Review of David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing

Fischer, David Hackett.  Washington’s Crossing. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

David Hackett Fischer has written a remarkable book on one of the more important events of the American Revolution:  the Battle of Trenton, placing that battle within the larger Revolution with great detail.  The book is part of the Pivotal Moments in American History series, edited by Fischer and James McPherson.  Fischer’s work, like others in the series examines a significant moment in American history and how that event shaped the course of the development of the nation.  Washington’s Crossing explores the importance of Trenton, as it is one of the most important days for the creation of the United States, as without this event, the Revolution would have likely collapsed.(ix)

Fischer provided an enormous amount of background, starting first with the competing forces.  He discussed the American army, including a brief biography of George Washington, noting more democratic elements within it, like the Committee of Privates in one Pennsylvania unit, as well as an overall lack of discipline.(11-2, 27)  In contrast to the American army, Fischer presented the British army as a more disciplined force.(42-45)  Finally, he explored the mercenary forces from Germany, collectively known as Hessians.

In addition to looking at the forces involved, Fischer devoted space to the background of the battle.  Subjects included the Howe brothers, who commanded the British/Hessian forces during the campaign, as well as the failures at New York.  Fischer then analyzed the desperate picture of the American Revolution, discussing Thomas Paine’s pamphlet The American Crisis and how it reflected the low point of the Revolution.  Overall, the inclusion of this background is very helpful to comprehending the importance of the Trenton Campaign to the success of the Revolution.

The detail on the campaign itself is immense, with Fischer describing the conditions of New Jersey under enemy occupation.  Further, his chapters explored key aspects and persons directly surrounding the battle, including Colonel Johann Rall, commander of the Hessian force in Trenton.  Readers will come to have a strong grasp of the battle and the Revolution thanks to Fischer’s inclusion of multiple, detailed subjects on the battle.

In addition to the rich focus, there are several other aspects of this book that make it a landmark work on the Battle of Trenton and the Revolution.  First, is the relative simplicity to the organization.  Fischer structured his chapters both chronologically and by subject.  This organization allows readers to use this book as a great research tool.  Second, is the use of maps and other images that compliment the text, which makes the book accessible to those unfamiliar with the Revolution.

The area where Fischer shines is in his historiography essay.  The essay covers the wide variety of interpretations on both the battle and larger war, focusing upon early views of both the battle and larger war from those who participated in the conflict.  Fischer illustrated how, for each side, Trenton represented different ideas, including republican virtue, criticism of British policy, as exhibited by the Howe brothers, contempt for the Hessians, and religious fervor.(425-432)  He then explored the creation and rise of a romantic school, embodied by Washington Irving, which later combined with an earlier republican school to create the Whig, later called Liberal, school.  George Bancroft characterized this school, which placed the campaign within the larger struggle of democracy and freedom against more oppressive forms of government.(433-437)  This idea of a moral struggle that Fischer alludes to (435) is rather similar to the earlier view held by some participants that viewed Trenton as a righteous victory.(425)

Fischer’s exploration of the historiography included interpretations linked to later events in American history.  He noted how historians after the Civil War studied the Revolution in light of their own participation in the conflict, which renewed their faith in republicanism and a national identity.(438-9)  One of the more interesting aspects he looked at was Marxist Howard Fast’s historical fiction on the war.  Fischer appeared to mention this subject for mere curiosity and hinted at a lack of value of Fast’s work.(445-6)  While Howard Fast may be a way to attract Marxist scholars to Fischer’s book, it seems irrelevant to the overall historiography.

Overall, Fischer’s look at historiography is quite helpful to those unfamiliar with it and wishing to learn more about the war.  He covered the many versions of writing over the years, including the clash in the late twentieth century between academic and popular history, as well as the rise of multiculturalism.  The result is a full treatment of Trenton and the war, which allows the book to be both a standard monograph and reference work.

Another great feature that sets this book apart is Fischer’s inclusion of an annotated bibliography, which lists and discusses the vast amount of primary and secondary sources.  He also provided his own interpretation of the value of various secondary sources.  This section adds to the reference qualities of the work and compliments the historiography essay well, and illustrates that Fischer’s book is based on sound scholarship.

There are so many great qualities to Washington’s Crossing that it is a must read for anyone interested on both the Trenton Campaign and the larger American Revolution.  Fischer provides the necessary background on the players involved and the conflict and created a rather balanced view of the event.   He drew upon both military and social history, discussing the commanders and strategies, as well as providing room for the inclusion of African-Americans and women in the story, which reflected the goals of the series the book belongs to of including traditional interpretations with new trends in scholarship.  His use of appendices, a historiography essay, and bibliography enhance the value of the work to general readers, students, and scholars alike.  While the book appears daunting, it is well worth the effort to examine.  With all the positives to this study, it is very clear why Washington’s Crossing won the Pulitzer Prize and was an American Library Association Notable Book.  David Hackett Fischer made a significant and wonderful contribution to the scholarship of the Revolutionary War.

BATTLE OF FALLEN TIMBERS CONFIRMS AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE-PART II

Continued from Part I

The US Constitution proved a remarkably forward-thinking document for its day, encoding individual liberties.  Many historians state that the delegates used the ancient Roman republic and Greek democracy for their examples.  While evidence of this exists, I believe they relied on their established roots with the Magna Carta and English common law.  Some erroneously claim that the Constitution limits the rights of the individual; in fact it limits the power of government.

Most of the Founding Fathers believed government little more than a “necessary evil,” and that they must control its power.  Any time that a government passes a law it restricts the liberty of the individual, no matter how just the law.  As stated previously, in the world of the Founding Fathers they witnessed the “tyranny” of “despotic monarchs” in Europe.  They wanted none of this for America and developed “federalism” for establishing the powers of federal, state and local governments.

Ironically today, most Americans seemingly want government interference in their lives, as long as they receive entitlements.  Americans of the 18th Century jealously guarded their individual liberties, while many Americans today comfortably become wards of the state.  Increasingly today the federal government usurps the power the Constitution reserved for the states and the people.  I believe the broad powers assumed by government today go well beyond the intent of the Founding Fathers.

The federal government assumed the responsibility for “providing the common defense,” however little changed for our Armed Forces.  Thus continued a congressional tradition of inadequately fielding, arming and supplying military forces for defending our country, which continues today.

While the federal government assumed responsibility for recruiting they still assigned quotas for the states.  This prevented one state from achieving too much power and enforcing its will on the others.  The fear of a “standing army” still overruled any foreign or domestic threat, and the strength of the First US Regiment remained 700.  Little changed with the previously described mismanaged administration of the Army, and soldiers still suffered.  The Department of Navy did not exist and the few naval vessels did not adequately defend our national interests.

Internationally, most of the European monarchs viewed America’s “republican ideals” as a threat, particularly in their colonial empires.  Defeating these ideals meant that they must work against the new nation at every opportunity.  Little foreign investment occurred because of this and the continuing political and economic chaos in the US.  England and Spain still encroached on American territory and instigated Indians tribes against the western settlers.  France, angry over the unreliability of America as an ally, proved as disruptive as England and Spain.

American authority expanded no further than its diminutive military power, and the westerners began looking elsewhere.  British and Spanish agents circulated in modern Kentucky and Tennessee, fomenting the secessionist sentiment among the settlers.  Both promised an end of the Indian raids and economic benefits from declaring themselves “subjects” of their respective kings.  The American settlers, seeing no relief from an impotent federal government, drifted dangerously toward seceding from the new Union.

Achieving peace on the frontier required negotiations with the various Indian tribes that lived in the region.  Unfortunately overcoming the hatred from decades of brutal warfare between the settlers and the Indians proved difficult.  Each viewed the other as “barbarians,” and neither understood the others’ cultural differences.  American negotiators deceitfully found willing “chiefs,” got them drunk and obtained their “marks” on treaties.  Equally deceitful, the Indians sold the Americans the land of tribal enemies for inciting warfare.  Under the loose tribal political structure, individual Indians did not feel themselves bound by the word of a “chief.”  Many settlers on the frontier likewise did not feel themselves bound by the treaties signed by federal government officials.

