A ragtag bunch of rebels
Faces the greatest military superpower of the day. It's a war they never should have won. This is the secret history of how they did it. Daring. Leadership. New ways of fighting... And true American grit. We are pioneers and trailblazers. We fight for freedom We transform our dreams into the truth, Our struggles... will become a nation New York City. Gateway to North America. (Siren blaring) Today the financial capital of the world. Population: 8 million people. In 1776, this is a city of just 20,000. (Iron clanking) It will soon become the battleground For the biggest land invasion in American history. Three miles from Wall Street, Where 23rd Street crosses Lexington Avenue today... The Rebels dig in to defend New York At Kips Bay. Commander of the Rebel Army is General George Washington. He has already driven the British out of Boston. A surprise victory against superior forces. But they'll be back. (George Washington) The hour is fast approaching On which the honor and success of this army, And the safety of our bleeding country depends. Joseph Plumb Martin Enlisted in the Rebel forces at 15... Inspired to fight under Washington's command. A farm boy, he joins thousands of untrained volunteers. Our Revolutionary Army was quite something. It was-- in a nation that wasn't really a nation yet, Just starting out, And we took on the greatest superpower of the time. Washington's ragtag troops Are about to face the best-equipped And most powerful fighting force in the world. June 29th. 45 British warships mass off Staten Island. Bearing down on New York City, The ultimate war machine of its day, The British ship-of-the-line. Each ship is made from over 2,000 century-old trees. Each carries hundreds more soldiers To the fight against the colonies. And each is armed with up to 64 heavy cannons... (Man shouting) Capable of hurling a 24-pound cannonball At the speed of sound, Delivering it to targets over a mile away. One ship-of-the-line costs the equivalent Of a modern aircraft carrier. Another 350 British ships Are racing across the Atlantic to join them. The British want to terrify the Rebels into submission. Instead, they inspire them to resist. On July 2nd, there's a crisis meeting in Philadelphia. 50 delegates elected to the Continental Congress From the 13 colonies hold an emergency session. They include radicals like Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. What they're debating Is nothing less than high treason-- Total independence from Britain. The penalty is death. We are in the midst of a revolution, The most complete In the history of the world. It's the birth of American democracy. We have to expect A great expanse of blood to obtain it. Some don't believe the Rebels stand a chance. We are about to brave the storm In a skiff made of paper. (Thundering) But the doubters are outnumbered nearly five to one. On July 4, 1776, The delegates ratify a document That will change the world, The Declaration of Independence. "We hold these truths to be self-evident," "That all men are created equal," "That they are endowed by their Creator" "With certain unalienable Rights." (Man) Now think about that. They're saying that your rights come not from the king, Not from the government, your rights come from God And furthermore, they can't be taken away from you. They're inalienable. (Men cheering) Every group: blacks, women, gays-- Everybody looks to the Declaration As a way of saying we are Americans, too. So the Declaration is the American creed. (George Washington) " ... that among these are Life..." "Liberty..." "And the pursuit of Happiness." (Men cheering) You cannot help but be stirred When you read those words. And you feel the excitement of being On the cusp of something so profound. (Men cheering) We can be free. (Men cheering) Now soldiers like Plumb Martin Have something worth fighting for. On July 12th, two British warships Open fire on New York City. (Screaming) (Rudolph) It must have been quite a shock Because New York, up to that point, Was pretty quiet city. It was a business city. So you had significant support for the Rebels But also significant support For the people who were still loyal to the king. A month later, Joseph Reed, Secretary to George Washington, Tracks the British fleet massing off New York. Over 400 ships, The largest British Naval task force until D-day. 32,000 British troops Prepare to storm Manhattan Island. They outnumber Patriot forces two to one. Just five of the biggest British ships Carry more firepower Than all the Patriot guns in the city. Reed is awed by the sight. (Joseph Reed) When I look down And see the prodigious fleet they have collected, I cannot help being astonished That a people should come 3,000 miles At such risk, trouble and expense To rob, plunder and