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September 10, 1776: Nathan Hale Volunteers to Spy on the British

 

How beautiful is death, when earn’d by virtue!
Who would not be that youth? What pity is it
That we can die but once to serve our country.

Joseph Addison, Cato (1712)

 

 

 

At age 21 Captain Nathan Hale was already marked as  a man on the rise.  A graduate of Yale, he was an early advocate of advanced education for women and had taught a class of college level subjects to twenty young ladies prior to the War.  With the coming of the War he enlisted as a First Lieutenant in the 7th Connecticut regiment.  During the battle of Long Island he distinguished himself by leading a raid seeking to burn the frigate HMS Phoenix.  The raid failed in its main goal but several tenders of the frigate were destroyed and four cannon and six swivel guns were captured.

Due to his enterprise and courage Hale was invited to join the Ranger unit being formed by Colonel Thomas Knowlton.  The ancestral outfit of modern American Army Rangers, Knowlton’s Rangers specialized in reconnaissance and raids and were given their orders directly by General Washington.  On September 10, 1776 Knowlton brought to his officers a personal request from Washington that one of them volunteer to spy in New York to bring him back accurate intelligence on what the British army would do next.  His request was met with stony silence.  These were brave men, but they regarded the work of a spy morally dubious and a death by hanging if discovered, the fate of a common felon rather than a soldier.  Hale, the youngest man present, broke the silence and said simply that he would do it. Captain William Hull, later a Major General in the War of 1812, remonstrated with his friend:  “He said to him that it was not in the line of his duty, and that he was of too frank and open a temper to act successfully the part of a spy, or to face its dangers, which would probably lead to a disgraceful death.” Hale replied, “I wish to be useful, and every kind of service necessary to the public good becomes honorable by being necessary. If the exigencies of my country demand a peculiar service, its claim to perform that service are imperious.” Continue Reading

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Forgotten Heroes of the Revolution

 

Congress on April 3, 1776 formally authorized American privateers to raid British merchant ships.  In this Congress was merely recognizing what was already well under way, the patriot governments of the various colonies having issued letters of marque and reprisal since the beginning of hostilities.   The British parliament would authorize privateers against American merchant ships in December 1776.

Privateers were a traditional part of European naval war which fitted in well with the American national character.  Private operations, a common seamen on board a privateer after a successful cruise of capturing several British ships, could come back home with a small fortune in his pocket, often enough to purchase a small farm, or an inn, or set himself up in trade.  Privateers led by more daring commanders would even make prizes of several smaller ships of the Royal Navy.  Of course the risks were commensurate with the rewards, with death by sinking, or the slow death of rotting away in a British prison hulk if a crew was captured, ever a possibility.  Most American sailors were eager to take the risk, so many that the Continental Navy often found it difficult to man its ships. Some 11, 500 Americans died on the British prison ships, more than were killed in battle in all wars of America up to the Mexican War.  The dead are remembered in the Prison Ship Martyr’s Monument in Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn.

Some 1,697 American privateers would set sail during the War, capturing an astounding 2, 283 ships, acquiring badly needed supplies for the Continental Army and sending British maritime insurance rates soaring.  Some 55,000 Americans served as privateers during the War.  About one-fifth of these men lost their lives, either in the deeps of the seas, or as unwilling recipients of the hospitality of His Britannic Majesty after capture.  It is likely that the American Revolution could not have been won but for these men who waged a private war afloat.

 

 

The Ballad of the Green Mountain Boys

Something for the weekend.  The Ballad of the Green Mountain Boys, celebrating the exploits of the Vermont militia during the American Revolution.  The Green Mountain Boys mustered again in the War of 1812, the Civil War and the Spanish American War.

The ballad is taken from the poem, The Song of Vermonters, 1779.  Long thought by historians to be a work of Ethan Allen, the poem was actually the creation of 21 year old John Greenleaf Whittier, writing anonymously at age 21 in 1828.  The poem captures well the spirit of the Vermonters who created their own independent republic until Vermont was admitted to the Union on March 4, 1791. Continue Reading

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July 4, 1917: Lafayette We Are Here!

 

 

One hundred years ago a moving scene occurred in Paris.  After official American and French ceremonies at noon to commemorate Independence Day, a battalion of the American 16th regiment, from the newly formed 1rst Division, marched through Paris to the tomb of the Marquis de Lafayette, who had done so much to help the Americans in their Revolutionary War.  French troops home on leave, some of them wounded, in impromptu fashion joined the Americans in marching along.  The people of Paris went wild, showering the American troops with flowers, hugs and kisses.  After the troops arrived at the tomb, Colonel Charles Stanton, a nephew of Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, gave a short speech with an unforgettable ending: Continue Reading

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Fortnight For Freedom: A Just War

 

 

 

Based on the just war doctrine first enunciated by Saint Augustine, the American Revolution was a just war.

 

Over the centuries the precise content of the just war doctrine has varied.  The classic definition of it by Saint Thomas Aquinas is set forth in Part II, Question 40 of his Summa Theologica:

“I answer that, In order for a war to be just, three things are necessary. First, the authority of the sovereign by whose command the war is to be waged. For it is not the business of a private individual to declare war, because he can seek for redress of his rights from the tribunal of his superior. Moreover it is not the business of a private individual to summon together the people, which has to be done in wartime. And as the care of the common weal is committed to those who are in authority, it is their business to watch over the common weal of the city, kingdom or province subject to them. And just as it is lawful for them to have recourse to the sword in defending that common weal against internal disturbances, when they punish evil-doers, according to the words of the Apostle (Rm. 13:4): “He beareth not the sword in vain: for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil”; so too, it is their business to have recourse to the sword of war in defending the common weal against external enemies. Hence it is said to those who are in authority (Ps. 81:4): “Rescue the poor: and deliver the needy out of the hand of the sinner”; and for this reason Augustine says (Contra Faust. xxii, 75): “The natural order conducive to peace among mortals demands that the power to declare and counsel war should be in the hands of those who hold the supreme authority.”

Secondly, a just cause is required, namely that those who are attacked, should be attacked because they deserve it on account of some fault. Wherefore Augustine says (Questions. in Hept., qu. x, super Jos.): “A just war is wont to be described as one that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished, for refusing to make amends for the wrongs inflicted by its subjects, or to restore what it has seized unjustly.”

Thirdly, it is necessary that the belligerents should have a rightful intention, so that they intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil. Hence Augustine says (De Verb. Dom. [*The words quoted are to be found not in St. Augustine’s works, but Can. Apud. Caus. xxiii, qu. 1]): “True religion looks upon as peaceful those wars that are waged not for motives of aggrandizement, or cruelty, but with the object of securing peace, of punishing evil-doers, and of uplifting the good.” For it may happen that the war is declared by the legitimate authority, and for a just cause, and yet be rendered unlawful through a wicked intention. Hence Augustine says (Contra Faust. xxii, 74): “The passion for inflicting harm, the cruel thirst for vengeance, an unpacific and relentless spirit, the fever of revolt, the lust of power, and such like things, all these are rightly condemned in war.”

The most recent formulation of the Just War doctrine for the Church is set forth in the Catechism at 2309: Continue Reading

Fortnight For Freedom: The Liberty Song

 

Something for the weekend.  The Liberty Song.

 

Written by Founding Father John Dickinson in 1768, the song was sung by patriots in America to the tune of Heart of OakThe video below is the most hilarious scene from the John Adams mini-series where a completely fish out of water John Adams gets donations for the American cause from French aristocrats as they sing the Liberty Song, led by Ben Franklin who is obviously immensely enjoying himself.  It is a good song for Americans to recall, and perhaps especially so in this year of grace, 2017. Continue Reading

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Fortnight For Freedom: Catholics in the American Revolution

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nor, perchance did the fact which We now recall take place without some design of divine Providence. Precisely at the epoch when the American colonies, having, with Catholic aid, achieved liberty and independence, coalesced into a constitutional Republic the ecclesiastical hierarchy was happily established amongst you; and at the very time when the popular suffrage placed the great Washington at the helm of the Republic, the first bishop was set by apostolic authority over the American Church. The well-known friendship and familiar intercourse which subsisted between these two men seems to be an evidence that the United States ought to be conjoined in concord and amity with the Catholic Church. And not without cause; for without morality the State cannot endure-a truth which that illustrious citizen of yours, whom We have just mentioned, with a keenness of insight worthy of his genius and statesmanship perceived and proclaimed. But the best and strongest support of morality is religion.

Pope Leo XIII

American Catholics, a very small percentage of the population of the 13 colonies, 1.6 percent, were overwhelmingly patriots and played a role in the American Revolution out of all proportion to the small fragment of the American people they represented.  Among the Catholics who assumed leadership roles in the fight for our liberty were:

General Stephen Moylan  a noted cavalry commander and the first Muster Master-General of the Continental Army.

Captains Joshua Barney and John Barry,  two of the most successful naval commanders in the American Revolution.

Colonel John Fitzgerald was a trusted aide and private secretary to General George Washington.

Father Pierre Gibault, Vicar General of Illinois, whose aid was instrumental in the conquest of the Northwest for America by George Rogers Clark.

Thomas Fitzsimons served as a Pennsylvania militia company commander during the Trenton campaign.  Later in the War he helped found the Pennsylvania state navy.  After the War he was one of the two Catholic signers of the U.S. Constitution in 1787

Colonel Thomas Moore led a Philadelphia regiment in the War.

Major John Doyle led a group of elite riflemen during the War. Continue Reading

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The Devil and Andrew Jackson

the-devilold-hickory

(I originally posted this back in 2009.  Old Hickory is back in the news because of President Trump’s musings upon him.  As a result I decided to repost this.)

 

I have never liked President’s Day.  Why celebrate loser presidents like Jimmy Carter and James Buchanan, non-entities like Millard Fillmore, bad presidents, like Grant, with great presidents like Washington and Lincoln?  We have had other great presidents, and one of them, although Republican as I am I bridle on bestowing the title upon him, was Andrew Jackson.  No one was ever neutral about Old Hickory.  He is described as the father of the Democrat party.  Actually, both major parties owe their existence to him.   The Whig party, the main ancestor of the modern Republican party, was founded in opposition to Jackson’s policies.

Continue Reading

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April 19, 1775: Lexington and Concord-Why They Fought

 

 

In 1843 twenty two year old Mellen Chamberlain, who would later be a legislator, a judge and chief librarian of Boston, interviewed 86 year old Captain Levi Preston, last surviving veteran of the battle of Concord:

Question:  “Captain Preston, what made you go  to the Concord fight?

Answer:  “What did I go for?”

Question:  “Yes, my histories tell me that you men of the Revolution took up arms against intolerable oppressions.  What were they?”

Answer:  “Oppressions?  I didn’t feel them.”

Question: “What, were you not oppressed by the Stamp Act?”

Answer:  No, I never saw one of those stamps, and always understood that Governor Bernard put them all in Castle William. I am certain I never paid a penny for one of them.

Question:  “Well, what about the tea tax?”

Answer: “Tea tax!  I never drank a drop of the stuff:   the boys threw it all overboard.”

Question: “I suppose you had been reading Harrington, Sidney, and Locke about the eternal principle of liberty?”

Answer:  “Never heard of ’em. The only books we had were the Bible, the Catechism, Watts’ Psalms, and Hymns and the Almanac.”

