Comic History of the United States - Bill Nye

The Revolutionary War

William pitt was partly to blame for the Revolutionary War. He claimed that the Colonists ought not to manufacture so much as a horseshoe nail except by permission of Parliament.

It was already hard enough to be a colonist, without the privilege of expressing one's self even to an Indian without being fined. But when we pause to think that England seemed to demand that the colonist should take the long wet walk to Liverpool during a busy season of the year to get his horse shod, we say at once that P. Henry was right when he exclaimed that the war was inevitable and moved that permission be granted for it to come.

Then came the Stamp Act, making almost everything illegal that was not written on stamp paper furnished by the maternal country.

John Adams, Patrick Henry, and John Otis made speeches regarding the situation. Bells were tolled, and fasting and prayer marked the first of November, the day for the law to go into effect.

These things alarmed England for the time, and the Stamp Act was repealed; but the king, who had been pretty free with his money and had entertained a good deal, began to look out for a chance to tax the Colonists, and ordered his Exchequer Board to attend to it.

Patrick Henry got excited, and said in an early speech, "Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell, and George the Third——" Here he paused and took a long swig of pure water, and added, looking at the newspaper reporters, "If this be treason, make the most of it." He also said that George the Third might profit by their example. A good many would like to know what he started out to say, but it is too hard to determine.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


Boston ladies gave up tea and used the dried leaves of the raspberry, and the girls of 1777 graduated in homespun. Could the iron heel of despotism crunch such a spirit of liberty as that? Scarcely. In one family at Newport four hundred and eighty-seven yards of cloth and thirty-six pairs of stockings were spun and made in eighteen months.

When the war broke out it is estimated that each Colonial soldier had twenty-seven pairs of blue woollen socks with white double heels and toes. Does the intelligent reader believe that "Tommy Atkins," with two pairs of socks "and hit a-rainin'," could whip men with twenty-seven pairs each? Not without restoratives.

Troops were now sent to restore order. They were clothed by the British government, but boarded around with the Colonists. This was irritating to the people, because they had never met or called on the British troops. Again, they did not know the troops were coming, and had made no provision for them.

Boston was considered the hot-bed of the rebellion, and General Gage was ordered to send two regiments of troops there. He did so, and a fight ensued, in which three citizens were killed.

In looking over this incident, we must not forget that in those days three citizens went a good deal farther than they do now.

The fight, however, was brief. General Gage, getting into a side street, separated from his command, and, coming out on the Common abruptly, he tried eight or nine more streets, but he came out each time on the Common, until, torn with conflicting emotions, he hired a Herdic, which took him around the corner to his quarters.

On December 16, 1773, occurred the tea-party at Boston, which must have been a good deal livelier than those of to-day. The historian regrets that he was not there; he would have tried to be the life of the party.

England had finally so arranged the price of tea that, including the tax, it was cheaper in America than in the old country. This exasperated the patriots, who claimed that they were confronted by a theory and not a condition. At Charleston this tea was stored in damp cellars, where it spoiled. New York and Philadelphia returned their ships, but the British would not allow any shenanegin', as George III. so tersely termed it, in Boston.

Therefore a large party met in Faneuil Hall and decided that the tea should not be landed. A party made up as Indians, and, going on board, threw the tea overboard. Boston Harbor, as far out as the Bug Light, even to-day, is said to be carpeted with tea-grounds.

George III. now closed Boston harbor and made General Gage Governor of Massachusetts. The Virginia Assembly murmured at this, and was dissolved and sent home without its mileage.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


Those opposed to royalty were termed Whigs, those in favor were called Tories. Now they are called Chappies or Authors.

On the 5th of September, 1774, the first Continental Congress assembled at Philadelphia and was entertained by the Clover Club. Congress acted slowly even then, and after considerable delay resolved that the conduct of Great Britain was, under the circumstances, uncalled for. It also voted to hold no intercourse with Great Britain, and decided not to visit Shakespeare's grave unless the mother-country should apologize.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


In 1775, on the 19th of April, General Gage sent out troops to see about some military stores at Concord, but at Lexington he met with a company of minute-men gathering on the village green. Major Pitcairn, who was in command of the Tommies, rode up to the minute-men, and, drawing his bright new Sheffield sword, exclaimed, "Disperse, you rebels! throw down your arms and disperse!" or some such remark as that.

The Americans hated to do that, so they did not. In the skirmish that ensued, seven of their number were killed.

Thus opened the Revolutionary War,—a contest which but for the earnestness and irritability of the Americans would have been extremely brief. It showed the relative difference between the fighting qualities of soldiers who fight for two pounds ten shillings per month and those who fight because they have lost their temper.

The regulars destroyed the stores, but on the way home they found every rock-pile hid an old-fashioned gun and minute-man. This shows that there must have been an enormous number of minute-men then. All the English who got back to Boston were those who went out to reinforce the original command.

The news went over the country like wildfire. These are the words of the historian. Really, that is a poor comparison, for wildfire doesn't jump rivers and bays, or get up and eat breakfast by candle-light in order to be on the road and spread the news.

General Putnam left a pair of tired steers standing in the furrow, and rode one hundred miles without feed or water to Boston.

Twenty thousand men were soon at work building intrenchments around Boston, so that the English troops could not get out to the suburbs where many of them resided.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


I will now speak of the battle of Bunker Hill.

This battle occurred June 17. The Americans heard that their enemy intended to fortify Bunker Hill, and so they determined to do it themselves, in order to have it done in a way that would be a credit to the town.

A body of men under Colonel Prescott, after prayer by the President of Harvard University, marched to Charlestown Neck. They decided to fortify Breed's Hill, as it was more commanding, and all night long they kept on fortifying. The surprise of the English at daylight was well worth going from Lowell to witness.

Howe sent three thousand men across and formed them on the landing. He marched them up the hill to within ten rods of the earth-works, when it occurred to Prescott that it would now be the appropriate thing to fire. He made a statement of that kind to his troops, and those of the enemy who were alive went back to Charlestown. But that was no place for them, as they had previously set it afire, so they came back up the hill, where they were once more well received and tendered the freedom of a future state.

Three times the English did this, when the ammunition in the fortifications gave out, and they charged with fixed bayonets and reinforcements.

The Americans were driven from the field, but it was a victory after all. It united the Colonies and made them so vexed at the English that it took some time to bring on an era of good feeling.

Lord Howe, referring afterwards to this battle, said that the Americans did not stand up and fight like the regulars, suggesting that thereafter the Colonial army should arrange itself in the following manner before a battle!

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


However, the suggestion was not acted on. The Colonial soldiers declined to put on a bright red coat and a pill-box cap, that kept falling off in battle, thus delaying the carnage, but preferred to wear homespun which was of a neutral shade, and shoot their enemy from behind stumps. They said it was all right to dress up for a muster, but they preferred their working-clothes for fighting. After the war a statistician made the estimate that nine per cent. of the British troops were shot while ascertaining if their caps were on straight.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


General Israel Putnam was known as the champion rough rider of his day, and once when hotly pursued rode down three flights of steps, which, added to the flight he made from the English soldiers, made four flights. Putnam knew not fear or cowardice, and his name even to-day is the synonyme for valor and heroism.