George Washington , Clinton, Cornwallis, Lord George Germain, Comte de Rochambeau, Comte de Grasse, Yorktown and Treaty of Paris

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 28th, 2012

Politics 101

British Sea Power allowed the British to Remain in a Hostile Land for the Eight Years of the Revolutionary War

The American Revolutionary War began in April of 1775 with the Battles of Lexington and Concord.  For years following these battles George Washington yearned to meet the British in a grand battle and defeat them.  What he got instead was a lot of smaller battles that sent him in retreat.  For despite fighting on the far side of an ocean the British had a large professional army.  A vast merchant marine to supply them whatever they needed.  And the world’s preeminent navy.  The Royal Navy.

That sea power allowed the British to remain in a hostile land for the following 7 years.  Allowed them to remain in New York.  Allowed them to take the war to the South unopposed.  It allowed them to move armies.  And supply armies.  As well as control the world’s sea lanes to maintain their commerce.  The Royal Navy tipped the balance of power well to the side of the British.  And perhaps it was their undoing as well.  Trusting that their naval superiority would always be there.

British generals Clinton (superior in rank and resting comfortably in New York) and Cornwallis (junior in rank and chasing American armies in the South) did not see eye to eye.  Their boss, Lord George Germain, Secretary of State for the American Department, didn’t help matters.  It was his job to suppress the American rebellion.  But he didn’t understand the country.  Or the people.  Thinking of America in European terms.  He thought the Americans were no match for a professional European army assembled on the field of battle.  And he was right.  But the Americans didn’t fight the war like Europeans.  Which proved to be a great disadvantage for the British.

With the French Fleet heading to Chesapeake Bay Washington Scrapped his Plan to Attack New York

General Burgoyne had a grand strategy to cut off New England from the rest of the colonies.  A three-pronged attack that required General Howe (who preceded Clinton) coming up from New York.  Germain approved the plan.  And two of the three prongs proceeded accordingly.  East through the Mohawk Valley.  And south down the upper Hudson valley.  Howe was to come up the Lower Hudson valley and meet the other two prongs around Albany.  But Germain did not order Howe to do so.  So Howe didn’t.  Executing his own plans in Pennsylvania.  Which led to Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga (1777).  And the entry of France into the War (on the condition that the Americans would not make a separate peace with the British).  The Spanish later (allied to the French).  The Dutch, too.  And an armed neutrality of the other powers who did not want to partake in the war and would not submit to the advances of the Royal Navy on the high seas.  Making it difficult to blockade arms and supplies from reaching the Americans.

The first Franco-American actions proved disappointing.  In fact a lot of public sentiment turned against the French.  Especially after they abandoned an offensive action in Rhode Island.  Leaving the Americans to retreat again.  Then Cornwallis moved north.  Toward Virginia.  And there was another window for French cooperation after some action in the West Indies.  And there was a French Army in Newport, Rhode Island, commanded by Comte de Rochambeau, a veteran of the Seven Years’ War.  So he knew a thing or two about fighting the British.  These forces arrived after Clinton pulled his forces out and returned them to New York.  Which is where Washington wanted to attack with this Franco-American force.

Washington and Rochambeau drew up some plans.  The French fleet coming from the West Indies commanded by Comte de Grasse was to support the attack.  However, this was the battle Clinton was waiting for.  And he was ready for it.  Washington tested the New York defenses and found them formidable.  And there was a British fleet in New York Harbor.  Then he got a letter from De Grasse.  Rochambeau had left him some freedom in his orders.  Instead of going to New York he was heading to the Chesapeake Bay.  Where Cornwallis’ army was.  It wasn’t New York but it was still a British army.  And he would have a large French fleet in support.  Washington soon scrapped his New York plans.  And looked to Virginia instead.   

Cornwallis and Burgoyne lost their Armies because the British never Coordinated their Forces in a Unified Plan

Quickly and quietly the Franco-American force moved from around New York towards Virginia.  They were across the Delaware River before Clinton knew where they were going.  Or what they planned to do.  They kept Admiral Graves in the dark as well.  Who kept his British fleet around New York.  Waiting to support the army when the Americans and French launched their attack on New York.  By the time they figured out what Washington and the Franco-America force were up to it was too late.  The French fleet beat them to the Chesapeake Bay.  The superior French fleet repelled the smaller British fleet which returned to New York.  Leaving Cornwallis on his own.  As he faced an enemy that outnumbered him more than two to one.  A force that numbered 5,700 professional Continentals and 7,000 professional French troops.  As well as 3,100 militia.

