American Revolution, Vietnam, Civil War, Guerilla War, Fabian Strategy, Jackson, Arnold, Lafayette, Clinton, Cornwallis and Yorktown

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 21st, 2012

Politics 101

In a Civil War where the Enemy was Everywhere and Holding Cities meant little the Only Way to Win was to Kill the Opposing Army

The American Revolutionary War was a lot like the Vietnam War.  Both involved a people on one side of the conflict torn apart by civil war.  Both were bloody.  Both involved a military superpower fighting on the far side of an ocean.  Both involved the French (the French role in Vietnam was in the decade which preceded the American’s two decades).  In both conflicts the French suffered politically at home and profited little for the blood and treasure they invested after the war.  In both the underdog used a Fabian strategy where they avoided major battles for their winning strategy was simply not to lose.  So they fought to extend the war to make it more costly (in both treasure and politics) for the other side to keep fighting.  Both involved poor military planning where decisions were based more on politics than military necessity.  In both the Americans and French were on the same side.  During the American Revolution they were both on the winning side.  In Vietnam they were both on the losing side (though the French stopped fighting before the Americans began fighting).  And, of course, both were wars contesting overseas colonies.

The fighting was cruel in Vietnam.  Especially against the civilians.  As the opposing sides fought through villages people suffered if they had shown the ‘wrong’ loyalties when the other side had controlled the village.  The North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong (the guerilla insurgents in South Vietnam) did some nasty things.  As did the South Vietnamese American allies.  Even some Americans did some nasty things.  There were few innocents.  Though the Americans were probably more innocent than most.  For when they did something nasty it became public.  Eventually.  And the Americans punished those responsible.

Both sides used killing as the primary strategy.  The Americans introduced the body count.  Measuring the success in military operations in the number of enemy dead.  The Viet Cong conscripted anyone who could fight.  Removing most young men from villages in areas they controlled.  Or they killed anyone who could fight against them.  Both sides tried to kill as many of the other as possible because in a civil war where the enemy was everywhere and holding cities and hills meant little the only way to win was to kill the opposing army.  So they couldn’t fight you anymore.

Neither the Patriots nor the Tories could claim the Moral High Ground in the Deep South

General George Washington quickly adopted a Fabian strategy in the American Revolutionary War because he had no choice.  He was fighting the world’s sole superpower.  And when the war broke out the Americans had no army or navy.  So until they did they fought a guerilla war.  Especially in the south.  Where Patriot partisans controlled the country.  And Tories loyal to the British held the cities.  And manned posts in the interior.  Under the command of British General Cornwallis.  Who reported to General Clinton comfortably ensconced in New York City.  Waiting for General Washington to launch an assault on New York.  Which would never come.

The civil war in the south was about as ugly as civil wars get.  And the ugly stuff was American on American ugliness.  Patriot against Tory.  The British charged that the partisans were killing innocents and neutrals.  And the Americans claimed the Tories were doing the same.  Neither side could really claim the moral high ground.  A young Andrew Jackson (hero of the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812 and America’s seventh president) even said, “In the long run, I am afraid the Whigs [the Patriots] did not lose many points in the game of hanging, shooting and flogging.” 

It was a merciless guerilla war in the South.  And they did kill wholesale.  Because that’s the only way to win a civil war.  You kill fighting men until there are not enough of them left to fight back.  And the fighting was not always honorable.  The British captured Jackson in a Waxhaw meetinghouse.  When a body of Tories dressed as locals advanced ahead of a body of Redcoats.  The trick worked.  They captured eleven.  And a British officer gave Jackson scars that would leave him a lasting hatred of the British for the rest of his life.  The officer demanded that Jackson clean his boots.  Jackson claimed he was a prisoner of war.  And that the British officer should treat him as such.  The officer saw him as a partisan traitor.  And brought his sword down on Jackson’s head for his insolence.  Jackson tried to shield his head with his left hand, leaving two deep scars.  One on his head.  The other on his hand.