Again, the Indians did not feel themselves bound by any agreement between the Americans and British.  Something that British officials exploited for keeping the various tribes under their influence and hostile toward the Americans.  British agents dominated the trade with the tribes and provided arms and ammunition for raiding the American settlements.  The Americans lacked the military power for impressing the Indians, defending the settlers and ending the British influence.

Governor Arthur St. Clair of the new Northwest Territory (all US territory west of the Appalachian Mountains and north of the Ohio River) negotiated a treaty with the Indians in January 9, 1789.  Of doubtful legality, a council of about two hundred Indians, only four of them principal chiefs, signed over most of the present state of Ohio.  Most of the other Indians repudiated the treaty and vowed continued warfare against the “Kentucky people.”

If possible, the level and brutality of warfare increased as a confederation of Indian tribes formed under the Miami chief, Michikinakwa, Little Turtle in English.  The son of a chief, Little Turtle fought as a British ally during the American Revolution.  He earned his position as war chief by defeating an expedition under the French adventurer, Agustin de la Balme.  Little Turtle led the attack on de la Balme, killing him and thirty others, establishing his reputation as a war leader.  He then led attacks on Kentucky settlers throughout the subsequent time, enhancing his reputation among the Indian tribes.  Little Turtle wanted the Ohio River as the boundary between the Indians and the US.  He evolved as one of the most charismatic leaders of the tribes of this region, eclipsed only by Tecumseh.

The new federal government must demonstrate its power, for maintaining its survival in a harsh world.  In 1790 the Congress authorized military action by President Washington against the Miami Confederacy.  Unfortunately the campaign proved a failure for a number of reasons, mostly a lack of preparedness.

The American frontier of this period proved as difficult for military operations as any foreign operation today.  Support troops did not exist, therefore civilian contractors ran the Army’s transportation and supply systems.  Many of these contractors proved incapable of their responsibilities, incompetent and several proved corrupt.  Since they owned the animals and wagons they often balked at taking them on campaigns, fearing the loss of property.  Military officers possessed no authority for forcing the participation of the contractors or confiscating their property on these campaigns.

Congress authorized the mobilization of several hundred militiamen for augmenting the small force of regulars.  Unfortunately for economic reasons the Congress only mobilized them for a short term, which did not allow for sufficient training.  When the militia arrived, the quota did not contain the experienced “frontiersmen” of the frontier legend.  Most of them arrived as unarmed substitutes unfamiliar with both military operations and living in the forests.  Furthermore, most of them refused any form of discipline and proved ineffective during the campaign.

Supplies arrived in the standard too little, too late scenario so familiar with frontier operations.  A mediocre officer, Lieutenant Colonel Josiah Harmar, commanded the First US Regiment mostly through political influence.  He received a brevet (temporary and without increased pay) promotion as a brigadier general, making him the commander of the expedition.  From his base at Fort Washington, near Cincinnati, Ohio, Harmar developed an ambitious two-pronged attack.  Harmar planned on leading the main effort himself, striking north from Fort Washington.

The second wing proved even more difficult, launched from far away Fort Knox, near modern Vincennes, Indiana.  Troops and supplies for this effort must first descend the Ohio River and then ascend the Wabash River.  This consumed too much time and resources, hindering the effectiveness of this operation from the beginning.  Nevertheless, Major John Hamtramck marched from there with 50 regulars and about 300 Kentucky militiamen on September 30, 1790.

Harmar marched on the same day with about 320 regulars and about 1,100 militiamen from Kentucky and Pennsylvania.  This army blundered north, losing horses and equipment as it went, hardly resembling an organized military campaign.  An unknown number of deserters, mostly militia, reduced the number of combatants that actually reached the objective.

Hamtramck’s wing fared even worse, beginning the campaign on half-rations and reaching their first objective on October 10th.  Although they found only an empty village, with no live Indians, the militia threatened a mutiny.  Facing this mutiny, further reduced rations and an estimated hostile force of 750 Indians, Hamtramck turned back.

Harmar reached the main Indian camp at Kekionga, near modern Fort Wayne, Indiana on October 14th, the same day Hamtramck withdrew.  The next day Harmar divided his command into three wings and attacked the village, falling immediately into an ambush.  Almost immediately the surprised militia bolted for the rear, leaving the outnumbered regulars vulnerable and confused.

The first battle of the “United States Army” ended in defeat as a numerically inferior force ambushed them.  This ambushed force consisted of about 30 regulars and 180 militiamen, opposed by an estimated 130 Indians.  Only nine militiamen stood with the regulars, and almost all of them died, along with twenty-two regulars.  This defeat demoralized the remaining militia, many of whom threatened mutiny if Harmar continued the campaign.  It further fostered a deep resentment of the regulars for the militia, a resentment that endured for years thereafter.

Restoring some semblance of order, Harmar broke camp and continued the campaign on October 20th.  The Army destroyed five largely unoccupied Indian villages, burning huts, crops and any other possessions found.  These “easy victories” restored some of the militia’s confidence and Harmar saw hopes of success.  He hoped that this destruction of these Indian towns “would break up the Indians’ base of operations.”  However, it seemingly caused the opposite effect as the Indians laid another ambush.

On October 21st Harmar planned another complicated maneuver, again beyond the capabilities of his mostly militia troops.  Harmar learned that about 120 warriors reoccupied the ruined village of Kekionga and threatened his rear as he withdrew.  One of the militia officers, Colonel John Hardin, smarting from the poor performance of his troops, suggested this attack.  Hardin, a veteran of the Revolution and Indian warfare in Kentucky, hoped for reestablishing his reputation as an “Indian fighter.”

Unfortunately Indian scouts watched the entire movement of the 400 American troops as they advanced.  At the initiation of the ambush most of the militia fled once again, leaving the sixty regulars alone.  Almost all of them died, including their commander, Major John Wyllys, with their bodies abandoned.  One militia officer, Major John Fontaine, ordered a charge and spurred his horse into the Indians, firing his pistols.  When he turned, he found only one of his men, Private George Adams, followed him.  Adams escaped with five wounds, while no one saw the seriously wounded Fontaine again.

With his troops’ morale rapidly deteriorating, and the October weather turning colder, Harmar began his withdrawal on October 23rd.  At one point during the withdrawal Harmar used a show of force from his regulars for quelling a militia mutiny.  The dispirited command arrived at Fort Washington November 3rd and Harmar amazingly declared “victory.”

However, the facts belied that news, including scathing reports from several of Harmar’s subordinate officers.  The results of the expedition forced Harmar’s resignation from the Army, although a court of inquiry subsequently cleared him of misconduct.  Little Turtle emerged as a charismatic leader of the region’s Indian tribes and the frontier warfare increased.  The Indians became more dependent on the British for supplies, who offered them food and shelter at Detroit.

The new American government appeared weak and the American military seemed incapable of defending the nation.  Dissatisfied with their neglect by the Congress, including not receiving pay for most of 1790, veteran soldiers left when their enlistments expired.  Besides, they experienced a high casualty rate, mostly because militia units deserted them, and sought the comforts of civilian life.

With Harmar gone Washington must appoint a new commander for the Army, someone with more experience.  He commissioned Governor St. Clair a major general and gave him command of the Army.  St. Clair arrived in Philadelphia on November 8th, and seemingly courted this appointment through political influence.  He possessed vast military experience, beginning as a British officer during the Seven Years War in 1757.  St. Clair served on the Louisburg and Quebec campaigns with the 60th Regiment of Foot, the Royal Americans.  Remaining in America following this war he joined the Continental Army and ended the war as a major general.  However, his war record remains somewhat controversial marked by his abandonment of Fort Ticonderoga without a fight in 1777.

