by Scott Morehouse
The vast majority of colonists who fought for independence during the Revolutionary War were militiamen. The tactics of the militia were different from those of the Continental army and those of the European armies. The unique composition of fighting forces created a peculiar situation for the commanders. The tactics employed by the Americans, and especially the militia, were not only the key to the Americans' success but helped to change the manner in which wars were to be fought from that point on.
The first military skirmishes of the war happened at Lexington, Concord, and Bunker (actually Breeds) Hill, Massachusetts. All of these battles were fought by militia called Minutemen. Despite losses at Lexington and Bunker Hill, all these conflicts can be considered successes because the heavily outnumbered Colonists were able to inflict heavy casualties on the highly trained British regulars who at that time were considered the best army in the world. The Colonists were successful because of the method of fighting and were "formidable on defense and from behind cover."
In eighteenth century Europe, the opposing armies would march their infantry units in column formations to the battlefield and deploy them in a line, shoulder to shoulder in three ranks. The infantry were lined up in the center of the front line of engagement, flanked on either side by mounted cavalry. The field artillery units were positioned behind these front-line units. There was no smokeless gunpowder at this time; visibility was low, so the armies would wear bright colored uniforms in order to be recognized.
The field artillery units would begin firing into the enemy ranks prior to the engagement in an effort to confuse and disrupt the advancement of the infantry. After the infantry elements had lined up within approximately fifty yards of each other, the infantry would commence firing. They fired en masse because the weapons they used were smoothbore muskets and they were inaccurate. They would be commanded to ready their weapons, level them, and fire. The use of the word "level" instead of "aim" illustrates the inaccuracy of these weapons. Volleys were fired in succession by the ranks until there was an opportunity for a charge that would signal the beginning of close-hand combat with swords, knives and bayonets. At an opportune moment, the cavalry would charge into the enemy position, causing confusion in the infantry.
The experience of the Indian Wars taught the Americans that standard European warfare could not be effectively utilized in the terrain of the colonies. The Indians would use surprise, stealth, and ambush while being pursued. The dense woodlands and lack of open fields led to tactics now referred to as "guerrilla" tactics. The American militia learned these ways and along with their Kentucky rifles (a fairly accurate weapon for the period) became good marksmen.
During the Revolutionary War, the militia became a valuable tool to the Continental Army generals if they were employed properly. These militia troops were unorganized and undisciplined; they fared poorly when used as regular army troops in close formations, but when assembled in extended order, their marksmanship and perseverance became an asset to the regular units. The militia was best at "fighting from behind cover, against small enemy units, or when they were not required to perform complicated maneuvers."
The American Horatio Gates deployed the unsupported militia on open terrain in Camden, South Carolina in August 1780. This proved to be a mistake and the battle was lost with heavy casualties. Other military leaders, such as Daniel Morgan, used the militia to do jobs that they were more capable of. At Cowpens, South Carolina, (January 1781) Morgan used the militia as skirmishers to screen his line.
The Patriot illustrates many of these points on warfare and tactics during the Revolutionary War. In the movie, the viewer sees the Battle of Camden when the militia were slaughtered as they tried to fight a conventional battalion formation. Later in the movie, the viewer is afforded the opportunity to see the successful employment of militia when the militia were the attacking element until they were forced to retreat to the position of the Continentals and the Continentals then had the chance to ambush the surprised British.
The change in tactics that evolved from the Indian Wars helped also to be a decisive factor in the colonists' fight for their independence in the Revolutionary War. In modern times, armies no longer line up to exchange gunfire at close range in an open area. Part of this change stems from what occurred during the Revolutionary War.
Major Battles of the American Revolution
By Alicia S. Young
In the movie, The Patriot, there are
three main battles between the British Army and the Continental Army.
These were the Battle of Cowpens, the Battle of Camden, and the Battle at
Yorktown. These battles were all real revolutionary battles and many of
their key players were somehow depicted in the movie.
