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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Shifting Alliances

The American Civil War is often portrayed as "brother against brother." The West Point class of 1846 yielded classmates Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, Lieutenant General in the Confederate Army, and General George B. McClellan, Commanding General of the Union Army from 1861-62.  Similarly, during the French and Indian War, comrades and arms would face each other as enemies barely twenty years later.

Here is Braddock's Grave on Braddock's Road, not far from Fort Necessity.  British General Edward Braddock was mortally wounded at the Battle of the Monongahela about ten miles east of modern day Pittsburgh, in what is now known as Braddock, Pennsylvania.  The battle occurred on July 9, 1755.  Among the participants and members of Braddock's force were militia Colonel George Washington, Captain Horatio Gates, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gage, Captain Charles Lee and Captain William Mercer.  Washington, Gates, Lee and Mercer fought on the American side, and of course Gage on the British, during the Revolution.

As this is written, both Democrats and Republicans continue to engage in their respective civil wars, with former allies bitterly at odds.  It is always intriguing, in a watch the road accident sense, to contemplate betrayals.  People quite literally give their lives to others, and then become discarded when no longer needed or seen as liabilities.  

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Where It All Began

The American historian Francis Parkman wrote in 1897 of Jumonville that, "[j]udge it as we may, this obscure skirmish began the war that set the world on fire." The incident led to the French and Indian war in North America, and the Seven Years War as it was known in Europe, which in turn set the stage for the Revolutionary War as much as World War in set the stage for World War II.  Here is the scene:

George Washington had been sent to the region by Virginia's Royal Governor, Robert Dinwiddie, to advise French military personnel to leave.  After an initial such overture failed, Washington, now a Lieutenant Colonel in the militia, returned and allied with Indian chiefs Tanacharison and Monacatootha, and about 10 warriors.  Washington was accompanied by Captain Adam Sephen; between them, they had about 40 British soldiers.  They surprised Ensign Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville and his 31 soldiers camping here after prior negotiations failed.  The French were slaughtered, and Tanacharison bashed in the wounded Jumonville's skull.  The event set in motion the ensuing French and Indian War.

It is a remarkable place to stand and absorb what happened here, in this still preserved wildnerness niche.  Stephen and his men came over the ledge of rock, while Washington came from the left, and the Native Americans from the right, cutting off the French attempt at escape.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Boot

At Saratoga, at Breymann's Redoubt, Major General Benedict Arnold, holding no orders and otherwise laid aside by the commanding General Horatio Gates, facilitated the assault on this post, with Colonel Daniel Morgan and Major Henry Dearborn attacking head-on.  Arnold is generally credited for the assault on this redoubt (and suffering a shot to the leg) and turning the tide at this second battle at Saratoga, the Battle of Bemis Heights on October 7, 2016.  It was a victory that was obtained in violation of the commanding general's orders.  A plaque at the site consists solely of a boot.

His name is not mentioned on the monument,  National Park Service signage does note the "Arnold Monument." On the back, the soldier who put up the monument, had this inscribed:

 "Erected 1887 By
Brev: Maj: Gen: S.N.Y.
2nd V. Pres't Saratoga Mon't Ass't'n:
In memory of
the "most brilliant soldier" of the
Continental Army
who was desperately wounded
on this spot the sally port of
7th October, 1777
winning for his countrymen
the decisive battle of the
American Revolution
and for himself the rank of

Major General."

As I looked at it, a father was explaining to his daughter what it meant.  She said that Arnold was a traitor.  Her father said that Arnold had done great things for the Revolution, and noted the victory here.  He referred to Arnold as "a maverick" and said sometimes you need that.

I don't defend Arnold's attempted sell-out of West Point or his later treachery and ferocious assaults in aid of the British in the latter part of the war, particularly in his home state of Connecticut, but it was interesting to hear this discussion in such a setting.

Monday, July 4, 2016

The First "Brexit"

This July 4, 2016 weekend had particular resonance, as it followed by a week or two the monumental vote by the citizens of the United Kingdom to withdraw from the European Union.  I visited both Fort Ticonderoga and Saratoga, two well-preserved and important places for the first Brexit, the withdrawal of the American colonies from the United Kingdom.  Here is a scene from the reenactment activity at Fort Ticonderoga:

I thought of this connection, I must say, before I saw various columnists also drawing the analogy.  The American colonies were not in the same legal posture to the United Kingdom as the United Kingdom was to the EU, but nonetheless, there was a strong economic and sovereignty-related set of arguments.  A better analogy might be if Scotland withdraws from the United Kingdom.  It seems unlikely that the United Kingdom would send an army to retain Scotland, and indeed, the fact that a Scottish exit from the U.K. and return to the E.U. as an independent nation is being discussed as if it is within the realm of possibility.

The Brexit concept is broader and more profound than just this vote.  It is reflective of a different time and mindset in history.  Nations come and go and come again; witness Poland, which literally vanished for a bit as an independent nation. 

Of equal import are the discussions of so-called "Texit," with Texas withdrawing from the United States.  In 1861, an American president sent troops on a four-year campaign to prevent secession.  Would such happen today? Granted, the EU charter provides for such an eventuality within the EU; the American Constitution does not address secession.  However, There is hundred year old Supreme Court authority ruling that a state may not secede from the United States (see Texas v. White, 74 U.S. 700 (1869)).

The King and Parliament no doubt thought the law precluded American independence.  The Declaration of Independence was at odds with that and, if read literally and in its essence, would also be at odds with those who find permanence to political boundaries drawn long ago.