Resilient folks, those Bay Staters.
Tag Archives: Revolutionary War
The city of New Rochelle, NY has confiscated a Gadsden flag that flew outside a local armory due to “unspecified complaints” to the city manager and a request by the city council. This happened just after the city manager told a group of veterans the flag could remain in place. The situation is reminiscent of last year’s brouhaha over the Gadsden flags at Gettysburg.
As many commentators have pointed out, the Confederate battle flag is a symbol with multiple meanings because of the various groups that have appropriated it over the years. Depending on the context, it can stand the Confederacy, the South in general, rebelliousness, racism, segregation, or the “redneck” stereotype. If you’re going to display the CBF, you have to keep this multiplicity of meanings in mind; the meaning you intend to convey might not be the same one understood by the people who exposed to it.
In the case of the Gadsden flag, though, I think the case is a little different. The Tea Party adopted the Gadsden flag, but unlike the CBF, the Gadsden flag hasn’t been stewing in its more modern political connotations for decades. It remains primarily a symbol of the Revolution and America’s commitment to liberty and self-defense, and for that reason I don’t see anything wrong with flying it outside an armory. But that’s just my opinion.
They’re building some sort of retail/entertainment complex on top of it. Not much to see at the actual spot, but there’s a pretty cool mural at the Missouri State Capitol.
The most dynamic visual representation of tomahawk combat in modern times is probably the electrifying rescue sequence in The Patriot, in which Mel Gibson turns a detachment of British soldiers into hamburger.
This portrayal of tomahawk fighting is as elegant as it is ugly, equal parts martial art and straightforward butchery. I suspect the reality was a lot more grab-and-hack and less Jackie Chan.
One account of a tomahawk in action—or about to be put into action—comes from the pension application of Charles Bowen, who fought at King’s Mountain. During the battle, Bowen somehow heard that his brother Reese had been killed in action. As he tried to find him, he came across his own captain, dead or dying from a shot to the head. At that point, something in Bowen apparently snapped.
Making his way to a spot “within fifteen or twenty paces of the enemy” and taking cover behind a tree, Bowen shot down a Tory who was attempting to raise a flag of surrender. He was reloading when Col. Benjamin Cleveland approached him and demanded he give the countersign, which was “Buford” (after the commander of a Virginia unit defeated by British dragoons earlier that year). Bowen couldn’t come up with the word, perhaps because he was still in some kind of a berserk rage, so Cleveland assumed he was a Tory. Here’s Bowen’s recollection of what happened next, as transcribed and amended at revwarapps.org:
Col Cleveland instantly leveled his rifle at Declarant’s breast and attempted to fire, but the Gun snapped. Declarant jumped at Cleveland seized him by the collar, drew his tomahawk, and would have sunk it in Cleveland’s head if his arm had not been arrested by a soldier by the name of Beanhannon [sic, Buchanan?], who knew the parties. Declarant immediately recollected the countersign which was “Blueford,” [sic, Buford] named it and Cleveland dropped his gun and clasped Declarant in his arms.
There’s nothing fancy about what Bowen was about to do; he simply “seized him by the collar, drew his tomahawk, and would have sunk it in Cleveland’s head.” If this was typical of tomahawk combat, then that scene from The Patriot is probably too elaborate on the choreography, even though it gets the raw brutality exactly right.
If you do, and you’ve got a hefty wallet, there’s a nice one headed for the auction block in Lincoln County, TN. And this one gets bonus points for a Rev War connection. The occupant’s father was Joseph Greer, a King’s Mountain veteran who reportedly carried news of the battle to Philadelphia. (His compass is on display at the Tennessee State Museum.)
Now, here’s the sort of thing that’s perfect for stirring up debate in the historical blogosphere:
A new bill proposed in the Georgia legislature would prohibit local governments from hiding or removing statues of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee or other Confederate army heroes indefinitely.…
Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, introduced the proposal at the request of the Sons of the American Revolution and the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
The bill, if passed, would require that monuments be kept in a prominent place. It would also make it illegal to “deface, defile, or abuse contemptuously” any memorial dedicated to the Confederate army.
“We’re not saying they can’t move them,” Benton said. “We’re just saying they can’t just put them in a field somewhere.”
You can read the proposed bill yourself by clicking here. It’s pretty short, so go ahead and give it a look.
Of course, I’m in favor of throwing the book at anybody who mutilates or damages historic monuments and markers, but I would assume Georgia already has vandalism laws to cover that sort of thing. As for the bill’s more novel provisions to stop such monuments from being “relocated, removed, concealed, obscured, or altered,” I’m not sure what to think.
My inclination in disputes over older monuments is usually to let them be and keep them in good condition, since they have intrinsic historic value. But I’m not sure it’s a good idea to have a state law prohibiting local government agencies from moving monuments except in cases of construction projects, since the bill (if I understand it correctly) makes no distinction among monuments “dedicated to a historical entity” based on their age or significance.
