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U.S. History Jokes for Teachers

The American Revolution

The following activity is a great interactive that teaches geography skills as well as the history of the American Revolution. The activity is divided into time periods. A teacher can divide the activity into a few days or have the students complete the activity from start to finish.

Notice the arrows that point the direction of military movement.

Section I: 1775 – 1778 (Northern Phase)

Introduction: Click anywhere to begin.

Students can scroll over locations. The location is revealed once the cursor is on it, so it is easy for the students to complete. Once the correct location is chosen, additional information is provided. The further engage the students, there are directed questions that require the students to read closely. (Click here for questions.)

The bold text indicates information that students need to record.

Find the city of Boston and click on it.

1775 – 1778: Boston (Top Boston Jokes)

It is Boston where the revolution can truly be said to have been born, as it was the center of opposition to British tax and trade policies in North America.  Ever since 1768 British troops had been stationed in the city, and their presence was deeply resented. After several violent incidents, the British government announced in 1774 that to punish the unruly Bostonians the port of Boston would be closed until further notice.

On April 18, 1775, General Thomas Gage, commander of the British force in Boston, ordered his subordinate, Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Smith, to lead a detachment of troops to the town of Concord.  Gage had received word that arms, ammunition, and other supplies were being gathered in Concord for an uprising against the British Crown.  Smith’s orders were to “seize and destroy all Artillery, Ammunition, Provisions, Tents, Small Arms, and all Military Stores whatever.”

Primary Sources:

Boston National Historical Park

Orders from General Thomas Gage to Lieut. Colonel Francis Smith, 10th Regiment, April 18, 1775

April 19, 1775: Lexington And Concord

1. Who won the battle?  the Americans / The British

Under orders from General Gage, Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Smith led a detachment of roughly 900 British soldiers to seize military supplies that were being assembled by members of the Massachusetts Militia in the town of Concord.  However, the militia leaders had received word—in part through the efforts of Paul Revere—that the British were on their way, and they prepared an ambush.

As they passed through the village of Lexington, the British came under fire from a small force of militiamen.  The British heavily outnumbered this group, though, and the militiamen were forced to retreat.  A more substantial skirmish erupted as the British crossed a bridge just outside Concord.  The Massachusetts militia inflicted heavy damage on the enemy, and while the British managed successfully to withdraw to Boston, Smith’s mission had been a complete failure.

In an 1837 poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson the fighting at Concord was famously described as “the shot heard ‘round the world.” (Poem read by Bill Clinton & School House Rocks: Shot heard ’round the World)

Minute Man National Historical Park

Paul Revere, Memorandum Events of April 18, 1775

Lord Percy, Report to General Gage on the Retreat of the American Colonists from Lexington and Concord, April 20, 1775

Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Smith, Excerpt of a Report to General Gage on the Battles of Lexington and Concord, April 22, 1775

General Thomas Gage, Report on the Battles of Lexington and Concord, April 22, 1775

Major John Pitcairn, Report on the Battles of Lexington and Concord, April 26, 1775

John Dickinson, Letter to Arthur Lee, April 29, 1775

June 17, 1775 Bunker Hill

Who won the battle? The Americans / The British

After the American victory at Concord, a force of roughly 10,000 Massachusetts militiamen advanced on Boston and declared the city under siege.  Actually it was an incomplete siege, since the British were freely able to move troops and supplies into and out of the city by sea.  Nevertheless, the presence of rebel forces just outside Boston was a great embarrassment to British pride, so General Gage ordered an amphibious assault against American forces north of the city, in the hope of seizing the rebel headquarters and breaking the siege.  Suspecting that the British might attempt something along these lines, the Americans began to fortify Bunker Hill, which overlooked the coast.

Once Gage learned that new fortifications were going up, he ordered an assault against Bunker Hill as well as the nearby Breed’s Hill.  The British launched two attacks, both of which were repulsed by American fire.  However, the British had nearly a two-to-one numerical advantage, and a third assault finally drove the rebels from the two hills. Yet the battle was extremely costly for the British; out of a total of about 2,600 engaged, more than a thousand were killed or wounded. Gage, therefore, did not press the attack, the siege of Boston continued until March 17, 1776, when the British withdrew to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

It was the Battle of Bunker Hill that convinced the British government that this was no minor rebellion.  What they faced was a full-scale revolution, one that would require a large army, and probably the hiring of foreign troops as well.

