2022 Symposium Speaker Spotlight: Eric Sterner

We are happy to welcome Eric Sterner to our Third Annual Symposium on the American Revolution, co-hosted with Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, The Lyceum and Emerging Revolutionary War. This year’s theme is “The World Turned Upside: The American Revolution’s Impact on a Global Scale. We asked Eric to answer a few questions about their talk and their passion for history.

Eric Sterner is a writer focusing on American history, particularly the Revolutionary War and Civil War.  He writes frequently for the Journal of the American Revolution (http://allthingsliberty.com)  and blogs regularly at the Emerging Revolutionary War Era (http://emergingrevolutionarywar.org) in addition to contributing to other publications over the years.  Westholme Publishing released his book: Anatomy of a Massacre: The Destruction of Gnadenhutten, 1782 in 2020.  He is currently working on a micro history of the Crawford Campaign (1782) and a survey of George Rogers Clark’s Illinois Campaign (1778-1779).

In his prior life, Eric worked in the fields of national security and aerospace, holding senior staff positions for two different Congressional committees and serving at the Department of Defense and NASA.  In the private sector, he worked in the fields of national security policy analysis and telecommunications and then held fellowships at the George C. Marshall Institute and the American Foreign Policy Council.  At both places, his work focused on national security, cyber-power, and space policy and appeared in the academic, trade, and popular media.  He also taught graduate courses in cyber power at Missouri State University, Georgetown, and George Washington University.  He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Soviet and International Studies and

What first attracted you to the study of early American history? What keeps you involved in the study of this history? Do you find these things are the same or different?  

I was born in the Land of Lincoln, but as a kid, we often visited our grandparents outside Philadelphia, touring the local sites.  My great-grandfather sometimes took us on walks through Valley Forge and the memories stuck.  History became a hobby after that, but stories about real people and events always held more fascination than fiction.  So, when the opportunity came later in life to pursue that interest with intensity, it was only natural to take it.  

Why do you think it is important for us to study the Revolutionary Era?  

We still wrestle with many of the same questions as the founding generation: what conditions warrant rebellion, how to prevent the abuse of power, how to secure individual liberty, how to determine and enact the majority’s will, etc.  Despite their limitations, that generation’s answers to those questions are still relevant and illuminating.  

What do you think was the most significant foreign impact on the American Revolution? 

France’s declaration of war and alliance with the United States, followed by Spain’s declaration of War on Great Britain, transformed the Revolution into a global struggle.  The stakes grew exponentially from an imperial and philosophical perspective and Britain immediately had to change its strategy.  

What are some of the important lessons of the American Revolution do you think are still relevant today?

Warfare always exacerbates a tendency towards extremism, dehumanization, and excess, often reducing people to the most base instincts.  Somehow, the Revolutionary War generation managed to overcome—in the main—the disastrous effects of these tendencies.  While they failed to adhere to their ideals in many ways, principally by in leaving the institution of slavery in tact, the the fact that they managed to bridge differences, compromise, and create a republic in the aftermath of a war with so many facets is remarkable.  Understanding how they did that and what it might require of us would serve the United States well 250 years later.

What was it about the American Revolution that elicited such global interest? 

It is easy to focus on the effects of a colonial rebellion on European states with colonies all over the world.  Clearly, a successful rebellion had implications for those colonies.  But, Enlightenment ideas also popular in Europe ranged from the rationalization and efficiency of government institutions to more well-known and celebrated concepts of human individuality and the sources of sovereign authority.  In many ways, the American Revolutionary Era was the first real-world test of those ideas.  Thus, whether one opposed the Revolution for imperial reasons or supported it for philosophical ones, it could not help but fascinate the world.  

Join us for our Third annual Emerging Revolutionary War Symposium on September 24, 2022. Emerging Revolutionary War is excited to continue our partnership with Gadsby’s Tavern Museum and The Lyceum of Alexandria, VA to bring to you a day-long Symposium focusing on the American Revolution.

