When asked to name the Rev War’s most underrated battle and participant, Ferling put in a good word for King’s Mountain and Nathanael Greene. My kind of guy…and also a darn good historian.
Tag Archives: Revolutionary War
Robert Inman, who wrote the script for the new King’s Mountain play I mentioned a few days ago, has a guest post about the campaign over at Appalachian History.
The play has its premiere this October, and after that it’s going to be an annual summer production. Inman has evidently done quite a bit of writing for both theater and TV. I’m hoping I get a chance to see the show.
I’m obliged to Gordon Belt for passing this along. In North Carolina there’s a new play in the works about the Battle of King’s Mountain and the men who fought there. Here’s how the play’s author describes the backcountry settlers:
“They had a bone to pick with the British government even when they lived there,” he said “They lived a hard life under landlords that were very hard to deal with. They had famine and drought, and they were seeking a new life in the New World where they could make a living, raise their families and worship as they please.”
The settlers came to the backcountry of North and South Carolina and quickly adapted to the frontier area.
“They had to be rugged, independent people. They endured hardships, they had to fight Indians. They persevered,” Inman said.
When the war began, the backcountry patriots just wanted the British to leave them alone.
“The British said, ‘You have to support the crown.’ They said, ‘No, that’s not the way we operate.’ And so, they took up arms against the British and won,” Inman said.
The backcountry settlers who fought in the Southern Campaign have been the subject of dramatic works before, especially in the 1950s, when Pat Alderman‘s outdoor drama The Overmountain Men premiered in Erwin, TN. It told the settlers’ story from the genesis of the settlements west of the mountains through the Battle of King’s Mountain.
Alderman eventually turned his research into a book, and if you compare the description of the settlers in its pages to the news item quoted above, you’ll see that the characterization of the backwoodsmen hasn’t changed much over the decades:
These frontiersmen were sons of frontiersmen, accustomed to the rugged life of the new country.…This unhampered wilderness freedom, far removed from royal rulers and their taxes, was to their liking. These bold, resolute men were self-reliant. They were independent, individualistic, and not always inclined to respect or observe the niceties of the soft life. Living on the outskirts of civilization, their law was to have and to hold.
In fact, you could quote lengthy passages from books on the backwoodsmen written in the late 1800s and find many of the same sentiments. It’s fascinating to see how popular notions about the eighteenth-century frontiersmen have remained so steady.
For more information about Revolutionary-era settlers on the stage, check out Gordon’s book on John Sevier in myth and memory. (Sevier was the subject of his own biographical play about sixty years ago.) And if you’d like to see an outdoor drama about the eighteenth-century settlers for yourself, Sycamore Shoals hosts a very popular and long-running show every year.
Some of my favorite national parks are joining forces:
Southeast Regional Director Stan Austin announced that four National Park units in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia will begin to consolidate operations on or about September 1. The four units represent significant stories of the American Revolution in the southern United States.
“This action will ensure financial sustainability, provide more efficient use of resources, and help these parks to better serve the visiting public,” Austin said. “The units share historic backgrounds, missions and geographic proximity, and this provides an opportunity to share employees who perform identical or similar functions at each of the parks.”
Kings Mountain National Military Park, Cowpens National Battlefield, and Ninety Six National Historic Site are located in South Carolina. Overmountain Victory Trail spans parts of Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. As part of the National Trails Program, it is a partnership entity and does not own land.
The four units will be formed into a “group” under one general superintendent who will manage all four units. The National Park Service has begun the hiring process for a general superintendent. It is expected that the position will be filled by September 1, and the new superintendent will begin the process of combining park functions. The new superintendent will also be responsible to promote the individual identity of each park and build coalitions within each of the parks’ surrounding communities. It has not yet been determined where the new superintendent will be stationed, but it will be at one of the three existing park units.
It’s a move that makes sense, I think. KMNMP and the OVT are inseparably intertwined, Cowpens is one of the stops on the trail, and Ninety Six in the same general neck of the woods. I just hope this isn’t a sign that any of these parks are having major financial trouble and needing to cut back on operations.
Meanwhile, Historic Brattonsville has unveiled some big changes at the site of Huck’s Defeat (or the Battle of Williamson’s Plantation, if you prefer):
The new quarter-mile gravel trail, which is part of the attraction, features a series of interpretive kiosks that illustrate the details of the battle and tell the story of the Williamson and Bratton families.…
Lynch [no relation to yours truly] said a wood frame has been erected at the site where the Williamson home stood. Painted cutouts of soldiers representing the British and American forces have been placed on the battle field to illustrate what happened, he said.
