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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Suffolk Resolves, Galloway Plan of Union, Olive Branch Petition, Proclamation of Rebellion, Prohibitory Act, Common Sense and Declaration of Independence

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 8th, 2012

Politics 101

In Response to the Declaration of Rights and Grievances George III condemned Massachusetts and the Suffolk Resolves

The Boston Tea Party (1773) and the subsequent passing of the Intolerable/Coercive Acts (1774) brought the several states together in Congress.  John Adams, Samuel Adams, Joseph Galloway, Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, George Washington and other delegates from every state (except Georgia) convened the Continental Congress in Philadelphia in September of 1774.  It sat for two months.  And began with a vote to endorse the Suffolk Resolves.  The Suffolk Resolves opposed the British oppression entailed in the Intolerable/Coercive Acts.  In Massachusetts.  (Other colonies passed similar resolves.)  The resolves included a boycott of British goods.  Demanded the resignation of the Crown’s representatives that displaced the elected colonial government.   They supported a new colonial government free from the Crown.  Refused to pay any further taxes until this happened.  And urged for the several states to raise militias.  But they did not talk of independence.  The Resolves even declared their loyalty to the British Crown.  Still, after learning of this action King George III said, “The die is cast.”

Joseph Galloway introduced the Galloway Plan of Union.  Calling for a federal union of the several states.  Where the king would appoint a president general.  Advised by a grand council.  With a representative from each state.  Chosen by each state’s legislative body.  A system of self-government.  But one still loyal to the Crown.  A move that made the British colonies more independent of the British Crown.  But not independent from the British Crown.  The Americans were to remain British Americans.  Subjects of the greatest country in the world.  The present trouble in Boston notwithstanding.  For Great Britain was the only constitutional monarchy at the time.  And the bastion of individual liberty.  Which the Americans were looking forward to enjoying once the present misunderstandings passed.  After a lengthy debate, the Galloway Plan of Union failed to pass.  But it wouldn’t be the last talk of union.

They then adopted a Declaration of Rights and Grievances.  Full of a lot of language the English used years earlier to redress previous issues with the Crown.  And some of the same words of the Enlightenment thinkers they used.  From Thomas Hobbes they wrote of their ‘right to life’.  From John Locke the ‘right to liberty and property’ and ‘ruling by the consent of those governed’.  From Baron Charles de Montesquieu the ‘separation of powers’ that eventually found its way into our Constitution.  They sent off their declarations and petitions to London.  Adjourned Congress.  Agreed to reconvene the following May if necessary.  And waited for King George to reply.  He gave it in Parliament in November.  In a speech to Parliament.  Where he condemned Massachusetts.  And the Suffolk Resolves.  Not the answer they were hoping for.  No.  Their king was not going to save the Americans from the hostile acts of Parliament.  Instead he was going to present a unified British opposition (King and Parliament) against these British subjects.  The once loyal British Americans were running out of reasons to remain loyal to the British Crown.  All they needed was one more push.

Thomas Paine’s Common Sense provided the Final Push towards Independence

The following April the battles of Lexington and Concord took place.  There was a shooting war, now.  With the Americans following the British back to Boston and laying siege.  The patriotic spirit was high.  And such was the spirit when the Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia in May of 1775.  Independence was in the air.  John Adams wanted it.  But kept quiet.  They prepared for war.  Choosing George Washington to lead them in war.  But this was plan ‘B’.  Plan ‘A’ was still reconciliation.  And to remain British.  Which is what many wanted.  Even Washington wasn’t all that keen on independence.  He detested the acts of Parliament.  But he and his officers were still toasting the health of the King at this time. 