What do you guys think?
While Continentals, Redcoats, and militiamen were battling it out in the American Revolution, a related struggle played out on the frontiers of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia as settlers and Indians wrestled for control of the West. This frontier war for land and independence doesn’t get as much scholarly attention as the conventional war to the eastward, which is why I was glad to see the release of Richard D. Blackmon’s Dark and Bloody Ground: The American Revolution Along the Southern Frontier a couple of months ago.
Blackmon demonstrates that colonial officials tasked with maintaining the Indians’ loyalty had long struggled with unscrupulous traders and land-hungry frontiersmen, and found their role even more difficult when those frontiersmen became rebellious colonists. In the South, this responsibility fell on the shoulders of John Stuart, Superintendent for the Southern Department. Both Stuart and his Whig opponents tried to secure the support (or at least the neutrality) of the southern tribes, which required supplying the Indians with the arms and powder on which they depended for hunting and persuading the tribes to expel agents working for the opposing side.
All-out war finally erupted on the frontier in the summer of 1776, after Stuart and his deputies failed to convince the Cherokees that a general assault on the settlements would only inflame white Whigs and Tories alike into reprisals. The response from the Carolinas and Virginia was precisely what Stuart had feared. Frontier militias rebounded from the attacks and marched into the Indian towns, burning crops and dwellings while engaging in battles with war parties. These invasions of Cherokee country forced the tribe to trade land for peace, although a faction of warriors led by Dragging Canoe refused to lay down their arms and instead moved south to continue resistance against the settlements.
The Creeks, meanwhile, were divided over whether to join Britain’s war against the colonists, reluctant to take up arms without the support of British troops and supplies. Pro-British Creeks did attack the Georgia frontier in 1778, although the Whigs kept part of the tribe neutral by supplying them with goods. When British armies finally invaded the South, the Whigs faced the two-front war which they had long dreaded, but British military activity in that region was never as well-coordinated as advocates of a frontier strategy desired.
Ultimately, those Native Americans who cast their lot with England lost their military gamble, as British troops evacuated the southern posts they had been trying to maintain since the late 1770′s, leaving the Cherokees, Creeks, and other tribes at the mercy of an independent United States. Although the war brought devastation and bloodshed to the frontiersmen (the Cumberland settlements in present-day Middle Tennessee and the Kentucky settlements proved especially vulnerable), it reduced residents of the devastated Indian communities to an especially precarious existence, and the final peace between the U.S. and England in 1783 proved to be a mere intermission in the contest for the West.
My only complaint about this book is a curious omission. Blackmon’s description of the struggle between frontiersmen and Cherokees in 1776 is quite detailed, but it doesn’t really cover the summer attacks on the settlements in what is now northeastern Tennessee. He does deal with the wrangling among Tennessee settlers, British officials, and Native Americans that preceded these attacks, as well as John Sevier’s later battles against the Chickamaugas, but readers interested in the early history of the Volunteer State may be disappointed that the siege of Ft. Caswell doesn’t get the same coverage as the Ring Fight, the defense of Boonesborough, and the Battle of the Bluffs.
That criticism aside, this book is a great addition to the bookshelf of anyone interested in the American Revolution or the early frontier, utilizing both official documentation and eyewitness accounts of the major engagements. Blackmon’s analyses of Andrew Williamson’s exploits and the negotiations at Ft. Patrick Henry are the best I’ve read. Even if your knowledge of the war’s backwoods battles is extensive, it’s heplful to have a solid overview of the entire frontier war for the South in one volume, placed deftly in the context of the larger war as a whole.
Kevin Phillips’s 1775: A Good Year for Revolution is well worth your time, but possibly not for the reason the author intended. His thesis is that it was not 1776 which was the critical year in America’s struggle for self-determination, but rather the previous one, since much of the groundwork for the colonies’ political and military success was laid over the course of what Phillips calls the “long 1775,” meaning the period from late 1774 through early 1776. Having read his argument—and it’s not a brief one—I’m not entirely convinced that he’s made his case. In the course of the attempt, however, Phillips covers so much material of interest that the book functions as a fine overview of the Revolution’s beginnings.
A longtime student of American political trends, Phillips devotes the book’s first section to the demographic, religious, economic, and ideological factors at play on the eve of the Revolution. Religious affiliation, he argues, was an important factor in determining an individual’s allegiance; New England Congregationalists, backcountry Presbyterians, and low church Anglicans in the South were at the forefront of imperial resistance. Tightening economic constraints were irksome to a growing colonial population plagued by currency shortages, indebtedness to British merchants, and restrictions on trade. Seamen and laborers dependent on maritime activities were especially zealous participants in Whig mobs. Frontier expansion was another source of ferment and division between western settlers and colonial authorities, complicating the efforts of both sides to draw on backcountry support. Much of this background information will be familiar to readers who have read the work of scholars such as Patricia Bonomi, Woody Holton, and Gary Nash.
