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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.