John Trumbull, “The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill” (painting)

Lieutenant J. Waller, British Account of Bunker Hill, June 22, 1775

The Battle of Bunker Hill, Dispositions before the battle and the British plan

The Battle of Bunker Hill, First attack

The Battle of Bunker Hill, Second attack

The Battle of Bunker Hill, Final attack

Siege of Boston

Boston National Historical Park

November 13, 1775 Capture of Montreal

Who won the battle? Americans / British

While the main British force in America remained bottled up in Boston, the Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, organized a Continental Army under the command of George Washington.  The Congress also hoped to take advantage of the British army’s inactivity by launching an invasion of Canada.  Many residents of the Thirteen Colonies believed that Canadians also sought to rid themselves of British rule, and hoped to spark a popular rebellion there by invading.

In September 1775 an American force under the command of General Richard Montgomery marched northward from Fort Ticonderoga in New York.  In early November they reached the city of Montreal, which fell with virtually no resistance on November 13.  Montgomery then turned to the northeast, advancing with his men along the St. Lawrence River toward Quebec, which was at that time the capital of British Canada.

December 31, 1775: Assault on Quebec

2. Who won the battle?  Americans / British

Two American forces converged to attack Quebec, the capital of British Canada.  The first, 300 men commanded by General Montgomery, proceeded up the St. Lawrence River from Montreal.  The second, 1,100 men under the command of General Benedict Arnold, marched 350 miles northward from Boston, through a wilderness that is today the state of Maine.

Arnold’s force arrived first, in November.  Despite having arrived with only 600 of his original 1,100 men, and with virtually no supplies, Arnold ordered an attack on the city.  With fewer than 100 defenders, it seemed possible even for Arnold’s expedition to capture Quebec even in its weakened condition.  However, Quebec was heavily fortified, and Arnold lacked cannon. When the city’s garrison refused to surrender, the general called off the assault and decided to wait for reinforcements.

Montgomery arrived in early December with his 300 men, and, more importantly, much-needed supplies.  The two commanders immediately began planning for a new attack, and this occurred on the morning of December 31.  This soon proved disastrous, as a snowstorm blew up, rendering the Americans’ muskets useless. Within a short time Montgomery had been killed, and Arnold wounded, and by 10:00 a British counterattack had resulted in nearly half the Americans being captured.  Arnold and his remaining forces pulled back, but refused to evacuate the area.

Early in 1776 a substantial British force arrived in Quebec, under the command of General John Burgoyne.  The Americans finally withdrew, with the British on their heels, all the way back to Fort Ticonderoga.  The invasion of Canada had been a miserable failure.

Repulse from Quebec

June 19, 1776 New York City

Who won the battle? Americans / British

Having abandoned Boston in March 1776, the British decided to focus their efforts on New York.  This they entrusted to two remarkable brothers of the Howe family; Rear Admiral Richard Howe was commander of all British naval forces in North America, while a large force of troops—roughly a third of which were Hessian mercenaries, from modern-day Germany—was  placed under the command of General William Howe.  This massive invasion force appeared off the coast of New York on June 29.  The Howes’ orders were to take New York City, then proceed northward along the Hudson River, eventually meeting up with General Burgoyne’s force heading south from Canada.

On July 3 General Howe and his men landed on Staten Island, which he planned to use as a base for his assault on New York City.  There was little indication that the Continental Congress was intimidated by this move, as on the very next day in Philadelphia the Declaration of Independence was formally approved.

August 27, 1776 Battle of Long Island

On August 22 General Howe began sending his forces across the narrow channel that separates Staten Island from Long Island, and within a few days there were over 20,000 British and Hessian troops in Brooklyn.  General George Washington, commander of the Continental Army, sent roughly 10,000 men under the command of Israel Putnam to slow down the British advance, while Washington and the rest of the Continental Army prepared for an expected attack on Manhattan.  In the action that followed over 300 of Putnam’s men were killed, and another 1,400 captured or missing.  Total British losses were fewer than 400.

