October 17, 1777: Saratoga

Yonder are the Hessians! They were bought for seven pounds and ten pence a man. Are you worth more? Prove it!

General John Stark to his men prior to the Battle of Bennington

The Fate of John Burgoyne sung by Bobby Horton, turning his attention to the music of the Revolution rather than his usual stomping grounds, the Civil War.  Two hundred and forty-four years ago the turning point of the American Revolution occurred with the surrender of his British army by Major General John “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne.  A playwright and sometime member of Parliament, Burgoyne has gone down in history as something of a fop and an amateur incompetent soldier.  This is unjust to him.  Burgoyne was a career officer who took his duties seriously and his overall military record indicates above average ability combined with a streak of ruthlessness.  However, his invasion of northern New York in 1777 with 7,000 troops from Canada was doomed by events largely out of his control.

SARAmapFOST

Supposedly his invasion was to be coordinated with the efforts of General Howe commanding the main British army in New York.  However, no orders were issued to Howe requiring such coordination and he embarked on a campaign against the American de facto capital of Philadelphia, leaving Burgoyne to fend for himself among the wilds of frontier northern New York.

His was a polyglot force, much of it ill-suited for frontier fighting.  That was certainly the case with his Hessian mercenaries and British regulars.  The Loyalists and Indians under his command were more suited for the area but brought their own problems including lack of discipline and a desire for loot and sometimes murder.

The campaign started well for Burgoyne and by July 6 he had taken the strategic fort of Ticonderoga, the gateway to northern New York.  Then the campaign went south for him as Burgoyne’s army proceeded south.  The first blow was that a column led by Lieutenant Colonel Barry St. Leger that was to cooperate with Burgoyne, became bogged down besieging Fort Stanwix in western New York.  Patriot Tryon County militia under General Nicholas Herkimer fought a bloody battle against St. Leger’s Indian auxiliaries at Oriskany.  Losses on both sides were devastating with General Herkimer being mortally wounded.  Indian morale plummeted due to their losses.  Patriot General Benedict Arnold caused St. Leger to break the siege and retreat by using loyalist Hans Yost to spread among the Indians the news that Arnold, actually leading a small force, was on his way to relieve Fort Stanwix with an army as numerous as the leaves of a forest.  Without the support of his Indian allies, St. Leger had no choice but to retreat.

Burgoyne’s campaign suffered its worst single blow when Indians from Burgoyne’s army on July 27, 1777 murdered Jane McCrea, a young woman on her way to visit her sweetheart, ironically a Loyalist officer with Burgoyne’s army.  News of her murder spread like wildfire and converted hordes of Loyalists to being Patriots over night.  Thousands of militia poured into the American army of the North, and across northern New York a common sign on cabins, farms and businesses read:  “Gone to fight Burgoyne.” (more…)

Published in: on October 17, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments (5)  
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September 1, 1774: Powder Alarm

 

General Thomas Gage was appointed military governor of Massachusetts in early 1774.  He embarked on a campaign to disarm the Massachusetts militia.  In an event that is largely forgotten today but was a huge event throughout the colonies in 1774, on September 1, 1774 Gage sent an expedition of British troops to seized the powder at the arsenal located in Sommerville, Massachusetts.  The British succeeded in their mission and almost started the Revolutionary War.  Militia units formed up in alarm throughout Massachusetts and surrounding colonies in New England, thinking that a war had begun while wild rumors flew, and it was several days before calm was restored.  This Powder Alarm caused the militia in Massachusetts and the colonies to take steps to protect their arsenals for fear of a deliberate British policy to disarm them and leave them helpless before the redcoats.  The stage was set for Lexington and Concord.

Published in: on September 1, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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August 16, 1780: Battle of Camden

 

 

 

 

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“But was there ever an instance of a General running away as Gates has done from his whole army? And was there ever so precipitous a flight?  One hundred and eighty miles in three days and a half.  It does admirable credit to the activity of a man at his time of life.”

Colonel Alexander Hamilton’s comment after the battle of Camden

 

 

 

 

 

The battle of Camden, August 16, 1780, was a humiliating defeat for the Americans.  Led by General Horatio Gates, a former British officer, 3700 Americans, more than half of them militia, were defeated by 1500 British regulars and 600 Loyalist militia.  900 Americans were killed and wounded, and a thousand Americans captured, compared to a British loss of 68 killed and 250 wounded.  Most of the American militia ran at the opening of the battle and Gates fled with them, riding his horse 60 miles to Charlotte, North Carolina.  Gates, thankfully, was never given a field command again.  His blundering had thrown away the only major American regular military force remaining in the South.  It was a disaster for the Americans and a humiliating one.