Registration fee is now only $60 per person and $50 for OHA members and students. If you feel more comfortable attending virtually, the fee is $30. To register visit: https://shop.alexandriava.gov/EventPurchase.aspx

Honoring Baron de Kalb and Baseball

On August 19, 1780 the United States lost one of the most influential foreign officers that fought for the new nation during the American Revolution. Johann von Robais, Baron de Kalb migrated to the United States along with the Marquis de La Fayette in 1777. A Prussian born solider who fought in the Seven Years War, de Kalb quickly became a respected leader. In the summer of 1780, de Kalb was commanding the Maryland and Delaware Continental Line in Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates’ southern army. One of the best trained and disciplined units in the Continental Army, de Kalb commanded the left of Gates’ line at the Battle of Camden on August 16, 1780. The battle was more of a rout, as the British rolled up the Virginia and North Carolina militia on the field, leaving the Continentals in a desperate fight for survival. After being shot three times and bayoneted several times, de Kalb was taken from the battlefield to Camden. His wounds were mortal and he died three days later.

Baron de Kalb monument in Annapolis, MD

The reaction to his death was immediate and the respect everyone had for him was evident. Cornwallis and other British officers showed great respect for de Kalb and gave him a proper military burial.  Washington, Gates and other Continental officers mourned the loss of the Prussian officer. Soon after the war a movement began to move de Kalb’s remains to another place in Camden with a larger monument. In 1825, Lafayette laid the cornerstone for a new monument above his new interment in front of the Bethesda Presbyterian Church. This memorial was designed by Robert Mills, a noted architect of the time.

De Kalb grave site in Camden, SC

Maryland especially took an interest in remembering de Kalb. His command of the Maryland Line and his bravery leading the men at Camden were important to Marylanders after the war. In 1780, Congress authorized a monument to be built in Annapolis to honor de Kalb, but it was not until 1886 that it was finally constructed on the grounds of the Maryland state house. In the early 20th century, the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a memorial stone on the Camden battlefield marking de Kalb’s death (supposedly marking the spot but this is still debated today). Recently in 2021, Camden unveiled a new statue to de Kalb at the new Revolutionary War Visitor Center.

The memory of de Kalb extended beyond memorials and monuments. In the late 18th century and early 19th century, states started to honor de Kalb naming counties and towns after him. A total of six counties in the United States are named after Baron de Kalb, located in Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Tennessee. There are six towns/cities in the United States named for de Kalb located in Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Texas and West Virginia.

New statue to de Kalb at the Revolutionary War Visitor Center in Camden, SC

But one of the most recognizable memorials to de Kalb and his Maryland Continentals is one that most people don’t even know as a memorial. In southern Baltimore where the large railroad yards were located, many of the streets were named after battles and individuals in the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution. Streets such as Washington, Lee, Howard, Eutaw and Camden. The large rail yard in this area was known as Camden Yards. In 1992, the Baltimore Orioles opened their new baseball stadium in the area of the old railyards next to the old B and O Railroad warehouse. The name was hotly debated, but then Maryland Governor William Donald Schaefer wanted to keep “Camden Yards” in the stadium name and eventually won out. The stadium today is called Oriole Park at Camden Yards, but most people now refer to it as “Camden Yards.” Though de Kalb would not recognize the game being played, he would recognize the name of the stadium and the state that was the home of so many of the men that followed him into battle at Camden. So next time you watch a baseball game at Camden Yards, think of de Kalb and those men at the Battle of Camden.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards

“Rev War Revelry” Nathanael Greene, Quartermaster

In March 1778, Major General Nathanael Greene finally consented to become the quartermaster for the Continental army then encamped at Valley Forge. He was loathe to give up his position as a line commander in charge of a division of infantry but with reassurances from General George Washington that he would retain his place and that his expertise was absolutely needed to revitalize the quartermaster department the Rhode Islander agreed.

His work over the next two plus years paid huge dividends. On Sunday, August 21, at 7p.m. EDT join Emerging Revolutionary War on our Facebook page for the next “Rev War Revelry.” Joining ERW will be the American Battlefield Trust’s Senior Education Manager, historian and author Dan Davis.

In reference to Greene’s role as quartermaster general at Valley Forge, Davis said, “Primarily remembered for his actions during the Southern Campaign, Nathanael Greene’s efforts at Valley Forge were critical in sustaining the Continental Army during a crucial period of its history.”

