Category Archives: American Revolution

Opportunity to help save critical battlefield ground in the Carolinas

Every visit I’ve made to Guilford Courthouse has been a little bittersweet. I’m always delighted to be there and enjoy the National Park Service’s superb interpretation, but also upset at how much of the ground around the park has been smothered by development.

That’s why this opportunity from the American Battlefield Trust comes as such good news.  It’s a chance to turn back the development clock at Guilford while also securing land at the small but significant battleground of Hanging Rock in South Carolina:

At stake are 31 acres associated with two Southern Campaign Revolutionary War battlefields, Hanging Rock in South Carolina and Guilford Courthouse in North Carolina.

At Hanging Rock, generous battlefield preservationists like you have already secured 141 acres. These 30 acres in the part of the battlefield where the initial Patriot attack began will add significantly to the land we have saved there already.

At Guilford Courthouse, the half-acre tract at stake may be small, but it’s part of a larger strategy to deal with the modern development crowding in on this battlefield from all points of the compass. Our plan is to buy up plots of battlefield land – including small ones and those with non-historic structures on them like this one – remove all non-historic structures and restore the battlefield. The Guilford Courthouse National Military Park has generously agreed to take responsibility for demolishing and removing the house on this plot, a considerable cost that we would typically need to cover.

Best of all, matching fund opportunities will allow us to buy these 31 acres for less than a fifth of their full value! That’s right, we have a $5.20-to-$1 matching opportunity to buy these $475,000-worth of Revolutionary history for just $91,250.

Click here and pitch in as much as you can.

National Park Service Digital Image Archives [Public domain]

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Nathanael Greene’s home isn’t a place to dump your trash

The Gen. Nathanael Greene Homestead in Coventry, RI has to shell out a couple thousand dollars for a security camera setup because of jackasses who dump their trash there.

It’s happened twice in two months.  And we’re not talking a little bit of trash, either.  It’s like truckloads of construction and landscaping debris.

If you’d like to contribute some money to help defray the cost of the cameras, click here for contact info.

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David Library of the American Revolution is moving to new quarters

Huge news for early American historical research:

The David Library of the American Revolution — a treasure trove of Early American history set within the scenic splendor of Washington Crossing — will move next year from Upper Makefield to a new home at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, where the priceless collection of documents and books are expected to attract the attention of researchers worldwide.

Founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1743, the APS is the “oldest learned society in the United States.” The David Library’s collection will be housed in a new David Center within the society’s library at 105 S. 5th St. The APS draws 130,000 visitors a year to view its vast collection of books and manuscripts, including Franklin’s papers.

It’s located near both the new Museum of the American Revolution and the National Constitution Center, providing researchers and tourists an easy walk between these sites and nearby Independence Hall.

“This will now be the one-stop shop for the Revolution,” said Patrick K. Spero, librarian and director of the American Philosophical Society who studied at the David Library. “It will create a powerhouse, a center for the study of the Revolution that is unmatched.”

The library is expected to remain in Washington Crossing until the end of this year. The library’s board of directors will then determine the “next life” for the 118-acre property located at 1201 River Road in Upper Makefield. The property is zoned country residential and has an agricultural preservation easement.

A one-stop shop for both the APS and DLAR collections is a pretty awesome prospect.  As a former DLAR research fellow, though, I’ll miss the library’s old grounds at Washington Crossing.  The month I spent there was the most enjoyable (and fruitful) period of archival work I’ve ever done.  Indeed, it was about as close to the perfect research experience as one could get: living in a lovely house right next door to the library, twenty-four-hour access to an outstanding collection of books and microfilm, my own personal workstation and scanner, the assistance of a dedicated reference staff, and all of it right in the middle of some of the most important Rev War sites in the country.

If you’re not already doing so, I encourage you to support the David Library financially.  I can’t think of a better way to invest in the future of American Revolution scholarship.

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John Buchanan returns to the Revolutionary South

Here’s another one to add to the list of new and forthcoming books on the Rev War in the South.  John Buchanan’s The Road to Charleston picks up where his acclaimed The Road to Guilford Courthouse left off:

Greene’s Southern Campaign was the most difficult of the war. With a supply line stretching hundreds of miles northward, it revealed much about the crucial military art of provision and transport. Insufficient manpower a constant problem, Greene attempted to incorporate black regiments into his army, a plan angrily rejected by the South Carolina legislature. A bloody civil war between Rebels and Tories was wreaking havoc on the South at the time, forcing Greene to address vigilante terror and restore civilian government. As his correspondence with Thomas Jefferson during the campaign shows, Greene was also bedeviled by the conflict between war and the rights of the people, and the question of how to set constraints under which a free society wages war.

Joining Greene is an unforgettable cast of characters—men of strong and, at times, antagonistic personalities—all of whom are vividly portrayed. We also follow the fate of Greene’s tenacious foe, Lieutenant Colonel Francis, Lord Rawdon. By the time the British evacuate Charleston—and Greene and his ragged, malaria-stricken, faithful Continental Army enter the city in triumph—the reader has witnessed in telling detail one of the most punishing campaigns of the Revolution, culminating in one of its greatest victories.

Road to Guilford Courthouse is probably the most engaging book ever written about the Southern Campaign, so it’s nice to see Buchanan finishing the story of Greene’s reconquista.  The Road to Charleston hits stores this March.

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Two Rev War books from Ian Saberton

Ian Saberton released two new Rev War books this year.  You might be familiar with Saberton’s six-volume edition of Cornwallis papers, a tremendous boon to those of us interested in the Southern Campaigns.

