5 Myths About the Revolutionary War Everyone Believes
Since fictional superheroes usually get cool origin stories, it makes sense that an actual global superpower needs to have one. Luckily for the United States, the Revolutionary War was precisely such a tale. Bloody, heroic, and seasoned with all kinds of awesome, the entire eight-year period was dripping with fantastic stories and scrappy underdog moments.
Or was it?
The War Was Between the Colonists and the British
Myth? It's the goddamn American Revolution. Sure, the French stepped in late in the game, but by the time they bothered to put down their baguettes and wine, the colonists had already proven they were a solid bet. Even after the Americans won at Saratoga, French assistance was, well, French: underwhelming and plagued by indecision.
In the centuries since the Revolutionary War, French contributions have been criminally downplayed. Somewhere between the real Yorktown and Mel Gibson's rather less accurate version, The Patriot, the monumental French war effort during the birth of America got forgotten, buried in the sand, and pissed on.
The truth is, the 13 colonies would never have earned their freedom without French intervention -- the whole battle for American independence was essentially a proxy war between Britain and France. To the French, America was nothing but another theater in their grand blood feud against Britain. They were all about making the Englishmen eat every last available dick, and since they noticed they could use the colonists' struggle for independence as a handy feeding pen, that's exactly what they did.
France began providing arms and ammunition as early as 1776 (the war started in 1775). In early 1777, months before Saratoga, the French sent American colonists 25,000 uniforms and pairs of boots, hundreds of cannons, and thousands of muskets -- all stuff that the colonists would've had a hard time surviving without, and all stuff they had no access to on their own. And that was just the tip of the iceberg: From supplies to advice to military reinforcements, France exercised all the fiscal restraint of a drunk businessman at a strip club when it came to funding the American war.
France provided a whopping 90 percent of the rebels' gunpowder. Let that sink in for a second. Without France, the entire American Revolution would have devolved into a bunch of dudes swinging their muskets as clubs within weeks.
Still, the most important French contribution to the revolution (or, if you're British, their ultimate dick move) was the least visible to Americans. As mentioned, the reason France pampered the Patriots was always selfish. They were out to weaken the British forces -- particularly their naval strength -- in order to take the fight to them, perhaps even conquer them. That's why, for much of the Revolutionary War, the British ships tasked with kicking America's ass had to survive 12 rounds with the French navy before they could even think of crossing the Atlantic. France gleefully fought the British, eventually teaming up with Spain, declaring a war, attacking from all sides, and even setting up an invasion force. In those battles, America's independence was a fart in the desert.
So, when the Colonial army was fighting for dear freedom, history books tend to conveniently forget that they did so with French money, equipment, and backup forces, while France and its other allies were busy pummeling the empire from every other side.
Molly Pitcher, the Cannon Heroine
Molly Pitcher (whose real name may or may not have been Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley) was the wife of a Colonial artilleryman. Not content with just swooning in the background while the men did the fighting, she proved herself to be as badass as any colonist warrior by entering the Battle of Monmouth. She started the fight by carrying water for the soldiers, but when her husband fell, Molly immediately jumped behind his cannon and calmly proceeded to rain hellfire at the Englishmen for the rest of the battle. Tons of paintings and historical accounts depict her fearlessly cannon-bombing the Brits.
While several women certainly served in military roles during the Revolutionary War, there never was a Molly Pitcher.
Despite what 80 percent of U.S. history textbooks will tell you, that person never existed -- at least, not as the warrior heroine we know. It appears her cannon antics are pure legend, written into existence by patriotic historians who were eager to give America its own figurehead of female war heroism in the vein of France's Joan of Arc or Britain's Boudica.
Although the battle that made Molly famous took place in 1778, the first written mention of her as "Molly Pitcher" is from 1851, and she wasn't assigned an actual identity until 1876. You might recognize that as the year of the American centennial celebration, and as such the absolute best time to look for unbiased accounts of the United States' origins.
Amid the first-centennial hoopla, multiple towns laid claim to Molly Pitcher, giving her various identities, and giving her antics their own spin, with zero evidence to support their claims. When scholars pointed out various contradictions and issues within the stories, they were shouted down for being buzzkills and everyone returned to their centennial moonshine.
As for all the paintings of Molly wielding her cannon: Allow us to present Agustina de Aragon, heroine of the Spanish War of Independence, seen here indulging in her favorite pastime of kicking French ass.
She was a big hit in Spain for obvious reasons, and various paintings and engravings of her French-bombing antics were circulating the world as early as 1813 ... well before the first "Captain Molly" paintings (which later evolved into the legend of Molly Pitcher) started emerging.
Surely, this is just a coincidence.
The Americans Won the War With Frontier Savvy and Guerrilla Tactics
Colonists were guerrilla fighters extraordinaire. They made a huge difference in the war outcome with constant raids, skirmishes, and ambushes, essentially going Home Alone on the British forces left and right.
It makes such an awful lot of sense: In the blue corner, we have a bunch of determined colonists who were on their home turf, lightly armed, and relatively inconspicuously clothed. In the red corner: tightly organized regiments of scarlet-clad soldiers with stiff upper lips, marching in lockstep through the forest like live Duck Hunt targets. Of course the Colonial forces took the opportunity to employ the kind of guerrilla tactics that wouldn't be seen until, well, two centuries later.
