Noted historian of the American Revolution John Ferling has an informative article in the January 2010 issue of Smithsonian (HT: Cliopatria). Here are the most popular myths about the American Revolution:
1). Great Britain Did Not Know What It Was Getting Into: In fact, Great Britain spent a lot of time–years in fact–considering a possible war with the colonies.
2). Americans of All Stripes Took Up Arms Out of Patriotism: Not True. Some fought for money and ambition. My favorite story in this regard is “Long Bill” Scott of Peterborough, New Hampshire. When asked why he was fighting, Scott wrote:
The case was this Sir! I lived in a Country Town; I was a Shoemaker and got my Living by my Labor. When this Rebellion came on, I saw some of my Neighbors get into Commission, who were no better than myself. I was very ambitious, & did not like to see those Men above me. I was asked to enlist, as a private Soldier. My Ambition was too great for so low a Rank; I offered to enlist upon having a Lieutenants Commission; which was granted. I imagined myself now in way of Promotion: if I was killed in Battle, there would an end of me, but if my Captain was killed, I should rise in Rank, & should still have a Chance to rise higher. These Sir! were the only Motives of my entering into the Service; for as to the Dispute between great Britain & the Colonies, I know nothing of it; neither am I capable of judging whether it is right or wrong. Source: John Shy, A People Numerous and Armed.
3). Continental Soldiers Were Always Ragged and Hungry: Actually, there were times when the Continental Army had so many provisions and articles of clothing that they had to store it.
4) The militia was useless: Not so. The militia played major roles at Bunker Hill, Saratoga, Trenton. King’s Mountain, Cowpens, and Guilford Courthouse.
5). Saratoga Was the War’s Turning Point: In my U.S. survey course lecture on the war, I talk about Saratoga as an important battle because it brought the French into the war on the side of the colonists. While this is certainly true, Ferling reminds us that Saratoga was not the turning point of the war. He notes four major turning points: the fighting around Boston in Spring 1775; Trenton and Princeton; the transformation of the Continental Army into a “standing army;” and American resilience in the southern campaign.
6). General Washington was a Brilliant Tactician and Strategist: Actually, much of this view of Washington is romanticized. Washington made a lot of bonehead moves.
7). Britain Could Have Never Won the War: Ferling argues that the British could have won at multiple points of the war, even as late 1781.
The article also has some great illustrations.