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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Second Battle of Trenton

So today was the reenactment of both the first and second battles at Trenton; I attended the second.  The actual battle occurred January 2, 1777, with the British essentially charging three times the bridge across the Assunpink Creek, and being repelled three times by the Continental forces.  In this interpretation, the British and Hessians battle the American forces on what is now called Broad Street (then, Queen Street).  I managed to get "flash" as they fired.

Here are the Americans:

And facing them, the British:

Mill Hill Park is where the main British assaults occurred; here is a representation of the British artillery firing on the American position:

The yellow house is the Douglas House.  It was originally on Queen Street south of the creek, and was eventually moved to its present location after other moves.  Washington held a council of war in this house on January 2.

Kudos to the reenactors; watching them and listening to the officers bark commands (in German, for the Hessians), and watching the process of loading and firing, in such close proximity, drives home just how personal this war was.  Unlike the drone operator moving around a joystick, these men looked, quite literally, into each other's eyes as they fired.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Washington's Crossing Reenactment, December 25, 2013

In temperatures ranging from 17 to 22 degrees, a hardy crowd turned out to watch the even hardier reenactors interpret the most iconic moment in American history, the crossing of the Delaware River by General George Washington on Christmas Day, leading to the successful attack on Trenton on December 26, 1776.

Here is the man himself, in the third of three boats that crossed today:

The river is as impressive in winter, even without the ice, and we get some sense of scale as the first boat makes its way across from Pennsylvania to New Jersey:

They would march along this road, still preserved in Washington Crossing Park in New Jersey, now called Continental Lane.

At the time, they left bloodstains in the snow.  This remains hallowed ground.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Iron Works Hill, Greatness and the Mosaic of the Revolution

December 22 marks the Battle of Iron Works Hill in 1776 in Mt. Holly, New Jersey, on which I previously posted.  The "battle" was actually more of an artillery duel, with no casualties. The Americans suffered three wounded at the companion skirmish at Petticoat (Rancocas) Bridge.

Here is Mt. Holly today, giving a taste of the historic center of town.  This feint was part of Washington's diversionary plans in anticipation of his attack on Trenton on December 26, 1776.

So much of what passes for political discourse today is elevated gossip, focused on a handful of people.  Journalists focus incessantly on whether a particular president had a good day or bad day, as if that were the important news.  Washington's success at Trenton was of course in large part due to his leadership and determination, but would not have been possible but for the efforts of others.  Even the idea of attacking Trenton was not just Washington's; his aide, Colonel Joseph Reed, actually suggested the crossing of the Delaware and the attack.  The engagement's sole purpose, spread out over a wider geographic area around Mount Holly, was to draw Colonel Carl von Donop's 2000 man Hessian force from Bordentown, far enough from Trenton so as to remove a threat of reinforcement when Washington attacked.  And it worked.

It's good to remember this.  No one is great alone.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Kingston Mill, the Revolution and History

Kingston Mill, shown here during the East Coast snowstorm on December 14, is an historic spot.  

The bridge was a replacement built in 1798 for the wooden bridge destroyed by Washington after the Battle of Princeton.  About 100 yards away is a marker referring to the "horseback conference" in which Washington decided to take his force to Jockey Hollow for the winter rather than attack the British at New Brunswick.  After the Revolution, during the early part of the nineteenth century, the Delaware and Raritan Canal was built; there is a lock at Kingston past the left edge of the photograph.  Past the right edge of the photograph, the road was part of the Lincoln Highway designation in the early twentieth century.  The mill itself, testament to the Industrial Revolution, was built in the late nineteenth century.  This place is filled with history across the formation and growth of the country.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Obscure Confluence of Place

One of the most intriguing places I have found in my exploration of place, history and the Revolution is Proprietors' Park in Gloucester City, NJ.  It was once known as Gloucester Point Park.  A lot of activity seemed to occur in what is now a relatively obscure spot, though one with outstanding views of the Delaware River, the Walt Whitman Bridge and Philadelphia's distant skyline.

We are looking at a marker that identifies the spot on which stood Huggs Tavern, where Betsy Ross was married.  We are looking at the Delaware River; David C. Munn, in Battles and Skirmishes in New Jersey of the American Revolution, notes several events in this area.  On December 31, 1777, Americans stripped and burned two British ships between here and Philaelphia, just to the north.  Also in this park is a plaque identifying the courthouse's site, and another spot where the proprietors met, and apparently still meet, once a year.  Munn notes that on November 25, 1777, a reconnaissance force under Lafayette exchanged fire with a small British force in Gloucester; some sources refer to this as the Battle of Gloucester. On November 27, having cleared this area of American forces, Cornwallis returned to Philadelphia.

Standing here, we are reminded of the many small cities of New Jersey and paths that crossed--here Betsy Ross and Cornwallis, separated briefly by time.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Long Beach Island, Partisan Thugs and the Digital Age

     Captain Andrew Steelman of the American privateer Alligator found an abandoned and stranded cutter in Barnegat Bay, in the vicinity of present-day Barnegat Light.  He and his men spent a day unloading the cargo and camped on the beach that night.  On October 25, 1782, a year after the Continental victory at Yorktown, the Tory Loyalist John Bacon (considered more of a banditti or outlaw using the cloak of his partisanship for criminal activity) attacked Steelman and his men in their sleep, with knives.  Twenty-one Americans were killed.  Bacon only had nine men with him.  Steelman had been betrayed by one of the locals he had enlisted to help unload the cargo.  Reinforcements arrived and the Loyalists withdrew.  The episode gave a sense of urgency to the Patriots, and two months later Bacon was finally killed after the battle of Cedar Creek Bridge.  A plaque about a mile from the site of the incident, in the vicinity of Barnegat Lighthouse, informs of the event.

     Today we have the digital equivalent of partisan thugs.  As silent as knives, the on-line campaigns destroy reputations and people with the same deadly vigor.  There are those who cloak invidious views under the broader ideological rubrics.  They are no better than the banditti of the Revolution.  

