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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Eutaw Springs and Bunker Hill

Almost as many Americans (138) were killed at the Battle of Eutaw Springs, South Carolina on September 8, 1781 as were killed at Bunker Hill (140).The British suffered 85 killed (they lost 226 at Bunker Hill) and 351 wounded (to 828 at Bunker Hill).  American wounded 375, more than the 271 at Bunker Hill.  Eutaw Springs serves as a bloody bookend to the war at the tail end, around the time of Yorktown.


American General Nathanael Greene, having lost his assault on Ninety-Six, continued to harass the British as their forces consolidated in South Carolina at Charleston.  British Colonel Alexander Stewart was in charge of the British forces at Charleston, following Lord Rawdon's return to England.  He took 2,000 men to search for Greene's army and while camped at Eutaw Springs, Greene attacked him with about 2200 men.  Though his men drove the British back and should have won, they started plundering the British tents.  The British made a well-defended stand around a brick house near the river, under command of Major John Marjoribanks, and turned the tide against the Americans.  Marjoribanks was killed and is buried on the site, shown here.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Quinby Bridge and the Hubris of Command

Two markers identify the spot of this engagement typical of the bitter warfare in South Carolina.  The South Carolina historical marker calls it Quenby Bridge; the Francis Marion Trail marker spells in Quinby Bridge.  Here, on July 17, 1781 at this location on the creek, British forces retreating from Monck's Corner towards Charleston were attacked by militia forces under American General Thomas Sumter.  American Colonel Henry Lee attacked the British about a mile from this area, and the British fell back to here.


The British again fell back after the fight at the bridge to nearby Shubrick's Plantation established a defensive position.  Against the advice of General Francis Marion, Sumter nonetheless ordered an attack; after three hours, it failed and Sumter retreated.

Quinby (or Quenby) Bridge is a place to contemplate the hubris of command.  Thirty Americans died and thirty more were wounded, in an engagement involving some 550 Americans and approximately 600 Regulars and Loyalists.  Many of Marion's men deserted after this and Marion did not fight under Sumter again.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Battle of Quebec and the Preemptive Strike

This month also marks the anniversary of the failed American assault on Quebec City, on December 31, 1775.  The invasion of Canada, primarily directed at Quebec and Montreal, was at its worst a primary and early example of American aggression and, at best, an honest effort to include Quebec in the American independence movement.  In a December 4, 1775 letter to the Continental Congress, George Washington wrote "Upon the whole I think, Affairs carry a pleasing aspect in that Quarter, the reduction of Quebec is an Object of such great importance, that I doubt not the Congress will give every Assistance in their power for the accomplishing it this Winter."


Here is what the Americans faced.

The leaders of the American forces were the young General Richard Montgomery, who easily took Montreal, and then Colonel Benedict Arnold, whose arduous journey through severe weather and terrain to get there brought him comparison to Hannibal crossing the Alps.  Montgomery was killed, and Arnold wounded.

Quebec provides an interesting departure point for consideration of the roots of American foreign policy in terms of the justification for preemptive strikes and when invasion of foreign soil for such purposes is warranted.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The First Battle of Trenton

As we enter December we enter the critical month of the Revolution.  In December 1776, five months after the Declaration of Independence and over a year and a half into the war, Washington had lost New York City and retreated across the Delaware River.  On Christmas Day, he recrossed and next morning, December 26, 1776, won the political and military victory at Trenton.  The First Battle of Trenton--more a raid that lasted no more than an hour--boosted the morale of the new Continental Army.


Trenton today is a post-industrial city marked by loss of its industrial base and population.  As this is written, its mayor is under indictment for corruption.  We can look at this image of the reenactment of the battle, on the same ground (Warren Street, then King Street) where Washington's men fought, and reflect upon a city that held such historic importance two centuries ago, and to where it has fallen.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Millstone, Militia and Local Heroes


I've been to the major (and many less major) Revolutionary War battlefields from Quebec, Canada to Ninety-Six, South Carolina, but it's always interesting to look for the lessons in the smaller scale, lesser known engagements.  One such nearby battle is the Battle of Millstone in central New Jersey.  On January 20, 1777 General Philemon Dickinson led about 400 New Jersey and 50 Pennsylvania militia in battle, defeating about 500 British Regulars and Hessians under Lieutenant Colonel Robert Abercromby that were on a foraging mission, and captured some 40 wagons and 100 horses.

The precise location of Van Nest's Mills along the Millstone, where the battle occurred, is locally disputed but this is the area of the Millstone River where the battle most likely occurred, near the Weston Causeway in Somerset County.


The battle focuses attention on the thousands of small-scale actions, no less bitter or fatal than some of the more well-known ones, that marked the war and the role of the militia.  Ironically, at the same time he was praising Dickinson--whose house still stands in Trenton, New Jersey--to Congress, he was writing Dickinson to complain about another militia in a New Jersey county that was abandoning service.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Fort Washington, Fort Lee and Analog Warfare

     November 16 marks the anniversary of the defeat of the Continental Army at Fort Washington in Manhattan in 1776.  Fort Washington was constructed on the highest point on Manhattan island.  Today, you cannot see its counterpart in New Jersey, the area where Fort Lee was, standing in the site of Fort Washington.  Nonetheless, in 1776 Fort Lee and Fort Washington were considered essential by the Americans to control the North River (now the Hudson River).

     Nonetheless, we can gain an understanding of the nature of the American defenses and place from the batteries of Fort Lee on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River.


     The fort was a bit inland from this, but up here, on the Palisades, you can see how artillery from here and Fort Washington would control the Hudson.  Fort Washington was just to the north of where the George Washington Bridge enters Manhattan, on the left in this photograph.

     In an age of drone attacks, and when we can watch video clips on the internet of assassinations and missiles fired from unseen planes, this image and the Battle of Fort Washington remind us of the pre-digital age of analog warfare.    

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Chestnut Neck, Privateering and Terrorism

I had a prior post on Chestnut Neck, noting the role of foreign officers in the Continental Army.  This post takes a different look at the affair, which was the result of privateering activity by the Americans.  Jack Coggins, in Ships and Seamen of the American Revolution, notes that "[i]n a sense, a privateer was little more than a licensed pirate." Authorized by the Continental Congress, during the Revolution, privateers accounted for 800 commissioned vessels, far outnumbering the 198 commissioned vessels in the United States navy.


Here we see the view from Chestnut Neck across the Mullica River at the Jersey shore.

