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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Groton Heights and Benedict Arnold's Revenge

After the discovery of his plot to hand over West Point to the British, Benedict Arnold became a brigadier general in the British army.  On September 6, 1781, while the war raged savagely in the Carolinas and Cornwallis headed for his doom at Yorktown, Arnold launched his own fierce and brutal raid on his home colony, Connecticut.  The Thames River divided New London on the western bank from Groton on the eastern.  Fort Trumbull, south of New London, was sparsely defended and abandoned after one volley and the spiking of its guns.  lieutenant Colonel William Ledyard, a native of Groton, commanded Fort Griswold on the Groton side.  He was outnumbered, 800 to 150.  The British force of Regulars, Hessians and Loyalist forces were led by Lieutenant Colonel Edmund Eyre. The Americans vowing to defend the fort to the last extremity, and the British assaulted.  British Major William Montgomery led an attack from the north, and was killed; when Ledyard offered his sword in surrender, he was also killed and the massacre of American troops began.

Here we see a view inside the fort.  The enclosure on the left is where Ledyard fell.  On the right, next to the tree, is the plaque indicating where Montgomery fell.  This is a remarkable place in that it gives a sense of the claustrophobic nature of the Revolutionary War battlefield.

Monday, January 21, 2013

New Haven and Desolation Warfare

William Tryon, the Loyalist governor of New York and a military commander, espoused a theory of "desolation warfare" that targeted civilian property in an effort to demoralize the population.  It was part of a total war philosophy.  This was not universally accepted by British officers and was opposed by many, though accounts of the war in South Carolina reveal similar attitudes by Banastre Tarleton and even Cornwallis.  Tryon had the opportunity to put this into practice when he was authorized by British General Henry Clinton to conduct raids in Connecticut.  Here, on July 5, 1779 at Black Rock Fort with New Haven in the distance, 18 men under Lieutenant Daniel Bishop fired upon and engaged Tryon's far superior force of 700 that landed at East Haven.  They spiked their guns, attempted to withdraw, and were captured.  Other British forces landed in West Haven and proceeded to New Haven where, per the July 14, 1779 Connecticut Gazette, committed "the brutal ravishment of women, the wanton and malicious destruction of property, the burning the stores on the wharf, and eight houses in East Haven" and "carried away between 30 and 40 of the inhabitants . . . " 

The Connecticut Gazette reported that the Americans lost 27 killed and 19 wounded.

Today we have, among others, the Syrian government exercising a comparable "devastation warfare" approach to civilians, and in Sudan are reports of cluster bombs being used against civilians as well.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Back to Monmouth

Here is the spot, according to the markers placed here, the area of the "point of woods" where George Washington accosted Charles Lee, essentially relieved him of command at Monmouth, and then tore back across the Middle Brook to rally the American forces on Perrine Ridge.

Monmouth of course was fought on June 28, 1778, a particularly hot day.  I was here in January, on a gloomy and atmospheric day.  This state park is extraordinarily well preserved, and the free written walking tours, if followed and paid attention to, allow you to comprehend what happened here.  On this particular day, while the visitor center is under reconstruction, I had the battlefield to myself, and could just about hear the shouts, shots and cannonades.

Lee came to a sad end.  Convicted by court martial on August 12, 1778 of disobedience of orders in not attacking the British, misbehavior by his disorderly retreat, and disrespect to Washington, and was suspended from service for a year.  On December 5, Congress confirmed the verdict (though it was by no means unanimous).  Ever recalcitrant and increasingly obstreperous, Lee alienated his supporters and died in 1782 in poverty at 50 years old.  Putting aide his personality issues, at the time and now there remains a school of thought that continues to support the actions he took at Monmouth and view the verdict as incorrect.  

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Baylor's Massacre and the Persistence of Brutality

On September 27, 1778, British General Charles "No Flint" Grey led a  night assault, with no flint and bayonets only, against Colonel George Baylor's 3rd Regiment of Continental Light Dragoons while they slept in various houses and along what is now Rivervale Road, in Rivervale, New Jersey.  Despite pleas for quarter, none was given, with the exception by one British captain.  The American regiment was virtually destroyed.  In 1967 the remains of some dragoons were found at what is now the burial site park, pictured here.  

The episode became the subject of intense American propaganda as to the brutal nature and atrocities committed.  Even British Lieutenant Colonel Charles Stuart of the 26th Foot wrote a few days afterward that "[a]s they were in their beds and fired not a shot in opposition, the credit that might have been due to the Corps that effected the surprise is entirely buried in the barbarity if their behaviour." On the other hand, General Henry Clinton wrote of the attack that he "had the satisfaction to find that the move had not proved altogether fruitless."

Today we live in a world of brutality that seems so commonplace, on a 24/7 basis, that we are jaded.  It is useful to read Stuart's sense of outrage and hope that after centuries of such brutality, we can stand in a place like this and think about what we are as human beings.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Memorializing John Andre

On this cold, damp New Year's Day, 2013, I journeyed to Rivervale, New Jersey, and photographed the site of the Baylor Massacre, to be noted in later posts.  A few miles away, though, is the monument to John Andre and the site where he was hanged.  It was one of those moments where you are fully conversant with place, history and what happened on the very spot.

We are at the top of the hill, looking toward Tappan Road, just over the border from New Jersey, in New York.  Andre was the British officer with whom Benedict Arnold corresponded.  Upon discovery of the treason to the American cause, Andre was captured through a strange and at times comic set of circumstances.  He was tried nearby in an inn in Tappan.  He asked Washington for death by firing squad, as a soldier, but instead was hanged as a spy.  His last words reportedly were: "I pray you to bear me witness that I meet my fate like a brave man." He was buried here but in 1821, his remains were removed to Westminster Abbey, in London.

Washington called him "an accomplished man and gallant officer." It is something to think about that we have homage to a man who participated in one of the greatest treasons of the Revolution, and not merely mark the site of his hanging, but give it monumental status, and on the Saratoga battlefield, the monument to Benedict Arnold is a boot (for his wounded leg) but does not mention him by name.