destroy another people Because they will not lay their lives And fortune at their feet. It's the biggest attack on New York City Until September 11, 2001. But the Rebels will stand and fight. The difference for me was that the British Army Was fighting for a king And the Americans were fighting for their lives. Plumb Martin is one of 500 men Standing guard at Kips Bay. (Man) Have a look. (Plumb Martin) The first thing that saluted our eyes Was all 4 ships at anchor Within musket shot of us. "The Phoenix." I could read her name as distinctly as though I was directly underneath her stern. (Man) Pull out your gun! (Men shouting) The assault begins. (Narrator) September 1776. (Man shouting) New York is under fire. (Shouting) In one hour... 2,500 British cannonballs Smash the Rebel defenses at Kips Bay. 4,000 British troops storm Manhattan. Tough and battle-hardened, A British redcoat has six times More combat experience than a Patriot Army recruit. (George Washington) Get back in your lines! Washington watches his army collapse. (Horse neighing) Hold the line, men! They retreat along an ancient Native American path That will later be known as Broadway. September 20th. New York, now in British hands, burns. No one knows who starts the fire... But over two days It destroys 1/4 of the city. It gives you a sense of the people Who wanted to be free, How much they were willing to endure. The city being burned, the city being occupied. Gives you a sense of how much they wanted freedom. More than 3,000 Patriot POWs Are thrown into prison ships in New York Harbor. The most notorious is the HMS Jersey, Nicknamed "Hell." One prisoner, Robert Sheffield, Escaped to tell the tale. (Robert Sheffield) The air was so foul that at times A lamp could not be kept burning, By reason of which the bodies were not missed Until they had been dead ten days. Nine in ten prisoners die. There is a memorial over in Brooklyn To those that died on British prison ships In New York Harbor. Thousands of Americans. Over the course of the war, 12,000 Patriot POWs will die in the prison ships, Three times more than are killed in battle. The loss of New York is Washington's First defeat as commander in chief. The overwhelming British force crushes the Rebel Army. Washington's only hope now Rests hundreds of miles inland, With men the British know nothing about. A new type of soldier with new weapons... And new rules of war. Let's go kill us some redcoats. By June, a new British Army of 8,000 men Heads south from loyalist Canada. Its objective:
Kill off the American Revolution once and for all. They're led by General John Burgoyne. An aristocrat, politician, and art lover, He's also one of the best cavalry officers In the British military. Burgoyne pushes south, Following the Hudson River. His army is like a mobile city. The redcoats are accompanied by 2,000 servants, Wives and mistresses.
200 supply wagons
Carry 84 tons of powder and shot,
As well as silver and porcelain tableware
For the officers' meals.
Burgoyne's plan is simple.
He's traveling from St. John's in Canada
170 miles south to Saratoga,
Deep in the interior of the New York Colony.
Then, he'll link up with the victorious British Army
In New York City,
Cutting the colonies into two parts.
But the American frontier
Becomes the British Army's worst enemy.
The problem is they're in
What we might call
A counterinsurgency kind of campaign,
Where their passage through the land
And the offense that they give to farmers
Creates enemies wherever they go.
Now Washington unleashes revolutionary new tactics
And a totally new type of soldier.
Men who learned their skills on the frontier.
So this army came together--
An army of militia, an army of woodsmen,
An army of sharpshooters,
And we didn't play by the rules.
British redcoats are trained for open battlefields.
Now they face Rebel sharpshooters
Hidden in dense cover.
Leading them, Daniel Morgan.
Hard drinker, gambler, brawler.
And now the colonel of an elite corps of 500 riflemen.
(Richard M.) He was a self-made man
And he was a-- although not educated at a great school--
Was a smart guy, was a tough guy,
And was ready and willing
To step up when the time called.
He was the perfect guy to show up at the perfect time.
Burgoyne's route takes him through dense forest
Over five times larger than all of England.
Trees once intended to build British ships...
Now become Rebel roadblocks.
The British are sitting ducks.
Their advance slows to just a mile a day.
The march south becomes a six-week nightmare.
The sharpshooters know the land...
And have technology on their side.
Morgan's men are armed with American long rifles.
With a slender barrel at least 40 inches long
And fire a 50-caliber shot a half-inch wide.
Based on a German hunting weapon,
The guns have a unique American innovation...