The one bright spot in this fiasco was the heroism of General Johann de Kalb and the Maryland and Delaware Continentals he led.  Born in 1721 into a family of peasants, de Kalb managed the incredible feat in Eighteenth Century Old Regime France of rising due to sheer ability to the rank of Brigadier General and entered the ranks of the nobility as a baron.  He first became familiar with America in 1768:  serving as a French spy he traveled throughout the colonies to determine the level of dissatisfaction of the colonists with British rule.  He grew to sympathize with the Americans.  He came back to America with Lafayette in 1777, becoming a Continental Major General.

After Gates and the militia fled, de Kalb and his 800 Continentals fought ferociously against the entire British Army, making charge after charge, with de Kalb at the head shouting, “To me, my Continentals!”  His Continentals were defeated only after de Kalb fell with 11 wounds.  General Cornwallis, commander of the British forces at Camden, had his personal surgeon treat his brave adversary.  De Kalb died three days later.  To a British officer who offered his sympathy, de Kalb gave a ringing reply that should be remembered by every American:  “I thank you sir for your generous sympathy, but I die the death I always prayed for: the death of a soldier fighting for the rights of man.”  The towns and counties named DeKalb throughout the United States are a tribute to a very brave man and able soldier who died for his adopted country.

Here is the report of Cornwallis on his victory:

Cornwallis, Charles, the Earl
1780 Letter from Charles, the Earl, Cornwallis to Lord George
Germain, dated 21 August 1780.
My Lord:
It is with great pleasure that I communicate to Your Lordship an Account of a Compleat Victory obtained on the 16th Inst., by His Majesty’s Troops under my command, over the Rebel
Southern Army, Commanded by General Gates.

In my Dispatch, No. 1, I had the honour to inform Your Lordship that while at Charlestown I was regularly acquainted by Lord Rawdon with every Material incident or Movement made by the
Enemy, or by the Troops under His Lordship’s command. On the 9th Inst. two Expresses arrived with an account that Genl. Gates was advancing towards Lynche’s Creek with his whole Army, supposed to amount to 6,000 men, exclusive of a Detachment of 1,000 Men under Genl. Sumpter, who, after having in vain attempted to force the Posts at Rocky Mount & Hanging Rock, was believed to be at that time trying to get round the left of our position, to cut off our communications with the Congarees & Charleston; That the disaffected Country between Pedee & Black River had actually revolted, and that Lord Rawdon was contracting his Posts and preparing to assemble his force at Camden. (more…)

Valley Forge

 

I don’t recall this TV movie, but it was broadcast on December 3, 1975 when I was finishing up the first semester of my Freshman year at the University of Illinois.  This would have been during finals, and doubtless I had other things on my mind than watching television at the time.  Hard to believe this is all almost forty-six years in the rare view mirror.  Days can pass slowly, but the decades seem to careen by.

Published in: on August 15, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Valley Forge  
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April 26, 1777: Sybil Ludington’s Ride

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The eldest of twelve children, Sybil Ludington grew up in a household of ardent patriots, her father being the commander of the local militia in Duchess County New York.  On April 26, 1777 she became, at age 16, a heroine of the Revolution when she rode forty miles to her father’s militia encampment at night on her horse Star to spread the alarm that the British were moving on Danbury Connecticut.  During her ride she successfully defended herself against a highwayman using a long stick.  She used the same stick to bang on the door of houses along the way to let the occupants know that the British were on the march,  Thanks to her, her father Colonel Henry Ludington chased after the British with 400 of his militia.  They were unable to intercept the British before their attack on Danbury, but they, along with other militia units, harassed the British as they retreated to New York.  The campaign is considered a turning point that helped ensure firm patriot control in Connecticut.  Sybil received the personal thanks of George Washington. (more…)

Published in: on April 26, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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April 19, 1775: Lexington and Concord-Why They Fought

 

In 1843 twenty two year old Mellen Chamberlain, who would later be a legislator, a judge and chief librarian of Boston, interviewed 86 year old Captain Levi Preston, last surviving veteran of the battle of Concord:

 

Question:  “Captain Preston, what made you go  to the Concord fight?

Answer:  “What did I go for?”

Question:  “Yes, my histories tell me that you men of the Revolution took up arms against intolerable oppressions.  What were they?”

Answer:  “Oppressions?  I didn’t feel them.”

Question: “What, were you not oppressed by the Stamp Act?”

Answer:  No, I never saw one of those stamps, and always understood that Governor Bernard put them all in Castle William. I am certain I never paid a penny for one of them.

Question:  “Well, what about the tea tax?”

Answer: “Tea tax!  I never drank a drop of the stuff:   the boys threw it all overboard.”