Question:  “Well, then, what was the matter?”

Answer:  “Young man, what we meant in going for those Redcoats was this: we always had governed ourselves, and we always meant to. They didn’t mean we should.” Continue Reading

December 26, 1776: Washington Saves the American Revolution

 

 

Washington crossing the Delaware is ingrained in the American psyche, and well it should be.  Without Washington’s brilliant attack at Trenton against the Hessian garrison stationed there on December 26, 1776, his subsequent maneuver around the reacting British force under General Cornwallis, and his victory at Princeton on January 3, 1777, it is likely that the American Revolution would have died during the winter of 1776-1777, Washington’s army dissolving in the gloom and pessimism brought on by the string of American defeats of 1776.  Instead, Washington’s victories brought out fresh levies of patriot militia from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, strengthening Washington’s army and causing the British to retreat from New Jersey.  In the span of a week, Washington and his men altered the likely outcome of the American Revolution, and all subsequent history.  Here is Washington’s report to the Continental Congress on the victory at Trenton:

 

 

Sir: I have the pleasure of Congratulating you upon the success of an enterprize which I had formed against a Detachment of the Enemy lying in Trenton, and which was executed yesterday Morning. The Evening of the 25th I ordered the Troops intended for this Service [which were about 2400] to parade back of McKonkey’s Ferry, that they might begin to pass as soon as it grew dark, imagining we should be able to throw them all over, with the necessary Artillery, by 12 O’Clock, and that we might easily arrive at Trenton by five in the Morning, the distance being about nine Miles. But the Quantity of Ice, made that Night, impeded the passage of the Boats so much, that it was three O’Clock before the Artillery could all get over, and near four, before the Troops took up their line of march.

This made me despair of surprising the Town, as I well knew we could not reach it before the day was fairly broke, but as I was certain there was no making a Retreat without being discovered, and harassed on repassing the River, I determined to push on at all Events. I form’d my detachments into two divisions one to March by the lower or River Road, the other by the upper or Pennington Road. As the Divisions had nearly the same distance to March, I ordered each of them, immediately upon forcing the out Guards, to push directly into the Town, that they might charge the Enemy before they had time to form. The upper Division arrived at the Enemys advanced post, exactly at Eight O’Clock, and in three Minutes after, I found, from the fire on the lower Road that, that Division had also got up. The out Guards made but small Opposition, tho’ for their Numbers, they behaved very well, keeping up a constant retreating fire from behind Houses. We presently saw their main Body formed, but from their Motions, they seemed undetermined how to act. Being hard pressed by our Troops, who had already got possession of part of their Artillery, they attempted to file off by a road on their right leading to Princetown, but perceiving their Intention, I threw a body of Troops in their Way which immediately checked them. Finding from our disposition that they were surrounded, and that they must inevitably be cut to pieces if they made any further Resistance, they agreed to lay down their Arms. The Number, that submitted in this manner, was 23 Officers and 886 Men. Col Rall. the commanding Officer with seven others were found wounded in the Town. I dont exactly know how many they had killed, but I fancy not above twenty or thirty, as they never made any regular Stand. Our loss is very trifling indeed, only two Officers and one or two privates wounded. I find, that the Detachment of the Enemy consisted of the three Hessian Regiments of Lanspatch, Kniphausen and Rohl amounting to about 1500 Men, and a Troop of British Light Horse, but immediately upon the begining of the Attack, all those who were, not killed or taken, pushed directly down the Road towards Bordentown. These would likewise have fallen into our hands, could my plan have been compleatly carried into Execution. Genl. Ewing was to have crossed before day at Trenton Ferry, and taken possession of the Bridge leading out of Town, but the Quantity of Ice was so great, that tho’ he did every thing in his power to effect it, he could not get over. Continue Reading

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December 1776: A Dying Revolution and The Old Fox

The American Revolution was in the process of dying 240 years ago as General George Washington revealed in letters to his cousin Lund Washington who looked after Mount Vernon for the General during the War.

Dear Lund,

* * * * * *

I wish to Heaven it was in my power to give you a more favorable account of our situation than it is. Our numbers, quite inadequate to the task of opposing that part of the army under the command of General Howe, being reduced by sickness, desertion, and political deaths (on or before the first instant, and having no assistance from the militia), were obliged to retire before the enemy, who were perfectly well informed of our situation, till we came to this place, where I have no idea of being able to make a stand, as my numbers, till joined by the [78] Philadelphia militia, did not exceed three thousand men fit for duty. Now we may be about five thousand to oppose Howe’s whole army, that part of it excepted which sailed under the command of Gen. Clinton. I tremble for Philadelphia. Nothing, in my opinion, but Gen. Lee’s speedy arrival, who has been long expected, though still at a distance (with about three thousand men), can save it. We have brought over and destroyed all the boats we could lay our hands on upon the Jersey shore for many miles above and below this place; but it is next to impossible to guard a shore for sixty miles, with less than half the enemy’s numbers; when by force or strategem they may suddenly attempt a passage in many different places. At present they are encamped or quartered along the other shore above and below us (rather this place, for we are obliged to keep a face towards them) for fifteen miles. * * *

December 17, ten miles above the Falls.

* * * I have since moved up to this place, to be more convenient to our great and extensive defences of this river. Hitherto, by our destruction of the boats, and vigilance in watching the fords of the river above the falls (which are now rather high), we have prevented them from crossing; but how long we shall be able to do it God only knows, as they are still hovering about the river. And if every thing else fails, will wait till the 1st of January, when there will be no other men to oppose them but militia, none of which but those from Philadelphai, mentioned [79] in the first part of the letter, are yet come (although I am told some are expected from the back counties). When I say none but militia, I am to except the Virginia regiments and the shattered remains of Smallwood’s, which, by fatigue, want of clothes, &c., are reduced to nothing—Weedon’s, which was the strongest, not having more than between one hundred and thirty to one hundred and forty men fit for duty, the rest being in the hospitals. The unhappy policy of short enlistments and a dependence upon militia will, I fear, prove the downfall of our cause, though early pointed out with an almost prophetic spirit! Our cause has also received a severe blow in the captivity of Gen. Lee. Unhappy man! Taken by his own imprudence, going three or four miles from his own camp, and within twenty of the enemy, notice of which by a rascally Tory was given a party of light horse seized him in the morning after travelling all night, and carried him off in high triumph and with every mark of indignity, not even suffering him to get his hat or surtout coat. The troops that were under his command are not yet come up with us, though they, I think, may be expected to-morrow. A large part of the Jerseys have given every proof of disaffection that they can do, and this part of Pennsylvania are equally inimical. In short, your imagination can scarce extend to a situation more distressing than mine. Our only dependence now is upon the speedy enlistment of a new army. If this fails, I think the game will be pretty well up, as, from disaffection and want of spirit and fortitude, the inhabitants, [80] instead of resistance, are offering submission and taking protection from Gen. Howe in Jersey. * * * I am &c. Continue Reading

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The Liberty Song

 

Something for the weekend.  The Liberty Song sung by Bobby Horton.

Written by Founding Father John Dickinson in 1768, the song was sung by patriots in America to the tune of Heart of OakThe video below is the most hilarious scene from the John Adams mini-series where a completely fish out of water John Adams gets donations for the American cause from French aristocrats as they sing the Liberty Song, led by Ben Franklin who is obviously immensely enjoying himself.  It is a good song for Americans to recall, and perhaps especially so in this year of grace, 2016.

Continue Reading

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October 2, 1780: Death of Major John Andre

After a court martial composed of senior generals of the Continental Army, Major John Andre, who had been captured on a mission to Major General Benedict Arnold who was about to betray West Point to the British, was executed on October 2, 1780.  Andre made a positive impression on all American officers who came in contact with him, universally praised for his courage and good humor in adversity.  However, the rules of war were the rules of war.  He had been captured in civilian garb within enemy lines on the mission of a spy.  He must therefore meet the fate of a spy.  Andre appealed his sentence to Washington, not to spare his life, but that his mode of execution be an honorable firing squad rather than the dishonorable gallows.  Washington declined the appeal although he esteemed Andre, in his phrase, as an “accomplished man and gallant officer.”

We have an eyewitness account of Andre’s death from James Thatcher, a surgeon in the Continental Army:

October 2d.– Major André is no more among the living. I have just witnessed his exit. It was a tragical scene of the deepest interest. During his confinement and trial, he exhibited those proud and elevated sensibilities which designate greatness and dignity of mind. Not a murmur or a sigh ever escaped him, and the civilities and attentions bestowed on him were politely acknowledged. Having left a mother and two sisters in England, he was heard to mention them in terms of the tenderest affection, and in his letter to Sir Henry Clinton, he recommended them to his particular attention. The principal guard officer, who was constantly in the room with the prisoner, relates that when the hour of execution was announced to him in the morning, he received it without emotion, and while all present were affected with silent gloom, he retained a firm countenance, with calmness and composure of mind. Observing his servant enter the room in tears, he exclaimed, “Leave me till you can show yourself more manly!” His breakfast being sent to him from the table of General Washington, which had been done every day of his confinement, he partook of it as usual, and having shaved and dressed himself, he placed his hat upon the table, and cheerfully said to the guard officers, “I am ready at any moment, gentlemen, to wait on you.” The fatal hour having arrived, a large detachment of troops was paraded, and an immense concourse of people assembled; almost all our general and field officers, excepting his excellency and staff, were present on horseback; melancholy and gloom pervaded all ranks, and the scene was affectingly awful. I was so near during the solemn march to the fatal spot, as to observe every movement, and participate in every emotion which the melancholy scene was calculated to produce.

Major André walked from the stone house, in which he had been confined, between two of our subaltern officers, arm in arm; the eyes of the immense multitude were fixed on him, who, rising superior to the fears of death, appeared as if conscious of the dignified deportment which he displayed. He betrayed no want of fortitude, but retained a complacent smile on his countenance, and politely bowed to several gentlemen whom he knew, which was respectfully returned. It was his earnest desire to be shot, as being the mode of death most conformable to the feelings of a military man, and he had indulged the hope that his request would be granted. At the moment, therefore, when suddenly he came in view of the gallows, he involuntarily started backward, and made a pause. “Why this emotion, sir?” said an officer by his side. Instantly recovering his composure, he said, “I am reconciled to my death, but I detest the mode.” While waiting and standing near the gallows, I observed some degree of trepidation; placing his foot on a stone, and rolling it over and choking in his throat, as if attempting to swallow. So soon, however, as he perceived that things were in readiness, he stepped quickly into the wagon, and at this moment he appeared to shrink, but instantly elevating his head with firmness he said, “It will be but a momentary pang,” and taking from his pocket two white handkerchiefs, the provost-marshal, with one, loosely pinioned his arms, and with the other, the victim, after taking off his hat and stock, bandaged his own eyes with perfect firmness, which melted the hearts and moistened the cheeks, not only of his servant, but of the throng of spectators. The rope being appended to the gallows, he slipped the noose over his head and adjusted it to his neck, without the assistance of the awkward executioner. Colonel Scammel now informed him that he had an opportunity to speak, if he desired it; he raised the handkerchief from his eyes, and said, “I pray you to bear me witness that I meet my fate like a brave man.” The wagon being now removed from under him, he was suspended, and instantly expired; it proved indeed “but a momentary pang.”

