Thursday, September 22, 2016

After Yorktown: The War Without End



Amazon Book Review: After YorktownHow much do we really know about the Revolutionary War? Most of us learned the highlight reel moments in school: Paul Revere's ride, the Battle of Bunker Hill, Washington crossing the Delaware, and the British surrender at Yorktown, but the real story is never that simple. While Washington's victory is considered the decisive event that won the Revolution and American independence, King George III stubbornly carried on his conflict with the Rebels and their allies beyond the borders of the newly minted United States, waging a world war ranging from South America to southern Africa, from the Arctic to Arkansas.

In After Yorktown, former reporter Don Glickstein focuses on people and tells their stories, using primary sources and the participants' own words to illustrate the war from lesser known angles. Tories also were patriots to their cause, he says, as were the Native Americans and African Americans, who fought against Washington in exchange for freedom. Spain, brought into the war by France, insisted that the conflict wouldn't end until Gibraltar was taken from the British. Diplomats labored for the peace until the fighting final ended... in India.

Here Glickstein offers a few of those perspectives from the book, now available in paperback from Westholme Publishing:

What our 9th-grade history books never told us about Washington and the Revolution

Washington: He was "no harum starum, ranting, swearing fellow, but sober, steady, and calm," said a Connecticut congressman. Washington had inherited wealth, married into it, innovated productive farming techniques, used slave labor on his farms, diversified with entrepreneurial ventures, and speculated in land. The greatest fortunes, he said, were made by buying low and selling high, "taking up and purchasing at very low rates the rich back lands which were thought nothing of in those days, but are now the most valuable lands we possess." John Adams, who, as a congressman, promoted Washington's bid to become commander in 1775, later became a sometime critic. He asked: "Would Washington have ever been commander of the revolutionary army or president of the United States if he had not married the rich widow of Mr. Custis?"

The Battle of Yorktown: It was a French victory, made possible by a French strategy; two French fleets; French siege engineers; French artillery that pounded the British; fought largely by French soldiers, marines, and sailors who outnumbered their American allies four-to-one; and set up by a French expatriate, the Marquis de Lafayette, who commanded a small rebel force that shadowed the British all summer. It was a victory financed by French money that paid, armed, clothed, and propped up Washington' army. And it was French diplomacy that ordered its commander-in-chief, Rochambeau, to publicly defer to Washington without overtly ceding him any authority.

Lt. Gen. Alexander Leslie, British commander in the South: He was, a fellow officer said, "a genteel little man, lives well, and drinks good claret." Leslie arrived in the South and found a dire situation. "The whole of the country is against us but some helpless [loyalist] militia with a number of officers, women, children, Negroes, etc.," he wrote his superior. "Add to this the refugees from North Carolina and many from Virginia on parole to feed, clothe and support, many of them formerly in affluent circumstances and now are destitute. … I must get my heart steeled. It is a most unpleasant situation."

Leslie's counterpart, rebel Gen. Nathanael Greene: Greene became the youngest brigadier general in the Continental army. An iron-monger by trade, he taught himself the art of war. "His knowledge is intuitive," a fellow general wrote. "He came to us the rawest and most untutored being I ever met with; but in less than 12 months, he was equal in military knowledge to any general officer in the army, and very superior to most of them." Others were less than awed. He left an impression on civilians of "belittling and sneering." Alluding to Greene's mentor, Washington, another critic sarcastically called him the "deputy savior." Greene never won a battle, but forced a British army to retreat from the Carolinas. "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again," he said.

The civil war between rebels and tories: Gen. Charles O'Hara, who would surrender the British Army to Washington at Yorktown, was aghast at the fighting between American Loyalists and American rebels: "I cannot even hint…upon the scene before me, which are beyond description wretched, every misery which the bloodiest cruel war ever produced … The violence of the passions of these people are beyond every curb of religion and humanity. They are unbounded, and every hour exhibits dreadful, wanton mischiefs, murders, and violence of every kind." An American rebel officer conceded that "scarce a day passes, but some poor deluded tory is put to death at his door." The rebels had their own complaints about the British. The South Carolina governor complained of prisoners "killed in cold blood," of others turned over to the "savages" and tortured to death. The British raped women. They burned churches. They destroyed homes of "widows, the aged, and infirm." From the other side, the British commander in New York complained to Washington about the treatment of tories: "the shedding of American blood by American hands."

Native Americans: Indians peacefully protested incursions by pioneers like Daniel Boone to white authorities. "Take these people off from our land … that we may not be at the trouble to drive them off," the Delaware Nation petitioned Pennsylvania. A missionary delivered a protest from a different Indian nation: "I admit that there are good white men, but they bear no proportion to the bad; the bad must be strongest, for they rule. … They will say to an Indian: 'My friend, my brother.' They will take him by the hand, and at the same moment, destroy him." Because most Native Americans sided with the British—the enemy of my enemy is my friend—the American victory was a disaster. The peace treaty delivered Indians to their American enemies. "We are, as it were, between two hells," wrote Joseph Brant, the articulate war leader of the Mohawk Nation. Even members of Parliament were outraged. "All faith was broken with the Indians," one said. The "cruelty and perfidy" of the abandonment was beyond the MP's "feeble power of description."

