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American Revolution

American Revolution

Professor Allen C. Guelzo Ph.D.
Gettysburg College
Course No.  8514
Course No.  8514
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Course Overview

About This Course

24 lectures  |  30 minutes per lecture
Has there ever been a more unlikely war than the Revolution that won America its independence?

Why did those 13 colonies, with nothing resembling a unified and trained army and with no navy to speak of, believe they could defeat the most powerful nation on the planet?

And why was Britain, no matter how powerful, confident that it could prevail, even though burdened with a 3,000-mile supply line for troops and provisions, a "circuit of command" for time-critical orders that could consume three months or more, and the constant need to divert its forces, whether to protect against slave uprisings in the Caribbean or against the looming threat of the French on both sides of the Atlantic?

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Has there ever been a more unlikely war than the Revolution that won America its independence?

Why did those 13 colonies, with nothing resembling a unified and trained army and with no navy to speak of, believe they could defeat the most powerful nation on the planet?

And why was Britain, no matter how powerful, confident that it could prevail, even though burdened with a 3,000-mile supply line for troops and provisions, a "circuit of command" for time-critical orders that could consume three months or more, and the constant need to divert its forces, whether to protect against slave uprisings in the Caribbean or against the looming threat of the French on both sides of the Atlantic?

Considerations like these are indicative of just how unlikely this conflict was, Professor Allen C. Guelzo notes in his gripping new course The American Revolution. And they are far from the only ones.

Why did the British fight the way they did, "served up by seemingly unthinking generals in solid rows of walking targets while the Americans crouched Indian-style behind rocks and trees"? Why did the Americans end up fighting this same way?

Why did George Washington, in an uncharacteristically fractious move, lash out angrily at his troops, labeling them misfits and mutineers?

What moved King George III, even after Cornwallis had surrendered at Yorktown, to ask his secretary of state for America to put on paper the "mode which seems most feasible for conducting the war," clinging to a belief that the Americans might yet be subdued?

And, finally, who really deserves the credit for defeating the British army?

Was it the Continentals, gamely overcoming all odds? Was it the French, entering on the American side not purely out of friendship but also as a first step in converting Britain's colonies into their own? Or was it perhaps both of these factors-along with weather, terrain, timing, and sheer luck? Above all, why was the American Revolution really won not in America at all, but in the Caribbean?

As Professor Guelzo explains the answers to these and many other questions, you find yourself gaining a fresh understanding of the factors that made America's victory possible.

You see how issues such as logistics and the human factor can influence strategy, tactics, and the course of battle. Or how happenstance can prove even more important than either of those key factors. And you gain an appreciation of how opposing sides can experience completely different perceptions of the same conflict-with key decisions influenced by those differing perceptions.

Beginning with a clear presentation of what Jefferson referred to in the Declaration of Independence as "the causes which impel [the Colonies] to the separation," Professor Guelzo presents a startlingly vivid narrative about the war for independence.

Although built on a solid foundation of the principles and politics underlying the conflict, The American Revolution is primarily about what Professor Guelzo calls the conflict's "actual mechanics as a Revolution-an armed uprising against the most dominant military power in the world."