Three days later, under the cover of darkness, Putnam’s remaining forces evacuated Long Island to join Washington’s army in Manhattan.  On September 15 Howe landed in on Manhattan.  Recognizing that the Continental Army was insufficient to prevent the British from taking New York City, Washington ordered a withdrawal.

Primary sources:

Jabez Fitch, Diary Entries from the Battle of Long Island, August 1776

Battle of Long Island (link does not work)

October 28, 1776 Battle of White Plains

Who won the battle? Americans / British

Having abandoned Manhattan to the British, Washington reestablished his lines on high ground, near the village of White Plains.  On October 28 General Howe launched an attack which drove the Continental Army from the field at a cost of some 230 men.  At this point Howe missed his best chance to destroy Washington’s army once and for all; instead of pursuing, he stopped and ordered construction of artillery batteries on the heights. This gave Washington the opportunity to retreat further north, taking his supplies and his wounded with him.

Operations Along the Hudson (link does not work)

December 26, 1776 Battle of Trenton

Who won the battle? Americans / British

In November 1776 Washington and his Continental Army managed to slip back into Pennsylvania, with British forces in hot pursuit.  However, in early December General Howe ordered his army to cease operations for the winter. The Continental Army, he concluded, was no longer worth the trouble; he could wait until spring to resume his advance on Philadelphia.

With the British pursuit called off, the Continental Army encamped in the town of Valley Forge, just outside Philadelphia.  By this time Washington had fewer than 5,000 men fit for duty, and he realized that all but 1,400 of these were likely to head for home after their enlistments expired at the end of the year. Thomas Paine, who had accompanied the army during its retreat, called these weeks “the times that try men’s souls.”

Washington then tried the unexpected.  On Christmas Day he and his men quietly crossed the Delaware River and headed toward Trenton, where three regiments of Hessian mercenaries were stationed for the winter.  On the morning of the 26th the Continental Army attacked, taking the enemy completely by surprise. By 9:30 am the fighting was over; roughly 100 Hessians had been killed, nearly 900 others captured, with only a handful of American losses.  By noon Washington and his men had withdrawn back across the river into Pennsylvania, carrying their prisoners and captured supplies with them.

Primary Sources:

The Christmas Campaign (link does not work)

The Battle of Trenton (link does not work)

Report to Congress on the Battle of Trenton: George Washington to Continental Congress, January 5, 1777

Something Must Be Attempted to Revive Our Expiring Credit: George Washington to Joseph Spencer, December 22, 1776

Trenton: The Plan of Attack

Washington Describes the Battle of Trenton to Alexander McDougall,

December 28, 1776

Valley Forge National Historical Park

January 3, 1777 Battle of Princeton

Who won the battle? Americans / British

General Washington sought to follow up his victory at Trenton by attacking the British in New Jersey before ceasing operations for the winter, so on December 30 the Continental Army crossed the Delaware once more.  For a moment it appeared that this foray, however, might end in disaster, as a much larger British force under General Cornwallis nearly trapped him at Trenton.  But on January 3 Washington skillfully eluded Cornwallis and headed north toward Princeton.  There the Continental Army encountered a smaller British force, and inflicted 500 more casualties on the enemy.  In a matter of days Washington managed to drive the British from much of southern New Jersey.  More importantly his exploits reenergized the revolutionary cause, leading some 8,000 new recruits to join the Continental Army in the coming months.

The Battle of Princeton (link does not work)

July 5-6, 1777 Battle of Fort Ticonderoga

Who won the battle? Americans / British

Although Washington’s victories at Trenton and Princeton were welcome news for supporters of the revolutionary cause, they did little to change the basic situation.  In 1777 the British resumed their efforts in New York, which aimed at separating the New England states from the rest of the country.  To carry out this plan 10,000 British regulars under the command of General John Burgoyne headed south from Canada and along the shore of Lake Champlain.  Meanwhile a smaller force under General Barry St. Leger was to proceed through the Mohawk River valley, to meet up with Burgoyne at Albany.

