THE MULTIPLE THREAT MAN
Richard F. Welch, professor of history at Farmingdale State University, mesmerized Round Tablers in December with his discussion of Benjamin Tallmadge, a man who might well be called the most extraordinary soldier of the Revolution. Tallmadge was born in Setauket, Long Island, a settlement that was virtually transplanted from Connecticut, like most of the eastern part of that lengthy, much-misunderstood protuberance that is legally part of New York. A graduate of Yale, Tallmadge became a close friend of another man who won a more tragic fame in the Revolution, Nathan Hale.
Tallmadge went from a 1775-6 foot soldier to a 1777 dragoon in Colonel Elisha Sheldon’s cavalry regiment. From there he multiplied himself in all directions. Commanding a troop of horsemen he fought in battles large and small, especially in Westchester County’s so-called “neutral ground.” He soon caught General Washington’s attention. Tallmadge’s knowledge of Long Island – and his daring in battle -- led the General to make him supervisor of the Culper Ring, the Revolution’s most successful espionage operation. Simultaneously, Tallmadge justified the title of Welch’s biography, General Washington’s Commando by organizing ferocious midnight expeditions that attacked British forts on Long Island. He soon became a virtual admiral in what historians call “whaleboat warfare” on Long Island Sound. In the last year of the war he was in frequent control of most of the Sound, cutting off provisions being shipped to the hungry British army in New York.
Welch dramatized many of these stories with deft descriptions of Tallmadge and his victims. Again and again he supplemented his talk with striking portraits of Tallmadge at different points in his career. Welch closed with Tallmadge’s comfortable later years in Litchfield, Connecticut, including a picture of his substantial house in that genteel town. Talk about combining patriotism and prosperity! No wonder the final portrait, painted in 1825, shows the balding ex-dragoon with a contented smile on his aging face. Enthusiastic applause shook the walls of the Coffee House Club as Welch closed his talk with that image on the screen.
In the question and answer period, Tom Fleming asked Welch to comment on Tallmadge’s portrayal in the TV show, “Turn.” Except for the chronology, Welch replied, the scriptwriters are fairly accurate about Washington’s commando, compared to the deplorable distortions they wreak on John Graves Simcoe and a number of other characters. But Welch still thought “Turn” was worth watching because it was one of the few shows to dramatize the American Revolution on television.
BOOKS TO REMEMBER – AND BUY
There were no book reviews but there were two enthusiastic descriptions of recent books by members. Lynne Saginaw urged everyone to obtain without delay a copy of Jack Kelly’s Band of Giants, a superbly written narrative of the Revolution which features men like Henry Knox, Daniel Morgan and Nathanael Greene, none of whom had any previous training or experience as soldiers but all of whom proved themselves the superiors of Britain’s professionals. Chairman Dave Jacobs was equally enthusiastic about Tom Shachtman’s new opus, Gentleman Scientists and Revolutionaries, The Founding Fathers in the Age of Enlightenment. Dave, who is well on his way to winning a doctorate in the history of civil engineering from the University of Connecticut, said the book broke new ground in exploring a subject that most people know little about.
The American Revolution appeared on the American Heroes Channel on December 15th & 16th, 2014. This 3-part miniseries purported to tell the story of the Revolution by concentrating on little known players who allegedly performed great deeds and thereby changed the course of history. In doing so the series perpetuated several dearly beloved myths. John Honeyman was presented as the rebel spy who made possible Washington’s dramatic crossing of the Delaware and defeat of the Hessians at Trenton by feeding Washington accurate intelligence and the Hessian commander false intelligence. The Round Table’s friend John Nagy, perhaps the foremost living authority on Revolutionary War espionage, pointed out this myth during his interview for the show. He was rewarded by being left on the cutting room floor.
Round Tabler Jack Buchanan, author of some of the best histories of the Revolution in the South, was also interviewed and he too committed the sin of telling the truth about Honeyman and dismissing other myths, and was also banished to the cutting room floor.
The show repeated the tale of Timothy Murphy shooting Simon Fraser at Saratoga, and implied that Fraser commanded the British army (1) by not even mentioning Burgoyne and (2) by suggesting that Murphy’s act won the Saratoga campaign. Besides vastly exaggerating the impact of Fraser’s death, the show ignores strong evidence that Murphy was not at Saratoga.
