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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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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