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving and the Revolutionary War

A public day of thanksgiving was not always limited to the fourth Thursday in November, and not always related just to the Pilgrims.  Following the victory of the American forces over the British at Saratoga, the American commander in chief, George Washington, issued an order on December 17, 1777, setting aside the next day for solemnity (original spellings left intact):

"To morrow being the day set apart by the Honorable Congress for public Thanksgiving and Praise; and duty calling us devoutely to express our grateful acknowledgements to God for the manifold blessings he has granted us. The General directs that the army remain in it's present quarters, and that the Chaplains perform divine service with their several Corps and brigades. And earnestly exhorts, all officers and soldiers, whose absence is not indispensibly necessary, to attend with reverence the solemnities of the day."

Prior blog posts on the battles at Freeman's Farm and Bemis Heights are here and here.  Here is a view of the American river fortifications.

Washington, in his order, noted that "Altho' in some instances we unfortunately failed, yet upon the whole Heaven hath smiled on our Arms and crowned them with signal success; and we may upon the best grounds conclude, that by a spirited continuance of the measures necessary for our defence we shall finally obtain the end of our Warfare, Independence, Liberty and Peace."

An alternative set of thoughts, and a trip back in time, for this most American of holidays.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Ninety-Six and the Nuclear Option

Ninety-Six was the site of a siege and battle in November 19–21, 1775 between Patriot and Loyalist forces, resulting in a stalemate.  Here is a view of the road that was in place at the time around the village of Ninety-Six.

Six years later, from May 22 through June 18, 1781, it would be the scene of an attempt by American General Nathanael Greene to take the fort, held by Loyalist forces under Lieutenant Colonel John Cruger. In 1775, though, it was another exchange between Patriots and Loyalists reflecting the bitter internecine warfare to come in South Carolina.

This month the press has been full of stories on the so-called "nuclear option" in the Senate that abolished filibuster in most instances, and what it means for the way the country does business. While we do not seem, yet, to have reached the levels of violence that marked the onset of the Revolution, the depth of feeling, if not outright loathing, that partisans currently feel towards each other seems to draw roots reaching back over two centuries.  It may not be long before we revert to tarring and feathering.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Fort Lee, Fort Washington and Hubris

As noted in a post last year around this time, November 16 marks the anniversary of the fall of Fort Washington in Manhattan, and the abandonment of Fort Lee on November 20, 1776.  With that, the fall of New York to the British in the year of independence was complete, and Washington began his retreat across New Jersey.  Today one can visit the ramparts of Fort Lee along the Hudson River, and see recreations of the battlement.  Here is an abatis on the site.  The abatis was meant to be an obstacle that would impede the easy forward motion of the attacker, and usually contained sharpened tree branches facing outward.  After the debacle of Fort Washington, there was no longer a benefit of having a sister fort across the river.  The impressive and daunting abatis proved absolutely useless.

There was a lot of hubris during the Revolution.  Fort Washington cost the Americans dearly in men and resources, because bravado and strong words clouded judgment.  For all its geographic strength, Fort Lee could not hold out, either.  One is reminded of these things as we witness the disastrous roll out of the Affordable Care Act, where more than three years of rhetoric and brave words are no substitute for the reality of life.  The marketplace, like the battlefield, are rooted in facts, not suppositions.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Veterans Day, Captain Gavin McCoy and the Perpetual Campaign

Buried in the Old Yard cemetery of the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church in Somerset County, New Jersey are 35 Revolutionary War veterans.  One of these is Captain Gavin McCoy of the First Somerset Militia Regiment.

The tombstone indicates he was born in 1737 and died 1800.  In a 1923 address on the local history of Plainfield, New Jersey, the speaker noted that "The records fairly bristle with the activities of Captain McCoy and your own Captain Laing, two most efficient officers whose memory should be cherished." From what I can determine, McCoy performed essential functions during the "Forage Wars" over resources in New Jersey, and his regiment also participated in the Battle of Springfield.

What strikes me, though, is that in the aftermath of yet another election (statewide in New Jersey as well as Virginia), the media is filled with assessing the "winners" and "losers," and engaging in non-stop gossip (we cannot really call it journalism or even news, let alone news analysis) about 2016.  Meanwhile, New Jersey remains 49th in the Tax Foundation's 2014 State Business Tax Climate Index.  It is 50th in the property tax ratings, i.e., the worst.  It is 48th in the individual tax ranking and 46th in sales tax.  Its unemployment rate of 8.5% exceeds the national average of 7.3%.  It remains the single most expensive jurisdiction for automobile insurance in the country.  The American Society of Civil Engineers' 2013 Infrastructure Report Card indicates that just under 10% New Jersey's 6,554 bridges are "considered structurally deficient" and 26% are "considered functionally obsolete."  Just about 2/3 of the state's "major roads are in poor or mediocre condition." 

But hey--what does governance matter? As long as X won her seat in the Senate or Y and Z won theirs in the Assembly, or the governor may or may not be a nominee for president, why focus on actual achievements? Why govern? Let the next campaign begin.

Stand at the grave of Captain McCoy, or any of the others like his up and down the East Coast, in these graveyards, and reflect on this Veterans Day the fruits of their sacrifice, and what we have become.  They fought for self-governance.  What we have ended up with is the perpetual campaign.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

White Plains Anniversary

October 28 marks the anniversary of the Battle of White Plains in 1776; I posted on this battle last year around this time.  At that time I posted a picture of Chatterton Hill and focused on the Hessians.  Here is a picture of a different part of the battlefield, the eastern limit of the Patriot defenses, marked by a cannon.

On Merritt Hill itself, Colonel William Malcolm and the American 2nd New York County Battalion held position.  Before the war, Malcolm was a Scottish businessman who came to New York in 1763.  There are a few signs around Merritt Hill indicating its part of the battle of White Plains, but most evocative to me was this cannon set on a rock towards the bottom of the hill.  This plaque indicates it marks "the eastern limit of the Patriot defenses . . . The high ground to the south of this spot was occupied by the New York Regiment of Colonel William Malcolm. The hill to the north was occupied by the regiments under Major General William Heath.  On October 28, and again on November 1, attempted enemy attacks upon these positions were turned back." 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Lord Nelson and the Revolution

     Admiral Horatio Nelson, honored in Trafalgar Square, is perhaps most famous for his victory in that eponymous battle during the Napoleonic Wars.