The Battle of Chestnut Neck makes us consider the rule of law and terrorism in the context of another time.    It has been suggested that the British deemed themselves, as we might put it today, to be fighting state-sponsored terrorism.  In an article on this topic, Professor Jesse Lemisch of John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York has written that "[p]rivateers were denounced by the British in ways that resonate with the denunciation of terrorists that we hear these days." 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Election 2012-Random and Revolutionary Thoughts


Here is the Rebelmen statue in Fort Lee, New Jersey.  Our remaining Revolutionary War landscape contains many such statues and memorials.  We have experienced what many have called an unprecedented campaign in terms of its ad hominem attacks.  We have also just experienced among the worst natural disasters along the mid-Atlantic, and people are still suffering from it.  As we go to the polls, in addition to a vote, we might also cast a thought back to those anonymous soldiers and civilians who supported, fought  and died for, the very system that we have now warped almost beyond recognition.  As we pay lip service to "democracy," it might behoove us to think about to what exact use we are putting it.  Our political dialog now is virtually non-existent; there is no conversation, only sound bytes, shouting and vitriol.  To those who say it has always been so, I do not recall that Thomas Jefferson and John Adams ever resorted to YouTube.  And despite their enmity, there was an abiding respect that is absent from much of the current scene.

Interpreting Battles

I mentioned the Battle of Monmouth in a June posting, as June marks the anniversary of the battle.  Returning to it, we can consider how we can meaningfully relate physically to battles long ago when we visit the place of battle.  A battle such as Monmouth, over such a broad area, involving tens of thousands of men and lasting as long as it did, is extraordinarily difficult to "recreate." However, reenactors such as those at Monmouth seek to interpret the battle.  Just as a few photographs can provide a window only into the place, details of reenactment can provide the beginning of a glimpse across the centuries.  I like this image for what it shows regarding the firing of a cannon like those used at the battle, and how those at the time might well have reacted, and looked, at the moment of firing.


The photographer must be selective.  Unlike film, only a moment can be captured.  Here, the detail of a unit demonstrating the loading and firing of a cannon provides a tile in the broader mosaic.  Did the artillerymen of Henry Knox cover their ears like this? 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

White Plains and the Hessians

This month, on October 28, we mark the anniversary of the Battle of White Plains in 1776.

After Harlem Heights, the Americans continued to occupy northern Manhattan, and the British the balance of the island. By mid-October, Washington learned that the British were again on the move, planning to land in what is now Westchester County and surround him. On October 16, 1776 Washington ordered retreat from New York and established a position in the hills of White Plains.


This is the top of Chatterton Hill.  Through the trees we can see across the Bronx River to downtown White Plains.  This was the focus of the principal fight at White Plains, reflecting the British and Hessian attack was on Chatterton Hill.  Hundreds of men died in assaulting this hill.  The Americans abandoned it.  They ultimately made their way out of New York and retreated across New Jersey, to be chased by Cornwallis.  Howe turned back to New York.

I want to focus on the two Hessian commanders, Colonels Johann Rall and Karl von Donop.  They are linked indelibly not just to the Hessians and British in this war, but to New Jersey in particular.  Both were killed in action in New Jersey.  One of the persistent mythologies of the Revolution is that the Hessians were unintelligent, brutal mercenaries; Rall in particular has come down as a kind of drunken buffoon who lost Trenton.  The attack at White Plains was carried out by him with professional dispatch, under challenging circumstances.  Similarly, von Donop has been portrayed as a kind of martinet.  What becomes evident from extensive readings of the contemporary accounts was that, despite their failings and limitations, both von Donop and Rall were respectable commanders, trained soldiers and certainly not lacking in courage.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Saratoga and "Best Measures"

In the last post I commented on the relatively genteel manner in which the commanding officers at Saratoga dined and toasted each other, while many had died or been wounded on the battlefield at Saratoga.  The first  action occurred here, at Freeman's Farm, on September 19, 1777.  It was a scene of frenzied actions, of back and forth across the battlefield, exemplified by Benedict Arnold's wild courage.


But it was also marked by a quieter kind of courage and duty, shown by Hessian commander Baron von Riedesel.  Riedesel's memoirs, apparently describing the action in the third person, note that "About 1 o'clock, a brisk cannonade and fire of musketry was heard, and general Riedesel presumed that general Burgoyne's column was then engaged with the enemy.  The fire again commenced towards 3 o'clock, and became much hotter.  General Riedesel finding himself without any intelligence from general Burgoyne, despatched captain Willoe to him.  This officer returned in about three quarters of an hour, and brought orders to general Riedesel to take the best measures to preserve the artillery, baggage and batteaux, and to repair immediately afterwards to general Burgoyne's relief, with as many troops as he should be able to take along, and to attempt an attack on the right flank of the enemy."

I like this excerpt; written by Riedesel in the third person, it provides an aura of detachment and objectivity.  I particularly like the part about Riedesel not knowing what is going on, and spending forty-five minutes until orders return from Willoe, telling him to take "best measures." One imagines Willoe tearing back and forth along this battlefield, finding Burgoyne, expressing Riedesel's concerns, getting instructions, and racing back.  No cell phones, no radios, no "walkie talkies"--communication the old fashioned way.  And reliance on the human being in the field, in life and death circumstances, to take "best measures."


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Saratoga and the Rhetoric of War

October 7, 1777 saw the battle at Bemis Heights, the second of the two battles at Saratoga, and the retreat of Burgoyne to what is now known as "Victory Woods." A monument commemorates the battle:


On October 16, 1777, following days of negotiation, Burgoyne surrendered to Gates and they dined together at General Schuyler's house.  The entry in Burgoyne's orderly book for that day tells us:

"Gen. Burgoyne and the rest of the Staff Officers were escorted on Horseback.  They all dined at General Schuyler's.  At Table General Gates drank the King of Great Britain's Health.  Gen. Burgoyne in return thanked him, and in the next Glass drank the Continental Congress.  Gen. Burgoyne observed to Gen. Gates, he admired the Number, Dress and Discipline of his Army; but above all, the Decorum and Regularity that was observed; said, Your Funds of Men are inexhaustible, like the Hydra's Head, when cut off, seven more sprang up in its stead."

Today we live in a world where innocents starve to death, are drafted as children soldiers, and are raped and trafficked into prostitution, and still the dinners and the rhetoric flow.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Germantown

This month marks the anniversary of the Battle of Germantown, fought on October 4, 1777.