The most formidable obstacle standing between Burgoyne and Albany was Fort Ticonderoga, whose 3,500-man garrison was commanded by General Arthur St. Clair.  St. Clair was confident that Ticonderoga could hold off Burgoyne’s army, but the fort suffered from one major weakness—if an enemy held the heights of a nearby mountain called Sugar Loaf, he could pour cannon fire down on the interior of the fort. St. Clair had believed that Sugar Loaf was too high for the British to move cannon to its peak.  He was wrong.

The Americans inside Fort Ticonderoga awoke on the morning of July 5 to find the British already setting up their artillery on the heights of Sugar Loaf.  Realizing that once the battery was completed the British cannon would be able to pound the fort to rubble, General St. Clair ordered an evacuation that night under cover of darkness. The British met with no resistance when they entered Ticonderoga on the following morning.

Primary Sources:

Burgoyne’s Expedition (link does not work)

The Capture of Fort Ticonderoga (link does not work)

July 5-6, 1777 Siege at Fort Stanwix

Who won the battle? Americans / British

While General Burgoyne was advancing south along Lake Champlain, a smaller British force was heading east.  This force consisted of 2,000 men, roughly half of which were Iroquois Indians, and was commanded by General Barry St. Leger.  On August 4 St. Leger’s troops surrounded Fort Stanwix, and two days later ambushed and destroyed a column of 800 local militia that were on their way to relieve the fort.  Nevertheless, the defenders of Fort Stanwix refused to surrender, and as time passed St. Leger’s Indian warriors—unaccustomed to sitting around and waiting for the other side to give up—began to desert.

Meanwhile General Benedict Arnold was frantically trying to put together a new force to relieve the fort.  In the end he could raise only 100 men for the purpose, so he resorted to trickery.  He sent agents into the Mohawk Valley to spread the rumor that Arnold was on his way with a very large force.  Ultimately St. Leger became convinced that the rumor was true, lifted the siege of Fort Stanwix on August 20, and headed back to Canada.

September 11, 1777 Battle of Brandywine

Who won the battle? Americans / British

With New York City firmly in British control, and Burgoyne making his way steadily to the Hudson River, General Howe sought to capture Philadelphia, which he hoped would bring an end to the rebellion once and for all.  In late July an armada of more than 250 ships carried him and 17,000 British regulars through the Chesapeake Bay, and landed them less than fifty miles from Philadelphia.  Fortunately for the Americans, however, the landing area was muddy from recent rains, so the act of unloading took far longer than expected.

General Washington used the time to his advantage, rushing with his Continental Army—now about 11,000 men strong—to set up a line of defenses at Chadds Ford on the Brandywine River.  However, rather than making a direct attack, Howe divided his forces.  He sent only 5,000 to advance toward Washington, while the rest of the British army moved toward the right flank of the Continental Army.  A dense fog on the morning of September 11 helped to hide Howe’s movements, and in a matter of hours Washington was forced to retreat.

Losses suffered at Brandywine were considerable—1,000 Americans killed or wounded, and another 400 captured, while the British sustained nearly 600 casualties.  However, the most immediate result of the battle was that nothing now stood between Howe and Philadelphia.  The Continental Congress fled the city for York, Pennsylvania, and on September 26 the British marched unopposed into the American capital.

Primary Sources:

The Battle of Brandywine (link does not work)

George Washington to Continental Congress, September 11, 1777: Report on the Battle of Brandywine

Battle of Brandywine, September 1777 (link does not work)

John Adams, Letter to Abigail Adams, September 30, 1777

September 19, 1777 & October 7, 1777  Battle of Saratoga

Who won the battle? Americans / British

The capture of Fort Ticonderoga was a great success for General Burgoyne, but it was the last bit of good news he would receive.  In August he dispatched a raiding party of nearly 1,000 Hessian mercenaries to nearby Bennington, Vermont, but the mission ended in disaster when they encountered a larger force of local militia and were forced to surrender.  This was followed by the news that Barry St. Leger had abandoned the siege of Fort Stanwix, and that Howe had shifted his focus away from New York in an effort to capture Philadelphia.  Nevertheless Burgoyne pressed onward, even though he now had only 7,000 men under his command.  On September 13 he crossed the Hudson River near the town of Saratoga, where the American General Horatio Gates was waiting with an army of close to 10,000 men.