     Lord Nelson also saw action during the American Revolution, serving on board the HMS Lowestoffe and then the Little Lucy in the Caribbean.  Serving with Jamaica's commander in chief, Sir Parker Peter aboard the HMS Bristol after the French entered the war, he was given command of his own ship, the HMS Badger, and continued his activity in seeking to capture prizes.  Later he served on other ships and was involved in the British defense of the Caribbean and activity in Central America, an aspect of the Revolution that does not get much attention.  To that extent, Nelson is emblematic of the broader world war of which the American battle of independence was one part.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Boston, Dorchester Heights and Geography

On an extended business trip to Boston last week, I had occasion to take in the view from the top of the Prudential Tower.  Here is a view of Boston today, looking seaward, with Dorchester Heights just visible next to the tall building toward the right of the image, jutting into the water.  The small white monument just to the left of that building is at the top of the Heights.

It is hard to appreciate the strategic importance today, perhaps, in looking at the built-up nature of the city.  Nonetheless, we see a view that neither Washington nor Howe could see in assessing their options.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

George Washington, Cincinnatus and the Presidency

     A couple of months ago I was in DC and made time to wander through the Smithsonian American Art Museum.  I came upon Washington Resigning His Commission, the 1841 sculpture by Ferdinand Pettrich.

     Framed by a bright light in the afternoon, the statue takes on an otherwordly aspect.  More prosaically, the gallery label notes that Washington turned down the powers offered him by the Congress.  His model was Cincinnatus, the Roman political leader who held dictatorial powers to defeat outside invaders, and relinquished all such powers to return to civilian life after his success.  He resigned the commission on December 23, 1783, in the Maryland State House in Annapolis.  A portrait of the event by John Trumbull hands in the Capitol Rotunda.

     The Smithsonian gallery label says in part: "Ferdinand Pettrich created this work when political power in the United States was being consolidated around the federal government. He may have felt that this historic moment in Washington’s life would remind a new generation of the nation's founding ideals, and of the dangers of too much power given to too few."

     The statue was made in 1841, barely 60 years since the Constitution was adopted.  Today the Imperial Presidency and those who continue to push that office to satisfy ego and narcissism would do well to stand in front of this statue and think about the gallery's suppositions.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Charles Lee and the Widow White

On December 13, 1776, following the loss of New York and the retreat by Washington's army across New Jersey, General Charles Lee indulged himself at the Widow White's Tavern in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, and was captured that day by a British patrol led by Colonel William Harcourt; the advance guard of that patrol was commanded by a young Banastre Tarleton.  They had extorted the information as to Lee's whereabouts from captured American sentries.  Here is the spot in Basking Ridge, indicated by the blue sign on the corner in the lower right.

There is a fair amount of commentary that contrary to being a severe blow to the Continental Army, the removal of Charles Lee at this time as a thorn in Washington's side was a good thing.  Lee and his approximately 2,000 men were in the vicinity of Basking Ridge; General John Sullivan took command of them after Lee's capture and added them to Washington's force.

What was interesting to me is that on this otherwise unremarkable corner in the New Jersey suburbs, two of the main characters of the Revolution--Lee and Tarleton--were present in a rather intimate setting.  If we listen, we might just catch Tarleton proclaiming, as the tavern was surrounded, "If the general does not surrender in five minutes, I will set fire to the house." Lee surrendered in his nightclothes, and the Americans suffered two killed, two wounded and five in all captured.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Black Point and the Loyalists

On June 10, 1779 Loyalist Lieutenant James Moody of the New Jersey Volunteers led the successful force in a raid on weapons and supplies at Tinton Falls, New Jersey, as well as the capture of several important militia officers in Monmouth County, New Jersey.  As he was making his way back to Sandy Hook and British lines, further fighting ensued, and two of the American officers were killed.  Here is where the marker stands indicating the Battle of Black Point, in present-day Rumson, New Jersey:

Moody was a sincere Loyalist, contrasted with some of the rogues in New Jersey at the time (on either side) that used the cloak of partisanship for personal gain.  Extolled by the contemporary British press and excoriated by the contemporary American press, he survived the war, emigrated to Nova Scotia and became a political leader there.

Black Point and Moody are reminders that even long into the war--by 1778 and the Battle of Monmouth, the focus of the war in the middle colonies had essentially ended--the fighting among Patriot and Loyalist militia remained vicious and deadly.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Savannah and the Multicultural American Revolution

The siege of Savannah lasted from September 16 to October 18, 1779, and essentially ended on October 9 when a joint French-American assault on a fortified British position ended in disaster, claiming among others, the Polish general Casimir Pulaski.  The French forces included some 500 Haitian volunteers from Saint-Domingue.  A monument in Savannah memorializes this contribution.

Though still under French authority at this time, the Les Chasseurs Volontaires de Saint Domingue were free men who fought on the American side.  It provides a contrast to the ambivalence, if not original hostility, of Washington to allowing slaves or freed slaves to fight in the Continental Army.l

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Nathanael Greene Monument

So this is where Nathanael Greene, brilliant, self-taught Revolutionary War General, spends eternity, his ashes below the monument to him in Johnson Square, Savannah, Georgia.  This is the man who said: "We fight, get beaten, rise, and fight again."

Greene settled in Georgia after the war, about fourteen miles north of Savannah.  He died suddenly of sunstroke at the age of 43.

The plaque on this memorial states: "General Greene's remains were originally interred in the burial ground now known as Colonial Cemetery. His exact resting place was a matter of doubt and speculation for many years. The remains of the famed Revolutionary hero were found in the Graham vault in 1901, and were reinterred beneath this monument the following year."

