Wed. Jun 12th, 2024

The battle of Paoli took place during the American Revolutionary War.  It is not a very well-known battle; indeed very few people know about it all.  The battle occurred on Sept. 20, 1777.  Near Malvern, Pa.  It is about a 10-minute drive from West Chester University.  It was a decisive British victory, so much so that it is often called the Paoli Massacre.  But the real question is: why should anyone 235 years later care?

Often times, I have heard people complain about history.  That it is all about dead people and events that happened long ago, and how it will never benefit one to learn anything about the past.  Those other subjects such as math and science are much more worthwhile to learn, since the connection they share with our lives is much more readily seen. I, however, would like to make the argument that history is much more useful than what people think.  Take the Battle of Paoli for example.  As stated above, it is a small, obscure battle that ended in an American retreat.  The results were the British killing 53 soldiers, wounding 112, and capturing 71.  The British themselves only lost four soldiers, and had seven wounded.  Again, why should we care?  This battle took place over 200 years ago.

This is why we should care: history is a part of who we are.  The Battle of Paoli was a part in the American Revolution, and the American Revolution brought this nation into existence.   It is important to us as a nation, since we all live, work, and play here. This battle is seen as different things to different people.  For men and women in the military, it provides valuable lessons in strategy in tactics.  The British attacked at night, which was unusual considering how they usually fought. The level of, for lack of a better phrase, “honorable fighting,” had subsided as the American Revolution dragged on.  The Americans had attacked the British on Dec. 26, 1776 at the Battle of Princeton.  The Battle of Paoli took place almost a year later on Sept. 20, 1777.  One might be able to say that the British were fighting more like the Americans as the war dragged on.  The Americans from day one had been using every tactic possible to defeat the British.  The British had been fighting more of a “gentlemen’s” war, at least in the beginning.  This could relate to fighting in present day wars, such as the war in Afghanistan.  In Afghanistan, we are fighting using a rulebook; the insurgents are fighting however they can.

For historians, it is important because it helps us learn about our own American story.  We need to learn who we are and where we came from.  You see, whether we realize it or not, people go through their lives judging themselves, and other people from the past.  People all over make their own opinions about their pasts.  While this is a free nation and everyone is free to make their own opinions about whatever they desire, the question is: can one truly make a decent judgment about the past without studying it objectively?  It is not possible to build a perfect representation of everything that had transpired, but it is possible to develop a good idea.  

My point is that while the Battle of Paoli contributes something to history.  It is one of the best preserved battlefields in the United States.  Military men and women can learn something about the tactics that were used during the war; historians can build a representation of the past. I study history because I find it important.  Our history, whether it is personal or shared, defines who we are.

Adam Farence is a second-year student majoring in history. He can be reached at

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