A COMBAT HISTORIAN TELLS US ABOUT WASHINGTON'S IMMORTALS
Seldom have Round Tablers felt closer to the savagery and sacrifices of the Revolution's battles than they felt in April, listening to Patrick O'Donnell tell us the unforgettable story of Washington's Immortals — the name won by the men of the Maryland Continental Line in the seven long years of their struggle for independence. O'Donnell describes himself as a combat historian, — a title he earned the hard way. He is the author of 10 books about America's fighting men, ranging from First Seals, the Untold Story of the Forging of America's Most Elite Unit to We Were One, in which O'Donnell was shoulder to shoulder with the Marines who took Fallujah during the war in Iraq. For Washington's Immortals, he brought into play his favorite technique, telling the story as often as possible through the words of the men doing the fighting. He calls it his "band of brothers approach." For the Immortals book, he spent five years digging into obscure sources, discovering dozens of forgotten heroes. The drama begins with the Battle of Brooklyn when the American general, William Alexander (also known as Lord Stirling) called upon 250 Marylanders to charge an oncoming British horde of perhaps 10,000 men. Their incredible heroism enabled thousands of other retreating Americans to escape capture. Riveted Round Tablers followed the Marylanders through the next six years of the war. They stood with them on Mud Island in the Delaware River in 1777 and at Camden and Guilford Court House, when Washington sent them South. They met indomitable leaders like Colonel Otho Holland Williams and General Mordecai Gist and hitherto obscure privates such as George Dias, a black soldier who survived painful wounds. As O'Donnell completed his narrative, Round Tablers blinked with amazement. They had covered virtually the entire Revolution North and South in this amazing book. Mr. O'Donnell spent not a little time afterward signing copies for his admiring listeners.
BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS
Jack Buchanan, author of numerous noteworthy books on the Revolution in his own right, told us about David L. Preston's Braddock's Defeat: the Battle of the Monongahela, and the Road to Revolution. Jack noted the odd fact that Braddock's debacle is better known to the public than many Revolutionary War and Civil War battles. In case there were a few people in the audience who needed the information, he told us the clash took place on July 9, 1755, in the rugged country of Western Pennsylvania south of present day Pittsburgh. The author takes a helpful look at previous accounts. He pays special attention to logistics, praising General Braddock's tremendous accomplishment in building a 700 mile road over the Appalachian Mountains to move his army and supplies westward. Among Braddock's aides was an American who would become the indispensable man of the Revolutionary War, George Washington. Also on hand were Thomas Gage and two other British officers who later developed an ambition to replace the great Virginian as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army — Horatio Gates and Charles Lee. Finally there were two lowly teamsters, Daniel Boone and a semiliterate Virginian who would become the finest combat commander of the Revolutionary War, Daniel Morgan.
The French too had a logistics problem. There was an incredibly long line of supply between Montreal and Fort Duquesne, as present day Pittsburgh was called. Preston also discusses the French and Indian force and reveals new findings about the French commander, Captain Daniel Beaujeu whom the author describes as one of the most remarkable officers in the history of early America. He devised the tactics for the attack on Braddock's army. Ironically, he died in the first volley, and never witnessed the great victory. The author emphasizes Braddock did not blunder into an ambush. He had scouts out and he had flankers on the high ground. He did almost everything right, but he never anticipated the impact of the Indians. There were some 600 to 700 warriors from five nations in the French army — and only 250 regulars and militia. Beaujeu's plan was for the regulars and militia to meet the advancing British head-on while the Indians advanced through the woods and drove in the British flankers. It worked to perfection. The Indians fought in a disciplined manner, the redcoats panicked, and the battle became a rout. Washington wrote that the regulars ran "like sheep before hounds." At least half of Braddock's force of 1400 became casualties. Many years later, Benjamin Franklin said that Braddock's defeat was a pivotal event. It gave Americans "the first suspicion that their exalted ideas of the prowess of British regulars had not been well-founded." Jack recommended the book highly. He had only one quibble. As Braddock lay dying, among his last words were, "Who would have thought it." That should have been the title.
