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Thursday, September 27, 2012


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.