We look forward to a great discussion and hope you can join us for this historian happy hour!

One artist’s depiction of what the encampment at Valley Forge looked like

2022 Symposium Speaker Spotlight: Kate Egner Gruber

We are happy to welcome Kate Egner Gruber to our Third Annual Symposium on the American Revolution, co-hosted with Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, The Lyceum and Emerging Revolutionary War. This year’s theme is “The World Turned Upside: The American Revolution’s Impact on a Global Scale. We asked Kate to answer a few questions about their talk and their passion for history.

Kate Egner Gruber is the acting director of curatorial services for the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, where she works with a team to grow the collection and broaden the interpretation of early American history at Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. Kate is a graduate of the University of Mary Washington’s Historic Preservation program, where she focused on archaeology and material culture, and holds her masters degree in early American history from the College of William and Mary.

What first attracted you to the study of early American history? What keeps you involved in the study of this history? Do you find these things are the same or different?   

I never know how to answer this question. The past has always been a presence in my life—whether I was digging up holes in my mom’s backyard looking for buried treasure (sorry, Mom), enthralled with the stories behind the old things in my grandmother’s upstairs room, or lost in my imagination about the landscape I called home.

I like to say that history doesn’t change—but our relationship to it does. This is what keeps me involved in the study of history of today. There’s always something new to learn, new perspectives to consider, new lenses through which to view the past. This is what keeps me motivated and eager to keep diving in.

Why do you think it is important for us to study the Revolutionary Era?  

What we learn about the past helps us better understand our present and create a more perfect union for the future.

What do you think was the most significant foreign impact on the American Revolution? 

As someone who studies both 17th and 18th century history, my perspective on this question is flipped—I think the most significant impact on the American Revolution was the colonies’ shared 17th history in the growing English and (later) British empire.

What are some of the important lessons of the American Revolution do you think are still relevant today?

From England’s Glorious Revolution to America’s Glorious Cause, we’re still negotiating our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—or in the words of John Locke, life, liberty, and property!

What was it about the American Revolution that elicited such global interest

Some of the founders saw their American Revolution through the lens of the English Civil Wars and Glorious Revolution, all of which had global consequences. The American Revolution isn’t just American history—it’s world history! 

Join us for our Third annual Emerging Revolutionary War Symposium on September 24, 2022. Emerging Revolutionary War is excited to continue our partnership with Gadsby’s Tavern Museum and The Lyceum of Alexandria, VA to bring to you a day-long Symposium focusing on the American Revolution.

Registration fee is now only $60 per person and $50 for OHA members and students. If you feel more comfortable attending virtually, the fee is $30. To register visit: https://shop.alexandriava.gov/EventPurchase.aspx

Americana Corner

Emerging Revolutionary War checks in with Tom Hand and Americana Corner. Here is what has has been published on that blog for the month of July.

Ben Franklin Enters Politics
July 26, 2022

Benjamin Franklin retired from an active role in his printing business in 1748 at the age of 42. His work had made him a wealthy man, and he decided to devote the remainder of his life to civic improvements and governmental affairs. Franklin became a member of the Philadelphia City Council that same year, beginning a period of more than four decades of involvement in American politics and statecraft.

Read More

Virginia’s House of Burgesses, British America’s First Elected Legislature
July 19, 2022

The Colony of Virginia was established at Jamestown by the Virginia Company in 1607 as a for-profit venture by its investors. To bring order to the province, Governor George Yeardley created a one-house or unicameral General Assembly on July 30, 1619.

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How Colonial America Was Governed
July 12, 2022

When the English began to settle North America in the 1600’s, the leaders of the various colonies had different motives. While all colonies exercised their authority in the King’s name, they were not created in the same mold, and some had more autonomy than others. In fact, there were three different types of colonies: royal, self-governing, and proprietary.

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Ben Franklin, America’s First Man of Science
July 5, 2022

Benjamin Franklin was one of the world’s foremost inventors and scientists in the 1700s. His creative genius and inventiveness led to many significant discoveries that made living life easier for all. Moreover, he was proof positive that brilliant minds existed in British America, despite its backwoods reputation in Europe.

