tv American Revolution Southern Campaign Myths CSPAN July 6, 2021 1:54pm-2:38pm EDT
next, vanessa smiley. a project manager for the national park service discusses the myths and misconceptions of the southern campaigns during the american revolution. the office of historic alexandria, in partnership with emerging revolutionary war hosted this talk and freud video. >> we are going to introduce vanessa smiley, an historian and
interpreter whose roots began at the national parks. her park experience includes the southern campaign of the american revolution, parks group, guilford courthouse, and national historic society. vanessa is currently the project manager of interpretive media development. she received her bachelor's degree in historic preservation from the university of washington in fredericksburg. she enjoys drinking craft beer and helping animals of all kinds. we welcome vanessa as she present american revolutionary war from the bottom up. southern theater misconceptions. >> thank you so much. thank you for having me today. i am probably going to be talking to you a little bit about the southern theater and
some misconceptions that go along with it. so let me first go over what we consider the southern theater. it seems straightforward enough and it pretty much is. the southern theater includes military engagements that took place in the southern colonies. in the previous presentation, somebody asked about kind of the mid-atlantic colonies. what do we consider the middle of the colonies. and virginia is one of those that was discussed. at least for the course of this presentation, i've focused primarily on the carolinas, georgia and florida. there is a lot of substance to dive into just with those. i figured we can talk about the virginias in a different sense at another point in time. this doesn't have too much of an effect on the misconceptions
that i'll be discussing today. just know when i'm talking about the southern campaign or southern theater, or talking about southern battles, i really don't touch on any of the virginia conflicts. so just be aware. i haven't intentionally, or rather unintentionally forgotten about it. it is climbed of on purpose. the southern theater gained prom negligence in the second half of the war. this is what is known as the southern campaign. we'll talk little more about that. so first i spent the last probably year and a half 60 any and all of the history nerds. particularly in the south. and this was not a scientific survey by any means. these were conversations with family, friends, some neighbors,
so real informal, real cash. it was really eye opening to me. i'll go into a little of that during the presentation, i'll add a disclaimer. the people .with, they came from a variety of backgrounds and educations and ages. i would not label these people as uneducated or uninformed. i think the responses and feedback is indicative of the fact that we're facing an uphill battle to engage the general public in the knowledge, understanding and stewardship of the stories of the american revolution. the photos you see on the side here, i specifically chose these photos because i felt they were appropriate about how we'll need to get creative with how we educate the general public about the rev war.
particularly as we near the 250th. and these three images were memes that i created back when i was chief of interpretation at morris town, and i created these for their facebook page. this was to educate our digital audiences in a manner that folks might be able to connect with. so this was right before the national park service centennial which was a huge celebration, but a primary purpose or mode vegas for the centennial. so i was trying to be funny with you educational at the same time. whether i hit the mark or not, i'll let you be the judge. that's something we'll have to consider if we're going on maintain relevancy for the general aubls in the future. so let me go into the first
misconception. there were no significant battles in the south before 1780 i got comments like didn't everything kind of happen in new york? and pennsylvania and that was it? they had some stuff, right? that was later on in the war. that's when things were happening. so a role mix of not even sure what happened in the south before 1780. the fact is there was plenty going on. this is not an exhaustive list. i just had those that had enough of an impact on the grand scheme of things that they were worth mentioning. the first is the first battle of '96, also known as the siege of savages old field. this was 1775, november of 1775. this was the first land battle. this was when patriot forces
were dispatched for gun powder and ignition. it was for the cherokee but had been seized by loyalists. you see the photo in this previous line and this piece here. this is a painting of williamson's fort. it was essentially a simple stockade that they defended. after several days of battle, it ended in a truce. but this became known as the snow campaign. this was in december of 1775. we're still five years before the 1780 number. and this was a patriot campaign. essentially, several thousand participate romney rot militia marched against loyalists in order to disrupt is a good word,
disrupt recruiting efforts from loyalists to get support for the loyalist. side. the snow campaign was called that because of the snow that ended up during, that kind of showed down the efforts of the patriots. you get into some of north carolina, the battle of moors creek, in february, 1776. this was a very quick but decisive patriot victory. it struck a huge blow. we'll talk a little more about moors creek later on. i did write a blog post for the emerging rev war which i thought was very fascinating. it goes into more of the significance of moors creek in the grand scheme of things. the next battle is the battle of sullivan's island, june 28, 1776. it is sometimes known as the
first siege of charleston. this was a patriot victory. the british attacked and they were defeated. this will be one of the last in the south until 1778. next battle, battle of thomas creek, may 17, 1777. we'll talk about this later. this was a british victory. we have the battle of alligator bridge in 1778 that is also a british victory. and that's taking place in florida. and again, we'll talk a little more about that. battle of kettle creek in february of 1779. still before 1780. this was a patriot victory and we'll talk more about that later on. and then there is the seeming of savannah, september of 1779.