The Grand Battle George Washington longed for was before him at Yorktown 

The changing fortunes of war in the South often changed the fighting spirit of those fighting the war.  On both sides.  British deserters joined the American lines.  And American deserters joined the British lines.  The Americans serving in the Continental Army were still hungry, thirsty and half-naked.  The Battle of Eutaw Springs was the last big battle in the Deep South.  And it almost ended in a route of the British.  Had not the hungry, thirsty and half-naked Americans stop their pursuit when they entered the abandoned British camp.  As they enjoyed the spoils of war the British returned.  And another 3 hours of bloody fighting continued.  In the sweltering heat of the Deep South.  By the time it was over the Americans lost.  The American casualties were just over 500 (about 25% of their force).  The British lost over 800 (about 40% of their force).  A costly victory for the British.  Despite this loss the Americans were in control of the lower south.

Up until this point Virginia had seen little of the ravages of war.  Lucky for them as Virginian governor Thomas Jefferson, though a brilliant thinker, was a pretty poor wartime governor.  Washington urged him to prepare some defenses.  But he didn’t.  General Cornwallis urged General Clinton to abandon New York and conquer Virginia.  An action he believed would win the war.  Clinton refused for awhile.  But finally agreed to send a force under America’s greatest traitor.  Benedict Arnold.  A new brigadier general in the British Army.  Who landed unopposed in Virginia.  And moved at will.  Tarleton’s cavalry came up from the south to join Arnold.  Entered Charlottesville.  Captured members of the Virginia legislature with Jefferson just escaping in the nick of time.  With the addition of British reinforcements in Virginia Washington sent a force under Lafayette to Virginia to help with their defenses.  A perfect storm was gathering for the British in Virginia.

Cornwallis himself entered Virginia.  And futilely gave chase to Lafayette.  Cornwallis wanted Clinton to commit a major force to the conquest of Virginia.  Clinton wanted the few thousand troops he sent to Virginia returned to New York.  Clinton ordered Cornwallis to hold a position on the Chesapeake with his reduced force.  Cornwallis thought that order was stupid and ordered a withdrawal of his own forces.  Clinton countermanded that order.  Insisting that he pick a place and defend it.  Cornwallis picked Yorktown.  With his back to the sea.  And hopefully the British fleet.  While he moved towards Yorktown the hunter became the hunted.  Lafayette harassed him all the way.  Worse, the French were also on their way.  And the French fleet would engage the British fleet and defeat them.  And a French force would join Washington who came down from New York.  Finally able to abandon his Fabian strategy.  The grand battle he longed for was before him at Yorktown.  Cornwallis was trapped.  And would surrender his Army.

With the surrender of a second British army the initiative went to the Americans.  To continue the war would cost far more British blood and treasure.  But that price was too high.  The British wanted out.  Conceding that the Americans were indeed independent of British rule.  The delaying Fabian strategy, though costly, had worked.  As they would again in another American war.  Where the Americans instead would be fighting on foreign land.  In a place called Vietnam.  Only the Americans would suffer the same fate the British did in the American Revolutionary War.  As a Fabian strategy can be a very effective strategy.  As long as time is on your side.

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Benedict Arnold, Fort Ticonderoga, Quebec, Battle on Lake Champlain, Freeman’s Farm, Bemis Heights, West Point and Major André

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 14th, 2012

Politics 101

Arnold prevented a British Drive down the Hudson Valley to separate New England from the Rest of the Colonies

There was a fine line between Patriot and Loyalist.  And between Patriot and traitor.  For Benedict Arnold, at least.  Who went from Patriot to hero to traitor.  Some would argue that if it weren’t for Benedict Arnold we may not have won the American Revolutionary War.  And they may be right.  Yet at the same time he almost single-handedly lost the Revolutionary War. 

Benedict Arnold was both the best and the worst of Americans during the Revolution.  For he was a complex man.  And a flawed man.  After hostilities broke out at Lexington and Concord Arnold led his company from New Haven to Boston.  One of the first to answer the call of duty after that fateful day when a shot was fired that was heard ’round the world.  He was in it from the get-go.  A Patriot.  When it became apparent that the Americans lacked the artillery to attack the British in the fortified Boston they looked west.  To Fort Ticonderoga.  The Massachusetts Committee of Safety directed Arnold to raise a force and march on Fort Ticonderoga.  Capture it.  And bring back their cannon for action on the British fortifications at Boston.  The Connecticut Committee of Safety, not knowing of the orders given to Arnold, gave similar orders to Ethan Allen.  These two leaders met on the way to Ticonderoga.  Argued a little.  Then shared command.  Captured Ticonderoga.  Ethan Allen dragged the captured cannon back to Boston while Arnold went on and captured Crown Point.  Captured a British ship.  Sailed it to St. John.  And captured it.

