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The road to independence: sites in the National Park System trace significant events of the Revolutionary War.

Sites in the National Park System trace significant events of the Revolutionary War.

I HAVE BEAT THEM! I have beat all the Americans!" King George III allegedly exclaimed when hearing of General John Burgoyne's victory over the American forces at Fort Ticonderoga in New York in June 1777. King George had reason to be confident about his army's chances for a quick victory in the war with the Americans. The capture of Ticonderoga was the first objective in a campaign designed to divide the American army by separating New England from the rest of the colonies. Ticonderoga lay at the entrance of the Hudson River Valley, and the Hudson River led to Albany, and then to New York City. Upon reaching New York City, Burgoyne's forces would join with other British troops stationed there, and the separation of the American army would be complete.

Winning the war would not prove to be so simple, however, for American grievances against the British Crown had strengthened resolve to fight until complete separation from Britain had been achieved. The war began April 19, 1775, when General Thomas Gage's British regulars marched from Boston, Massachusetts, to Concord to seize American munitions reportedly stored there. Most of the fighting would not end until the Americans routed General Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown on October 19, 1781. The war did not officially end for another two years, following peace negotiations between the British and the Americans.

Thirty-seven park system units mark the War for Independence, including some that are considered affiliates, such as the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial at Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, or secondary sites, such as the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C.

Minute Man NHP

The first military action of the Revolutionary War occurred in April 1775 when Massachusetts militia exchanged fire with the British at North Bridge. This skirmish would turn into a prolonged assult by the colonists, who besieged the British regulars for 20 miles along the road to Boston. Minute Man National Historical Park follows the road from Lexington to Concord, and encompasses several sites associated with the fighting.

Visitors to Minute Man can begin at the North Bridge Visitor Center and view a reconstruction of the bridge where colonial militia first exchanged fire with British troops, or at the Battle Road Visitor Center, which is a little more than a mile from Lexington Common. Stops between the two visitor centers along the battle road include the site where British troops apprehended Paul Revere, who was spreading the word of the British advance toward Concord; the Wayside, home of Samuel Whitney, the muster master of the Concord militia; and Bloody Angles, where colonial militia ambushed British troops retreating toward Boston.

The fighting at Lexington and Concord provided vivid evidence of the depth of colonial discontent with the Crown. Approximately 3,500 Massachusetts militia men quickly assembled to meet 1,700 British troops, who had expected disorganized resistance at most. Although Massachusetts had borne the brunt of British occupation in the year before the battle, other colonies quickly joined the fight. Colonial grievances with British rule, previously expressed through words, had been translated into action. For more information, write to Minute Man National Historical Park, P.O. Box 160, Concord, MA 01742.

Independence NHP

Just as the shots fired at North Bridge were "heard 'round the world," so too were the words of the Declaration of Independence. The Second Continental Congress ratified the document that officially created the United States of America in the Pennsylvania Statehouse. Today known as Independence Hall, it is the focal point of Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The park preserves a variety of sites important in the early history of the United States. The First Continental Congress met in Carpenter's Hall in 1774 to discuss the colonies' grievances against King George III. When a suitable resolution to those grievances could not be reached, and a year later armed conflict had started at Lexington and Concord, drastic action was the result. In June 1776, Richard Henry Lee, a delegate to the Second Continental Congress from Virginia, initiated a call for independence from Britain. Work then began on the document that would become the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson wrote the rough draft of the Declaration while boarding in the Jacob Graff house, a reconstruction of which is located a block and a half from the Liberty Bell Pavilion. While holding a session in the Pennsylvania Statehouse, delegates from the colonies adopted the Declaration on July 4, 1776, and introduced it to the world four days later with a public reading in Independence Square.

Visitors should not forget the park's portrait gallery, located in the building that housed the Second Bank of the United States. The gallery displays the portraits of many individuals involved in the Revolutionary War and the early Republic. It is important to note that Independence Hall is open by tour only, and that visitation peaks between May and Labor Day, so lines are common. For more information, write to Independence National Historical Park, 313 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106.