the continental army is teaming one the french but they do fail to recapture savannah from the british. and that's when we start getting into the 1780 number. that's when the southern campaign, what we know as the southern campaign, more or less kicks off. it kicks off with the fall of charleston to the british in may of 1780. so again, plenty of things are happening in the south well before this 1780 southern campaign kicks off. so now let's jump into the misconception number two that bombed up a lot more than i expected. which was that nothing happened in georgia other than savannah, and florida essentially didn't exist. i had a couple people ask, when did florida become a colony? so i wanted to dive into that misconception a little bit. you'll notice from the previous list of battles, this isn't true. this misconception isn't true.
both florida and georgia had battles. as much as i love anybody who knows me or the stuff i write for emerging rev war, i love to talk about the carolinas. but georgia and florida still had some critical impacts on the war. let's talk about georgia politics. georgia was doing pretty well under royal rule. the loyalties were divided in the colony of georgia. but many folks felt that they needed british help to defend against attacks from american indians. you had savannah, which was a pretty well off port city. so they didn't even send a representative to the first continental congress in philadelphia in 1774. now, they did end up edged s one delegate. tensions -- which was in may of '75. tensions were rising at this
point. especially in may around the same time as the second continental congress. there was a seizure of gun pouder from the powder magazine in savannah. so tensions were starting to build despite this overall general support of british rule over the colony. it is in the back country which is a common theme in the southern colonies. it is the back country. specifically in georgia, around the areas of like augusta. where tensions were really rising because you had still a decent amount of conflicting support, depending on which side you were on. it was the back country that becomes the hot bed. in georgia, things really kick off. the battle of the rice boats. this was march 2 and 3, 1776. in january of that year, british warships had begun arriving in
the harbor and that pissed off the patriot supporters. so they took royal governor, james wright. they arrested him. he did escape and did he make his way on to one of the british warships. as they made their way up the savannah river, the patriot ships began firing and that's when this battle took place. several ships were burned. the rest escaped. and they had on it governor wright. this would mark the end of british control over georgia until savannah was recaptured two and a half years later. so let's briefly talk about the capture of savannah, december of 1778. the british will take back savannah. governor wright will return and then savannah will stay in british hands until 1782. before savannah and its british occupation, a couple of other
battles will be taking place. not around savannah. in georgia. one of which is the battle of kettle creek. felony 14, 1779. they were heading to augusta which is where they were mustering with some other british and loyalist militia. they were attacked by the patriots. so they caught them off guard. considered a patriot victory. but then less than a month later, you have the battle of briar creek. that was loyalist militia and they were defeated so this was a british victory. so you have some activity going on in the back country. some back and forth. and then later on that year, you have that siege of savannah in september, october. '79. that's when continental forces were trying to take back savannah but they failed. we mentioned this before.
