Here’s a fantastic preservation opportunity from the American Battlefield Trust. Land from three Rev War sites is in play, including a crucial acre at Great Bridge, VA–site of the Patriot militia’s 1775 victory over Lord Dunmore’s forces. Every dollar you give will net an 80-to-1 match!
Tag Archives: Southern Campaign
Those of you who are hip to Twitter might already be familiar with Historians at the Movies. If you’re not, here’s how it works: A bunch of history folks crank up the same Netflix offering at the same time, and then tweet along using the hashtag #HATM. The brainchild of Jason Herbert, it’s become quite the phenomenon.
People have been clamoring for HATM to take on The Patriot, and this Sunday night it’s finally happening. You’ll want to start the movie at 8:30, but the Twitter commentary usually gets going closer to 8:00.
I’ll be one of many tweeting along, using my professional-ish account @mlynchhist, which I reserve for subjects historical and museological. Anytime there’s an excuse to talk Southern Campaign stuff, I’m all in.
I just read (and enjoyed) Captives of Liberty: Prisoners of War and the Politics of Vengeance in the American Revolution by T. Cole Jones. Like Holger Hoock’s Scars of Independence, Jones’s book challenges the popular view of the Revolution as a restrained, limited war waged according to high-minded ideals. While prominent Revolutionaries did indeed envision a humane, restrained war, reports of the mistreatment of American prisoners and British atrocities (whether exaggerated or not) led many Patriots to embrace a more vindictive war of retribution. This had profound and very unfortunate effects for British and Tory prisoners who fell into American hands.
We usually associate the idea of a vindictive, retributive war with the Revolutionary South, and especially the southern backcountry. After the British invasion of South Carolina in 1780, Whigs and Tories engaged in an eye-for-an-eye struggle marked by lynchings, denial of quarter, and other bloody acts of retaliation fueled by a desire for revenge.
Many writers tend to treat this internecine conflict in the backcountry South as an exceptionally nasty deviation from the war as a whole. Jones interprets it differently. “While not denying the violence of the southern campaigns,” he writes, “viewing the treatment of enemy prisoners in the South within the context of prior British and American practice reveals more continuity than disjuncture. Through this lens, the war in the South emerges not as a drastic departure from a limited European-style conflict but as the intense culmination of a process of escalating violence that had begun in the summer of 1776” (p. 189).
Nor were southerners and backcountry settlers the only Americans to mete out impromptu, retributive violence against Tories. “Southern militias were not alone in their practice of terrorizing, torturing, and executing loyalists; northern revolutionaries committed similar acts of vengeance,” Jones writes. “Wherever British forces could project enough power to support loyalist resistance, revolutionary militias and crowds responded with terror and violence” (p. 207).
The work of Jones and Hoock suggests that we need to rethink the ways we write about the Revolution in the South. Maybe it’s time for us to stop asking why the southern experience of the Revolution was so violent and start asking ourselves whether there was really anything exceptional about it. And perhaps the selective nature of American memory about the Revolution’s ferocity illustrates the ways we use regionalization to compartmentalize the past’s unsavory aspects.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Most of you probably know that the Museum of the American Revolution opened in Philadelphia a couple of months ago. I set aside some time to visit while staying in Pennsylvania. I’m happy to report that it exceeded my expectations.
The MAR’s use of technology, immersive environments, and full-scale tableaux with figures has invited comparisons to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield. Personally, though, I found the MAR much richer in content, more judicious in its use of bells and whistles, and far more impressive in its assemblage of original material than the ALPLM.
At the Springfield museum I sometimes couldn’t shake the feeling that the designers were deploying all the latest gizmos (holograms, smoke, and deafening sound effects) not because each gimmick was the best tool for a particular interpretive need, but because the gimmicks were cool and they had money to burn. To borrow a phrase from my favorite film, they were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should. I never got that impression at the MAR. The content, and not the medium, is in the driver’s seat.
There’s quite a bit of stagecraft and showmanship, but it serves a pedagogical purpose. An interactive panel, for example, allows you to zero in on passages in Revolutionary propaganda pieces to dive into the meanings of particular phrases, or to place each document on a timeline of broader events.
