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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

John Paul Jones and Political Correctness

At Annapolis, the corporal remains of John Paul Jones are in a crypt that compares with that of Napoleon in Paris and Ulysses S. Grant in New York:

According to the Naval Academy website, "John Paul Jones has been lauded since 1775 as the Father of the US Navy.  His influence and leadership were foundational in the establishment of our Navy and in many ways the success of our War of Independence." On the other hand, some argue that Commodore John Barry was the real "father" of the American Navy.  (These two schools of thought ignore the role of Benedict Arnold at Valcour Island, and his naval heroics, but that is for another day).  For a discussion of the relative merits of the claim between Barry and Jones, see

By today's standards, Jones's reputation in retrospect might be subject to question.  He served on two slave ships, for a couple of years, finally leaving it--but he did voluntarily participate as an officer on those ships.  Evan Thomas, in John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy, wrote that "John Paul sailed the infamous 'middle passage' between Africa and the slave plantations of the Caribbean," worked on slave ships for about three years.  Apart from that, he was charged with murder, but acquitted.  He killed another man while in command of a commercial ship in the West Indies.  His heralded victory while in command of the Bonhomme Richard against the Serapis nonetheless cost half his crew dead or wounded.  A summary of his life is on the website for the John Paul Jones Museum in Scotland, see  Among the better biographies is Samuel Eliot Morrison, John Paul Jones: A Sailor's Biography.

Should Jones be de-heroicized? Did he redeem by leaving the trade? Was three years too much to forgive? He made money as a slaver, even if he did purportedly leave the trade due to developing a distaste for it.  There is a memorial to Confederate soldiers in Bolton Hill in Baltimore that has a sign on it asking for comment as to whether it should be taken down.  Is the crypt at Annapolis next?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Samuel Smith and the Call of Duty

On Federal Hill in Baltimore stands a statue of Samuel Smith.  Smith, who lived into his late eighties, served in both the American Revolution, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, and then in the War of 1812, leaving the service as a major-general.

Smith was only 24 years old when General George Washington put him in charge of Fort Mifflin on the Philadelphia side of the Delaware River in the fall of 1777.  The bombardment of Fort Mifflin was terrible, among the worst of the war, and ultimately, in November, Smith had to abandon the fort.  He had fought at New York and White Plains, and also Brandywine and Monmouth.  He served in both the Senate and the House of Representatives of the new country, as well as mayor of Baltimore, which he defended against the British during the invasion in the War of 1812.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Baron Johann de Kalb and Nationality

Baron Johann de Kalb is one of the more intriguing "foreigners" who came to the nascent American nation to join the Patriot (American) forces in the Revolutionary War.  Born in Germany, he was trained by the French and came to America to assess Colonial attitudes towards the British.  Through the intervention of Benjamin Franklin and Lafayette, De Kalb came over with Lafayette in spring 1777 and in September, was appointed a major-general by the Continental Congress.  In command  of the Maryland and Delaware units of the Continental Army, he was mortally wounded at the Battle of Camden in South Carolina on August 16, 1780 and died of his wounds three days later.

He is honored by a statue on the grounds of the Maryland Statehouse in Annapolis, Maryland; the statue was erected in 1866.  Maryland claims his as its own based on his service with the Maryland line in the Revolution.  A plaque at the site claims de Kalb purportedly stated "I die the death I always prayed for: the death of a soldier fighting for the rights of man."

It is worth reflecting on de Kalb and his community of nationalities and loyalties as we ponder current immigration issues.  Here was a German, trained by and in service to the French, and died leading Americans into battle against the British.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The American Occupation of Montreal

American General Richard Montgomery took Montreal on November 13, 1775.  One of the remaining landmarks of that time is Chateau Ramezay, finished in 1705, shown here:

The American forces used the Chateau as their headquarters in 1775.  The taking of Montreal was prelude to the assault on Quebec City. Two months earlier, on September 25, 1775, at the Battle of Longue-Pointe, Ethan Allen failed in his attempt to take the city.