The Battle of Cowpens was on January 17, 1781,
in Upper South Carolina. The name Cowpens was given because the battle was
held on the grazing field of Hannah's Cowpens. General Daniel Morgan was
the commanding officer of the Continental forces. He set a trap for
Colonel Banister Tarleton and his British forces. He did this in the hopes
that they would fight harder to stay alive.
The Battle of Cowpens was fought in an area
that is now covered by some forestlands, but it was a wide-open area of land
when the battle occurred. "The battle was fought within the limits of
present day Spartanburg County, about eight miles north of Cowpens Station."
Morgan selected a ridge that gently ascended
about 350 yards. He stationed a group of his force at about 150 yard
intervals. "On the crest of the ridge he posted his best disciplined
troops, two companies of Virginia militia, and a company of Georgians.
This made the rear line consist of 430 men. This group was under the
command of Lieutenant-Colonel Howard of Maryland. About 150 yards in front
of them, the major body of the militia was posted in open order under Colonel
Andrew Pickens. This group was made up of North and South
Carolinians. About 150 yards ahead of Pickens' Line were approximately 150
men extending in loose order, the right being commanded by Colonel Cunningham,
and the left being commanded by Major McDowell." (Landrum, 278)
"As soon as the militia had delivered their
fire they broke from the line. As soon as they had cleared away, the
regulars under Howard began to fire and kept it up for about half an hour or
more. Soon after Washington came to their assistance and enabled the militia to
maintain their state of order." (Landrum, 283)
This was a great victory for the Continental
forces and a great defeat for the British Army. Tarleton however, managed
to make the whole thing look like a victory. He bragged that he drove back
Washington's forces and that he was kind enough to let some Colonists go
Camden was a city in South Carolina, where
General Greene and his British forces were stationed. They were awaiting
reinforcements, and hoping that Lord Rawdon's Army could hold of the
Americans. On May 10, 1781 Greene evacuated the town of Camden. He
burned the town and retired with his whole army south. He left behind
about thirty wounded and about the same amount of Americans that he had
The Battle at Yorktown was the battle that
ended the war. Washington knew that Cornwallis was just outside of
Yorktown, so he decided to march toward Yorktown. On October 6, 1781,
Washington ordered trenches to be made in order to begin closing in on the
British. By the ninth, they were able to blast through enemy lines.
The French were the first to fire. Cornwallis soon began receiving
word from all sides that there was a major destruction. He held out until
the seventeenth, but then Cornwallis surrendered. An officer came out
waving a white handkerchief and Washington sent an officer to blindfold him and
bring him to American lines. He had a note from Cornwallis that read,
"Sir, I propose a cessation of hostilities for twenty-four hours, and that two
officers be appointed from each side, to meet at Mr. Moore's house, to settle
terms for the surrender of forts at York and Gloucester." Washington sent
back a message giving Cornwallis two hours for his proposal for surrender.
These battles were all turning points in the war, which is probably why they are depicted in the movie. They show the Americans' willingness to fight for their cause.
By Josh Flores
Any war that is fought is one of hardship, sacrifice, and uncertainty. Even under the best conditions, when troops are adequately supplied and trained, armed conflict is hardly a desirable result. However, it was under the worst conditions that the Continental Army challenged the forces of Great Britain. General George Washington’s men were a rag tag bunch with little formal military training and suffered from a lack of official uniforms and in some cases even weaponry. As they were an undisciplined lot, General Washington requested that his men, the Continental Army regulars who never numbered more than 17,000, be outfitted with official uniforms, feeling that a common appearance would help instill cohesiveness among his troops. Although the request was made in 1775, it was not until three years later that uniforms arrived from France, marking the first time in the war that there was any uniformed dress in the Continental Army. Until then, the average soldier served in civilian clothes.
