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Revolutionary War Tour Is Best Done Regionally

Jean Allen South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Q. Our family has visited many Civil War battlefields and we have been able to find many books and brochures to help. Now we’d like to see some Revolutionary locales, but find them hard to locate. Can you help?

A. I have visited quite a few places associated with the American Revolution, but I had no particular plan, and afterward I wished I had seen them in some sort of order.

To gain some perspective, I found a few helpful books and sorted out impressions of people and places of the era. Some battlefields are national park properties, some are maintained by states and some have disappeared, marked only by a plaque.

“The Revolutionary War: A Chronicle of American History from 1770 to 1789,” is a good resource, with a where-to-go guide to historical sites, museums and interpretive centers.

The book is available at the Yorktown Victory Center in Yorktown, Va., a state-operated museum of the Revolution, and costs $6.95. It should also be available at other major battlefield visitor centers or from Bluewood Books, 38 South B St., Suite 202, San Mateo, CA 94401.

State tourist offices offer free publications, some of which list their state’s Revolutionary battles and events.

The South Carolina Travel Guide - available free from the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, PO Box 71, Columbia, SC 29202; phone (800) 810-5700 - is a well-organized, magazine-format guide with sections on the Revolution.

Next time, I’d organize my touring geographically.

Pennsylvania is a good place to start your investigation. Independence National Historic Park in Philadelphia preserves Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and many other artifacts of the place where the Continental Congress first met.

Valley Forge, where Washington and his army spent a bitter winter, is northwest of the city and fascinating to visit; and Brandywine Battlefield, west of Philadelphia, is where Washington was defeated before he retreated to Valley Forge.

Another center is Boston. The downtown Freedom Trail has a self-guiding map from the information center on Boston Common that leads to Paul Revere’s house, halls where early patriots debated and plotted, and a dozen other stops. It’s easy to spend a day on this trail, especially if you stop to have lunch and browse at Quincy Festival Marketplace and the Globe Old Corner Bookstore.

Lexington is nearby. British troops, heading for Concord on April 19, 1775, to seize patriots’ ammunition, skirmished with minutemen on Lexington green, then marched to Concord where another skirmish at Old North Bridge became “the shots heard ‘round the world.” Here at Minute Man National Historic Park, a minuteman statue stands by a replica bridge. There’s a good National Park Visitor Center on Battle Road (Route 2A) between the two towns.

Lexington-Concord is a favorite locale of mine, because both are so beautiful and because Alcott, Webster, Hawthorne, Thoreau, Emerson, Whittier, Frost, Longfellow and others lived and wrote here. Most of their homes are open to visitors.

Another cluster of battles took place along the Hudson River and the lakes that feed it. In May of 1775, troops led by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold took Fort Ticonderoga, guarding the approaches to the Hudson River Valley, and looted its arsenal.

Much 1776 action was around New York City, Long Island and New Jersey, when the British captured the city but not Washington and his army. He retreated, with battle sites in White Plains, Newark and Trenton, where he counterattacked on Christmas Day, surprised Hessian mercenaries, outflanked the British at Princeton and spent the winter at Morristown.

Back to the Hudson River area in 1777: The British took back Fort Ticonderoga, then were soundly beaten at Saratoga.

Not much remains to see at Ticonderoga, but Saratoga is fascinating. The battlefield is 30 miles north of Albany, N.Y. There’s a 9.5-mile driving tour around the battlefield, and statues of the American leaders … all but Arnold. He’s acknowledged with a granite boot, epaulets and an inscription that documents his heroics but omits his name.

I didn’t visit many Southern battle sites, but plan to see King’s Mountain (1780) and Cowpens (1781) National Military Parks in South Carolina, considered by many historians to be the turning points of the war. Two other recommended places with Revolutionary ties are Ninety Six National Historic Site and Historic Camden, a reconstruction. Both are in South Carolina.

Final stop for a Revolution-tracer is Yorktown on the Virginia peninsula, where General Charles Cornwallis and his army were trapped and defeated in 1781 with the help of a French fleet blockade. Yorktown Victory Center, stateoperated, and a National Park Service center are helpful, and the battle site is easily toured by car. Nearby is Colonial Williamsburg, a reconstruction of the Colonial capital of Virginia where Patrick Henry made his “Give me liberty or give me death” speech.

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