Unfortunately by the time of the current crisis St. Clair suffered from advancing age, gout and obesity.  If he possessed any drive as a younger officer, it eroded as he grew older.  However, he wanted the job when no one else seemingly wanted it, which meant something.  Washington appointed him, the Senate approved him and St. Clair accepted the command in March, 1791.

Congress, which bore much of the blame for the failed expedition, made only superficial changes.  First it doubled the size of the Army adding the Second United States Regiment in April, 1791.  However, in an economic move, Congress reduced the already low pay of soldiers and deducted clothing and rations from this amount.  Volunteers proved slow in assembling and veterans left when their enlistments expired, leaving the Army under strength.  Again, why serve in the primitive frontier conditions and suffer high casualties for low pay and poor provisions.  Besides, a shortage of labor existed in the comfortable eastern cities, and earning high wages did not possess the dangers of Indian warfare.

When the regular regiments embarked upon the next campaign both achieved only about 50% of their authorized strength.  A substantial number consisted of recent recruits, lacking in the training and discipline needed.  However, they proved the best soldiers on the campaign and stood their ground against hopeless odds.

Congress “addressed” the continuing problem with the civilian-managed Quartermaster Department, which meant that they did little.  They did fire some of the most inept and corrupt of the contractors, however the replacements proved little better.  For economic reasons Congress obtained the supplies from stocks left over from the Revolution, most of it unserviceable.  Transportation proved the biggest obstacle on the frontier meaning that food and other supplies arrived late.  The frontier settlements lacked the resources for supplying the needs of the Army, meaning that supplies came from the east.

The circumstances provided England and Spain a golden opportunity for achieving their goals against the US.  A delegation of Indians arrived at Detroit and demanded increased British aid in defeating the Americans.  Fortunately for the Americans, the Indians addressed a subordinate officer, and no one with the authority for changing policy.  This communication reached the British governor of Canada in Quebec two months later, who also lacked the authority.

Winter weather closed communications from Quebec, forcing the delay of communications with London until March, 1791.  The governor did not receive a reply until September, 1791, almost one year after Harmar’s campaign.  Fortunately both England and Spain focused their priorities on the continuing troubles from the French Revolution.  At any rate, both nations still armed and instigated their allied Indian tribes, but hesitated at providing troops.

The various Indian tribes also missed an excellent opportunity because of enduring inter-tribal rivalries.  The Miami Confederacy also included Shawnee, Delaware, Pottawatomie, Wyandot, Kickapoo, Ottawa and smaller contingents from other tribes.  However, the Iroquois Confederacy, who dominated the region for decades, remained neutral because they resented the growing power of the Miami.  South of the Ohio River the Cherokee attacked settlers in modern Kentucky and Tennessee, but few of them allied themselves with the Miami.  The Creeks, aided by the Spanish, attacked the frontiers of Georgia and South Carolina.  Their rivals, the Chickasaw and Choctaw, sided with the Americans and sent scouts for aiding the Americans.

St. Clair began organizing his expedition, mostly repeating the same mistakes of the previous campaign.  Before he departed Philadelphia he received sound advice from President Washington, “beware of surprise.”  Events demonstrate that he did not heed these words, or at least did not enforce this advice on his subordinates.  He established his headquarters at Fort Washington and awaited both troops and supplies, neither of which he currently possessed.

Congress, once again for economic reasons, augmented the Army with the mobilization of short-term militia.  Repeating the mistakes of the Harmar campaign, they did not call for them in time for proper training and discipline.  Expecting 3,000 militiamen from several states, enlistments proved unsatisfactory, with initially 2,500 recruited.  However, even these numbers proved overly optimistic and they arrived at Fort Washington in small groups throughout the summer.  Many did not make it past Pittsburgh and missed the campaign altogether, something they did not regret.

Supplies trickled in, and proved inadequate for the needs of the Army for a long expedition.  The contractor, William Duer, and his agent, Israel Ludlow, proved incompetent and more interested in making a profit.  They did not purchase adequate rations, nor did they purchase the required horses for transporting the provisions.

The small arms used by the troops arrived with most of them needing immediate repair.  Cartridge boxes and other individual equipment arrived from storage at West Point with visible mold.  Tools needed for building roads and a line of forts proved entirely too few for the needs of this expedition.  Nevertheless, Congress pressured St. Clair into launching his expedition without the necessary supplies and improper training of his force.

While he awaited both men and supplies St. Clair approved two militia raids into Indian territory north of the Ohio River.  He hoped that raiding deep into their homelands might demonstrate the vulnerability of their villages and persuade them toward peace.  One of these under Brigadier General Charles Scott, a veteran of the Revolution and competent leader, consisted of about 750 mounted Kentuckians.  It crossed the Ohio on May 19, 1791 and struck the Wea Indian villages on the Wabash River ten days later.  Fortunately for Scott, most of the warriors departed for joining the Miami, leaving mostly women and children in these villages.  After burning the villages and destroying the crops, Scott’s men delivered their prisoners into US Army custody at Fort Steuben, across the Ohio from Louisville, Kentucky.

Viewed as an American victory, this raid did force most of the Wabash Indians from the Miami Confederacy.  With their homes and provisions destroyed, most of them made peace with the Americans in early 1792.  However, most of the remaining hostile Indians viewed this raid on mostly women and children as an outrage.

A second raid, led by Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkinson, who participated in the first, departed on August 1st.  Wilkinson, briefly mentioned earlier, another veteran of the Revolution, took over 500 mounted Kentuckians again toward the Wabash villages.  A vain man, with a dark history of intrigue and deceit, Wilkinson hoped that this raid might enhance his national reputation.

Originally from Maryland, Wilkinson enlisted in the Continental Army where he met Washington, St. Clair, and more importantly Major General Horatio Gates.  Gates, a former British officer, believed himself a better commander than Washington and lobbied Congress for the position.  Wilkinson served as Gates’ aide for a time and became associated with the “Conway Cabal,” a sinister plot against Washington.  Somehow he avoided the scandal and finished the war as a brigadier general.

After the war Wilkinson became involved in the tobacco trade in Kentucky, with commerce down the Mississippi river cut off.  He made a trip downriver, bribed some Spanish officials, met some unscrupulous people and became “Agent 13″ for Spain.  Wilkinson further became involved in Kentucky politics, making many influential friends and became part of the “Spanish Conspiracy.”

His intrigue and dealings with Spanish officials also brought him some powerful enemies and he sought retribution through military accomplishments.  Again, Wilkinson struck villages of mostly women and children, and stirred up a “hornets’ nest.”  He burned the village of L’Anguille, the capital of Little Turtle’s Eel River Miami, who vowed a vengeance.

On August 7, 1791 St. Clair moved his untrained and undisciplined army of 2,300 men six miles north, bivouacking at Ludlow’s Station.  He hoped that removing the army from the “distractions” of nearby Cincinnati might improve their health and training.  It further reduced the number of deserters, many of whom signed on with passing boat crews for higher wages.

Exasperated by still inadequate troops, rations, other supplies and transportation, St. Clair left there on September 17th.  Already more than five weeks behind schedule, the army slowly cut its trail north on half-rations.  Furthermore, a growing dissension among the senior officers threatened the “good order and discipline” needed for waging a war.

About 200 “camp followers” also hindered the expedition’s progress, and also consumed the meager amount of supplies.  This group consisted of mostly soldiers’ families, laundresses and sutlers, the forerunners of today’s Post Exchange (PX) system.  It also consisted of an unknown number of “women of ill repute,” who served the soldiers’ “other needs.”  These people delayed the march and required protection, which lengthened the column and thinly spread the soldiers.

A detachment of Chickasaw joined St. Clair’s column against their hated enemies, the Miami.  Their benefit at providing reconnaissance for St. Clair, and defeating the Miami scouts might prove invaluable.  However, St. Clair did not trust them and sent them on a distant scouting mission that ultimately served no purpose.

