Investigate and evaluate a piece of historical evidence Essay
History is the study of the past, of what had really happened and who were involved.
To study history itself, it is essential that the source from which the information were taken is factual as well as reliable. It is not acceptable if it contains errors and flaws or mixing the truth with some fictions. This essay will investigate and evaluate a piece of historical evidence, the Hollywood movie The Patriot starred by Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger in order to determine whether or not it is reliable and could be used to determine the events that really had happened during the American fight for Revolution.A way to determine the reliability of The Patriot as an accurate historical source is by knowing whether it is a primary or a secondary source of information. A primary source of historical information came from a person who was directly involved during the period of time or a document written during that period, such as diaries or the Declaration of Independence. In this case, this movie is considered as a secondary source.
Some of the advantages of a primary source is that it brings the researcher as close as possible to what actually happened in the history and it is almost one hundred percent true. It helps to know what the people involved think and their individual viewpoints on certain events. However, the problem with primary source is that want it or not, historians will have to believe what was written on the source, since there will be not eyewitness three hundred years after the event. This is quite challenging, since the evidence itself might be biased and therefore makes it hard for historians to investigate its truthfulness. A secondary source, however, offers an easier interpretation of what was stated in a primary source. An example of a secondary source is an encyclopedia telling about what happened during the Revolution for Independence in America.
The disadvantage is that it is not one hundred percent reliable. Since The Patriot is a secondary source, it certainly contains bias and therefore makes it quite hard for the audience to be sure of its reliability. The Patriot was made for the sake of Hollywood and not to share what happened in the American history through a thorough and complete documentation. Therefore, the script The Patriot itself will certainly reflects on how the scriptwriter think about the events and contains personal opinions on the subject.
Relating to the point that had just been made, the reliability of a historical source also depend on the bias a source contained. What needs to be questioned is whether or not this movie is biased? As seen from an audience perspective, The Patriot is a biased movie because once again, it is a Hollywood movie with American crews and therefore they have their own ideas on how the events had occurred and why they thought they were right in pursuing independence rather that keeping peace with the Great Britain. If seen from the British perspective, the characters on the British side might not be that bad, especially Tavington who was portrayed as this incredulously mean and cold blooded antagonist. The actual fact as stated in many other reliable sources, Tarleton who was the inspiration was not even that coldblooded. In fact, he was known to be pretty decent from what was stated. And rather, the British would have their own ideas why they had risked the war and wanted to take hold of American colonists.
Another way in determining the reliability of a source for its historical factuality and accuracy is by analyzing corroborating the characters, events and battles mentioned and shown in the movie. As a fact, ‘The Patriot was not created as neither a historical source nor a documentary concerning the real-life events that happened during the American Revolutionary War. It was a Hollywood war and action movie with a little bit of drama to attract audiences who happened to be idolizing the stars or liked the theme, being made hundreds of years after the real incident. Therefore, the historical reliability needs to be analyzed before being convinced that all the aspects in this movie are factual and really existed during that time of the American Revolution.
Several characters in The Patriot, however, were really inspired by and based on real historical figures. Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson), the main character, a landowner and widowed father of seven children who later led the militia army, was based on a combination of several figures: Francis Marion, Elijah Clarke, Daniel Morgan, Andrew Pickens and Thomas Sumter. In the early drafts of the movie script, Francis Marion was used as the leading character, but because of some vague historical issues relating to how Marion mistreated his slaves and to avoid controversy in exposing a real historical figure as the main attraction, the fictional character of Benjamin Martin was introduced instead. Nevertheless, some facts that are later described explicitly throughout unfolding the plot remain similar to the life of Francis Marion himself.
General Charles Cornwallis of the British army sent Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton (inspiration for Colonel Tavington) after Marion. Just like how Colonel Tavington was unable to capture Martin in the movie, in real life Tarleton was not able to capture Marion as well. Francis Marion was also a militia fighter, known as the “Swamp Fox”, just like Martin was known amongst the British as the “ghost”, and operated in South Carolina as well during the Revolutionary War. However, his base of operations was Snow’s Island, which was located in the middle of the South Carolina swamps, unlike how Benjamin Martin operated from the old Spanish mission located in the swamp. Furthermore, Marion was childless and did not marry until the war was over.