Figures in life-size tableaux are so prominent at the ALPLM that you almost get the impression they’re the main course of the meal, with the artifacts as a garnish. Not so at the MAR. The tableaux in Philly are interpretive tools, the icing on the cake. But they’re also quite evocative. Here the artist-turned-officer Charles Wilson Peale encounters a bedraggled fellow soldier during the Continental Army’s disastrous retreat in late 1776. The man turns out to be his own brother, barely recognizable after weeks of hard campaigning.
But the heart and soul of the MAR exhibits are the artifacts, and they’re spectacular. Never in my life have I seen such a remarkable assemblage of objects from the Revolutionary era. Weapons used on the war’s very first day at Lexington and Concord…
…a timber from the bridge where the “shot heard ’round the world” was fired…
…Washington’s uniform sash…
…a signed copy of Phillis Wheatley’s book of poems…
…the sword Hugh Mercer carried when he fell at Princeton…
…John Paul Jones’s spyglass…
…and the museum’s crown jewel, Washington’s headquarters tent, with a place of honor inside its own auditorium (where photography, alas, is not permitted.)
Ordinary civilians and soldiers get representation, too. A simple canteen carried during the campaign for New York…
…an original fringed hunting shirt, one of only a handful still in existence…
…the remnants of Hessians’ caps…
…and an especially poignant object, a pair of slave shackles small enough to fit a child.
Each exhibit case bristles with so many fascinating artifacts that part of the fun of touring each gallery is the anticipation of what you’ll find in the next one.
Of course, a successful exhibit requires not only objects for the cases, but the proper interpretation and contextualization of those objects. Here, too, the MAR impressed me. The introductory film provides a solid introduction to what was at stake in the Revolution, and the exhibits place the struggle for independence in the context of wider transformations across the British Empire. The museum’s narrative gives us the Revolution’s heroism and its high ideals along with its contradictions, unfulfilled promises, and the fearsome cost in suffering it imposed on the people who lived through it. If any layperson came to me asking where they could get a sound and incisive overview of the subject, I wouldn’t hesitate to send them there.
There are only two aspects of the museum I’d criticize. I’m pleased that the MAR sets aside significant space for the Revolution’s frontier and Native American dimensions. But the Native perspective is almost entirely that of one particular tribe: the Oneidas, who (perhaps not coincidentally) made a substantial donation to the museum. The focus on a single tribe has its advantages; visitors get a compelling look at the Oneidas’ difficult decision to support the American cause. The drawback is that there isn’t much room left to tell the stories of other Indian communities, many of whom made very different choices. Additional space devoted to the tribes that took up arms against the young United States or tried to play different powers against one another would convey a more well-rounded, representative portrait of the Revolution’s impact on Native Americans.
My other criticism owes a lot to the fact that I’m a Southern Campaign guy. Many popular presentations of the Revolution give short shrift to the war in the South. You get thorough coverage of the battles in the North, but once the war moves to the Carolinas and Georgia it’s only a few general remarks about partisan warfare and perhaps a reference to Morgan’s tactical master stroke at Cowpens. Cornwallis ends up in Virginia to surrender to Washington and the French, but the details of how he ended up there are often sketchy; it’s almost as if Yorktown was a freak accident. The MAR’s coverage of the war unfortunately follows this formula. The exhibits on the war’s beginnings in New England, the fall of New York, Washington’s counter-thrust across the Delaware, Saratoga, the capture of Pennsylvania, and Valley Forge are superb, but when the narrative reaches the war in the South, it doesn’t quite stick the landing. The gallery devoted to the Carolinas and Georgia is given over mainly to Cowpens, with some remarks on initial British successes, the relationship between the Southern Campaign and slavery, and a bit on the viciousness of partisan fighting.
Still, if the exhibit on the war in the South is more or less a Cowpens gallery, it’s an exceptionally impressive Cowpens gallery. The life-size figures of Tarleton’s dragoons convey something of their fearsome reputation…
…and I got a kick out seeing artifacts associated with the units mauled at Cowpens: the 71st Highlanders, British Legion, and 17th Light Dragoons.
I should add that the skimpier treatment of the South applies only to the galleries devoted to the war itself. In its treatment of the Revolution’s other dimensions, the MAR’s geographic balance is admirable. You never get the sense that the non-importation movement was solely a Boston affair.