The book’s second section examines how the political, logistic, and military contests between America and the empire actually played out over the course of the “long 1775.” Both sides had been moving toward armed confrontation for some time before Lexington and Concord, with de facto government and military power falling into Patriot hands across the colonies. A key component of this early stage of the struggle was the contest for resources. Americans scored a critical logistical victory in their effort to obtain gunpowder and other munitions, despite the trade restrictions imposed by the British in retaliation for the Continental Association’s import/export boycott. British authorities, meanwhile, neglected their own logistical needs, causing serious problems for their forces besieged in Boston. Raids by American privateers exacerbated these problems.
From a military standpoint, the British squandered a number of opportunities and committed a series of important mistakes in 1775 and early 1776. Efforts by royal officials to enlist the aid of slaves and Indians only stirred up white colonists against British authority. Raids on coastal towns, and threats to destroy these towns when supplies were not forthcoming, similarly made for potent American propaganda fodder. British strategists neglected American vulnerable points while wasting time and troops on poorly-coordinated efforts such as the ill-fated expedition to the Carolinas, and allowing most of their forces to remain tied down in the demoralizing siege at Boston. English attempts to obtain foreign mercenaries proved controversial at home, while the French and Spanish seized the opportunity to avenge their losses in earlier wars created by the American rebellion.
Patriots, meanwhile, enjoyed a number of military successes during this same period, as Whig militias acted to suppress Tory uprisings and makeshift American naval forces wreaked havoc on British supply lines. Although Americans did lose their dramatic wintertime gamble to capture Quebec at the end of 1775, Phillips emphasizes the extent to which this campaign came close to victory, as British forces in Canada were stretched extremely thin.
During the “long year” of late 1774 to early 1776, then, the American Revolutionaries scored important military, logistical, and political victories that would help carry them through the disappointments and disillusions to come. And since Phillips emphasizes how the Whigs had already taken de facto control of colonial governments, the eventual decision for independence comes off as anti-climactic, necessary only for diplomatic reasons and to shore up resolve before the massive British invasion of New York that same year. But having built up the importance of the long ’75, he doesn’t spend much time demolishing the edifice of 1776, despite a few hints at how that year’s mythic status arose out of shifts in cultural memory after the Revolution.
Phillips does, however, demonstrate how the American successes and British missteps of the long ’75 gave the Revolution the breathing room it needed to mature. Taken as a wide-ranging examination of the war’s formative period, this is one of the better books on the Revolution to be released by a commercial publisher in recent years, drawing on an impressive reading of the secondary literature.
There’s a hubbub brewing over new social studies standards for Minnesota’s schools. As is generally the case in these situations, there’s a fair amount of knee-jerk alarmism mixed in with the legitimate concerns.
Lawyer and commentator John Hinderaker is upset because the new standards emphasize the different impacts that the American Revolution and the Civil War had on various groups. He writes, “One might have thought that events like the American Revolution and the Civil War would affect Americans generally, but such a concept is foreign to today’s academics.”
Well, certainly the Revolution and the Civil War did affect Americans generally, but it didn’t affect all of them in the same way. If you were a white male living in Pennsylvania, the Revolution probably resulted in a greater exercise of political power. If you were a white woman living in Massachusetts, you took on new roles as a republican mother and citizen. If you were an enslaved black male who managed to hitch a ride with the British as they evacuated the seaboard cities, you got freedom. And if you were an Indian of any gender living in the Ohio Valley, the Revolution wasn’t exactly a bonanza. There’s nothing wrong with teaching kids about the varied effects of important events. Indeed, history teachers need to introduce the complexity involved in significant events like the Revolution.
Hinderaker also charges the standards with attributing “institutionalized racism” to big business. But that isn’t exactly what the relevant passage says: “As the United States shifted from its agrarian roots into an industrial and global power, the rise of big business, urbanization and immigration led to institutionalized racism, ethnic and class conflict, and new efforts at reform. ” The standards are clearly dealing with a number of transformations in the U.S. during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, of which the rise of big business was only one. The rise of big business, the growth of cities, and immigration resulted in a number of changes in American life, including racism, class conflict, and reform efforts. And, of course, shifts in immigration patterns and urban growth in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries did result in institutionalized racism, as evidenced by the emergence of measures like the Chinese Exclusion Act and the restrictions on Asian immigration in the Immigration Act of 1917.
Perhaps, then, the problem isn’t with the standards, but with the reading comprehension of the people criticizing them. Or perhaps the problem is something else. Hinderaker writes that when he saw Joseph Brandt’s name on the standards’ list of “historically significant people” from the American Revolution, he had no idea who he was and had to look him up. He notes only that Brandt was “a Mohawk Indian,” which is sort of like saying that Stonewall Jackson was “a guy from Virginia.” Since Hinderaker had to look up the name of one of the most important figures of the Revolutionary frontier, might I suggest that he isn’t the person to be assessing standards for teaching history in Minnesota’s schools?