In October of 1779, General Washington issued a general order that marked the first American Dress Regulation. The Infantry of the Continental Army were to be outfitted in dark blue coats with different facings and distinctions for groups of states. Although this order went into effect immediately, there was no mass production of uniforms. The Continental Army was clothed only as supplies permitted, which meant that at no time would the Continental Army ever be fully uniformed. By the time the last regiment of troops received their uniforms, the soldiers in the first regiment to receive uniforms would be reduced to wearing rags once again.
The most efficient dress during the Revolutionary War was that of the rifleman, which was more easily supplied than the more formal uniforms of the officers. This clothing consisted of a linen or deerskin shirt, frock, fringed deerskin leggings and moccasins. George Washington was in favor of this type of uniform because it was cheap, light and adaptable, and he requested 10,000 sets for the army.
When considered in the larger context of the American Revolution, the uniforms of the militiamen were quite appropriate. It was no trained army that fought the British; it was an unconventional group of farmers, merchants, clergymen, and even former slaves. It was truly an “everyman’s” army.
Flags of the American Revolution were, at first, as varied as the uniforms worn by members of the Continental Army. As relations with Great Britain became more strained, the colonists designed a large number of flags expressive of their sentiments and ideals. A favorite of the colonists, particularly those from the south, was that of the rattlesnake with thirteen rattles and the words “Don’t Tread On Me” emblazoned across the field. It is pictured prominently in The Patriot in several of the fighting sequences.
During the initial years of combat, Washington was concerned that each colony was fighting under a different flag. He felt this caused confusion and wished to have one standard under which all the colonies could unite. Washington commissioned a flag to be designed that was called the Grand Union. The flag retained elements of the British flag, displaying the allegiance to England that the colonies still recognized in the early stages of the revolution. The field, however, consisted of thirteen alternate red and white stripes. This would serve as the unofficial flag until June 14, 1777, when Congress voted to adopt a flag independent of British influence. It consisted of thirteen red and white stripes and displayed thirteen stars. Exactly where and when the first official flag of the United States was flown has not been determined. This flag is commonly referred to as the “Betsy Ross” flag, although historians do not accept the legend that she was the designer.
For further information concerning the uniforms worn during the American Revolutionary War consult the following sources: John Mello’s, Uniforms of the American Revolution and Lynn Montross’, Rag, Tag, and Bobtail: The Story of the Continental Army, 1775-1783. Information concerning the various flags flown can be found in Gordon Campbell’s, The Book of Flags and David Crouthers’, Flags of American History.
The Real Colonel
By Son H. Mai
In The Patriot,
the brutal Colonel William Tavington is supposedly based on an actual British
officer named Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton during the Revolutionary
War. The movie depicts Tavington as a brutal officer who is hell-bent on
suppressing the insurrection in the American Colonies, but what was the man whom
he is based on really like?
was typical for a contemporary British officer. He was born to a family of
high social rank. He graduated from Oxford University, where he was known
for his athletic ability, and received his commission into the army shortly
after graduating and entering law school. He was sent to North American in
1776 to put down a rebellion that was taking place in the British Colonies at
the time. It was not until he was sent to fight in the southern colonies
in 1780 that his brutality became notorious, and the nickname "Bloody Tarleton"
was bestowed upon him. He was only twenty-six years old at the time.
Like Colonel Tavington
in the movie, Tarleton was rather arrogant, and considered himself to be one of
the most dashing officers in the British Army. Although many of his
colleagues at the time agree that he was a competent soldier, his reputation was
overshadowed by his legacy of brutality.
There is no record that
Lieutenant-Colonel Tarleton committed the same atrocities as shown in The
Patriot. For instance, the scene when British troops set fire to a
church filled with civilians never happened. Perhaps the greatest
atrocities that Tarleton committed were that he took no prisoners, and killed
anyone who did not support Britain during the American Revolution.
