Thus began what seems to us now an impossible war. Although it had been brooding for ten years, since the Stamp Act, which showed that the ties of blood and of tradition meant nothing to the British Tories, now that it had come, the Colonists may well have asked themselves what it meant. Probably, if the Colonists had taken a poll on that fine July morning in 1775, not one in five of them would have admitted that he was going to war to secure Independence, but all would have protested that they would die if need be to recover their freedom, the old British freedom, which came down to them from Runnymede and should not be wrested from them.
A British Tory, at the same time, might have replied: “We fight, we cannot do less, in order to discipline and punish these wretches who assume to deny the jurisdiction of the British Crown and to rebel against the authority of the British Parliament.” A few years before, an English general had boasted that with an army of five thousand troops he would undertake a march from Canada, through the Colonies, straight to the Gulf of Mexico. And Colonel George Washington, who had seen something of the quality of the British regulars, remarked that with a thousand seasoned Virginians he would engage to block the five thousand wherever he met them. The test was now to be made.
The first thing that strikes us is the great extent of the field of war. From the farthest settlements in the northeast, in what is now Maine, to the border villages in Georgia was about fifteen hundred miles; but mere distance did not represent the difficulty of the journey. Between Boston and Baltimore ran a carriage road, not always kept in good repair. Most of the other stretches had to be traversed on horseback. The country along the seaboard was generally well supplied with food, but the supply was nowhere near large enough to furnish regular permanent subsistence for an army. A lack of munitions seriously threatened the Colonists’ ability to fight at all, but the discovery of lead in Virginia made good this deficiency until the year 1781, when the lead mine was exhausted.
More important than material concerns, however, was the diversity in origin and customs among the Colonists themselves. The total population numbered in 1775 nearly two and one half million souls. Of these, the slaves formed about 500,000. The three largest Colonies, Virginia, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania contained 900,000 inhabitants, of which a little more than one half were slaves. Pennsylvania, the third Colony, had a total of 300,000, mostly white, while South Carolina had 200,000, of whom only 65,000 were white. Connecticut, on the other hand, had 200,000 with scarcely any blacks. The result was a very mottled population. The New Englanders had already begun to practise manufacturing, and they continued to raise under normal conditions sufficient