and then you have again, kind of a little more into the back country of the time. the siege of augusta. may through june of 1781. this is when andrew pitkins talked british occupied augusta. and then you dive into a year later, in '72. savannah ends up back in patriot hands, like you mentioned before. the war by 1782 wasn't doing well in the south. and so governor wright is ordered by the british to evacuate the city in june and the next month, the city is evacuated. let me make sure -- there we go. so georgia was often a hot bed of staging for both patriot and loyal forces. so not only did georgia have that large portion of savannah but it is also sandwiched between everything going on in south carolina as well as some
things going on in british-controlled florida. so let's talk about florida. florida, i call this the tale of two floridas. florida was separated into two colonies. you have east florida and west florida. and both were under british control and they remained mostly loyal to britain. so these aren't considered one of, or part of that colony of rebellion. because these two-the colonies or united states states until much later and i'll touch on that in a minute. the british had gotten both east and west florida from spain at the conclusion of the french and indian war. at the end of the american revolution, britain will get those back to spain. again we'll talk about that in a second. so east florida's capital was st. augustine and west capital
was pensacola. and a couple of battles do take place. the battle of thomas creek, may 1777. this took place in what is now the county of nassau. and this was a mix of troops from the continental army and georgia militias and they were on a mission to capture st. augustine. they were stopped by the british army. and a group of militia call the east florida rangers, a cavalry unit. there's still actually a large concontinue genetic of re-enactors. they go all over the south providing education about florida and the battle. the american forces flee when they are attacked. they retreat. they didn't have a lot of supplies so they retreated partially because of that and
partially because of the oppressive heat in florida in may during the year. so that was a failed attempt at taking st. augustine. the next battle is the battle of alligator bridge, june 30, 1778. we're here in east florida still. this was the only one they really tried to take the entire -- like they're trying to get east florida from the british. they're trying to take over the colony. a city. they fail. and so this stays in british hands. let's move over into west florida a little bit. this is in march and may of 1781. and this is the spanish actually. they're taking advantage of the
fact that the -- britain is at war with its rebelling colony. they try the take back pensacola and west florida from the british. and they succeed. in may 1781, they come over control of the spanish and it remains under control by spain for the next 40 years. a year later, two years later, britain returns the florida colony to spain to keep control of gibraltar. and like i mentioned before, the creation of the united states doesn't include the colonies of east and west florida. they stay spanish territories until 40 years later in the 1820s. when they finally become territories of the united states and then eventually become
states themselves. and what is important about, what is important about florida is that it provides a really great strategic location for the british because it can serve as a launching point for troops, for the troops to march into st. georgia or the carolinas. it protected the caribbean colonies from the rebelling american colonies and kind of created a little bit of a buffer for them. so that's the story. the most briefest of stories about those two colonies. so what with this one? this is the biggest misconception that i found. everything was happening in the north, everything was won in the north. it is because of the north and everything that happened up there that we are-the only reap we won the war.
you can see, and thanks to the musical hamilton, more of this misconception is reaching a modern audience. so let's talk about the fact that the southern theater had as much impact as the northern colonies. the politics of boston and new york, they were just one driving force before the start of the war. you have taverns and town halls in charleston and savannah that are having that same influx of revolutionary ideas. and they're adding fuel to that overall idea of let's start this revolution. the politics in the south are largely controlled by the wealthy, not surprising, such as plantation owners and shipping tycoons taking advantage of this vigorous trade and crop system. and these politics are centered
around economic hubs like large cities and ports. these are also people who are more likely to be directly affected by the british taxation laws. and they were just as unhappy about those taxation laws as those that were affected by them in the north. you have many more loyal. i sentiments from nose were maybe less involved. and this is a generic statement. maybe less involved than the business and politics. and this is namely those in the back country. and it is those loyalist hope that's led the british attempt to start the war, focus on the south instead of the north. excuse me. months before its colonies officially documented the declaration of independence, the british army was facing a critical jumpingture in its war strategy as thing are starting to get real tense. the colonies are talking about rebellion. where should the focus be?