As St. Clair’s expedition moved north, the weather turned colder and the terrain proved more difficult.  This army averaged about five miles of travel per day and the undisciplined men frequently left the column.  Stragglers and deserters often became the victims of the Indian scouts who observed the march almost from its beginning.  Building the necessary forts required an average of two weeks labor apiece, and the army built two, Forts Hamilton and Jefferson.  Performing this intensive labor and the necessary marching severely taxed the men living on half-rations.  As the officers bickered, the militia grew more mutinous and the “fighting spirit” of the army declined.

The long line of communication caused further delays as the army must frequently stop and await the arrival of supply convoys.  The pack animals suffered from a lack of forage and the civilian packers turned them loose for grazing.  Indian scouts stole them at random, which further exacerbated the transportation problem.  Subsequently the troops left behind a considerable amount of tents and other baggage, reducing their shelter from the worsening weather.

On October 31st, St. Clair made a fateful mistake that provide a series of “what if” scenarios for military historians.  About sixty militiamen deserted the camp, vowing the capture of an enroute supply convoy.  With the army severely suffering from hunger and a lack of flour, St. Clair detached his best unit, the First US Regiment, in pursuit.  The 300 regulars, under Major Hamtramck, marched away, not for capturing the deserters, but for securing the critical supply convoy.  This departure left St. Clair with about 1,500 troops and kept his best troops from the ensuing battle.

At sunset on November 3, 1791 St. Clair made camp on the Wabash River, 97 miles north of Fort Washington.  The campsite proved a poorly drained site on low, wet ground and all of it wooded.  As the troops cleared the ground for a camp a light snow fell, making the misery worse.  Camped in the heart of Indian territory, St. Clair did not take all the proper precautions for guarding against attack.  The nervous sentries fired throughout the night at supposed Indians, preventing any rest for the troops.

An advanced guard of Kentucky militia under Captain Jacob Slough ambushed six or seven Indians, killing at least one.  The men remained in place and fifteen minutes later a larger force of Indians approached looking for the hidden Americans.  Unsuccessful, they continued toward the American camp, followed shortly by a much larger war party.

Shaken by the appearance of so many Indians, Slough and his men stealthily left their positions and reentered the American camp.  Slough informed his commander, Lieutenant Colonel William Oldham, who in turn informed Brigadier General Richard Butler.  Here the advance warning provided by Slough failed because of the personality conflicts between senior officers.  Butler, the expedition’s second-in-command, did not inform St. Clair of the approach of these Indians.  He strongly disliked St. Clair and still resented the callous treatment he received from the major general.

As reveille awoke the camp, St. Clair still knew nothing of the danger facing him as hundreds of Indians surrounded him.  Butler made no attempt at informing his commander of the presence of the large number of Indians near the camp.  Oldham, who also knew of the Indians, just received a verbal reprimand for not sending out morning patrols.  Once finished with the “morning parade,” St. Clair dismissed the men for preparing their breakfast.  He planned on remaining here until the First US Regiment returned with the much needed supplies.  Besides, his command arrived too late and too tired the previous evening for constructing proper fortifications.  After breakfast the men must begin work on the  fortifications for defending against a possible attack, until the First US Regiment returned.  Private Robert Bradshaw, a Kentucky militiaman, stood near a campfire with his comrades when he saw the Indians.  He fired his rifle at them and the Indians immediately responded with a volley that killed most of Bradshaw’s comrades.

The Indians immediately launched their attack, firing from all directions on the men preparing their breakfasts.  Caught by surprise, most of the militia fired one volley then fled the battlefield, throwing away their weapons.  Indians immediately chased them down and tomahawked them killing hundreds of them.

Officers of the Second US Regiment tried forming their men into ranks, but the stampeding militiamen disrupted the formation.  They also trampled many of the regular officers, leaving these men confused and largely leaderless.  However, the regulars formed ranks and briefly stopped the Indian advance, and even counterattacked three times with bayonets.  Unfortunately they proved too few in number and the Indian gunfire decimated their ranks.  The artillery further hindered the Indian attack until the Indians killed or wounded most of the gunners.

A major “what if” develops here about the absent First US Regiment doubling the number of regulars on the field.  Supposedly the presence of the expedition’s best troops strengthens the counterattack and prevents the ensuing massacre.  While possible, I believe it just traps more American troops in the crossfire established by the Indians.

For all of his incompetence, St. Clair emerged from his tent and valiantly tried organizing his demoralized troops.  Although suffering from gout he moved among the men, losing two horses from gunfire in the process.  Unfortunately most of the soldiers proved beyond motivation by this time and many of them milled around the center of the camp.  Some even huddled inside their tents, as if that saved them from the Indians.  It did not, and the Indians took advantage of their passivity by killing them in massive numbers.  Among the casualties, the mortally wounded General Butler, whose dereliction of duty largely caused this debacle.  Colonel Oldham also fell with a mortal wound, perhaps as punishment for his negligence as well.

Fearing the annihilation of his command, St. Clair ordered a breakout attack toward the south end of his encircled camp.  This attack almost failed until the attack turned east off the road and surprised the Indians.  Most of the survivors ran through the woods with all semblance of military formation gone.  Major John Clarke eventually formed a weak rearguard of the remnants of the Second US Regiment and delayed the Indians.  The Indians gave up the pursuit after about four miles and sought easier prey among the abandoned wounded.

The Indians then returned and plundered the American camp in celebration of their victory.  Here they mutilated the dead, tortured and killed the wounded, witnessed by Stephen Littel from a hiding place.  While sources vary, most of them state that fewer than one thousand Indians conducted this surprise attack.  The charismatic Little Turtle achieved a previously unknown level of organization and discipline among this loose confederation of warriors.

In a little over three hours the Americans lost almost 600 killed, almost half of the force engaged.  Total casualties of soldiers, civilian contractors and female “camp followers” exceeded 900, with most of the wounded abandoned.  This remained the worst disaster experienced by American forces throughout the long period of Indian wars, yet remains largely unknown.  Proportionately, it remains the worst military disaster suffered by the US Army throughout its history.

The routed army moved much faster in retreat than it advanced, reaching Fort Washington on November 8th.  Panic spread along with the news of the disaster, and the demoralized soldiers recounted tales of Indian brutality.  The next day St. Clair wrote his report for Secretary of War Henry Knox, detailing the extent of the losses.  Desertion occurred at a phenomenal rate and troops eagerly sought discharges when their enlistments expired.  Many officers, disgusted with the conduct of the campaign, resigned their commissions, leaving the remaining troops mostly leaderless.

On the frontier the savagery of Indian warfare increased, with many frontier families returning east of the Appalachian Mountains.  Allegiance with either England or Spain looked more favorable for many of the western settlers given the defeat of American arms.  The self-serving James Wilkinson, now a US Army brigadier general, assumed command of the troops at Fort Washington.  He did perform a valuable service at restoring the combat readiness of the troops remaining on the frontier  Wilkinson kept the forts built by St. Clair open and built another midway between the existing two, Fort St. Clair.  He also took an expedition and hastily buried most of the dead on St. Clair’s battlefield.

In Philadelphia this disaster caused the first congressional investigation in history and required the testimony of several survivors.  The heated committee hearings proved more than incompetence by St. Clair, who demanded a court of inquiry.  Although exonerated of all charges, the scandal forced St. Clair from the Army, resigning his commission as a major general.  He once again became the governor of Northwest Territory, a position where he proved more competent.

Besides investigating St. Clair, the hearings revealed deeper problems throughout the entire War Department and the negligence of Congress regarding military matters.  Much of the focus proved the inadequacy of short-term militia enlistments and their refusal of accepting military discipline.  The Quartermaster Department received scathing reports for incompetence, corruption and the inability of meeting its obligations.

To be continued.

BATTLE OF FALLEN TIMBERS CONFIRMS AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE-PART I

Most Americans believe that the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776 began American independence.  While this date announced the formal break between the American colonists and the “mother country,” it did not guarantee independence.  Not all Americans favored independence and most historical estimates place the number of Loyalist, or Tory, Americans near one-third of the population.  Winning independence required an eight-year war that began in April, 1775 and ended with a peace treaty finalized on September 3, 1783.  Unfortunately the infant nation found itself born in a world dominated by a superpower struggle between England and France.  The more powerful European nations viewed the vulnerable United States, correctly, as weak and ripe for exploitation.  Tragically, few Americans know of this period of crisis in our nation’s history because of the irresponsible neglect of the American education system.