Last year I caught the reenactment; here we see the British at the Chew House.  On September 26, 1777 the British entered the American capital of Philadelphia.  Washington, anxious to engage Howe, ordered a four-pronged attack.  Theoretically sound on paper, the plan might well have succeeded for for a series of mishaps and misjudgments--the literal fog of war causing American units to fire on each other, an obsession with dislodging a small number of British units ensconced in the Chew House, and the drunken command of one of Washington's generals.  The attack on October 4, 1777 centered around Market Square and the Chew House.

This month also marks a year since I started this blog, with the intent of highlighting the places of the Revolution as they appear today.




Thursday, September 27, 2012

Brandywine

The Battle of Brandywine, fought on September 11, 1777, was another ultimately meaningless British victory.  Two large armies--Howe's 13,000 British and Hessians against Washington's 11,000.  The British suffered 90 dead and approximately 450 wounded; the American dead have been estimated at 200, with 500 wounded and 400 captured. 

Remember Ho Chi Minh: "you will kill 10 of our men, and we will kill 1 of yours, and in the end it will be you who tire of it." This could have been said by Washington after this battle.  Christopher Ward, in his seminal The War of the Revolution, noted similar sentiments on the part of the Americans: "though they had been as badly beaten as any army could be without being entirely destroyed, there had been no panic; there was no suggestion of despair." Some have suggested that the Americans took their close defeat as further evidence of their ability to stand up and inflict pain upon the British.  Washington wrote the "troops were in good spirits." 

Here we see Chadd's Ford and the Brandywine River, the site of significant artillery action.




Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Staten Island and the Canadians

On August 22, 1777, General John Sullivan led two New Jersey regiments in an ill-fated raid on Staten Island in an attempt to capture British Loyalist General Cortlandt Skinner and other prisoners, and destroy British supplies.  Among his troops were the 1st and 2nd Canadian Regiments.  The first participated in the Battle of Quebec; the second was formed and led by disgruntled British officer Moses Hazen.  The Americans crossed at two points but were not able to link up; due to a mix up by the Americans, several boats were not in position to effectuate their crossing back off the island.  Although Sullivan achieved initial success, the Americans withdraw after losing significant numbers as captured.  Sullivan was court-martialed but acquitted.

Here is the scene of the area of the Carteret-Rossville crossing where the Old Blazing Star Ferry was:


Much is written of the Canadian resistance to joining the American cause, including the attitude of Canadians towards the attack on Quebec in 1775.  Here we have the active participant of Canadians on the Patriot side; at the battle of Saratoga, Canadian units would be present on the British side.  Along with Americans, who split into Loyalist and Patriot camps, and the Native Americans who were turned against each other, the Battle of Staten Island features the destructive force of this war among the Canadians as well.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Staten Island and 9/11/12

I wandered over to nearby Staten Island today to photograph and interpret the Battle of Staten Island (aka Sullivan's Raid) on August 22, 1777.  Because the British had men positioned at Ward's Point, I headed first towards Conference House Park.  The Conference House was where, on September 11, 1776, British Admiral Lord Richard Howe met with John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Edward Rutledge to see if further war could be averted and a settlement negotiated.

I stumbled upon the opening ceremony by the reenactors.


While I did not stay for the actual dramatic performance, I was struck by the reenactor who made the opening remarks.  He spoke of what happened here in 1776, and the events not only of 2001 but of this past week.  He emphasized to those present the fragile nature of freedom.  While we often hear political leaders pay lip service to this, and while it is easy to become cynical, it was particularly moving to hear this "average" citizen in such a setting, standing quite literally in the footsteps of some of the giants of American, if not world, history, speak from the heart.  The expressions on these soldiers' faces reflect the sincerity of his remarks.

Being American does not mean adopting either the Democratic or Republican political platform as articulated; at best, those are visions and at worst, little more than propaganda.  To understand what being American means is to attend events like this, in the places where they happened, and think about the connection across the centuries.  It is a shared history and a shared culture, whether one reaches back generations or a year, as an American.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Yorktown and Weapons of Mass Destruction

September marks the commencement of the siege of Yorktown, and though the war dragged on for two years following Cornwallis' surrender, Yorktown was the decisive battle.  Realizing his attempt to stabilize the Carolinas would not be successful, in General Charles Cornwallis moved towards the Virginia coast to either await reinforcements or prepare for evacuation. He fortified the area around Yorktown and across the York River in Gloucester in August 1781. Washington, assured now of French support, seized the opportunity for a conclusive confrontation and marched his forces south. A significant French naval win precluded any chance of evacuation by Cornwallis. The combined French and American forces of almost 16,000 men opposed approximately 8000 British troops. Beginning with siege lines that advanced towards the British position, Washington then launched attacks on the redoubts. One of the more spectacular assaults, on Redoubt 10, was led by Alexander Hamilton. The surrender of Cornwallis did not end the war but made British defeat inevitable.

Here is the French Grand Battery. In our age of drones and nuclear weapons, it is remarkable to travel a place like Yorktown and see what, at the time, constituted the weapons of mass destruction.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Ridgefield, Danbury and the Sacrifice of Old Men

On April 27, 1777, 67-year old General David Wooster was mortally wounded just outside the center of Ridgefield, Connecticut, leading the second of three assaults against a 2000-man British force led by New York's royalist governor, William Tryon.  Also leading the Connecticut militia forces were Benedict Arnold and Gold Silliman.
Here is the spot, looking toward Ridgefield, where Wooster fell.  Born in 1710, Wooster enlisted in the militia in 1739 during the war between England and Spain, fought at the Siege of Louisbourg during King George's War, and fought at Carillon during the French and Indian War.  He was put in charge of Montreal and American forces in Quebec, where he was charged with incompetence, acquitted by court martial, and returned to Connecticut to take command of the militia.  He was seven years older than Israel Putnam, another of the Revolution's old men,and if not the, then certainly one of the oldest American general to die in the field in the Revolution.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Cooch's Bridge, William Maxwell and Honor

We can note the 235 anniversary on September 3 of the only major action of the Revolutionary War in Delaware, the Battle of Cooch's Bridge (sometimes Cooche's Bridge).


The British had landed at Head of Elk in Maryland on August 25, 1777, following their departure from New York, and moved northward. George Washington put General William Maxwell in command of 700 Continentals and 1000 Pennsylvania and Delaware militia to keep track of enemy movement. They took position on Iron Hill and nearby Cooch's Bridge. Following an ambush of Captain Johann Ewald's Hessian troops by Americans, the Hessians, joined by British Light Infantry and Grenadiers, drove the Americans off Iron Hill towards Cooch's Bridge.  Overwhelmed, and after futile skirmishing, Maxwell was forced to retreat to join the main army at Wilmington. The Americans lost 24 men and officers, the Hessians and British, 3-4 killed.

