Penobscot Debacle

 

One of the great fiascos in American military history, the Penobscot Expedition of 1779 has faded into almost complete obscurity.

The British had long wished to form a new colony for displaced loyalists.  What is now the State of Maine seemed perfect for the proposed colony of New Ireland.  The forests of the new colony would supply ample naval stores for the Royal Navy, and due to its location it could also serve as a base for raids on New England.

In June of 1779 the British constructed Fort George on a small peninsula jutting into Penobscot Bay.  The garrison consisted of 700 regulars: 50 men of the Royal Artillery and Engineers, 450 of the 74th Regiment of (Highland) Foot and 200 of the 82nd (Duke of Hamilton’s) Regiment, all under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Francis McLean.

Massachusetts reacted promptly to this invasion of territory the Bay State claimed.  An expedition of 44 ships and 1000 troops, Continental Marines and Massachusetts militia, was rapidly gathered.  Lieutenant Colonel Paul Revere commanded the artillery.  The expedition arrived at Penobscot Bay on July 25, 1779.

On July 28, 1779 an assault by land was made against Fort George.  The Americans incurred casualties of approximately one hundred men but took the heights near the Fort.  The high casualties of this day seemed to dampen the enthusiasm of the leaders of the expedition.  Brigadier General Solomon Lovell contented himself with besieging the fort, while Commodore Dudley Saltonstall, who would be cashiered from the Continental Navy for his performance during this expedition,  refused to close with and destroy the small British fleet off Fort George, despite frequent requests from Lovell that this be done and for Saltonstall to bombard Fort George. (more…)

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Go Betsy!

 

A skilled seamstress, Elizabeth “Betsy” Ross was noted for her beauty and her patriotism.  Twenty-three at the start of the Revolution, she would lose two husbands during the War, the second a mariner who died in a British jail.  It is little wonder that she was an ardent patriot.  She sewed not only flags, but tents, uniforms and blankets for the American forces.  She was the mother of six daughters, one by her second husband, and the remainder with her third.  Her descendants kept alive the family tradition that she sewed the first American flag.  There is no contemporary evidence for that, although she did know General Washington, and if she did not sew the first flag, it is clear that she was among the first seamstresses to sew American flags.  She outlived her third husband by nineteen years, dying at age 84 in Philadelphia in a free America.

Published in: on July 11, 2019 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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The British Are Coming

 

 

Each year as the Fourth of July approaches my thoughts turn to the American Revolution.  What a truly remarkable struggle it was, a turning point in the affairs of Man we are still too close to in time to truly fathom.  I just began reading Rick Atkinson’s The British Are Coming, the first volume in his trilogy on the Revolution and I am bowled over by it.   Atkinson achieved notoriety with his Liberation trilogy, looking at the US Army in North Africa and Europe in World War II and it was quite good.  However, I was unprepared for the level of historical insight I am finding in his latest work.  I have read over the years hundreds of books on the American Revolution and I thought that I had little to learn about that conflict, but Mr. Atkinson is showing me that I was in error.  An example is at the beginning where he skillfully, and concisely, lays forth the preparations that the British government was making for war in the winter of 1774-1775.  Now I knew these facts, but seeing them laid out as he does brings home how inevitable Lexington and Concord were.  The British government had decided that military force was going to be needed to bring the American colonies to heel, and once that decision was made war was inevitable.

In his majestic give me liberty or give me death speech of March 23, 1775 Patrick Henry made a statement that has seemed to future generations prophetic:

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

However, based upon the preparations of  the British Crown for war against its own subjects, Patrick Henry was merely stating what any intelligent observer in America in early 1775 would have realized: war was coming, and very, very soon.

And that is the great strength of Atkinson’s work.  He rescues the Revolution from antiquarian study, and makes the readers see it as contemporaries saw it who lived through those grand and awful days.

The writing is in the grand style, mercifully free from the cant of the contemporary academy that makes so many current historical works almost unreadable.  A sample:

“The second consequence was epochal and enduring:  the creation of the American Republic.  Surely among mankind’s most remarkable achievements, this majestic construct also inspired a creation myth that sometimes resembled a garish cartoon,  a melodramatic tale of doughty yeomen resisting moronic, brutal lobsterbacks.  The civil war that unspooled over those eight years would be both more grander and more nuanced, a tale of heroes and knaves, of sacrifice and blunder, of redemption and profound suffering.  Beyond the battlefield, then and forever, stood a shining city on a hill.”

That passage can stand in quality of expression on America’s founding with this passage by Stephen Vincent Benet in his The Devil and Daniel Webster:

And he began with the simple things that everybody’s known and felt–the freshness of a fine morning when you’re young, and the taste of food when you’re hungry, and the new day that’s every day when you’re a child. He took them up and he turned them in his hands. They were good things for any man. But without freedom, they sickened. And when he talked of those enslaved, and the sorrows of slavery, his voice got like a big bell. He talked of the early days of America and the men who had made those days. It wasn’t a spread-eagle speech, but he made you see it. He admitted all the wrong that had ever been done. But he showed how, out of the wrong and the right, the suffering and the starvations, something new had come. And everybody had played a part in it, even the traitors.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough.  Get it and read it cover to cover.  You will thank me.

Published in: on June 24, 2019 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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“Something Charming in the Sound”

 

“I heard the bullets whistle, and, believe me, there is something charming in the sound.”