I find this spot compelling.  One of the themes of this blog has been the force of place.  Here, we are in the physical proximity of the one of the greatest military figures of the Revolution, the man Washington would have had succeed him were he killed. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Sergeant William Jasper and the Man of Action

One of the most gallant soldiers of the American Revolution was Sergeant William Jasper; remarkably, he has two memorials to him in Savannah, more than Casimir Pulaski and more than General Nathanael Greene.  One, in Madison Square, shows him holding a flag; the other, surrounded by interstate and local highways, is a more classical monument

His birthdate unconfirmed (some sources put 1750, another 1756), there is no doubt as to his death--October 9, 1779, during the failed assault by the Americans at the besieged British position at the Battle of Savannah.  At the Battle of Sullivan's Island, he retrieved a fallen flag of the 2nd South Carolina while exposed to enemy fire and restored it to its prominent position, proclaiming "God Save Liberty and my Country forever!" He successfully conducted a variety of raids that resulted in British prisoners.  Offered a lieutenant's commission, he turned it down, saying "Were I made an officer, my comrades would be constantly blushing for my ignorance, and I should be unhappy feeling my own inferiority.  I have no ambition for higher rank than that of a Sergeant."

While it is hard to admire foolhardiness with the consciousness of today, and with Wilfred Owen's poem, Dulce Et Decorum Est ringing in our ears, it is nonetheless possible to think about Jasper as a man who put his "money where his mouth was," who acted and did not just talk, and who did so with a marked humility that is completely absent from most public figures today.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Citizen Soldier and National Security

On a recent business trip to California, I stayed for a couple of nights at Cavallo Point, on the premises of now-closed Fort Baker, at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County.  Here is the parade ground:

No Revolutionary War battles were fought in California, and Fort Baker dates back at best only to 1850 when President Millard Fillmore created The Lime Point Military Reservation.  What caught my eye, though, was this plaque on the parade ground:

The plaque sets forth the dates 1775-1975 and the headline "Citizen-"Soldier," and then tells us that it commemorates the bicentennial of the United States Army.  It further states that "when a citizen-soldier sees our national flag, he sees not the flag but our nation." 

Colonial leaders, if not Americans in general at the time, had a deep concern about a standing army, but American military leaders like Washington and Henry Knox knew that such a Continental army, as opposed to militia, was necessary.  It is interesting to revisit the debate in the context of current defense by the NSA and the American president over the necessity of centralized control, including invasions of privacy, in the name of national security.  The old fears return to roost in the brave new digital world.  The difference though is that the notion of citizen-soldier invokes a "bottom up" mindset for defense, with the emphasis on citizen and democratic participation, as opposed to a "top down" assertion of what is necessary for the country.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

John Witherspoon and the Warrior Clerics

John Witherspoon, a Scottish Presbyterian Minister, became president of The College of New Jersey (as Princeton University was then known) in 1768.  Affected by continued assertion of British Episcopacy in the Colonies, Witherspoon became caught up in the Revolutionary fervor of the times; in 1774 he joined the Committee of Correspondence and Safety.  In 1776, he was the only active cleric (as well as university president) to sign the Declaration of Independence.  He served in the Continental Congress as well as the New Jersey Legislature.  Here he is, memorialized today on the campus of Princeton University:

In Massachusetts, another cleric, Reverend Jonas Clark wrote the inscription for the monument that today stands marking the Battle of Bunker Hill and among other things, said: “The Blood of these Martyrs In the Cause of God and their Country Was the Cement of the Union and these State, then Colonies, and gave the spring to the spirit, firmness, and resolution of their Fellow-Citizens. They rose as one man to revenge their Brethren’s Blood, and at the Point of the Sword, to Assert and Defend their native Rights.” Witherspoon, when challenged in 1776 that the country was "not yet ripe" for independence, Witherspoon responded, "in my judgment, sir, we are not only ripe, but rotting."

Other men of the cloth were firebrands for the Revolution, and some paid with their lives.  It is interesting to reflect on this early role of the clergy in the formation of the American republic and the encouragement of war to achieve it, as we contemplate the rise of non-secular governments and the role of clergy in nation-building today.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Joshua Huddy and the Character of Retaliation

Captain Joshua Huddy, commander of the garrison at Toms River, New Jersey, that was destroyed by the British on March 24, 1782, was hung unceremoniously by the British after his capture, resulting in the 18th century equivalent of an international incident.  He is buried at Tennent Church near the Monmouth Battlefield.

Numerous depositions were obtained and presented to Washington, who on April 21, 1782, wrote an incensed letter to British General Henry Clinton, threatening repercussions if the British did not punish their own.  Unsatisfied with Clinton's response, on May 3, 1782, Washington ordered General Moses Hazen to choose by lot a British officer--a captain if one was available, if not, a lieutenant, either in Pennsylvania or Maryland--for execution.  Ultimately, a man was selected but Washington did not go through with the execution, following international intervention.

During World War II, on January 1, 1945 at Chenogne, Belgium, American troops killed 25 or more German prisoners in retaliation for the execution of 80 American prisoners at Malmedy by German Waffen-SS troops on December 17, 1944.

 As contemptible and violative of the rule of law as the acts were that led to the execution of Huddy by the Loyalists, even if under supervision of the British, it is a telling aspect of the American character that "an eye for eye" justice, even at the expense of the innocent, was even considered.  As we see in the Chenogne and Malmedy massacres, the behavior did not end in the eighteenth century.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The "First" First Battle

     I was recently in North Carolina and visited the battlefield at Alamance.  The generally accepted first battle of the Revolution was the encounter at Lexington, and later that day, where the "shot heard round the world" was fired, at Concord.  In North Carolina, however, a plaque on the statue of James Hunter on the Alamance battlefield proclaims "The Battle of the Alamance: The first battle of the Revolutionary War was fought in Orange County, North Carolina, May 16, 1771."

     There still appears some debate over the classification of Alamance as a Revolutionary War battle or not.  On the one hand, there were similarities between the Regulators' objections to a lack of representation and certain taxation.  And although some claim that they were simply seeking reform, and not independence, there were many at the time of Lexington and Concord who also were fighting to establish and uphold their rights, rather than create a new country.  On the other hand, this was not an action directed at the King or Parliament, but the local provincial government, and they were not facing off against what was, essentially in 1775, an occupying force.  

     Whatever.  The ghosts of the era wander here still.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Petersburg, Revolutionary War Sites and Vandalism

     Take a look at this.

     This is a plaque in Petersburg, Virginia, titled "The Battle at the Bridge." On April 25, 1781, British forces under joint command of William Phillips and the now-British general Benedict Arnold defeated the outnumbered American militia.  A delaying action was fought here at the Pocahontas Bridge while the Americans crossed the Appomattox River.  More about this battle in later posts.