Andre, who wrote poetry in his spare time, had a poem in his pocket written by Jehoida Brewer in 1776 that Andre had transcribed during his captivity from memory: Continue Reading

September 7, 1776: First Submarine Attack

The American Revolution witness several examples of Yankee ingenuity that astonished the foes of the United States and delighted their friends.  David Bushnell while an undergraduate at Yale in 1775 developed the plans for the Turtle, the first submarine used in combat.  Among his innovations was using water as a ballast to raise and lower the submarine, a screw propeller to move the Turtle and a time bomb to serve as the weapon of the Turtle.

The Turtle was constructed and in August General George Washington authorized an attack on HMS Eagle, the flagship of Admiral Richard Howe.  The attack was made on September 7, 1776.  The Turtle was piloted by Sergeant Ezra Lee.  The attack did not succeed.  On February 20, 1815 Ezra Lee wrote a letter describing the attack to General David Humphreys:

Judge Griswold, & Charles Griswold Esq. both informed me that you wished to have an account of a machine invented by David Bushnell of Say. Brook, at the commencement of our Revolutionary war. In the summer of 1776, he went to New York with it to try the Asia man of war: – his brother being acquainted with the working of the machine, was to try the first experiment with it, but having spent untill the middle of August, he gave out, in consequence of indisposition. – Mr. Bushnell then came to General Parsons (of Lyme) to get some one to go, and learn the ways & mystery of this new machine, and to make a trial of it.

 
General Parsons, sent for me, & two others, who had given in our names to go in a fire ship if wanted, to see if we would undertake the enterprize: – we agreed to it, but first returned with the machine down Sound, and on our way practised with it in several harbours. – we returned as far back as Say-Brook with Mr Bushnell, where some little alterations were made in it – in the course of which time, (it being 8 or 10 days) the British had got possession of Long Island & Governor’s Island – We went back as far as New Rochelle and had it carted over by land to the North River. – Continue Reading

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Quotes Suitable for Framing: George Washington

 

 

If Historiographers should be hardy enough to fill the page of History with the advantages that have been gained with unequal numbers (on the part of America) in the course of this contest, and attempt to relate the distressing circumstances under which they have been obtained, it is more than probable that Posterity will bestow on their labors the epithet and marks of fiction; for it will not be believed that such a force as Great Britain has employed for eight years in this Country could be baffled in their plan of Subjugating it by numbers infinitely less, composed of Men oftentimes half starved; always in Rags, without pay, and experiencing, at times, every species of distress which human nature is capable of undergoing.

George Washington, letter to Major General Nathaniel Greene, February 6, 1783

August 16, 1780: Battle of Camden

camden-august-16-1780

 

“But was there ever an instance of a General running away as Gates has done from his whole army? And was there ever so precipitous a flight?  One hundred and eighty miles in three days and a half.  It does admirable credit to the activity of a man at his time of life.”

Colonel Alexander Hamilton’s comment after the battle of Camden

 

 

 

 

 

The battle of Camden, August 16, 1780, was a humiliating defeat for the Americans.  Led by General Horatio Gates, a former British officer, 3700 Americans, more than half of them militia, were defeated by 1500 British regulars and 600 Loyalist militia.  900 Americans were killed and wounded, and a thousand Americans captured, compared to a British loss of 68 killed and 250 wounded.  Most of the American militia ran at the opening of the battle and Gates fled with them, riding his horse 60 miles to Charlotte, North Carolina.  Gates, thankfully, was never given a field command again.  His blundering had thrown away the only major American regular military force remaining in the South.  It was a disaster for the Americans and a humiliating one.

The one bright spot in this fiasco was the heroism of General Johann de Kalb and the Maryland and Delaware Continentals he led.  Born in 1721 into a family of peasants, de Kalb managed the incredible feat in Eighteenth Century Old Regime France of rising due to sheer ability to the rank of Brigadier General and entered the ranks of the nobility as a baron.  He first became familiar with America in 1768:  serving as a French spy he traveled throughout the colonies to determine the level of dissatisfaction of the colonists with British rule.  He grew to sympathize with the Americans.  He came back to America with Lafayette in 1777, becoming a Continental Major General.

After Gates and the militia fled, de Kalb and his 800 Continentals fought ferociously against the entire British Army, making charge after charge, with de Kalb at the head shouting, “To me, my Continentals!”  His Continentals were defeated only after de Kalb fell with 11 wounds.  General Cornwallis, commander of the British forces at Camden, had his personal surgeon treat his brave adversary.  De Kalb died three days later.  To a British officer who offered his sympathy, de Kalb gave a ringing reply that should be remembered by every American:  “I thank you sir for your generous sympathy, but I die the death I always prayed for: the death of a soldier fighting for the rights of man.”  The towns and counties named DeKalb throughout the United States are a tribute to a very brave man and able soldier who died for his adopted country.

Here is the report of Cornwallis on his victory:

Cornwallis, Charles, the Earl
1780 Letter from Charles, the Earl, Cornwallis to Lord George
Germain, dated 21 August 1780.
My Lord:
It is with great pleasure that I communicate to Your Lordship an Account of a Compleat Victory obtained on the 16th Inst., by His Majesty’s Troops under my command, over the Rebel
Southern Army, Commanded by General Gates.

In my Dispatch, No. 1, I had the honour to inform Your Lordship that while at Charlestown I was regularly acquainted by Lord Rawdon with every Material incident or Movement made by the
Enemy, or by the Troops under His Lordship’s command. On the 9th Inst. two Expresses arrived with an account that Genl. Gates was advancing towards Lynche’s Creek with his whole Army, supposed to amount to 6,000 men, exclusive of a Detachment of 1,000 Men under Genl. Sumpter, who, after having in vain attempted to force the Posts at Rocky Mount & Hanging Rock, was believed to be at that time trying to get round the left of our position, to cut off our communications with the Congarees & Charleston; That the disaffected Country between Pedee & Black River had actually revolted, and that Lord Rawdon was contracting his Posts and preparing to assemble his force at Camden. Continue Reading

The Ongoing American Revolution

But the continuing success of American democracy depends on the degree to which each new generation, native-born and immigrant, makes its own the moral truths on which the Founding Fathers staked the future of your Republic. Their commitment to build a free society with liberty and justice for all must be constantly renewed if the United States is to fulfill the destiny to which the Founders pledged their “lives . . . fortunes . . . and sacred honor.

Saint John Paul II, December 16, 1997

 

 

A good way to observe the Fourth of July is to read aloud the Declaration of Independence.  My family has done that for years.  The Declaration is not an historical artifact to be mentioned in passing in forgettable speeches once a year.  It is the most radical document ever to issue from the pen of Man:

  1.  Rights derive from God and are unalienable.
  2. That to secure these rights governments are instituted among men.
  3. Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.
  4. All men are created equal.
  5. That the people have a right to overthrow a government that is becoming a despotism.

These words, as a cursory glance around the world reveals, remain just as revolutionary and controversial today as when Mr. Jefferson wrote them two hundred and forty years ago.  His words are not meant to be worshiped, but rather to be argued about and debated.  It is common to date the end of the American Revolution to 1783.  Not so, not so.  That is when Britain recognized the independence of the United States.  However, the Revolution itself, as articulated in the Declaration of Independence, is an ongoing proposition, and each day it has defeats and victories, and the outcome of that Revolution is still very much in doubt.  It is up to each of us, by our actions today, to determine whether the vision of the Founding Fathers is a true one or not. Continue Reading

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Catholics in the American Revolution

 

 

Nor, perchance did the fact which We now recall take place without some design of divine Providence. Precisely at the epoch when the American colonies, having, with Catholic aid, achieved liberty and independence, coalesced into a constitutional Republic the ecclesiastical hierarchy was happily established amongst you; and at the very time when the popular suffrage placed the great Washington at the helm of the Republic, the first bishop was set by apostolic authority over the American Church. The well-known friendship and familiar intercourse which subsisted between these two men seems to be an evidence that the United States ought to be conjoined in concord and amity with the Catholic Church. And not without cause; for without morality the State cannot endure-a truth which that illustrious citizen of yours, whom We have just mentioned, with a keenness of insight worthy of his genius and statesmanship perceived and proclaimed. But the best and strongest support of morality is religion.

Pope Leo XIII

American Catholics, a very small percentage of the population of the 13 colonies, 1.6 percent, were overwhelmingly patriots and played a role in the American Revolution out of all proportion to the small fragment of the American people they represented.  Among the Catholics who assumed leadership roles in the fight for our liberty were:

General Stephen Moylan  a noted cavalry commander and the first Muster Master-General of the Continental Army.

Captains Joshua Barney and John Barry,  two of the most successful naval commanders in the American Revolution.

Colonel John Fitzgerald was a trusted aide and private secretary to General George Washington.

Father Pierre Gibault, Vicar General of Illinois, whose aid was instrumental in the conquest of the Northwest for America by George Rogers Clark.

Hercules Mulligan-Ran a haberdashery in New York City during the War which catered to British officers, and all during the occupation of that community by the British was a spy for George Washington.  Washington cleared him of suspicion of Loyalism by having breakfast with him the day after the evacuation by the British of New York in 1783.

Father Eustache Lotbiniere who served as chaplain to one of two Continental regiments, known as Congress’ Own, of French Canadiens.

Nurse Mary Waters’, an Irish immigrant, work in the Continental Army hospitals was praised by Surgeon General Benjamin Rush.

Thomas Fitzsimons served as a Pennsylvania militia company commander during the Trenton campaign.  Later in the War he helped found the Pennsylvania state navy.  After the War he was one of the two Catholic signers of the U.S. Constitution in 1787

Colonel Thomas Moore led a Philadelphia regiment in the War.

Colonel Morgan Connor served as Adjutant General of the Continental Army in 1777.

Major John Doyle led a group of elite riflemen during the War. Continue Reading

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Fortnight For Freedom: The Catholic Signer

 

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Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime & pure, [and] which denounces against the wicked eternal misery, and [which] insured to the good eternal happiness, are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments.

Charles Carroll of Carrollton, letter to James McHenry, November 4, 1800.

Charles Carroll of Carrollton, as he signed his name when he added his signature to the Declaration of Independence, was the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence.  When he died at the age of 95, he was the last of the Signers to depart this vale of tears.

The scion of perhaps the richest family in the colonies, Charles Carroll was initially uninterested in politics and, in any case, was debarred by his religion from participating in politics in his native Maryland by his religions.  However, in his thirties he became a passionate advocate of American independence from Great Britain and quickly became one of the chief leaders of the Patriot cause in his home colony.  It was only natural as a result that he was sent to Congress, in spite of his religion, where he was one of the chief spokesmen for independence and happily placed his signature on the Declaration even though by doing so he risked not only his fortune but his life if the British had prevailed.  By the end of 1776 the revolutionary government of Maryland had issued an act of religious freedom, and Carroll and his fellow Catholics in Maryland enjoyed the same civil rights as Protestants.

In 1778 he returned to Maryland and helped draft the state constitution and in setting up the new state government, serving in the State Senate until 1800, and briefly in the United States Senate.

