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American Revolution

American Revolution

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
Allen C. Guelzo, Ph.D.
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 4.6 out of 5 by 87 reviewers.
Rated 4 out of 5 by Great Overview I have no doubt that the American War for Independence could be analyzed in enough detail so as to create material for a 1,000 lecture course. Coming in at only 24, material had to be edited. I think they did a great job of it. This is an ideal course as an overview of how the war went down. There's enough details to flesh out the story nicely, but it stops short of becoming an encyclopedia of the event. It was pretty perfect for my own needs. I wanted to understand the war better, but I have no intentions of teaching this course myself. July 31, 2015
Rated 4 out of 5 by Good Class But Overly Simplistic Allen Guelzo does a good job at presenting information on the American Revolution, but this has the feel of a high school class. His tone is the tone that one would use when speaking to high school students. He also presents his point of view without explaining alternative points of view. Despite these problems, he does get most things right (at least from my point of view). Guelzo focuses more on tactics than on strategy, which keeps things simple, but leads to some misinterpretation. His focus on battles rather than on campaigns keeps things very simple, but it causes him to underestimate the importance of the militia. For example, the militia were able to control most of the countryside, except for those spots physically occupied by the British. The militia annihilation of the the Hessians at Bennington, and the militia annihilation of the British and Tories at King's Mountain helped to lead to the capture of Burgoyne's army at Saratoga and Cornwallis' army at Yorktown. Guelzo mentions these, but he does not develop the thought. The class would also improve with a little more focus on events leading up to the American Revolution. Guelzo does a reasonably good job, but there is definitely room for improvement. July 18, 2015
Rated 5 out of 5 by Good course It's been a few years since I watched this series on DVD, but I remember thoroughly enjoying the lecturers presentation and the course content. I've been out of school for a more than a few years and it was a nice refresher on the Revolutionary War. It is something that more people in our great society should be more familiar with. It's not too detailed as to get mundane and boring, but hits the major events in detail. Overall, a very good review of the Revolutionary War. May 13, 2015
Rated 3 out of 5 by What happened to the Revolution? I was really disappointed in the Revolution course. In a nutshell, Boston started everything, started a meeting at Philadelphia, hired George Washington, who fought lots of battles in the north and got beat every time except Trenton, won Yorktown and the war was over. Believe it or not, the Revolution happened in all 13 colonies/states. It was not a foregone conclusion that it would happen anywhere. How it developed in all states is necessary to understand the whole war. History of the various battles was very skimpy and in some cases just plain wrong. Believe it or not there were many major battles in the south. Some even say the war was won in the south. There are many fairly new works by outstanding historians on Cowpens, Kings Mtn, Camden, Guilford Court House, Eutaw Springs, and others that were obviously not consulted. The war in the south was more of a civil war than a revolution. I should have been wary when the professor's obvious specialty is the Civil War. Could you not find someone with a Revolution specialty? Compared to the other courses I have purchased, The American Revolution needs a total reworking --- and probably a lengthening to 4 discs. The problems of the Confederation, finance, troop recruitment and support and the treatment of the soldiers/sailors/officers by the Congress at the end of the war were either not mentioned at all or very lightly glossed over. Washington's personal leadership was given short shrift, as was Nathaniel Greene's -- and others. The lack of treatment of America's dealings with the French was very disappointing, as was the support provided by France. Many scholars believe that without French money, more than anything else, the war would have folded much earlier. Washington's and Clinton's intelligence (spy) battles would have made an interesting program. The effect of Lafayette on the French support was never even mentioned -- and he learned to be a commander of troops from Washington and proved very effective in keeping Cornwallis in VA at the end. The partisan war in the south could have made 3 to 6 fascinating lessons -- and those leaders made the militia in the south much different than in the North -- reference Eutaw Springs, for example. Properly led militia troops were key at King's Mtn, Cowpens, the race to the Dan, partly at Guilford, and definitely Eutaw Springs. There is much more, but you should get the drift by now. Poor effort compared to others. March 13, 2015
  • 2015-08-28T13:36:29.423-05:00
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