Question: “I suppose you had been reading Harrington, Sidney, and Locke about the eternal principle of liberty?”

Answer:  “Never heard of ’em. The only books we had were the Bible, the Catechism, Watts’ Psalms, and Hymns and the Almanac.”

Question:  “Well, then, what was the matter?”

Answer:  “Young man, what we meant in going for those Redcoats was this: we always had governed ourselves, and we always meant to. They didn’t mean we should.”

 

Published in: on April 19, 2021 at 2:29 pm  Comments Off on April 19, 1775: Lexington and Concord-Why They Fought  
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Worst Movie on the American Revolution

 

I have long been a fan of the late British actor Jack Hawkins.  Above however is perhaps his worst performance as General Cornwallis in a dreadful Italian-French film Lafayette (1961).  The  wardrobe budget did not extend far enough for makeup to make Hawkins look anything like Cornwallis.  The film has him surrendering his sword to an actor who does not look anything like George Washington, and making a fictitious brief speech.  Historically of course Cornwallis did not appear at the surrender ceremony at Yorktown, sending instead his subordinate General O’Hara.  Washington had him surrender his sword to General Benjamin Lincoln who had surrendered Charleston to Cornwallis in 1780, Washington no doubt appreciating the irony.  Most historical films mangle the history, but in this production history was first tortured and then murdered.

Last night my wife and I watch QBVII (1973), a fictional account by Leon Uris of a defamation suit against him in 1964 in which the Plaintiff received a half penny as damages.  Hawkins was portraying the magistrate in the trial, his throat cancer reducing his voice to a quiet croak but giving his last performance before his untimely death a dignity and gravity befitting his career.

 

His two finest performances were in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) where he was a doppelganger for Field Marshal Edmund Allenby and as Consul Quintus Arrius in Ben-Hur (1959):

 

Published in: on March 16, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Yorktown Campaign

 

A good video on the Yorktown Campaign by Mount Vernon.  I don’t think any nation on Earth owes more to one man than the US does to George Washington.  Now we have idiots, in the name of malign identity politics, toppling his statues or seeking to topple his statues.  Of course none of this says anything about Washington, but quite a lot about the insane times in which we find ourselves.  Today is the 289th birthday of Washington.  I daresay that Washington will be remembered, and honored, long after those who seek to destroy his memory are entirely forgotten.

Published in: on February 22, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Yorktown Campaign  
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Revolutionary War for the 21rst Century

(I originally posted this at The American Catholic and I thought the film mavens of Almost Chosen People might enjoy it.)

 

Interesting fan remix of the movie The Patriot (2000) focusing on Lord Cornwallis (Tom Wilkinson).  The film got endless historical facts wrong, but it captured well the mixture of guerilla war and conventional war, the hallmark of the war in the South, the forgotten theater of the American Revolution, which decided the outcome of the Revolution.  There is much to learn by our contemporary military from close study of these campaigns:  Guerilla warfare, atrocities, dealing with hostile and/or divided populations, great power interventions, indigenous peoples (Indians), the breakdown of law and order, the key role of political organization, militia free lancers, the use of propaganda;   it is all there and more for those with the wit to see it.  The war in the South from 1778-1782 is extremely, one might say painfully, relevant in this year of grace 2021.

 

Bonus:

Cornwallis laments the 18th century equivalent of “the deplorables” as his world is turned upside down:

 

 

Published in: on February 16, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Revolutionary War for the 21rst Century  
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December 27, 1776: General Washington Reports

 

A good video on the battle of Trenton is here.  Here is the report that Washington wrote to Congress on the Trenton victory:

27 December 1776

Sir:

I have the pleasure of congratulating you upon the success of an enterprise which I had formed against a detachment of the enemy lying in Trenton, and which was executed yesterday morning. The evening of the 25th I ordered the troops intended for this service to parade back of McKonkey’s Ferry, that they might begin to pass as soon s it grew dark, imagining we should be able to throw them all over, with the necessary artillery, by twelve o’clock, and that we might easily arrive at Trenton by five in the morning, the distance being about nine miles. But the quantity of ice, made that night, impeded the passage of the boats so much, that it was three o’clock before the artillery could all be got over; and near four before the troops took up their line of march. This made me despair of surprising the town, as I well knew we could not reach it before the day was fairly broke. But as I was certain there was no making a retreat without being discovered and harassed on repassing the river, I determined to push on at all events. I formed my detachment into two divisions, one to march by the lower or river road the other by the upper or Pennington road. As the divisions had nearly the same distance to march, I ordered each of them, immediately upon forcing the out-guards to push directly into the town, that they might charge the enemy before they had time to form. (more…)

Published in: on December 27, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on December 27, 1776: General Washington Reports  
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