Dr. Joanne Grasso told us about Madison's Gift, Five Partnerships That Built America by David O. Stewart. It tells the story of five relationships in the swirling events of the post revolutionary years with Madison at the center of the group. Around him are the people with whom he interacted to put the country on a stable footing. Joanne thought that at times the picture was a little too "Madison-central." The author, to his credit, notes that the others "had talents that he (Madison) lacked." Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and Dolley Madison are the other chief actors in this circular drama. Madison is presented as both human and at times superhuman in his efforts to rescue the new nation from anarchy. Mr. Stewart thinks his partnership with Hamilton is the most crucial. Each man had been thinking for more than a decade about the larger questions of political life. The Washington-Madison partnership was crucial in another way — it became the foundation of Madison's national career. Jefferson and Madison's collaboration was more intellectual and affectionate. Hamilton's role remained crucial. At one point, the author writes, "it started with Hamilton always Hamilton." More controversial was Madison's remark that Monroe had no "intellectual brilliance." The author clearly does not agree with this idea. Joanne wondered if it were really necessary to include Dolley Madison as a separate spoke in the wheel. She was a constant presence in the life of James Madison. But there is no doubt that Madison and his circle of partnerships make a good depiction of an amazing generation. What was Madison's gift? It was Madison himself – – short and often sickly, not an impressive man at first glance. But he had an amazing tenacity of purpose that had a great deal to do with molding the first decades of this country.
THE GREAT DIVIDE WINS OUR ANNUAL PRIZE
Chairman Dave Jacobs got everyone's attention when he announced to the meeting that our annual prize for the best book on the Revolution in the previous year — in this case 2015 — had been won by Tom Fleming's The Great Divide, the Conflict Between Washington and Jefferson that Defined a Nation Then and Now. Dave described the voting in vivid terms. "There were a lot of good books to consider and there were several lively discussions before reaching a unanimous agreement on this terrific book." Tom's publisher, Da Capo Press, has spread the word far and wide. History News Network, which gets 1 million hits a month, featured the news. They quoted Edward G. Lengel, Director of the Papers of George Washington. "The Great Divide compellingly captures the drama of this clash of titans, showing how its outcome made the difference between national ruin and prosperity." They added a comment from Stephen Brumwell, winner of the George Washington book prize. "A gripping exploration of a conflict between realism and idealism that still resonates today."
A SIZABLE REVISION OF JAMES MONROE'S LIFESTYLE
A 1985 Washington Post article remarked that President James Monroe's house outside Charlottesville, Virginia, has about the same relation to Jefferson's mansion, Monticello, as does a cottage to a country club. Monroe himself often described his humble abode as a "cabin," Historians interpreted his modesty as a latent expression of his roots as a son of a wood craftsman. Monroe lived in the house, known as Highland, from 1799 to 1823. Now an archaeological discovery on the property is rewriting the legacy of Monroe and the place he called home.
It turns out that the home preserved on the estate and marketed for years as the residence where the president had laid his head is in fact the guest house. An archaeological dig on the grounds has revealed a home more than twice as big as the small cottage. Sara Bon-Harper, Executive Director of the historic estate, says that Monroe's Highland was likely "in the same order of magnitude" as Jefferson's Monticello. The revelation has stunned the historians who operate the home. What else have we missed? they are asking themselves. "We have to rethink a lot of things," Ms Bon-Harper says. Scientists who have examined the property during the past two years have found a well preserved 74 foot long foundation of the much larger house. It dates from the time Monroe resided at the estate. Some of the unearthed foundation was only inches below the surface. Other architectural debris dug up during the excavation suggests that the larger home probably burned down after Monroe sold the estate. Even more amazing, the discovery came on the 258th birthday of the man who spent 50 years of his life in public service from his time as a soldier in the Revolutionary War to service in the U.S. Senate and Governor of Virginia, Secretary of State during the war of 1812, and President from 1817 – 1825. Does somebody up there want us to rethink the importance of James Monroe?
THREE CHEERS FOR OUR NEW WEBSITE!
Let's face it, Jon Carriel is more than a member — he is an asset. He is a superb secretary-treasurer, always in command of how much — or how little — money we have on hand. He came up with the idea for us to celebrate the anniversary of the protest against the Stamp Act, which we brought off with the help of Arthur Piccolo and The Lower Manhattan Historical Society. He is writing a series of vivid historical novels set in pre-Revolutionary New York. Now he has done something which will stimulate our Round Table and attract new members. He has revised our website. We urge everybody to take a look. We are confident that they will be amazed by the transformation. There is a sense of spaciousness, of self-confidence in the new site. Instead of the weary looking picture of George Washington, we now have a series of portraits of revolutionary leaders from New York. You can read the current broadside and go back if you're in the mood and read earlier copies of our newsletter. A treasure trove of them has been archived. Equally valuable is a list of recent speakers and winners of our annual book awards. Perhaps best of all is a wonderful list of links to other sources and groups dealing with our favorite topic. There is even room for pictures of recent meetings. We are going to start this new attraction in the June meeting with the help of photographer Richard Melnick. At the same time, we want to thank Maria Dering and Sandy Sanford for maintaining the website for four years, since Lee Wittenberg left us. We also want to thank Maria for creating and running the Facebook page. Matt Zachary Johnson is now taking this over.
