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.