Viewers were also regaled with the sharpshooter Captain Patrick Ferguson myth of failing to end the Revolution with a single bullet when he met General Washington in the woods before the battle of Brandywine. Ferguson supposedly let Washington ride away unscathed, after having him in the sights of the new repeating rifle which he had invented. The Southern Campaign received even worse treatment. Although Nathanael Greene was mentioned, the uninformed could have come away believing that the war south of the Mason-Dixon line was won by Nancy Hart, who killed a tory and captured several others when they invaded her house and carelessly left their guns unguarded, and by huge Peter Francisco, who was shown carrying an 1,100 pound cannon to safety at the Battle of Camden. As John Nagy wryly observed, this broke the world’s weight lifting record. Plus there is no evidence that Francisco was even at Camden. He was at Guilford Courthouse, but the producers also managed to mangle his participation in that battle.
Besides mixing up chronology, the program never mentioned Thomas Sumter, Francis Marion, Andrew Pickens, or the key battle of Cowpens. Kings Mountain was covered but not its crucial significance. Jack Buchanan says he was delighted to have joined Nagy on the cutting room floor. But he added it would be churlish of him not to take this opportunity to thank the head producer for treating him to a most enjoyable expense paid three days in Boston. After bridling at the size of Jack’s expense account, the producer eventually paid up.
COME ONE COME ALL
The Fourth Annual Conference of the American Revolution will take place from Friday, March 20 to Sunday, March 22 at the Woodlands Hotel in Colonial Williamsburg. The meeting is proof that the three previous meetings (congresses?) of Round Table members from around the nation has become a serious historical enterprise. Among the distinguished speakers will be the editor in chief of the George Washington papers, Edward Lengel, discussing Light Horse Harry Lee’s behavior at the battle of Eutaw Springs, our own Jack Buchanan, who will discuss Nathanael Greene and the road to Charleston (a foretaste of the book on which he is working, which will complete his history of the Revolution in the South) and Round Table award winner Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessey, who will discuss “Hot Weather and Heavy Casualties, the Revolutionary War in the Caribbean.” There will also be two panel discussions: What are the most overrated and underrated battles and campaigns of the Revolutionary War? Who is the most underrated or overlooked individual (on either side) who had an impact on the Revolution? The Woodlands Hotel is next to Colonial Williamsburg’s Visitor’s Center. The three day package is available at a bargain price, $225, which includes a cold breakfast buffet each day. Best of all, the dates do not interfere with the NY Round Table’s schedule! The low cost has been facilitated by the conference’s sponsors, Westholme Publishing and Tim Sampson’s Battlemaps.us. For more information, email info@AmericashistoryLLC.com.
DID YOU KNOW?
Monday, November 17th, was the anniversary of the death of William Franklin, the last colonial governor of New Jersey. Many people think this gifted man might have challenged George Washington for the leadership of the American Revolution. But his British born wife persuaded him to defy his famous father and become a loyalist. It is a heartbreaking tale from start to finish. William was illegitimate and he fathered an illegitimate son, William Temple, who had to choose between his father and grandfather with disastrous results in his personal life. Tom Fleming has dramatized the story in his biography of Ben, The Man Who Dared the Lightning. The book has recently been reissued as an e-book. It zoomed to 19 on the NY Times e-book bestseller list.
A NEW OLD HOLIDAY WE CAN ALL ENJOY AGAIN
November 23, 2014, a group of enthusiastic Americans gathered on Bowling Green to raise a 13 star flag, as was done by cheering Americans on that date in 1783. While the flag rose in that now distant day, the last British troops were rowing to ships in the harbor for their voyage back to the mother country. For decades thereafter, Evacuation Day was a cause for celebration in New York. But two world wars, in which Britain was America’s ally, made many people think it was time to give up the festivity.
Now a new organization, The Lower Manhattan Historical Society, founded by Round Table friend James Kaplan and his right hand man, Arthur Piccolo, have decided the great day can and should be revived. Round Tabler John Herzog, founder of the thriving Museum of American Finance on nearby Wall Street, agreed, and donated an authentic 13 star flag to the event. If you want to hear more about the big day, or join the Lower Manhattan Historical Society, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
WE WONDER WHAT GEORGE WASHINGTON WOULD THINK OF THIS ONE
Believe it or not, the name Washington has recently been flung about, mixed with damnations and threats, in Cartagena, Colombia. Equally angry imprecations were flung at Admiral Edward Vernon, after whom Mount Vernon was named. It all started in 1741, when a British fleet and 9000 man army assailed Cartagena, under Admiral Vernon’s direction. A third of his army was American. In one regiment from Virginia was a company commanded by Captain Lawrence Washington, George’s older brother. But the brainless brigadier general in command of the army did not let most of the Americans, including Lawrence and his men, go ashore because he distrusted their fighting ability. They sat on their ships in the harbor while the attackers were repulsed by the Spaniards with appalling losses. Whereupon the British staggered back to Jamaica and Lawrence eventually returned to Virginia. When his father, Augustine, died in 1743, oldest son Lawrence acquired both land and wealth and soon built a fine home on the Potomac, which he named after Admiral Vernon.