John Dickinson led the reconciliation group in Congress.  And they drafted (with the help of Thomas Jefferson) the Olive Branch Petition.  Addressed to the King.  Expressing their desire to remain loyal to His Majesty.  All that they wanted was to redress these tax and trade issues.  That’s all.  Dickinson had hoped with the bloodshed at Lexington and Concord and a little bit of groveling the King would at least meet them halfway.  Open up the channels of dialog.  Settle their differences without additional bloodshed.  Which just exasperated John Adams.  He thought it was a waste of time.  That  independence was inevitable.  And he vented these feelings in a private letter.  That the British got hold of.  Arriving in London about the same time as did the Olive Branch Petition.  And after reading Adams’ letter George III refused to even read the petition.  His response was the Proclamation of Rebellion.  Issued in August.  Declaring that some of the British American colonies were in a state of ‘open and avowed rebellion’.  And followed that up with the Prohibitory Act in December.  Which placed a naval blockade against all American ports.  And declared all American shipping enemies of the British Crown.  An act of war.  To which the Americans responded by issuing letters of marque to privateers, authorizing them by an act of Congress to capture British ships.  John Adams declared that King George had declared what the Americans had not yet declared.  That the American colonies were independent.  Putting the Americans ever closer to declaring their independence.

Then came that final push.  In the form of a pamphlet.  Very popular reading during the time.  It was because of these pamphlets that most Americans knew of the ideas of Hobbes, Locke and Montesquieu.  Where their ideas were presented in the language of the common man.  Then came along an author who wrote from the get-go in the language of the common man.  Thomas Paine.  Who wrote Common Sense.  Published in January 1776.  Which tore into the King.  And the whole system of hereditary monarchy.  Blamed George III for all the wrongs done to the Americans.  Making a strong and impassioned case for independence.  Without further delay.  That fired up Patriots everywhere.  Providing that final push.

The Several States united in Treason and became the United States of America

During the spring of 1776 states began discussing independence.  Some authorized their delegates in the Continental Congress to vote for independence.  Others need more prodding.  On June 11, 1776 the Continental Congress appointed John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Robert R. Livingston of New York and Roger Sherman of Connecticut to draft a declaration of independence.  The Committee of Five.  The committee (including Jefferson) wanted Adams to write it.  Adams wanted Jefferson to write it.  Because he was a Virginian.  Someone more distant from the passions in Massachusetts.  And was rather likeable.  Unlike Adams.  And Jefferson was pretty good with the quill.  Eloquent.  And had a flair for words.

John Dickinson still argued for reconciliation.  Adams argued for independence.  The debate heated up. The New York legislation had to flee from the British advance in New York.  So they could not authorize their delegates to vote for independence.  Dickinson couldn’t agree to let Pennsylvanian vote for independence.  But he agreed to abstain.  It came down to a tie.  Until Caesar Rodney rushed in from Delaware just in time to vote for independence.  And on July 2, 1776, they committed the final act of treason.  And voted the American colonies independent of the British Crown.  Then put their name to the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, 1776.  Or some of them.  The others adding their names some time thereafter.

The several states became united.  In treason.  A confederacy of independent states joined in union.  Not quite along the lines of the Galloway plan.  But in union nonetheless.  Now locked in mortal combat with the world’s greatest superpower.  To escape their oppression.  In order to win the same liberty and freedom enjoyed by the subjects of that very same superpower.  For in the end that’s all the Americans wanted.  And had King George redressed their grievances instead of choosing to punish them everyone would have lived happily ever after as British subjects.  But he didn’t.  And we now remember him as the British king that lost America.

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LESSONS LEARNED #16: “The military part of the military has been a success story. The Big Government part of the military has not.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 3rd, 2010

BIG GOVERNMENT DID NOT create the greatest military power of all time.  It’s not a top down success story.  It’s a bottom up success story.  You win wars by winning battles.  And you win battles with a rifle in your hands.  Those who matter don’t hear the clash of arms from afar.  They hear it from within the battle itself.

The successes of the military are due to the people who fight the battles.  They are not due to governmental bureaucrats.  In fact, you can say the fighting people achieve success despite the governmental bureaucrats.  I can give you a list of esteemed military personnel that would agree with me.  Here’s an abbreviated list:  George Washington and Robert E. Lee.   Of course, you can’t ask either of them because they’re dead.  But the history speaks for itself.  Their most difficult enemies were the politicians.  And the ones on their side.  Not the enemies’.