It was all for naught.  Montgomery met up with Benedict Arnold outside Quebec City; Montgomery was killed in the assault and Arnold seriously wounded.  Although capturing Canada remained in the mind of Washington and others, it was an ill-assumed premise that proved costly and, if anything, further united the Canadians against the Americans.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Siege of Charleston 1780

In the spring of 1780 through Guilford Courthouse in spring 1781, General Cornwallis' objective was to destroy the American army in the South, and the American plan was to harry the British, distract and essentially bleed them to death and, if possible, engage them decisively.  The British began well here, in Charleston, but their numbers would diminish through attrition whereas the Americans had seemingly endless men from which to draw.  Matters were not helped by Clinton's take it or leave it declaration on his departure from South Carolina for New York, pushing otherwise neutral persons as much towards the American as the British side, and escalating the bloody civil war in South Carolina.

Having failed early in the war to take Charleston under General Clinton, his second effort was successful.  The British fleet and troops arrived on February 10, 1780.  Together with and Lord Rawdon, he commanded 14,000 men and 90 ships.  General Benjamin Lincoln commanded 5,000 men.  Following a siege of about six weeks, Lincoln surrendered.  Here is Marion Square, where Lincoln surrendered.

The plaque tells us: "The British capture of Charleston in May 1780 was one of the worst defeats of the Revolution.  On March 30-31 Gen. Henry Clinton's British, Hessian, and Loyalist force crossed the Ashley River north of Charleston.  On April 1, Clinton advanced against the American defenses near this site, held by Gen. Benjamin Lincoln's Continentals and militia.  The 42-day siege would be the longest of the war. As Gen. Charles Cornwallis closed off Lincoln's escape routes on the Cooper River, Clinton advanced his siege lines and bombarded Charleston.  On May 12, 1780, in front of the American works near this spot, Lincoln surrendered the city and his force of 6,000 men, after what one British officer called "a gallant defense." The British occupied Charleston for more than 2 1/2 years, evacuating Dec. 14, 1782." Astute observers will recall that Yorktown was taken on  October 19, 1781, so for over a year, the British remained in control of the city.

People often think of Yorktown as the end of the war.  Cornwallis surrendered 8,000 soldiers.  Recall that the Americans surrendered some 2,800 soldiers at Fort Washington, New York, early in the war.  In Charleston, we are struck by just how little traditional military victories actually mattered in the end to the political solution.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Bennington, Stark and Warner

The Battle of Bennington, on August 16, 1777, occurred in Hoosick, New York, although the storehouse that was the subject of the raid was just across the border in the recently "independent" Vermont.  Burgoyne was advancing on Albany, and by early August 1777 Burgoyne knew Howe was not moving northward to meet up with him.  Burgoyne needed supplies.  He sent a predominantly Hessian force, with Indian components, led by Colonel Friedrich Baum to procure the supplies.  Burgoyne's intelligence was flawed, and he was unaware that Colonel John Stark had become Major General John Stark, and had nearly 1500 militia at Bennington.

The hilltop where the battle occurred gives a real sense of why the Hessians thought they had a defensible position, and what the Americans had to overcome.  This is a view looking north

The American victory Bennington was significant because it further weakened Burgoyne's already finite force; he lost 15% of his men at Bennington.  Beyond this, of course, was the failure to obtain the necessary supplies.  He continued to move deeper into hostile territory, and into the cataclysm that was Saratoga. 

Bennington is the story of two of the great commanders of the Revolution, John Stark and Seth Warner.  Both were veterans of prior battles, and fought throughout the Revolution.  Warner never made general; he ended his career as a colonel and died in 1784 at the age of 41 in poverty. 

The battles of the Revolution, unlike those of the American Civil War, generally had far fewer casualties, and yet the stakes were certainly as high as in any war.  These small battles and these small victories resonated far beyond their superficial aspects.  Burgoyne sent this force to obtain supplies for his main force that was suffering from attrition.  The effort not only failed, but further depleted Burgoynes' forces.  To whatever measurable extent this depletion affected the result at the battles of Freeman's Farm and Bemis Heights, collectively known as the Battle of Saratoga, the efforts of Stark and Warner contributed not only to that victory, but also to the consequential decision of the French to formally enter the war.  

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Battle of Johnstown

The Battle of Johnstown was among the last of the major land battles in the northern theater of the Revolution, and occurring on October 25, 1781, together with the American-French victory at Yorktown on October 19, 1781, essentially ended the real military action of the war.  Here is a segment of the battlefield as marked just north of the Johnstown Hall, itself a few miles from downtown Johnstown.

