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The Struggle for Independence II
Lexington and Concord
In April, 1775, the Redcoat commander in Boston got some bad news. Colonists in Massachusetts were gathering guns and ammunition. Groups of colonists, called Minutemen, were drilling as soldiers in their towns. To the English, these colonists were rebels. The rebellion had to be stopped before it could grow stronger.
On April 19, 700 Redcoats marched out of Boston. They left before sunrise because they planned a surprise attack on the town of Concord. The English believed the colonists were storing guns in Concord. But Paul Revere and William Dawes spoiled the surprise by riding out and shouting: “The Redcoats are coming!”
When the troops reached Lexington, a town between Boston and Concord, the Minutemen were ready. They faced the Redcoats on a big grassy area called the common. Neither side knew what to do. Finally, the English ordered the Minutemen to put down their guns and leave. They started to obey, but then suddenly a shot rang out. No one knows who fired. But the shot caused the Redcoats to open fire, killing eight Minutemen.
The Redcoats marched on to Concord, but they did not find any guns. They fought a battle with more Minutemen at Concord, and this time some Redcoats were killed. But the real fighting had just started. As they tried to march back to Boston, the Redcoats were shot at from all sides. More than 200 were killed or wounded. They finally reached safely in Boston. But hundreds of Minutemen surrounded the city, trapping the English inside.
The Declaration of Independence
By the end of 1775, many Americans wanted to break away from England. Many others, however, wanted to stay with England. Those who wanted to stay with England hoped that King George III would take away the hated taxes, the laws that punished Massachusetts for the Boston Tea Party, and the Redcoats.
In January, 1776, a little book called Common Sense appeared in the colonies. It was written by an Englishman named Thomas Paine. Common Sense attacked King George III, saying that people should not stay with a king who was sending soldiers to kill them. It also attacked the idea of being ruled by a king. Thomas Paine said that Americans should declare their independence from England. Then they should set up a new kind of government in which the people, not kings, are the rulers.
Paine’s Common Sense became a best-seller. Yet many colonists were still afraid to break away from England. Not until July, 1776 were Americans ready to declare independence.
A young man from Virginia, Thomas Jefferson, wrote the Declaration of Independence. In it he said that a government gets its power from the people. When a government does not respect the people, they have the right to get rid of it and put a new government in its place. Jefferson then wrote a long list of bad things King George III had done. These bad things showed that he did not respect Americans. They had the right, therefore, to break from England and make a new government based on the people.
The winter at Valley Forge
At the time Americans declared their independence, England was the most powerful country in the world. It had a large, well-trained army and navy. Yet, on July 4, 1776, the American cause looked bright. The Redcoats in Boston could not break out of the siege after the battles at Lexington and Concord. They finally got on ships and went to Canada—a great American victory.
But the Redcoats soon returned. A huge English army landed at New York City. The Continental Army, commanded by George Washington, attacked. But Washington’s men suffered defeat after defeat. By the end of 1776, the American cause seemed hopeless.
In 1777, the English captured Philadelphia. Again, the Continental Army tried to stop the Redcoats. But again, the Americans lost one battle after another. As winter came on, the English settled into Philadelphia, where they slept in warm beds and had plenty to eat. Washington took his army about 22 miles away from Philadelphia to a place called Valley Forge.
Winter began early in 1777. Heavy snows and bitterly cold temperatures made life terrible at Valley Forge. The soldiers did not have enough food or clothing. Many men went barefoot because they did not have boots or shoes. Such men often lost toes or feet to frostbite. Some soldiers left the army and went home rather than suffer any longer. But the brave men who stayed with Washington came out of Valley Forge in the spring as a tough fighting force, ready to take on the Redcoats once again.
Victory at Yorktown
During that hard winter at Valley Forge, the Americans received some good news. France had entered the war on the side of the United States. Now England had to fight the French, too.
Not wanting to take any risks, the Redcoats pulled back from Philadelphia. The Continental Army followed them to New York City. George Washington knew that he needed French ships to beat the English. The Redcoats could not be defeated as long as they had help from the strong English navy. French ships must keep the English navy away until his men could beat the Redcoats!
The English had own idea of how to win the war. They decided to go into the South. They believed that many Americans in the South wanted to stay with England. Starting in Georgia, the Redcoats marched through North and South Carolina and into Virginia. General Cornwallis, the English commander, knew he had to stay close to the ocean. He could not be far from the navy!
In 1781, Cornwallis settled at Yorktown, Virginia; a good choice because it was close to the ocean. But then Washington got the news he had been waiting for. French ships were coming to help him. The ships were headed for Yorktown. Quickly, Washington moved his army from New York City to Virginia. The English saw what was happening and sent ships to help Cornwallis escape. But the French ships defeated the English ships, and Cornwallis was forced to surrender. The United States of America had won its independence!