It's a battle that lets us pause a moment to consider one of the lesser known but nonetheless important American generals, William Maxwell.  He fought at the major actions until the Battle of Springfield, after which he precipitously resigned that same day, June 12,  1780.  Congress accepted his resignation and he was not able to get reinstated.  His 19th century biographer, J.H. Griffith claims the reason for his resignation "has always been a mystery, historically speaking . . . and the only plausible reason given is the fact that his merits had excited jealousy and envy among some of the officers, who boasted a more aristocratic lineage than he could claim.  He served a single term in the New Jersey State Legislature.  So, when one of this class succeeded in obtaining promotion over his head, he felt that he had no other alternative but to resign in order to save his honor and not compromise his manhood."

Friday, August 24, 2012

Fort Stanwix and Oriskany

This August marks the 235th anniversary of the siege of Fort Stanwix and battle at Oriskany.


Today the fort is a national park in Rome, New York, along the Mohawk River.  Oriskany is a few miles away.

As part of General John Burgoyne's northern campaign from Canada into New York, with Albany as its goal, Lieutenant Colonel Barry St. Leger led approximately 2,000 men (consisting of British Regulars, Hessians, Canadians, Loyalists and Iroquois) as well as several pieces of artillery to Fort Stanwix (now known as Rome, New York).   He laid siege to Fort Stanwix, then known as Fort Schuyler, on August 3.  The fort controlled the Mohawk Valley and was the gateway to the west. The fort was garrisoned by about 600 to 750 Continental soldiers from New York under General Peter Gansevoort.   Colonel Peter Gansevoort was in command of the 3rd New York Regiment at the fort.  Early on, met with a demand for surrender, he said "It is my determined resolution...to defend this fort and garrison to the last extremity, in behalf of the United American States, who have placed me here to defend it against all their enemies." 

The siege lasted from August 2 to August 22, 1777.  On August 22, the British lifted the siege, and St. Leger failed to reinforce Burgoyne or otherwise assist at Saratoga.  Oriskany was an ambush of the American forces and a bloody battle that fostered destruction of the Iroquois Confederacy.  The British and Indians suffered severe casualties and the Americans held the field.  Not only was the Revolution a civil war between Patriot and Loyalist forces, but it became a civil war among the Native Americans as well.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Aliens Among Us--Chestnut Neck

Between October 6 and October 15, 1778, two of the more colorful military leaders of the Revolution clashed in a small town along the Mullica River, not far from contemporary Atlantic City.  Captain Patrick Ferguson (later Major, and killed at King's Mountain) led a force of 400 soldiers consisting of the 5th Regiment British Foot and the Third Battalion New Jersey Volunteers, to cut off the privateering activity in the area.  Washington sent General Casimir Pulaski and his Legion to protect the wharf at Chestnut Neck.  Ferguson found a small number of militia at Chestnut Neck, then  a 12 house town and commercial wharf, and easily defeated them with minimal casualties, on October 6.  On October 4, Pulaski left Trenton on October 8, reached Tuckerton (then called Middle of the Shore).  After a week of watching each other, Ferguson surprised one of Pulaski's outposts on October 15 with 250 men, and in essentially a bayonet attack, destroyed the outpost and left.


Pulaski was one of the various foreigners that were commissioned by Congress to serve in the Continental Army, like his Polish compatriot, Tadeusz Kościuszko.  Kosciuszko served as an engineer; Pulaski had been a cavalry officer.  He would be mortally wounded at the Battle of Savannah a year later.  This monument in the area of where he fought at this obscure battle in New Jersey serves as a reminder that the United States has always depended upon "the aliens among us."

  

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The End of the Revolutionary War

There seems to be some disagreement over the actual last land battle of the Revolutionary War.  Contrary to what many lay people seem to believe, hostilities did not end at Yorktown in October 1781.  Howard Peckham's invaluable The Toll of Independence notes dozens of engagements in 1782, resulting in 277 American deaths,  124 wounded, with 80 captured; he lists only 5 land engagements for 1783.  Among the final actions, the Battle of Cedar Creek Bridge in Stafford Township, New Jersey, is his last listed for 1782 and among the six final "engagements" of the war.  Here we see a view of the area, with the Cedar Bridge Tavern (now a private residence) glimpsed to the left and the creek at the bend in the road in the center of the picture.
The engagement occurred on December 27, 1782, when local militia under Captains Richard Shreve and Edward Thomas sought out the hated Loyalist, Captain John Bacon.  They and their men stopped at the tavern, were surprised themselves by Bacon and his forces, and when they were gaining the upper hand, Bacon was supported by fresh Loyalists, which facilitated Bacon's escape.  The Patriots lost 1 killed and 1 wounded; 1 Loyalist was killed, 4 wounded, and 7 taken prisoner.  Shreve's militia did manage to kill Bacon on April 3, 1783, Peckham notes, after the peace treaty was signed.  The Stafford Township Historical Society lists this as the "last battle" of the war.

Whether it owns that distinction or not of being "last," the place remains sacred: at least one man on each side of the civil war divide lost his life here.  While the bitterness of the internecine nature of this war is often discussed in the context of the Carolinas, here in "southern" Jersey, the divide was often just as broad and brutal.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Nathan Hale and Revolutionary Iconography


This statue of Nathan Hale stands at the entrance of the Chicago Tribune Building in Chicago, Illinois.  I understand that the last surviving member of the Boston Tea Party is buried in Chicago, and there is a statue honoring George Washington, Haym Solomon and Robert Morris on Wacker Drive.  Chicago was not the scene of any notable Revolutionary War battle, yet these statues serve to knit together the country in its common recollection of the iconographic figures of the war and the era.  This statue is a copy of the one at Yale University.  Interestingly enough, it is reported that there were no contemporary portraits of him, and this was based on description.  Hale was hanged in New York shortly after the Kip's Bay landing by the British.


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Ramsour's Mill and the Campaign


This brutal skirmish was fought June 20, 1780, not far from Charlotte, North Carolina, in Lincoln County, between Loyalist and Patriot militiamen. Loyalist Colonel John Moore, not waiting for Cornwallis, precipitated an attack by Patriot Colonel Francis Locke. Though outnumbered two to one, the Patriot militia outflanked the Loyalists. Neighbor fought neighbor, and the retreat of the Loyalist force, much depleted, contributed to the ultimate loss of North Carolina and helped pave the way to Yorktown.