ROUND TABLES MEET TO EXCHANGE IDEAS
The Fourth Congress of American Revolution Round Tables convened in Charleston, South Carolina's historic port city, April 8–10, 2016, with about twenty delegates from eight states represented. Jack Buchanan and Jon Carriel spoke for ARRT-NY. The purpose was to share successes and failures in the common effort to expand awareness of the American Revolution in the 21st Century-- and also to pick up some detailed knowledge of how the crisis played out in that city.
The Congress first gathered on Friday evening at the Charles Pinckney Historic Site north of the city for a tour, followed by a picnic supper. The main event commenced Saturday morning in the Old Exchange Building in downtown Charleston, in the very room where South Carolina's independence was declared and the US Constitution ratified. The meeting was chaired by David Reuwer, of the hosting Southern Campaigns ARRT. Discussions were held about the promotion of scholarship; historical site preservation; encouragement of younger history enthusiasts; capitalizing on contemporary artistic depictions of the Revolution; and collaboration toward these ends with organizations not specifically focused on history.
During the lunch break, Reuwer led the delegates on a walking tour of the immediate area that included stops at the State House, the City Council Chambers, and historic St. Michael's Church.
A celebratory dinner Saturday evening was arranged at the Washington Light Infantry building, whose management was persuaded to open its private exhibition vault for the delegates. An informative private bus tour on Sunday morning, led by co-host Charles Baxley, took everyone around Charleston's many historic Revolutionary War sites, concluding the schedule. A fifth congress has tentatively been scheduled for Yorktown, Virginia, in the spring of 2018.
HOW TO GET ANIMATED
Who doesn't want to get animated? Even more fun is getting animated about the American Revolution. The Civil War Trust has undertaken this task. They are the acknowledged leader in music, videos, maps, and technology of history and battlefield preservation. Thousands of people have used their animated map series to analyze their understanding of the Civil War. Now in their Campaign 1776 Initiative they are about to do the same thing for the Revolutionary War. They are releasing The American Revolution — a multimedia experience that takes viewers through the entire struggle for independence from beginning to end. You will be able to immerse yourself in the dramatic events that led to our nation's founding with animated battle maps and exhilarating reenactment footage that will have you waving your tricorn hat in approval. If you want to get a sneak peek at this wonder, take a look at civilwar.org.
HAVE WE BEEN UNFAIR TO HORATIO GATES?
A lot of people are talking about a newly surfaced letter written by a junior officer, just days after the second battle of Saratoga. It portrays General Horatio Gates in a new light. The standard version has portrayed him as staying in his tent behind the fortifications built by Thaddeus Kosciuszko and letting General Benedict Arnold do most of the battlefield fighting and leading. The letter portrays Gates in the trenches, conversing with General Arnold about how to attack the oncoming army of General John Burgoyne. "This letter alters our understanding of the movement and events that secured America's victory here at Saratoga," says Park Superintendent Amy Bracewell.
THE LATEST ON THE PRINCETON BATTLEFIELD STRUGGLE
Those brave souls doing battle with the Institute for Advanced Study to preserve the Princeton battlefield have recently acquired some heavy hitters on their side. The Civil War Trust and the Society of the Cincinnati are in the fight, fiercely condemning the Institute double domes. Recently they persuaded columnist George Will to take a tour of the battlefield. He has responded with a ferocious column. "In today's academia," he writes, "there are many scholars against scholarship, including historians hostile to history. They partake of academia's preference for a multicultural future of diluted, if not extinguished, nationhood and dislike commemorating history made by white men with guns. The IAS engaged an historian who wrote a report clotted with today's impenetrable academic patois. He says we should not "fetishize" space. It is especially disheartening that a distinguished institution of scholars is indifferent to preserving an historic site that can nourish national identity."
THE SPEAKER FOR JUNE: TODD BRAISTEDTHE SUBJECT: "GRAND FORAGE 1778"
Mr. Braisted reveals startling new information and insights about a little known invasion of New Jersey and Westchester County by ten thousand British troops.
AND A WORD FROM OUR CHAIRMAN
NOTICE! NOTICE! NOTICE! NOTICE!
On Tuesday, June 7, The Round Table Board of Governors will meet at 5 PM at the Coffee House Club. (20 W. 44th St.) At 6 PM, we will join the members to continue our 58th year. As usual, we would like everyone's reservation in advance. The stamp-deprived can email our treasurer at email@example.com.
Your most obdt svt,
David W. Jacobs