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Interpreting the Evidence

The Retreat from New York, Poem Written by a Soldier, American Revolution, n.d.

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Revolution and New Nation (1754 - 1820s)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:

    American Revolution

  • Primary Source Types:

    Written Document

  • Regions:

    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load The Retreat from New York, Poem Written by a Soldier, American Revolution, n.d. in Main Image Viewer
  2. Load The Retreat from New York, Poem Written by a Soldier, American Revolution, n.d. in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
The Retreat from New York, a poem written during the American Revolution by soldier, n.d.
Historical Context
Military records for the American Revolution come from three main sources:  state veterans’ lists, which date to the early 19th century, federal veterans’ pension applications dating to 1832, and the records of the Daughters of the American Revolution.  Consequently it is difficult to pinpoint the exact number of American soldiers who fought during the American Revolution.  Approximately 175,000 men served as soldiers, including five thousand free black men and slaves. 
Colonial militias and the Continental Army constituted the two main branches of military service.   Colonial militias generally required service of every male between the ages of 16 and 60.  There were exceptions made for clergy and college students, among others, but the colonial militias provided the largest force of soldiers during the war.  Militiamen were able to live at home most of the time during the war and were generally only called into action when there were battles in their home regions.  As the war progressed, many militiamen, concerned about their families and farms were reluctant to sign on for long periods of service.  Some, including General George Washington, believed that militiamen were less disciplined, hardened, and professional than soldiers should be.  Despite concerns, the militias served an important role in the Revolutionary War.  In June of 1775, the Continental Congress established a standing professional army, the American Continental Army.  Continental soldiers enlisted for terms of service ranging from one year initially then longer terms as the war wore on.  On average, Continental soldiers were younger, under 20 years of age, and poorer than their militia counterparts.  The middle and upper classes generally avoided service in the Continental Army by paying substitutes to enlist for them.  Baron Von Steuben helped bring discipline and skills to the Continental Army and it became an effective fighting force.  For some soldiers, even the harsh discipline and lack of resources of Army life were preferable to their lives at home.  Although often delayed, soldiers of the Continental Army at least received pay.  As the war progressed, many colonial governments drafted men to serve in the militia or the Continental Army.
Soldiers had to endure harsh conditions during the war.  They were often not given enough clothing or food and medical care was minimal.  Many soldiers died of disease.  The harsh conditions and brutality of battle prompted many soldiers to desert. 
Essential Question
What were some of the conditions faced by soldiers in the American Revolution and how did they respond to them?
Check for Understanding
How did the Battle for New York illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of the Patriot cause during the American Revolution?
Historical Challenges
Trace the Battle of New York and the retreat of the American soldiers on a map of the New York area (check the Resources).
Soldiers throughout time have used words to capture their experiences in battle and everyday life.  Locate a poem written by a soldier or other combatant in another conflict.  Discuss the structure and tone of the poem.
Research the Battle of New York and identify the major strategies and tactics used by the British and American forces.  Evaluate the short and long term success for each side’s strategy.
Interdisciplinary Connections
Art/Geography – Take a map of the Battle of New York and use phrases from the poem and other graphics to illustrate the map.
English/Language Arts – Take a selection from the poem and write an alternate stanza from the British point of view.