they needed a strong hold in the colony that's would gain them resources. access for their ships. so ports. where their ships could come in to bring in british troops so they look south. the general impression of the southern colonies was that they were maybe a little more poor, more weak than their sister colonies in the north. there was the idea that, hey, you have all these heavy loyalist sympathies in the back country of south carolina, the coastal areas of north carolina. these are where large populations of german and scottish immigrants had settled. so there is some hope that the british can get a really good stronghold. by the fall of 1775, loyalist recruitment was going quite well. that's why we have, for example, that first battle of '96. there is an effort to disrupt some of the loyalist efforts, the snow campaign, disrupting
the loyalist recruitment. so even though the first battle of '96 ended in a truce, the british competence was still really high at that time. who wouldn't want to capture some of those wealthy colonial ports like savannah or charleston for their fabulous navy to be able to dock at with more and more troops? this was still a possibility. but remember. some of those early battles in the south, some of them were pretty significant defeats. they just couldn't, even though this was a truce, they couldn't get that stronghold. the battle of morris creek in 1776. this was a very quick decisive battle like i mentioned before. so much so that they were the first to vote for independence.
whether there is a direct cause or correlation, you'll have to read the blog post i wrote to learn more information about that. but this was a really significant defeat in the grand scheme of things because of its impact on the loyalist ability to recruit for the british cause. you also have the defeat with the battle of the rice boats at savannah. the defeat during the battle of sullivan's island in charleston. so it was just not as easy as the british were hoping. they abandoned the initial southern strategy to focus their resources on the war in the northern colonies. and that was the truth for the next three years. also, you have this dichotomy of the first american civil war that played out in the colonies. if you know me or the way i talk about the american revolution,
you will know that it was turk the revolution that the first civil war took place. even though we call the civil war from the 1860s the american civil war, this was the first true civil warful you have neighbors, brothers, friends, taking up arms to serve their respective causes and they're finding themselves on opposite sides. and there is a lot of reasons for that. i will happily talk to any of you about that. since i have to speak to this in a certain amount of time, i will move on. but just know that there was a lot going on in the back countries that added a lot of heat to the fire of the southern theater. and it was these dynamics that were a big driving force behind the militias that had such a big impact. the continental army was shouldering plenty, it was a
combination with the local militia and the civilians that would ultimately turn the tide of the war when the british finally looked to the southern colonies. when the british did look to the southern colonies. especially in the second half of the war. and this is where you've got kings mountain and cowpens. the battle of kings mountain was thomas jefferson called it the turning point of the american revolution where you have predominantly militias who are battling it out on king's mountain and ultimately, the patriots succeed. and then at the battle of cow pens, you have daniel morgan taking advantage of a misconception of a misconception by the british that the militia were untrained and cowardly and
would turn tail and run. and this was a rightfully so asterisk, rightfully so assumption. they had seen it in previous battles. but at the battle of cowpens, morgan uses it to his advantage to lull the british forces into a false sense of security as the british fled battlefield and the british pursued them and then came upon the continental tour ready and waiting. so there is a lot going on in the southern theater, in the southern campaigns that are directly affecting the impact, the results. war. so those are the only three misconceptions that i'm really going to address today. there is a lot. but again, i only have so much time. i wanted to touch a little about what is the cause of these misconceptions? where does this, these
misconceptions come from? now, obviously, i have some theories. people know lexington and concord and saratoga and valley forge, and even yorktown. whether you consider virginia a southern town or mid-atlantic. why don't people know savannah? what about kings is in the what about florida? the fact that it actually existed at the time. so i do have some of my own theories. i would love to at some point have a discussion about your theories at some point. but here are mine. first the school. before i go any further, don't hate on the teachers. i am in no way blaming the wonderful teach here's have taken on the task of educating our youth. they are dealt with difficult hands with very few resources and they do the best with what they have. so this is not hating on the