Together with Major John Ross, Colonel Marinus Willett led over 400 militia against a combined enemy force of over 700 Regulars, Iroquois and Rangers under Major John Ross and Captain Walter Butler.  At this point in the war, the Mohawk Valley was the scene of raids with more of an in terrorem purpose than seizure of land or military advantage.  Although often portrayed as an American victory, it may well have been darkness that saved the Americans and caused the British to withdraw for strategic reasons.  Howard Peckham reports 13 Americans killed, 23 wounded and 5 missing, with the British side incurring 7 killed, some 40 wounded and 50 missing.  

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Stone Arabia and the Emptiness of Death

     On October 19, 1780, one of the more brutal battles in the war in the Mohawk Valley in New York State occurred here, at Stone Arabia.

     The Mohawk Valley is a beautiful, haunting place.  I've been through there a few times in photographing Revolutionary War sites for my book.  On this day I had been to Johnstown and the remarkable spot of Fort Plain.  From that hill, exhibits point you to the many battles, like this one, that were part of the combined British/Loyalist/Indian raids on towns in the region.  The British success here at Stone Arabia preceded the defeat of the British at Klock's field later in the day.  Meanwhile Colonel John Brown, veteran of Ticonderoga and the Quebec campaign, was killed here as he and his force faced overwhelming numbers.  He was 36 years old.  The British burned the town of Stone Arabia.  A year later the Americans were victorious at the Battle of Johnstown, coinciding with the British surrender at Yorktown, and the war essentially ended, although it sputtered on for two more years.

     There is no easy place to park apart from the dirt "shoulder" on the road, being careful not to slide into the ditch.  It is also hard to image the brutal nature of the fight in looking at this placid landscape.  Brown was another of those virtually unknown officers of the Revolution who fought up and down the East Coast, and dying in these fields in skirmishes, raids and battles that ultimately proved so meaningless to the end result.  The raids in the Mohawk Valley essentially ended with Johnstown, but the major action in the war had long since shifted to the South.  One cannot help but think of those who are dying in Iraq or Afghanistan as part of hit and run raids that to not ultimately affect the result in a war, but nonetheless remain part of its brutality.


Thursday, August 6, 2015

Revolutionary War Afterlife

It is sometimes remarkable to consider how much certain Revolutionary War generals compressed into relatively brief lives.  One such example is General "Mad Anthony" Wayne. Wayne lived just under 52 years, born January 1, 1745 and died December 15, 1796.  At thirty-one, he was a colonel in the 4th Pennsylvania Regiment of the Continental Army, participating in the ill-fated invasion of Canada in 1776.   Just turning thirty-two, he became a brigadier-general in the Continental Army. Among his successes was the taking of the British fort at Stony Point, New York, employing a comparable night attack such as that used by British General Charles Grey against Wayne at Paoli, Pennsylvania.  In the last year of the war (1783) he became a major general.

After the war, Wayne spent eight years in politics as an officeholder, and was recalled to service by President George Washington to take charge of the American war effort in the northwest territories where Native American tribes, aided and abetted by the British, continued to resist American annexation of territory ceded by the British.  With the Treaty of Greenville, signed August 3, 1795, the fifty-year old Wayne then spent the next year back at the frontier stabilizing the territory.  On July 11, 1796 the British finally surrendered the region and a month later, Wayne County (then including not only Michigan, but other states) was established and named in his honor.  A plaque in Detroit today marks the event. 

Wayne died a few months later of gout.  

Saturday, July 25, 2015

West Point, the Revolution and Contemporary Politics

I visited West Point for the first time, after all these years, and it was, to use the phrase, an awesome experience.  A variety of cadets were out and about in various exercises, and I saw them as a direct line reaching back to Henry Knox, whose vision of a military academy spawned West Point.  During the Revolution, it was a singular bastion for controlling the Hudson River.  Fort Putnam was the linchpin of the various forts, batteries and redoubts that comprised it.  Here is a view from Fort Putnam over the Point and the Hudson River:

Just to the left of the railing post on the right is a small white "dot" that is the Kosciuszko Monument that is at the location of Fort Clinton.  Just to the right of the middle railing post is another white spot, a boathouse on Constitution Island.  The Great Chain, one of several set across the Hudson to impede British naval traffic, reached from Fort Clinton to Constitution Island between those two white "dots." At this point, the Hudson River made a sharp turn, itself a challenge to navigation.