American independence marked the end of one chapter in American history and the beginning of another.  As with all historical events this declaration continued the endless cycle of action and reaction, because nothing occurs in a vacuum.  Tragically, most Americans’ historical perspective begins with their birth, rendering everything that previously occurred irrelevant.  Furthermore, most educators conveniently “compartmentalize” their subjects and do not place them in the proper historical context.  Since most Americans only remember the United States as a superpower they do not know of our previous struggles.  Unfortunately our agenda driven education system also ignores this period and often portrays America in the most negative light.

Without delving too deeply into the deteriorating relations between the American colonists and their “mother country,” declaring independence came slowly.  None of the thirteen colonies trusted the other colonies and rarely acted in concert, even during times of crisis.  Regional and cultural differences between New England, mid-Atlantic and the Southern colonies deeply divided the colonists.  Even in these early days of America slavery proved a dividing issue, although few believed in racial equality.  The “umbilical cord” with England provided the only unifying constant that bound them together culturally and politically.

The colonies further possessed different forms of government as well, although they steadfastly expressed their liberties and “rights as Englishmen.”  Some colonies existed as royal colonies, where the English monarch selected the governor.  Proprietary colonies formed when merchant companies or individuals, called proprietors, received a royal grant and appointed the governor.  Charter colonies received their charters much as proprietary colonies with individuals or merchants receiving royal charters and shareholders selected the governor.  Each colony elected its own legislature and local communities made their laws mostly based on English common law.  Any form of national, or “continental,” unity remained an illusion largely in the minds of the delegates of the First Continental Congress.

The Second Continental Congress convened on May 10, 1775 because England ignored the grievances submitted by the First Continental Congress.  Furthermore, open warfare erupted in Massachusetts between British troops and the colonial militia at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775.  Known today as Patriot’s Day few Americans outside of Massachusetts celebrate it, or even know of it.  Setting forth their reasons for taking up arms against England, they established the Continental Army on June 14, 1775.  For attempting a united front, they appointed George Washington, a Virginian, as commander-in-chief.  On July 10, 1775, the Congress sent Parliament one last appeal for resolving their differences, which proved futile.

While Congress determined the political future of the colonies fighting continued around Boston, beginning with the bloody battle on Breed’s Hill on June 17, 1775.  Known as the Battle of Bunker Hill in our history the British victory cost over 1,000 British and over 400 American casualties.  This battle encouraged the Americans because it proved the “colonials” capable of standing against British regulars.  British forces withdrew from Boston in March, 1776 and awaited reinforcements from England as fighting erupted in other colonies.

While Washington and the Continental Army watched the British in Boston, Congress authorized an expedition against Canada.  They hoped for significant resentment of British rule by the majority of French inhabitants, something they misjudged.  In September, 1775 the fledgling Continental Army launched an ambitious, but futile, two-pronged invasion of Canada.  Launched late in the season, particularly for Canada, it nevertheless almost succeeded, capturing Montreal and moving on Quebec.  It ended in a night attack in a snowstorm on December 31, 1775 when the commander fell dead and the second-in-command fell severely wounded.  American forces did breach the city walls, however when the attack broke down these men became prisoners of war.

For disrupting the flow of British supplies into America Congress organized the Continental Navy and Continental Marines on October 13, 1775 and November 10, 1775, respectively.  Still, no demands for independence despite the creation of national armed forces, the invasion of a “foreign country” and all the trappings of a national government.

The full title of the Declaration of Independence ends with “thirteen united States of America,” with united in lower case.  I found no evidence that the Founding Fathers did this intentionally, or whether it merely reflected the writing style of the time.  Despite everything mentioned previously regarding “continental” actions, the thirteen colonies jealously guarded their sovereignty.

Although Congress declared independence England did not acknowledge the legality of this resolution and considered the colonies “in rebellion.”  England assembled land and naval forces of over 40,000, including German mercenaries, for subduing the “insurrection.”  This timeless lesson proves the uselessness of passing resolutions with no credible threat of force backing them up.  Unfortunately our academic-dominated society today believes merely the passage of laws and international resolutions forces compliance.

We hear much in the news today about “intelligence failures” regarding the war against terrorism.  England definitely experienced an “intelligence failure” as it launched an expedition for “suppressing” this “insurrection” by a “few hotheads.”  First, they under estimated the extent of dissatisfaction among the Americans, spurred into action by such “rabble rousers” as John Adams.  They further under estimated the effectiveness of Washington and the Continental Army, particularly after the American victories at Trenton and Princeton.

British officials further under estimated the number of Loyalists with the enthusiasm for taking up arms for the British.  While Loyalist units fought well, particularly in the South and the New York frontier, they depended heavily on the support of British regulars.  Once British forces withdrew, particularly in the South, the Loyalist forces either followed them or disappeared.  A perennial lesson for military planners today, do not worry about your “footprint,” decisively defeat your enemy.  This hardens the resolve of your supporters, influences the “neutrals” in your favor and reduces the favorability of your enemies.

Regarding the “national defense” the Continental Congress and “states” did not fully cooperate against the superpower, England.  The raising of the Continental Army fell on the individual colonies almost throughout the war with the Congress establishing quotas.  Unfortunately, none of the colonies ever met their quota for Continental regiments, with the soldiers negotiating one-year enlistments.

Continental Army recruiters often met with competition from the individual colonies, who preferred fielding their militias.  The Congress offered bounties in the almost worthless “Continental Currency” and service far from home in the Continental Army.  Colonial governments offered higher bounties in local currencies, or British pounds, and part-time service near home.

Congress only possessed the authority for requesting troops and supplies from the colonial governors, who often did not comply.  For most of the war the Continental Army remained under strength, poorly supplied, poorly armed and mostly unpaid.  Volumes of history describe the harsh winters endured by the Continentals at Valley Forge and Morristown, New Jersey the following year.

Colonial governments often refused supplies for troops from other colonies, even though those troops fought inside their borders.  As inflation continued devaluing “Continental Currency” farmers and merchants preferred trading with British agents, who often paid in gold.  This created strong resentment from the soldiers who suffered the hardships of war and the civilians who profited from this trade.  In fairness, the staggering cost of financing the war severely taxed the colonial governments and local economies, forcing hard choices.

Congress further declared independence as a cry for help from England’s superpower rival, France, and other nations jealous of England.  Smarting from defeat in the Seven Years War (French and Indian War in America), and a significant reduction in its colonial empire, France burned for revenge.  France’s ally, Spain, also suffered defeat and loss of territory during this war and sought advantage in the American war.  However, France and Spain both needed American victories before they risked their troops and treasures.  With vast colonial empires of their own they hesitated at supporting a colonial rebellion in America.  As monarchies, France and Spain held no love of “republican ideals” or “liberties,” and mostly pursued independent strategies against England.  Fortunately their focus at recouping their former possessions helped diminish the number of British forces facing the Americans.

On the political front the Congress knew that the new nation needed some form of national government for its survival.  Unfortunately the Congress fell short on this issue, enacting the weak Articles of Confederation on November 15, 1777.  Delegates so feared the “tyranny” of a strong central government, as well as they feared their neighbors, that they rejected national authority.  In effect, the congressional delegates created thirteen independent nations instead of one, and our nation suffered from it.  Amending this confederation required the approval of all thirteen states, virtually paralyzing any national effort.  This form of government lasted until the adoption of the US Constitution on September 17, 1787.

Despite these weaknesses the fledgling “United States” survived and even achieved some success against British forces.  Particularly early in the war, the British forces possessed several opportunities for destroying the Continental Army and ending the rebellion.  Fortunately for us British commanders proved lethargic and complacent, believing the “colonial rabble” incapable of defeating them.  Furthermore, as the Continental Army gained experience and training it grew more professional, standing toe-to-toe against the British.  Since the US achieved superpower status it fell into the same trap, continuously underestimating less powerful enemies.