Grooves inside the barrel that spin the shot,
Stabilizing it, giving it deadly accuracy.
Armed with this rifle,
Patriot marksman can hit a target
250 yards away,
More than three times the average distance
Of a modern FBI sniper shot,
And twice the range of the British muskets.
The tide of the war is about to change.
(Screaming) Morgan's plan:
First take out Burgoyne's Native American scouts.
400 have allied themselves with the British
To preserve their ancestral lands.
But Morgan and his men now use
Traditional Native American tactics against them.
They attack using speed, stealth,
After months of guerrilla warfare,
All the scouts are dead
Or desert behind enemy lines.
Any knowledge the redcoats had of the terrain
Goes with them.
The Rebels are rewriting the rules of war,
and they're about to do it again.
(Narrator) 1777. The American War of Independence
Is in its second year.
New York and many parts of the colonies
Are in British hands.
The Rebels have been driven into the wilderness.
(Horse neighing) But the fight back has begun.
Patriot sharpshooters target a British Army
Under General John Burgoyne.
They've already picked off Burgoyne's
Native American guides. (Screaming)
Now the two armies meet near Saratoga.
Here the Rebels break the rules of 18th-century warfare
And start targeting British officers.
The plan: Leave the foot soldiers leaderless.
Your officers tended to be your most educated guy.
They understood the communications line,
They understood exactly what the orders were.
They were the source of trying to get
Something done on a battle space.
In Britain's 53rd regiment,
All but one of its 11 officers are killed or wounded.
(Horse neighing) The tactic of assassinating officers
Appalls the British.
On the defensive, the British regroup under
General Simon Fraser. He brings fresh spirit
To the beleaguered British Army.
Commander of the sharpshooters acts fast.
Shimmy on up that tree
And take out the redcoat on his high horse.
His best shooter is an illiterate frontiersman
From Ireland, Tim Murphy.
This shot will turn the tide of the war.
The first shot misses. This left.
The second skims his horse.
Too high! Reload! Come on, take him out!
The third hits home.
(Richard S.) You could argue
That whoever fired the bullet
That took out Simon Fraser
Did as much as any Founding Father
To establish American independence.
Without leadership, the British lose 1,000 men.
Twice as many as the Patriots.
On October 17, 1777,
General Burgoyne surrenders.
It's a turning point.
The victory persuades Britain's greatest rival,
France, to join the war on America's side.
Now the French Navy will force the British
To fight a war on two fronts, Land and sea.
But first, Washington must face
His greatest challenge as leader.
He makes his winter camp in Pennsylvania
At a place called Valley Forge.
In freezing temperatures,
The Rebels build 900 huts in just 40 days.
Each houses a dozen men.
(Newt) He has an army of 14,000 men
And no houses,
And the Continental Congress has failed to
Provide him with resources,
And by willpower, by courage,
By leadership, by cajoling,
He has to hold the army together
In the middle of a terrible winter.
Joseph Plumb Martin,
Veteran of The Battle of New York,
Is at Valley Forge. It's a desolate place.
(Plumb Martin) We are now in a truly forlorn condition.
No clothing, no provisions
And as disheartened as can be.
Our prospect is indeed dreary.
(Man) All right, soldier.
This is gonna hurt a bit, all right?
You just grit your teeth. Surgeon Albigence Waldo
Watches Washington's army head toward crisis.
(Albigence Waldo) The army, which has been surprisingly healthy,
Now begins to grow sickly from the fatigues
They have suffered from this campaign.
If we don't keep this clean,
You're gonna be right back in here.
1/5 of the soldiers have no shoes.
With little clean water,
Dysentery spreads through the camp.
Within weeks, 2,000 men are sick
And they run out of meat.
Down to their last 25 barrels of flour,
The men survive on "Fire cake,"
A mixture of flour and water.
The Rebel Army is a melting pot.
As many as 60% of recruits are convicts,
Freed slaves and immigrants.
But Washington's leadership
Inspires unruly men to stay in line.
(Colin) What he had was a confidence
That if you want freedom,
This is what it's gonna take.
It's gonna take sacrifice, it's gonna take blood.
