By Carla Jade
No matter how hard we fight it, there is something about war that is intriguing to the human spirit. Maybe it offers a sense of purpose that peaceful life lacks, or ignites an innate desire to fight for something outside of ourselves. Researching war history, watching movies like Saving Private Ryan, and listening to musicals like Hamilton wakes up something in me that stays dormant in my day-to-day, which is probably why I’ve gravitated toward such things all my life. Through these focused studies I’ve noted consistencies from war to war—the grit and the determination required, the inevitable heartache and grief throughout—but I’ve also noticed that there is one war in particular which just feels… different.
The American Revolution, from my first time hearing the crescendo of, ‘And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air…!’ sparks a strange tenderness, an eager yearning, in my gut. As an 8-year-old, I fantasized about how fervently I would have launched chests of tea off of ships if given the chance; how I would have ridden right beside Paul Revere, alerting the militiamen of the redcoats’ arrival. I felt almost a camaraderie with these far-away colonists, as if I got to share in the pride of their endeavors. And maybe in some way, we do. The American Revolution sparked the end of the colonial period, a brush fire of freedom that lit across the world, changing the landscape forever. Though in their minds these men and women were simply fighting for a necessary freedom for their own lives and their own families, they incidentally changed the lives of every human who came after them.
As is the pattern with many revolutions, the timeline for the American Revolutionary War is a little messy. Though it technically began in 1775 and technically ended in 1783, tension existed between the American colonies and Britain long before ’75, and they won the final official battle in ‘81. Tensions grew as colonists struggled to afford the heavy taxes impressed upon them by King George III, comfortably seated on his throne back in England. The more they called for freedom, the heavier those taxes became. Over time, being forced to to fight for the rights being withheld from them seemed inevitable, but with no established governmental organization, the best path to freedom was not clear. While we might think of the Boston Tea Party as a heroic move of rebellion, many of the main men of the war (George Washington and Benjamin Franklin among them) did not approve of the late-night tea-throwing bananza. Each man felt a stirring in his chest to do something, but it was not always agreed upon what that “something” should be.
The almost bumbling nature of the start of this war is one of the many reasons I feel a sense of love toward it. These colonists felt pressed into a corner, and they did not have the luxury of a president with advisors and generals and financial support to launch a precise military response. Instead this momentous, international shift toward democracy began by worn-out, angry colonists with mud on their boots and rage in their eyes, with no tactical advantage from the start. We all love a good underdog story, don’t we? It’s more than a little astonishing that, as Lin-Manuel Miranda put it in Hamilton, “this ragtag volunteer army in need of a shower” beat the greatest empire in the world.
Despite their divergent beginnings, though, winning this war required a unity not found in many others. Though admittedly I’ve never fought in a war myself, I imagine that throughout time soldiers have stared up at the stars, trying to remember why they were fighting to begin with. The patriot soldiers only needed to look to the man beside them to recall what they fought for. The goal stared them in the face everywhere they turned, looking back at them in the eyes of every colonial mother or written on the slip of every bill. They walked in time with the men next to them, bonded by one unifying goal: survival.
A few years ago I visited Yorktown, the place of the final ‘official’ battle of the Revolutionary War, and walked across the very fields where patriot soldiers fought for, died for and—finally—won their freedom. On October 9, 1781, General Washington marched onto the battlefield with French General Rochambeau and roughly 6,500 American and French troops. They set up camp just 800 yards from General Cornwallis and his 8,000 British soldiers with their 10 forts and system of trenches. After a week of fighting, and the cunning military tactics of General Washington, the British attempted to flee by boat. A well-timed storm stopped them. Forced instead to surrender, on the morning of October 17 they waved a white flag.
As I stood on the same ground where nearly 15,000 men spent a week sleeping beside death, offering their sweat and blood as a sacrifice, I felt this electric energy rising to meet me. What did they dream, if they slept at all? What kept them there, fighting an outnumbered battle? How did they choke down the fear? Could I have done it? Would freedom for an unborn country have been enough?
For me, I think the draw toward the Revolutionary War boils down to one question: could I have done it? What these men and women accomplished shifted history in ways that they never could have seen in their lifetime. How many of us can say that about our own lives? We ache for the chance to make a lasting difference—but some differences, only a revolution can make.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Carla Jade is a woman devoted to the deep work of growing and healing, with a cat under each arm and a childlike spirit. She writes out of necessity, an overflow of the wild thoughts crashing around in her mind. Her deepest desire is to write words that offer comfort, motivation, and insight. Visit her blog, The Lost Princess, for poems and prose, faith-filled encouragements, and Disney-themed inspirations.