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."