Fast forward to 2014. Prince Charles of England and his wife Camilla paid a visit to Cartagena where they unveiled a black granite plaque saluting the courage of “all those who died” in the struggle for the city. It was placed near the colonial fort that was the center of the Spanish resistance and not far from a statue of the peg-legged naval officer who defeated them, Blas de Lezo. He is now considered a national hero.
Lezo’s status triggered an outburst of Colombian patriotism. One prominent public official wondered if the British had plaques to commemorate the Nazi pilots who bombed London during World War II. Admiral Vernon, Lawrence Washington and all other notable names in the expedition were denounced with vehemence. The mayor of Cartagena was accused of selling out his country for a chance to schmooze with the prince and his wife.
Soon the mayor collapsed and agreed to have the plaque removed. Before that could happen, a Cartagenian with a habit of feuding with the mayor over animal rights, among other things, obtained a large hammer and smashed the plaque to pieces. Now he’s a national hero!
Prince Charles has wisely declined to issue a statement. We are confident that George Washington would have followed the same policy.
You thought that Round Table enjoyment was only to be found at The Coffee House Club? Think again. Our secretary-treasurer, Jon Carriel, invited members to salute 2015 at his comfortable apartment on West 70th Street on January 4. A hefty percentage of our group made the scene – Polly Guerin chatted with her friend Lynne Saginaw, our website honcho Maria Dering reminisced about growing up in Chicago and Tom Fleming joined her with recollections of political corruption in his home town, Jersey City. Susan Slack and her husband, Tim, were eager to explain that they loved the Round Table but seldom came to meetings because they have a conflict on most Tuesdays. Gene Zuk and Carl Elliman talked battles and politics with Jack Buchanan. Presiding over the lively ménage was our host, who served unlimited wine and urged everyone to partake of plates of delicious hors d’oeuvres plus hot chili. The climax of the night was a bowl of yummy eggnog.
What was behind this outburst of hospitality? “I wanted to meet and talk with more members,” Jon explained. “Mostly my conversation with them begins and ends with the greeting at the door and my announcement that the tab will be $45 or $55.”
Let’s hope Jon had such a good time, this will become an annual event!
THE PRINCETON BATTLEFIELD SOCIETY GETS A BIG BOOST
On Nov. 11, Ross Perry, President General of the Society of the Cincinnati, journeyed to Princeton with the organization’s Vice President, Jonathan Woods, and Executive Director Jack Warren to announce that the Society’s American Institute has joined the Civil War Trust to conduct Campaign 1776 – a program to preserve the battlefields of the Revolutionary War. Perry made the announcement in front of the magnificent Princeton Battlefield Monument. Jack Warren and the Civil War Trust president Jim Lighthizer gave stirring speeches. The event was reported in the Washington Post and the Philadelphia Inquirer as well as by a number of TV and radio stations and online news outlets.
It was, of course, no accident, that these gentlemen chose Princeton as the place to make this declaration of solidarity. As readers of the Broadside know, the Princeton Battlefield Society has been locked in combat with the Institute for Advanced Study to prevent this accumulation of doubledomes from building apartment houses on a third of the Princeton battlefield. In September, Tom Fleming and Art Lefkowitz journeyed to Princeton to make speeches rallying the audience to loosen their wallets for the ongoing struggle. Tom said the Institute’s arrogance had a striking resemblance to the smug assumption of superiority with which the British began the Revolutionary War.
THE SPEAKER FOR FEBRUARY: TIM MCGRATH
TOPIC: THE CONTINENTAL NAVY
Tim McGrath wowed the Round Table a few years ago with his talk on John Barry, the father of the American Navy. Now he has published a new book, Give Me A Fast Ship, which tells the story of the Navy’s Revolutionary birth and amazing achievements against the British fleet. One reviewer called it “a meticulous, adrenaline filled account” which included “a John Paul Jones for the ages.” It hardly needs adding but we’ll do it anyway: DON’T MISS THIS ONE.
AND A WORD FROM OUR CHAIRMAN
We will gather as usual at the Coffee House Club. 20 W 44th St. on the sixth floor at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 3. to begin the Round Table’s 56th year. As usual, we would like everyone’s reservation in advance. The stamp-deprived can call Jon Carriel at 212 874 5121 or email him at email@example.com. If you have any questions about the menu, you can contact Jon either by phone or email.
Your most obdt svt, David W. Jacobs