What is usually called the “Battle of Saratoga” today actually consists of two separate battles, fought nearly three weeks apart.  In the first—sometimes called the Battle of Freeman’s Farm—Benedict Arnold was able to hold off a British attack, but the result was otherwise inconclusive.  Burgoyne’s troops then dug entrenchments, hoping that they would be joined by soldiers from New York City.  When this relief failed to materialize, Burgoyne ordered one final attack.  In this second battle of Saratoga—sometimes called the Battle of Bemis Heights—not only was the British assault repulsed, but it was followed up by an American counterattack that drove Burgoyne’s army from the field.

Burgoyne withdrew into the town of Saratoga, but with fewer than 6,000 men remaining under his command he realized that the situation was hopeless.  He opened negotiations with Gates, and on October 17 he and his army laid down their arms.

Saratoga is generally thought to have been the turning point of the American War for Independence.  Although British forces still held New York and Philadelphia, the victory convinced the French monarchy that the Continental Army had at least a decent chance of winning the war.  In February 1778 France became the first foreign country to recognize the United States of America, and this paved the way for active French involvement in the conflict.

Primary Sources:

Frederika Charlotte Louise, Baroness von Riedesel, The Defeat and Surrender of Burgoyne at Saratoga, October 1777

Overview Battle of Freeman’s Farm (link does not work)

The Battle of Fort Montgomery (link does not work)

Articles of Convention Between Lieutenant-General Burgoyne and Major General Gates; October 16, 1777 (link does not work)

Saratoga National Historical Park (link does not work)

NPS Historical Handbook: Saratoga (link does not work)

June 28, 1778 – Battle of Monmouth

Who won the battle? Americans / British

Although the victory at Saratoga had restored the hopes of the revolutionary cause, the winter of 1777-1778 was a miserable one for George Washington’s Continental Army.  While British troops were quartered in comfort in Philadelphia, Washington and his men spent the winter in nearby Valley Forge, desperately short of food and supplies.  There were only two bright spots to this scenario.  One was the announcement in February that France had recognized the independence of the United States; the other was the work of a German volunteer named Friedrich Wilhelm Augustus von Steuben.  Baron von Steuben, a former general in the Prussian Army, spent much of that winter teaching military discipline and tactics to Washington’s army.

By June General Henry Clinton—who had succeeded William Howe after the Saratoga campaign as commander of British troops in North America—had become concerned that his position in Philadelphia was vulnerable to a French attack, so on the 18th he evacuated the city and headed back toward New York.  Washington decided to attack the British during their march, and on June 28 the two armies clashed near Monmouth, New Jersey.

The battle nearly ended in disaster for the Continental Army when one general prematurely called a retreat.  Washington, however, personally rallied the troops, inspiring them to repel two British counterattacks.  In the end the battle was inconclusive, and both sides lost as many men to heat stroke (the temperature that day may have exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit) as to combat, but ultimately the British lost nearly 1200 soldiers, compared to fewer than 500 casualties on the American side.

In terms of numbers of participants, Monmouth was largest single battle of the war, with over 13,000 soldiers on each side. It was also the last major battle in the northern theater.  While the British continued to occupy New York City, General Clinton soon received orders for a new offensive in the Carolinas.

Primary Sources:

Operations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey (link does not work)

The Battle of Monmouth (link does not work)

Correspondence between Major General Charles Lee and George Washington, June 1778 (Battle of Monmouth) (link does not work)

Lieutenant Hale, British Account of the Battle of Monmouth Court House, July 4, 1778

Additional Timeline Activtities

1778 – 1781

Treaty of Paris