Elijah Clarke, another historical figure from which the character Martin was taken inspiration from, was born and grew up in South Carolina, later joined the army and was another militia fighter like Marion. Clarke fought extensively in Georgia as well as the southern regions of South Carolina together with Andrew Pickens. There are no astounding similarities between him and the fictional character of Benjamin Martin, however, besides the fact that both were militia fighters and Clarke was later given a plantation after the war was over.”Great generals are scarce – there are few Morgans around.” As quoted from Maj, General Nathanael Greene on his general Daniel Morgan.
Climbing his way from the very bottom of the military ladder until his first taste of command, Daniel Morgan made a mark in the history of the Revolutionary War as a continental officer. He was described as a “colorful character” and almost thoroughly different from Martin’s religious nature. Morgan’s one similarity with Martin’s character is, however, that it was his idea at the Battle of Cowpens to use the militia army as a decoy, like Martin did towards the climax of the storyline. Furthermore, similar to Clarke and the character Benjamin Martin himself, after the war he developed his farm and became a formidable land owner.
Andrew Pickens was also a militia fighter who operated in Georgia and South Carolina like Elijah Clarke. In fact, both of them sometimes joined and fought together in the war. He had a strict Presbyterian background, married in 1765, and like Martin, had a large family with twelve children. However, unlike Martin, he was not widowed at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. Exactly like Martin, it was Pickens and his militia who were present at the Battle of Cowpens portrayed in the movie.
Thomas Sumter was described an independent and stubborn fighter who refused to cooperate with Continental operations. The similarity between him and Benjamin Martin was that they were both chased by the British army and served in the militia army. However, Sumter ended up disbanding his militia and retiring from the war in mid-1781, while Martin led the militia until the end of the war that then resulted in a real independence for the colonists and the signing of Treaty of Paris.The character Lieutenant General Charles Earl Cornwallis in The Patriot was based on a real-life famous general of the British army of the same name. In the movie, Cornwallis was portrayed rather older than he’s supposed to be – he looked like he’s already in his 50s with gray hair and rather weak posture, but in real-life he was only in his 40s when he oversaw the British army’s operations in the Carolinas in the year 1780-1781. There was a scene in the movie that showed General Cornwallis with Colonel Tavington in Charleston.
In real-life, General Cornwallis was part of the force that captured Charleston in 1780, but he was not present at the surrendering of the colonists because he was in the backcountry carrying out support operation. Rather, it was Lieutenant General Sir Henry Clinton that took the victory for the British army. General Cornwallis also never met in truce with any militia leaders like he did with Benjamin Martin as was portrayed in the movie. However, it was correct that General Cornwallis was the commander at the Battle of Camden and defeated Maj, General Horatio Gates of the colonists as shown in the movie. It was also true that he was present at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse which was a basis for the unnamed climatic battle towards the end of the movie. General Cornwallis did suffer illness at Yorktown, where he eventually and finally surrendered and sent his second-in-command Brig.
General Charles O’Hara to George Washington.The movie character Maj. General Nathanael Greene was based on a real-life person of the same name as well. Although this character only appeared once throughout the whole movie, he was portrayed correctly. In the movie, General Greene was concerned about the reliability of the militia army since their poor performance in the defense of New York City in 1776 and by the way they fled the field in the Battle of Camden. Nevertheless, the discussion that took place was not accurate as it was.
Even though the strategy of using the militia army as decoys were a real strategy (used in the Battle of Cowpens), General Greene was not present at the battle.Colonel Harry Burwell was told to be based the real-life Lieutenant Colonel Henry ‘Lighthorse Harry’ Lee. Henry Lee was in his early twenties during the war. However, different than what was portrayed in the movie, Henry was nowhere near the Battle of Camden and did not have the authority to issue the field commission of Colonel of the militia army like Burwell did to Martin.