     But one vandal, or perhaps a small group of vandals, thought it would be worthwhile to deface this marker.  About a tenth of a mile away is another marker, but all that remains of that is the rusted metal stand.      In New Jersey, another such marker--an older one--was long ago removed from its boulder for the metal.  There used to be four explanatory plaques like this at Ash Swamp in New Jersey noting the battle of Short Hills; those are gone as well.  While the information can be retrieved at (historical marker data base dot com), the nice thing about these markers is you can stand in the place, gain some insight, look around, and realize you are there.  It takes one person to do this, and what government official wants to spend money to fix it, knowing it will only be destroyed again?

     I suppose one could argue this is also a learning experience, that there were destructive elements at the time (this is nothing next to the tarring and feathering that went on), but one has to wonder what was gained by this? It's a small thing, perhaps--it's just a plaque.  Who cares? Well, someone took the time to design it, write it, and install it.  Someone thought it important.  It may take a village to raise a child, but it only takes one person to ruin a city's cultural and historical experience.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Pulaski, Kosciuszko and Memorials

     Casimir Pulaski, like his Polish compatriot Tadeusz Kościuszko, not only achieved renown in fighting on the American side in the Revolutionary War, but both also have bridges named for them.  Kościuszko survived the war to carry his fight back to Europe for Poland.  Pulaski died as a result of wounds at Savannah, Georgia.  Kościuszko actually has 2 bridges named for him-a truss bridge spanning Newtown Creek between Queens and Brooklyn, and one across the Mohawk River carrying I-87 connecting Albany and Saratoga counties in New York.  But Pulaski has the pair of cantilever bridges connecting Newark to Jersey City.

     I was in DC on business and leaving the DC government building saw the statue.  I was surprised to see Egg Harbor listed in the base of the statue together with Brandywine and Valley Forge; on the other side of the base are listed Charleston, Germantown and Savannah.  Egg Harbor, which engagement is also known as Chestnut Neck, is marked by obscure memorials to both the engagement and Pulaski.  But the Pulaski Skyway-an elegant feat of engineering-is an iconic part of the New Jersey urban landscape.  Never married, dead in his early 30s, but his name persists in the Meadowlands of New Jersey.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Battle of the Clouds and the Great "What If"

     From September 15 through 16, 1777, 10,000 Americans faced nearly twice their number, 18,000 Hessians and British regulars.  Washington's troops formed a three mile line in the Great Valley, not far from Valley Forge, with its center around what is now Immaculata University, facing King Road.

     On the 16th, Casimir Pulaski's cavalry supported by light infantry, advanced, and were pushed back by Cornwallis' own light infantry units, towards the center/left of the American line.  On the American right, American generals Wayne and Maxwell skirmished with Knyphausen's Hessians, and were forced to withdraw.  Before the British could pursue their advantage, severe rainfall ended the engagement.  Reports vary as to casualty counts.

     I like this image because it actually features cloud cover over a portion of the battlefield area, viewed from the American position.  While it is easy, perhaps, to dismiss this as a non-battle, the number of troops involved and the near-defeat and subsequent escape of Washington's army from another defeat, so soon after Brandywine, poses intriguing "what if" questions.  Despite this, there are virtually no markers or explanatory plaques; I met the man who now lives in the building that was the Three Tun Tavern at the time who pointed to a localized marker on the property, but no state recognition.  Driving around this battlefield requires a fair amount of work to try to comprehend the scope of what almost was.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Monmouth and Mythology

     June 28 marks the 235th anniversary of the Battle of Monmouth.  I posted on this battle last June.  Last week was the reenactment, but I chose to go today and avoid the crowd, and check out the new visitor center.  This state park and its center rival many of the federal park battlefields I've visited in terms of presentation of information and legibility, and its electric map and accompanying thirteen minute presentation provide an excellent overview of the battlefield.  The controversy surrounding Charles Lee and George Washington was treated evenly, if briefly, but at the end, the battle was heralded as a great victory for Washington.  As Brendan Morrissey writes in Monmouth Courthouse 1778: The Last Great Battle in the North, "[b]y any objective criteria, the battle of Monmouth Courthouse was a draw." The British left the field, but they were doing so anyway, and continued their "retreat" to Sandy Hook.  Washington had set out to destroy the British army if he could find the right engagement, and that did not occur.  For those with limited interest or exposure to such things, though, they leave this introduction with opinion offered as fact, and so does mythology continue.

     I did see something new: I finally made it to the Craig House portion of the battlefield.

     Restored in 1993 to look as it did during the battle, it was not directly involved in the area of fighting but certain Continentals retreated across the farm at one point, and the British used the house as a hospital.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Newtown, Superman and the Right of Conquest

     Yesterday I journeyed along the route of the Sullivan Expedition and noted the Battle of Newtown.  Here is the monument to the battle in Newtown Battlefield Park:

     Today I saw Superman, the current movie and remake of the so-called American icon.  The movie deserved the mediocre reviews it got, but that is for another day.  What struck me was the (excessively moralistic) dialog between Krypton's military leader on the one hand about the need to maintain the species and, if necessary, terraform Earth to accommodate Krypton's rebirth, and Superman and his father on the other, about the need for "bridges" and "co-existence."

     In Johnson and Graham's Lessee v. M'Intosh, 21 U.S. 543 (1823), in deciding a case involving land title granted by certain Indian tribes to two individuals, the Supreme Court discussed the legal authority of foreign entities (i.e., European nations) to acquire exclusive rights to land already occupied by others.  The Court held:

While the different nations of Europe respected the right of the natives, as occupants, they asserted the ultimate dominion to be in themselves; and claimed and exercised, as a consequence of this ultimate dominion, a power to grant the soil, while yet in possession of the natives. These grants have been understood by all, to convey a title to the grantees, subject only to the Indian right of occupancy.

