Book Review: Bob Drury & Tom Clavin, Valley Forge, Kindle ed., (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018).

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Bob Drury and Tom Clavin have spent years writing books, both individually and as a team.  Between the two of them, they have explored topics ranging from baseball and golf to the old west and America’s 20th century wars.  With Valley Forge (Simon & Schuster, 2018), Clavin and Drury have turned to the American Revolution.  The result is another successful collaboration. (I’m biased as I have enjoyed several of their earlier books.)

Valley Forge tackles the Philadelphia Campaign, the winter encampment at Valley Forge (and elsewhere in truth), and the Continental Army’s emergence as a quality army capable of fighting the British on their own terms, which it demonstrated at Monmouth.  The focus is on Washington and the main army with him.  The reader sees both of them grow as Washington defeats political attempts to undermine his leadership and struggles to hold the army together in the face of harsh conditions and insufficient support from the rebelling states, Continental Congress, and local farmers.  Meanwhile, the Army develops into a core of hard-bitten professionals suitably trained in European methods specifically adjusted for their circumstances. After undergoing Steuben’s training program, it had the military skills needed to match its fighting spirit. By and large, it marked a turning point in the war.  Thus, at the end, the authors argue, “For those who survived, not least their inspired and inspiring commander in chief, the hardships they overcame had not so much transformed their innate character as revealed it.”[i] Continue reading

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Disaster on the Eastern Frontier

Part Two
For Part One, click here.

The British and loyalists would not have to wait long. Word of the landing reached the Massachusetts government within a matter of days, and preparations for a counterattack began almost immediately. There was such a hurry to respond that the General Assembly voted to carry out the operation with state forces rather than wait for Continental assistance.[1] Despite the initial rush it still took a month to assemble a force of over 1,000 militiamen, as well as the food, arms, and other supplies to sustain them. All of these troops and their supplies would be transported by a fleet of 21 transports, accompanied by nearly twenty state and Continental navy vessels and privateers. Among the warships the largest was the Frigate Warren of 32 guns which served as the flagship of Commodore Dudley Saltonstall. The Connecticut born officer was given overall command of the naval forces – no small task given the lack of experience with large scale fleet actions among his subordinates. Command of the land forces was given to Massachusetts Brigadier Solomon Lovell. Lovell has seen experience early in the war outside of Boston, but was also relatively untested in battle. The inexperience and poor communication between Saltonstall and Lovell was to have a decisive impact on the coming expedition. Notable among the other officers in the expedition was Paul Revere, who commanded the Massachusetts artillery. The expedition was also joined by a band of the local Penobscot Indians allied to the Continental Congress.

The New England fleet entered the Penobscot Bay on July 25th and immediately attempted a landing. Clearly outnumbered and with their works incomplete, General McLean and his men were determined to resist the Americans, but expected the worst. Saltonstall’s fleet sailed in close to the shore and exchanged cannon fire with both the British defences and the three remaining Royal warships, now under the command of Captain Henry Mowatt. In the confusion and smoke the Americans lowered seven launches full of marines and militiamen, but as they neared the shore they were met by a hail of musket fire[2]. At least one of the attackers – a Native American – was killed and the boats returned to the safety of the fleet. It was an inauspicious start to the battle for the New Englanders and already the relationship between the two commanding officers was becoming strained. General Lovell knew little about sailing or naval operations. He questioned the Commodore as to why he couldn’t just sail his fleet into the harbor and blast the British to pieces while his troops landed under their covering fire. The Connecticut seaman replied curtly, exclaiming “You seem to be damn knowing about the whole matter! I am not going to risk my shipping in that damned hole!”[3]

On the 26th a second militia landing on the peninsula was repulsed after the lead boat carrying militia Major Daniel Littlefield was swamped by British chain shot, drowning the Major and two privates.That same day, however, the Americans scored a small victory when a force of 200 Continental marines and artillerymen landed on Nautilus Island and captured the small British battery there[4]. More artillerymen were landed and soon the Americans had a battery from which they could harass the British shipping. With the Americans making some headway Captain Mowatt withdrew the remaining British ships deeper into the harbor, creating a defensive line across the Bagaduce River.

Castine harbor, looking out roughly where Captain Mowatt anchored the British transports and warships (Author_s photo)

Castine Harbor, looking out roughly where Captain Mowatt anchored the British transports and warships (Author’s photo)

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Posted in Armies, Battlefields & Historic Places, Battles, British Leadership, Campaigns, Civilian, Common Soldier, Continental Leadership, Emerging Revolutionary War, Militia (Loyalist) Leadership, Militia (Patriot) Leadership, Monuments, Northern Theater, Photography, Revolutionary War | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Visiting the Scene of Action: Battle of Camden

A reflection on the previous month’s exploration in South Carolina.

IMG_1905 (1)August 16, 1780 would prove to be a devastating day for the American Army in the south, known as the “Grand Army” by its commander, Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates, the Hero of Saratoga. The battle between this army and that of Lt. Gen. Charles, Earl Cornwallis, in the Pine Barrens near the South Carolina town of Camden, would end in the total rout of the Americans and the destruction of the reputation of its commander. It would also temporarily leave the southern colonies without a central army to oppose the British.