George Washington, letter to his brother May 31, 1754, telling him about his victory at the battle of Jumonville.   What might have been mere bragging by virtually any other man, was not the case with the Father of our Country.  As far as we can judge from outward evidence, Washington was absolutely fearless.  Time after time in the French and Indian War and in the American Revolution,  he exposed himself to enemy fire.  At Braddock’s Defeat in 1755 Washington had two horses shot out from beneath him, and four enemy musket balls were lodged in his clothes by the end of the fight.  Washington believed that he could not be an effective leader unless he led from the front, and that is precisely what he did, often to the distress of his aides.  His only emotional reaction to being under enemy fire was apparently complete contempt for the fire of the enemy.  Men who observed him often wrote that they were amazed that anyone could be as fearless as he was. (more…)

Published in: on May 31, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on “Something Charming in the Sound”  
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May 8, 1815: Murder of David Ramsay

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Forgotten today, Ramsay was famous in his time as one of the first major historians of the American Revolution.  During the Revolution he served in the South Carolina legislature and as a field surgeon with the South Carolina militia, being imprisoned by the British for a year after the fall of Charleston.  In 1785 he published a two volume History of the Revolution in South Carolina, in 1789 a two volume History of the American Revolution, in 1807 a Life of Washington, and, posthumously, in 1816-1817 a three volume History of the United States.  All during his literary career, and I have noted only his major works, Ramsay maintained a large practice in Charleston as a physician.  Appointed by the court to examine the sanity of William Linnen, a tailor after Linnen attempted to kill his attorney.  Ramsay reported to the court that Linnen was mad.

After Linnen’s release he sought revenge and ambushed Ramsay, shooting him in the back and the hip.  Carried to his house, before he died Ramsay made the following statement:  ‘I know not if these wounds be mortal; I am not afraid to die; but should that be my fate, I call on all here present to bear witness, that I consider the unfortunate perpetrator of this deed a lunatic, and free from guilt.'”

Published in: on May 8, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on May 8, 1815: Murder of David Ramsay  
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George Washington Celebrates Saint Patrick’s Day

 

Throughout his life George Washington had a great deal of sympathy for the struggles of the Irish against their English rulers, seeing in those struggles a mirror for the American fight for independence.  Irish immigrants to America, Protestant and Catholic, were enthusiastic in their embrace of the American cause, and during the Revolutionary War many of the soldiers who served in the Continental Army were Irish or of Irish descent.  Therefore when General Washington heard in March 1780 that the Irish Parliament had passed free trade legislation, he issued the following general order to the Army on March 16, 1780:

The general congratulates the army on the very interesting proceedings of the parliament of Ireland and the inhabitants of that country which have been lately communicated;  not only as they appear calculated to remove those heavy and tyrannical oppressions on their trade but to restore to a brave and generous people their ancient rights and freedom and by their operations to promote the cause of America. (more…)

Published in: on March 17, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on George Washington Celebrates Saint Patrick’s Day  
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Cowpens

A very accurate video on the battle of Cowpens, January 17, 1781.  Brigadier General Daniel Morgan, the American commander, was an American original.  An ill-educated frontiersman, Morgan was also a natural leader of men, made easier by his height, well over six foot, and his robust sense of humor, along with his willingness to use his fists to enforce discipline if necessary.  He served in the French and Indian War, being sentenced to 499 lashes for punching a British officer.  He later made a joke of it saying that in carrying out the sentence the count was one short, but it was a tribute to his toughness that he survived such an experience.  It is a pity that the late John Wayne, circa 1955, did not appear in a movie bio of this remarkable man. (more…)

Published in: on March 12, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments (3)  
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Bicentennial Minutes

People of a certain vintage will recall the Bicentennial Minutes shown each night on CBS in the lead up to the Bicentennial in 1976.  I greatly enjoyed them at the time.  Here is the final one on December 31, 1976:

 

Published in: on March 11, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Bicentennial Minutes  
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Brown Bess

 

The video above is taken from Sharpe’s Eagle and depicts the battle of Talavera.  It illustrates the impact of massed British volleys of “Brown Bess”, as the British troops affectionately named their musket,  musket fire on French columns.  (The redcoats are armed with muskets;  Sharpe and his green jacketed men are armed with rifles.)

During the American Revolution the RedCoats , the Continentals and the American militia were armed with the Brown Bess musket.  For its time the Brown Bess was a formidable weapon.

“To meet these combat conditions, the new British Brown Bess standard musket was designed to deliver a large bullet at low velocity.  It employed a sturdy stock for use as a club in close fighting and had an overall length that combined with a long, socket bayonet to create a spear or pike for impacting an enemy’s line.  It was also designed to be durable and to withstand the rigors of years of active campaigning.  The Brown Bess was to successfully fulfill all of these demands.”

Here is a paean to the Brown Bess by Rudyard Kipling: (more…)

Published in: on March 10, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Brown Bess  
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The Liberty Song

 

Something for the weekend.  The Liberty Song sung by Bobby Horton.

Written by Founding Father John Dickinson in 1768, the song was sung by patriots in America to the tune of Heart of OakThe video below is the most hilarious scene from the John Adams mini-series where a completely fish out of water John Adams gets donations for the American cause from French aristocrats as they sing the Liberty Song, led by Ben Franklin who is obviously immensely enjoying himself.  It is a good song for Americans to recall, and perhaps especially so in this year of grace, 2019.

 

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Published in: on February 16, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Liberty Song  
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