Tarleton even ordered his soldiers to fire upon his retreating enemies, which is
considered to be an unethical act according to the rules of war at the
Tarletonís troops were routed during the Battle of Cowpens in 1781, when he
attacked the militia under the command of Brigadier-General Daniel Morgan of the
Continental Army. Initially, the colonists retreated and Tarleton believed
they were defeated. He ordered his men to attack, but Morganís retreat was
just preparation for a head-on charge which resulted in Tarletonís men being
outflanked. Humiliated, the Lieutenant-Colonel offered to resign from his
commission, but General Charles Cornwallis refused to accept it.
Patriot, which showed a brutal battle between Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson)
and Colonel William Tavington (Jason Isaacs) involving cannonballs that knocked
out the legs of soldiers like bowling balls and led to the death of the latter,
Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton did not meet the same fate. After the
humiliating defeat at Cowpens, he continued raiding the southern colonies in
skirmishes, eventually making his way into Virginia, where he narrowly missed
capturing Thomas Jefferson, the future President, who would later write about
how reluctant he was to leave Montecello, his home, until he came to his senses
that he 'was no Don Quixote.î In fact, Jefferson nonchalantly had
breakfast and tea in his home before retreating into the woods! Following
Cornwallisí surrender following the Battle of Yorktown in 1781, Tarleton
returned to Britain and was considered a hero for his military actions, despite
his record of wanton savagery in North America. He was eventually promoted
to the rank of General and then knighted. Tarleton was then elected to
Parliament, where he served seven terms. In 1786, he was criticized for
his actions which led to the British military defeat at the Battle of Cowpens,
so he wrote a book, History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 in the Southern
Provinces of North America as a rebuttal in defense of his actions. He
finally married in 1798 and died in 1833 at the ripe age of seventy-nine.
Interesting books about
the reality of Banastre Tarleton include Brutal Value: The Myth and Reality
of Banastre Tarleton, by Anthony Scotti, and John Hayesí Massacre,
Tarleton and Lee, 1780 and 1781.
The Role of Women in the American Revolution
By Susan E. West
The roles that women portrayed in The Patriot, including the participation of women during the Revolution appear to be historically accurate. The movie reveals much about how women were viewed and the positions that they held within their communities in a Southern colony during the American Revolution. Despite the difficult time during the war, the women assisted significantly by helping those who were fighting. The role of caretaker, such as Aunt Charlotte's, played by Joely Richardson, was one of the duties undertaken by women during the war. In the time of the "Great Awakening," women took more active roles in their households, which extended beyond the domestic: they not only remained with their children and land but they also assisted their men in the battlefield.
One example of women helping on the home front was Anna, played by Lisa Brenner. As Gabriel (Heath Ledger) announces the formation of a militia, Anna stands up in the church and motivates the men "to act on their beliefs." History takes this a step further: Women during the Revolution were even more active than just speaking out. Mary Beth Norton states (in Crow and Tise, 217 ) , "in 1780 a rural North Carolina woman impulsively followed her husband's militia unit to a battlefield, where she cared for the wounded of both sides until she learned he was unhurt." Thus women sometimes took a physically active role with the men during this time.
Although women were not allowed the right to vote or even participate actively in the Continental Congress, they did find a voice for themselves. They involved themselves in crowd and mob activities and also boycotted British goods. The Patriot illustrates that women were allowed to participate in ways that previously were forbidden. No battle scenes in which women were involved in combat were depicted in the movie, perhaps mainly because these were rare occurrences. However, women such as Abigail Adams took a role behind the scenes, corresponding with her husband regularly: "I feel still more for my bleeding countrymen, who are hazarding their lives and their limbs! To the agonized hearts of thousands of women, went the roar of the cannon booming over those hills! Many a bosom joined in breathing that prayer."
Another role that women portrayed in the movie was the role of caretaker and nurturer. Since Ben's wife had died at the age of 35 due to complications of childbirth, the children took on the domestic roles. Their Aunt Charlotte assisted as well. Aunt Charlotte, an educated Southern woman is an example of one such nurturer. As Norton declares,
"The lives of the wealthiest group of southern white women differed markedly from those of the poorer and middling sort. Foreigners and northern almost invariably described well-to-do southern women as indolent because of combined effect of their living in so warm a climate and being surrounded by such a multitude of slaves. But appearances were deceiving to a certain extent. Such women were freed from the more monotonous and onerous household duties by the labor of female slaves, but in exchange, they had to superintend large and complex families."
