Patriot History

A Brief History Lesson by Daniel

There is only one question this movie begs, and that is: How many elite British soldiers can a couple of kids with no formal military training kill? The answer: far far far too many. Now I must say that indeed, the things that annoy me most about this movie are historical, however it takes many liberties with the abilities of prepubescent boys with black powdered muskets as well. Ignoring the fact that the boys firing the muskets weighed about as much as the muskets themselves, but even the top sharp shooters could not hit something every single time they fired a 1776 musket [yeah, but those sharp shooters probably didn't know how to "aim small, miss small," duh! -ed] [My esteemed colleague is technically correct. "Aim small miss small" was not a popular saying at the time; however the real reason was that the muskets being fired were smooth-bore (meaning the ball did not spin as it does in rifles which increases the accuracy) and were fired using black powder, which leaves behind a residue on the inside of the musket known as "fouling." For that reason the rifles were .69 caliber and the balls were .65 caliber, which allowed the balls to be fired in spite of fouling, but also meant that they bounced around in the musket and would very rarely, if ever, go straight. There is a reason that fighting was done by standing an a line, all firing at once, and hoping that someone in the line would hit something. General George Washington even reprimanded soldiers who aimed, because there was in fact no point in it and it was considered a waste of time. -Dan] [Pssh, whatever -ed.] That being said, and also ignoring the complete and total incompetence of every single British soldier, I will come to a short list of the historical inaccuracies in yet another Mel Gibson flick.

  1. Martin and Tavington in real life: Ben Martin is the Mel Gibson version of Francis "Swamp Fox" Marion who lead a similar group of men during the American revolution (Interestingly enough, he is credited with the creation of modern guerilla warfare and the Army Rangers), but that is where the similarities end. Tavington is a take of British Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton, a calvary commander and General Cornwallis' right hand man.
  2. General Cornwallis was not really that old: In The Patriot the British General Lord Charles Cornwallis was played by Tom Wilkinson, who was 52 and with make-up appeared in his late 50's to early 60's. General Cornwallis was 38 at the beginning of the American Revolution. He also did by no means hate the Americans. In fact he was sympathetic to them and voted against the Declaratory Act which precipitated the war.
  3. The Battle of Cowpens: It should be noted that General Cornwallis was not at the battle. The commander was in fact Tarleton who commanded with the skill of one of his horses. Also, you will recall of course the grand explosions caused by the cannon fire, and you might say, "What is wrong with that? They had lot's of cannons." In fact, at the Battle of Cowpens…there were 2, count 'em, 2 cannons.
  4. Joy in the streets: Has Mel Gibson ever heard of the 4th Amendment, which does not allow the military to keep soldiers in private homes? Perhaps he has but he just doesn't know where it came from, because if he did, he would know that the British were trying to do exactly that before the Revolution. Let's put the pieces together. The British have intensified their military occupancy of the colonies, they are keeping soldiers even in private residences, the Continental Congress was being held IN SECRET, and yet still there are parades in the streets and colonists firing muskets into the air over the idea of starting a revolution, a revolution which at its conception was only popular to 1/3 of the colonists. Does this not seem a bit odd to anyone that an entire city would rally in the streets and commit acts of treason in plain view for the British soldiers occupying the city to see? Oh wait, that actually did happen (see: The Boston Massacre), but I'm sure that worked well.
  5. Oh those resolved British soldiers: In the beginning of the movie, the battle of Bunker Hill (fun fact: the battle actually took place on Breeds Hill, which was one hill over). It was said in a retelling by Col. Henry Burwell (played by Chris Cooper) that despite tremendous loses the British still pushed forward and routed the Americans. This is not entirely accurate. Yes the British won…technically, because out of a total of 2600 British soldiers there, 1,054 were killed or wounded. The total loses of the Americans was about 450. Also, the British Commanding General William Howe was the only man out of his entire field staff to not be shot. The question I have is not one of the accuracy of Chris Cooper's telling of the Battle of Bunker Hill, but rather: if the British were so resolved to take Bunker Hill at such loses, the why are most of them so terrified of their own shadow in this movie? "I say! It's Ben Martin and his 2 kids, run!"
  6. Oh those elusive horses: I have just one question…how come in the middle of all of those raids and gunfire and what not, I never saw a single horse get shot. Not once did a four legged creature which happened to be strapped to a wagon get killed.
  7. Uniforms, uniforms everywhere, but not a drop to drink: Perhaps I was mistaken in history class when I was told that the problem with Valley Forge was that the men didn't have warm clothing, shoes, or blankets, much less uniforms. So if George Washington couldn't get his troops to have uniforms, then how in the world did every regular army soldier in that movie have them?

PS: In regards to the scene in which Gabriel goes to the church and his future girlfriend, in a slightly flirtatious manner, calls out the men of the town to go and fight, sighting them as "as ardent patriots" as she. Allow me respond for these men in the way I am sure they would have liked to: "Bitch, you go do it. Oh, that's right, you don't have to. Sit down and shut up!"

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