A Country of Turning Points
A Country of Turning Points
The United States is a country of historical turning points. At every key point in the history of the country, we seem to have had an event that moved us forward rather than sideways. I’m a big fan of Harry Turtledove who specializes in alternate history and Newt Gingrich who has done the same. These two authors write novels that suggest other courses of history but in the world of now, we have some very interesting turning points to discuss.
Here’s a very early turning point in our history. In 1609, the relief convoy from England to Jamestown was scattered by a hurricane. The flagship Sea Venture was blown onto the coral reefs surrounding Bermuda. If it had sank, all aboard would have perished and their supplies would have gone down with the ship. Instead, it was wedged into the reef where the crew was able to offload the passengers, supplies and rigging before the Sea Venture broke up.
The passengers and crew were able to construct two replacement vessels from the cedar wood on the island and eventually proceed to Jamestown where they met with the rest of the fleet and rescue the colony. When they arrived they found only 60 colonists of the original 500. They prepared to return to England but a relief fleet arrived to resupply them If they had left the Jamestown colony would have failed. One other thing, John Rolfe’s wife and child perished on Bermuda. In Virginia, he married Pocahontas the daughter of the chief Powhatan.
The American Revolution is filled with historical turning points. Here are just two of the more important one.
On March 23, 1775, in Saint John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia, Patrick Henry swayed the Virginia House of Burgesses into mobilizing for war with this ringing call to arms. “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, Give me Liberty, or give me Death!”
In December of 1775 with his army melting away, George Washington came up with a daring plan to save the Revolution. He ordered his troops to cross and ice-choked river at night, march 9 miles and attack a force of veteran Hessian mercenaries the following morning at Trenton, New Jersey. At least a third of his men had no boots. They wrapped their feet in cloth. The snow bore their bloody footprints. The watchword was “Victory or Death.” They attacked and within an hour had captured or killed over 1,000 of the enemy. Within two weeks, Washington had 15,000 soldiers, the Revolution was saved.
Many would pick the Battle of Fort McHenry and the “Star Spangled Banner” poem by Francis Scott Key as a turning point in the War of 1812 but the British actually left of their own volition. Perhaps, the burning of Washington also comes to mind. But for me the Battle of Lake Erie was a decisive point in the conflict on the Great Lakes.
American naval commander Captain Oliver Hazard Perry fought the Battle of Lake Erie on September 10, 1813. His decisive victory ensured American control of the lake, improved American morale after a series of defeats, and compelled the British to fall back from Detroit. Perry sent this message to his commander, “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”
This paved the way another invasion of Upper Canada, which culminated in the U.S. victory at the Battle of the Thames on October 5, 1813, in which Tecumseh was killed. Tecumseh’s death effectively ended the North American indigenous alliance with the British in the Detroit region. American control of Lake Erie meant the British could no longer provide essential military supplies to their aboriginal allies, who therefore dropped out of the war. The Americans controlled the area during the conflict.
What if 80 brave men had not confronted the British regulars on Lexington Green on April 19, 1775? Would there have been a Revolution or would the Americans have meekly submitted to the British? Instead, they stood up to tyranny and made a country.
You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,—
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.