teachers. but schools seem to be teaching more northern campaign than southern. and this generalized statement that i've just said is my own hypothesis after studying multiple state curriculums, as well as informal polling of some teacher colleagues about their use of the curriculum in the classroom. the reason they might be not doing quite as much education on the southern campaign, the southern theater is a lack of time. the north stuff, all the northern engagements, the northern politics. you've get the continental congress meeting in philadelphia. all of these things are happening in the first half of the war for the most part. so it is really easy to highlight those big things that happened first early on when you're teaching. but then teachers run out of time because they're overworked and underpaid and they're all trying to basically get their students to pass standardized
tests. so there's a lot of glazing over that happens. this is a very generalized statement. it is not meant to be solid fact. it is just from what i was gathering from studying state curriculums and looking at actual classroom curriculum practices to see that it kind of hit, yeah, started the war. some of the politics leading up to the war. started the war. and then things happened and then you get on yorktown and you have to move. on you have to hit the highlights. so a lot of focus on standardized testing. do i even need to go further when i say hamilton and the patriot? okay, i'll go further. the play hamilton and the movie, the patriot, even though the patriot talks about battle that's are similar to, say, the battle of cowpens like in the
final battle scene, and it does talk about the carolinas, it gets into, that it is still a work of fiction. still very dramatized. still very hollywood. not necessarily actual fact. and then the musical hamilton, while did it a great service in getting youth excited and interested about a history that is almost 250 years old, it is 250 years old, it does a lot to focus on one segment of the american revolution. the musical isn't called the rev war. it is called hamilton. so bits his life. it is feeding into these misconceptions. another theory i have is tourism. this kind of ties into a couple of different things. location and marketing.
so location. lots of rev war sites are not located close to major tourism areas in the south. the exception, of course, is like charleston and savannah so i'm not trying to say those aren't heavy tourist areas. for example, the site 96. you have to want to go to 96 to go there. it is off the beaten path. it is not right off a major highway. you have to want to get there. there is also the concept of marketing. the economic draw of a site that can influence how much money is spent to trying to attract people to visit. more visits equals more money and therefore more well known. so you have charleston and salve an, a williamsburg, you've got sites that have the ability to market themselves and get people to show up at the gates. these are just some theories i have based on research and
experience. these are not tonight ones and i think we could easily have an entire conversation on the cause of these misconceptions. so what do we do about it? and i don't really have an exact or easy answer to this. i think this is a dialogue that we as historians, including the general public. in conversation, how to do this. we have to have that dialogue amongst ourselves, with educators, with the general public, with various historical sites. we have to just converse and work together to keep this history preserved. we have to educate and engage. we have to make the history relevant by connecting with the research in new and different ways. you saw with it the memes i showed earlier. here we have that middle photo, for example, took place at
ninety six. where artists could create through their artistic medium. they were put on at the local art gallery. we have to do thing that new and different ways. and we have to continue to study, learn and understand our history. even if we think we've studied it all and we know it all. we really don't. we have to continue to do this research into this study. so we as the stewards of the american revolution, we have a great opportunity in the 250th anniversary. this is our chance to do all the things i mentioned just in the previous slide to begin dispelling these and other misconceptions. to be able to shed light on more unknown, more of these untold stories, more of the up known stories, and to eventually bring
attention to the importance of this part of our american history. with that, that's the conclusion of my presentation. and i appreciate you all for sticking with me. and so now i guess i stop sharing my screen. so that way i guess it is going into questions. if there are any. >> well, first, thank you. that was great. i'm glad to see florida even mentioned. >> that was for you, phil, that was for you. >> awesome stuff. first question for you from mr. glen williams, actually speaking of east and west florida, is it not a misconception, currently, that spain was an american ally. as an ally of france, it was a co-belligerent. spanish rule, not for americans. >> you may be able to, with your background, you may be able to shed more light than me but i'll
