J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Saratoga Not the Turning Point?

The Smithsonian website offers Prof. John Ferling’s article “Myths of the American Revolution”. Ferling explores how some common generalizations about the war aren’t completely correct, and may in fact be mostly incorrect. As an example:

Saratoga was not the turning point of the war. Protracted conflicts—the Revolutionary War was America’s longest military engagement until Vietnam nearly 200 years later—are seldom defined by a single decisive event. In addition to Saratoga, four other key moments can be identified.
The first of those four moments is the combination of Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill, which, one might argue, was a starting point rather than a turning point. But those events did mark a turn from a political conflict with threatening military moves by both sides to a shooting war.

I’ll let you discover the three other “turning points” Ferling mentions. To make it harder, not all of them are battlefield developments. To make it easier, they all involve the tide turning in favor of the Americans.

But surely there had to be moments when the war turned in favor of the British, right? Otherwise, the war wouldn’t have lasted so long. Gen. William Howe’s sweeping reconquest of New York in 1776 wiped out a lot of the American momentum after successful campaigns at Boston and Charleston. Similarly, Howe’s victory at Brandywine sent the Congress scrambling out of its capital and erased the memory of Gen. George Washington’s smaller battlefield triumphs months before.

Finally, as Ferling notes elsewhere in the article, the British military’s southern strategy looked very good after the battle of Camden, with Georgia back in the Empire, Charleston firmly in British hands, and many Americans sick of the war. At that point, the Americans really needed a new turning point.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I have to say, as a Brit, I found this book dull and repetitive - Ferling needs a Thesaurus beside him when he is writing (pace the number of "egregious"es!). It IS easy to read but dull.