Although Charlotte does not have any children of her own, she offers her assistance with her late sister's children. Her relationship with their father develops. Marriage probably follows. According to a study done on population from colonial times, "males much outnumbered females," and it is likely that these types of relationships between widower and sister-in-law existed, if for no other reason perhaps out of convenience.
The American Revolution changed all aspects of family life, among other things, and therefore the female role had to change as well. It "brought both promise and new restraint." The courtship portrayed between Gabriel and Anna was true for this period. Although some evidence says that parental control was losing ground, the parents of Anna were involved and active in the relationship between this couple. As Robert M. Weir states (in Crow and Tise's collection of essays) "Nowhere is the nature of that transition (in family life) more clearly revealed that in the changing pattern of parental control over marriage. Up until the eighteenth century, there existed a stable, parent-run marriage system." Gabriel was correct in asking for parental permission to call on Anna.. The couple were chaperoned when they were together, and eventually married with the blessings of both parents. Owing to the war, both of their young lives were tragically cut short, but they were allowed the opportunity as young adults to court and foster their relationship.
Although The Patriot was a fictional movie, the roles and characters that women portrayed appear to correspond with the Revolutionary era. Although women's status changed over time, women in the War fought hard not only alongside the men, but also for the men through their patriotic ideals. Women were responsible for children, their homes and land while the colonists fought for freedom. This movie is a fair portrayal of women in the late 18th century.
For further reading on this topic of women and their roles in the Revolution there are several books available: Revolutionary Women in the War for America by Elizabeth Ellet, A People In Revolution by Edward Countryman, To Be Useful To the World by Joan Gunderson, and The Southern Experience in the American Revolution edited by Jeffrey J. Crow and Larry E. Tise.
Geographical Accuracy in The
By Craig Wallace
An important characteristic film directors should consider when filming a historically based motion picture is an exact recreation of the setting where the actual events being portrayed actually occurred. Films portraying historical events in which the outdoors or geographical settings play a prominent role, particularly battles scenes, are closely scrutinized by historians and scholars. In some cases, recreating massive battle scenes such as those in another Mel Gibson film Braveheart, is not always feasible or convenient. In this case, Braveheart was filmed in Tennessee, thousands of miles from where the events took place. This essay will discuss the 2000 film, The Patriot, and the filmís use of geography in relation to actual events that occurred during the American Revolution.
In the late
eighteenth century, the time setting for The Patriot, the importance of
natural surroundings figured prominently in the outcomes of minor skirmishes and
major battles, particularly in South Carolina. In order to recreate South
Carolina in 1776, the filmmakers of The Patriot shot on location at
colonial-period sites around the state. Historic Brattonsville and Charleston
were among the locations used.
The Battle of
Cowpens, which originally occurred in northern South Carolina was recreated in a
nearly identical location to the Cowpens National Battlefield park. The term
ìcowpens,î is associated with the early South Carolina cattle industry and
pastureland. The actual battlefield was nearly 500 yards in length and had been
cleared of all undergrowth for cattle. Camden, another battle reenacted in
The Patriot, is also preserved as a historic battlesite. Camden was
also recreated to look like the original battlesite. In order to achieve
accuracy in the fighting scenes with regard to location, formations, and combat,
The Patriotís filmmakers consulted with the Smithsonian Institute. An
entire town, Pembroke, was also recreated from scratch by the filmmakers.
In minor skirmishes, swampy areas were used to portray the way American militiamen used the regionís inhospitable topography to their advantage against the Red Coats. This proved to be a very accurate portrayal of South Carolina skirmishes. Poorly trained and unorganized militiamen overcame major disadvantages by using the unfamiliar swampland to stage what the British termed "barbaric" attacks. Some footage in the more wooded areas of the state does not truly represent the natural geography of South Carolina during the revolutionary era. This, however, is a minor flaw because there certainly were some trees in South Carolina at the time, just not the rolling forests that are present today.