Right from the beginning Arnold was what the Americans needed.  An aggressive leader who took the initiative.  And he would again.  But Arnold was also a prima donna.  He yearned for glory.  Shortly after Ticonderoga Congress decided on a Canadian campaign.  To conquer the British in Montreal and Quebec (City) so the Canadians could join the Americans as the fourteenth colony.  While a campaign was put together for Montreal Arnold persuaded General Washington for another campaign he would lead through Maine to Quebec.  Washington approved. 

Arnold’s Action around Saratoga brought the French into the War and Changed everything for Britain 

So Arnold gathered his force.  Including one Daniel Morgan.  And marched through the inhospitable wilderness of Maine in some unpleasant weather.  His men were wet, hungry, cold and miserable.  They made it to Quebec and assaulted the fortress in a January blizzard.  It did not go well.  Richard Montgomery, coming to join Arnold after conquering Montreal, was killed in the attack.  Arnold was wounded.  The Americans retreated.  First to Montreal.  Then all the way back to Ticonderoga.  Battling the British in a rearguard action.  While smallpox decimated the American ranks.  British General Carleton was in hot pursuit coming down to Lake Champlain.  Where Arnold would meet him.  He threw together a small makeshift squadron and met Carleton in battle on Lake Champlain.  Arnold lost his fleet.  But he delayed Carleton a month.  Unprepared for a winter campaign, Carleton retreated.  Thus Arnold prevented a British drive down the Hudson valley to separate New England from the rest of the colonies.

About a year later British General John Burgoyne launched a three-pronged attack consisting of a force attacking east from Oswego through the Mohawk valley.  A force attacking north up the Hudson River from New York.  And a force led by Burgoyne taking the same route Carleton had a year earlier.  Down through Lake Champlain and into the upper Hudson valley.  All three prongs to converge around Albany.  To cut off New England from the rest of the colonies.  The southern prong coming out of New York never materialized, though.  For General Howe was busy running around in Pennsylvania.  While the other two prongs got bogged down before reaching their objectives.  Burgoyne himself was having some trouble around a little town called Saratoga.  Burgoyne’s lines of communications were stretched dangerously long.  He was getting into trouble.  At the same time, though, political intrigue changed the American commander.  Horatio Gates replaced General Schuler.  Gates was content to trust his defenses and wait for the British assault.  Arnold saw the British were going to attempt to turn a weak American flank at Freeman’s Farm.  He argued with Gates to counter that move.  He finally gave in and agreed to send a force that included Daniel Morgan’s riflemen.  As that battle ebbed and flowed Arnold led a force against the British center. 

Arnold saved the day.  Had he received reinforcements he may have defeated the British army that day.  Instead Gates relieved Arnold of his command.  And marginalized him in his report to Congress.  At the subsequent battle at Bemis Heights Arnold, without a command, gathered some men and assaulted some British fortifications as the British retired behind them.  Breached the fortifications.  Sending the British in retreat all the way back to Saratoga.  Getting a horse shot out from underneath him in the process.  And taking another bullet in the leg.  Because of Arnold’s action around Saratoga Burgoyne had no choice but to ask for terms of surrender.  And he surrendered to General Horatio Gates.  Who got all the glory.  While his part in this victory was marginal at best.  But this victory was big.  It brought the French into the war.  Which changed everything for Britain.  Who now had a world war on their hands.  And the Spanish would later join that war against the British.  As allies to the French.  Then Catherine the Great of Russia led a drive for an armed neutrality of the other nations not taking sides in this new world war.  Which isolated Britain further.  Making it more difficult to interdict supplies going to the American rebels on neutral ships.

We remember Benedict Arnold not for the Hero he was but for the Traitor he Became

You could say that Benedict Arnold made this all possible.  By saving New England twice.  First by delaying Carleton on Lake Champlain.  Then winning the battles at Freeman’s Farm and Bemis Heights.  But did he get the glory?  No.  Some respected him.  General Washington did.  But the politics of the Congress were against him.  Which was a problem for a man like Arnold.  Who had a huge ego.  Was arrogant.  A bit of a hothead.  And had a gambling problem.  Put it all together and it caused this Patriot to become a traitor.  Because he was not given the proper respect for his glorious achievements.  And saving the American cause time and again.  If the American political elite would not give him the proper respect the British would.  And made a deal with him.  Money and security for the rest of his life for him and his family.  In exchange for information.  And control of the Hudson River via the forts of West Point. 

