pointed to his second in command.
This marked the end of the American Revolutionary war.