A slaveholder, throughout his career Carroll spoke and wrote of slavery as an evil that must come to an end as soon as possible.  He attempted, but failed, to have Maryland implement a plan of gradual emancipation.  At the age of 91 he took on the task of being president of the Auxiliary State Colonization Society of Maryland, part of  a national movement to have free blacks voluntarily colonize what would become Liberia in Africa.

Something of a Renaissance man, he had a strong interest in science and in his nineties helped set up the B&O Railroad, lending his prestige to this new technology in his native Maryland.

Throughout his life his two main passions were the American Revolution and his Faith.   Like most of the Founding Fathers he regarded the idea of political liberty divorced from sound morality, derived from religion, as an absurdity.  He set forth his ideas on this subject in a letter to Secretary of War James McHenry in 1800 in which he lamented the then current American political scene: Continue Reading

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Fortnight For Freedom: Major Andrew McClary

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I occasionally encounter people who claim that freedom is an abstraction, and that they would never die for an abstraction.  That has never been the case in my family.  McClareys have fought in all the nation’s wars down to the present, and we have attempted to remember them beginning with the first, Andrew McClary, a man who has fascinated me since my father told me about him so long ago.

He is memorialized in the  above section of a painting  by John Trumbull and depicting, with artistic license, “The Death of General John Warren.”  The Major is shown raising his musket to brain a British soldier attempting to bayonet the dying Warren, a warlike action quite in character for him, and one which warms the cockles of my heart.  My wife has noted over the years how much I resemble Major Andrew, and it is intriguing how his facial features have been passed down through the generations of my family.

Born  in 1730 in Ireland, at an early age he emigrated to New Hampshire with his family.  He grew to six feet, a giant of a man for his time, jovial in disposition but always ready to fight if need be to defend his rights or the rights of those he loved.    The colonies were fortunate that quite a few men, like George Washington, who had served in the French and Indian War, were still in the prime of life and constituted a potential officer corps with, in many cases, combat experience, at the time when the Revolution began.  Major Andrew McClary was typical of these men.  After serving as an officer in Rogers’ Rangers during the French and Indian War, and singlehandedly throwing six British officers out of a tavern window during a loud “discussion” on a memorable evening, he had settled down as a farmer outside of Epsom, serving as a selectman of that town,  a member of the New Hampshire legislature, and, always, as an officer of the New Hampshire militia.  When news of Lexington and Concord reached him, he abandoned his plow, told his young family he was off to fight the British, and immediately marched off with a company of 80 militiamen to the siege lines around Boston. There he met up with his old friend from Rogers’ Rangers Colonel John Stark, who made McClary a major in his regiment of New Hampshire militia.

At the battle of Bunker Hill, Major McClary led the regiment onto Breed’s Hill, where the battle was fought on June 17, 1775.  The advance of the regiment was momentarily blocked by a gaggle of Massachusetts militia standing about on the road doing nothing.  That obstruction was removed when McClary yelled out that New Hampshire would like to borrow the road, if Massachusetts was not using it. Continue Reading

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April 26, 1777: Sybil Ludington’s Ride

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The eldest of twelve children, Sybil Ludington grew up in a household of ardent patriots, her father being the commander of the local militia in Duchess County New York.  On April 26, 1777 she became, at age 16, a heroine of the Revolution when she rode forty miles to her father’s militia encampment at night on her horse Star to spread the alarm that the British were moving on Danbury Connecticut.  During her ride she successfully defended herself against a highwayman using a long stick.  She used the same stick to bang on the door of houses along the way to let the occupants know that the British were on the march,  Thanks to her, her father Colonel Henry Ludington chased after the British with 400 of his militia.  They were unable to intercept the British before their attack on Danbury, but they, along with other militia units, harassed the British as they retreated to New York.  The campaign is considered a turning point that helped ensure firm patriot control in Connecticut.  Sybil received the personal thanks of George Washington. Continue Reading

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April 19, 1775: The Shot Heard Round the World

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare,
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1837) Continue Reading

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James Otis: Forgotten Founding Father

 

“The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the crown. It may be frail – its roof may shake – the wind may blow through it – the storm may enter – the rain may enter – but the King of England cannot enter.”

William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, March 1763, in his speech against warrantless searches allowed under the proposed Excise Bill before the British Parliament.

James Otis had a glittering career ahead of him.  At the age of 35 in 1760 he was Advocate General for the Admiralty Court in Boston.  His wife Ruth was heiress to a fortune worth ten thousand pounds.  He threw it all away and resigned his post to represent pro bono, he refused the fee they wished to pay him saying that in such a great cause he despised all fees, colonial merchants subject to writs of assistance.  A writ of assistance was a court order that allowed British officials to search at whim houses and businesses of those suspected of smuggling without obtaining a search warrant.  These writs were in effect for the lifetime of the King during whose reign the writ was issued.  Bearers of writs of assistance were not responsible for any damage caused by their searches.  Otis viewed the writs to be a violation of Magna Carta, English case law and the traditional English legal doctrine that an Englishman’s home was his castle.

In a  five hour address that captivated listeners at the Boston State House on February 24, 1761, James Otis denounced the writs of assistance:

Your Honors will find in the old books concerning the office of a justice of the peace precedents of general warrants to search suspected houses. But in more modern books you will find only special warrants to search such and such houses, specially named, in which the complainant has before sworn that he suspects his goods are concealed; and will find it adjudged that special warrants only are legal. In the same manner I rely on it, that the writ prayed for in this petition, being general, is illegal. It is a power that places the liberty of every man in the hands of every petty officer. I say I admit that special Writs of Assistance, to search special places, may be granted to certain persons on oath; but I deny that the writ now prayed for can be granted, for I beg leave to make some observations on the writ itself, before I proceed to other Acts of Parliament.

In the first place, the writ is universal, being directed “to all and singular justices, sheriffs, constables, and all other officers and subjects”; so that, in short, it is directed to every subject in the King’s dominions. Every one with this writ may be a tyrant; if this commission be legal, a tyrant in a legal manner, also, may control, imprison, or murder any one within the realm. In the next place, it is perpetual; there is no return. A man is accountable to no person for his doings. Every man may reign secure in his petty tyranny, and spread terror and desolation around him, until the trump of the Archangel shall excite different emotions in his soul. In the third place, a person with this writ, in the daytime, may enter all houses, shops, etc., at will, and command all to assist him. Fourthly, by this writ not only deputies, etc., but even their menial servants, are allowed to lord it over us. What is this but to have the curse of Canaan with a witness on us: to be the servants of servants, the most despicable of God’s creation?

Now, one of the most essential branches of English liberty is the freedom of one’s house. A man’s house is his castle; and whilst he is quiet, he is as well guarded as a prince in his castle. This writ, if it should be declared legal, would totally annihilate this privilege. Custom-house officers may enter our houses when they please; we are commanded to permit their entry. Their menial servants may enter, may break locks, bars, and everything in their way; and whether they break through malice or revenge, no man, no court can inquire. Bare suspicion without oath is sufficient.

Otis lost the case, but his bold stand was considered the start of the American independence movement.  John Adams was present during the speech and later wrote:

“The child independence was then and there born,[for] every man of an immense crowded audience appeared to me to go away as I did, ready to take arms against writs of assistance.”

In the years to come he helped popularize the phrase, “No taxation without representation.”  Mental illness cut short his services to the American cause, illness exacerbated by his receiving a blow to his head from a British customs inspector in 1769.  In years to come he would have alternating periods of madness and lucidity.  His wife Ruth, although her personal political sympathies were Tory, loyally stood by her husband and cared for him.

Otis did not let his madness stop him from bearing arms.  Hearing the artillery bombardment preparatory to the battle of Bunker Hill, he snuck out of his house, got a rifle, and joined the American troops on Breed’s Hill.  After the battle he walked home. Continue Reading

April 7, 1776: Lexington Takes Edward

On March 14, 1776, that sea going Catholic son of Ireland John Barry, received his commission as a Captain in the Continental Navy from the Continental Congress.  It was signed by John Hancock, President of the Congress.  Barry wasted no time making his mark.

Barry was placed in command of the USS Lexington, 14 guns, on December 7, 1775.  Captain Barry took the Lexington on its maiden voyage on March 26, 1776.  On April 7, 1776, Barry had his initial victory of the war, taking H.M.S. sloop Edward after a short but fierce engagement.  This was the first naval victory of the new Continental Navy and the first British warship captured by the Americans. Barry had begun his victorious military career and started to earn the proud title of Father of the American Navy.

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April 3, 1776: Continental Congress Authorizes Privateers

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Congress on April 3, 1776 formally authorized American privateers to raid British merchant ships.  In this Congress was merely recognizing what was already well under way, the patriot governments of the various colonies having issued letters of marque and reprisal since the beginning of hostilities.   The British parliament would authorize privateers against American merchant ships in December 1776.

Privateers were a traditional part of European naval war which fitted in well with the American national character.  Private operations, a common seamen on board a privateer after a successful cruise of capturing several British ships, could come back home with a small fortune in his pocket, often enough to purchase a small farm, or an inn, or set himself up in trade.  Privateers led by more daring commanders would even make prizes of several smaller ships of the Royal Navy.  Of course the risks were commensurate with the rewards, with death by sinking, or the slow death of rotting away in a British prison hulk if a crew was captured, ever a possibility.  Most American sailors were eager to take the risk, so many that the Continental Navy often found it difficult to man its ships. Continue Reading

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The Old Line’s Bugle, Fife, and Drum

Something for the weekend.  Maryland, my Maryland.  Written by James Ryder Randall  in white heat in 1861 after he learned that his friend Francis X. Ward had been killed by soldiers of the 6th Massachusetts in the Baltimore riot of 1861.  A heart felt plea for his native state to join the Confederacy, set to the tune of O’Tannenbaum  it became one of the more popular songs in the Confederacy.  Tuberculosis prevented Randall from serving in the Confederate Army, so he joined the Confederate Navy.  After the War he was commonly referred to as the poet laureate of the lost cause.  A Catholic, his later in life poems were usually religious in nature.

Although the Civil War brought forth Maryland my Maryland, there are many references to Maryland’s proud Revolutionary history:


 Thou wilt not cower in the dust,
Maryland!
Thy beaming sword shall never rust,
Maryland!
Remember Carroll’s sacred trust,
Remember Howard’s warlike thrust,-
And all thy slumberers with the just,
Maryland! My Maryland! Continue Reading

March 4, 1776: Washington Occupies Dorchester Heights

“The rebels have done more in one night than my whole army would have done in a month.”

General Howe, March 5, 1776
After Colonel Henry Knox brought the artillery from Ticonderoga to the siege lines around Boston in January 1776, Washington gathered together the powder and ammunition for the cannon.  By early March he was ready.  Occupying high points around Boston with artillery to divert British attention.  Beginning on the evening of March 2, he conducted nightly bombardments of Boston.  The bombardments continued on March 3 and March 4.  However, on March 4, he also had General John Thomas lead 2000 men to occupy Dorchester Heights to the south of Boston.  Hay bales were placed between the path taken by the Americans and Boston Harbor in order to muffle the sound of the movement.