The history of America, from its discovery to the present day, proves, we think, the universal recognition of these principles.
Thus has our whole country been granted by the crown while in the occupation of the Indians. These grants purport to convey the soil as well as the right of dominion to the grantees.
Thus, all the nations of Europe, who have acquired territory on this continent, have asserted in themselves, and have recognised in others, the exclusive right of the discoverer to appropriate the lands occupied by the Indians. Have the American States rejected or adopted this principle?
The United States, then, have unequivocally acceded to that great and broad rule by which its civilized inhabitants now hold this country. They hold, and assert in themselves, the title by which it was acquired. They maintain, as all others have maintained, that discovery gave an exclusive right to extinguish the Indian title of occupancy, either by purchase or by conquest; and gave also a right to such a degree of sovereignty, as the circumstances of the people would allow them to exercise.
The title by conquest is acquired and maintained by force. The conqueror prescribes its limits. Humanity, however, acting on public opinion, has established, as a general rule, that the conquered shall not be wantonly oppressed, and that their condition shall remain as eligible as is compatible with the objects of the conquest. Most usually, they are incorporated with the victorious nation, and become subjects or citizens of the government with which they are connected. The new and old members of the society mingle with each other; the distinction between them is gradually lost, and they make one people.
But the tribes of Indians inhabiting this country were fierce savages, whose occupation was war, and whose subsistence was drawn chiefly from the forest. To leave them in possession of their country, was to leave the country a wilderness; to govern them as a distinct people, was impossible, because they were as brave and as high spirited as they were fierce, and were ready to repel by arms every attempt on their independence.

     Consequently, the court denied the Indian-granted title.

     I have always been curious about the rationalization of the legal basis by which an "alien" could legally usurp land occupied by others because the "alien" discovered it from the alien perspective.  Dick Gregory, the comedian, once had a short routine about "discovering" someone's else's automobile and taking it for himself.  Newtown gives us a context for considering these issues.  One wonders how much the vanquished rulers of Krypton might rely upon M'Intosh.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Newtown and the End of a Civilization

     On August 29, 1779, General John Sullivan and his force of 3200 men defeated a lesser force of up to 1000 Iroquois, a few British regulars and approximately 200 to 250 of Butler's Rangers here at Newtown.  This is a view from the top of the hill of the Chemung Valley.

     Although the casualties on both sides were relatively limited, the battle has been interpreted as the end of the Iroquois Confederacy.  As we look out over the valley, even today we can appreciate how this was the frontier during the Revolution.  Land itself is land and persists beyond politics.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Royal Fusiliers

     My two week absence was due to business travels that included London, and I came across the Garden of Remembrance of the Royal Fusiliers at St. Sepulchre Without Newgate.  Here it is, with the Old Bailey across the way.

     The website for the Royal Fusiliers Museum ( tells us this infantry regiment was raised at the Tower of London in 1685.  The 7th Royal Fusiliers participated significantly in the American Revolution, from the defense of Quebec on December 31, 1775 through the campaign in New Jersey and New York, to the southern theater, not returning to England until 1783.  The garden is a reminder of the human toll taken in the Revolution on both sides.  

Sunday, May 19, 2013

America and Canada: Revolutionary Pipedreams

     The Americans invaded Canada after the Canadians, on at least three occasions,  turned down or ignored overtures to join the Revolution.  Their rationale was the pretext of "protecting" people who never asked for, needed or wanted American help.  General Phillip Schuyler, in charge of the northern theater of operations, had intended to lead the expedition to Montreal, but due to illness, ceded that command to General Richard Montgomery.  Montgomery arrived with some 1200 troops, against a garrison of only 150 defenders, and the city surrendered on November 13, 1775.  On December 31, Montgomery was killed in the joint attack on Quebec City by him and Benedict Arnold.

     The heart of the city is Place d'Armes.  In 1775. where the statue of Paul de Chomeday (founder of Montreal) stands, was a statute of King George, that Montgomery's troops defaced.

     Following World War I, the United States actually developed another plan for invading Canada, formulated in 1935 and reported by Richard Preston in 1977 in The Defence of the Undefended Border: Planning for War in North America 1867-1939.  Interestingly, Toronto was considered irrelevant; the most important Canadian cities in 1935 as seen by the United States were Quebec City and Halifax.  The report concluded that "That the critical areas of Canada are: (1) The Halifax-Monkton-St.John Area (The Maritime Provinces); (2) The St.Lawrence Area (Quebec and Montreal); (3) The Great Lakes Area; (4) The Winnipeg Area; and (5) The Vancouver Area (Vancouver and Victoria).

Friday, May 17, 2013

Prescott, Bunker Hill and Courage

Next month marks the anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775.  I have been listening to the  audio version of Nathaniel Philbrick's new book Bunker Hill (at the recommendation of Robert Gould).  Perhaps more than most accounts, he has managed to make us see, hear and know the people who brought the competing forces to this spot.  Colonel William Prescott still stands in his cape-like banyan, facing the attack on the redoubt he and his men build overnight on Breed's Hill.

When a British cannonball decapitated one of the Patriots helping to erect the redoubt, Prescott inspired his men to keep at it by parading up and down on the wall in plain view of the British.  One of the last to leave the redoubt when the Patriots' ammunition finally gave out, he exemplified the courage--if not always the best judgment--of the Patriot forces.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Crooked Billet

     The Battle of Crooked Billet on May 1, 1778 (now in present-day Hatboro, Pennsylvania), was one of the more extended skirmishes arising out of the competition for forage and supplies between British and American forces.  A monument on the grounds of a school commemorates the battle.

     Washington's preferred commander of Pennsylvania militia, General James Potter, was on leave, so General John Lacy was charged with patrol and prevention of British seizure of American supplies, in command of about 400 men.  Major John Simcoe, in command of the Queen's Rangers, and Colonel Robert Abercromby, led about 850 men in a dawn attack on May 1, overwhelmed the initial force, chased them for miles and emerged victorious.  Allegations of British brutality against prisoners led Washington to appoint General William Maxwell to investigate.

     Something else worth nothing about Crooked Billet is the fact that while the soldiers of the Continental Army were starving and freezing, and these foraging raids and skirmishes were occurring, Congress was setting the rates for wagons and supplies.  The American commissary and quartermaster functions were in complete disarray.  Americans were selling to the British because that was what the market would bear.  It wasn't all patriotic fervor in America.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The I-95 War

I made the reverse trip that Nathanael Greene made, going up from New Jersey to Rhode Island, to see what I could find of the Battle of Rhode Island on August 29, 1778.  In a small location crushed between highways is Patriot Park, where a plaque tells us this was the "location" of the battle.