First up is The American Revolutionary War in the South: A Re-Evaluation from a British Perspective in the Light of the Cornwallis Papers:

Relying principally on Ian Saberton’s edition of The Cornwallis Papers: The Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 in the Southern Theatre of the American Revolutionary War, 6 vols (Uckfield: The Naval & Military Press Ltd, 2010), this work opens with an essay containing a groundbreaking critique of British strategy during the momentous and decisive campaigns that terminated in Cornwallis’s capitulation at Yorktown and the consolidation of American independence. The essay begins by analysing the critical mistakes that led the British to disaster and ends, conversely by describing how they might have achieved a lasting measure of success. The remaining essays address certain characters and events in or connected to the war.

The second book is a biography of George Hanger, who commanded Tarleton’s Legion at Charlotte while Tarleton himself was sick.

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Forthcoming books of note

As if our TBR stacks aren’t high enough.

Next month we’re getting a biography of Daniel Morgan by Albert Louis Zambone.  It’s about time for a fresh look at the Old Wagoner.  (Don Higginbotham’s life of Morgan first appeared way back in 1961.)

Stanley D.M. Carpenter of the Naval War College has a new book on Cornwallis and the Southern Campaign coming out in February.  Looks like the focus is on the failures and miscalculations that led to British defeat:

Distinguished scholar of military strategy Stanley D. M. Carpenter outlines the British strategic and operational objectives, devoting particular attention to the strategy of employing Southern Loyalists to help defeat Patriot forces, reestablish royal authority, and tamp down resurgent Patriot activity. Focusing on Cornwallis’s operations in the Carolinas and Virginia leading to the surrender at Yorktown in October 1781, Carpenter reveals the flaws in this approach, most notably a fatal misunderstanding of the nature of the war in the South and of the Loyalists’ support. Compounding this was the strategic incoherence of seeking a conventional war against a brilliant, unconventional opponent, and doing so amidst a breakdown in the unity of command.

This emphasis on British failures, miscalculations, and infighting is interesting, because it marks something of a historiographic reversal.  Redcoat commanders and strategists have been getting more favorable treatment in some recent studies, most notably Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy’s Men Who Lost America.

The first volume of Rick Atkinson’s Rev War trilogy hits stores in May.  I haven’t read his World War II series, but I’ve heard good things about it.  I’ll be particularly interested to see whether he deals with some of the more obscure campaigns.

And finally, David McCullough is heading into the Old Northwest.  And it looks like he’s…well, going full-on David McCullough:

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough rediscovers an important and dramatic chapter in the American story—the settling of the Northwest Territory by dauntless pioneers who overcame incredible hardships to build a community based on ideals that would come to define our country.

As part of the Treaty of Paris, in which Great Britain recognized the new United States of America, Britain ceded the land that comprised the immense Northwest Territory, a wilderness empire northwest of the Ohio River containing the future states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. A Massachusetts minister named Manasseh Cutler was instrumental in opening this vast territory to veterans of the Revolutionary War and their families for settlement. Included in the Northwest Ordinance were three remarkable conditions: freedom of religion, free universal education, and most importantly, the prohibition of slavery. In 1788 the first band of pioneers set out from New England for the Northwest Territory under the leadership of Revolutionary War veteran General Rufus Putnam. They settled in what is now Marietta on the banks of the Ohio River.

McCullough tells the story through five major characters: Cutler and Putnam; Cutler’s son Ephraim; and two other men, one a carpenter turned architect, and the other a physician who became a prominent pioneer in American science. They and their families created a town in a primeval wilderness, while coping with such frontier realities as floods, fires, wolves and bears, no roads or bridges, no guarantees of any sort, all the while negotiating a contentious and sometimes hostile relationship with the native people. Like so many of McCullough’s subjects, they let no obstacle deter or defeat them.

Drawn in great part from a rare and all-but-unknown collection of diaries and letters by the key figures, The Pioneers is a uniquely American story of people whose ambition and courage led them to remarkable accomplishments. This is a revelatory and quintessentially American story, written with David McCullough’s signature narrative energy.

On Twitter, a lot of historians have noted the Turner-esque vibe here.  But what this reminds me of isn’t Turner and the first generation of American professional historians; it’s the filiopiety of Lyman Draper and those other avocational antiquarians who chronicled the trans-Appalachian West.  It isn’t so much a rehashing of a worn-out historiography, but rather a blithe disregard of historiography altogether.  And I really hope he’s not including free universal education and the prohibition of slavery among the “ideals that would come to define our country.”  Those two ideals still had a long way to go in the late eighteenth century.

Of course, you don’t review any book based on its dust jacket copy, let alone a book that isn’t published yet.  At the very least, though, Simon and Schuster’s marketing department isn’t making McCullough’s job any easier.

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Ron Hoffman, 1941-2018

Dr. Ronald Hoffman, an eminent scholar of the American Revolution, passed away earlier this month.  He was the longest-serving Director of the Omohundro Institute for Early American History and Culture, editor of the papers of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, and a prolific author.

He looms especially large in all the research I’ve done and am doing, because he co-edited An Uncivil War: The Southern Backcountry During the American Revolution, one of fifteen volumes based on a series of conferences he convened under the aegis of the U.S. Capitol Historical Society.  An Uncivil War is indispensable to any study of the Revolutionary backcountry, and is perhaps the most valuable secondary source on that subject I’ve ever encountered.

On a personal note, I had the honor of eating lunch with Dr. Hoffman years ago as an M.A. student.  He patiently listened to me talk about my (then very nebulous) research and was generous with his advice.  He was a giant in the field, but he treated me like a colleague.  The reminiscences I’ve read from other students and junior scholars over the past few days indicate that such kindness was typical of him.

The Omohundro Institute sponsors a postdoctoral fellowship in his name.  For information on how to donate, along with details about a celebration of his life scheduled for next month at William and Mary, click here.

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