Cornwallis was entrenched in Yorktown.  With Banastre Tarleton (of Waxhaw Massacre fame) across the York River in Gloucester.  As Cornwallis looked out at the gathering force against him laying siege to his army he saw the French on his right.  And the Americans on his left.  Their trenches slowly moving closer to his.  Across the York the French were closing in on Tarleton.  Soon the American artillery was within effective range.  And George Washington lit the first fuse.  It was over in less than a month.  And included a bayonet charge led by America’s first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton.  Recognizing the seriousness of Cornwallis’ position Clinton sent a fleet to help lift the siege.  But by the time it arrived Cornwallis had already surrendered.

Cornwallis lost his army for the same reason Burgoyne lost his army at Saratoga.  Lord Germain.  Who failed to coordinate his generals in the American Department.  While the Americans did.  For most of the war the British had the superior army and the superior navy.  Yet they could not win.  Because these superior forces were never coordinated together in a unified plan.  Opposition in Parliament forced Germain out of office after the fall of Yorktown.  And called for the resignation of the Prime Minister.  Lord North.  Which he gave.  A first for a British Prime Minister.  The new government would end the war with the Americans with the Treaty of Paris (1783).  Where the Americans did very well.  And conducted separate peace treaties with the Spanish and the Dutch.  As well as the French.  Which the French were not pleased with.  And they did not do as well as the Americans in the peace.  Worse, they would find themselves in their own revolution within a decade.  The American Revolution being a major cause of the French Revolution.  By saddling France with an enormous war debt.  And filling their people with the spirit of liberty.

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Treason, Benjamin Franklin, William Franklin, Reconciliation, Hutchinson Letters, Boston Tea Party, The Cockpit, Patriot and Loyalist

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 10th, 2012

Politics 101

The Hutchinson Letters and the Tea Act put the Americans firmly on the Path to Independence

There’s a fine line between treason and loyalty.  Some people cross that line.  Some people don’t.  Some people wait to see which side of the line their best interests lay.  Some like to straddle the line.  Either unable to commit.  Unwilling to commit.  Or unwilling to give up profiting from both sides of that line.  Such it was during the American Revolutionary War.  A very unique conflict.  That pitted colony against mother country.  New World against Old World.  American against Brit.  Brit against Brit.  And American against American.

The American Revolutionary War was a smorgasbord of antagonism.  What started out as a dispute over taxation escalated into world war.  And into civil war.  To settle old scores.  And to settle new ones.  Upon the signing of the Declaration of Independence the American colonies were in open rebellion against their sovereign.  The ultimate act of treason.  Yet they committed this act of treason to live a more British life.  For Britain’s constitutional monarchy gave unprecedented rights to British subjects.  And the highest standard of living then known to a middle class.  Most knew what the rest of the world was like.  And they wouldn’t trade their British way of life for any other.  So rebellion undoubtedly made a great many nervous.  For many were happy and comfortable living under the British sovereign.  Benjamin Franklin, for one.

Franklin was a Loyalist.  At first.  He knew how to work the system.  And did.  Even achieving the post of American postmaster.  And he made it profitable.  Very profitable.  Even his son, William Franklin, was governor general in New Jersey.  So he was very connected to the British Empire.  And saw it as the best system of government ever developed.  Which is why he sought reconciliation.  He was in England when tensions were increasing between the colonies and the mother country.  He then came into the possession of some private correspondence that he passed along to his contacts in Massachusetts.  The Hutchinson letters.  As in governor general of Massachusetts Thomas Hutchinson.  Which basically said that the way to subdue the unrest over recent Parliament actions (i.e., taxation without representation) was to deprive the colonists of some of their English liberties.  Franklin asked that they not publish these letters.  His intent was to calm the more radical in America.  Proving that these misguided policies were the result of some bad advice from a few people.  There was no general animosity towards the American colonies in Great Britain.  And that reconciliation was possible.  Which is what Franklin wanted.  But they published the Hutchinson letters.  And the Americans were not pleased.  Then one thing led to another.  After Parliament passed the Tea Act Franklin was anxious of the American response.  Hoping for calm.  But the response was anything but calm.  And did nothing to aid reconciliation. 