On the battle area site are various graves of the participants.  These were not British regulars or foreign soldiers.  They were all "Americans" living together on American soil.  Ramsour's Mill provides a window into our character, as we remain locked in a civil war today.  How much is ideology and how much simple assertion of power? American political life, like Ramsour's Mill, is zero sum: you are on one side or another, in a fight to the death.  Compromise is a lost (and apparently undesirable) art.  Rhetoric has replaced bullets, but the intent of personal destruction remains.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Battle of Minisink

Today, July 22, is the anniversary of the conclusion of Battle of Minisink where in 1779 a combined force of 60 Indians and 27 Tories, led by Joseph Brant, prevailed over and killed some 48 American militiamen out of a force of 149.

Here is the memorial to the slain, on the plateau on a hill in Barryville, New York, to the northwest of Port Jervis along the upper Delaware River.  Brant first attacked Fort Decker, in present day Port Jervis.   A force of milita led by Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Tusten and Colonel John Hathorn, sought to engage Brant.  Brant managed to separate about 50 of the militia from the main body, who formed a square on the hill where the battlefield park is.  The outnumbered militia gave way; Brant's men killed Tusten and 17 of wounded for whom he was caring at "hospital rock," marked on the site.

The battle was a particularly brutal element of the parallel plotline of the Revolution, involving the war between American colonists seeking to expand their landholdings, and Native Americans seeking to preserve their way of life on land they had occupied.

On this hot July day, I happened to visit this battlefield and realized it coincided with the day of the actual events on this soil.  The battlefield is remarkably legible and preserved.  The geography of the area along the Upper Delaware River also gives a keen sense of what must have seemed isolated territory at the time.  

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Aurora and Hancock's Bridge

The slaughter of innocent people in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater this past week is profoundly horrific; words are inadequate to try to understand it.  We grieve with the families and friends of those killed.

During the Revolution, there were several notorious massacres, acts of wholesale slaughter.  One in particular occurred in Salem County in southern New Jersey at Hancock's Bridge.  The notorious Colonel John Graves Simcoe of the Queen's Rangers and Colonel Charles Mawhood (who led the British at the Battle of Princeton) faced off against New Jersey militiamen at Quinton's Bridge (also Quintin's Bridge) at Alloway Creek on March 18, 1778 with four times the men, and would have destroyed the force there, but for reinforcements.  Failing to dislodge them, Mawhood sent Simcoe to Hancock's Bridge upstream to the north, where they surprised about 20-30 men at Judge William Hancock's house, and (in the American version) massacred them on March 19.  Simcoe, in his Military Journal, reported that "[s]ome very unfortunate circumstances happened here.  Among the killed was a friend of the Government, then a prisoner with the rebels, old Hancock, the owner of the house, and his brother."


The house still stands as a reminder and a memorial.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Stony Point and Wayne's Revenge

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Stony Point.  On July 16, 1779, American forces under General "Mad Anthony" Wayne avenged Wayne's loss at Paoli (Pennsylvania) by surprising and defeating the British force at Stony Point, New York. Faced with British General Henry Clinton's approach, two days after the victory Wayne abandoned the Point and rejoined Washington.  The picture is of the flagstaff battery.




Like Washington's surprise and defeat of the Hessians at Trenton, this Patriot victory had little strategic value but was of significance for its boost to morale at this point in the war.  the


Washington reiterated this rationale in the post-battle report to Congress (July 20, 1779): “The necessity of doing something to satisfy the expectations of the people, and reconcile them to the defensive plan we are obliged to pursue, and to the apparent inactivity which our situation imposes upon us; the value of the acquisition in itself, with respect to the men, artillery, and stores, which composed the garrison; the effect it would have upon the successive operations of the campaign, and the check it would give to the immediate depredations of the enemy at the present season . . . ” 


Here is another example of military action as public relations exercise.  We may find a metaphor for our current political climate, where procedure is more important than substance, light more important than heat, motion mistaken for movement, and spin the ultimate victory.


Saturday, July 7, 2012

Fort Nonsense and 2012

"Fort Nonsense" was a redoubt constructed on the tallest spot in Morristown, NJ, to protect Washington's winter encampment at Jockey Hollow in January through May 1777, following the Battle of Princeton.  Here is a view from the top; on a clear day, you could make out New York City on the horizon:


Notwithstanding its strategic position, the rumor was that it was nothing but busywork for the troops to keep them occupied.

We might think about the current presidential campaign, with so much busywork passing for campaign ads and charges, and the real issues not the subject of meaningful discussion or even serious effort to find middle ground.  Governance has been sacrificed to win at any cost.  At least here, on top of this hill, tangible evidence achievement persists.  What will we say in two hundred years about what we are doing now?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Celebrating the Fourth

As we celebrate the Fourth of July and the Declaration of Independence, it is good to remember the human beings that brought it forward.  Each was an individual, and the formation of the country was not an abstract or theoretical exercise.  Real people put themselves at real risk.

From Philadelphia, here is the grave of Dr. Benjamin Rush in the Christ Church Burial Ground:


Rush signed the Declaration of Independence and was Surgeon General of the Continental Army.  Among his writings, he particularly emphasized education, and wrote: "Freedom can exist only in the society of knowledge. Without learning, men are incapable of knowing their rights."

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Kips Bay and the Disappearance of History


So here we are in New York City, on the island of Manhattan, on Second Avenue looking across the intersection of 33rd and north towards 34th Street--as best as I can determine from my readings, the site of the actual landing of the British at Kip's Bay on September 15, 1776.  Landfill has moved Manhattan to the east; Kip's Farm itself was supposedly at 35th and Second, hence the name of the area.  If there is any signage of this momentous landing--the "D-Day" of 1776 with massive bombardment of the American forces and a well-coordinated amphibious landing by the British--I could not find any.  There are other such signs in New York at various Revolutionary spots; too bad that this, the actual physical invasion by a foreign force in New York, not seen again until September 11, 2001, is otherwise unmarked.  Following the rapid retreat of the overwhelmed American forces, Howe proceeded in leisurely pace up Manhattan, while the Americans re-established their position to the north.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Battle of Pell's Point

Pell's Point was a battle fought not to win, but to delay, to enable Washington to get his forces to White Plains.  White Plains was to be a loss for the Americans, so one must wonder, as with so many battles in this war (and others, for that matter), what was accomplished.  Still, as in chess, a space or a piece becomes important, if not critical, at one time and a few moves or some time later, completely irrelevant.  For those who die "in the moment," their lives are never regained. Here we see the Throg's Neck Bridge and the area of Throg's Neck (also spelled Throgg's Neck, and also referred to at the time as Throg's Point).  We are looking across Eastchester Bay.