American commander General John Sullivan was just to the north (left) of this monument as shown above.  The British moved northward on Aquidneck Island, both Hessians and Regulars, and were repulsed in this general area and to the east and north, but the Americans then withdraw to Tiverton and the mainland, in the vicinity of Fort Barton.  More to say on this battle is subsequent posts.

But what struck me on the drive back was the fact that the Revolution was really the I-95 War, from Charleston, South Carolina to Boston, Massachusetts.  While of course this world war spread across continents and oceans, the most significant battles on the American mainland were within exit-reach of I-95.  If you want to understand America and its roots. treat I-95 as a cruiseship, and stop off at the various "ports" to appreciate the differences in culture, politics and ethos of Eastern Seaboard Americans.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Quakers, the Revolution and Profiling

Conventional understandings of the American Revolution often focus on a two-party dispute between the "Americans" and the "British." Among the colonists were diverse groups; one notable group were the Quakers.  In New Jersey in particular, numerous Friends Meeting Houses were present.  Here is the one at Stony Brook, which feature to an extent in accounts of the Battle of Princeton nearby, and a portion of its cemetery, featuring the DAR stone noting that Richard Stockton, a lawyer and signer of the Declaration of Independence, is buried on the grounds.

The Quakers officially adopted a neutral stance, although there were exceptions--not just Richard Stockton, but "The Fighting Quaker," Nathanael Greene.  However, they were often viewed with suspicion, treated as spies or otherwise harassed by certain Patriots.  Note George Washington's comments in a November, 1777 authorization regarding Army Clothing:  "By virtue of the powers vested in me by the Honorable Congress I hereby Authorize ... to collect all such Blankets, Shoes, Stocking and other Clothing suitable to the use of the Army, within the Counties of ... in the State of Pennsylvania, as the Inhabitants can spare without greatly distressing their Families. In doing this you are to take care, that, the unfriendly Quakers and others notoriously disaffected to the cause of American Liberty do not escape your Vigilance."

One cannot help but think of the current debate over profiling of certain groups as security risks.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Seneca Town and the First Jewish Casualty of the Revolution

On the Clemson University campus in South Carolina is this site identifying the Battle of Seneca Town (also known as Essenecca Town.

I was there on a foggy morning, which added to the atmosphere.  On August 1, 1776, a few weeks after the Declaration of Independence and while the main armies of both Americans and British were massing in and around New York, Maj. Andrew Williamson and his South Carolina militia of about 330 men, led by two captured Loyalists, were attacked by Loyalist and Cherokee forces.  Though Williamson won, among his casualties was Francis Salvador, identified here as "the first Jewish Patriot killed during the Revolution." Salvador was shot, and when found by the Cherokee, scalped.

In John Drayton's Memoirs of the American Revolution, Vol. 2 at page 347, wrote that Salvador "retained his senses, to the last; and, when Major Williamson came up and spoke to him, he anxiously asked whether the enemy were beaten? And upon being told they were, he replied, he rejoiced at it: when shaking the Major by the hand, he bade him farewell--and died."


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Knitting Betty

We go off the trail a bit here, and indulge in a bit of folklore from the Revolution.  On Sourland Mountain, in Somerset County,New Jersey, along one of the roads, is this fractured diabase boulder, resembling pillows.

The folklore is that a woman named Betty sat here knitting, waiting for her lover to return who had gone off to fight in the Revolution.  Upon hearing of his death, she spent the rest of her life sitting on the rock, knitting.  Some say her spirit haunts the place still.  Daniel W. Barefoot, in his Spirits Of '76: Ghost Stories of the American Revolution, writes that her name was actually Betty Wert, that she became a patriot spy and was executed in 1778.

In another part of the mountain is the cave where John Hart hid.  Hart was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and is buried in Hopewell. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Bound Brook and the Small Battles of the Revolution

April 13 represents the anniversary of the Battle of Bound Brook, one of the engagements during the "Year of the Hangman"--1777--and reflective of the tug of war in New Jersey.  As previously posted (February 26, 2012), this was a small "battle" in which the British drove the Americans from their small garrison, and then abandoned the place.

This is what remains of the stone bridge where Captain Johann Ewald and his Hessians were pinned down until relief came.  He wrote: "We had no choice but to lie down on the ground before the bridge, whereupon I ordered 'Forward!' sounded constantly.  Luckily for us, Colonel Donop's column appeared after a lapse of eight or ten minutes, whereupon the Americans abandoned the redoubt."

Most people know, or have heard of, the "major" battles.  The Revolution was a long war, though, and the majority of activity was in smaller engagements like this, like death by a thousand cuts.  Nathanael Greene wrote to John Adams: "The Enemy had Evacuated the Town before I got here. They held it about an hour." 

Howard Peckham puts the date as April 12, 1777, and reports 2 Americans killed, 20 captured, and 5 British wounded.  It is fitting as these dates come and go that we remember those killed for ephemeral advantage.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Continental Lane and Contemporary Political Arrogance

Although I have lived in central New Jersey virtually entire life and made many visits to Washington's Crossing State Park, I never actually walked along the Continental Lane, the road on which Washington's troops marched after the Christmas night crossing in 1776.  Here is a view of one segment in the park:

David Hackett Fischer, in his book Washington's Crossing, describes the road as "climb[ing] upward through a dark wood, similar to a sweep of woodland that stands there today." Some 2400 officers and troops crossed to this point; the troops split into two forces under Nathanael Greene and John Sullivan, with the former more inland and Sullivan closer to the river as they approached Trenton.

The troops were ill, poorly clothed, hungry.  We know there were soldiers with no shoes whose bleeding feet left paths in the snow.  We know that many who enlisted in the Continental Army were from the bottom of the economic ladder.  We know that many of Washington's soldiers were incapacitated  and could not make the crossing; many others had died before the battle from illness.  And yet, those that remained, made that march on that bitter, sleeting night.

To understand how this country survived the defeats of 1776 and how the war was saved, walk the Continental Lane, particularly on a cold day.  Listen to the sounds of your footsteps and be alone with your thoughts.