The surrender of British forces at Yorktown, Virginia on October 19, 1781 changed British policy regarding its American colonies.  British forces now controlled mainly three enclaves: New York City; Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia.  Loyalist forces, discouraged by British reverses, either retreated into these enclaves, departed America or surrendered.  Waging a global war against France and Spain further reduced the number of troops available for the American theater.  This serves another modern lesson for maintaining adequate forces for meeting not only your superpower responsibilities, but executing unforeseen contingencies.

Ironically, the victory at Yorktown almost defeated the Americans as well, since the civil authorities almost stopped military recruitment.  Washington struggled at maintaining significant forces for confronting the remaining British forces in their enclaves.  An aggressive British commander may still score a strategic advantage by striking at demobilizing American forces.  Fortunately, the British government lost heart for retaining America and announced the beginning of peace negotiations in August, 1782.

The Treaty of Paris, signed on September 3, 1783 officially ended the American Revolution; however it did not end America’s struggles.  American negotiators proved somewhat naïve in these negotiations against their more experienced European counterparts.  Of importance, the British believed American independence a short-lived situation, given the disunity among Americans.  Congress began discharging the Continental Army before the formal signing of the treaty, leaving less than one hundred on duty.

Instead of a united “allied” front, America, France and Spain virtually negotiated separate treaties with England, delighting the British.  They believed that by creating dissension among the wartime allies they furthered their position with their former colonies.  If confronted with a new war with more powerful France and Spain, America might rejoin the British Empire.

When England formally established the western boundary of the US at the Mississippi River it did not consult its Indian allies.  These tribes did not see themselves as “defeated nations,” since they often defeated the Americans.  Spanish forces captured several British posts in this territory and therefore claimed a significant part of the southeastern US.

France, who practically bankrupted itself in financing the American cause and waging its own war against England, expected an American ally.  Unfortunately, the US proved a liability and incapable of repaying France for the money loaned during the war.  France soon faced domestic problems that resulted in the French Revolution in 1789.

For several reasons England believed itself the winner of these negotiations, and in a more favorable situation, globally.  England controlled Canada, from where it closely monitored the unfolding events in the US, and sowed mischief.  It illegally occupied several military forts on American territory and incited the Indian tribes against the American frontier.  By default, England controlled all of the American territory north of the Ohio River and west of the Appalachian Mountains.

Economically, England still believed that the US needed them as its primary trading partner, whether independent or not.  A strong pro-British faction in America called for closer economic ties with the former “mother country.”  As England observed the chaos that gripped the US at this time, they felt that its collapse, and reconquest by England, only a matter of time.

Most Americans today, knowing only the economic, industrial and military power of America cannot fathom the turmoil of this time.  The weak central government and all the states accumulated a huge war debt, leaving them financially unstable.  While the US possessed rich natural resources it lacked the industrial capabilities for developing them, without foreign investment.  With no military forces, the nation lacked the ability of defending its sovereignty and its citizens.  From all appearances our infant nation seemed stillborn, or as the vulnerable prey for the more powerful Europeans.

As stated previously the Articles of Confederation actually created thirteen independent nations, with no national executive for enforcing the law.  Therefore each state ignored the resolutions from Congress and served its own self-interest.  Each state established its own rules for interstate commerce, printed its own money and even established treaties with foreign nations.  No system existed for governing the interactions between the states, who often treated each other like hostile powers.

The new nation did possess one thing in abundance, land; the vast wilderness between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River.  Conceded by the British in the Treaty of Paris, the Americans looked at this as their economic solution.  The nation owed the veterans of the Revolution a huge debt and paid them in the only currency available, land grants.  Unfortunately, someone must inform the Indians living on this land and make treaties regarding land distribution.

For the Americans this seemed simple, the Indians, as British allies, suffered defeat with the British and must pay the price.  After all, under the rules of European “civilized” warfare, defeated nations surrendered territory and life went on.  Unfortunately no one, neither American nor British, informed the Indians of these rules, because no one felt they deserved explanation.  Besides, the British hoped that by inciting Indian troubles they might recoup their former colonies.

With British arms and encouragement the tribes of the “Old Northwest” raided the western frontier with a vengeance.  From western New York down through modern Kentucky these Indians kept up their war with the Americans.  In Kentucky between 1783 and 1790 the various tribes killed an estimated 1,500 people, stole 20,000 horses and destroyed an unknown amount of property.

Our former ally, Spain, controlled all of the territory west of the Mississippi River before the American Revolution.  From here they launched expeditions that captured British posts at modern Vicksburg and Natchez, Mississippi, and the entire Gulf Coast.  However, they claimed about two-thirds of the southeastern US based on this “conquest” including land far beyond the occupation of their troops.  Like the British, they incited the Indians living in this region for keeping out American settlers.

Spain also controlled the port of New Orleans and access into the Mississippi River.  Americans living in Kentucky and other western settlements depended on the Mississippi River for their commerce.  The national government seemed unable, or unwilling, at forcing concessions from Spain, and many westerners considered seceding from the Union. Known as the “Spanish Conspiracy” this plot included many influential Americans and only disappeared after the American victory at Fallen Timbers.

While revisionist historians ignore the “Spanish Conspiracy” they illuminate land speculation by Americans in Spanish territory.  Of course they conveniently ignore the duplicity of Spanish officials in these plots, and their acceptance of American money.  In signing the Declaration of Independence the Founding Fathers pledged “their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.”  Many Continental Army officers bankrupted themselves when Congress and their states proved recalcitrant at reimbursing them for incurred expenses.  These officers often personally financed their troops and their expeditions because victory required timely action.  Of importance for the western region, George Rogers Clark used his personal credit for financing his campaigns, which secured America’s claim.  It takes no “lettered” historian for determining that without Clark’s campaign that America’s western boundary ends with the Appalachian Mountains, instead of the Mississippi River.  With the bankrupt Congress and Virginia treasuries not reimbursing him he fell into the South Carolina Yazoo Company.  Clark’s brother-in-law, Dr. James O’Fallon, negotiated this deal for 3,000,000 acres of land in modern Mississippi.  This negotiation involved the Spanish governor of Louisiana, Don Estavan Miro, a somewhat corrupt official.  When the Spanish king negated the treaty, Clark, O’Fallon and the other investors lost their money and grew hateful of Spain.

Another, lesser known, negotiation involved former Continental Army Colonel George Morgan and the Spanish ambassador, Don Diego de Gardoqui.  Morgan received title for 15,000,000 acres near modern New Madrid, Missouri for establishing a colony.  Ironically, an unscrupulous American, James Wilkinson, discussed later in the document, working in conjunction with Miro, negated this deal.

Both of these land deals involved the establishment of American colonies in Spanish territory, with Americans declaring themselves Spanish subjects.  Few Spaniards lived in the area west of the Mississippi River and saw the growing number of American settlers as a threat.  However, if these Americans, already disgusted with their government, became Spanish subjects, they now became assets.  If they cleared and farmed the land, they provided revenue that Spanish Louisiana desperately needed.  Since many of these men previously served in the Revolution, they provided a ready militia for defending their property.  This included defending it against their former country, the United States, with little authority west of the Appalachian Mountains.

Internationally, the weak US became a tragic pawn in the continuing superpower struggle between England and France.  With no naval forces for protection, American merchant mariners became victims of both nations on the high seas.  British and French warships stopped American ships bound for their enemy, confiscating cargo and conscripting sailors into their navies.  In the Mediterranean Sea, our ships became the targets of the Barbary Pirates, the ancestors of our enemies today.  Helpless, our government paid ransoms for prisoners and tribute for safe passage until the Barbary Wars of the early 19th Century.