Continue Reading

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Jefferson on the History of the American Revolution

On August 10, 1815, Thomas Jefferson set pen to paper to respond to John Adams’ letter to him of July 30, 1815.  Go here to read that letter.  Jefferson was no more optimistic than Adams that a true history of the American Revolution could be written:

On the subject of the history of the American revolution, you ask Who shall write it? who can write it? and who ever will be able to write it? nobody; except merely it’s external facts. all it’s councils, designs and discussions, having been conducted by Congress with closed doors, and no member, as far as I know, having even made notes of them. these, which are the life and soul of history must for ever be unknown. Botta, as you observe, has put his own speculations and reasonings into the mouths of persons whom he names, but who, you & I know, never made such speeches. in this he has followed the example of the antients, who made their great men deliver long speeches, all of them in the same style, and in that of the author himself. the work is nevertheless a good one, more judicious, more chaste, more classical, and more true than the party diatribe of Marshall. it’s greatest fault is in having taken too much from him. I possessed the work, and often recurred to considerable portions of it, altho’ I never read it through. but a very judicious and well informed neighbor of mine went thro’ it with great attention, and spoke very highly of it. I have said that no member of the old Congress, as far as I knew, made notes of the discussions. I did not know of the speeches you mention of Dickinson and Witherspoon. but on the questions of Independance and on the two articles of Confederation respecting taxes & voting I took minutes of the heads of the arguments. on the first I threw all into one mass, without ascribing to the speakers their respective arguments; pretty much in the manner of Hume’s summary digests of the reasonings in parliament for and against a measure. on the last I stated the heads of arguments used by each speaker. but the whole of my notes on the question of independance does not occupy more than 5. pages, such as of this letter: and on the other questions two such sheets. they have never been communicated to any one. do you know that there exists in MS. the ablest work of this kind ever yet executed, of the debates of the Constitutional convention of Philadelphia in 1788.? the whole of every thing said and done there was taken down by mr Madison, with a labor and exactness beyond comprehension. I presume that our correspondence has been observed at the post offices, and thus has attracted notice. would you believe that a printer has had the effrontery to propose to me the letting him publish it? these people think they have a right to every thing however secret or sacred. Continue Reading

John Adams on the History of the American Revolution

John Adams often groused that the true history of the American Revolution would never be written.  Considering this, it is somewhat surprising that he did not undertake the task himself.  He had ample time after his Presidency, and his lively and copious correspondence indicates that age had not lessened his skill with a pen.  It is possible that he simply viewed it as an impossible task, as he indicated in a letter to Thomas Jefferson on July 30, 1815:

Dear Sir                                                                                                                                                                                  Quincy July 30th 1815

Who shall write the history of the American revolution? Who can write it? Who will ever be able to write it?

The most essential documents, the debates & deliberations in Congress from 1774 to 1783 were all in secret, and are now lost forever. Mr Dickinson printed a speech, which he said he made in Congress against the Declaration of Independence; but it appeared to me very different from that, which you, and I heard. Dr Witherspoon has published speeches which he wrote beforehand, and delivered Memoriter, as he did his Sermons. But these I believe, are the only speeches ever committed to writing. The Orators, while I was in Congress from 1774 to 1778 appeared to me very universally extemporaneous, & I have never heard of any committed to writing before or after delivery.

These questions have been suggested to me, by a Review, in the Analectic Magazine for May 1815, published in Philadelphia, page 385 of the Chevalier Botta’s “Storia della Guerra Americana.” The Reviewers inform us, that it is the best history of the revolution that ever has been written. This Italian Classick has followed the example, of the Greek and Roman Historians, by composing speeches, for his Generals and Orators. The Reviewers have translated, one of Mr R H Lee, in favour of the declaration of Independence. A splendid morcell of oratory it is; how faithful, you can judge.

I wish to know your sentiments, and opinions of this publication.  Some future Miss Porter, may hereafter, make as shining a romance, of what passed in Congress, while in Conclave, as her Scottish Chiefs.

Your friend durante Vita2

John Adams

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John Adams: Washington’s Ten Talents

“The History of our Revolution will be one continued lye [sic] from one end to the other. The essence of the whole will be that Dr. Franklin’s electric rod smote the earth and out sprang General Washington. Then Franklin electrified him… and thence forward those two conducted all the Policy, Negotiations, Legislations, and War.” 

John Adams, letter to Benjamin Rush, 1790

John Adams was a very great man, but he could be somewhat petty at times.  This pettiness came to the fore when he considered that other men, particularly George Washington, would loom larger than him in the history of the American Revolution and its aftermath.  In a letter to Benjamin Rush on November 11, 1807, he remarked upon what he considered to be Washington’s ten great talents:

Self taught or Book learned in the Arts, our Hero was much indebted to his Talents for “his immense elevation above his Fellows.” Talents? you will say, what Talents? I answer.

1. An handsome Face. That this is a Talent, I can prove by the authority of a thousand Instances in all ages: and among the rest Madame Du Barry who said Le veritable Royaute est la Beaute.

2. A tall Stature, like the Hebrew Sovereign chosen because he was taller by the Head than the other Jews.

3 An elegant Form.

4. graceful Attitudes and Movement:

5. a large imposing Fortune consisting of a great landed Estate left him by his Father and Brother, besides a large Jointure with his Lady, and the Guardianship of the Heirs of the great Custis Estate, and in addition to all this, immense Tracts of Land of his own acquisition. There is nothing, except bloody Battles and Splendid Victories, to which Mankind bow down with more reverence than to great fortune. They think it impossible that rich Men especially immensely rich Men, Should Submit to the trouble of Serving them but from the most benevolent and disinterested Motives. . . . Such is their Love of the Marvellous, and Such their Admiration of uncommon Generosity that they will believe extraordinary pretensions to it and the Pope Says, Si bonus Populus vult decipi, decipiatur. Washington however did not deceive them. I know not that they gave him more credit for disinterestedness, than he deserved, though they have not given many others so much. Continue Reading

Yankee Doodle and The World Turned Upside Down

Something for the weekend.  Yankee Doodle, seems appropriate in the weekend before Washington’s Birthday.  Originally sung by British officers to disparage American troops who fought beside them in the French and Indian War, it was seized upon by Patriots, given endless lyrics, and cheered the patriot troops and civilians during the eight long years of the Revolution.  After Lexington and Concord it was reported by Massachusetts newspapers that the British were suddenly not as fond of the song:

“Upon their return to Boston [pursued by the Minutemen], one [Briton] asked his brother officer how he liked the tune now, — ‘Dang them,’ returned he, ‘they made us dance it till we were tired’ — since which Yankee Doodle sounds less sweet to their ears.”

At Yorktown when the British troops marched out in surrender, they looked at the French troops, doing their best to pretend that the American troops did not exist.  The Marquis de Lafayette, commanding the Continental Light Infantry Division, was outraged and ordered his bands to strike up Yankee Doodle.  Startled by the outburst of music the British turned and faced the Americans who had outlasted and defeated them in a very long War.  It was appropriate that the British bands were playing a popular ditty, The World Turned Upside Down. Continue Reading

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The Nation Makers

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American artist Howard Pyle did a series of paintings on the American Revolution in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Pyle had a striking style, combining both romanticism and realism in his paintings.  My favorite of the series is the above painting that depicts an American line of infantry advancing at the battle of Brandywine.  Led by their officer, the common soldiers are dressed in rags, but clearly determined and ready to fight.  A ragged American flag gives a splash of color as it towers over the men below it.  The light of the sun seems to be breaking through a cloudy sky.  The painting is brilliantly entitled The Nation Makers, reminding us that this nation came into being largely through the courage of private soldiers.  Most of them, if they survived and did not die of illness or in battle, would end the War poorer financially then they began it, being paid in worthless currency.  They fought their War usually wearing the ragged remnants of uniforms, often barefoot and living off wretched rations.  Many of them were teenagers, no doubt homesick and frequently worried that no one outside of their fellow soldiers really cared about the sacrifices they were making for the nation they were desperately attempting to bring about.  If they were lucky they left the Army without their health being broken by wounds, illness, or the endless privations they endured daily through the long years of the War. Continue Reading

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January 27, 1776: Henry Knox Delivers the Noble Train of Artillery to Washington

One of the interesting aspects of wars and revolutions is the unexpected talents and abilities that come to the fore in the most unlikely of individuals.  As that remarkable year 1775 was drawing to a close, General Washington, if he was to force the British  to leave Boston, needed a substantial artillery force, which he entirely lacked.   Twenty-five year old Colonel Henry Knox, a fat Boston book seller prior to the War, came up with the idea of transporting the artillery from newly captured Fort Ticonderoga in northern New York to the siege lines around Boston.  This was accomplished by Knox from December 5, 1775 to January 27, 1776, transporting sixty tons of artillery and ammunition, 59 cannon, mortars and howitzers, through wilderness in the dead of winter, a truly astounding feat. On December 17, 1775 Knox wrote to Washington:

I return’d to this place on the 15 & brought with me the Cannon being nearly the time I conjectur’d it would take us to transport them to here, It is not easy [to] conceive the difficulties we have had in getting them over the Lake owing to the advanc’d Season of the Year & contrary winds, but the danger is now past & three days ago it was very uncertain whether we could have gotten them untill next spring, but now please God they must go – I have had made forty two exceeding Strong Sleds & have provided eighty Yoke of oxen to drag them as far as Springfield where I shall get fresh Cattle to Carry them to Camp – the rout will be from here to Kinderhook from thence into Great Barrington Massachusetts Bay & down to Springfield There will scarcely be possibility of conveying them from here to Albany or Kinderhook but on sleds the roads being very much gullied, at present the sledding is tolerable to Saratoga about 26 miles; beyond that there is none – I have sent for the Sleds & teams to come here & expect to begin [to] move them to Saratoga on Wednesday or Thursday next trusting that between this & then we shall have a fine fall of snow which will enable us to proceed further & make the carriage easy – if that should be the case I hope in 16 or 17 days time to be able to present to your Excellency a noble train of artillery. Continue Reading

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Finished Peace, Unfinished Peace Portrait

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The negotiations that led to the Treaty of Paris which ended the Revolutionary War, were long, contentious and complicated, involving not merely the peace treaty between Great Britain and the United States, but also separate treaties between Great Britain and France, Spain and the Netherlands.  Benjamin Franklin, who led the American team, and who deserves the title of greatest American diplomat, made it clear from the outset that the United States would not make any peace with Great Britain without its ally France also coming to terms with Great Britain.  He also demanded Canada.  By such wily ploys, Franklin outthought the British negotiators at every turn, and quickly got them to concede American Independence in hopes that the Americans could prevail upon France to be reasonable in its demands.  Continue Reading

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Defeat at Quebec

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The year 1775 ended on a note of defeat for the Americans. Since December 6, 1776 the city had been under siege by the combined forces of General Richard Montgomery and Colonel Benedict Arnold. Twelve hundred Americans confronted 1800 British regulars and French Canadian militia.  The Americans realized that the British would eventually strongly reinforce Quebec by sea, and that a prolonged siege in the teeth of a Canadian winter would probably do far more harm to the besiegers than the besieged.