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“That his northern laurels would be turned into southern willows” Major General Horatio Gates Arrives to take command in North Carolina, July 25, 1780

Opportunity knocked for Horatio Gates with the fall of Charleston, South Carlina in May 1780. A devastating loss for the Americans, with nearly 6,000 men of the Southern Army under Benjamin Lincoln surrendered to Sir Henry Clinton. Unless something wasn’t done soon, the entire southern colonies could fall and the revolution along with it. Congress needed someone who could inspire men to join the war effort and a trusted leader with a positive record. Washington put Nathaniel Greene’s name forward, but Congress in a rare move went against Washington’s wishes and appointed Horatio Gates as commander of the Southern Department on June 13th

Major General Horatio Gates, ca. 1794 by Gilbert Stuart

The road from his victory at Saratoga to the Southern Department wasn’t an easy one for Gates. He sought independent field command and many believe he wanted Washington’s position as commander in chief. His allies in Congress and the Continental Army lobbied heavily on Gates’ behalf and were able to have Gates appointed to the powerful Board of War (the defacto Department of Defense). Though an important role (and serving as Washington’s civilian superior), Gates believed he belonged in the field.  Though his role in the famous “Conway Cabal” is still debated today, he was implicated via letters in criticizing Washington’s leadership. Whether his involvement was real or not, the relationship between him and Washington (and Washington’s inner circle) was seriously damaged. Due to the situation, Gates resigned from the Board of War and accepted appointment as department commander of the Northern Department. In this role he was responsible to look after the New York Highlands and watch from British incursions from Canada or New York city. Gates was unhappy in this role and proposed another American invasion of Canada. Washington and Congress disagreed and rejected his plans. He disliked his task of dealing with enemy native tribes in the region and dragged his feet in following orders. Finally, that fall, Gates took command of American forces in New England with his headquarters in Boston. Though excited by this appointment, he quickly realized that this post was not where the action would be. The British left Boston in 1776 and since the city was peaceful and not a welcome place for a man seeking glory and military action. Finally, after much frustration, Gates asked to return to his farm in Virginia and arrived there by December 1779. Gates found himself a hero without an army and continued to brood over his situation.

Continue reading ““That his northern laurels would be turned into southern willows” Major General Horatio Gates Arrives to take command in North Carolina, July 25, 1780”

Americana Corner

Emerging Revolutionary War checks in with Tom Hand and Americana Corner. Here is what has has been published on that blog for the month of June. A month of Ben Franklin!

Ben Franklin Improves Life for His Fellow Citizens
June 28, 2022

Benjamin Franklin made his money in the printing business, but his true calling was as a man devoted to understanding and improving all aspects of life. Franklin’s interests and innovations stretched from the areas of civics to morals to science to home improvements. His efforts left the world a better place. Read More

Ben Franklin’s Writing Enlightens and Entertains America
June 21, 2022

Benjamin Franklin was the leading printer in British America, but he was also one of the most successful authors of his time. Over the course of Franklin’s impressive life, he wrote two of the greatest treasures of American literature, Poor Richard’s Almanack and his Memoirs, also called The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.
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Ben Franklin, British America’s Most Successful Printer
June 14, 2022

Benjamin Franklin was the most successful printer in British America, owning or controlling most of the newspapers in the colonies by 1753. He got his first taste of the printing business in 1718 at the age of twelve while working at The New England Courant in Boston, a newspaper owned by his older brother James.
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Ben Franklin: An Extraordinary Man from Humble Beginnings
June 7, 2022

Benjamin Franklin was one of the most gifted and intriguing men in American history. His incredible rise from humble beginnings to one of the most famous men in the world is an inspirational story. It all began in Boston on January 17, 1706, when Franklin was born to Josiah and Abiah Franklin.
Read More

Americana Corner

Been a bit since we checked in and shared what our good friend Tom Hand has been doing at Americana Corner. The blog, dedicated to sharing “informative stories of the great events, founding documents, and inspirational leaders” routinely has a new post up every Tuesday. Below is what was on the blog for the month of May. Click the title to read the entire post.