In sum, geographical
accuracy is perhaps the strongest characteristic in The Patriot. The
filmís creators could have shot these important battle scenes in more convenient
locations, and they should be commended for keeping this aspect in the film more
accurate. Other areas do not exhibit the same realism in The
Patriot: any historical knowledge one gains from this film would be purely
accidental. This "stand up and 'God Bless America'" picture should not be
seen in place of a good historical documentary, but what does an educated viewer
expect from the same people who brought America Independence Day?
on the natural history of South Carolina can be found in David Ramsayís
History of South Carolina Volume II, South Carolina: A Geography,
by J. Winberry, and D.D. Wallaceís South Carolina: A Short
Agriculture in South
Carolina During the Revolutionary War
By Donna C. West
The Patriot seems to have been
filmed to romanticize the American Revolution: a love story-battle epic charged
with emotion. The makers of The Patriot, in doing the research
for the time period, did well in reproducing different aspects of the time; such
as costumes, battles, weaponry, and historical figures involved in the battles
that occurred in South Carolina. However, the large cotton plantations and
the field slaves are a little ahead of their time.
South Carolina consists of swampy lowlands
in the southern portion of the state with hilly, rolling highlands in the upper
portion. Most colonists had tried to grow the type of grains that were
grown in England, but production was low and the colonists had to find a more
suitable crop for the climate. Some colonists even tried the type of crops
that grew in the Caribbean, like sugar cane. After numerous failures,
South Carolina finally found export crops---rice and indigo.
In 1693, rice was
introduced in the swampy lowlands. Initially there were only a few rice
grains available for seed; after the first year's crop, rice grew abundantly
with minimal tending. Slaves were freed from the fields until harvest
time, allowing their owners to use them for other tasks. South Carolina
eventually was able to export more than 40,000 bushels of rice per year.
Rice is a highly nutritious staple that, prior to the American Revolution, fed
one-third of the world's population.
In 1741-1742, indigo
was introduced in South Carolina. After three attempts, the plants finally
took hold and grew. At first, due to a lack of expertise, colonial indigo
was inferior in quality to that produced in France. In time the American
industry refined its product to compete with the French in the indigo
trade. After the American Revolution, little indigo was grown in South
Carolina as cotton became king.
The plantation system
did not fully develop until the introduction of a new type of cotton in the
1780s. Prior to the American Revolution, cotton was an experimental crop
grown predominantly along the coast. Some of the large farms with
extensive fields later developed into plantations. Cotton did not become a
major crop until after 1793 when Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin that made
it easier to clean the seed from the cotton fibers. This invention alone
made cotton economically feasible.
Martin's (Mel Gibson) large cotton plantation as depicted in The Patriot
is a little ahead of its time. The scenes with the slaves working the
fields are historically accurate, but the major crop grown in that region of
South Carolina would have been rice or indigo. The agricultural methods used in
the film fit with the type of agriculture practiced at that time. The hand
plow pulled by horses was used to plow the fields. All crops were
harvested by hand. The only discrepancy was that all the slaves on
Martin's plantation were free. It is true that there were some freed
slaves in the South prior to the Revolution, but they were few and far between,
not nearly as numerous as Martin's plantation indicates.
For research on the
agricultural development of South Carolina, Ramsay's History of South
Carolina, From its First Settlement in 1670 to the Year 1808, by David
Ramsay, is a two-volume set and number four in the South Carolina Heritage
Series published by W. J. Duffie in Newberry, South Carolina. Da Capo
Press published John R. Alden's A History of the American Revolution
which makes a great source of reference, and Don Higginbotham wrote Daniel
Morgan, published by the University of North Carolina Press; it tells the
true story of the real-life individual upon whom the character of Benjamin
Martin is largely based.