Saratoga NHP

Saratoga National Historical Park preserves the tract of gently rolling farmland overlooking the Hudson River Valley where the Battle of Saratoga was fought. To reach Albany, British troops needed to negotiate a narrow stretch of the River Road running along the Hudson that is now part of the park border. By passing Saratoga on the River Road, British troops would expose themselves to American cannon fire from the bluffs; to stray from the road meant facing a series of fortifications in the nearby fields that would significantly slow their advance. The British chose to fight in the fields.

The Battle of Saratoga was actually a series of attacks and counterattacks throughout the months of September and October in 1777. A tour through the park begins at the visitor center and consists of several battle sites, including Freeman's Farm, owned by a loyalist who joined General Burgoyne's invasion force, the American fortifications overlooking the Hudson, and redoubts constructed by British and American troops. A reconstruction of the house used by American officers as quarters during the battles is located near Bemis Heights, where American troops constructed a fortified line to repel the British advance. The exhibits on the battlefield give the visitor insight into the difficulties faced by troops because of the hand-to-hand nature of war in the 18th century. In addition in nearby Stillwater, the home of General Philip Schuyler, who raised troops to oppose Burgoyne's forces in the months preceding the battle, is open from mid-June to Labor Day. The house is about eight miles north of the park and is the site of living history demonstrations presented by volunteers in period dress. For more information, write to Saratoga National Historical Park, R.D. 2, Box 33, Stillwater, NY 12170.

Ninety Six National Historic Site

By 1780 the war in the North had slowed considerably, but fighting in the South continued. The British occupied Georgia and began to make significant inroads in South Carolina. In May of 1780, the British army seized Charleston and soon started to solidify its position by moving inland. The British planned to renew fighting in the North after victory in the South.

Ninety Six National Historic Site marks the economic and political center of South Carolina's backcountry. Traders out of Charleston thought that this stopping place was 96 miles from the Cherokee town of Keowee in the Blue Ridge foothills. The village began its life in the 1730s as a frontier settlement centered around a major trading route. As such, it attracted the interest of both American and British military strategists. In November 1775, colonists still loyal to the Crown and those seeking independence fought to a standstill at Ninety Six. An uneasy cohabitation of the backcountry, marked by periodic violence, continued until 1781. In May of that year, American troops led by Nathanael Greene attempted to wrest control of Ninety Six from the British and American loyalists by attacking the Star Fort, hoping to break the chain of British outposts stretching across South Carolina.

Visitors to Ninety Six will see one of the best examples of 18th century siegeworks in this country. The Star Fort held by the British at Ninety Six presented problems for the American forces, who could not approach the well-protected fort using traditional tactics. Thaddeus Kosciuszko, who was responsible for many of the American fieldworks at the Battle of Saratoga, devised a plan to dig a zigzag trench toward the fort and construct a rifle tower to provide cover for the trench diggers, or sappers. The sappers eventually reached the base of the fort, where they engaged in hand-to-hand combat with loyalist troops. The plan was interrupted when the American commander learned that British reinforcements were approaching, forcing the American troops to storm the fort. The assault failed, but the British ultimately relinquished the fort a few weeks later and returned to the coast. Loyalists in the area burned the village of Ninety Six and attempted to destroy the Star Fort as well. Fortifications connected the stockade fort, the village, and the Star Fort. When American troops began their siege, they cut off the water supply, forcing the British soldiers to dig a well within the fort that can be seen today.

Along with the siegeworks and fort, the park interprets the components of an 18th-century village. About 100 people lived in the vicinity of Ninety Six, the site of a jail and a courthouse, both important symbols of political authority. The walking tour through the park follows a portion of the 18th-century trading path, the jail, and the re-constructed stockade fort that protected the water supply. For more information, write to Ninety Six National Historic Site, P.O. Box 496, Ninety Six, SC 29666.
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Author:Swift, J. Charles
Publication:National Parks
Date:Jul 1, 1993
Words:1636
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