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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.