Henry Lee was also a cavalryman, but it wasn’t mentioned that Burwell was such at all.The movie character of General Charles O’Hara really did exist in real-life. Just as shown in the movie and stated before, General O’Hara served as General Cornwallis’ second-in-command during the Surrender of Yorktown on October 19 1781. Nevertheless, in real life he would still be in the north until October 1780, so he would never be present at the Battle of Camden. However, it is true that he was present during the Battle of Guilford Courthouse where in the movie he was wounded during the attack.
Colonel William Tavington of the British army was based on Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton. He believed in total war, which meant that civilians who helped the enemy were enemy. This was true because in the movie itself, Colonel Tavington shown the exact same hostility toward civilians who helped the colonists. However, one major event in the storyline that relate to Tarleton that was certainly wrong is the burning of the people inside the church in the massacre of Pembroke. Although Tarleton often killed anyone who are in his path (e.
g. Thomas Martin) he never participated in any massacre of the civilians. In real-life, Tarleton’s force of Northern Tories was called the British Legion. They also became known as the Green Dragoons because of the color of their uniform that are predominantly green trimmed with red, unlike the ones shown in the movie – bright red with green trims. In real-life just like Cornwallis, Tarleton never had the chance to meet any militia leaders nor have any personal relationship with him like Tavington did with Martin in the movie.
The closest encounter was when he surprised Thomas Camden, a military figure and militia fighter on whom Martin was based upon, the day after the Battle of Camden, but that act unfortunately failed because in the midst of the rampage Camden was able to fled since he was not dresses properly and was unrecognized. Tarleton was also not captured at neither the Battle of Cowpens nor the Battle of the Guilford Courthouse, which combination served as the unnamed climactic battle toward the climax.The last but not least was the involvement of a French man during the war. Major Jean Villeneuve is loosely based on the French and German officers who volunteered to fight for the American cause.
The main inspirations for this movie character are probably Marquis de Lafayette who was present during the Siege and Surrender of Yorktown and Baron von Steuben who trained General George Washington’s Continental forces, just like Villeneuve who arrived at South to trained the American men, although in the movie he spent more of his efforts on the militia instead.The four major battles depicted in The Patriot are actually based on five real battles that occurred during the Revolutionary War. The Battle of Charleston, which Gabriel Martin enlisted for without his father’s consent, was not exactly shown in the movie, but the result symbolized the transition from the opening of the movie to the main action of the movie. However, in 1780 the British took possession of Charleston.
The movie’s accuracy on this matter is, nevertheless, unknown for sure since no dates were given. Also, it was inaccurate on the point that in real-life both Cornwallis and Tarleton were in the South Carolina backcountry and certainly couldn’t have joined the siege and surrendering of the colonists – rather, it was Sir Henry Clinton who oversaw the action.The Battle of Camden that followed in the storyline really did exist. However, Gabriel and his father Benjamin only watched in dismay from their house window and they weren’t directly involved with it, although Benjamin did comment and criticize General Gates’ tactics in fighting against the British in traditional military style. This movie is incorrect when the movie depicts the Continental army fleeing because it was the militia army (two thirds of the whole army) that formed the left and the middle of the line that fled quickly, with some of the regulars following behind.
Furthermore, it was a still day with no breeze to clear the smoke of the battlefield, which made it impossible for Gabriel and Benjamin to watch it from a distance like shown in the movie.The unknown climactic battle was actually comprised of two major battles in the American Revolution history – the Battle of Cowpens and the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. Like the inspiration Daniel Morgan, it was Benjamin Martin’s idea to use the militia army as decoys and he conceived the tactic of retreating after two shots. He also went around the militia campfires on the night before the battle, like what Morgan did before the Battle of Cowpens. How the British reacted toward the colonists’ strategy was almost close to reality too – they were fooled and therefore broken their disciplined tactics and were messily formed afterward. Unlike the movie, in real-life Tarleton was not killed like Tavington did in the movie, but rather he survived the war and returned home to England where he was greeted as a surviving hero of the war.
This unnamed battle also borrowed some elements from the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. Unconventional tactics were the keys to Cowpens, while traditional maneuvering on favorable terrain was used by Greene against Cornwallis at Guilford Courthouse. The elements that were present in the unnamed climactic battle were as following: the presence of General Cornwallis (who wasn’t present during the Battle of Cowpens), the mentioning of General Nathanael Greene during the night when Martin suggested his idea (Greene wasn’t present during the Battle of Cowpens), Cornwallis was victorious although suffering from enormous losses, and the fact that Guilford Courthouse was in the center of the battlefield like the ruins shown in the movie.The Battle of Yorktown that ended with the surrendering of Cornwallis wasn’t really shown as it was a part of the closing of the movie. However, some points made were true about what really happened. General Cornwallis did feel mortified of his humiliating defeat, suffered from illness and sent his second-in-command General O’Hara to go in his place to surrender to General George Washington.
The accuracy of this battle is questionable, since there is only a little of the general information provided and the battle wasn’t shown as clearly in the movie.The events that occurred or mentioned throughout the whole movie are a combination of facts and fiction. Benjamin Martin’s raid on Fort Wilderness proved to be so as well. The only Fort Wilderness that ever existed was the one located in Disney World. Fort Charles, being mentioned by Martin, was actually located in Jamaica and it would be impossible for the English settlers to seek refuge that far. Fort Ambercon also never existed, and the Asheulot River is located in New Hampshire, nowhere near the Cherokee.
However, in reality there was an attack by the South Carolina militia in which Francis Marion participated, where they mainly destroyed Indian villages and burned crops to starve the Cherokees into surrendering to the colonies.Take another example of an event that proved to be a combination is when Colonel Tavington burning Martin, a militia leader’s home and killed his son. In actual fact, Colonel Tarleton did burn the house of Thomas Sumter, a militia leader but he never shot anyone’s son in the back. And, different to what Benjamin did by bringing only his two younger sons to escaped Gabriel from the British army, there was nowhere in history of the American Revolution that stated of a militia leader doing something that dangerous.From all the corroboration of characters, events and battles in the movie with the factual historical aspects of the Revolutionary War, this movie is half-reliable in terms of using historical facts as their fundamental basis in creating the storyline.
Almost all the aspects in the movie use a combination of facts and fiction, creating a newer and fresher piece of entertaining action in the movie.Another and the last aspect in determining the reliability is the time of which the events took place. From the investigation and analysis undertaken, the year of each events mentioned or shown in the movie are thoroughly correct. However, the movie itself only comprised of one-fifth of the actual fight for Independence.Referring back to this timeline, it could be seen that there is a balance between the events known to be precise and the events found in the movie. Watching this movie, however, would be like entering a cinema movie when it had already begun.
The same applies to this because the start of the movie is already halfway through the revolution. This movie only contains an ongoing fraction of the whole chain of events. However, if seen from the time the events took place, The Patriot is very reliable and accurate.From all the evidences found in determining whether or not The Patriot is a reliable historical source, it has come to a conclusion that it is not. Even if it does, only parts of it are accurate and therefore could not contribute to the accurate study of history as it could mess and mix the facts with fiction. There were a few events that really did exist, but almost all parts of the movie are joined with made-up events to add the spice in the action.
However, the filmmakers did try to make the movie as close as it was to the real events of the American Revolution, basing the characters on real-life people and bringing the scenes to life by breathtaking special effects and costumes. What was lacking was probably only the essence of the reliability of its facts and the truthfulness of all the events found inside the movie. Therefore, although providing a fantastic movie with great acting and special effects, it is concluded that The Patriot is not an accurate historical source and could not be used as a reliable documentation on the history of the Revolutionary War for Independence of America.