THE AMERICAN REVOLUTIONARY WAR was a lot like the Vietnam War, only without the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  Both had the mightiest military power in the world taking on a military lightweight.  Therefore, both used Fabian tactics.  Like Roman general Quintus Fabius Maximus, the underdog avoided major engagements with the enemy.  (Excluding the Tet Offensive, of course, which was very un-Fabian-like.)  Theirs was not to win.  No, theirs was not to lose.  For he who fights and runs away lives to fight another day. 

But the big difference between these wars was supply.  The Viet Cong and the NVA had the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  No matter how many of them you killed or how many of their supplies you destroyed, more just kept coming down that trail.  George Washington and his ragtag armies, on the other hand, were, well, ragtag.  Plead as he might for supplies the Continental Congress delivered little.  Including pay.  His armies were chronically under-supplied, under-fed and under-paid.  But still they carried on. 

When they took winter quarters in December 1777 on the barren hills on the west side of the Schuylkill River in eastern Pennsylvania, they had not received any supplies from the Quarter Master General since the previous July.  Now the winter at Valley Forge was not the coldest during the War, but it was cold.  Especially if you were barefoot and half naked.  And this was the condition of the average soldier.  While the British quartered themselves in the warm houses of Philadelphia and enjoyed the comforts of regular meals and warm beds, the Americans left trails of blood in the snow from their bloody, bare feet.  They slept by fire for warmth.  Shirts as well as blankets were lacking.  And there was a lack of food, for man and animal.  Hundreds of horses starved to death that winter.

But the British did well that winter.  Why?  Why did they have food, drink, clothing, blankets and forage for their horses?  Because not everyone felt the Spirit of ’76 as earnestly as others.  Thomas Paine, just before the Battle of Trenton a year earlier (at perhaps the low point of morale in the Army) wrote, “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 his country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”  There were no summer soldiers or sunshine patriots at Valley Forge.  They were in warm houses.  Well fed.  And making money.  From the War.  There were supplies, yes, but there were more profitable markets than Washington’s armies.

So while graft and speculation made some rich, the Army suffered at Valley Forge.  The Continental Congress did little for them.  The states did little for them.  They suffered that ordeal alone.  Together.  And they became better soldiers.  Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter of introduction for a Prussian captain, Baron Friedrich von Steuben.  He came with exaggerated credentials.  Franklin said he was a general under Frederick the Great even though he was only a staff officer.  And an unemployed staff officer at that.  But he knew how to make and drill an army.  And he did.  Washington held the Army together.  The men persevered.  And the army that emerged from Valley Forge could face any European army on the field of battle.  And they fought on.  And about 4 years later, General Cornwallis would surrender at Yorktown.

THE UNITED STATES offered the command of the Union Army in the American Civil War to General Robert E. Lee.  He declined.  He could not raise his sword against his own country.  Virginia.  So he would fight on the Confederate side in what they called the War of Northern Aggression.

There is an interesting exchange in the movie Gone with the Wind before war breaks out.  Rhett Butler is discussing the South’s prospects with his fellow southern gentlemen. 

RHETT BUTLER: I think it’s hard winning a war with words, gentlemen.
CHARLES: What do you mean, sir?
RHETT BUTLER: I mean, Mr. Hamilton, there’s not a cannon factory in the whole South.
MAN: What difference does that make, sir, to a gentleman?
RHETT BUTLER: I’m afraid it’s going to make a great deal of difference to a great many
gentlemen, sir.
CHARLES: Are you hinting, Mr. Butler, that the Yankees can lick us?
RHETT BUTLER: No, I’m not hinting. I’m saying very plainly that the Yankees
are better equipped than we. They’ve got factories, shipyards, coal mines…and a fleet to bottle up our harbors and starve us to death. All we’ve got is cotton, and slaves and…arrogance.

No.  The South’s prospects were not very encouraging.  And the North’s advantages would make up for her failings.  In time.