Patriots, Loyalists and America’s First Civil War
With the Battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775, the actual fighting of the American Revolution was underway. As it turned out, this open warfare was not reserved just for the new Continental Army formed around Boston and the British Army trapped in the city. It soon spilled over into a fight between neighbors.

Americans Divide Over Independence
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a civil war is a war between opposing groups of citizens of the same state or country. By this definition or any objective measure, our nation experienced a civil war from about 1773 to 1783. It was much worse in its intensity and cost than anything from the Civil War, including Sherman’s infamous March to the Sea.

The Quasi-War and Its Aftermath
The only fighting in the Quasi-War occurred at sea, and mostly in the Caribbean. But with war at a fever pitch and French interests so close by in Louisiana, there was a very real concern in Congress about a possible French invasion of the United States from the west.

Escalating Tensions with France Lead to Quasi-War
The Quasi-War was an undeclared war between France and the United States, largely fought at sea in the Caribbean and along the southern coast of America, between 1798 and 1800. It developed because of a series of related events that soured the formerly strong relationship between the two nations.

Marquis de Lafayette, Virginia 1781

A few weeks back, you may have noticed a video on Emerging Revolutionary War’s Facebook page about the Marquis de Lafayette and his independent command during the spring and summer of 1781 in Virginia. Along with good pal, Dan Davis, we located a site of where Lafayette encamped while he maneuvers to protect the iron furnaces of the Fredericksburg area, keep a distance from British forces under General Lord Charles Cornwallis, and await reinforcements being sent south under General Anthony Wayne.

He continued to keep his commander-in-chief, General George Washington updated on affairs in the latter’s native state. From a camp in central Virginia the Frenchman penned the following letter.

Camp Betwen Rappaahonock and North Anna June 3d 1781

My Dear General

Inclosed you will find the Copy of a letter to General Greene. He at first Had-Requested I would directly write to you, Since which His orders Have Been different, But He directed me to forward you Copies of My official Accounts. So many letters are lost in their Way that I do not Care to Avoid Repetitions. I Heartly wish, My dear General, My Conduct may Be approved of particularly By You. My Circumstances Have Been peculiar, and in this State I Have Some times Experienced Strange disappointements. Two of them the Stores at Charlotte’s Ville, and the delay of the [Pensylva] Detachement Have given me Much Uneasiness and May Be attended with Bad Consequences. There is great Slowness and Great Carelessness in this part of the world—But the Intentions are good, and the people want to Be Awakened. Your presence, My dear General, would do a Great deal. Should these deta[chments] Be Increased to three or four thousand, and the french Army Come this way, leaving One of our generals at Rhode island and two or three about New York and in the Jersays you Might be on the offensive in this Quarter, and there Could Be a Southern Army in Carolina. Your presence would do Immense good, But I would wish you to Have a large force—General Washington Before He personally appears must Be Strong enough to Hope Success. Adieu, My dear general, With the Highest Respect and Most Tender affection I Have the Honor to be Yours

Lafayette

If you persist in the idea to Come this Way you may depend upon about 3000 Militia in the field Relieved every two months. your presence will induce them to turn out with great Spirit.

That letter may have been written somewhere around the terrain you see in the photos below. You never know what you can stumble into touring central Virginia!

*Link to the letter can be found here.

Prelude to Guilford Courthouse: Weitzel’s Mill

This March brings the 241st Anniversary of the pivotal battle of Guilford Courthouse, NC. While this battle is of immense importance to the Southern Campaign, several smaller battles leading up to it have been largely overlooked. Through February and early March of 1781, detachments of the American and British armies maneuvered across the modern-day counties of Alamance, Guilford, Orange, Chatham, and Caswell. The is the third in a series of three articles.  

            The last of the skirmishes occurred at Weitzel’s Mill, also spelled as Wetzel’s, and Wiley’s. Cornwallis was becoming more determined to strike at the Americans to either force a general battle, which he felt his veteran army could win, or destroy the isolated detachments operating near him. 

Continue reading “Prelude to Guilford Courthouse: Weitzel’s Mill”