31 October 2009

Bracketing the Month

I see that the last post was on the first day of October. Today is the last day of October, so we'll have neatly bracketed the month. Hey, it's getting done, right? At the end of the year we'll be better informed than we were in the beginning. Hurray for setting goals!

So. Just to recap. Boston has fallen and the British fled. The Continental Army got some sweet spoils from the deal: much of what they need, except for arms and gunpowder. I find it somewhat amazing that they were so very short on that stuff. I mean, I knew that Valley Forge was bad; I'd heard that they were short on gunpowder. I had No.Idea.Whatsoever that when they said they were short on these supplies it meant that Washington had so little to work with that he had to conceal their lack from even his own officers! Wow. That's a shortage.

So, on to chapter 4, right? Right.

Washington sounds a little bit like a dandy again, escorted by two regiments with instruction that none should turn out "except those dressed in uniforms," all "washed, both face and hands clean, their beards shaved, their hair combed and powdered." (Page 116) I suppose though, that this is still pretty much the same. Those who get to be escort to the important folks dress their best and are often also selected from the ranks of the best soldiers. Still, it seems odd to read the descriptions.

Spirits are high as the army moves with all possible speed to New York. There is a certain amount of overconfidence:

No one knew how many British there might be, yet few let that bother them. And enthusiastic new recruit from the Connecticut ranks, a farm boy named Joseph Plumb Martin, would recall, "I never spent a thought about numbers. The Americans were invincible in my opinion." As another soldier remembered, there was scarcely a militia man who did not think himself equal to two or three of the British. (Page 117)

I think it was the year that Grandpa died, so around Thanksgiving when I was in 4th grade... uh, 1988. I had just learned to play chess, and played our cousin David, who was only a year or two older than me, though I remember him being "much older." I beat him soundly. This puzzled me, because I regularly lost to my Dad and knew that I wasn't that good of a player. So I asked Dad why it was that I won. Dad said it was because David was overconfident, so he wasn't careful; he made foolish mistakes. I rather suspect that there is some of that going on with both the British and the Colonists at this point in the war. The British don't take the Colonists seriously, so they get beaten soundly and driven out of their cozy spot in Boston. The Colonists read too much into their victory and are all sorts of cocky as they head for New York. Reading about this, it seems clear that John Adams knew this war was going to drag out. Likely others did too, but in general both sides seem to think they can lick the other at their leisure and no big deal. This causes some tactical errors on both sides of the fight.

It also places the Continental Army at an even greater disadvantage than they were already:

New York was not at all like Boston, geographically, strategically, and in other ways. At Boston, Washington had known exactly where the enemy was, and who they were, and what was needed to contain them. At Boston the British had been largely at his mercy, and especially once winter set in. Here, with their overwhelming naval might and absolute control of the waters, they could strike at will and from almost any direction. The time and place of battle would be entirely their choice, and this was the worry overriding all others. (Page 117)

At Boston, where the comparatively few Loyalists of Massachusetts had either fled the country or were bottled up with the British, there had never been a serious threat from "internal foes" ... In New York the atmosphere was entirely different. The city remained divided and tense. Loyalist, or Tory, sentiment, while less conspicuous than it had been, was widespread... two-thirds of the property in New York belonged to Tories. (Page 118)

At Boston, washington had benefited greatly from a steady supply of valuable intelligence coming out of the besieged town, while Howe had known little or nothing of Washington's strengths or intentions. Here, with so much of the population still loyal to the king, the situation was the reverse. (Page 119)

This situation called for careful, cautious strategy in much the same way my chess game with an older cousin did. It looks like some of the leadership appreciated this, but the whole army? Not so much.

01 October 2009

New York

The difference in tone, between this chapter and the previous chapter, was very striking. In Boston the American troops had had great luck and blessing with their successes. They won Dorchester Heights, and spirits were buoyed up as they headed out to their next place of battle. In New York, not so much.

As Chapter 4 begins, the American Troops had begun their march from Massachusetts to Rhode Island, through Connecticut and into New York; speed was of the essence and energy was high - high enough to prevail over any doubts or worries the soldiers might have had about what awaited them in New York.

Despite fears to the contrary, the American troops were in New York well before the British arrived. However, things in New York were markedly different than things had been in Boston. In Boston, Washington had the information and, predominantly, the upper hand. Now, the tables were turned and George Washington was "gravely, realistically apprehensive about the magnitude of the enemy force en route. He fretted over when their ships might appear, and how, with no naval strength, to defend a city bounded by navigable rivers on two sides and a harbor of a size sufficient to accommodate the largest fleet imaginable (pg. 117)." Yet, the prevailing attitude of Congress, and the army leaders, was that New York had "vast importance (pg. 118)", and they must make a stand.

Further complicating things, Washington's troops were still disheveled and unruly. Also, there continue to be a lack of understanding of the importance of hygiene and the proper disposal of human waste. Consequently, many of the soldiers got very sick. In addition to hygiene issues, New York offered a brothel district that introduced its own set of problems.

As Washington and his committee began their plans to fortify the city, they opted to build Forts to fortify the area. Inspired by Ritsumei's previous use of maps to help her understand, I also sought out some GoogleMap goodness to help me get a better picture of where these Forts were.

It was decided that if "New York was the key to the continent, then Long Island was the Key to New York, and the key to the defense of Long Island was Brooklyn Heights (pg. 127)." So, the first Fort they completed was Fort Stirling, right along the water:

View Larger Map

Along with Fort Stirling (A), three other forts were underway, to create a line of defense to "check their drive for the river (pg. 127)."

There was Fort Putnam(B):

View Larger Map

Fort Greene (C):

View Larger Map

and Fort Box (D):

View Larger Map
**locations approximate**

On page 135, we read that on July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted to "dissolve the connection" with Great Britain and the news reached New York on July 6th.

The timing seemed a little odd to me, what's this about July 2nd, what?? Well, apparently, the Declaration of Independence was signed on the 4th, giving an explanation of the legal separation that was announced two days earlier, thus making it more officially official.

In the last section of Chapter 4, there was an interesting interview that George Washington had with a British messenger.

On July 13th, General Howe sent a letter addressed to "Mr. Washington". He was sent away with the message that there was "no person in [their] army with that address (pg. 144)." Three days later, the messenger returned again, this time the letter was addressed to "George Washington, Esq., etc. etc." Again, it was refused. The following day, via a new messenger, a letter arrived again, and this time Washington, and his council, met with him.

I was fascinated by this interaction; even when Washington had admitted the messenger, he refused to accept the letter:
"The use of "etc., etc." implied everything that ought to follow", the messenger said. "It so does," said Washington, "and anything."
It's clear that Washington understood the importance of protocol and keeping up images; if they were every to be taken seriously, or have a chance at success, it must be all or nothing. It goes on to say, "A letter addressed to a person in a position of public responsibility ought to indicate that sation, Washington said, otherwise it would appear mere private correspondence. He would not accept such a letter."

One last thought I had on this chapter: Near the end, it talks about some movements of British ships. Then, almost as an offhand comment, the author says, "If anyone among the American command saw the return of the two enemy ships from upriver as a sign of trouble, there is no record of it (pg. 153)." Is that foreshadowing of disastrous events to come?