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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.