The fighting occurred on October 18, 1776 and consisted of Colonel John Glover's 750 or so men sniping at the superior British forces from behind walls and in the rough terrain, inflicting heavy casualties on the Hessians and delaying the British advance.  Among the privates in the Continental Army who fought at Pell's Point was John Russell, who also fought at Trenton.  His statue is one of the two soldiers featured at the base of the Trenton Battle Monument.  So here is another instance where I have traveled the Revolution in the footsteps of an identifiable man, from Brooklyn to Pell's Point to Trenton.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Memorials and Statues

     June 17 marks the anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill, in 1775.  There is of course a large monument on the hill, which you can ascend and take in a view of Charlestown and Boston.  But I want to focus on the statue of Colonel William Prescott, standing in front of the monument and facing the direction of the British assault on Breed's Hill.


     Prescott was in command but of course did not fight alone.  Although the Patriots lost the battle, Prescott received accolades for his courage and leadership, though there remains some dispute as to whether he or General Israel Putnam was in actual command, but it was Prescott who manned the fort and directed the action in the thick of things.

     His statue on this hill is a reminder of the personal nature of war.  In an age of drones and killing people remotely based on "baseball cards," with Prescott's presence on this hill, where brutal, "whites of their eyes" close killing occurred, we confront the reality of what war is all about, in all its human dimension.
     

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Monmouth Courthouse

     June 28 marks the anniversary of the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse, fought in 1778 on a brutally hot day.  Considered by many an American victory, since the British left the field, it was a costly engagement that nonetheless failed to destroy the British army, which continued on its retreat to Sandy Hook.  I wandered out there today, along County Road 522 and the route from Englishtown to Freehold taken by General Charles Lee.  On the way back, I stopped at Old Tennent Church and was intrigued to find the graves of several Americans adjacent to that of British Lieutenant Colonel Henry Monckton:


     Monckton's grave is on the far right.  To the immediate left is the grave of American Captain Henry Fauntleroy of Virginia.  Next is the grave of Captain Joshua Huddy, a New Jersey militiaman hanged by the British in a matter that rose to the level of Washington's attention.  The stone on the farthest left commemorates six others buried in the graveyard.  In another part of the church cemetery is a marker for unknown American soldiers killed at Monmouth.

     Monckton, just shy of 38 when he was killed, had been wounded during the Battle of Long Island, fought at the Trenton-related skirmish at Assunpink Creek, as well as at Brandywine and Germantown.  He was removed from the battlefield by members of the 1st Pennsylvania Regiment and died in the church, which served as a hospital after the battle.

     More on Monmouth as the month progresses, but this juxtaposition of graves by men who were sworn enemies and fought to the death on the fields of Monmouth is a statement unto itself.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Connecticut Farms

     This week, on June 7, we mark the anniversary of the Battle of Connecticut Farms, and later in the month, the Battle of Springfield on June 23, 1780.  These battles, involving relatively large numbers of troops over a fairly wide area, marked the last significant effort of the British in New Jersey and the northern theater to destroy Washington's army.  Unlike some of the smaller battles and skirmishes led by Hessian commanders, such as Karl von Donop at Red Bank (Fort Mercer), Hessian General Wilhelm von Knyphausen led a force of 6,000 British and Hessian troops to attempt to engage the Continental army encamped at Jockey Hollow, near Morristown, New Jersey.  



     Connecticut Farms is now known as Union Township, New Jersey.  This is the current First Presbyterian, replacing the one burned by the British that stood on the battle site in 1780.  In the adjacent courtyard is a mass grave containing the remains of British and Hessian soldiers.  We tend to forget that the Revolution was a major war fought mainly on American soil, and foreign soldiers are buried here, much as Americans are buried in European battlefields of World War II.  Some have called the Revolution the first world war, or the logical consequence of its predecessor global conflict, the French and Indian War.  The fact that such a memorial grave exists on an otherwise barely marked battlefield in a densely populated county, is remarkable.  There's a poignancy and sadness to a mass grave, as though these individual human beings can only find relevance in their collective anonymity.



Sunday, May 27, 2012

Aaron Burr

     In Princeton Cemetery, Aaron Burr is buried.  More famous, or infamous, for his duel with Alexander Hamilton, in which Hamilton was killed on the cliffs of Weehawken in New Jersey, Burr also served as vice-president of the United States and was tried for, and acquitted of, treason.  Born in 1756, he was 19 when war broke out at Lexington and Concord.  He fought with Benedict Arnold at Quebec, with Washington in New York, and at Monmouth.  He resigned from the army in 1779.


     In an age when everything is available every minute to everyone, it is good to consider that some things really do remain unique.  A person is buried only in one place, no matter how many memorials fill the globe.  Burr's father was a president of Princeton University and is buried in the President's Plot in the cemetery.  His son is also buried here.  I am always struck by this particular grave--the physical connection to one of the most colorful and larger than life participants in a war that had its share of such people.



Friday, May 25, 2012

Memorial Day


     In the past few days in advance of Memorial Day, I featured an unknown soldier buried at Washington's Crossing State Park in Pennsylvania, and Elijah Holcombe of the Continental Line, buried in Lambertville.

     Above is the grave of John Phillips, buried in the cemetery of the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville.  At the time of the Revolution, this area was known as Maidenhead.  His grave indicates he served as an ensign in the Second New Jersey Regiment.  Born in 1757, he would have been 18 at the time of the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775.  For a history of the Regiment, see the piece by John U. Rees, Second New Jersey Regimental Historian, found at  http://www.2nj.org/documents/history_of_the_jersey_brigade.pdf.

     

     



Monday, May 21, 2012

Elijah Holcombe

     In Lambertville is the grave of Elijah Holcombe, a sergeant in the New Jersey Continental Line.  The grave is in the small cemetery adjacent to the First Presbyterian Church of Lambertville, New Jersey.  We will let him tell of his Revolutionary War experience in his own words, taken from his pension application:



"that he served as a private soldier in the Revolutionary War in the continental establishment  - that he enlisted on or about the month of February 1776 in the company commanded by Capt. Beatty, in the 5th Regiment Pennsylvania Line, for the term of one year - that at the expiration of the year he returned home, having been taken prisoner by the enemy & made his escape --- the North River by swimming to a boat in the River; - that he enlisted  --- time in Capt. Anderson’s company in the 3rd Regiment, Jersey Line on or about the month of June 1778 - that he was discharged at the expiration of the nine months by Col. Thompson of the aforesaid Regiment at Newark in State of Jersey - that he is now in his 68th year of his hage - that he has no convenient evidence to offer, excepting this his own statement - and that he is now in need of his country’s assistance for support by reason of his reduced circumstances in life."