It's gonna take cold winters at Valley Forge.
It's gonna take losses.
(William Bodette) General Washington, he was a great general,
To be able to uplift his army during Valley Forge
During that winter and still be able to fight.
I wish I would have been there,
I wish I could have fought for him,
Because I damn sure would have.
But Washington's army soon faces an enemy
Far more lethal than the British.
Smallpox. The revolution breaks out
During the worst smallpox epidemic in US history.
The deadly airborne virus
Spreads through the British prison ships.
Isolated from the disease for generations,
The American colonists have little resistance to it--
And there's no cure.
Victims break out in blisters and sores.
The virus spreads through the blood,
Invading healthy cells, which it kills,
Producing more of the virus in the process.
Four in ten victims die.
Once smallpox arrives at Valley Forge,
It spreads through the cramped huts like wildfire.
Washington survived smallpox as a child.
Now he decides to take a gamble...
With one of the most daring experiments
In US military history.
Surgeons have learned about inoculation
From African slaves.
They harvest pus from a smallpox victim...
... and smear the live virus
Into cuts on the skin of a healthy patient.
The inoculation spreads the infection,
But at a slower rate.
A week after exposure, the victim's
White blood cells create antibodies.
These attack and kill the virus that causes smallpox
Before the disease can spread.
But it's a dangerous race against time.
To survive, the patient's immune system
Has to work faster than the virus,
Or it will run out of control.
One in 50 of those inoculated will die.
But Washington's gamble pays off.
New cases of smallpox
Fall from several thousand to just a few dozen.
(Screaming) But to win the war against the British,
Washington turns to an unlikely hero
Who will transform his ragtag militia?
Into a formidable fighting machine.
George Washington's Patriot Army survives a hard winter
And an outbreak of smallpox at Valley Forge.
Now Washington introduces a new recruit
Who will change the course of the war.
Baron von Steuben is an ex-Prussian Army officer,
An elite soldier
Whose career is said to have been ruined
By his homosexuality. But Washington makes him
One of the most powerful men in his command.
Washington was a genius in taking people in
Who didn't seem like they could achieve great things,
But under him, they rose to the challenge,
They rose to the occasion.
And that's what great leaders do.
Von Steuben's task:
Reinvent the demoralized Patriot Army
So they can take on the British in a close fight.
(Baron von Steuben) Our arms are in horrible condition,
Covered with rust. Our men are literally naked,
Some to the fullest extent of the word.
Von Steuben starts by drilling discipline
Into Washington's ragtag recruits.
The men are unlike any he has ever trained before.
(Baron von Steuben) The genius of this nation
Is not in the least to be compared with that of
The Prussians or Austrians or French.
You say to your soldier, "Do this," and he does it.
But here, I am obliged to say,
"This is the reason why you ought to do that,"
And then he does it.
Von Steuben brings order,
Discipline and hygiene to Valley Forge.
He moves latrines away from living quarters,
Rebuilds the kitchens on the opposite side of the camp,
And organizes housing
According to regiments and companies.
His biggest contribution,
He writes a manual on military training,
With methods that are still in use today.
(Baron Von Steuben) Faster!
Von Steuben's drills European battle tactics
Into an elite corps of 100 men.
(Baron von Steuben) Up, soldier! Move!
Each will train 100 more.
He also teaches them a new and deadly weapon...
the bayonet. (Screaming)
Bayonet fighting will prove pivotal
In the battles ahead.
Bayonets allow rifles to double as spears,
Making close hand-to-hand combat
Possible without reloading.
But it's not just new weapons and skills
Von Steuben gives the Patriots, It's a new attitude.
(William Bodette) You know, we can talk about weapons
And how certain weapons change the face of warfare,
Which is absolutely true,
But the greatest weapon that you can ever have
Is right up here.
Men like Plumb Martin leave Valley Forge
Highly skilled killers. While they retrain,
Another secret war has been raging
In British-occupied New York.
Here, a network of spies has been busy
Passing information to the Rebels.
Their leader is George Washington himself.
(Richard S.) A man who's come down to us in history
As someone who is incapable of telling a lie,
Succeeds as a commander in no small measure
Because of his capacity for deception.