On November 1, members of the Emerging Revolutionary War Era staff took a road trip to Camden, SC to research the battle, walk the battlefield and meet with local historians in preparation for an upcoming addition to our book series, on the Battle of Camden.  On the way down, we took the opportunity of visiting other sites of combat, actions that occurred prior to and after the fight at Camden. Continue reading

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Norman MacLeod’s Campaign Journal, November 27, 1778

(An occasional series highlighting British Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton’s march south from Detroit to recapture Vincennes (Indiana) on its 240th anniversary.)

As fall progressed, cold set in and the weather began to catch up with Hamilton’s advancing army.  By November, it regularly dealt with freezing rain, snow, mud, and ice on the river and nearby trails.  MacLeod’s November 27th entry alludes to a few of those logistical challenges and the rather low opinion that the captain had of American soldiers, which began to place higher in MacLeod’s thinking as the army neared the territory so recently conquered by George Rogers Clark.

“Embarked at eight as usual, met with Great fields of ice this day But pretty good water.  So that we made us of our Oars only in two Rapids where most of the men was obliged to drag especially those in Boats because they draw more water than the Perogues, besides this the channels in the River are as if cut Purposely for no other Craft than Perogues.  We arrived at K [one or two words illegible] at 4 oClock called [sic; camped?] 10 miles from Weatono.  Us as our tents were Pitched five Savages from that Plase Arrived in camp, who acquainted us that there was no less than 200 of their nation ready to Join us the moment we arrived at the above Place.  They further told us that the Rebels had abandoned Au Post.  How true this is alittle more time we discover.  But it agrees with my own opinion for I never once thorough they would make a Stand either there or at the Illinois with So numbers especially on hearing that the Lieut. Govr. was coming who they know had all the Indians read at [hi]s call.”

William A. Evans and Elizabeth S. Sklar, eds., Detroit to Fort Sackville, 1778-1779: The Journal of Norman MacLeod, (Detroit: Friends of the Detroit Public Library/Wayne State University Press, 1978), 87.  The spelling and grammar errors are all from the original as transcribed by Evans and Sklar.  Evans and Sklar suspect “Weatono” is MacLeod’s reference to “Ouiatenon.”

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Thanksgiving with the Continental Army, 1777

Abraham Lincoln usually gets the credit for establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863.  He deserves much of it for making it an annual event.  But, Lincoln was harkening back to an earlier practice of giving thanks amidst the trials and tribulations of war, whether it was going well or not.  The tradition predated the Revolutionary War generation, but they were as apt to a hold national day of giving thanks as any of their predecessors or successors in American history.  Continue reading

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Disaster on the Eastern Frontier

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian Travis Shaw.

Part One

I’d be willing to bet that Maine isn’t the first place to come to mind when you hear the word “frontier”. For many Americans I imagine they immediately think of the wild west. Wagon trains of pioneers crossing the prairies, and Native nations like the Sioux and Apache ranging the plains on horseback. A century before the age of Manifest Destiny, however, the region that is now the state of Maine marked the eastern frontier of the English colonies. It was a wild and sparsely settled place, caught between New England and the French colonies to the north. The few European settlers eked out a living from the thin, rocky soil or turned to lumbering and to the sea. They lived alongside and often fought against the region’s original inhabitants – the Wabanaki or “People of the Dawn.” For two centuries the Eastern Frontier was torn apart by war between various European powers and their respective Native allies. Nowhere is this more clearly evident today than in the small coastal town of Castine, Maine.

Castine is located near the mouth of the Penobscot River, more or less in the middle of the Maine coast (Google Maps)

Castine is located near the mouth of the Penobscot River, more or less in the middle of the Maine coast (Google Maps)

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Book Review: A Battlefield Atlas of the American Revolution by Craig L. Symonds

ERW Book Reviews (1)

As a young history buff, I remember well wearing out the pages of the original A Battlefield Atlas of American Revolution by Craig Symonds. Though I have no idea where that well worn out book is today, I am happy to see that Symonds has revised and re-released his encompassing atlas, published by Savas Beatie Publishing.917TV+p0UsL.jpg

Symonds, using his experience as a lifelong teacher, approaches the war from the viewpoint of an educator. Breaking the war into four parts chronologically, Symonds provides a short narrative at the beginning of each section giving an overview of the action in each region and year. The battle descriptions for each map are thorough and give a great account of the action and the impact each event had on the overall campaign or war effort.

Symonds should be commended for covering lesser known campaigns and battles of the American Revolution such as Valcour Island, Fort Stanwix, Oriskany, Newport, Penobscot Bay and others. This enhances the work as it shows where these battles took place and speaks to the depth that Symonds took to comb the entire continent to include these minor yet important engagements in the atlas. For many readers, this will be the first time these actions have been visualized through maps.

As in his previous work, cartographer William Clipson provides easy to read and clear maps. The maps provide a good mix of detail and broadness to appeal to the casual history buff and dedicated researcher. As in his other atlases, the text flows well with the map as Symonds has numbers in the text that relate to specific parts of the map.

Though I enjoyed this book, there are two critiques of this volume. First, the size of the text which is very small and condensed. The font style and size selected could prove to be hard for some people to read. Secondly, a few of the maps have been cropped to the point where parts of the maps and text have been cut off, making them incomplete.

This book is a great addition to any library or better yet, in the glove box of your car as you visit these battlefields. It is a perfect companion in the field that allows one to understand the action and provides just enough of an overview to fill in for those battlefields that do not have any signage or interpretation. The information is detailed enough to give you a clear understanding of the battle and campaigns and the maps provide a great visualization of the action.

 

 

 

 

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