Arnold asked for and got command of West Point from General Washington.  And then started feeding the British inside information.  And began making plans for the handover of West Point to the British.  To finally sever New England from the rest of the colonies.  And it might have happened as planned if not for his British contact, Major André, being caught behind the American lines out of uniform with plans of how to capture the forts of West Point.  Arnold was to meet General Washington that day who by then knew of André’s capture.  Arnold did not.  But he found out just in time to escape to the British lines.  André was not so lucky.  For the Americans hanged him as a spy.

Arnold would return to America.  As a British general.  Landing in Virginia and leading an army of Loyalist Tories near the end of the war.  Doing some damage.  But he would never recapture past glories.  He would retire to England.  Pretty much a footnote in the British history of the American Revolutionary War.  For their investment in Arnold delivered little.  So Arnold would live out his remaining days a man with no real country.  He could never return to America.  And the British never really accepted him.  Americans and British alike lamented the death of Major André.  Who died because of Arnold.  A death he nevertheless faced with honor and courage.  But Arnold would suffer a worse fate.  Indifference.  He mattered to no one.  He had no honor.  Lived another 20 years or so.  Insignificant.  And died a traitor.  Which is the only thing we remember him for.  Not the hero he was.  But the traitor he became.

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Invasion of Canada, Benedict Arnold, Thomas Paine, Trenton, Princeton, General Howe, Invasion of Pennsylvania, General Burgoyne and Saratoga

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 22nd, 2012

Politics 101

After a Long Retreat that started on Long Island Washington crossed the Delaware on Christmas to attack Trenton and restore Morale

The Patriot spirit was high in 1775.  The Americans voted for independence.  They signed the Declaration of Independence.  Delegates to the Continental Congress returned to their states to write new constitutions.  After the Battles of Lexington and Concord they forced the British back into their Boston garrison.  Made the British victory at the Battle of Bunker Hill a costly one.  Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold captured Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York on Lake Champlain.  In January of 1776 Henry Knox took the fort’s heavy cannon and dragged them to Dorchester Heights overlooking Boston.  Where General Washington used them to get the British to finally evacuate Boston after an 11 month siege.  Not a bad way to start a war with a ragtag army against the mightiest military power in the world.  But would these victories continue?

No.  It would be awhile before the Americans would score another victory.  The invasion of Canada was a disaster.  The retreating forces were decimated by small pox.  And chased by the British.  They would have advanced down the Hudson River cutting off New England from the rest of the colonies had it not been for Benedict Arnold’s stubborn retreat.  Meanwhile Washington was on Long Island waiting for the British invasion.  Which came.  And overwhelmed Washington’s forces.  Who retreated up through Manhattan, across the Hudson, through New Jersey and didn’t stop until he crossed the Delaware River into Pennsylvania.  Morale in the army was plummeting.  Enlistments were up and few were reenlisting.  Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense, was in Washington’s army during this retreat.  He wrote in December, 1776, “These are the times that try men’s souls.  The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”  The fate of America now rested with the few who remained in the army.  These true Patriots.  Who were all in.  To the bitter end.  However soon, or quick, that may be.

The British stopped their pursuit of the Americans in New Jersey and took winter quarters.  Britain’s Hessian mercenaries garrisoned the town of Trenton.  And settled in for a quiet winter.  Not impressed with their enemy on the far side of the Delaware.  Lieutenant Colonel Rall, Commander, Hessian garrison in Trenton, said Washington’s army was “almost naked, dying of cold, without blankets, and very ill supplied with provisions.”  Which they were.  The morale of the army was at a dangerous low.  Threatening the very existing of the army.  Whose existence was the only thing preventing a British win.  For the Americans didn’t have to win.  They just had to keep from losing.  Which meant keeping the army in the field.  Washington needed a victory.  And fast.  To boost morale.  So on Christmas he crossed the ice-filled Delaware River.  And marched through snow and hail storms.  Many of the soldiers barefoot.  Whose feet stained the snow with blood.  Two soldiers even froze to death on the march.  Their objective?  The Hessian garrison in Trenton.