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24 Lectures
  • 1
    The Imperial Crisis, 1763–1773
    Driven close to financial collapse by the French and Indian War, England turns for help to the colonies that had fought at its side. The new taxes—imposed without representation—outrage a people who had considered themselves fully English. x
  • 2
    The Ancient Constitution
    Britain's understanding of its ancient—although unwritten—style of government places it at odds with that of its colonists, who see in John Locke's theories not a hypothetical "thought experiment," but an argument for autonomy. x
  • 3
    "A Soldier What's Fit for a Soldier"
    What were the typical British soldier and officer like? How were troops organized and equipped? You meet the forces expected to maintain order in the increasingly rebellious colonies. x
  • 4
    "How the British Regulars Fired and Fled"
    As tensions escalate and the first Continental Congress convenes, King George III finally heeds a request for reinforcements. Nevertheless, the British sorely underestimate American militia and suffer a humiliating defeat at Lexington and Concord. x
  • 5
    Standoff in Boston, 1775
    As Benedict Arnold helps win a key victory at New York's Fort Ticonderoga, the Second Continental Congress authorizes a new army under George Washington, a soldier and gentleman farmer well aware of the implications of the conflict, including the risk of potentially rebellious slaves. x
  • 6
    Bunker Hill
    Could rebel militia stand up to British regulars? The answer comes at a brutal battle where the British pay dearly for their "victory." Nevertheless, Washington arrives to find disorganization, overconfidence, and a reluctance to set aside regional differences in favor of a national army. x
  • 7
    The King, the Conqueror, and the Coward
    Ignoring the reconciliation implied by the colonies' Olive Branch Petition, the king and Parliament effectively declare war. On either side of the Atlantic, British leadership believes the many Americans still loyal to the Crown will bring victory. x
  • 8
    Conquering Canada, Reconquering Boston
    An American plan to conquer Canada nearly succeeds and costs Britain half its regulars. But even after the arrival of British reinforcements, American forces pull off a stunning improvisation: the overland transport of critical artillery, captured at Fort Ticonderoga, to Boston. x
  • 9
    Common Sense
    While poor communication, unclear objectives, and the uncertainty of participation by southern Loyalists hamper Britain's strategies, another force comes into play—an extraordinarily popular pamphlet that helps turn the tide of American opinion toward the independence made official on July 4, 1776. x
  • 10
    An Army Falls in Brooklyn
    The optimism of July 4th proves short-lived. Washington's army is poorly manned, poorly supplied, and poorly trained, and his officers have little practical experience. Even worse, an incorrect reading of British intentions leads to a disastrous defeat and a retreat to Brooklyn. x
  • 11
    "A Glorious Issue"
    With New York occupied by the British, Nathan Hale captured and hanged as a spy, and Washington's troops on the run, Thomas Paine provides inspiration with a new pamphlet, The American Crisis, and Washington provides further hope with a surprise victory at Trenton. x
  • 12
    Joy in Princeton
    After additional successes—again at Trenton and then at Princeton—a break in combat gives Washington time to reorganize his army, by building on a touching appeal for reenlistments. Britain, meanwhile, learns the Loyalists and fence sitters are badly shaken. x
  • 13
    "Congress Are Not a Fit Body"
    In March 1777, the Continental Congress faces new tasks, including establishing, outfitting, and managing an army. Unable to solve these challenges, the delegates blame the costly army—and Washington—and move to ally with France. x
  • 14
    "America Is Not Subdued"
    News of Trenton and Princeton forces an unwelcome reassessment by Parliament of the requirements for victory. British Major General John Burgoyne is put in charge of his own strategy of invading from Canada, but things do not go according to plan. x
  • 15
    "A Day Famous in the Annals of America"
    Burgoyne suffers a series of defeats and surrenders near Albany. The news energizes parliamentary opposition to the war, but the king is unmoved. Then comes more bad news: The Americans have signed a treaty with the French. x
  • 16
    "Not Yet the Air of Soldiers"
    General William Howe, British commander in chief in America, sails from Staten Island, intent on reaching Philadelphia. Washington blocks his way but suffers a series of defeats. Even news of a great American victory by Horatio Gates at Saratoga carries rumors of threats to Washington's command. x
  • 17
    With Washington at Valley Forge
    Washington settles in for the winter of 1777–1778. Although there are no battles, he must deal with shortages of clothing, housing, and food as well as attempts by Gates and others to undermine his authority in Congress. There is one victory—new treaties with France. x
  • 18
    The Widening War
    For the British, the possibility of French intervention heightens costs and logistical strain and requires a redeployment of naval forces to protect its West Indies interests. x
  • 19
    The French Menace
    With efforts to create an American navy stymied, the bulk of the French intervention will be carried by her navy, which proves a distraction to the British. x
  • 20
    Vain Hopes in the Carolinas
    The British believe victory might lie southward, but they cannot depend on the Loyalists. x
  • 21
    "The Americans Fought Like Demons"
    Nathanael Greene is appointed to take over the southern army after Gates's defeat at Camden. His innovative strategies are successful, ultimately forcing British general Cornwallis to admit that the Americans can "fight like demons." x
  • 22
    The Reward of Loyalty
    Indian tribes loyal to Britain suffered the worst. On the American side, there was mutiny by the Pennsylvania Continentals and the betrayal of Benedict Arnold. x
  • 23
    A Sword for General Washington
    Cornwallis moves into Virginia to cut off Greene's supply and recruiting and to establish a naval station. But he underestimates American and French strength. x
  • 24
    "It Is All Over"
    The course concludes with the fates of the war's major figures and a summation of what the conflict meant to most Americans. x

Lecture Titles

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Allen C. Guelzo
Ph.D. Allen C. Guelzo
Gettysburg College