Thus before dawn on December 31, 1775, in the midst of a blizzard, the Americans began a two pronged assault on the lower town of Quebec, the plan being that the forces led by Montgomery and Arnold would meet in the lower town, and then scale the walls of the upper town. Continue Reading

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Washington Refuses to be Beaten

 

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Each year, as Christmas is approaching, I think of a Christmas long ago in 1776.  The year in which we declared our independence from Great Britain was a year of military disaster for the United States.  Washington and his troops had been beaten time after time, and as the end of the year approached the Revolution seemed to be dying.  The British controlled New York, the largest city in the colonies and the major port.  New Jersey had been conquered.  The Continental Congress was in flight from Philadelphia, in expectation that the British would next move on that city.  Washington’s army had been reduced to around 5,000 ill-clad and ill-fed poorly trained troops, vastly outnumbered by their British adversaries and their Hessian mercenaries, all well-trained, well equipped, well clad and well fed.  Most of the enlistments of Washington’s troops would be up by the end of the year, and few of them seemed likely to re-enlist.  Defeat seemed all but inevitable to all but Washington.  In this hour of doom, he rallied his troops and launched the Trenton-Princeton campaign, which restored the morale of his Army, liberated much of New Jersey, and put new heart into American patriots everywhere.  Washington had worked a military miracle.

The feat is all the more impressive, in that privately Washington was well-aware of the odds against him, and feared that defeat was probably likely.  We see that in two letters he wrote on December 10 and 17, 1776, to his nephew Lund Washington, who ran Mount Vernon in his absence:

Dear Lund:

    * * * * *

    I wish to Heaven it was in my power to give you a more favorable account of our situation than it is. Our numbers, quite inadequate to the task of opposing that part of the army under the command of General Howe, being reduced by sickness desertion, and political deaths (on or before the first instant, and having no assistance from the militia), were obliged to retire before the enemy, who were perfectly well informed of our situation, till we came to this place, where I have no idea of being able to make a stand, as my numbers, till joined by the Philadelphia militia, did not exceed three thousand men fit for duty. Now we may be about five thousand to oppose Howe’s whole army, that part of it excepted which sailed under the command of Gen. Clinton. I tremble for Philadelphia. Nothing, in my opinion, but Gen. Lee’s speedy arrival, who has been long expected, though still at a distance (with about three thousand men), can save it. We have brought over and destroyed all the boats we could lay our hands on upon the Jersey shore for many miles above and below this place; but it is next to impossible to guard a shore for sixty miles, with less than half the enemy’s numbers; when by force or strategem they may suddenly attempt a passage in many different places. At present they are encamped or quartered along the other shore above and below us (rather this place, for we are obliged to keep a face towards them) for fifteen miles. *** Continue Reading

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November 13, 1775: Montgomery takes Montreal

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Of all the former British officers who fought on the patriot side in the American Revolution, the most militarily talented was Richard Montgomery.  Born near Swords in County Dublin in 1738, he was a member of an Ulster Scots family notable for supplying officers to the British Army.  After studying at Trinity College he joined the 17th Foot in 1756, his father purchasing an ensign’s commission for him.  During the siege of Louisburg in 1758 his courage and initiative earned him promotion to Lieutenant.  In 1759 he participated in the siege of Fort Carillon and in 1760 was made adjutant of the regiment, a singular honor for an officer so young.  During subsequent fighting in the West Indies he was promoted to Captain.  After participating in the suppression of Pontiac’s Rebellion, Montgomery returned to Britain to recover his health, exhausted and ill from years of campaigning.

In Britain he became friends with Whig members of the British Parliament, including Edmund Burke and began to question British policies in America.  He sold his commission in 1772 for 1500 pounds, intent on retiring to America and becoming a gentleman farmer.

In America he married Janet Livingston, sister of future Founding Father Robert Livingston in 1773.  It was a love match marred by a dream in which Janet saw Montgomery being killed in a duel with his brother.  Montgomery responded stoically,  I have always told you that my happiness is not lasting…Let us enjoy it as long as we may and leave the rest to God.

Associated with a strong New York patriot family, additionally politically powerful, Montgomery gradually became a firm patriot, convince that the British government was acting tyrannically against the Americans.  On June 22, 1775 he was appointed a Brigadier General in the newly formed Continental Army and made deputy to Major General Philip Schuyler who commander the Continental forces in the north, charged with the invasion of, or, as the Americans saw it, the liberation of Canada.  Schuyler’s health failing him, Montgomery took command of the invasion force. Continue Reading

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Through a Howling Wilderness

American traitor Benedict Arnold, a 34 year old Connecticut merchant at the beginning of the Revolution, had considerable military ability, as he first demonstrated in his epic march through the Maine wilderness in September-November 1775 on his way to join in a two-pronged attack on Quebec, Brigadier General Richard Montgomery leading the other prong up Lake Champlain.  Traveling over 350 wilderness miles, ill-supplied, Arnold’s force of 1100 was reduced to 600 starving men by the time they reached the Saint Lawrence River on November 9, 1775 across from Quebec.  It was a miracle that Arnold was able to complete the march with such a sizable force.  On November 8, Arnold sent off a report to Washington: Continue Reading

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Penobscot Debacle

One of the great fiascos in American military history, the Penobscot Expedition of 1779 has faded into almost complete obscurity.

The British had long wished to form a new colony for displaced Loyalists.  What is now the State of Maine seemed perfect for the proposed colony of New Ireland.  The forests of the new colony would supply ample naval stores for the Royal Navy, and due to its location it could also serve as a base for raids on New England.

In June of 1779 the British constructed Fort George on a small peninsula jutting into Penobscot Bay.  The garrison consisted of 700 regulars: 50 men of the Royal Artillery and Engineers, 450 of the 74th Regiment of (Highland) Foot and 200 of the 82nd (Duke of Hamilton’s) Regiment, all under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Francis McLean.

Massachusetts reacted promptly to this invasion of territory the Bay State claimed.  An expedition of 44 ships and 1000 troops, Continental Marines and Massachusetts militia, was rapidly gathered.  Lieutenant Colonel Paul Revere commanded the artillery.  The expedition arrived at Penobscot Bay on July 25, 1779.

On July 28, 1779 an assault by land was made against Fort George.  The Americans incurred casualties of approximately one hundred men but took the heights near the Fort.  The high casualties of this day seemed to dampen the enthusiasm of the leaders of the expedition.  Brigadier General Solomon Lovell contented himself with besieging the fort, while Commodore Dudley Saltonstall, who would be cashiered from the Continental Navy for his performance during this expedition,  refused to close with and destroy the small British fleet off Fort George, despite frequent requests from Lovell that this be done and for Saltonstall to bombard Fort George. Continue Reading

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October 17, 1777: Saratoga

Yonder are the Hessians! They were bought for seven pounds and ten pence a man. Are you worth more? Prove it!

General John Stark to his men prior to the Battle of Bennington

 

 

 

 

Something for the weekend.  The Fate of John Burgoyne sung by Bobby Horton, turning his attention to the music of the Revolution rather than his usual stomping grounds, the Civil War.  Two hundred and thirty-eight years ago the turning point of the American Revolution occurred with the surrender of his British army by Major General John “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne.  A playwright and sometime member of Parliament, Burgoyne has gone down in history as something of a fop and an amateur incompetent soldier.  This is unjust to him.  Burgoyne was a career officer who took his duties seriously and his overall military record indicates above average ability combined with a streak of ruthlessness.  However, his invasion of northern New York in 1777 with 7,000 troops from Canada was doomed by events largely out of control.

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Supposedly his invasion was to be coordinated with the efforts of General Howe commanding the main British army in New York.  However, no orders were issued to Howe requiring such coordination and he embarked on a campaign against the American de facto capital of Philadelphia, leaving Burgoyne to fend for himself among the wilds of frontier northern New York.

His was a polyglot force, much of it ill-suited for frontier fighting.  That was certainly the case with his Hessian mercenaries and British regulars.  The Loyalists and Indians under his command were more suited for the area but brought their own problems including lack of discipline and a desire for loot and sometimes murder.

The campaign started well for Burgoyne and by July 6 he had taken the strategic fort of Ticonderoga, the gateway to northern New York.  Then the campaign went south for him as Burgoyne’s army proceeded south.  The first blow was that a column led by Lieutenant Colonel Barry St. Leger that was to cooperate with Burgoyne, became bogged down besieging Fort Stanwix in western New York.  Patriot Tryon County militia under General Nicholas Herkimer fought a bloody battle against St. Leger’s Indian auxiliaries at Oriskany.  Losses on both sides were devastating with General Herkimer being mortally wounded.  Indian morale plummeted due to their losses.  Patriot General Benedict Arnold caused St. Leger to break the siege and retreat by using loyalist Hans Yost to spread among the Indians the news that Arnold, actually leading a small force, was on his way to relieve Fort Stanwix with an army as numerous as the leaves of a forest.  Without the support of his Indian allies, St. Leger had no choice but to retreat.

Burgoyne’s campaign suffered its worst single blow when Indians from Burgoyne’s army on July 27, 1777 murdered Jane McCrea, a young woman on her way to visit her sweetheart, ironically a Loyalist officer with Burgoyne’s army.  News of her murder spread like wildfire and converted hordes of Loyalists to being Patriots over night.  Thousands of militia poured into the American army of the North, and across northern New York a common sign on cabins, farms and businesses read:  “Gone to fight Burgoyne.” Continue Reading

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September 22, 1776: Nathan Hale’s Only Regret

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How beautiful is death, when earn’d by virtue!
Who would not be that youth? What pity is it
That we can die but once to serve our country.

Joseph Addison, Cato (1712)

Death at 21 is always a tragedy, but Nathan Hale’s heroic death 239 years ago today ensured him Earthly immortality.  A schoolmaster before the Revolution, he was a Captain in the 7th Connecticut when he volunteered to take on the immensely dangerous task of being a spy, at the request of General Washington, behind enemy lines in New York City.  He was soon captured by the British, perhaps betrayed by his Tory cousin Samuel Hale.  Interviewed by General Howe, his fate was a foregone conclusion:  spies were always to be executed.

The night before he died he requested a Bible and a member of the clergy.  Both requests were denied.  According to British officer Frederick MacKensie, who was present, Hale met his death with great fortitude:

He behaved with great composure and resolution, saying he thought it the duty of every good Officer, to obey any orders given him by his Commander-in-Chief; and desired the Spectators to be at all times prepared to meet death in whatever shape it might appear.

At the foot of the gallows, before he entered eternity, he uttered the comment that has ensured that his memory will be cherished as long as their is a United States of America.  British Captain John Montresor, who was present, told under a flag of truce to American Captain William Hull the next day:

“On the morning of his execution, my station was near the fatal spot, and I requested the Provost Marshal to permit the prisoner to sit in my marquee, while he was making the necessary preparations. Captain Hale entered: he was calm, and bore himself with gentle dignity, in the consciousness of rectitude and high intentions. He asked for writing materials, which I furnished him: he wrote two letters, one to his mother and one to a brother officer. He was shortly after summoned to the gallows. But a few persons were around him, yet his characteristic dying words were remembered. He said, “I only regret, that I have but one life to lose for my country.”” Continue Reading

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Fortnight For Freedom: Catholics in the American Revolution

Fortnight For Freedom 2015

 

Nor, perchance did the fact which We now recall take place without some design of divine Providence. Precisely at the epoch when the American colonies, having, with Catholic aid, achieved liberty and independence, coalesced into a constitutional Republic the ecclesiastical hierarchy was happily established amongst you; and at the very time when the popular suffrage placed the great Washington at the helm of the Republic, the first bishop was set by apostolic authority over the American Church. The well-known friendship and familiar intercourse which subsisted between these two men seems to be an evidence that the United States ought to be conjoined in concord and amity with the Catholic Church. And not without cause; for without morality the State cannot endure-a truth which that illustrious citizen of yours, whom We have just mentioned, with a keenness of insight worthy of his genius and statesmanship perceived and proclaimed. But the best and strongest support of morality is religion.