Despite all of these problems most influential Americans still “looked inward,” and feared a strong central government more than foreign domination.  When the cries of outrage came from the western frontiers regarding Indian depredations, our leaders still more feared a “standing army.”  In the world of the Founding Fathers the tyranny of King George III’s central government created their problem.  The king further used his “standing army” for oppressing the colonists and infringing on their liberties.

Congress also possessed more recent examples of the problems with a “standing army” during the American Revolution.  First came the mutiny of the Pennsylvania Line in January, 1781 for addressing their grievances.  Since the beginning of the war, in 1775, the Continental soldiers endured almost insurmountable hardships, as explained previously.  The soldiers rarely received pay, and then received the almost worthless “Continental Currency,” which inflation further devalued.  This forced severe hardships also on the soldiers’ families, and many lost their homes and farms.  The soldiers marched on the then-capital, Philadelphia, for seeking redress for these grievances.  Forced into action, Congress addressed their problems with pay and the soldiers rejoined the Army.

A second, though less well known, mutiny occurred with the New Jersey Line shortly thereafter with different results.  For “nipping” a growing problem “in the bud,” Washington ordered courts-martial and the execution of the ring leaders.  The last such trouble occurred in the final months of the war in the Continental Army camp at Newburgh, New York.  Dissatisfied with congressional inaction on their long-overdue pay, many officers urged a march on Philadelphia.  Fortunately, Washington defused this perceived threat against civil authority, and squashed the strong possibility of a military dictatorship.

However, Congress realized that it needed some military force for defending the veterans settling on their land grants.  The delegates authorized the First United States Regiment, consisting of 700 men drawn from four state militias for a one year period.  I read countless sources describing the inadequacy of this force, highlighting congressional incompetence and non-compliance by the states.  The unit never achieved its authorized strength, the primitive conditions on the frontier hindered its effectiveness and corrupt officials mismanaged supplies.  Scattered in small garrisons throughout the western territories, it never proved a deterrent against the Indians.

No incentives existed for enlisting in this regiment, and it attracted a minority of what we call today “quality people.”  Again, confirming state dominance over the central government, this “army” came from a militia levy from four states, a draft.  A tradition at the time provided for the paying of substitutes for the men conscripted during these militia levies.  Sources reflect that most of these substitutes came from the lowest levels of society, including those escaping the law.  From whatever source these men came, at least they served and mostly did their best under difficult circumstances.

Routinely, once the soldiers assembled they must learn the skills needed for performing their duties.  For defending the western settlements the small garrisons must reach their destination via river travel.  Once at their destination they must often construct their new installations using the primitive tools and resources available.  The primitive transportation system often delayed the arrival of the soldiers’ pay and supplies, forcing hardships on the troops.  Few amenities existed at these frontier installations and the few settlements provided little entertainment for the troops.  Unfortunately, once the soldiers achieved a level of professionalism, they reached the end of their enlistment.  With few incentives for reenlistment, the process must begin again, with recruiting and training a new force.

Fortunately many prominent Americans saw that the country needed a different form of government for ensuring its survival.  Despite the best intentions and established rules, few people followed these rules or respected our intentions.  The Constitutional Convention convened in Philadelphia in May, 1787 with George Washington unanimously elected as its president.  As the delegates began the process of forming a “more perfect Union,” the old, traditional “colonial” rivalries influenced the process.

While most Americans possess at least ancillary knowledge of the heated debates among the delegates, few know the conditions.  Meeting throughout the hot summer, the delegates kept the windows of their meeting hall closed, preventing the “leaking” of information.  We must remember that this occurred before electric-powered ventilation systems or air conditioning.  They kept out the “media,” and none of the delegates spoke with “journalists,” again for maintaining secrecy.  Modern Americans, often obsessed with media access, do not understand why the delegates kept their deliberations secret.

Most of the delegates felt they possessed one chance for creating this new government and achieving the best possible needed their focus.  “Media access” jeopardized this focus and “leaked” information, with potential interruptions, jeopardized their chance for success.  We find this incomprehensible today, with politicians running toward television cameras, “leaking” information and disclosing national secrets.  Unfortunately a “journalistic elite” exists today, misusing the First Amendment, with many “media moguls” believing themselves the “kingmakers” of favorite politicians.

The delegates sought the best document for satisfying the needs of the most people, making “special interest groups” secondary.  Creating a united nation proved more important than prioritizing regional and state desires.  These delegates debated, and compromised, on various issues; many of which remain important today.  They worried over the threat of dominance by large, well-populated states over smaller, less-populated states.  Other issues concerned taxation, the issue that sparked the American Revolution, and import duties, which pitted manufacturing states against agricultural states.  Disposition of the mostly unsettled western land, claimed by many states, proved a substantial problem for the delegates.  The issue of slavery almost ended the convention and the delegates compromised, achieving the best agreement possible at the time.  On September 17, 1787 the delegates adopted the US Constitution and submitted it for approval by the individual states.

Again, merely passing laws and adopting resolutions does not immediately solve the problems, or change people’s attitudes.  Ratification of the Constitution required the approval of nine states, (three-fourths) which occurred on June 21, 1788.  However, two important large states, New York and Virginia, still debated ratification.  Several signers of the Declaration of Independence, and delegates at the Constitutional Convention, urged the defeat of the Constitution.  Fiery orator, Patrick Henry, of “Give me liberty, or give me death,” fame worked hard for defeating it in Virginia.  Even the most optimistic supporters gave the Constitution, and the nation, only a marginal chance at survival.

Continue to Part II

The Politically Correct Revolutionary War

I take children’s television programs dealing with historical events very seriously because not only are kids our future, but if they are given a bad education on history, I will end up attempting to fix the mistakes when they arrive at college (shudders). This leads me to examine a series, originally put out by PBS called Liberty’s Kids. The goal of the program is to educate kids age 7-12 about the American Revolution (God forbid that kids are encouraged to read books on the subject). This is certainly a noble effort, but the show falls short, choosing to present a politically correct story of our war for independence that ignores many historical facts. While you may be wondering why I would follow a kid’s show, I must state that I take such things seriously and want to make sure that history is presented correctly to kids, especially in today’s society where kids are not as likely to pick up books and seek out historical truth.

The main characters of the show report the events of the Revolutionary period while working for Dr. Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette. While it is true that Franklin printed such a paper, a Google search is inconclusive for the time of the Revolution. However, two details of Franklin’s life support the idea that he was not publishing the paper during the Revolutionary period. First, he was serving in an ambassadorial role to England on several occasions from the mid 1750s until 1775, which meant being in London for years at a time, which would have prevented him from publishing the paper. Likewise, his service in France during much of the Revolution would have also prevented him from publishing the paper. While I certainly understand that the cartoon is somewhat fictitious, I also do not want children to get the wrong ideas about Benjamin Franklin and the Revolution. In addition to the child reporters of Dr. Franklin, is another character named Moses, a former slave who taught himself to read and purchased his freedom, who now works for Franklin. This is even more unlikely given the nature of society at the time with regard to slavery and the status of blacks in society.

The major problem I have with this show is the over emphasis on minority characters and the glossing over of the negative aspects of these characters for the sake of political correctness. For instance, African Americans are frequently highlighted in areas where they would have had little presence at the time, particularly in the Continental Army (less than ten percent of all Continental soldiers were black, but you would get the impression from the show that it was much higher). American Indians were also shown in favorable light, with characters such as the Shawnee Cornstalk used to give the impression that American Indians were at peace and harmony until the white man arrived, which contradicts mounds of evidence to the contrary.

In addition, several key battles are overlooked. For instance, George Rogers Clark’s expedition to liberate the Illinois Country was not covered by the series. Instead, the series focuses on two of the main characters traveling down the Mississippi River to meet Governor Galvez with a Continental officer. The series does not examine Quebec, which was an important early battle in the war, specifically because of the amazing journey through the Maine wilderness by Benedict Arnold and his men. Only one episode covers the entire Southern theater of battle, which has the important events of Camden, Gulliford Courthouse, and Cowpens. While I understand that covering everything in the war would be too much for young children, consider this, the series was made up of 40 episodes at roughly 30 minutes each, which is 20 hours of total time. In contrast, the groundbreaking series by A&E The American Revolution covers the entire war very well, including the events overlooked by Liberty’s Kids, in a little over eight hours (I watched The American Revolution when I was ten, which is the target age area for the PBS show).