     The North River was how the Hudson River was then known.  His first application was made in Ohio in 1818, and the second one in 1820.  The source is files.usgwarchives.ne.

     It is easy to get caught up in the  rhetoric, mythology and iconography of the Revolution.  Sometimes it's good simply to listen.

     


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Back to Brooklyn

     In prior posts I commented on the Battle of Brooklyn.  I now made it to the Jamaica Pass area, or where Howard's Tavern was, and the sweep of the British around the American lines.  The Cemetery of the Evergreens provides, as it claims, a true oasis in the urban mesh of the area.  The British made Howard lead them along the path.  On a plaque in the cemetery, we are shown a sketch of what Howard's Tavern and the surrounding area, looked like then, at the intersection of Broadway and Jamaica:


     And here is the area today.  I included another bar in the picture.  We are looking at Broadway; to the right, Jamaica Avenue intersects.  I like this view because we can just make out the trees and hill of the Cemetery of the Evergreens in the center of the image, just over the car in the forefront and below the tracks.  In the above sketch, we also see the elevation of the area and a hill.


     The power of place: then, and now.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Veterans of the Revolution

With Memorial Day approaching, I visited some of the local spots where American Revolutionary War soldiers are buried.  At the Princeton Battlefield, there is the mass grave that includes British soldiers.  But in some of the churchyards, we find the individual graves, and at Washington's Crossing on the Pennsylvania side, there is the row of graves of "unknown soldiers."

This is the grave of an unknown soldier who died in camp, before the march on Trenton.  When I see a grave like this, and consider the individual buried here, I experience an overwhelming sadness.  Here was a man, a unique human being, born in all the pain of childbirth his mother experienced, someone who experienced infancy, a childhood.  We can know nothing of his life because we cannot know him.  Was he missed? Mourned in absentia? What made him join the Continental Army? Dead by December 1776--had he fought at the Battle of Brooklyn in August? Had he killed? What jokes did he enjoy? How did he sound when he laughed? 

Howard Peckham's study of American casualties, The Toll of Independence, estimates American camp deaths at 10,000.  Total "probable deaths in service," including the camp deaths, killed in battle, and death as prisoners of war, totals 25,324.  Here is one. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Battle of Wyoming on July 3, 1778 exemplified the brutality of the war and the involvement of Native Americans in the conflict.



Here is "Bloody Rock," well-protected now by a grate, and situated modestly along Susquehanna Boulevard a few blocks off Wyoming Avenue on the west side of the river.  Approximately fourteen to sixteen Americans have been said to have been murdered here after their capture, at the hands of the Native Americans.    Esther Montour, born Iroquois, and otherwise known as Queen Esther, is said to have tomahawked the survivors.  One of the legacies of the Wyoming massacre, as it is sometimes called, was the devastation inflicted by General John Sullivan the following year on Indian villages in the region.

As with Parker's Revenge at the Battle of Concord, we again see the brutality of revenge that was one of the patterns and features of the Revolutionary War.




  

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Omnipresent Henry Lee

The Battle of Paulus Hook was a daring raid on the British fort at Paulus Hook (now in Jersey City) across from Manhattan.  It was proposed by then Major Henry ("Light Horse Harry") Lee following the success of the Americans at Stony Point.  Following a night time expedition, on August 19, 1779 Lee, with 400 men, surprised the British, took some 150 prisoners, and then beat a retreat.  Washington wrote Congress that Lee "displayed a remarkable degree of prudence, address and bravery upon this occasion, which does the highest honor to himself and to all the officers and men under his command.

This is a view of the spot of the fort today:

This is at the intersection of Washington Street and Grand Street in Jersey City, looking towards New York.  Landfill and the development of the area, coupled with the construction of the Morris Canal nearby, makes it hard to get a real sense of terrain, as one does at Stony Point.  Nonetheless, the obelisk visible in the photograph helps orient us.  Lee received a Congressional gold medal for his efforts.  Though perhaps more well  known generally for his service in the Southern Theater of the Revolutionary War, this officer was one of those keystones of Washington's command.  It is interesting to walk in his steps, even if the ditches, mills, streams and swamps, and indeed the actual coastline, have been altered.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Iron Works Hill

     Most Americans, to the extent they are knowledgeable about the basics of the Revolutionary War, can name, perhaps, a handful of battles.  The war consisted of thousands of skirmishes, most not rising to the level of "battle" nomenclature, but often just as significant and as bloody.  As we walk the ground of these lesser known places, it is good to remember that such places as well are places where men died, on both sides, in this war.  One such place is in Mount Holly, otherwise known as the Battle of Iron Works Hill.  Here we are looking up at the battlefield from the current road.
      General George Washington's surprise attack on Trenton on December 26, 1776 was successful in part due to the diversionary efforts, such as the skirmish at Iron Works Hill in Mount Holly on December 23, 1776.  Colonel Samuel Griffin was directed to lead New Jersey militia to take a position in Mount Holly, and distract Hessian Colonel Carl von Donop.  Griffin first skirmished at Petticoat Bridge and retreated to take up a position in Mount Holly here.  On the actual "Mount" Holly, Donop set up artillery.  The main battle occurred here.  The distraction worked, and Donop did not participate in the First Battle of Trenton.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Battle of the Short Hills

     This is one of the least known and commented on battles, and yet involved a remarkable movement of men during the New Jersey campaign of 1777, and the efforts of General William Howe to force General George Washington into engagement.  As much a series of skirmishes as a battle, the action encompassed a broad area of central New Jersey, primarily in what is now Edison and Scotch Plains.  The "short hills" are in the shadow of the Watchung Mountains, where Washington's forces were encamped at Middlebrook.  American Generals Lord Stirling (William Alexander), William Maxwell and Thomas Conway established a line extending from Ash Swamp, to the Metuchen Meetinghouse.  Washington's main army was at Quibbletown, (now part of Piscataway).  Howe moved his forces from Staten Island where they had replenished supplies, across to Perth Amboy.  Under General Charles Cornwallis and General James Grant, they moved through Woodbridge, encountering pickets and proceeded onwards.  Action occurred at the Metuchen Meetinghouse and along Oak Tree Road; the Americans retreated to Ash Swamp, fought a delaying action and retreated to the main army.  They had bought time for Washington to withdraw; the British did not pursue.  Howard Peckham, in The Toll of Independence, estimtes American killed at 30 and 50 captured; British 6 killed and 30 wounded.  Estimates vary, but American forces number 2,500 and British and Hessions, 11,000; this was no small engagement and took place over a wide area.  Ultimately, as with so many other such incidents during the Revolution, it had no lasting significance, but did allow Washington to avoid the encounter that Howe sought, and led to British return to Staten Island.