And in any case, I don’t want to dwell on those few things about the museum that irked me, because the experience as a whole was so remarkable. I enjoy museums, but it’s not often I get so excited while I stroll through one. This is the American Revolution for everybody—enough breadth to encompass the story, enough showmanship to engage visitors of all ages, and more than enough striking material on display to satisfy even the most hardcore history buff. From now on, anyone planning that historical sightseeing trip to Philadelphia is going to have to budget for an extra day. The MAR is a first-rate destination in its own right, and one nobody should miss.
East Tennesseans have more or less claimed the Battle of King’s Mountain as their own. And little wonder. The architects of the expedition lived in what’s now Tennessee, and the victory over Ferguson was the most dramatic and direct contribution that Tennessee settlers made to American independence.
But the Tennessee troops under John Sevier and Isaac Shelby weren’t the only men who gathered at Sycamore Shoals in September 1780 to march over the Appalachians. About four hundred Virginians under the command of Col. William Campbell also made the trek to King’s Mountain. These frontiersmen from the Old Dominion mustered at present-day Abingdon—Wolf Hills, as it was known in the 1700s—for the rendezvous at Sycamore Shoals.
Today you can stroll across the spot from which Campbell and his men set out at Abingdon Muster Grounds. Having made the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail pilgrimage from Sycamore Shoals to King’s Mountain a few years ago, my cousin and I decided to wrap up the holiday season by hitting the trail’s Virginia leg.
A state historical marker stands across the street from the muster grounds.
Hey, who’s a good boy? He’s a good boy! And you can find him standing under the interpretive signage at the site’s entrance.
This festooned canine mystified us, but after a bit of Googling, I think it’s part of a local art project. Check out the map of the Battle of King’s Mountain on his back.
I was really looking forward to the exhibit in the small interpretive center at the muster grounds. Alas, I neglected to call ahead and make sure they’d be open on the day we visited. But seeing the place where Campbell’s men mustered was still worth the trip.
Abingdon is justly proud of its history. A downtown mural depicts scenes from the region’s frontier era, including Campbell and his militia’s involvement in the Revolution.
Since we were in the area, we made the short drive up toward Marion, VA to see the site of Campbell’s home and his final resting place. They’re a bit hard to find, and they’re also on private property. If you decide to visit them yourself, be sure to obey the posted signage and be considerate of the folks who live nearby.
Campbell and his relatives are buried in a small cemetery on a hill overlooking the Aspenvale monument. After King’s Mountain, Campbell went on to lead backwoods riflemen into battle at Guilford Courthouse and then fought in Virginia under Lafayette before his unexpected death in August 1781. Relatives moved his remains back to the site of his old home in 1823. The slab over the grave is a modern replacement, but the epitaph is a copy of the text on the original stone.
Campbell’s wife, Elizabeth, was the sister of Patrick Henry. After Campbell’s tragically early death in 1781, she married Gen. William Russell. Now her remains lie near the foot of her first husband’s grave.
Buried alongside Campbell is Francis S. Preston, the congressman and brigadier general who married the Revolutionary War commander’s daughter. The Preston family were prominent in the history of southwestern Virginia, and were zealous defenders of Campbell’s memory in nineteenth-century disputes over the legacy of King’s Mountain.
After leaving the cemetery, we headed back to Abingdon and drove the Overmountain Victory motor route to Bristol. We stopped along the way to see the historical marker near where John Pemberton’s men mustered for the march to Sycamore Shoals.
The Virginia segment of the trail passes through one of the most beautiful parts of Appalachia, and it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re interested in the early history of the frontier.
From Parson Weems to Walt Disney, Francis Marion has attracted his share of myth-makers. Scholars, on the other hand, have been reluctant to take on the Swamp Fox as a subject, at least in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. While Scott Aiken’s military appraisal of Marion appeared just a few years ago, students of the American Revolution have had no full biography since the work of Robert Bass (1959) and Hugh Rankin (1973). The publication of John Oller’s The Swamp Fox is thus good news for readers eager for a fresh look at the South Carolina partisan.
