Category Archives: American Revolution

Book Review: Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring


I come to this book with a confession. After seeing the first several episodes of the AMC series TURN, I wanted to know everything I could about the characters. So I came to this book to find out more. What I found was a bit surprising, but in the end I guess the show did its job by getting to find this book.

Now, to the book. Rose tells a gripping tale of intrigue as Washington attempts to build an intelligence service that will give him an edge against the British.  Reading the tale it is surprising that what he built was not only effective but vital in winning the revolution.

While it would be easy to try to read this as a spy novel, it is not. It is the story of real and flawed men that have to make decisions that literally could mean life or death. Abraham Woodhull, who is the main character in the show and one of the focuses in this book, is not an irreproachable patriot that will do anything for the cause.  He is man who argues with Washington over wages, and expenses and actual quits his post several times.

Even so, the way that Rose presents this man you feel for him. The pressure he is under is real and palpable, and because of that you tend to want to forgive him and by the end tend to admire him somewhat. It is to the author’s credit that he can capture the insecurity and uncertainty of the time, while at the same time humanize those that may tend to have history do otherwise to them.

Read the book for the truth, watch the show for the drama.

Monumental (Part Four)


Nothing like a monument to victory.

This one stands at Yorktown were the last major battle of the American Revolution was fought. The French fleet paved the way by running of the British Navy from the Chesapeake Capes and preventing them from either supplying, reinforcing or evacuating the British forces under General Cornwallis that were cornered in Yorktown.

With the British Navy unable to render assistance the combined forces of the French and American armies surrounded the British army and placed them under siege. After several weeks, on October 19, 1781 General Cornwallis had no choice but to surrender. With the loss of another army to the rebels and facing continued conflict with the French and Spanish as well as declining public sentiment at home, peach negotiations were started in earnest. The war would continue for several more years, but for the most part the major fighting would be elsewhere.

The monument above commemorates not only that victory but also the alliance with the French. The monument was designed by Richard Morris Hunt, a New York architect, and was installed in 1884. On the top perched a sculpture of Victory, designed and sculpted by John Quincy Adams Ward.

In 1942 the monument was struck by lightning, destroying the figure of Victory. In 1957 the figure was replaced by a sculpture of Liberty designed by Oskar J. W. Hansen.

The day that this picture was taken was overcast, rain and wind made for a long day, but the walk from the visitor center to the monument was worth it once you crested the ridge and saw the monument standing guard over the battlefield and the memories of that day in October in 1781 when all fear and wonder of doubt of whether or not we could win the war was removed for good.




Book Review: Boston 1775

Boston 1775 by Francis Russell
This book gives a brief accounting of the events that lead up the siege of Boston in 1775 and follows shortly after. When I say brief, that is exactly what I mean as it does not delve too deep any the subject only skimming the surface. It certainly does not get into any details of the many, many characters that made this particular time so volatile.
See, from he outbreak of the armed rebellion in April 1775 until the Declaration of Independence in July 1776 there was a huge question as to what the revolution was being fought for.  In that respect the book does not get into the politics, but presents everything coldly almost distant from the events.
It sounds like I didn’t like it , and that is the wrong impression.
This book is short roughly 103 “pages” on a kindle, so there was not room to get into every little detail. Where I see this book being very useful is for people who have just started picking up this subject or stating to dig into the early days of the American Revolution. This book provides a good solid base to build from.
If you are already knowledgeable of the subject, this book will not provide you much of anything new. In that respect will will be a quick read and will serve as a great refresher in the subject. The book is well written and the author did a good job getting his information across. Very much worth the download. (Though I would wait for it to be less than $9.99.)

Monumental (Part 2)

This obelisk is the monument located at Kings Mountain. We have looked at a couple of the plaques at the base before and even talked about the battle some in a previous post. This monument is located at the top of the “mountain” and it is quite a sight to see. The battle and people who it memorialize though is an interesting story in and off itself.

At the time of the revolution that Southern colonies were a society that was fractured along many different lines. The planter class in the tidewater regions did not think much of the people in the interior, which led to political issues well before the first shots were fired.  The families in the back country tended to be more recent immigrants, many Scots, Scots-Irish and some German groups.  All of these groups tended to be clan based, family based and a lot of the times they did not necessary like their neighbors.