To be fair, there are some aspects of the show that I like. The show does a wonderful job of portraying George Washington to be a wonderful man of character, which is somewhat lacking in today’s historical discourse. The portrayal of Benedict Arnold is quite good, and the battle sequence, though a little quirky, is done very well, so not to scare young kids, but give them a decent concept of the nature of the battles during the war. In addition, the show illustrates the trials of the Continental army at Valley Forge, their training by Baron von Steuben, and the attempts to seize power from Washington by other officers. The political and international relations aspects of the show are also very well done.

In closing, PBS’s attempt to present a politically correct American Revolution to kids fails this historian’s litmus test for the most part. While it is important to tell the stories of minority participants in history, the over emphasis of minority characters, as well as the neglect of several events in the Revolutionary War only serve to give kids a misguided idea about this critical time in our history. There are some good qualities to the show, but they are overshadowed by the problems noted. I encourage parents to watch the show, if available, and talk with your children and make sure they have access to books on the Revolution and the major players, so that they can gain a better education about this time in our nation’s past than through the tube. Kids, do not let your knowledge of American history be only what you watch on television, get out and read, as you will discover many wonderful things that TV will not provide.

Review of The First Way of War by John Grenier

I wrote the following review for On Point: The Journal of Army History and it will appear in an upcoming issue.

The First Way of War: American War Making on the Frontier, 1607-1814. By John Grenier. Cambridge University Press, 2005. i-xiv, 232 Pp. Figures. Maps. Index. ISBN 0-521-84566-1. $30.00

Through gripping accounts taken from primary sources to maps of the regions in question, Air Force officer and Air Force Academy history Professor John Grenier argues and illustrates how America developed its unique military heritage and style of war making based upon irregular warfare. Specifically, Grenier examines the killing of non-combatants and destruction of crops and homes during the wars in the colonies as well as the American Revolution, the Indian wars of the early republic, and the War of 1812.

In his introduction, Grenier discusses the history and historiography of military and specifically American military history, including the development of America’’s unique way of making war. He lists off several historians and works from the past that discuss this topic, which provide the reader with a good background on the subject presented in this work.

Grenier presents the history of American rangers through much of the work and he keeps the story in chronological order beginning with the wars in the colonies from 1607-1689, which occurred between colonists and Indian tribes. He brings to light how ranger companies were generational with sons often leading units that their fathers once led. He then moves into the wars on the continent between France and England in the eighteenth century as well as the lesser-known wars, noting the role that rangers and the tactics they used played in the conflicts in the mid-eighteenth century prior to the French and Indian War (1754-1763).

Grenier then breaks the flow of the work with a chapter dealing with the history of petite guerre in Europe. This story is important for understanding this work, but would better serve the work if it was the first chapter as in the current placement as the third chapter, it breaks the flow in a way that hurts the story that the author is presenting. This is not to say that the chapter does not belong as it does, but rather that it belongs in a different place within the larger work.

Grenier then examines America’’s way of war making in the French and Indian War. He notes that Britain realizes the need for American rangers, especially after Braddock’’s defeat, but that they are slow to realize this. Shortly after Braddock’’s defeat, various units of American rangers are formed in response, including one unit formed by Robert Rogers (the famous Roger’’s Rangers). He also notes how the British after initially relying on the rangers attempt to replace them, but fail. Finally, he concludes the chapter by examining how the British adapt the American way of war.

Grenier also examines the Revolutionary War period, primarily focusing on the war on the frontier, which includes stories about George Rogers Clark as well as the Northeast frontier. Grenier then examines the 1790s, which present great defeats and triumphs on the frontier from St. Clair’’s defeat to the Battle of Fallen Timbers. The story then carries into the early 1800s, focusing on events like the Indian war in the Northwest against Tecumseh and the Creek War to the south, finally ending in 1815.

Overall, Grenier’’s scholarship is quite good with many primary sources drawn together for this work, including the papers of Sir William Johnson, as well as many government documents. He also provides a good selection of maps and illustrations to aid the reader in understanding. His style is formal, but not beyond the general reading audience, which gives it a wider audience as both historians and general readers can understand the book. Though he is an Air Force officer, Grenier proves that he knows the subject well. His work adds greatly to the scholarship of both American history and US Army history. Both historians interested in the topic and general audiences will benefit from reading The First Way of War.

Review of The First American Army By Bruce Chadwick

1st-am-army.gifI wrote this review, which appeared in the Fall 2006 issue of On Point: The Journal of Army History.

The First American Army: The Untold Story of George Washington and the Men Behind America’s First Fight for Freedom. By Bruce Chadwick. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, Inc., 2005. ISBN: 1-4022-0506-6. Illustrations. Bibliography. Notes. Index. Pp. 399. $24.95.

Bruce Chadwick, former journalist now lecturer in History at Rutgers and writing teacher at New Jersey City University, attempts to tell the story of the ordinary soldier in the Continental Army. Utilizing the diaries of seven central figures, including one doctor, a poet, and one chaplain, Chadwick intertwines these soldiers’ stories with small quotations from numerous other sources to bring to life a story that should have been told years ago.

The reader experiences Bunker Hill, Saratoga, Trenton, and Yorktown, as well as the disastrous Quebec campaign through the eyes of men who fought there. Readers are witness to the ravages of smallpox in the camps and posts following the Quebec campaign, and the harrowing winter at Valley Forge. The struggle to maintain the fight through mutinies and desertions is a constant in the book, which enhances the image of the Continental Army and further reveals just how desperate the war was and how stubborn the Americans could be in their fight for the cause. The reader also learns the little known story of an all-black regiment and the story of the participation of blacks in the conflict in which they face opposition based on race and the fear of a slave revolt, but gain the opportunity to serve because of manpower shortages.

Chadwick shows the personal sides of the soldiers, both good and bad. The reader observes one soldier who goes to great lengths to obtain leaves to see his beloved wife, while another leads a secret life of adultery. We see chaplains pushed to their breaking points attempting to minister to the sick and dying, only to come back and deliver powerful sermons that lift the spirits of the army. The reader experiences the dedication of the men as doctors continue to work until near death, while other common soldiers will reenlist even after facing repeated serious illness.

In many ways, Chadwick’s work is long overdue, but it has weaknesses. One of the major areas is scholarship. Numerous worthwhile sources, especially primary documentation, are used, but Chadwick does not give adequate endnote citations, which leaves the reader no real clear structure to check the work’s accuracy. In fact, Chadwick begins his bibliography with the following:

All of the quotes from . . . the central figures in the book, were from their diaries. To cite each of the hundreds of quotes from the same sources would be futile, so the single sources for each man’s quotes are listed below. The citations from the more than one hundred other people in the work are listed separately.(371)

The main issue with this quotation is that there are very few endnotes given the amount of material quoted and covered, which prevents the reader from knowing exactly in which source and where the author used material. Instances of reading over two full pages before encountering the next citation in sequence were common. While the validity of the sources is not in question, the lack of endnotes prevents the reader from fully appreciating the work and may raise questions about this works validity.

The other problem area in this work deals with the chapter devoted to women of the revolution. Instead of mentioning the story of Molly Pitcher or the few women who dared to impersonate men to serve in the Army, Chadwick uses this chapter to talk about prostitution and the sexual escapades of the men involved with them. This may turn off many readers who were expecting to learn about women serving in the Army or aiding in other ways.

Overall, Chadwick presents a compelling story, which will excite readers. His background in journalism is present as the story is well written. However, the endnote issue detracts from the work’s value to historians attempting to do research into this time. If these issues are corrected in a second edition, Chadwick’s story will be more worthwhile and useful for a wider audience.