Chapter 7. The Winning of Independence

Looting Fort Ticonderoga

Before the declaration of independence, Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys were intimidating New York settlers from claiming land under grants made by the colonial governor of Province of New Hampshire, lands that the Province of New York also claimed. After war was declared, Ethan Allen rallied the Green Mountain Boys to take Fort Ticonderoga from the British. Meanwhile, Benedict Arnold had received a commission and funds from the Massachusetts Committee to take Fort Ticonderoga, so Arnold rushed in pursuit of Allen. Allen took the fort without a fight and then did nothing to prevent his Green Mountain Boys from plundering the fort for liquor and other provisions. The disorder jeopardized Benedict Arnold’s plan to send armaments from the fort to help break the siege of Boston, but the alcohol ran out, the Green Mountain Boys left, and Arnold prevailed. Ethan Allen’s memoir greatly exaggerated his conquest and didn’t mention Arnold at all.

March against nature

Benedict Arnold’s march upon Quebec was a total disaster. He lost his force in the woods of Maine to cold, hunger, disease, and desertion.

Continental morale

Conditions in the Continental army in the fall of 1776 were terrible. Living in tents after a series of defeats, courage and morale were low, as well as equipment and provisions Few wished to join the effort, many deserted, and no one wished to reenlist. Morale improved after the battle of Trenton. On the march after crossing the Delaware to take the Hessians at Trenton, many of Washington’s soldiers had no boots, so those whose feet bled turned the snow a dark red. Two soldiers died on the march. But the Hessian surrender let the Americans claim their provisions, including boots, as well as food, weapons, and horses.

Siege of Fort Vincennes

The siege, featuring continuous gunfire throughout the night, the Americans shooting from the cover of houses within thirty feet from the fort, the people of the town being friendly toward them, was less difficult than the journey, in February, to get to Vincennes without adequate provisions across one hundred and eighty miles of flooded plains and rivers. The French surrendered after the Americans tomahawked to death, in view of the fort, four Indians who had fought for the French.


General Washington himself said conditions for the continental army were deplorable in the matter of clothing, provision, and pay, particularly in Pennsylvania where the government was particularly stingy. In particular, many who had enlisted for three years for a bounty of twenty dollars, having received no pay in those three years, were denied their discharge, while new enlistees were given bounties valued in hundreds of dollars. When the mutineers marched, without leave, to Philadelphia to demand that the government redress their grievances, General Wayne sent provisions after them so they would not depend on taking what they needed from private citizens.

Battle of Flamborough Head

John Paul Jones won the battle by refusing to surrender and a sequence of accidents. He failed to maneuver his ship because some of his braces had been shot away, the bowsprit of the Serapis got tangled in the mizzenmast of the Bonhomme Richard, and his cannon started an explosion on the Serapis because they had spilt gunpowder on their own deck. The Bonhomme Richard sank but not before the British captain surrendered.

Surrender at Yorktown

Lord Cornwallis tried to escape with a part of his army secretly in the night during the siege of Yorktown, but a violent storm scattered the boats that were on the river. Cornwallis couldn’t bear the shame of surrender, so he pretended indisposition and sent General O’Hara to lead his army out of the fort for the ceremonial grounding of arms, even though Washington and Rochambeau treated his officers like gentlemen.