Dr. Allen C. Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era and Director of Civil War Era Studies at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in History from the University of Pennsylvania. Among garnering other honors, he has received the Medal of Honor from the Daughters of the American Revolution. He is a member of the National Council on the Humanities. Professor Guelzo is the author of numerous books on American intellectual history, Abraham Lincoln, and the Civil War era. His publication awards include the Lincoln Prize as well as the Abraham Lincoln Institute Prize for two of his books-Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President and Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America–making him the first double Lincoln laureate in the history of both prizes. His critically acclaimed book, Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America, was published by Simon & Schuster in 2008. Professor Guelzo has written for The American Historical Review, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal, and he has been featured on NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday, C-SPAN's Booknotes, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

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Reviews

Rated 4.7 out of 5 by 80 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by Filled in the Gaps Along with all my school mates, I studied American History in grade school, high school, and college. There was quite a bit to learn and I remember most of it. Guelzo's course fills in a lot of material that wasn't covered in any of the schools I attended. Examples include: 1. Yes, Arnold was a traitor who felt unappreciated. This course explains why he felt that way and the circumstances of his hasty departure for the other side. 2. Courses in our schools tend to focus primarily on the American political situation. Guelzo explains why the English made the decisions which led to the war which, in my mind, are just as important. 3. American textbooks often expose the incompetence of the English but not of the Americans. Guelzo doesn't pull his punches here: American idiocy is exposed. In addition, he discusses the backroom politics (and backstabbing!) driving the opposing factions of the American leadership. Very interesting indeed. Is Guelzo a bit overdramatic? Yes, sometimes he is. But, he is also able to make the subject really come alive. At the end of each lecture I felt that I couldn't wait to start the next one. Even though I knew how the story ended, Guelzo managed to fill the journey with suspense. (Ok, the bits where he'd mess up in the middle of a sentence, clear his head, and go back to the beginning was annoying. But it didn't happen too often...) After watching this course, I have purchased all of Guelzo's other courses and I wish he'd do a full length course on the War of 1812 and another on the Mexican-American War. January 27, 2015
Rated 5 out of 5 by Wish All My History Classes Were This Good! I can't add much to all the reviews already posted. I do, however, want to add my praise for this course. For people who think history is dry and boring, please get this course. Dr. Guelzo is phenomenal as he tells the story of the American Revolution. It comes alive under his superb lectures. Thank you, Professor Guelzo. January 24, 2015
Rated 5 out of 5 by Simply Ma-vuh-lus Without any hesitation, this was superb, masterful, educational, and entertaining. I enjoyed every minute. The overall quality of this course, my friends, is why I patronize TGC: from the depth of content to the expert delivery to the adequate number of images—I feel like I got my money’s worth. I was sorry to see the closing credits roll by. Actually, I got this with as a set with another course and put it aside because it just wasn’t high on my must-see list at the time. I mean—the Revolutionary War. Come on! But once I started, I was completely engrossed. In fact, I found myself on the edge of my seat during 3-4 lectures discussing battles. There is a large cast of characters, some familiar but many unknown, who make their way in and out of each lecture, but most of them play recurring roles, and as time goes by you know who they are. At first it seems difficult to keep track of everyone, but halfway through it all starts to click. The usefulness of listing regiments serves to illustrate their sizes and where they come from. It’s interesting to know which states supplied the most support. I did learn a lot: 1) many of the battles were must more brutal and disorganized than I had expected, 2) the geographical boundaries were not limited to New England and a few Canadian bouts, but included campaigns in the South and in the West, 3) sometimes families were divided in their loyalties, 4) there were a lot of Hessian mercenaries who made their way over, many of whom went missing, 5) Congress was a really lame, 6) egos ruled the day, except for Washington. And much, much more… Professor Guelzo is outstanding and a first-rate TGC presenter. On video, I think he’s quite articulate. The video experience is worthwhile. It’s just the professor and an old fashioned podium, which he paces by all the time. It makes you feel like you’re in class with him. And he’s by far the best reader of long quotes. TGC ought to pass out samples to every TGC presenter for training purposes and say, “This is how it’s done!” Also, there are quite a few images in the way of maps, portraits, pictures, paintings, prints, etc. Many are repeated, which helps to get a feel for the battles and the people. My only complaint is with the Guidebook’s use of hung. People are hanged by the neck, while shirts are hung out to dry and pictures are hung on the wall. January 22, 2015
Rated 5 out of 5 by Fun and Engaging I've really enjoyed this course. The material was interesting, and the presentation was well organized, and engaging. Professor Guelzo has an expressive voice with no irritating verbal quirks. Of course, a series of lectures like this cannot go into great depth on the subject, so one should consider this an overview of the war. Nonetheless, I do recommend it. October 16, 2014
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