Today we have political leaders who treat $1,000,000 with less respect and concern than the rest of us treat a penny.  They fly with entourages around the world; a recently reported stay of the vice-president for one night in London came in at around $500,000.  The lectures and the rhetoric are belied by a political class obsessed with itself, with its power and preservation of same.  We barely finished the 2012 elections when literally the next day we were into the 2014 season and already planning not only 2016 but 2020 and beyond.  Meanwhile, real people in this country are living and dying, struggling to survive and get on.  The rhetoric is not enough.  Do we really remember where we came from?

Every representative and senator should be made to walk the Continental Lane as a requirement to service.  They should be made to feel the same ground beneath their feet that absorbed the blood of real people who made this country happen.  There is no better reality check than that, to restore a sense of proportion and remove the insulation and arrogance that seems now to mark an increasingly out of touch political class.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Kosciuszko: A Tale of Two Statues

Two posts ago I featured the memorial to Thaddeus Kosciuszko in Warsaw, Poland, and last post I featured his role as engineer.  I had occasion to be in Washington, DC this weekend and photographed the Kosciuszko Memorial in Lafayette Park in Washington.

This statue was sculpted by Polish sculptor Antoni Popiel and dedicated on May 11, 1910.  IN his right hand is a map of the Saratoga fortifications, and is the original.  The one in Warsaw is a replica of the Washington, DC one and was installed in 2010.  The American one was purchased with funds raised by the Polish National Alliance, which Congress agreed to accept in 1904. Although President Taft dedicated the statue in 1910, he declined to attend a banquet held by the PNA as it met for four days afterward to discuss the status of Poland.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Kosciuszko and Military Engineering

     Let's continue with Kosciusko, following up on the last post.  Here we see the American river fortifications  on Bemis Heights, identified as stop number 3 on the driving tour at the battlefield at Saratoga.

     This position was constructed under the auspices of Colonel Thaddeus Kosciusko, to help control the road to Albany and the Hudson River  The British were forced to attack here on September 19.  The area marked the eastern wing of the American defensive position.  We look out over the Hudson River and the mountainous countryside of New York.

     We often think of the war in terms of the mythologized image of the Continental soldier, and of the heroic persona of Washington and other generals.  It is good to stand here and think about the often unsung role of the military engineer, and the importance of that expertise in assessing the advantages and disadvantages present in battle, particularly here, in one of the most important battles of the war.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Kościuszko and Monuments

     We have had occasion to note other foreign leaders in the American Revolution, including Casimir Pulaski.  Here we go a bit farther afield, and look at the monument to Tadeusz Kościuszko in Warsaw, Poland.

    Kościuszko (1746-1817) graduated from the Corps of Cadets School in Warsaw; on the recommendation of Ben Franklin, joined the American forces in the Revolution as a colonel, rising to brigadier general at the end of the war. As an engineer he was responsible for fortification efforts in various places, including Fort Mifflin outside Philadelphia.  He pursued Polish independence, fought the Russians (and was imprisoned), and helped finance a school in Newark, New Jersey for freed slaves.

     It is interesting to think about who warrants a monument.  It is testament to the modest heroism of this man, whose efforts, noted Washington in a letter to Kościuszko dated August 31, 1797, were "so instrumental in establishing" the United States.  Today we name bridges after local politicians, buildings after senators, airports after presidents, often during their lifetimes.  Why? Here was a man who did not seek election or acclaim, traveled from his native land to the unknown, provided his engineering expertise to the Continental Army.  He did not stop there, and fought for his own country's independence.  He was one of those rare people who actually deserve the monuments erected to them.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Jockey Hollow: The Brutal Winter

     Washington took the Continental Army to Jockey Hollow, near Morristown, for winter encampment from      December 1779 through June 1780, where they endured the coldest winter of the war.  They had previously camped in the area following the Battle of Princeton in January 1777, notably constructing Fort Nonsense at Morristown.
     In the past several months we have endured significant and harsh weather conditions, particularly along the mid-Atlantic seaboard.  Dr. James Thacher reported in 1779 that: “We reached this wilderness, about three miles from Morristown where we are building log huts for winter quarters. The snow on the ground is about two feet deep, and the weather extremely cold.”

     Places like Jockey Hollow are a reminder to us of the reality of this war, beyond the platitudes and hype that often comprise the mythology.  

Sunday, February 24, 2013

More Thoughts on Valley Forge and Today

Here are the huts of Washington's guard, reconstructed at Valley Forge.

According to Thomas Fleming (Washington's Secret War), a "little-discussed aspect of Valley Forge" was the relative comfort of the officers compared to the enlisted soldiers.  He describes the "jollitry" they report on their leaves, while in the meantime, the soldiers--mainly poor and from the bottom of American society--were suffering from starvation, disease and cold.

Today, we are bombarded with rhetoric about the "middle class," the "99%" and so forth.  We have a Congress whose members travel the world on "fact-finding" missions.  When is the last time a Congressional delegation went to Camden, New Jersey--reported in 2012 by the U.S. Census as the poorest city in America? 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Valley Forge, the Sequester and the Oscars

     We all know that Washington wintered the Continental Army at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, for the winder of 1777-1778.  Here is an image taken in the Knox Artillery Park section of what is now a federal park.

     What many don't know is the "secret war" (as historian Thomas Fleming puts it) engaged in by Washington to defeat an attempt to replace him as commander in chief.  What many also don't know is that the winter at Valley Forge was not the worst of the war.  However, the Continental Army did suffer from lack of clothes and food, let alone proper nutritional needs.  A large part of the problem was the manner in which the Continental Congress dealt with (or failed to deal with) the situation.  Among its mistakes was setting prices for purchase of food and supplies, with the predictable economic result that local farmers and merchants often sold to the British to get hard currency and better prices.  I have been reading Fleming's book Washington's Secret War and am struck by the same attitudes of the members of the Continental Congress with many of those today in dealing with government spending and the so-called sequester.  Rhetoric continues to trump reality.  Politics and power are more important than result.  In the meantime, just as the troops starved at Valley Forge, we have a large part of our present population suffering from a malignant economy while the press is dominated and bedazzled with a golfing president and who George Clooney brings to the Oscars.