December 26, 1776: Washington Saves the American Revolution

Monday, December 26, AD 2016

 

 

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.

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December 1776: A Dying Revolution and The Old Fox

Wednesday, December 14, AD 2016

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.

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The Liberty Song

Saturday, November 19, AD 2016

 

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.

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October 2, 1780: Death of Major John Andre

Sunday, October 2, AD 2016

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:

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September 7, 1776: First Submarine Attack

Thursday, September 8, AD 2016

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. –

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Quotes Suitable for Framing: George Washington

Thursday, August 25, AD 2016

 

 

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

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August 16, 1780: Battle of Camden

Tuesday, August 16, AD 2016

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“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.

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The Ongoing American Revolution

Monday, July 4, AD 2016

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.

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Catholics in the American Revolution

Monday, July 4, AD 2016

 

 

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.

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Fortnight For Freedom: The Catholic Signer

Sunday, July 3, AD 2016

 

fortnight for freedom 2016

 

 

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:

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Fortnight For Freedom: Major Andrew McClary

Thursday, June 23, AD 2016

fortnight for freedom 2016

 

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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.

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April 26, 1777: Sybil Ludington’s Ride

Tuesday, April 26, AD 2016

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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.

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April 19, 1775: The Shot Heard Round the World

Tuesday, April 19, AD 2016

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)

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James Otis: Forgotten Founding Father

Sunday, April 17, AD 2016

 

“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.

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April 7, 1776: Lexington Takes Edward

Thursday, April 7, AD 2016

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

Sunday, April 3, AD 2016

 WRCAM46251

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.

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The Old Line’s Bugle, Fife, and Drum

Saturday, March 5, AD 2016

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!

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