touch on it a little bit. yeah. even though spanish were attacking east and west florida, they were really just taking advantage of the situation, of the fact that britain was at war and they wanted their colonies back. they had to give them over and they gave them over after the french and indian war. i'm sure you can touch on it a little more than i can. >> i don't want to rain on your parade here. maybe we'll have a breakout session sometime later and just talk about florida, especially alligator bridge. just a cool name. >> it was not like the french. it was not like spain with a on our side and sending resources. no. they were taking advantage of the situation as best as they could for their own purposes, although i think spain was understanding, like i think they
were not an ally but supportive. yeah, go u.s. colonies! >> yeah. obviously, they didn't want this to leak into their colonies and get the idea about rebellion, anything would hurt the british. and they did regain florida for, what, 20 years or so. or until the early 1800s when the united states took it over. moving on. could it be like how the story of the pilgrims replaced the story of jamestown as beginning the country since the south lost. do you want to touch on that? >> do i want to touch it? that's the ultimate question. there is also, this i didn't really touch on. but the winners write the history. so you have a lot of political activity happening in the northern colonies that at the end of the american revolution,
who will be wanting to write those histories down? they're going to want to talk about all the cool stuffer they did. stuff. so yeah. i think you were talking about the civil war. i think that's where a lot of, for the south, and this is just my kind of historical opinion, when you have a ton of civil war battlefields, virginia, example. i was educated in the virginia public school system. there's a lot of focus on the civil war. so that kind of overshadows any rev war history being studied. all the resources could go into civil war because we have a million more civil war battlefield sites. of so i think that very easily, civil war battles or civil warren gaugements in the south overshadow the rev war history. it is approximately 100 years
sooner. hopefully answers it. >> a more highly literate population as well that leaves notes and records. do you get a sense that there is a greater known awareness by people local to the areas where they took place? that come from blaine. >> blaine, that's a great question. i think yes. the specifically in the state critical little for south carolina, until recently, last year, january 2020, they have in it their state curriculum to talk about the battle of cowpens, kings mountain. it is laid out to talk about these sites. so we got a lot of students or education groups coming in because it was a state standard and part of their curriculum. i don't think that's the case nil. a lot of locals who grew up, we
would get visitors to cowpen that's would say i came hear. i came here when i was in fourth grade. and it is very cool that they have these memories. because they came as kids bust yeah. definitely people local to the area know more than people who didn't grow up, say, in the carolinas. >> from coral. any connections between north and south sites that could be built on, like harriet tubman sites? >> i think there's that possibility. with the 250th coming up, this is an opportunity for sites across the u.s. to share in these common threads that do weave themselves in their stories. you have somebody like nathaniel green who spent some time in morristown. so a shout out to some northern sites. so you have nathaniel green in
morris town as a quarter master. he finds his way down south. so there are people and stories that easily link together. and that is the big, a big challenge or a big call to action that northern and southern sites, whether it is national park service sites, state sites, county sites, private sites. that's the big opportunity where the 250th is to be able to see how they can share resources, across promote and help share more and more of these stories. there can definitely be things built possible and it is up to those sites to do it. >> perfect. that resolves the questions in the chat here. if any other questions do come up, vanessa will be back at the end of the day on the panel. thank you for sharing the misconceptions of the southern theater. outside of virginia. tonight on american history tv, a look into a supreme court
land mark case. plessy versus ferguson which solidified the separate but equal option. looking at education and housing and how we still live with the legacy of the decision. we'll also look at the life and legacy of the first african-american supreme court justice. thurgood marshall and his impact on u.s. history. watch tonight beginning at 8:00 p.m. eastern. next, author john rees talks about the experiences of african-american continental soldiers. the office of historic alexander re, alexandria on the american revolution and freud video. it is my pleasure to introduce john rees, specializing in the common soldiers experience during the war f