But I was struck by the cadets I saw.  I thought about Henry Knox and Nathanael Greene, who were among Washington's top generals and who learned military strategy from books.  Some, like Charles Lee and Horatio Gates, had had actual combat experience and training in the British army, but various of the Continental generals like Knox and Greene "played" at soldier in militias before the war, but essentially learned warfare from books.  It was Knox's vision to have a military academy, and as I watched these cadets--which seemed to be freshman, as I understood it--I was struck not so much by the Grey Line but the line back to Knox.

I also noted this from the Douglas MacArthur monument, quoting from his last address to the cadets: 

No rational being wants war.  The current Secretary of State, John Kerry, offers his Vietnam experience as a reason for signing a deal with the Iranians, claiming he does not want war.  No rational being chooses to go to war just to do it.  But irrational human beings do bring on war, and rational people need to defend.  Consequently, the current President, Barack Obama, is proud of "ending" wars by bringing troops home, regardless of whether victory--or the American goals--were achieved.  As a result, the Middle East is embroiled in wear with no end in sight.  In the Revolution, the British lost significant numbers of troops and had to make a decision whether to pursue subjugation and continue to fight France, Spain and Holland.  The Americans (with determinative French aid) won.  They achieved victory.  The goal was to sustain independence.  Today, at least under the administration in power as this is written, has no concept of victory in war.  It is all politics.  Meanwhile, real lives have been lost and continue to be lost, and the meaningless rhetoric continues as the current holocaust goes on.  Standing in West Point, looking at men and women who, in 30-40 years will be the leaders of the American military, I cannot help but admire them in the face of the political realities with which they will have to deal.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Seeing the Past

On May 10, 1780, on his return to America, Lafayette met with General George Washington and Colonel Alexander Hamilton at Washington's headquarters in Morristown to advise of the formal entry of France on the side of the Americans.  Washington's headquarters was a couple of miles from the center of the town, the Green.  On the Green was Arnold's Tavern, which Washington used as his headquarters in 1777 after the Battle of Princeton when his troops camped at Jockey Hollow.  An imaginative sculpture interprets the event on the Green:

In the middle of the picture you can see the blue square sign in front of the Charles Schwab building that marks the site of Colonel Jacob Arnold's tavern that was on the green.   It is intriguing to imagine this conversation looking like this on the Green.  Elsewhere on the Green is another sculpture commemorating the militia, which Washington often despised.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Thoughts on July 4

It seems the United States is becoming an increasingly neurotic society.  Every day some phrase or historical fact is under challenge as offensive to someone or another.  Read histories of the Revolutionary era, and see how "political correctness" is not new.  Loyalists and Patriots were, in numerous instances, brutal to each other.  The rhetoric went deep.  Still, I don't find it comparable to today, where one person writes a column and it is instantly on line, picked up and rallied around.  The counters may begin, but both sides seem to break along pre-disposition of viewpoint.  We are not left with any kind of rational discussion, let along debate.  That is because rational discussion is not a goal.  Hypocrisy of position in many instances exist, with a side taking one position that contradicts another in a different, but analogous context.  That doesn't matter any more.  All that matters is power, and beating down the other side.  Aggressive discourse is fine as long as it is meaningful and not purely destructive for its own sake.

What is disturbing is the degradation of any kind of sense of what it means to be an American.  This is not a call for knee-jerk flag-waving o the one hand, or the tear-it-down attitude on the other.  It just seems that few are interested in being an American in the same way they seek to be a Nationality-American or even just Nationality.

As Kurt Vonnegut wrote, "so it goes."

To participate in July 4, I usually go to the Princeton battlefield where a corps of reenactors demonstrate rifle and cannon firing.  It's a time for personal reflection, and while of course Princeton was not fought in July (but January), being there helps focus attention.  Note the touches of yellow flame in both rifle and cannon firing.

Battle of Richmond

     The Battle of Richmond on Jul 5, 1781 was more of a raid, much as the battles in Connecticut, in which an overwhelming British force entered the city, dispersed token resistance, burned buildings, and left.  Still, it is important to note this exchange in terms of the overall activities in the South at this time and as a tile in the mosaic of Benedict Arnold's new career as a British general.