Pope Leo XIII

American Catholics, a very small percentage of the population of the 13 colonies, 1.6 percent, were overwhelmingly patriots and played a role in the American Revolution out of all proportion to the small fragment of the American people they represented.  Among the Catholics who assumed leadership roles in the fight for our liberty were:

General Stephen Moylan  a noted cavalry commander and the first Muster Master-General of the Continental Army.

Captains Joshua Barney and John Barry,  two of the most successful naval commanders in the American Revolution.

Colonel John Fitzgerald was a trusted aide and private secretary to General George Washington.

Father Pierre Gibault, Vicar General of Illinois, whose aid was instrumental in the conquest of the Northwest for America by George Rogers Clark.

Thomas Fitzsimons served as a Pennsylvania militia company commander during the Trenton campaign.  Later in the War he helped found the Pennsylvania state navy.  After the War he was one of the two Catholic signers of the U.S. Constitution in 1787

Colonel Thomas Moore led a Philadelphia regiment in the War.

Major John Doyle led a group of elite riflemen during the War. Continue Reading

Fortnight For Freedom: A Just War

Fortnight For Freedom 2014

As we approach the Fourth of July we celebrate American independence and the liberties we enjoy.  Independence was won on the battlefield.  Was the American Revolution a just war is therefore a question that should be asked and answered.

Based on the just war doctrine first enunciated by Saint Augustine, I believe the American Revolution was a just war.

 

Over the centuries the precise content of the just war doctrine has varied.  The classic definition of it by Saint Thomas Aquinas is set forth in Part II, Question 40 of his Summa Theologica:

“I answer that, In order for a war to be just, three things are necessary. First, the authority of the sovereign by whose command the war is to be waged. For it is not the business of a private individual to declare war, because he can seek for redress of his rights from the tribunal of his superior. Moreover it is not the business of a private individual to summon together the people, which has to be done in wartime. And as the care of the common weal is committed to those who are in authority, it is their business to watch over the common weal of the city, kingdom or province subject to them. And just as it is lawful for them to have recourse to the sword in defending that common weal against internal disturbances, when they punish evil-doers, according to the words of the Apostle (Rm. 13:4): “He beareth not the sword in vain: for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil”; so too, it is their business to have recourse to the sword of war in defending the common weal against external enemies. Hence it is said to those who are in authority (Ps. 81:4): “Rescue the poor: and deliver the needy out of the hand of the sinner”; and for this reason Augustine says (Contra Faust. xxii, 75): “The natural order conducive to peace among mortals demands that the power to declare and counsel war should be in the hands of those who hold the supreme authority.”

Secondly, a just cause is required, namely that those who are attacked, should be attacked because they deserve it on account of some fault. Wherefore Augustine says (Questions. in Hept., qu. x, super Jos.): “A just war is wont to be described as one that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished, for refusing to make amends for the wrongs inflicted by its subjects, or to restore what it has seized unjustly.”

Thirdly, it is necessary that the belligerents should have a rightful intention, so that they intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil. Hence Augustine says (De Verb. Dom. [*The words quoted are to be found not in St. Augustine’s works, but Can. Apud. Caus. xxiii, qu. 1]): “True religion looks upon as peaceful those wars that are waged not for motives of aggrandizement, or cruelty, but with the object of securing peace, of punishing evil-doers, and of uplifting the good.” For it may happen that the war is declared by the legitimate authority, and for a just cause, and yet be rendered unlawful through a wicked intention. Hence Augustine says (Contra Faust. xxii, 74): “The passion for inflicting harm, the cruel thirst for vengeance, an unpacific and relentless spirit, the fever of revolt, the lust of power, and such like things, all these are rightly condemned in war.”

The most recent formulation of the Just War doctrine for the Church is set forth in the Catechism at 2309: Continue Reading

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Fortnight For Freedom: Revolution, Independence and Schoolhouse Rock

Fortnight For Freedom 2014

 

Something for the weekend.  I loved these schoolhouse rock videos when they were first broadcast back in the Seventies right before the bicentennial.  Among a fair number of kids I knew they sparked an interest in history.  Of the videos, I believe No More Kings has the catchiest tune.  For a cartoon, The Shot Heard Round the World does a fairly good job of conveying information about the Revolution in a very short span of time:  it manages to include the opening battles of the war, Washington as the central figure of the war, the role of the militia, the endurance of the Continentals, the battle of Trenton, Valley Forge, the frequent defeats of the Americans, the importance of diplomacy and foreign intervention, and the decisive victory at Yorktown.  Fireworks is a nice opening view of the Declaration for kids.  If readers have kids, or if, like me, part of them has never really grown up, watching these cartoons can be a good way to get into the Fourth of July spirit! Continue Reading

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Fortnight For Freedom: The Father of Our Country

Fortnight For Freedom 2014

 

America has been blessed by God in many ways but I suspect no blessing has been greater than His granting us George Washington to lead us in our struggle for independence and to be our first President.  Catholics have perhaps more reason than other Americans to keep the memory of Washington alive in our hearts.  In a time of strong prejudice against Catholics in many parts of the colonies he was free from religious bigotry as he demonstrated on November 5, 1775 when he banned the anti-Catholic Guy Fawkes celebrations.

“As the Commander in Chief has been apprized of a design form’d for the observance of that ridiculous and childish custom of burning the Effigy of the pope – He cannot help expressing his surprise that there should be Officers and Soldiers in this army so void of common sense, as not to see the impropriety of such a step at this Juncture; at a Time when we are solliciting, and have really obtain’d, the friendship and alliance of the people of Canada, whom we ought to consider as Brethren embarked in the same Cause. The defence of the general Liberty of America: At such a juncture, and in such Circumstances, to be insulting their Religion, is so monstrous, as not to be suffered or excused; indeed instead of offering the most remote insult, it is our duty to address public thanks to these our Brethren, as to them we are so much indebted for every late happy Success over the common Enemy in Canada.”

Order in Quarters, November 5, 1775

– George Washington

This stand against anti-Catholicism was not unusual for Washington.  Throughout his life Washington had Catholic friends, including John Carroll, the first Catholic bishop in the US.  He would sometimes attend Mass, as he did during the Constitutional Convention when he led a delegation of the Convention to attend Mass in Philadelphia as he had attended Protestant churches in that town during the Covention.  This sent a powerful signal that under the Constitution Catholics would be just as good Americans as Protestant Americans.

Washington underlined this point in response to a letter from prominent Catholics, including Charles and John Carroll, congratulating him on being elected President: Continue Reading

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Fortnight For Freedom: Charles Carroll of Carrollton-Faith and Freedom

Fortnight For Freedom 2014

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And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

George Washington, Farewell Address

Charles Carroll of Carrollton, as he signed his name when he added his signature to the Declaration of Independence, was the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence.  When he died at the age of 95, he was the last of the Signers to depart this vale of tears.

The scion of perhaps the richest family in the colonies, Charles Carroll was initially uninterested in politics and, in any case, was debarred by his religion from participating in politics in his native Maryland by his religion.  However, in his thirties he became a passionate advocate of American independence from Great Britain and quickly became one of the chief leaders of the Patriot cause in his home colony.  It was only natural as a result that he was sent to Congress, in spite of his religion, where he was one of the chief spokesmen for independence and happily placed his signature on the Declaration even though by doing so he risked not only his fortune but his life if the British had prevailed.

Two stories are told about him signing the document.  Supposedly he initially signed as Charles Carroll.  A member of Congress, who disliked Carroll because of his Catholicism, sneered, saying how would the British know which Charles Carroll had signed, this being a common name.  Carroll then angrily took up his quill pen and appended “of Carrollton” to his signature.  I love this story, but alas it is unlikely.  Charles Carroll had been adding  “of Carrollton” to his signature for years prior to the Revolution, a reference to his Manor known as Carrollton.  Additionally, as one of the richest men in the colonies,  it is unlikely that the British government would have had any confusion as to which Charles Carroll had signed his name.

The second story is much more likely to be true, as fond of gallows humor as the Founding Fathers tended to be.  When he signed his name one of the other members of Congress said, “There goes several millions!”.

By the end of 1776 the revolutionary government of Maryland had issued an act of religious freedom, and Carroll and his fellow Catholics in Maryland enjoyed the same civil rights as Protestants.

In 1778 he returned to Maryland and helped draft the state constitution and in setting up the new state government, serving in the State Senate until 1800, and briefly in the United States Senate.

A slaveholder, throughout his career Carroll spoke and wrote of slavery as an evil that must come to an end as soon as possible.  He attempted, but failed, to have Maryland implement a plan of gradual emancipation.  At the age of 91 he took on the task of being president of the Auxiliary State Colonization Society of Maryland, part of  a national movement to have free blacks voluntarily colonize what would become Liberia in Africa.

Something of a Renaissance man, he had a strong interest in science and in his nineties helped set up the B&O Railroad, lending his prestige to this new technology in his native Maryland.

Throughout his life his two main passions were the American Revolution and his Faith.   Like most of the Founding Fathers he regarded the idea of political liberty divorced from sound morality, derived from religion, as an absurdity.  He set forth his ideas on this subject in a letter to Secretary of War James McHenry in 1800 in which he lamented the then current American political scene:

These events will be hastened by the pretended philosophy of France; divine revelation has been scoffed at by the Philosophers of the present day, the immortality of the soul treated as the dreams of fools, or the invention of knaves, & death has been declared by public authority an eternal sleep; these opinions are gaining ground amongst us & silently saping the foundations of religion & encouragement of good, the terror of evildoers and the consolation of the poor, the miserable, and the distressed. Remove the hope & dread of future reward & punishment, the most powerful restraint on wicked action, & ye strongest inducement to virtuous ones is done away. Virtue, it may be said, is its own reward; I believe it to be so, and even in this life the only source of happiness, and this intimate & necessary connection between virtue & happiness here, & between vice & misery, is to my mind one of the surest pledge of happiness or misery in a future state of existence. But how few practice virtue merely for its own reward? Some of happy dispositon & temperament, calm reflecting men, exempt in a great degree from the turbulance of passions may be virtuous for vitrtue’s sake. Small however is the number who are guided by reason alone, & who can always subject their passions to its dictates. He can thust act may be said to be virtuous, but reason is often inlisted on the side of the passions, or at best, when most wanted, is weakest. Hence the necessity of a superior motive for acting virtuously; Now, what motive can be stronger than ye belief, founded on revelation, that a virtuous life will be rewarded by a happy immortality? Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore, who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime & pure, which denounces against the wicked eternal misery, & insures to the good eternal happiness are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free government. Continue Reading

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Fortnight For Freedom: Catholics in the American Revolution

Fortnight For Freedom 2014

 

 

Nor, perchance did the fact which We now recall take place without some design of divine Providence. Precisely at the epoch when the American colonies, having, with Catholic aid, achieved liberty and independence, coalesced into a constitutional Republic the ecclesiastical hierarchy was happily established amongst you; and at the very time when the popular suffrage placed the great Washington at the helm of the Republic, the first bishop was set by apostolic authority over the American Church. The well-known friendship and familiar intercourse which subsisted between these two men seems to be an evidence that the United States ought to be conjoined in concord and amity with the Catholic Church. And not without cause; for without morality the State cannot endure-a truth which that illustrious citizen of yours, whom We have just mentioned, with a keenness of insight worthy of his genius and statesmanship perceived and proclaimed. But the best and strongest support of morality is religion.

