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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George Washington Passed By Here

One of my favorite places to visit are the Laurel Highlands of southwestern Pennsylvania. The area abounds in history, and its scenery is, in my view, unparalleled. Rugged mountains overlook beautiful valleys of hardwoods, streams and waterfalls. Rocky outcroppings emerge from the forest. Powerful rivers wind through the region

It is a center of industrial history: railroading and mining, transportation like canals, the National Road, and other scenic highways. There is even a bit of Civil War history in the region. But my favorite topic to explore is its French and Indian War history. Which brings me to the person who started it all, George Washington.

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Norman MacLeod’s Campaign Journal, November 7-14, 1778

(An occasional series highlighting British Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton’s march south from Detroit to recapture Vincennes (Indiana) on its 240th anniversary through the entries in Captain Norman MacLeod’s diary.)

Lieutenant Governor Hamilton’s army continued its progress towards Vincennes, but it was slow and backbreaking work.  Building dams to raise river levels did not work everywhere and his army often had to resort to the simple and monotonous task of unloading its vessels, dragging them through the shallows, carrying supplies forward, and then reloading boats to continue making progress the next day.  MacLeod’s diary entries for November 7th and 14th highlight the sheer fatigue involved in moving supplies on the frontier.

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Norman MacLeod’s Campaign Journal, October 31, 1778

(An occasional series highlighting British Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton’s march south from Detroit to recapture Vincennes (Indiana) on its 240th anniversary through the entries in Captain Norman MacLeod’s diary.)

This year marked the 240th anniversary of George Rogers Clark’s “conquest of the Illinois country” in modern-day Illinois and Indiana.  During the summer, he led a small force of Virginia militia down the Ohio River and eventually captured the towns of Vincennes in modern-day Indiana as well as Cahokia and Kaskaskia in modern-day Illinois.  The British Lieutenant Governor of Quebec, Henry Hamilton, could not abide such American audacity and set out to recapture the town of Vincennes and the British fort that had ostensibly protected it, Fort Sackville.  On his march south from Detroit, he prodded, pleaded, and encouraged Native American tribes to join his force, significantly swelling his numbers for the late-fall offensive.  By October, Hamilton’s army was regularly struggling with low water and ice on the rivers it needed to move supplies while freezing rain, snow, and falling temperatures plagued men on the march.

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Press Release: Victory at Yorktown

ABT

Breaking on Friday, the 237th anniversary of the surrender of British Lord Charles Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown, there was another victory.

The American Battlefield Trust announced the successful acquisition of 49 acres of “hallowed ground associated with the 1781 battle.”

The full press release is at the link below!

Victory at Yorktown!

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“Elbow Room” for “Uncle Johnny”

On this date in 1777, British General John Burgoyne surrendered to American General Horatio Gates around Saratoga, New York. This victory solidified French support for the fledgling American nation and became one of the turning points in the road to independence.

800px-BurgoyneByReynolds

General John Burgoyne

Out of this momentous occasion came an anecdote about the British general officer. The short story has some truth in it, yet, whether the entire tale is accurate, well, I’ll leave that for you to decide!

Two years prior to the Battles of Saratoga and upon arriving in Boston, Massachusetts, General Burgoyne remarked “Well, let us get in, and we’ll soon find elbow-room” when he was told the numbers of militia besieging British regulars around the town.

After his capitulation, Burgoyne and his forces were marched toward Albany, New York, and multitudes of people turned out to see the vanquished British and German soldiery along the route. One resident supposedly yelled from her homestead doorway;

“Make elbow room for General Burgoyne.” 

Not what he had envisioned in 1775 upon disembarking in North America. Yet, history does not relate what “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne thought exactly about the elbow room he received in the countryside of upstate New York!*

 

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*“Gentleman Johnny” was a nickname acquired by Burgoyne was stationed in London with the Horse Guards, a fashionable cavalry regiment.” 

**Information gathered from A.J. Langguth’s “Patriots” and The Patriot Resource, which can be found here.

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