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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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Rated 4.6 out of 5 by 77 reviewers.
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
Rated 5 out of 5 by Quite Enlightening The animated, story telling Professor Guelzo has an obvious passion for this subject and it comes through loud and clear in his lecture. The stories he tells of how we came to be the United States of America were sometimes gripping and always enlightening. He certainly caused me to think about all that went on in this war with England and did an exceptional job of pointing out all the great many pitfalls both sides stepped into. All told, the brilliance and mastery of George Washington as both a General and the Father of our country shines through. Including the internal plots and schemes to get rid of him. It is hard to imagine what he accomplished considering the uphill battles he had to fight and having so few means of communication available to him. If you have any interest in the American Revolution, this is indeed the course to take. He puts you right in the middle of the action, explains the thought process behind many of the strategic moves and provides a great feel for what the Revolutionists were up against. Makes me proud to have come from such stock! September 1, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Zard review of the American Revolution To date I have never been disappointed IN ANY of the lecture series and this was no exception. There is the usual facts and great graphics and interesting perspectives and side stories in the series but what made it 5 Stars for me was the presenters presentation. Dr. Guelzo tells a great story. And that was what it was like. He had all the facts with him but he conversed in a personal and dynamic way. I felt throughout the entire lecture series that I was in his living room and we were sipping Jack Daniels while he shared his stories and views on what happened (truth be told I was doing a little sipping during the various lectures). He made it a personal experience and I re-watched parts of all the series because they were packed with information and so, so entertaining. This series was like a GREAT book. The kind you start slowing down towards the end because you do not want it to stop. Said another way, Dr. Guelzo is a great performer and this was a great lecture series. July 23, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by A Wonderful, Narrative Approach This review will concern the audio CD's: Although Dr. Guelzo has been on the Great Courses faculty for many years, this is my first encounter with him for TTC. I have, from time-to-time, seen some of his programs on The Military Channel, The History Channel, and other sources. Dr. Guelzo is a very engaging, captivating speaker. In the first lecture, he gives an excellent "scene builder," as he relates how, in a previous endeavor, he served as a tour guide in New England, during the mid 1970's. He gained my attention from that moment on. I appreciate the narrative style that the professor uses: it is similar to that used by Lowell Thomas, and Edward R. Murrow, during their coverage of World War II in Europe. Dr. Guelzo goes into much detail during his narration, and, at times, too much detail, for my tastes. When he started listing entire catalogs of regiment numbers, company numbers, brigade division numbers, etc., my mind went into the "tune-this-out" mode. After all, such information is , more than likely, going to be quickly forgotten. What I think most people taking this course are looking for, are the key concepts, ideals, and noteworthy personalities. These are the items that will be remembered. and the benefits retained, long after the course is completed. I used these lectures as listening material while taking my walks. On most every lecture, after hearing the title, I would file the title in the back of my mind. I would make a little "game" in which I would listen and attempt to determine, why that title was chosen. On many occasions, I had almost completed the lecture, and my walk, before the reason for the title became apparent. This little mental exercise helped me get through some of the tedious material, especially all the regiment numbers given above. Such figures as George Washington, Benedict Arnold, the Howe brothers, and King George III, take on new meaning during these presentations. For example, I had previously learned from TTC course on , "The Skeptic's Guide to American History," that George Washington had lost many more battles than he won, but here, however, it gave me a better appreciation for those key battles that he did win. As for Benedict Arnold, we often have a bad taste in our mouths, after knowing that he was a deserter and a traitor. However, as these lectures demonstrate, he was a key figure, on the colonial side, in the first years of the war. The story of his eventual defaulting, and its' aftermath on both sides, are given in great detail. It is quite interesting, to say the least. Another thing that I really appreciated, to which I alluded to above, is that the professor narrates details from both sides of the Atlantic. Many times, such presentations on the revolution, only give the viewpoint from this side of the Atlantic. Professor Guelzo is truly a master at weaving all these many pieces, into a wonderful tapestry, that endures for generations to come. Although this certainly is not my favorite TTC course, not is the professor my favorite, it is far from being on the bottom of the list either. I now want to get the American History course, of which Dr. Guelzo is one of the presenters. Although this course starts off with many of the social, and political, causes of the revolution, it #like the revolution itself,#turns to a military affair. I highly recommend it to anyone that has any interest at all, in the formation of our country. May 2, 2014
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