     The British had a finite number of troops in the South, and had just suffered significant losses of favorable militia at King's Mountain.  Contrary to hopes, if not expectations, Cornwallis was not generating additional enlistments among the local population.  King's Mountain had not helped.  Clinton sent Benedict Arnold down from New York in December 1780 with 1600 troops, which included Lieutenant Colonel John Simcoe's Queens Rangers and Major General Thomas Dundas' 18th British Regiment (Scotch).  On January 4, they landed about 25 miles south of Richmond and marched on the city, taking position on January 5.

     American Colonel John Nichols set up with 200 Virginia militia on Church Hill to the east of the center of the city.  Church Hill is the site of St. John's Church, where Patrick Henry had delivered his famous "Give me liberty or give me death" speech.  Here is that location:

     The Americans withdraw with no casualties as the British advanced.  Arnold burned parts of the city and withdrew.

     As in Connecticut, this was less of a strategic operation than what today we might term a kind of terrorist attack.  It was hit and run and accomplished nothing militarily.  Given the events occurring that year in the Southern campaign and the result at Yorktown, it was not even a distraction.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The American Revolution and Latin America

Elizabeth, New Jersey was a significant place during the American Revolutionary War.   Among other things, it was the opening salvo in the ill-fated attempt by the British in 1780 to reengage Washington's army in the northern theater.  But it also features busts of two Latin American revolutionary heroes--Jose Artigas, who liberated Uruguay, and Jose Marti, who helped liberate Cuba.

Here is the bust of Artigas in the park opposite the city hall in Elizabeth:

Jay Sexton, in an on-line piece titled The US and Spanish American Revolutions, notes that while there is sufficient evidence to find influence of the American and French revolutions on those in the early nineteenth century in South America, that should not be confused with causation.  The same philosophical principles underlying the Age of Enlightenment affected both North and South American revolutionaries, but there were other factors that delayed action in South American. Seeing this bust in Elizabeth, New Jersey, a center of the American Revolution, helps remind us that our revolution (or, more accurately, civil war) may have been the first to succeed, but we were by no means alone.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Nathan Hale's Last Words

On Vanderbilt Avenue across from Grand Central Station at the corner of East 44th Street, a block from the Yale Club, is this plaque, that tells us "At the British Artillery Park near this site Nathan Hale captain in the U.S. Army, Yale graduate of 1773, apprehended within enemy lines while seeking information, was executed on the morning of September 22, 1776.  His last words were 'I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.'"

Another plaque on 3rd Avenue and 65th Street tells us that he was hanged "probably within 100 yards" of that spot.

The first plaque that I have pictured was put up by the Mary Washington Colonial Chapter, D.A.R., and the Yale Club of New York.  The second one was erected by the New York Historical Society.

Not only is the actual place of his hanging disputed, but the actual utterance (if any) of what he said is also disputed and quoted differently.

I am less interested in running to ground the various arguments, but rather, like Plymouth Rock, suggest that the iconography, at least in this case, is important.  Whether at this spot or 65th Street, we know the location was within these 20-30 blocks of Manhattan.  And whether he said certain specific words or not, the story has emerged that he did make a rather heroic statement in extreme (and final) circumstances.  We build a national culture on such things, and some things remain valuable as leaps of faith.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Fort Nonsense and Alarm Beacons

I previously posted about Fort Nonsense.  On a recent visit I noted two plaques either previously not there or that I'd never read.  It was intriguing: they explored the use of beacons as communications and warning devices used in the Revolution.

Fort Nonsense was built to provide a safe area for retreat of those troops guarding Morristown, New Jersey, in the event of a British attack (which never came).  Morristown is below the hill and to the left as we look out.  The plaque on the right tells us that "[i]n case of enemy invasion or other emergency situations, it was to be set on fire to notify militiamen to go to preselected meeting places and prepare for response to the alarm." The one on the left tells us there were plans for a beacon here, but there is no historical proof one was placed here.  There was to be a line of beacons on the hills, with one on the hill to the south at Summit, which was on the fringe of the battle of Springfield in June 1780; that beacon was said to be activated as the British approached Morristown but were defeated.

