Trenton, Saratoga, Valley Forge, Rockingham, Chatham, American Problem, Carlisle Commission, Professional American Army and World War

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 5th, 2012

Politics 101

General Gates gave the British Lenient Terms of Surrender at Saratoga allowing a Defeated British Army to be Replaced by Another

When the Americans began fighting for their independence the British said, “Really?  You’re going to fight us?  The greatest military power in the world?  Yeah, right.  Forgive us if we don’t tremble in our boots.”  Then came Lexington and Concorde.  Bunker Hill.  Then the Siege of Boston.  Not exactly an auspicious start for the greatest military power in the world.  But a little premature for the Americans to be feeling big in the britches department.  For the British had a cure for britches that ware too big.  It’s something they called the greatest military power in the world.  Which General Sir William Howe unleashed on the Americans on Long Island.  And he didn’t stop pushing the Americans back until he took winter quarters in New Jersey.  General Howe took those big American britches and shrunk them down in good order.  Very disheartening times for the Patriots.  Times that Thomas Paine wrote “try men’s souls.”

The British were feeling confident.  Even their hired mercenaries.  The Hessians.  Who where in Trenton.  Across the Delaware from Washington’s army that was “almost naked, dying of cold, without blankets, and very ill supplied with provisions.”  Ill conceived words from the Hessian commander.  Considering that naked, starving army surprised the bejesus out of them.  Giving the Americans a much needed win in the field against the British.  Or their Hessian allies.  Giving the Patriots fresh hope.  After they had just lost pretty much all of it.  And when they emerged from winter quarters they came out fighting.  Came close to a couple of victories.  But unable to pull out a victory.  Losing more land in the process.  Including Philadelphia.  And when the army took winter quarters at Valley Forge they were “almost naked, dying of cold, without blankets, and very ill supplied with provisions” again.

But it wasn’t all bad.  For there was an American victory up north.  At Saratoga.  Where a British army surrendered.  To an American force.  Something the French had great trouble doing themselves in the last century.  So this win was big.  But it could have been bigger.  For General Gates gave the British painfully lenient terms of surrender.  Allowing the British army to go back to Britain if they promised that they would never fight in North America again.  Of course the fault with that logic is that if that army went back to Britain they could relieve other forces that could fight in North America.  So the victory was a hollow one militarily.  As it did not weaken the enemy militarily.  Worse, had that British army been interned in a POW camp the war may not have continued for another 5 years.  For that win at Saratoga brought the French into the war.

The Americans weren’t Interested in Making a British Peace, what they Had in Mind was an American Win

The British did not want to broaden this war.  And the last thing they wanted was to bring in their old nemesis.  France.  Who would be glad to broaden the war.  And would rejoice at the opportunity to bring some hurt down on their old foe.  And perhaps recover some of their lost North American possessions.  So the British started to send out some peace feelers.  They approached Benjamin Franklin in January of 1778.  But he was not interested in what terms the British offered for Parliament to recognize America’s independence.  For Franklin said it was not up to Parliament to recognize their independence.  It was up to the Americans.  And they already did.

The British even tried bribing prominent Americans.  Such as Franklin and Washington.  In exchange for their help in convincing the American people to end their rebellion they would bestow upon them titles and rank.  And privilege.  Including generous pensions.  But Franklin and Washington weren’t for sale.  Parliament held heated debate about the American problem.  And the Americans and the French entering into any treaties.  Lord Rockingham led the Whig opposition who favored American independence.  While Lord Chatham vehemently disagreed with giving up sovereignty over America.  As it would be an insult to the Crown.  He was making his case passionately in Parliament when he collapsed.  This became his last speech as he died shortly thereafter.  His last breaths in Parliament were for naught, though.  As they agreed to send a peace commission to America.  To try to end the war before the French could affect the outcome. 

The Carlisle Commission arrived in Philadelphia as General Clinton (who replaced General Howe) was moving his army back to New York.  Which did not give the British a strong negotiating position.  For it is usually easier to get someone to accept your generous terms when you have the world’s most powerful military behind you.  Giving people something to think about if they don’t accept your generous terms.  The Americans refused to negotiate with them, though.  The British then tried bribing some prominent Americans.  Even tried to appeal directly to the American people.  Who just suffered a British army occupying their city.  So the British made no progress towards a negotiated peace.  Even though the terms were generous.  And had the British offered them a few years earlier the Americans would have accepted them.  For they gave them most of what they wanted then.  But after three years of war things changed.  The British had done things they couldn’t undo.  Certain unrestricted warfare things.  And the Americans weren’t desperate to make peace.  For they had survived 3 years of war against the greatest military power in the world.  Recently defeating one of their armies in the field of battle.  And now had the French as allies.  No, the Americans weren’t interested in making a British peace.  What they had in mind was an American win.

After Surviving 3 Years of War and 6 Months at Valley Forge the Americans had Reason to Believe they could Win this War

As General Washington entered winter quarters in the barren land of Valley Forge the British were settling in for a comfortable winter in the city of Philadelphia.  The British moved into comfortable homes while the Americans raced the calendar to build some barracks before the snow fell.  They had little food.  No meat whatsoever.  Many were barefoot.  Few had a decent shirt to wear.  And blankets were few.  To stay warm soldiers huddled around fires.  Or shivered under shared blankets. 

Some 2,500 men would die in all during the 6 months of Valley Forge.  But the army emerged intact.  And with confidence.  They now had an ally.  France.  And during that awful winter they also trained.  Under the Prussian Baron Friedrich von Steuben.  Who may have lied on his resume.  But he knew how to drill an army into shape.  And that’s what emerged from Valley Forge.  A professional army.  As good as any in Europe.  Even European officers led some of their units.  Who came over to fight for the cause.  Combat engineers like Louis Duportail from France.  And Thaddeus Kosciusko from Poland.  Also from Poland was cavalry commander Count Casimir Pulaski.  And, of course, Marquis de Lafayette from France.  The one foreign officer that never caused Washington any grief over persistent demands for promotion and rank.  Not Lafayette.  Who proved himself in battle.  And even changed his political persuasion during the war.  From monarchy to the liberty of republicanism.  Washington looked upon Lafayette as a son. 

After surviving 3 years of war and 6 months at Valley Forge the Americans had reason to believe they could win this war.  For the army that emerged from Valley Forge was a better army than the one that defeated General Burgoyne at Saratoga.  And they were less alone.  Thanks to France.  And these foreign officers.  Making it more difficult for Britain.  For with France (and her ally Spain joining in) the American Revolutionary War became a world war.  Diverting British resources elsewhere as their new enemies looked to take advantage of Britain’s American problem.  Which the Americans knew when rejecting the Carlisle Commission.  Namely that a quick peace didn’t favor the Americans.  It favored the British.

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