The American Civil War was not a war of Fabian tactics.  The First Battle of Bull Run (or the First Battle of Manassas as the Confederates called it) was a shock.  Casualties (killed, wounded and lost) were high.  About 4,800 in total.  No one had anticipated such carnage.  If that wasn’t enough to sober them up, then came Shiloh in the West.  This 2-day battle claimed about 23,750 casualties.  This exceeded the total of the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War combined.  By the time the Civil War was over, casualties would top 1,000,000.  Over 600,000 Americans would eventually die.  Including a president.

Why such high casualties?  A couple of reasons.  This was one of the first wars benefitting from the Industrial Revolution.  Better and more powerful weapons created more powerful armies.  And a network of railroads brought them efficiently to the battlefield.  Unfortunately, these armies still employed Napoleonic tactics.  Mass in formation, fire and charge with bayonets.  Rifled barrels, though, replaced smoothbore muskets.  This tripled the effective range of an infantryman’s weapon.  Improved cannon, like the Parrot gun, made cannon fire more devastating.  So, while they stood en masse and fired, and marched forward with bayonet, they faced a withering, accurate fire.  Before the Battle of Cold Harbor, life expectancy in battle was such that soldiers sewed their name inside their jackets.  Why?  They wanted their fallen bodies identified and sent home for burial.

Another reason for the high casualties?  Two of the best armies in the world were fighting each other.  American was killing American.  In the beginning, the Confederates had the edge.  Robert E. Lee and General Stonewall Jackson were displaying by far the greater competence in battle.  But that was in the east.  In the west, Generals Grant and Sherman advanced along the Mississippi River with dogged determination.

At the Battle of Chancellorsville, though, Stonewall Jackson would fall from friendly fire as he reconnoitered the front.  He lost his left arm.  Lee would lament that Jackson may have lost his left arm, but he had lost his right.  Jackson would subsequently die from complications of pneumonia 8 days later.  A couple of months from that, Lee would be in Gettysburg, the ‘high water mark’ of the Confederacy.  And after 3 days of battle, he would lead his defeated army back across the Potomac.  Meanwhile, in the west, Grant had just taken Vicksburg and, as a result, control of the Mississippi river.

Lee’s foray into Pennsylvania may have not been a wise move.  It was only the second time a Confederate army invaded the North (the last resulted in the bloodiest single day of the war – Antietam).  Battle in the north favored the North.  Shorter lines of communications.  Better network of railroads.  Coal mines.  Factories.  It was a bold plan.  But a poorly executed plan.  The armies came into contact, after all, because barefoot Confederate soldiers looking for shoes came into contact with dismounted Union cavalry.  That’s what was in Gettysburg.  Shoes.  That, and one big-ass road intersection that brought all those armies together.

Lee’s forces started the Battle of Gettysburg prematurely because of singular defect in the South.  Supply.  Lee faced the same problems Washington did.  The Confederate Army was superior to the Union Army at many times.  They often outgeneraled the North.  And often outfought the North.  But they took heavy losses.  As did the North.  But, as Rhett Butler pointed out, the North was in a position to replace their losses.  The South simply was not.  It became a war of attrition.  And the north simply outlasted the South.  And had the time to become a superior army. 

The problem was the very thing they were fighting for.  States’ rights.  The north was able to wage total war.  The South, try as they might, could not.  States had some warehouses full of material, but a state allotted its material stores for its own regiments.  A state may have had a surplus of shoes, but they held them for their own soldiers while others went barefoot.

The southern soldier suffered beyond human endurance.  Days would go by without food or provision.  Some would pick up horse droppings and pick out undigested kernels to eat.  When they broke out of the siege around Richmond/Petersburg, they marched for days to promised provisions.  When they reached the rail cars, they opened them to find unneeded equipment.  Not food.  But they still fought on, emaciated as they were.  Until they found themselves surrounded near Appomattox Courthouse.  When faced with the choice of surrender or guerrilla warfare, Lee chose surrender.  He saw one country destroyed.  He did not wish to see another.

WASHINGTON DID PREVAIL in the end.  Despite his government.  Lee did not.  In part because of his government.  All the while the soldier in the fight persevered through great privations.  But never gave up.  They fought, and died, together.  For God.  For country.  And for each other.  All the while, no doubt, cursing their respective governments.

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