“It’s on the way, which means we have to go,” I told him. By that point, he’d grown used to my map-scouring and park visit-plotting ways, and while he cared little for history, he was a good sport about it, especially if there were comfy benches for him to sit on while I chattered about random pieces of history or artifacts in a display case.
Guilford Courthouse National Military Park commemorates the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, fought during the Revolutionary War on March 15, 1781. There, around 2,000 British troops, under the command of Lt. Gen. Charles Corwallis, defeated 4,500 Americans, commanded by Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene. After two and a half hours of battle, Greene retreated to preserve the strength of his army. Cornwallis had lost more than 25 percent of his force, while damages to the American force were much less, around six percent.
After Guilford Courthouse, the British gave up on the Carolinas and, seven months later, Corwallis surrendered in Yorktown, Virginia, to the French and American forces mustered there under Gen. George Washington. The surrender effectively ended the hostilities and even though Greene technically lost at Guilford Courthouse, he was still lauded as a hero and is considered one of Washington’s most dependable and gifted officers.
At Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, we first wandered through the museum. The collection there is exceptional and, at the end, there’s a small plaque dedicated to the park ranger who donated his personal collection to the park after his death.
After the museum, we drove the battlefield tour road that includes eight stops and 26 interpretive panels that help to explain the battle. The park itself is lovely, with rolling hills and tree-lined roads and a bunch of walking trails that meander through America’s history.
During our visit, I felt a little silly. I live in Richmond, Virginia, and can tell you all about the Civil War. Fifteen years in the Army has provided me with a wealth of information on the World Wars and yet, I live in Virginia and can’t tell you much about the Revolutionary War, aside from the very basic of basics, that it was for independence, that George Washington was there, along with the British who were wearing some ridiculous red coats.
It occurred to me, as I wandered through the museum, that my knowledge of the American Revolution comes from my high school history lessons, numerous viewings of the The Patriot and not much else.
So, I did some research. Because I don’t like feeling silly.
FIVE THINGS I LEARNED ABOUT THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
1. THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION WENT ON FOR ALMOST 20 YEARS.
While America’s thirteen colonies declared themselves independent from the Kingdom of Great Britain on July 4, 1776, the American Revolution officially ran from 1765 to 1783. It included all the crazy shit we learned about in high school, like the whole, “no taxation without representation” thing (1765) and the Boston Tea Party (1773), plus the Revolutionary War which started on April 19, 1775, with the Battle of Lexington and Concord. While fighting ended after the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781, it wasn’t all officially over until the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783.
2. THERE WAS A SECRET PLOT TO REPLACE GEORGE WASHINGTON AS COMMANDER OF THE CONTINENTAL ARMY.
Benjamin Rush wrote an anonymous letter to Patrick Henry in 1777, suggesting that Thomas Conway or Horatio Gates would make a better leader for the new nation’s army. Rush was pissed because Washington had denied him a promotion after the Battle of Brandywine, so he went around George to the Continental Congress and managed to secure a spot as Inspector General of the Army. When Washington heard about the letter, he confronted both Rush and Gates and they both backed down. Gates ended up resigning from the Continental Army in 1778 and was later shot in the face during a duel.
3. TO AUGMENT THEIR ARMY, THE BRITISH HIRED 30,000 GERMAN SOLDIERS, OR “HESSIANS,” TO HELP THEM FIGHT THE PATRIOTS.
These men were, at least in the beginning, from Hesse-Cassel, and were regular soldiers who were basically rented out to British for the war fight. They fought in every major battle of the Revolutionary War, from Quebec to Florida, and once the war was over several thousand opted to stay in the new United States of America rather than return home.
4. AFRICAN AMERICANS FOUGHT FOR BOTH SIDES ON THE CONFLICT.
At least nine African American Soldiers fought at Lexington and Concord, but when the Continental Army was organized in 1775, there was much debate between north and south over recruiting black Soldiers. A majority vote opted to exclude blacks from military service, but by 1777, that was pretty much forgotten. Some white men who didn’t want to serve actually hired African Americans to serve for them. The British, meanwhile, recruited slaves from the very start of the conflict, offering them their freedom if they were willing to fight. Ultimately, about 7,000 African Americans served on the Continental side, while about 20,000 served with the British.
Among those women was Deborah Samson who reinvented herself as Robert Shurtlieff and joined the Continental Army, serving in the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment. She was wounded several times but always refused medical treatment in order to protect her real identity and her fellow Soldiers called her “Molly” because she couldn’t grow a beard, but still, no one suspected she was actually a woman. In 1783, she was very, very sick and near death when a doctor learned her true identity while resting his hand on her chest to see if she was still breathing. She was nursed back to health and received an honorable discharge from the Continental Army. In 1805 she was awarded a pension and today she’s the official state heroine of Massachusetts.