Washington’s Losses in Pennsylvania kept General Howe from Supporting General Burgoyne’s Campaign

The Americans attacked on December 26, 1776, and took the Hessians completely by surprise.  And won the battle with only three wounded.  One of which was America’s 4th president.  And the youngest and last of the Founding Fathers.  Lieutenant James Monroe.  After the victory Washington retired back across the Delaware.  But then crossed again in a couple of days.  This time heading to Princeton.  Took the city.  Then retired back across the Delaware after learning Lord Cornwallis was arriving with reinforcements.  Who a young captain of artillery engaged in battle.  Alexander Hamilton.  America’s first treasury secretary.  Who Washington promoted to lieutenant colonel as he made Hamilton his aide-de-camp.  A very influential position working in the Army’s headquarters alongside the commanding general of the Army.  He would serve in Washington’s headquarters until the Battle of Yorktown where Washington granted him his wish.  A combat command.  Where he would lead some of the early assaults that led to Lord Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown.  Washington looked on Hamilton as a son.  And this relationship would shape the future of the new nation.

But Yorktown would be a long 5 years away.  And that battle would be the next battle Washington could put in the ‘win’ column.  For most of 1777 included no American victories.  British General Howe invaded Pennsylvania.  And Washington met him in battle.  And didn’t win.  Though there were close battles.   Brandywine.  And Germantown.  But eventually Howe took the capital city.  Philadelphia.  And control of the Delaware River.  Forcing Washington to retreat across the Schuylkill River.  Into winter quarters.  At a place called Valley Forge.  But it was not all for naught.  Because of Washington’s stubborn defense he did keep Howe in Pennsylvania.  Where he was unable to provide the third prong in the grand attack on New York.  The campaign to sever New England from the other American colonies.  And ultimately changed the course of the war.

While Washington was engaging Howe in Pennsylvania, another British general was advancing down from Canada.  General John Burgoyne.  Who had overall command of the other two prongs.  A force of mostly loyalists and Indians under Colonel Barry St. Leger advancing east along the Mohawk River valley.  And a force of British, Hessian mercenaries, Indians, Canadians and Loyalists under Burgoyne advancing south down Lake Champlain and the upper Hudson River.  Howe was to come up the Hudson River from New York.  The three prongs coming together in Albany.  Thus severing New England from the other American colonies.  But without Howe coming up from the south the Americans were free to meet Burgoyne’s forces from the west and north and take advantage of their long lines of communications.  With Benedict Arnold helping to stall the Mohawk prong.  And routing St. Leger.  Arnold then joined the battle against Burgoyne.  Who was struggling deep in enemy territory and running low on supplies.  Then came Saratoga.  Where Arnold anticipated Burgoyne’s plan.  Argued with General Horatio Gates (who had just relieved General Schuler when he was so close to victory.  Politics.)  Gates finally relented and dispatched Morgan’s riflemen and Dearborn’s light infantry to reinforce the American left.  While Arnold attacked the center.  The Americans carried the day.  And Burgoyne, deep in enemy territory with Patriots in his rear and the winter approaching, surrendered his army following the Battle of Saratoga.  And with it any hope for British victory in America’s Revolutionary War.

The Defeat of a British Army at Saratoga gave the Americans Respect and Legitimacy

Washington didn’t win a lot of battles.  But he won some of the most important ones.  Including the most important battle of them all.  Keeping the Continental Army in the field.  After retiring from Princeton in January he didn’t win another battle in 1777.  But he did provide a stubborn resistance for General Howe.  Keeping him in Pennsylvania.  And prevented him from providing that third prong that may have made all the difference between an American win and an American defeat.  That and the actions of the great and future traitor Benedict Arnold in the north won the Battle of Saratoga.  Defeating a British army.  Something few European nations have done.  Including the French.  So this was a very big deal.  For this changed everything.

This ragtag army was only some 25,000 strong at its height.  This out of a population of 2 million.  Or about 1.25% of the population.  A sign that perhaps most Americans were more talk than action when it came to this Revolution.  Yet it was this unprofessional army.  This army whose own government treated them poorly.  Who could barley clothe or feed them.  This is what defeated the most powerful army in the world.  This victory just gave them a whole lot of respect.  And legitimacy.  And made the French take notice.  Who saw that the Americans could actually win this war against France’s long-time foe.  And joining them in their cause would give them a chance to be on the winning side against the British.  And perhaps win back some of their North American colonies they lost on the Plains of Abraham back in 1759.  When French Canada became British.

This civil war in British America was about to become a world war.

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