The CHM also commissioned Charlotte painters Don Troiani and Dan Nance to visually capture the story of the Battle of Huck’s Defeat.
Seven original paintings will be on display in Brattonsville’s Visitors Center during the opening weekend festivities. Prints of the artwork will be sold year-round. Nance will be on hand to sign prints both days, Lynch said.
Lynch said the Visitors Center will also feature a new 14-minute documentary that will help visitors understand the events that played out during Huck’s Defeat.
“It enriches the experience,” Lynch said. “You have the battlefield trail and the video you can watch to augment the experience.”
When I visited Historic Brattonsville a few years ago there was a trail to the battleground and a short pre-recorded narration, but it’s great to see that they’re telling the story more fully. If you haven’t been to HB, I heartily recommend it. It’s a wonderful place to learn about the early South Carolina backcountry.
The Christian Science Monitor offers a list of fifteen books on the American Revolution for your Fourth of July reading pleasure. It’s not a bad list, although I think my personal picks would only include a couple of their selections.
Tell you what: I’ll take a page from CSM and list my fifteen favorite Revolution books, too. It’s always fun to compare notes.
Let me stress that my list isn’t a balanced representation of the historiography, not by any means. If somebody grabbed me by the shirt collar and asked me for fifteen books that would give them a pretty good overview of the Revolution, that list would look quite different from this one. I’m not aiming for complete coverage. These are just my personal faves.
Here they are, in no particular order.
- Washington’s Crossing by David Hackett Fischer. When Clio goes about sprinkling her magic fairy dust, she bestows a more generous dose on some historians than others. She poured a tenfold measure on Fischer.
- Paul Revere’s Ride also by David Hackett Fischer. Another examination of a Revolutionary event in which Fischer uses the technique of “braided narrative” to reconstruct an important event, unpack all its implications, and present it in the form of an engrossing story.
- The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution by Bernard Bailyn. Explains why the colonists reacted to British policy the way they did, and in the process it opens up their entire political mindset.
- The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 by Gordon Wood. Hard to overstate this book’s richly deserved influence. It’s packed with so many important ideas you want to highlight the whole thing.
- The Radicalism of the American Revolution also by Gordon Wood. The Revolution changed the pre-modern world into the modern one. Wood explains how and why, and he does it in prose so crystal clear that it’s easy to forget what intellectual heft this book has.
- A Revolutionary People at War: The Continental Army and American Character by Charles Royster. This is one of my all-time favorite works of historical scholarship, a profound and elegant meditation on the Continental Army’s relationship to the Revolution and the society that made it.
- The Road to Guilford Courthouse: The American Revolution in the Carolinas by John Buchanan. Of all the books written about the Southern Campaign, this one is the most fun. Buchanan’s enthusiasm for the subject practically somersaults off the page.
- Crowds and Soldiers in Revolutionary North Carolina: The Culture of Violence in Riot and War by Wayne E. Lee. Provides a framework for understanding the forces that both restrained and escalated the ferocious conflict in the Carolinas.
- Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves, and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia by Woody Holton. Makes a very persuasive case that in the Old Dominion the Revolution wasn’t just a question of freedom from British oppression; it was also an attempt by the gentry to maintain their authority at home.
- Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence by John Ferling. The most comprehensive, balanced, and thorough one-volume history of the war.
- John Adams by David McCullough. A book that deserved its stupendous commercial success. No biographer has ever brought a founding figure so vividly to life.
- Long, Obstinate, and Bloody: The Battle of Guilford Courthouse by Lawrence E. Babits and Joshua B. Howard. A fascinating piece of detective work, and the most precise reconstruction of a single Rev War battle. (Honorable mention for Babits’s Cowpens book, too.)
- From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Opposition to Britain, 1765-1776 by Pauline Maier. Unravels the process by which loyal British subjects became Americans.
- His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph Ellis. There are a lot of books on Washington, but I admire the way Ellis captures his essence in this concise portrait. It’s not a cradle-to-grave treatment, but it’s more effective than just about any book out there if you want to get your head around the man and his significance. Same goes for Ellis’s Jefferson book.
- A People Numerous and Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence by John Shy. An essay collection that’s loaded with insights. Shy asks and answers many of the important questions about the Rev War.