    This image is the marker for Ash Swamp, now on the fringe of a golf course.  The other sites mentioned above are scattered through central suburban New Jersey.  As Revolutionary War battles go, this one included a fair amount of troops and widespread geographic movement.  Driving from point to point still gives a sense of the movement of troops and the geography of place, particularly when standing on Washington Rock State Park in the Watchungs and seeing, so we are told, what Washington saw of the Jersey landscape.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Bunker Hill Redux

     I have been reading James Nelson's excellent and fluid book on the Battle of Bunker Hill, With Fire and Sword.  What is striking about the events after Lexington and Concord, and leading up to Bunker Hill, is the climate of blame, manipulation, personal aggrandizement and ambition among the British generals and political leaders on the one hand, and the American patriots, would-be generals and politicians on the other.  I read a recent political column about the 2012 election in which the writer quoted a political leader to the effect that the Republican primaries are simply about individual hatreds rather than policy.  To a greater or lesser extent, a comparable comment could be made about the efforts to resolve the American conflict prior to Bunker Hill, and the manner in which particular individuals jockeyed for position and tore at each other.  It is also intriguing to compare British General Thomas Gage and the attacks on him with some of the kinds of attacks on former President George W. Bush--even if he were to have done something that his critics wanted, they could not, and would not, ever acknowledge it.  We lament the current political climate, but we bred it, and were bred in it, from the beginning.  What has changed today is the instant communication; at the time of Bunker Hill, it was a fast ship that got a message from America to England in five weeks.


     Here is a view of the training field and the Bunker Hill Monument just beyond, in Charleston.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Bound Brook and the Intimacy of the Revolution

     On April 13, 1777, General Charles Cornwallis and Hessian Colonels Karl von Donop and Johann Ewald attacked the American garrison at Bound Brook under command of General Benjamin Lincoln.  George Washington's main force was encamped at Jockey Hollow, some miles to the north; the British under General William Howe were in New Brunswick, less than ten miles away.  The attack was well-executed with overwhelming force; the Americans retreated and though the British took the field, they did not seek to hold Bound Brook.


     Here we see the battlefield from just south of the Raritan River, looking north along the current Queen's Bridge towards the Old Stone Bridge and the rest of the battlefield.  Although the battle is not often extensively discussed, it had the effect of causing Washington to move his forces south from Jockey Hollow to the Middlebrook encampment, and began the cat and mouse effort of General William Howe to lure Washington into a decisive engagement in New Jersey.

     What I find intriguing is the intimacy not just of this encounter--a small battle, perhaps more a skirmish, involving some of the leading names of the Revolutionary War--but of the circumstances involving Lincoln and Cornwallis.  At Yorktown, it was Lincoln who would take the sword of surrender that Cornwallis refused to give personally.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Harlem Heights and the Manhattan Battlefield

Washington's victory at Harlem Heights, like the First Battle of Trenton, was not strategically significant; it was an accidental battle on Manhattan island that did not save New York from British occupation.  Nonetheless what began as a skirmish turned into a series of fierce engagements along what is now Broadway, Barnard College campus and the area around Grant's Tomb.  The Americans forced the British to retreat various times, and after the debacle in Brooklyn on August 27, 1776 three weeks earlier, this battle on September 16, 1776 proved the Americans were capable of standing up to the Regulars.
Here we are around 117th and Broadway in New York City--on the island of Manhattan.  I've walked up from Straus Park between 106th and 107th, where the Nicholas Jones house stood and the battle began.  On the wall on the right is the bas relief of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Knowlton (leading the Connecticut Rangers) and Major Andrew Leitch (leading a force of Virginians), set in the area where they attempted to turn the British flank.  Both were killed in this battle.

We are accustomed to looking at battlefields as parks.  While parts of Harlem Heights are still parkland, as in the area around Grant's Tomb, much of the battlefield is typical of this scene.  Still, as we visualize the events of the day, we can obtain a sense of space.  Notwithstanding the buildings and concrete, we can glimpse at times the Hudson River to our left and its embankment, and understand the roll and grade of the land.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

King's Mountain and the Culture Wars

    The Battle of King's Mountain, fought October 7, 1780, was a bitter and brutal affair in South Carolina.  Among its distinguishing features was that it was a battle fought between Americans--Loyalists and Patriots.  The only "regular army" officer was Major Patrick Ferguson, leader of the Loyalist forces.  Following the defeat of the Americans at Camden, South Carolina, Cornwallis determined to retake North Carolina.  Ferguson sought to engage the various Patriot militia units that were dogging him, and made his stand on this mountain.


     This image reflects one of the North Carolina militia positions at the start of the battle, according to the National Park Service indicators.

     The current political climate continually refers to the "culture wars," or even the "return" of the culture wars, as if they ever ended.  This country was not created by consensus.  Estimates vary, and they vary from colony to colony, but some quarter to third of "Americans" were Loyalist or Loyalist sympathizers.  As we proceed into 2012 and the presidential election, we might do well to understand our contentious history, as exemplified to an extent by this battle.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Bunker Hill and Place

     So here we are, on Breed's Hill, looking at the scene where Warren fell, Dr. Joseph Warren, that vital patriot and professional man, a man of action and thought.  Place.  The same ground, the same space, walked by this man over two centuries ago.  Here he fell, shot in the head, and bayoneted. A British officer found the body, waistcoat removed, but the fine shirt distinguishing the dead man.  



Sunday, January 29, 2012

Bunker Hill

Bunker Hill

Below is not Bunker Hill.  It is Copp's Hill, where General John Burgoyne observed, and British cannons fired upon, the Americans on Breed's Hill.  On New Year's Eve day I traveled up to Boston to traverse the ground, and was struck by the proximity.  Sadly, at least by my efforts, I could not see the Bunker Hill monument from this spot, but aimed towards the bridge and Charlestown.  If the building were not there, I'd have been able to look through Burgoyne's eyes.

The Battle of Bunker Hill (June 17, 1775) was an expensive victory for the British.  This view gives a sense of place; more in later posts.