African Americans: While several thousand free blacks fought with the American rebels, most enslaved blacks tried to escape them for British lines, where many were offered freedom in exchange for fighting. Near the war's end, Washington protested the evacuation of at least 20,000 former slaves who had escaped to British protection. The British commander, Guy Carleton, replied to Washington's angry letter: "I had no right to deprive them of that liberty I found them possessed of." Lord North, the prime minister who had led the government at the King's behest, backed up Carleton: "The removal of the Negroes … is certainly an act of justice due to them from us."

The Marquis de Bouillé: Bouillé, the military governor of most of the French West Indies, devoted the first 11 pages of his autobiography to describing what he felt to be his mother's cruelty. As much as he detested his mother, he loved his father: "He was my idol as well as my model." When Bouillé protested to British Admiral George Rodney about the cruel treatment of French civilians, Rodney replied: "Perfidious people, wearing the mask of friendship, traitors to their country, and rebels to their king deserve no consideration or favor, and none shall they ever meet with at my hands." Bouillé felt insulted. He wrote back, "Your excellency, no doubt, forgot that you were writing to a French general, who, from the events of the war, has been for some time in the habit of despising insolence. … In the future, the interpreters of our sentiments shall be our cannon." Bouillé had the last laugh when he recaptured an island Rodney had taken from the Dutch.

British Admiral Samuel Hood: Hood complained about everything. He complained about his commander, Admiral Rodney: "There is, I am sorry to say it, no great reliance to be placed in a man who is so much governed by whim and caprice." He complained about Rodney's flagship captain: "He is no more fit for the station he fills than I am to be an archbishop." He complained about another admiral: "Very unequal to the very important duty." But Hood praised himself often. "I am not a little proud of my own conduct while in sight of the enemy's fleet," he wrote London.

The Minorca garrison: Besieged by the Spanish and French, British Lt. Gen. James Murray thought his garrison might be "a harder nut to break" than the enemy imagined. He might have been describing himself. As military governor of Canada, he had sided with French-speaking residents over his fellow Englishmen. The English were "the most cruel, ignorant, rapacious fanatics, who ever existed," while the French Canadians were "perhaps, the best and bravest race on the globe," despite being "impecunious, haughty, tyrannical, contemptuous of trade and authority, [and] attached to French rule." At Minorca, a Mediterranean island, his besieged garrison held out for nearly five months. Before he surrendered, he told his officers, "Calamity has come on us." He described the survivors: "Of the 660 able to do duty, 560 were actually tainted with the scurvy… [The garrison] consisted of no more than 600 old, decrepit soldiers, 200 seamen, 120 of the royal artillery, 20 Corsicans, and 25 Greeks, Turks, Moors, Jews, etc. Such was the distressing figures of our men that many of the Spanish and French troops are said to have shed tears as they passed them."

Mysorean General Hyder Ali: He organized his own army and gained their loyalty by sharing plunder equally, but he insisted on accurate records backed up by auditors. He didn't tolerate corruption. He learned quickly about modern military technology, supplies, and tactics. "He was attentive and exact in observing everything that passed in the French camp," an officer said. One advanced weapon in Hyder's arsenal was home-grown: Long-range rockets launched from bamboo tubes lined with iron. A British commissioner described him as "a bold, an original, and an enterprising commander, skillful in tactics and fertile in resources, full of energy and never desponding in defeat." His nemesis, a British general, paid him respect: Even when the British forced Hyder to retreat, "there was no consternation on his part, no trophies on ours."

French Admiral Pierre André Suffren: Years after Suffren's death, the exiled Napoléon discussed the admiral's merits. He "possessed genius, invention, ardor, ambition, and inflexible steadiness... [He] was harsh, capricious, egotistical, and a very unpleasant companion, was loved by nobody, though he was valued and admired by all. He was a man with whom no one could live on good terms." A British traveler fleshed out the portrait: "He looked much more like a little fat vulgar English butler than a Frenchman of consequence. … He was in slippers, or, rather, a pair of old shoes, the straps being cut off, blue cloth breeches unbuttoned at the knees, cotton or thread stockings (none of the cleanest) hanging about his legs, no waistcoat or cravat, a coarse linen shirt entirely wet with perspiration, open at the neck, the sleeves being rolled up above his elbows as if just going to wash his hands and arms." To critics and those who crossed him, he became known as "Admiral Satan."

 


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