As I said, my list leaves out a lot of important authors and topics, while other subjects are overrepresented. A comprehensive Revolutionary reading list should also include Alfred Young, T.H. Breen, Gary Nash, Linda Kerber, Rhys Isaac, and Mary Beth Norton. Likewise, it should have more thorough coverage of the shift from Confederation to Constitution, include biographies of additional key players, and make some space for the important campaigns in the North—to say nothing of the Revolution’s impact on women, slaves, Indians, tenants, and the urban underclass.
But those are the fifteen Am Rev books I’ve read and re-read with the most pleasure and awe. Feel free to share your own picks in the comments.
Today‘s Jenna Bush Hager visited the Jurassic World set and talked to the cast. Mostly they discussed Chris Pratt’s abs, but there were also some tantalizing glimpses of what the park is going to look like.
Meanwhile, it looks like AMC has renewed Turn for a second season. As much as I like having some Rev War fare on TV, I’m not a fan of putting a fictional love triangle at the center of the story. I’d much rather see the plot unfold from the circumstances of what the Culper Ring was actually doing. You’d think there would be drama enough involved without manufacturing all these romantic interests for the characters.
And they really need to stop teasing us with the prospect of showing iconic battles without following through. That stunt where one of the main characters was unconscious during Trenton? That was just mean.
If you’re in the Knoxville area, come out to Marble Springs State Historic Site this Saturday at 1:00 P.M. Fellow history blogger Gordon Belt will talk about his new book John Sevier: Tennessee’s First Hero, an examination of the ways we’ve remembered, misremembered, and failed to remember the man who probably did more than anyone else to create the Volunteer State.
The cool thing about this book is that it offers an accessible introduction to Sevier’s life as well as a thoroughly researched examination of his place in tradition and memory. It traces the development of the Sevier legend across the three major phases of his life as a pioneer, a soldier, and a statesman, stopping along the way to address some of the more popular stories about him, such as the dramatic rescue of his future wife at Ft. Watauga, his involvement in the Franklin movement, and his public feud with Andrew Jackson.
I eagerly awaited the publication of Gordon’s book, not just because it fits my personal research interests to a T but also because I think it will help address a troubling bit of historical amnesia we have here in Tennessee.
I think I first realized the extent of the problem the day I went to UT’s library to borrow a book about Sevier. It was Carl Driver’s 1932 biography, and I needed it for my master’s thesis on memory and the Battle of King’s Mountain. The guy behind the counter looked at the title and said, “Oh, the highway guy.”
The highway guy? And then it hit me: Gov. John Sevier Highway loops around the southern and eastern sides of Knoxville.
He was the state’s first governor, a member of Congress, a state senator, the only governor of the Lost State of Franklin, an officer in one of the Revolutionary War’s pivotal battles, commander of the state militia, defender of the frontier and the scourge of the Cherokees. If we don’t remember his stellar résumé, we should at least remember his name, because it’s all over East Tennessee: Sevierville, Sevier County, Gov. John Sevier Animal Clinic, John Sevier Combined Cycle Plant, John Sevier Elementary School. Along with his nemesis Old Hickory, he’s one of two Tennessee heroes in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. Even his wife has an elementary school named in her honor.
But to the kid behind the library desk, he was “the highway guy.”
The notion that a Tennessean of any era would be unfamiliar with the exploits of “Nolichucky Jack” would have come as quite a shock to his contemporaries. From the time of the American Revolution until his death in 1815, Sevier was one of the most popular men in his corner of the world.
But by the late 1800s, there was already a sense among antiquarians, regional authors, and amateur historians that Sevier and the other heroes of the old frontier had not received their historical due. These men were determined to rectify the problem, but they overcompensated. In the work of writers like James Gilmore and Francis M. Turner, Sevier became a frontier demigod. The hero-worshipping writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries obscured the flesh-and-blood man behind a haze of tradition and sentimental prose.
There were other, later attempts to understand and commemorate Sevier and his times in the twentieth century. Some of the most interesting were on the stage, as the early settlement of Tennessee became the subject of outdoor dramas. On the printed page, regional historians like Samuel Cole Williams and Pat Alderman picked up where the antiquarians of the 1800s had left off. But separating the man from the myth remained a problem. Although Driver’s biography is the most thorough cradle-to-grave treatment of Sevier, it dates back to the Great Depression.
Gordon’s book is just the sort of fresh take we need to kickstart another revival of interest in one of the frontier’s most important figures. Visit Marble Springs this weekend to hear him discuss it.