While a little outside the chronological range covered by this blog, I thought I would share exciting news about a new book that seeks to alter our impression of antebellum slavery through the lens of the War of 1812.
Gene Allen Smith, historian at Texas Christian University, has written an interesting examination of how slaves viewed and used the conflict for their own opportunities. He showed that the war saw all sides using African Americans to aid their causes, while blacks saw the war as their chance to assert themselves, whether for seeking equality, in the case of free blacks, or freedom for slaves. Further, the war was a turning point in American race relations, as Smith noted that slavery was in a tenuous situation on war’s eve.
He noted that the war drastically altered this path of decline and that it further halted any potential progress towards freedom or equality, as blacks who joined British forces, seeking to better their lot in life, returned with invading forces, leading enemy troops into American communities. The consequence of this was a greater distrust among whites of arming slaves and enrolling blacks in militia units to augment white manpower, which continued into the Civil War, where African Americans served in segregated regiments with white officers. One of the other major problems resulting from the war was the expansion of available land for plantation agriculture, and plantation-based slavery.(3-4)
Smith begins his study by examining the story of black participation in North American wars. What is great about this chapter is the examination of the cross-cultural interactions, echoing Richard White’s remarkable work The Middle Ground. He concluded that the contributions of blacks to military conflicts during the colonial and revolutionary periods redefined the relationships between blacks and whites in North America.(31)
As he examined the role of blacks during the War of 1812, he weaved in the stories of black participants across the various theaters, providing a new and exciting understanding of the war that is as important to the larger field of study on the war as Donald Hickey. Smith concluded that blacks found became aware that their contributions to the war were minimized in post-war America. Further, white Americans began to react fearfully to black insurrection possibilities and worked to prevent the arming of blacks. Also, northern states began enacting laws outlawing blacks residing in them. Slavery became more entrenched in the South, as new areas were available for cotton production. Thus the war served as the last opportunity for blacks to attempt to fight for their place in society until the Civil War.(210-214)
The book is well researched, relying on sources from such scholars as Richard White, Gary Nash, Ian Steele, Stagg, and Don Hickey. In addition to strong secondary sources, Smith utilized several great primary sources that considered black participation, as well as interactions with Native Americans.
A good monograph that examines the difficult situation faced by blacks as they attempted to choose a side in the War of 1812 to further their position, Smith’s The Slaves’ Gamble is a great book for scholars interested in African American history, military history, the War of 1812, and is a good book for those interested in the Civil War, as it illustrates quite well how the forces that led to that great struggle came into being by America’s “second war for independence”.
Originally posted on International History:
Richard Middleton. The War of American Independence, 1775-1783. Modern Wars in Perspective series. Harlow, England: Pearson Education, 2012. ISBN 978-0-582-22942-6. Maps. Notes. Appendix. Bibliography. Pp. xvi, 351. $44.00 (paperback).
Dr Richard Middleton provides a superb up-to-date synthesis of published primary works and modern historical studies focusing on the political, military, naval, and diplomatic aspects of the American War of Independence (1775-1783). Middleton is an independent scholar and a former Reader in American History at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He is the author of The Bells of Victory: The Pitt-Newcastle Ministry and the Conduct of the Seven Years War, 1757-1762 (1985), Colonial America, A History, 1565-1776 (Third edition, 2002), and Pontiac’s War: Its Causes, Course and Consequences (2007).
Middleton depicts the origins, course, and outcome of the War of American Independence. The author focuses on the leadership of the Britain, the Patriots and Loyalists, France, and Spain. He emphasizes British strategy (when it existed) over tactics in his narrative. The study covers military operations from Lexington and Concord (1775) to the battle and British surrender at Yorktown (1781). Middleton is outstanding in bringing in the naval dimensions of the conflict. Moreover, the work is valuable for his discussion of the international aspect concerning the Franco-American alliance (1778) and Franco-Spanish operations against British interests. Britain had to contend with a possible Franco-Spanish invasion of the British Isles, the siege of Gibraltar, and threats to the British West Indies. The lack of an ally, the opposition of the League of Armed Neutrality, and the outbreak of the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War (1780-1784) contributed to British difficulties. British military, naval, and financial resources were stretched thin. In fact, financial difficulties endured by Britain, the Patriots, France, and Spain encouraged an end to the conflict. Middleton continues his narrative after the surrender at Yorktown to discuss operations in the Caribbean and Gibraltar leading up to the Treaties of Paris and Versailles (1783), ending with the British recognition of American independence and an end to the British conflict with France and Spain. In his conclusion, the author stresses the importance of France in the outcome of the War of American Independence. He writes: “After six campaigns, Britain and the United States were like two exhausted boxers. Neither was able to inflict a decisive blow on the other . . . . It required a third combatant, France, to end the stalemate, a fact too often neglected by American writers . . . .” (p.321). Middleton stresses that France and Spain set the war’s agenda after 1778 forcing Britain to respond to the actions of the Bourbon powers.
