Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Revolutionary War

This year, 2015, is a year of anniversaries by tens: the 200th anniversary of the end of the War of 1812, the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, and the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. It is also the 240th anniversary of the beginning of the Revolutionary War. That beginning took place on April 19, 1775, at Lexington and Concord when British forces engaged and were forced into retreat by the Minutemen of Massachusetts. The war carried on for eight more years, with the last British troops leaving New York City on today's date--November 25--in 1783. In 1776, we declared our independence. In 1777, we won the battles that turned the tide. And in 1778-1781, we secured our freedom by defeating the British in the West and in the South, with a culminating victory at Yorktown on October 19, 1781. Artists, writers, historians, thinkers, and the American people at large have celebrated those events ever since. Illustrators and cartoonists from Indiana are of course among them.

Lucy Fitch Perkins (1865-1937) of Maples, Indiana, was renowned for her Twins series of books. Here is the cover of The American Twins of the Revolution, published in 1926, presumably to celebrate the sesquicentennial of Independence. The Revolutionary War is unique in our history. Fought on our own soil and in every part of our young nation, it touched and influenced the lives of every American as no war has in the time since. Those lives included the lives of children. I would hazard that there have been more children's books about children participating in the Revolutionary War than about any other American war. Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes (1943) leaps to mind.

Roy Frederic Heinrich (1881-1943) was born in Goshen, Indiana, but lived much of his life in the East. Late in his career, he executed a series of historical drawings for the National Life Insurance Company of Montpelier, Vermont. Here is his depiction of the Battle of Hubbardton, July 7, 1777, in what is now Vermont. The British and their Hessian mercenaries won the battle but at great cost.

Frederick Coffay Yohn (1875-1933) of Indianapolis was a wunderkind artist, recognized by age twenty-five as one of the nation's top historical illustrators. He specialized in paintings of the American Revolution, many of which were published in Scribner's. Shown here is a scene from the Battle of Oriskany, August 6, 1777, in which the American General Nicholas Herkimer was mortally wounded in a loss to Loyalists or Tories and their Indian allies.

Yohn's painting was used as a design for a postage stamp in observance of the American Bicentennial.

Ten days after Oriskany, on August 16, 1777, American forces won a decisive victory at the Battle of Bennington. F.C. Yohn was the artist.

The caption here tells the story. The drawing is by Roy F. Heinrich. Again, the war was one in which all Americans might have taken part, including a housemaid wearing a dress as striped as her flag.

On October 17, 1777, British General John Burgoyne surrendered his forces to General Horatio Gates, thus bringing an end to the Saratoga campaign and helping to assure foreign recognition of the American cause. The artist was once again Yohn.

"The Interrupted Christmas Dinner--A Revolutionary Incident" by T. Dart Walker (1868-1914) of Goshen, Indiana. This image was published by Leslie's in 1900 and illustrates a story with which I am unfamiliar. The fineness and bravery of American women (and children) is evident here, as the American man in uniform hides under the table. 

Despite its victories, the Continental Army under George Washington suffered through a hard winter in 1777-1778 at Valley Forge. F.C. Yohn painted this monochromatic picture.

In 1777, the British opened a new theater in the war, the war in the West. From September 7 to September 18, 1778, Shawnee warriors, allied with the British, laid siege to Fort Boonesborough in what is now Kentucky. (The date on the picture frame is 1777.) The siege failed and only two died on the American side, including a slave named London. Daniel Boone and his brother Squire were at the siege. Squire Boone now lies buried in a cave in southern Indiana. The picture here was painted by Gayle Porter Hoskins (1887-1962) of Brazil, Indiana.

In February 1779, George Rogers Clark, with his small force of men, moved against Vincennes in what is now southwestern Indiana, crossing the flooded Wabash River bottoms from the Illinois country to the west. The children of Indiana learn of Clark's feat in fourth-grade history class and remember it forever after, if only for the story of men wading for miles through freezing floodwaters on their approach to the settlement. Frederick Coffay Yohn painted this picture in 1929. . . 

Only a few years after having painted this picture of the surrender of Fort Sackville at Vincennes, which took place on February 25, 1779. Henry Hamilton, the leader of the British forces, is on the right. George Rogers Clark, older brother of William Clark of Lewis and Clark fame, is on the left. Note the drummer boy on the far left and the girl in the blue dress on the far right. Indiana author Maurice Thompson's bestselling Alice of Old Vincennes (1900), illustrated by Yohn, is set against the backdrop of the Vincennes campaign.  

Yohn's painting was used as a design for a postage stamp commemorating the sesquicentennial of the surrender in 1929. 

For the British, the Southern theater of operations was far more active but only slightly more successful than the war in the West. Among the American heroes of the South was Francis Marion, the famed "Swamp Fox," who gave his name to Marion County, home of the capital city of Indiana. The drawing here is by Carl Kidwell (1910-2003) of Washington, Indiana. It adorns the dust jacket of The Swamp Fox by Marion Marsh Brown (1950). Note the unintentional double pun in the author's name.

In 1775, a newspaper comic strip called The Sons of Liberty went into syndication in anticipation of the American Bicentennial. The creator of the strip was Richard Jo Lynn (1937-2010) of Lagro, Indiana. Here is a piece of promotional art reprinted in Cartoonist Profiles magazine No. 36 (Dec. 1977). 

The Sons of Liberty culminated on the day of the Bicentennial, July 4, 1976, with a Sunday page, the only Sunday during the run of the strip. I believe this is the ending strip, but I can't say for sure, as the magazine article does not identify it as such. In any case, Happy Birthday to the Revolution that began in earnest 240 years ago!

Text and captions copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley


  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

    1. Gerald,

      I agree with you that warfare is a fascinating subject. Thanks for reading and for writing.