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.


misskate said...

That's an interesting point about both sides being overconfident. I hadn't really thought about that, but I'm sure it'll cause issues not too far down the road.

Heh.. I suppose that this means I better get on with my reading of chapter 5 now.... :)

Ritsumei said...

Well, maybe. Chapter 4 is loooong, and I may end up posting again. This really only covers a few pages, so who knows if I'll get the urge to post again about some of the rest of it.