On Monday, September 13 at 9PM Central Time (check local listings), PBS will air a documentary on one of the more unique and important figures from the Revolutionary War, the Marquis de Lafayette. Lafayette was a French noble, who came to fight for the American cause at only 19. Lafayette: The Lost Hero presents the intimate story of the man who served as major-general in the Continental Army, and was a close friend of George Washington.
The story of Lafayette involves struggle and troubles, as while he is from a noble family, he strives to prove himself in French aristocratic society. He marries Adrienne, daughter of French aristocrats in 1775. In his youth, he became enamored with the idea of liberty and found sympathy with the American cause, which motivated him to travel to America, leaving a pregnant Adrienne in France.
The Revolution is but one part of the whole story. Lafayette’s life after the Revolution is covered very well, including his role in the French Revolution, imprisonment in France and Austria, and return to America to a hero’s welcome in 1824-5. The interesting aspects of this film are the love between him and Adrienne, as well as how both France and the United States have seemed to forget Lafayette (an example given was a statue of him donated by American schoolchildren being moved from the center of Paris to an obscure park). Through wonderful use of living history demonstrations, interviews with scholars and descendants of the Marquis, and wonderful use of images and animations, Lafayette: The Lost Hero is a documentary that you should record and watch.
Here’s a trailer:
This film is the first in a planned series under the title of America: Her People, Her Stories, which is produced by Tony Malanowski, who seeks to creat positive, family friendly productions that present a more positive outlook on American history. The film features a docudrama and a section providing the historical context, presented through interviews with historians. Having had a couple of weeks to reflect on the production since viewing it, I have found both positives and negatives within it.
First, as a historian, I want to commend Mr. Malanowski for his idea, as presenting history in an interesting light for children is always good. Despite covering a violent subject, like war, he presents the battle in a way that younger children can learn without being frightened. In addition, despite limitations he was able to pull off an over two-hour production rather well.
The film consisted of two main parts, a docudrama and a historical perspective. The docudrama part consisted of a movie reenactment of the battle, focusing on two fathers and sons, living in the area. The historical perspective placed the battle and the Revolutionary War within the larger context of early American history, incorporating interviews with three, as the film puts it, “historical experts.” Gregory J. W. Urwin is a scholar of both the Revolution and Civil War at Temple University who has written many works. Richard Patterson is the director of the Old Barracks Museum in Trenton, NJ, while William Chemerka has written several books on Texas history and has appeared on History Channel documentaries. My only problem is that Urwin is the only scholar working in the field covered by the film. Patterson is a good choice given his public history work at Trenton, but Chemerka seems out-of-place, as I could find no information related to any work he did on the Revolution. Though this is merely a difference of historical outlook, I had to mention it.
That said, the docudrama was an interesting work. The battle scenes were well done, given the budgetary issues. It was portrayed well for an audience geared towards younger children and makes the colonial militia out to be heroic, which is good. My only observation was that the acting seemed a little over done at the beginning. The sons portrayed in the film present an interesting issue, as they seem to be fourteen or so. Their presence at the battle is a conundrum, as if old enough to come and help, they likely would have been allowed to stay and fight, as they would have known how to use a musket. Further, what about leaving the son home to tend the farm? Again, this is my observation and reflects training and a slightly different outlook.
The historical perspective was rather good and placed the battle in context, which is very important. Despite my concern over the experts chosen, they did well. In addition to the two main parts, a few extra features were added, including Reagan’s farewell address, which I enjoyed immensely.
Now, the only real artistic difference I would note is that I would have chosen a battle involving George Washington, likely Trenton, as while Bunker Hill was a significant engagement, the struggle of the army under Washington, especially at Trenton would have better achieved the goals of Mr. Malanowski.
Overall, the docudrama is a good program for families with young children to engage them in history. However, as I always state with any film, be sure to supplement the viewing with proper books and documents, as reading is always good. Get children reading the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and other primary documents. I look forward to seeing more from this project.
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.
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.
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.
Now that I have had time to digest it and watch it again with friends, I am now prepared to review the recent HBO series John Adams for this site. The series link to the Revolutionary War and early National period are quite appropriate for this site. I was thoroughly impressed with this program, though did notice areas of artistic license and a couple areas of inaccuracy.