Pope Leo XIII

From the foundation of this nation, Catholics have fought and died in defense of American liberties.  American Catholics, a very small percentage of the population of the 13 colonies, 1.6 percent, were overwhelmingly patriots and played a role in the American Revolution out of all proportion to the small fragment of the American people they represented.  Among the Catholics who assumed leadership roles in the fight for our liberty were:

General Stephen Moylan  a noted cavalry commander and the first Muster Master-General of the Continental Army.

Captains Joshua Barney and John Barry,  two of the most successful naval commanders in the American Revolution.

Colonel John Fitzgerald was a trusted aide and private secretary to General George Washington.

Father Pierre Gibault, Vicar General of Illinois, whose aid was instrumental in the conquest of the Northwest for America by George Rogers Clark.

Thomas Fitzsimons served as a Pennsylvania militia company commander during the Trenton campaign.  Later in the War he helped found the Pennsylvania state navy.  After the War he was one of the two Catholic signers of the U.S. Constitution in 1787

Colonel Thomas Moore led a Philadelphia regiment in the War.

Major John Doyle led a group of elite riflemen during the War. Continue Reading

Fortnight For Freedom: Top Ten Movies for the Fourth of July

Fortnight For Freedom 2014

 

 

Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.

John Adams

 

 

 

This is a repeat from a post last year, with some very slight modifications, but I think the logic behind the post still holds true.  As we are embroiled now in a struggle to preserve our religious liberty, I think the Fourth of July is a good time to recall the price paid to establish our liberties.  It is trite to say that freedom is not free, but it is also true.  A people who forget this eternal lesson will not remain free for long.

 

 

A number of feature films and miniseries have been made about the events of the American Revolution.  Here are my top ten choices for Fourth of July viewing:

10.  Ben and Me (1953)- Something for the younger patriots.  Disney put to film the novel of Robert Lawson, Ben and Me, which related how many of Ben Franklin’s bright ideas came from his mouse Amos.  Quite a bit of fun.   Not a classic but certainly an overlooked gem.

9.  The Crossing (2000)-A retelling of Washington’s brilliant crossing of the Delaware on Christmas 1776 and the battle of Trenton.  This film would rank much higher on my list but for Jeff Daniels’ portrayal of Washington as sullen and out of sorts throughout the movie.  Washington had a temper, and he could give vent to it if provoked, although he usually kept it under control, but the peevish Washington portrayed here is simply ahistoric and mars an otherwise good recreation of the turning point of the Revolution.

8.  John Paul Jones (1959)  Robert Stack, just before he rose to fame in the Untouchables, is grand in the role of the archetypal American sea hero.  Bette Davis is absolutely unforgettable as Catherine the Great.  The climactic sea battle with the Serapis is well done, especially for those pre-CGI days.  The only problem with the film is that many of the details are wrong.  This is forgivable to a certain extent since scholarship on Jones was badly skewed by Augustus Buell in a two-volume “scholarly biography” which appeared in 1900.  Buell was a charlatan who made up many incidents about Jones and then invented sources to support his fabrications.  Buell was not completely exposed until Samuel Eliot Morison, Harvard professor of history, and an Admiral in the Navy, wrote his definitive biography of Jones. Here is a list of the fabrications of Buell compiled by Morison.  Morison’s book appeared after the movie, which is to be regretted.

7.  The Patriot (2000) Finally, a film which depicts the unsung contribution of Australians to victory in the American Revolution!  Actually not too bad of a film overall.  Heath Ledger is quite good as Gibson’s oldest son who joins the Continentals at the beginning of the war against his father’s wishes.  Jason Isaacs is snarlingly good as the evil Colonel Tavington, very loosely based on Banastre Tarleton, commander of Tarleton’s Raiders during the Southern Campaign.  The film of course allows Gibson to carry on his over-the-top vendetta against all things English.  No, the British did not lock up American civilians in churches and burn them alive.  However, the ferocity of the partisan fighting in the South is well depicted, and Banastre Tarleton  at the Waxhaw Massacre earned a reputation for slaughtering men attempting to surrender.  The final battle of the film is based on the battle of Cowpens where General Daniel Morgan decisively defeated Tarleton.

6.  Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)-A John Ford classic starring Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert.  Through the eyes of a young newlywed couple, Fonda and Colbert, the American Revolution on the frontier is depicted in the strategic Mohawk Valley.  Full of the usual Ford touches of heroism, humor and ordinary life. Continue Reading

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John Trumbull and Bunker Hill

“These fellows say we won’t fight! By Heaven, I hope I shall die up to my knees in blood!”

Major General Joseph Warren to his men prior to the battle of Bunker’s Hill

 

A lecture by John Walsh, emeritus director of the J. Paul Getty Museum, on John Trumbull’s painting on the battle of Bunker Hill and its historical accuracy, or lack thereof.  The painting has always been a favorite in my household, as it depicts my ancestor Major Andrew McClary of the New Hampshire militia.

Bunker Hill

Trumbull had witnessed the battle through field glasses, he was serving with the American army, although not with the portion fighting on Breed’s hill.  The painting shows the death of General Warren, and is entitled The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, June 17, 1775,  the painting having been commissioned by Warren’s family.  Trumbull squeezes into the painting almost everyone famous who fought in the battle, both Americans and British.  Major Andrew McClary is shown raising his musket to brain a British soldier attempting to bayonet the dying Warren, a warlike action quite in character for him, and one which warms the cockles of my heart.  My wife has noted over the years how much I resemble Major Andrew and it is intriguing how his facial features have been passed down through the generations of my family.

The scene depicted is not historical, but rather a tribute to General Warren by having his death the center of the action.  To us it seems a very romantic version of the grim reality, but Abigail Adams, who heard the battle from her farm and saw the aftermath of the wounded and dead American soldiers, found it so realistic when she saw it that she shivered with the memories of the fight it aroused in her.  To most of us moderns war is simple butchery and unless it is shown as such, we are almost offended.  To the men and women of Abigail Adams’ generation, at least the Patriots, they would have been offended by a painting that only remembered the death and carnage, they needed few reminders of that, but that ignored the heroism and sacrifice that ultimately prevailed against the odds and established a new nation. Continue Reading

3

Washington: The Greatest American Part II

Nor, perchance did the fact which We now recall take place without some design of divine Providence. Precisely at the epoch when the American colonies, having, with Catholic aid, achieved liberty and independence, coalesced into a constitutional Republic the ecclesiastical hierarchy was happily established amongst you; and at the very time when the popular suffrage placed the great Washington at the helm of the Republic, the first bishop was set by apostolic authority over the American Church. The well-known friendship and familiar intercourse which subsisted between these two men seems to be an evidence that the United States ought to be conjoined in concord and amity with the Catholic Church. And not without cause; for without morality the State cannot endure-a truth which that illustrious citizen of yours, whom We have just mentioned, with a keenness of insight worthy of his genius and statesmanship perceived and proclaimed. But the best and strongest support of morality is religion.

Pope Leo XIII

With the end of the Revolutionary War Washington was looking forward to a well earned retirement from public life at his beloved Mount Vernon.

On June 8, 1783 he sent a circular letter out to the states discussing his thoughts on the importance of the states remaining united, paying war debts, taking care of the soldiers who were wounded in the war and the establishment of a peace time military and the regulation of the militia.  It is an interesting document and may be read here.   No doubt Washington viewed this as in some respects his final thoughts addressed to the American people in his role as Commander in Chief.

Washington ends the letter with this striking passage:

I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection, that he would incline the hearts of the Citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to Government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow Citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the Field, and finally, that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that Charity, humility and pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation.

The War having been won Washington resigned his commission to Congress in Annapolis, Maryland on December 23, 1783.  The next day he had reached his heart’s desire:  home, Mount Vernon.  Christmas the next day was probably the happiest in his life. Continue Reading

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Washington: The Greatest American-Part I

George Washington

by Rosemary and Stephen Vincent Benét

Sing hey! For bold George Washington,

That jolly British tar,

King George’s famous admiral

From Hull to Zanzibar!

No–wait a minute–something’s wrong–

George wished to sail the foam.

But, when his mother thought aghast,

Of Georgie shinning up a mast,

Her tears and protests flowed so fast

That George remained at home.

Sing ho! For grave Washington,

The staid Virginia squire,

Who farms his fields and hunts his hounds

And aims at nothing higher!

Stop, stop it’s going wrong again!

George liked to live on farms,

But when the Colonies agreed

They could and should and would be freed,

They called on George to do the deed

And George cried “Shoulder arms!”

Sing ha! For Emperor Washington,

That hero of renown,

Who freed his land from Britain’s rule

To win a golden crown!

No, no, that’s what George might have won

But didn’t for he said,

“There’s not much point about a king,

They’re pretty but they’re apt to sting

And, as for crowns–the heavy thing

Would only hurt my head.”

Sing ho! For our George Washington!

(At last I’ve got it straight.)

The first in war, the first in peace,

The goodly and the great.

But, when you think about him now,

From here to Valley Forge,

Remember this–he might have been

A highly different specimen,

And, where on earth would we be, then?

I’m glad that George was George.

I have never liked President’s Day.  Why celebrate loser presidents like Jimmy Carter and James Buchanan, non-entities like Millard Fillmore, bad presidents, like Grant, with great presidents like Washington and Lincoln?   Officially the date is still the commemoration of George Washington’s birthday and in this post we will recall the life of the greatest American who ever lived.  Ironically in the length of a blog post we will be unable to cover all of Washington’s event filled life, including his Presidency.  We will break off at the close of the Revolution and finish off on February 22, the actual birthday of the man who will always be first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of all of us who, as Americans, in many ways are his children.

Only Abraham Lincoln comes close to Washington in our American secular pantheon.  Our first president, he was also the man who led our armies to victory in the Revolutionary War, a conflict I am certain that we would have lost but for his leadership, faith and example.  In his own time, and from his days as a very young man, most people who encountered Washington assumed he was destined for greatness.  Six foot three at a time when most men were around five foot six, Washington was a literal giant for his day, weighing 220 pounds of muscle, and noted for his feats of strength.  A quiet aura of dignity and command seemed to envelop him from the first time that he put on the uniform of a Virginia militia officer.  He had a hot temper that he usually successfully controlled beneath a mask of quiet dignity, leavened by a lively sense of humor.  However, none of these explain why men and women instinctively looked to him for leadership, but they always did.  Perhaps it was simply a matter of trust.  Although the cherry tree is a myth, Washington was always known to be an honest man, and a man who could be entrusted with great tasks that he would attempt to do out of a sense of duty and not for personal aggrandizement.  Such men are very rare in history, and almost all Washington’s contemporaries realized that he was  such a rarity.

Washington of course did not appear full grown on the stage of history.  When he was born none would have expected him to have any historical significance in his life. Continue Reading