It’s at best questionable whether Marion “saved” the Revolution, as the subtitle puts it, but Oller makes an effective case that his contribution to independence was significant, perhaps more so than that of any of the other partisan commanders operating in the South. The diminutive Huguenot first saw combat as a provincial officer during the Anglo-Cherokee War. With the outbreak of the Revolution he secured a position in one of South Carolina’s infantry regiments, participating in the 1776 defense of Sullivan’s Island and the disastrous Franco-American attempt to retake Savannah in 1779.
It was in the aftermath of the fall of Charleston in 1780, however, that Marion began the partisan phase of his military career that earned him lasting fame. Employing mobility and surprise to great advantage, hit-and-run strikes became Marion’s stock in trade. While most of these engagements were small—”little strokes,” as Nathanael Greene called them—they dispirited Lowcountry Tories and British occupiers, disrupted enemy communications between Charleston and the backcountry, and funneled intelligence and supplies to the main American army. They also forced Cornwallis to send detachments on wild goose chases in attempts to take his partisan corps out of commission.
Marion’s greatest triumphs came after Nathanael Greene’s assumption of command in the South. Although Greene’s frustrations with partisan volunteers and militia are well known, he was far more attentive to Marion than Gates ever was, and his dispatching of Henry Lee to collaborate with Marion resulted in the fall of Forts Watson and Motte, important British posts connecting Charleston with the interior. Oller does note those occasions in which Marion and Greene clashed. Like most Carolina partisans, Marion was reluctant to see his men’s horses turned over to the regular army, and his exasperation with command reached such a point during the siege of Ft. Motte that he announced his intention to resign. Oller also details Marion’s frustration with his squabbling and sensitive subordinates Peter Horry and Hezekiah Maham. For the most part, however, he paints a portrait of a man who kept a viable volunteer force in the field against tremendous odds. And while Eutaw Springs was the only large-scale battle of the Southern Campaign in which Marion participated, the performance of militia under his command in the first American line during that engagement impressed even Greene, who was often critical of irregulars’ conduct in open combat.
If Marion’s service with Greene is an exemplar of how regular and guerrilla forces can conduct successful operations together, part of that is due to the two men’s grasp of the link between waging war and cultivating public opinion. Greene once wrote that harsh treatment of Tories was “not less barbarous than impolitick.” Carrying on a war without restraint, he believed, was both morally wrong and counter-productive, since any insurgency requires the support of the population as well as the defeat of the enemy’s forces. As Oller repeatedly demonstrates, Marion shared this desire to conduct the Revolution in a humane fashion. He condemned the abuse of captured Tories, and did his best to prevent his men from pillaging civilians. For a partisan officer engaged in the vicious conflict in the Carolinas, this was no mean feat. (Indeed, Marion’s upstate counterpart Thomas Sumter used plundered slaves as recruitment bounties, a practice Marion opposed.) This desire to ameliorate the war’s worst effects carried over into Marion’s civilian life. In the South Carolina Senate, he allied with those seeking to soften implementation of an act confiscating the property of Tories.
Oller’s book is lean in its treatment of Marion’s life outside the Revolutionary War, but this is no fault of the author. Information on Marion’s activities between the Anglo-Cherokee War and the Revolution is scarce, and as Oller notes, Marion was not an especially prominent state senator, and his legislative career thus left behind a rather unimpressive paper trail. But there is enough in The Swamp Fox to give readers a sense of Marion as he lived outside the camp and battlefield.
In any case, it was in his capacity as a soldier that Marion made his mark, and when it comes to military matters Oller makes the most of the available sources. He employs primary sources to good effect, including the pension declarations that have proved invaluable to students of the Southern Campaign. His book also benefits from use of the fine secondary work on the war in the South that has appeared in the past few years. As a result, Oller is able to shed light on the many Marion anecdotes and apocrypha left behind in the wake of Parson Weems. While he approaches the Swamp Fox legend critically, Marion himself emerges from this study with his reputation for enterprise and patriotism intact. “Unlike so many heroes with feet of clay,” Oller writes, “Francis Marion holds up to scrutiny” (p. 247).
Longtime aficionados of the Rev War in the South will appreciate the insights in The Swamp Fox, but Oller’s book is also accessible to readers who are new to the subject. Informed, illuminating, and engaging, it’s a welcome addition to the literature on the battle for American independence.