In the film Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, there is a dramatic scene showing the force and power of beacons; I found it one of the most beautifully presented images in the series.  We have Aragorn, the king to be, urging the leader of the neighboring country to come to aid:

"Aragorn: The Beacons of Minas Tirith! The Beacons are lit! Gondor calls for aid.
Theoden: And Rohan will answer. Muster the Rohirrim. Assemble the army at Dunharrow. As many men as can be found. You have two days. On the third, we ride for Gondor and war."

Not dissimilar to the use explained on the hill at Fort Nonsense.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Lexington and Concord, 240 Years Later

So four days later, I want to commemorate the 240th anniversary of the Battle of Lexington and Concord.  Here is an image of Battle Road at the spot known as Bloody Curve.

240 years ago, the farmers and tradespeople poured in from the town along the road and neighboring towns as they learned of the evens at Lexington Green and Concord.  They attacked and sniped at the Regulars as the latter made their long, hard way back towards Boston. They used the walls and trees for shelter and hiding as they fired their shots. 

Today our entire social and political system is Battle Road.  The contemporary walls are user names online, which people hide behind as they launch their vitriolic and destructive "comments." Like the muskets used by the farmers, they are often not accurate and limited to short range use, but when they hit, they maim or kill.  To be sure, there were acts of vengeance by the Regulars at Concord.  All participants engage in these acts in the name of a greater cause.

Today Battle Road is the Internet.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Revolutionary War Symbols and Icons

I've commented before on the iconography of the American Revolution.  Taking a closer look at the Princeton Battle Monument, we can find an interesting collection of symbols and images that provide broader connotations for the war.  Here is the base as the front:

It is not easy to make it all out in this small image.  As we look at it, in the block on the far left, we see rifles and bayonets.  In the center, an eagle with wings spread is between two cannons.  Smoke appears to be billowing from the opening of each.  In the eagle's talons is a length of broken chain.  Just below the eagle are a powder horn and pistols.  On the far right are a drum, two bugles and barrels.   I have not identified everything in the image.  What we do so connotes not just the components of battle, but the clear political symbolism of the broken chain.  Why the eagle as the symbol of the country during the Revolution? The National Wildlife Federation site posits that "[a]t the time, the new nation was still at war with England, and the fierce-looking bird seemed to be an appropriate emblem." The Bald Eagle Foundation notes "[t]he bald eagle was chosen June 20, 1782 as the emblem of the United States of American, because of its long life, great strength and majestic looks, and also because it was then believed to exist only on this continent."

A 1922 account of the monument is available for reading on line.  It was designed by the Beaux-Arts sculptor Frederick William MacMonnies (1863–1937).  He collaborated with architect Thomas Hastings (1860–1929).  The project, commissioned in 1908, was not completed until 1922.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Havre de Grace and Yorktown

Havre de Grace, Maryland, boasts the "Lafayette Trail," but the oldest standing  buildings post-date the Revolution.  Nonetheless, Rochambeau and Washington passed through there on the way to Yorktown.  The sign notes that the plaza is "named for the French General whose troops passed through here in 1781 en route to Yorktown. Records of the French Army noted plans were underway for a town at this place when the troops returned from Yorktown in 1782."

Not far away is another plaque noting that "Count Rochambeau’s troops camped here September 9, 1781 after having crossed the Susquehanna River on their way to the siege of Yorktown, Va." During the Revolution the site was called Susquehanna Lower Ferry.  Reportedly, Lafayette wrote to Washington suggesting it be called Havre de Grace after its French namesake.

It is sited where the Susquehanna River meets the Chesapeake Bay, and the beauty of the place must be as it was some 230 years ago:

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The War in the Caribbean

I have commented previously on the Battle of Nassau in the Bahamas as part of the war in the Caribbean.  It must be remembered that the Revolutionary War involved more than the British, French and Americans; Spain was also an ally of the Americans and opposed to the British.  The  Castillo De Los Tres Reyes Del Morro (Morro Castle), was designed and built in the 16th century, and saw action during the French and Indian War.  On August 13, 1762, following a 42 day seige, 14,000 British soldiers successfully attacked the fort and Havana.  It was returned to the Spanish after the war.

