In his new book, Kevin Phillips argues that 1775, rather than ’76, was the decisive year of the American Revolution. (Personally, I’d go for 1781, but that’s just me.) Based on a quick appraisal while standing in the bookstore, this looks like a wide-ranging and meaty volume that’s well worth a read.
Jon Meacham also has a new biography of Thomas Jefferson out that’s gotten enthusiastic blurbs from some heavy hitters in American Revolution studies.
The small American Revolution museum in New Hampshire—which boasts two eighteenth-century buildings and an original Dunlap broadside of the Declaration of Independence—has been forced to lay off all staff members.
Yesterday a longtime amigo of mine picked up Assassin’s Creed III, the new installment of the wildly popular historical video game series set in the era of the American Revolution. I headed over to his place to check it out.
ACIII utilizes open-world gameplay, so instead of following a particular path and smashing whatever turns up in your way, you’re free to explore your environment and interact with its inhabitants. A few historic figures put in appearances, some of them obscure to anyone who isn’t familiar with the period, which indicates that the folks behind the game did a little homework. (William Johnson isn’t exactly a household name.)
When you wander around Boston, the architecture is all period, right down to the paneling on the interior walls. Some of the buildings themselves are historical; one of the game’s protagonists plans his missions at the Green Dragon Tavern. The town criers shout out actual eighteenth-century news, and there are animals roaming around the streets. Step in front of a British patrol, and you’ll find yourself brusquely shoved out of the way.
There are only a couple of minor things that undermine the illusion. Characters in ACIII aren’t quite as conscious of rank and deference as you’d expect a colonial American to be, and there’s a little too much facial hair for the 1700′s.
Other than that, it’s pretty nifty, sort of like a virtual Colonial Williamsburg with the added risk of getting killed. If you’re a history buff who’s into gaming, you’ll probably get a kick out of it. ( I’m more of an old school Galaga sort of guy, so I’ll just watch.)
A Chinese guy who ordered a t-shirt with a Patrick Henry quote on it is appealing his sentence of two years in a labor camp. When you live in America, it’s easy to forget that in some parts of the world those 250-year-old words are still…well, revolutionary.
On a much lighter note, there’s a pretty clever Lincoln-Johnson campaign site you guys should see. Oh, and some new John Bell Hood documents are coming to light.
This weekend the DAR is dedicating a marker to Gen. Horatio Gates at Trinity Church in New York. Gates was buried somewhere in the churchyard, but the exact location of his grave has been forgotten.
These days Gates is most famous for two things: his plummet from the hero of Saratoga in 1777 to the laughingstock of Camden in 1780, and his association with the Conway Cabal’s attempt to sabotage Washington’s command. It only took a few years, a series of disastrous miscalculations, and a generous dose of narcissism to send his career into a tailspin. He’s sort of like the M. Night Shyamalan of Rev War generals.
Video game developers are giving the Revolution’s hero the dictatorship he never had. My question: If George Washington makes a grab for absolute power, doesn’t he sort of cease to be George Washington?
Remember that painting of Rev War militia officer Benjamin Cleveland that Don Troiani was working on? It’s done! The Wilkes Heritage Museum has a copy, and you can get a look at it by clicking here.
A few items for your edification as you kiss your summer goodbye.
- Joel McDurmon argues that David Barton failed to make his case in The Jefferson Lies. The reason this is noteworthy is because McDurmon’s piece is posted at the American Vision website. This organization calls for a nation “that recognizes the sovereignty of God over all of life, where Christians apply a Biblical worldview to every facet of society. This future America will be again a ‘city on a hill’ drawing all nations to the Lord Jesus Christ and teaching them to subdue the earth for the advancement of His Kingdom.” It’s pretty interesting to see Christian Reconstructionists taking Barton apart. (Hat tip to John Fea)
- A few months ago Connecticut rolled out a $27 million tourism marketing campaign organized around the slogan “Still Revolutionary,” which “speaks to Connecticut’s deep roots in the founding of this country and reminds us that we still have that independent, revolutionary spirit,” according to Gov. Daniel Malloy. It’s a little odd, therefore, that Fort Griswold (site of the 1781 Battle of Groton Heights and one of the state’s most important Rev War attractions) is conspicuously absent in the ads that have been released so far. It’s the thought that counts, anyway.
- In a new book, Robert Sullivan does for the Revolutionary War in the middle states what Tony Horwitz did for the Civil War in the South.
- Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg is getting a new museum, slated to open next July.
- An Illinois Lincoln fan is heading out on a cross-country trip to read the Gettysburg Address from the steps of every state capitol. If my reckoning is correct, that adds up to about an hour and forty minutes of actual speaking time.
- Speaking of Lincoln, the folks at Simon & Schuster know an opportunity when they see one.
In the fall of 1778 a large force of Indians, most of them Shawnees, laid siege to Fort Boonesborough in central Kentucky. The fort held out, but the siege provides some pretty nifty examples of military ingenuity.
The original site at Fort Boonesborough State Park
Native American attempts to capture frontier garrisons were usually pretty straightforward affairs, with a party of warriors surrounding the walls and firing from cover along with attempts to fire the structure with torches or flaming arrows. At Boonesborough, the Indians got creative. The Kentucky River ran parallel to the fort’s rear wall and about sixty yards away from it. The attackers decided to tunnel into the bluff along the stream and dig a mine toward the settlers, either to gain access to the interior or to set off a powder charge under the walls. The defenders heard the digging and saw the river’s water turn muddy, and figuring out what was up, they set to work on a counter-mine. The Indians’ tunnel collapsed before reaching the fort, but it was still a pretty interesting approach to frontier warfare.
The banks of the Kentucky River beside the site of the fort
The whites inside the fort developed a few tricks of their own, thanks to the ingenuity of Daniel Boone’s brother Squire, who built a makeshift cannon out of gum wood bound with iron wagon wheel strips. The second shot blew the barrel apart, prompting derisive shouts from the attackers. (One notable thing about participants’ recollections of the siege was the frequency of verbal insults traded between the two sides.) Not the most effective of weapons, but the bang did cause a party of Indians to “skamper perdidiously,” as Daniel Trabue put it.
Another of Squire Boone’s inventions proved more effective during the siege when he managed to fashion squirt guns out of rifle barrels to douse the Indians’ torches. I’ve never been able to figure out exactly how these things worked, but apparently some type of piston was involved. This guy was like an eighteenth-century MacGyver.
So, who’s up for an experimental archaeology project?
Picture something along these lines, only with a nice maple stock.