The series begins in Boston in 1770 and presents Adams coming upon the Boston Massacre, which likely did not happen, but was a way for the series to link the event to Adams’ defense of the British soldiers. The bulk of the first episode revolves around the trial of the soldiers, the Boston Tea Party, Intolerable Acts, and Adams’ election to the Continental Congress. There are a couple of disturbing scenes, first, the aftermath of the Massacre, and the second showing a man being tarred and feathered. In addition, the members of the Adams family, particularly Abigail, are introduced.
The second episode deals with the beginning of the Revolution and the debate over independence and introduces George Washington and Ben Franklin into the series. The portrayal of Franklin was quite good, but I personally found the portrayal of Washington a bit troubling. In the series, Washington is portrayed as rather soft-spoken, which may recall his humble personality, however, given his temper, particularly when he dismissed Lee at Monmouth, I argue that the actor portraying Washington could have been humble, but spoke louder. The appearance of Washington is also a bit inaccurate in the early episodes, as he appears as a much older man, when he was only in his 40s. The appearance is likened to the portrait on the dollar bill.
The third episode finds Adams and his son John Quincy journeying to France to assist Franklin in securing aid. This episode portrayed the French as a bunch of prissy people, with men and women wearing lots of makeup and the men acting rather feminine. This portrayal of the French was quite amusing, as was the clear discomfort displayed by Adams towards the rather liberal culture of France displayed. Adams is then dispatched to the Netherlands to appeal for financial assistance for America and is initially unsuccessful. At the same time, he sends John Quincy (who was fourteen at the time) to Russia as a diplomatic aid. He contracts illness and is shown near death.
The fourth episode finds John and Abigail reuniting in France to negotiate the Treaty of Paris. This episode begins to illustrate the eventual split between Adams and Thomas Jefferson. The Adams are dispatched to England, where Adams meets with King George III. The Adams are unhappy in England and John requests recall. The recall is granted and they return to America, with John finding his children much older and Charles heading down a path to destruction. Adams is elected Vice President and we see a great scene of the inauguration of Washington.
The fifth episode finds Adams serving as VP and President of the Senate. His personality causes the Senate to change the rules barring him from speaking when he attempts to create an elaborate title for Washington, which annoys the Senators. Adams experiences conflicts with Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, as well as being excluded from Washington’s Cabinet meetings. Much of the episode revolves around the ratification of Jay’s Treaty. The episode ends with Adams being elected President.
Episode six focuses on Adams’ presidency, particularly the XYZ Affair and Quasi-war with France. The split between Adams, Jefferson, and Hamilton becomes complete. The episode also shows John and Abigail entering the White House. Adams’ son Charles plays a prominent role in the episode, as Adams confronts his son’s alcoholism and disowns him. Charles dies in 1800 and Adams will not forgive his lost son. Adams is defeated by Jefferson and retires to private life.
The last episode of the series finds Adams living at his farm Peacefield in the last years of his life. This episode contains the most inaccuracies of any episodes. In addition, the passage of time in this episode is the greatest, with twenty-five years passing through the hour-long episode. The episode revolves around the deaths of his daughter Nabby in 1813 and Abigail in 1818, as well as his aging and rekindling his friendship with Jefferson. The inaccuracies include when Adams and Jefferson reignited their friendship, which was in 1812, but portrayed in the series as after Abigail’s death in 1818. This inaccuracy contains another within it, as Dr. Benjamin Rush encouraged Adams to write Jefferson, but in 1812 (he died in 1813) In addition, a scene involving Adams criticizing Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence signing painting is inaccurate, as Adams only mentioned the door that Washington bolted out of when he was nominated to be commander of the Continental Army. The election of John Quincy to the Presidency is portrayed nicely. The end of the episode features a touching segment dealing with the deaths of Adams and Jefferson and is very well done.
Overall, the series is quite good, despite some inaccuracies. John Adams and most of the other persons portrayed are done well. John Adams is the Band of Brothers of the American Revolution and I hope that the series will ignite renewed interest in the American Revolution and early National periods in our history. I encourage everyone, except kids (there is adult content) to watch the series or order it on DVD, as it is reasonably priced. Great job HBO on another great historical series.
I would like to announce that I will be reviewing the HBO series John Adams for this site in the near future. The show airs at 8PM ET/7PM CT on HBO and just aired part four of seven parts. Once I have watched all seven episodes, I will provide a more thorough appraisal of the show. What I have seen thus far is interesting, with some accuracy issues and a bit of directorial license in terms of John Adam’s involvement in certain events, but I will elaborate on that once the entire series has shown.