The American ship, Alliance, commanded by John Barry, sailed past Morro Castle in January 1783.  His orders were to pick up gold and transport it to Philadelphia.  He made Havana on January 31, 1783, finding another American ship, Duc de Lauzun, in Havana harbor with the same orders, and already in possession of the gold.  They left the port--sailing these waters in the image--and ended up in battle with the British off what is now Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Mills of the Revolution

There is no real agreement on the number of "battles" during the Revolutionary War.  Some, such as the First Battle of Trenton, might otherwise have counted as a small skirmish were it  not for the momentous political significance of it.  Other "smaller" skirmishes often produced higher casualties than some more well known encounters.

Here in Plainsboro, New Jersey, a small plaque set in a boulder tells us that within 500 feet was the Scudders Mill, that functioned as a grist, saw and fulling mill from 1737 until destroyed by British troops in December 1776.

The plaque also notes that the son of the original mill owner, Colonel William Scudder, fought in the war.  One source attributes the British action in destroying his mill as a personal act of vengeance in retaliation for his exploits in the war.  See Hageman, John Frelinghuysen, History of Princeton and Its Institutions (Vol. 1 1879).

The site is a reminder that the Revolutionary War in large part was a war of attrition.  The Forage Wars emphasized the bitter battle for food and supplies by both sides.  This episode, if Hageman's comment is correct, also reinforces the personal nature of this war.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Miscellaneous Reflections from Washington's Crossing March 2015

The Mid-Atlantic region was hit with another severe snowstorm this week, leaving at least a foot of snow in large parts of central New Jersey.  I wandered over to Washington's Crossing.  The Delaware River was mostly frozen over and snow-covered.

Here is the marker on the New Jersey side, looking across to Pennsylvania.  On the Pennsylvania side, here is McKonkey's Ferryhouse:

In the world today, virtually the entirety of the domestic press seems obsessed with cults of personality, as political decimation passes for political discussion.  There are no big ideas being discussed, not really.  As a president tells us the flat-out falsehood that things in the world are not that bad, we are in the midst of a 21st century holocaust in the Middle East.  Ancient archaeological sites are being destroyed.  Independent nations int he Baltics are in imminent danger of aggrandizement. We said "never again" in 1945, and yet "again" has happened in Rwanda, Cambodia, the Balkans and now across the Middle East.  Gone are the plain words of a Thomas Paine.  Instead we have the smug rallying cries of self-absorbed columnists and pundits, regardless of reason or fact.  

Here at Washington's Crossing, we are in the presence of ghosts who held big ideas.  Ghosts who quite literally put their blood into their beliefs.  As Americans today agonize over the most minute of slights and are obsessed with "political correctness," we have forgotten completely how to maintain perspective, to evaluate and reason.  We have forgotten how to be a nation and a people.  We have become siloed, lost in our own selfish pursuits.  America is now us versus us.  We have displaced a healthy individualism and diversity with reflex attack solely for the purpose of destruction, a blue team versus red team mindset, that knows no value other that victory for its own sake.  Meanwhile, the world disintegrates.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Recognizing Enoch Poor

I've commented before on the various unsung, or at least less well known, officers of the Revolution.  One was Enoch Poor, honored here by a statue in Hackensack, NJ.

Poor, a veteran of the French and Indian War, was made a Brigadier General in 1777, fought at Saratoga in the Revolution and with General John Sullivan on his campaign to subjugate Native Americans, culminating in the Battle of Newtown.  He died in 1780 from typhus; the Continental army surgeon James Thacher, noted the death in his journal as dying from "putrid fever." (Some continue to argue he was killed in an illegal duel and that was "covered up.") Washington wrote of him to Congress that ""He was an officer of distinguished merit, one who as a citizen and soldier had every claim to the esteem and regard of his country."

Monday, January 12, 2015

Israel Putnam

January 7 was the birthday of one of the Revolutionary War's generals, Israel Putnam.  Born January 7, 1718, "Old Put" lived until May 29, 1790, a goodly age for that time.  A heroic figure during French and Indian War, and Pontiac's Rebellion, he was one of the commanders at Bunker Hill.  His command at Long Island, though, in 1776 was problematic; whether fair or not, his importance in command faded but his reputation for courage did not.

In 1758, within 5 miles of Crown Point, he was tied to a tree 182 feet from the marker (according to it) and tortured.  He was a major, leading a unit of Connecticut troops, that was ambushed by a force of French and Caughnawaga Indians.  Caught in the crossfire, and reportedly with tomahawks thrown at him, he was saved by a French officer.  Below is the site as presently marked.

For more on Putnam, see this site: