The Formation of the U.S. Federal Government
Review of the movie "The Patriot" provides a vastly entertaining supposition of the efforts of the South Carolina colony's Continental Army actions in fighting the British Empire's army on the road to creating the federal government. Admittedly, loosely based on important characters in this vital area of American history as well as combinations of important battles making up dynamic and visually exciting scenes, "The Patriot" serves more as a springboard for academic investigation of the facts depicted fictionally in the movie specifically connected to the main character of Benjamin Martin based on the real hero of the American struggle Francis Marion (known as the Swamp Fox) and his fictionalized nemesis Colonel Tavington based on the real Lieutenant Colonel Tarleton.
"The Patriot," Swamp Fox, Francis Marion, Lieutenant Colonel Tarleton
The Formation of the U.S. Federal Government
With a combination of facts and dramatic license changing historical events, the movie "The Patriot" tells another of Hollywood's versions of the formation of the U.S. federal government. From a historical point of view the renditions of specific events portrayed in this movie while arguably entertaining fail to provide the truth of the American colonists' struggles against the Western world's most powerful monarchy for independence. This academic investigation of the portrayal of "The Patriot" initial focus presents the Mel Gibson's role as a peaceful farmer and patriarch of a large family he clearly adores and his own battles within and without during this poignant and pivotal time during the American Revolutionary War. Further, this academic exploration presents the historical facts compared to their cinema graphic portrayals as exhibited in "The Patriot."
Movie Plot Summary
According to Sterrit (2000), "The hero of 'The Patriot' is a South Carolina farmer, a devoted family man, a veteran of the French and Indian War, and a believer in liberty for all (p. 15)". Researcher Call (2013) explains how Mel Gibson's role of Benjamin Martin loosely based upon a Revolutionary War character from South Carolina – where more battles than any other location took place during the British incursion fighting the American - provides the backdrop for the ensuing events leading to the victory for independence from Britain and formation of the federal government (p. 1).
Benjamin Martin's life in colonial 1776 South Carolina purposefully projects his desire to leave behind the horrors he experienced as a war hero during the French-Indian war. Memories of the haunting experience underpin his character's reluctance for having anything to do with the colonists' determination for a war of independence against the British Monarchy. His small plantation, his wife, and seven children remain the heart of his life. The plot thickens as his eldest sons announce their intentions to enlisting in the colonial Continental Army – formed for the purpose of revolution against Great Britain once South Carolina decides joining the cause.
Gabriel played by the late Heath Ledger and the oldest son joins the Continental Army immediately without his father Benjamin Martin's permission. It is his letters home providing the backdrop to the battles and events occurring in the southern region of the fighting once the revolution gets into full form prior to Martin's involvement that engages the audience. The eventual involvement of Benjamin Martin in the war directly results from British dragoon Colonel William Tavington razes the Martin Plantation to the ground with a fiery assault. Martin's internal struggle to protect his family conflicts with a deep seeded desire for revenge against Britain as well as taking part in the birth of a new federalist nation comes to a day of decision with him throwing in with the colonists' fight. From the onset before his involvement in the colonial struggle, Gibson's character Benjamin Martin – aka the Swamp Fox – upon learning of the Declaration of Independence asks why he should "trade one tyrant 3,000 miles away for 3,000 tyrants one mile away? ("The Patriot," 2000)."
What emerges in the story is the reluctant Martin (taking on the persona of the real life Francis Marion) becoming the ruthless, the guerilla leader, "the Swamp Fox." As the Swamp Fox-led colonial guerilla fighters under the Martin character in "The Patriot" emerging from nowhere from the swamps, the British hold in South Carolina took a decisive downward turn from the attacks on supply trains and patrols decimating British resources. The turn of events changing the Martin character from a complete refusal to participate in the revolution as a fighter results from the Colonel Tavington character (historyextra.com, 2013) (played by actor Jason Isaacs – best known as the evil Lucius Malfoy both Deatheater and father of Harry Potter's peer-led nemesis Draco Malfoy) taking personal interest in destroying everything Martin has including home and family. In the movie "The Patriot" interpretation of the broader themes as well as battles in the south, remain punched with inaccuracies about these details of the American Revolution. The movie culminates in the Swamp Fox and his ragtag group of patriots assisting in the defeat of British General Cornwallis, securing the victory for the Revolutionists, and return home to rebuild what the British destroyed for their dedication to the American cause for freedom. The remaining investigation presented in this academic endeavor reveals the real with the movie "reel" portrayal of the Swamp Fox, the British Lieutenant Colonel Tarleton (Tavington's character) and more about the battles as they were and as depicted in The Patriot.."
Fiction versus Fact
Martin and Marion
According to Morton (2003) and his description of the tide of the war changing from the British stronghold on the colonies, it was not "until the arrival of General Horatio Gates, with a detachment of Continentals from Washington's army, in the South in late July 1780, the British hold on South Carolina and Georgia seemed secure." Fiction and fact concur with the Gibson character and the real Swamp Fox. "With a total force of some 4,000 (Continentals, militiamen, and "over mountain" frontiersmen) (the) task of integrating the various guerrilla bands of Marion" and others including "Pickens, and Sumter with his Continental units into a force strong enough to first challenge Cornwallis's marauding forces in the interior and then to recapture Charleston (p. 65)."
Tavington and Tarleton
The most compelling fictional portrayal of "The Patriot" in the struggle for the formation of the American federal government connected to those playing out the battles between the revolutionists and the British forces remains the role of the fictitious Tavington and the real Lieutenant Tarleton. According to the National Park Service, the true character of Lieutenant Colonel Tarleton's participated in battles of Fishing Creek, Cowpens, Monck's Corner, Waxhaws, and Blackstocks. While "The Patriot" becomes a study of two embattled entities (Martin the patriot and Travington) on personal vendettas against one the other amid the revolution with the British officer representative of ongoing cruelty, it is the battle of Waxhaws where Tarleton's actions make him the symbol of British atrocities and cruelty in the American Revolution (2013).
In "The Patriot," the message from the onset for this character holds him up as something akin to a Nazi when the movie shows him burning a church full of people that never happened in the American Revolution but did in one of the many documented Nazi inhumane actions. The clarification offered by the National Park Services provides the true profile of Tarleton's tactics (2012).
In the Waxhaws battle and not the Camden, Charleston, and Yorktown shown in "The Patriot" (Cummings, 2013) Tarleton came to symbolize British cruelty in the Revolutionary War because he ordered the battle continue even after the clearly defeated American forces laid down their arms in surrender resulting in few survivors. With the defeat of Cornwallis and the change in favor of the American revolutions creating their federal government, Tarleton's troops posted across the decisive the river from the Yorktown defeat, of the British he surrendered to the Revolutionists (National Park Services, 2013).
What "The Patriot" succeeds entertaining people about the American road to the creation of the federal government it completely lacks in both the characterizations of Marion the true Swamp Fox (named by Tarleton) Tarleton's. "The Patriot" characterization of Tarleton in the Tavington character does him a disservice. The British Lieutenant Colonel facts show his genius as a military strategist with the total war philosophy. True, this philosophy reveals his practice of destroying crops and burning houses as a war tactic beyond the battlefield with the end justifying the means. His brutality emerges as logistically no more than any other British officer and even some of the American war leaders during the revolution. The fact and fiction converge as "The Patriot" and the rumors of war during the revolution made Tarleton the propaganda piece for American Patriot officers (National Parks 2013)
Cummings clarifies the battles portrayed in "The Patriot" is the Battle of Charleston marking transition in time from the beginning scenes setting up the main events and action of the movie. The Battle of Camden, watched by Martin's older sons from the safety of the abandoned plantation window, impels them to join the Continental Army. In the movie, Tavington takes part in the battle lost to British General Cornwallis. While remaining unnamed in "The Patriot," the Battle of Cowpens is the inspiration and where the Swamp Fox does, lead American militia/ The Gibson character enacts the exact behavior of his real life counterpart Morgan by sending the militia to the battle's front line – firing two shots then retreating behind the Continental regular army. A sentimental scene in the movie where Gibson (Martin) visits his militiamen around the campfires the night before the Cowpens Battle mimics the actions of Morgan as well (2013).
Both the Battle of Cowpens and the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, serving as the prototype for creating the unnamed final battle in "The Patriot" signifying an important guerilla tactic of the Swamp Fox and his militia makes for interesting if inaccurate historical story telling. The true part of the scene comes from portraying the tactic of retreat befuddling the normally disciplined British troops breaking rank in confusion for the guerilla tactic. In the movie, the Tavington character holds his ground forcing Martin to rally his Patriots around a flag he grabs leading the fight one last time resulting in the death of the Tavington character. In reality, Tarleton retreated. In defense of the producers and the director, purposefully keeping this final battle between Martin and his personal war with Tavington unnamed draws on their dramatic license (Cummings, 2013).
As posited in the introduction of this academic investigation, with a combination of facts and dramatic license changing historical events, the movie "The Patriot" tells another of Hollywood's versions of the formation of the U.S. federal government. The result of this academic investigation combined with clarification of the fiction using the facts of events portrayed in the movie leads to a fundamental question of other than entertainment value what does a historically "based" genre of movie such as "The Patriot" contribute to learning. From an abstract perspective this cinematographic rendering of the American Revolution road to creating a federal government indeed, does spur discussion. The mere action of researching the true historical facts against the movie portrayal of battles, characters, and events becomes a learning task with its own inherent varieties of value from an academic perspective. The criticism of the movie historically derived from this academic investigation particularly lay in the complete omission of any mention of first, the Loyalists. Particular to South Carolina, colonists remaining loyal as British citizens had many bloody skirmishes with the Americans in a mini-civil war. Second, the treatment of southern slaves fighting for the colonists in the American Revolution in truth led them no closer to the promised freedom reneged after the Americans win the revolution. Misrepresentation or omission of such critical facts about Americans road to creating a federal government is an inherent injustice. Gibson reportedly said if the true events came forward in "The Patriot," the audience would find no entertainment value. The most logical response to such a myopic statement avers to challenging the creativity of screenwriters digging deeper. History is an inherently entertaining and far better story than fiction even if a debatable issue. While "The Patriot" continues entertaining movie enthusiasts in DVD, form for possibly generations to come, its injustice to the truth of the story it tells deems a righteous contention.
Call, H. B. (2013). "The Patriot" and the Real Francis Marion – Guerilla Warfare to the South. Utah Historical Review. Retrieved from http://epubs.utah.edu/index.php/historia/article/viewFile/910/784
Cummings, S. (2013) The Patriot – Film Fact or Fiction: Battles. Retrieved from
http://www.patriotresource.com/factfiction/battles.html Emmerich, R., Emmerich, U., & Fay, W. (Producers), & Emmerich, R. (Director). (2000). The Patriot. Walt Disney Studios International
Historyextra.com. (2013). The American War of Independence: Three Films. Retrieved from
Morton, J. C. (2003). The American Revolution. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press
Sterritt, W. O. D. (2000, June 3). 'The Patriot:' Nothing More Than Hollywood Flimflam. The Christian Science Monitor, p. 15.
St. George, W. R. J. (2005). The Patriot: Movie Review. The History Journal. 87(3). Retrieved from http://www.studythepast.com/patriotreview.pdf
The National Park Service. (2013). Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Carlton. Retrieved from