A British general will later claim that Washington
Did not outfight his enemies, but out-spy them.
Now his French allies come under deadly threat,
And only his secret army of spies
Can save them from disaster.
In New York, an estimated 20% Of the population
Is still loyal to the British.
Food costs are up 800%.
One young woman in five is a prostitute.
To the British, New York merchant Robert Townsend
Is a loyalist. A member of the loyalist militia,
He writes for the loyalist press.
But to Washington's spy network,
His code name is "Culper Jr.,"
A fact that was only discovered in 1939.
Culper's gang will change the course of the war.
By July 1781, New York is buzzing with rumor.
A French fleet has been sighted off Rhode Island.
News leaks out that the British
Plan to send warships from New York
For a surprise attack. Culper must get word to Washington
To somehow stop the British fleet.
The spies use invisible ink.
An advanced formula unknown to the British,
The ink is made from garlic acid.
It can only be revealed by brushing the paper
In liquid iron sulfate. (Shouting)
The next link in the chain is Austin Roe,
A tavern owner from Long Island.
His contact, Abraham Woodhull,
Picks up the message and buries it at a secret drop.
Another agent, Ann Smith Strong,
Then uses her laundry as a secret code.
It signals a sailor who picks up the message
And takes it to Washington.
Washington moves troops towards New York,
Threatening the city,
Forcing the British fleet to stay put in New York Harbor.
The French fleet sails out of danger.
It will play a critical role
In the next stage of the war.
Now, with a spy network and a modern army
Backed by French naval power,
Washington is ready for a final showdown.
Come on! (Men shouting) (Narrator) October 1781.
Six years into a war the British
Thought would last six months,
The American Revolution comes to a head
At Yorktown, Virginia.
In trenches around the fortified city,
Plumb Martin, now a sergeant,
Waits with 8,000 other Patriot soldiers
For the signal to attack.
Washington's army has reinvented itself...
With training, discipline And new weapons...
And with a spy network that has saved the French fleet,
Giving the Rebels dominance at sea.
What remains of the British Army
Is under siege in Yorktown. Trapped in the city,
The redcoats wait for reinforcements,
But back in Britain, the war is unpopular
And costing far too much money.
This is a case of hanging on
In the face of the-- The British actions
Long enough to where the British literally
Would grow weary of this
And realize that it was endless.
This is Washington's chance to end the war
With one decisive blow.
(Richard M.) He committed to this idea
Of being able to stand on your own.
See, America is a dream,
And the only way to go get that dream
Is to show up
And bring your very best to that moment
And not stop
Until you bring that dream into existence.
Plumb Martin will be
One of the first over the top. Godspeed.
How are you doing, my friend?
Good, how are you? I better check it out.
Behind Yorktown's defenses,
9,000 battle-hardened British troops are waiting.
They're protected by a series of outlying cannon forts
Called redoubts. By October 14th, just two remain.
If they're captured and their guns turned on Yorktown,
The British will be forced to surrender.
How's it look up there? It's time.
(Plumb Martin) All the batteries in our line lay silent.
We lay anxiously waiting for the signal. (Men shouting)
Patriots race 100 yards to the British lines
Under fire and a hail of hand grenades.
Come on! Come on!
A force of 400 Break through And storm the British fort.
Fighting in close combat with bayonets,
They beat the redcoats back.
(Plumb Martin) Immediately after the fighting had ceased,
I went out to see what had become of my wounded friend.
He was dead. 34 of Martin's comrades lie dead or wounded...
But they've breached Yorktown's defenses.
Two days later, the British surrender
And begin negotiations for peace.
For the past six years, Leadership... training,
Weapons and intelligence have been vital.
The Rebels have achieved the impossible.
The United States is the only country
To win independence from the British in war.
On April 30, 1789, Washington is inaugurated
First president of the United States of America
Under the new constitution. But liberty comes at a price.
Over 25,000 men have lost their lives
in the battle for independence...But a new nation is born.
(George Washington) We hold these truths to be self-evident,
That all men are created equal,
That they are endowed by their Creator
With certain unalienable Rights,
That among these are Life, Liberty...
And the pursuit of Happiness.