The Humiliation in the Cockpit helped Push Franklin from Reconciliation to Independence

When the first tea arrived following the Tea Act the Patriots threw it in Boston Harbor.  Forever known thereafter as the Boston Tea Party (1763).  This destruction of private property shocked Franklin.  For this was not an act against Parliament.  But an act against a private company.  The East India Company.  This did not go over well in England.  Which was pretty agitated over the publication of those private Hutchinson letters.  People accused each other of being the source of the leak.  It got so bad that two men dueled in Hyde Park.  Each blaming the other for the dishonorable act of leaking those private letters.  Not being a very good duel both men survived.  When they were going to have at it again Franklin publically stated that he was the leak.  Explaining his intentions. 

Though Franklin sought reconciliation he had his enemies in England.  Who thought he was more of rabble rouser on the other side of the pond.  And pounced on this opportunity to disgrace him.   They summoned him to appear before the Privy Council.  On the pretense to hear testimony on the petition from the Massachusetts Assembly to remove Hutchinson as governor general.  But when Franklin arrived in the ‘Cockpit’ he found that he was on trial.  For leaking the Hutchinson letters.  News of the Boston Tea Party had by then reached England.  And the newspapers attacked Franklin without mercy.  All of England was turning against the man who wanted reconciliation more than any American.  It even looked like Franklin could end up in an English jail. 

It was an all out assault on Franklin in the Cockpit.  Where his enemies packed the room.  While few of his friends sat in.  Such as Edmund Burke.  Lord Le Despencer.  And Joseph Priestly.  One after another his enemies took their turn lambasting Franklin.  Blaming him for the agitation in the American colonies against British rule.  They attacked him personally.  And besmirched his honor.  Humiliated him.  During it all Franklin stood silent.  Refusing to partake in this farce.  When Wedderburn called Franklin as a witness his counsel stated that his client declined to subject himself to examination.  In the end they rejected the Massachusetts petition.  And his friend Lord Le Despencer had no choice but to relieve Franklin from his post as American postmaster.  He wrote his son William and urged him to quit his post as governor general of New Jersey in order to pursue more honorable work.  He would not, though.  And thus began the breach between father and son.

Franklin and William were no longer Father and Son but Patriot and Loyalist

William would stay loyal to the crown.  While Franklin was moving closer to the side of the Patriots.  In response to the Boston Tea Party Britain planned a blockade of Boston Harbor.  In response the colonies united behind Boston and formed the First Continental Congress.  Which William said was a mistake.  And that Boston should make good on the tea they destroyed.  Which would be the best way to calm the situation.  And reopen Boston Harbor.  Exactly what Franklin had earlier suggested.  But after the Cockpit and the loss of his post as postmaster Franklin was losing his love for the British Empire.  But he still tried while he remained in England with no official duties.  He even played chess with Caroline Howe.  Sister of Admiral Richard Howe and General William Howe.  Who would later command the British naval and military forces in the opening of the Revolutionary War.  But at the time they were both sympathetic to the American cause.  Despite of his shameful treatment in the Cockpit she and other friends urged him to put pen to paper.  And try to mediate a peaceful solution to the breach between the American colonies and Great Britain.  He tried. 

But all efforts came to naught.  He worked on a bill with Lord Chatham.  Which Lord Sandwich attacked with a fury when introduced into the House of Lords.  And they publicly attacked Franklin again.  They rejected the bill.  And Franklin booked passage home.  He met with Edmund Burke before leaving.  Discussed with him one last plea for reconciliation.  He spent his last day in London with his friend Joseph Priestly.  And discussed the future.  The coming war.  Reading the papers.  Priestly later wrote that the thought of that dismal future brought Franklin to tears.  After Franklin was on a ship sailing west Burke rose in Parliament and gave his famous speech On Conciliation with America. Where he said, “A great empire and little minds go ill together.”

The move to independence accelerated after arriving home.  Thomas Paine, who Franklin helped to bring to America, wrote Common Sense.  Which Franklin read before it was published.  Even offered a few revisions.  As he would offer later to Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.  Then the Continental Congress scheduled a vote for independence.  General Washington was preparing to fight General William Howe on Long Island.  Supported by his brother Admiral Lord Richard Howe.  Who made one last attempt at conciliation with Franklin.  But things had already progressed too far.  Franklin had crossed that fine line.  The time for peace had passed.  On June 15, 1776, the new American provincial government in New Jersey ordered the arrest of William Franklin.  On the day of his trial Benjamin Franklin wrote General Washington.  He did not mention William.  Nor did he say anything when the Continental Congress voted to imprison him in Connecticut.  The breach between father and son was complete.  No longer father and son.  But Patriot and Loyalist.  As families throughout the colonies similarly tore asunder.  Setting the stage for the civil war within the world war that was the American Revolution.

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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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