As enticing as the image of clever American guerrillas winning the war by hiding behind trees and shooting British troops who are standing in formation in open fields is, it couldn't be further from the truth. While guerrilla tactics did play a plucky part in the proceedings, they were always a condiment rather than the meat. Ordinary pitched battles decided the outcome of the war.
Which was smart, because the Patriots never actually had the advantage when it came to guerrilla-ing. British troops had at least as much guerrilla chops as the Colonies, as pretty much all significant Native American tribes had sided with the Redcoats -- even the guy who literally wrote the book on being an Army Ranger fought for the British.
There was also the matter of suitable firepower. The predominant muskets of the day had a maximum range of about 100 yards, and to actually hit what you wanted, you had to be way closer. These weapons required organized, concentrated fire to direct a "wall" of lead at the enemy, in the vague hope that something might actually hit someone. Also, the muskets took about 20 seconds to reload, and the opponent tended to have at least some cavalry around. So any Colonial commando attempting an ambush was under significant risk of finding out firsthand how much less than 20 seconds it takes for a saber-swinging dragoon to cover 100 yards on horseback. In fact, forget about the horses -- while you're struggling with your musket, the British soldiers could just nonchalantly stroll up to you and send you to an agonizing, perforated demise. See, despite the color of their coats, they weren't just some idiot henchmen waiting to be shot. They were trained soldiers with bayonets fixed at the end of their muskets -- sharp bayonets that they could use very well.
With this information in mind, feel free to watch this clip of The Patriot and count all the times Mel Gibson would've been murder-stabbed to death.
Seventeen. Per minute.
Except for a Few Loyalists, Most Americans Fought for Liberty
Textbooks generally acknowledge the presence of some Loyalists in the Colonies. After all, no matter what your goal is, there's always someone who thinks it's idiotic. Even so, the sentiment for independent America must've been pretty overwhelming. Even allowing for the occasional Benedict Arnold, colonists crazy enough to continue supporting the king despite all the taxes and shit were surely just a ridiculous minority. Right?
Wrong! In fact, the numbers of Colonial and Loyalist supporters were almost even.
The Revolutionary War was every bit as much of a civil war as, well the Civil War. If anything, there was a better chance for brother to be pitted against brother, because unlike the actual Civil War, your side in the conflict didn't depend on what part of the country you lived in. With the Loyalist and Patriot factions, a single street was fully equipped to have a civil war all its own.
In fact, there were not two but three sides: about a third of Americans fought for independence, another third opted for the king's side, and the remaining third didn't give a rat's ass as long as they survived with all appendages intact. Although recent research has revised the figures slightly in favor of the Patriots, that still leaves them in the minority. Yes, Patriots were a minority in America.
Incidentally, these power dynamics also tear down the traditional "Americans were the good guys, save for a few rotten apples" view of the Patriot/Loyalist relationship. Once you realize that back then literally anyone could be the enemy, the Revolutionary War is revealed as the all-out blood feud it actually was. "Good guys" were scarce, and Patriots dealt out at least as much dickitry as they received: Apart from the usual wartime horrors, after the war, at least 60,000 men, women, and children were forcibly cast out of the newly minted nation as refugees.
Meanwhile, Britain was busy trying to help its exiled supporters and, oh yeah, freeing the thousands of African-(ex-)Americans who had supported the losing side.
Related: The 5 Most Insane Duels Ever Fought
The Colonists Defeated the Mightiest Army of the Time
The American Revolution is an 18th century David and Goliath tale. The Americans defeated the mightiest army of its time -- a force that was vastly superior in every way, except for their love of freedom.
When war broke out, the Colonies boasted a population of 2.5 million. Even with just a third of them actively supporting the revolution, and just, say, a quarter of them able-bodied men, the British still had a hell of a crowd to contend with ... especially when you consider the fact that just 40,000 British soldiers were expected to subdue them. That's 40,000 soldiers facing 2.5 million people, spread out over thousands of miles, each of them a potential enemy until proven otherwise.
Colonists never, ever faced the fearsome British army of the late empire. For the most part, the field armies tasked with suppressing the rebellion were softened units that hadn't seen combat in a decade. As for asking for backup, no matter how belated: There was none to send. In 1776, the total manpower of British military might reached 96,000. That was their entire worldwide strength. With these men, the British were fighting the Patriots, while holding Caribbean possessions, while manning their stations at Gibraltar and Minorca, and Ireland, and Gold Coast territories ... and defending England itself.
So, yeah. It was not David versus Goliath as much as it was lots of Davids plus France versus a handicapped and distracted Goliath. Maybe that's why almost as soon as the war began, the British were trying to get out of it. Lord North, the chief minister, feverishly begged the king to let him resign, as he felt he wasn't up to the task of subduing a rebellion. So, the Brits were not only grossly outnumbered, but had freaking Chicken Little running the show.
And that was just the beginning. When France entered the war, they didn't mess around: They swooped in with over 300,000 soldiers, and they equipped the Continental Army with new weapons with a range and accuracy that were vastly superior to British infantry weapons.
And then America won! Just like that time when David and 300,000 of his well-trained buddies strangled Goliath in his sleep! Just like heroes do!
USA? USA? USA?
For more reasons why you're just wrong about everything, check out 5 Ridiculous Cold War Myths You Learned in History Class and 6 Ridiculous Myths About the Middle Ages Everyone Believes.
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