Tuesday, September 14, 2004

VIII. 1777-1779: The Times That Try Men’s Souls

VIII. 1777-1779: The Times That Try Men’s Souls

The Revolutionary War posed major problems for the Americans: raising & sustaining an army & navy, supplying the war effort, protecting the civilian population, & overcoming discouragement because of many defeats. A powerful ally would be a great help, but soldiers also had to reach inside themselves and justify the sacrifices and sufferings that were now shown to be the cost of breaking free from England.

A. The Battle of Saratoga and the French Alliance

1. Saratoga, October, 1777: British General John Burgoyne led a campaign down Lake Champlain toward the Hudson River, trying to cut off New England from the rest of the colonies.

  • Burgoyne opted to cut a road through the wilderness instead of going via Lake George. This 3-week interval gave Americans time to assemble militia. After a battle at Bemis Heights, NY, Burgoyne held the field, but realized he must retreat or engage the 20,000 American troops now blocking his path.
  • Expecting help from Albany which did not arrive, Burgoyne fought General Horatio Gates’s forces in several engagements near & at the fort at Saratoga, NY.
  • On Oct 17, 1777, General Burgoyne surrendered to General Horatio Gates.
    Trumbull painting: http://www.americanrevolution.org/burglg.html

2. Consequences: A French Alliance. After Saratoga, Congress decided to seek French military & financial support against GB, & sent Benjamin Franklin to meet with Louis XVI & his Foreign Minister.

  • The French agreed to an alliance against France’s longtime enemy, England. (For revenge for French & Indian War defeat, & to keep Britain & America occupied.)
  • A Treaty was signed February 1778, the first document to recognize the independent American nation.

B. The Winter at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, 1777-78

VALLEY FORGE has become a symbol of the “underdog” aspects of the American Revolution. General Washington & 12,000 poorly trained, inexperienced troops made their winter quarters at Valley Forge, out of reach of attack, but close enough to Philadelphia to observe the enemy. There were troops of English, Scottish, German, Native American & African American origin.

  • What motivated the troops (men of all these diverse backgrounds) to maintain their bonds of loyalty to a weak new nation, to a precarious cause, and stay on through this hard winter?

1. 1777: Washington’s Army is defeated at Brandywine Creek near Philadelphia. The British occupy Philadelphia, the rebel capital.

Valley Forge artifacts: http://www.cr.nps.gov/museum/exhibits/revwar/vafo/vafoconti.html
Continental crime & punishments: http://www.2nc.org/18THCRIM.htm

2. Washington makes his camp at Valley Forge, Pa. where the Continentals build 1,000 log huts, undergo rigorous training, cut firewood, & generally try to survive the bitter cold, insufficient & bad food, inadequate clothing, & disease.

  • 2,000 soldiers die that winter, mostly of disease.
  • Tradesmen who supplied the troops often cheated the Army, probably believing the that British would win and they would not be held to account.
  • A Prussian general, von Steuben, is charged with training troops to observe strict military discipline and to fight like professional soldiers.Soldiers learn to load & fire their muskets at a rate of three rounds a minute, to lay down a deadly field of musket fire, & to use the bayonet.
  • They would need these skills in the coming fight.

THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier & the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love & thanks of man & woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.
—Thomas Paine, The Crisis #1, December 23, 1776