When the war broke out, the back country erupted into a true civil war as many of these clans took the chance to settle old scores with rivals and the opportunity to increase their own standing. For the most part, patriot or loyalist was more an issue of being on the side opposite your “enemy” so that whatever you dis to them could be justified as “for the cause”.  Some families simply jumped back and forth with their support depending on which army was closest and what they had to gain by it.

By the time that British troops had taken Charleston and started moving into the interior, there had been somewhat of a lull in the fighting as both sides found themselves fighting the Cherokee, Once that fight was done whoever they turned back to killing each other.

Kings Mountain stand out in the line of bloody conflict for one main reason, it was fought by the two sides with no regular troops. Every man engaged was militia and American, with the exception of Patrick Ferguson, the British commander. That fact made the battle unique. The victory also served as the pivot point for the war. From that point on, especially in the South, the number of loyalists willing to fight dwindled robbing the British army a source of badly needed manpower.

Bloody and terrible Kings Mountain stand above many other battles in the South. Interesting enough, of the men that survived the fight about fourscore and seven years later their descendants would be involved in another war, this time mostly fighting on the same side this time around.








Christmas Day 1776

No picture for this one, just a quick reminder of what happened on this day 238 years ago.

Coming up to December 1776 the American Revolution was teetering on the edge of dissolution. The thrill of the war and the realty had set in. The euphoria from victories earlier in the year were all but wiped out with the debacle in New York and the long retreat through New Jersey (stay tuned for more of these details at a later date).

General Washington knew that he had to take action or the cause would spin totally out of control. So he did what no one expected and planned an attack. From the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River he would lead the remainder of the Continental Army in a daring and secret invasion of New Jersey, his target being the Hessian mercenary camp in Trenton.  The British were spread thin in New Jersey, but with winter howling around them figured the campaign season was over for the year, so felt being spread out was not that much of a risk and the letting the Germans man the front lines, meant the regular British troops would be stationed in the interior.

Washington planned a three prong invasion and had been in contact with several units of the New Jersey militia that would support his attacked. Undercover of a winter storm at 11pm on Christmas Day the invasion was launched. We have all seen the famous painting by Emanuel Leutze that depicts the noble Washington standing in a row-boat as the river was being breached. Not quite the reality, but not a bad way to remember it.

The Attack on Trenton was a rousing success. The Hessian’s lost 22 killed, 98 wounded and almost 1,000 captured. The Americans, three killed and six wounded. Not bad day’s work.

The victory at Trenton was an offensive win for the cause and reinvigorated the rebels, giving them the strength to continue the fight into 1777, a very important year in the Revolution. Sometimes though a couple of things get left behind in the telling of the story.

The victory at Trenton led immediately to a second battle at Princeton where Washington and his army successfully defeated the rear guard of the British reinforcements sent to Trenton under General Cornwallis. A second win in as many days not only invigorated the Americans, but it caused the British to rethink their strategy in the middle colonies. General Howe, the overall British commander was cautious, but after this he became almost leaden.

Remember when I said that Washington planned for three columns to take part in the assault? Well, two of them ended up late to the party and found themselves several days later in New Jersey with no orders. Rather than cross back over the river, they worked with local militias and made life so unbearable for the British using the guerrilla tactics of the frontier that eventually over the next several weeks the British were forced to shrink their defensive lines until the majority of New Jersey was free of occupation, at least by regular forces.

The war was far from over, but General Washington’s little Christmas trip kept the fight going. So if tonight about 11PM you feel like making a toast to the General, it would be well deserved. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday.


A Night at the Magazine Part Two


It was getting dark, it was raining and there was a group of people waiting for the Continental Army experiences. Finally word came that the management would allow the program to continue, but would also allow literal rain checks to anyone that wanted to back out. No one took the rain check.  The re-enactors came out towards us wearing the white hunting shirts and tricorns that were used as uniforms by some units of the Continental Army, our lead instructor lead us into the Magazine, all the way to the top where we were briefed on the weapons of the rebellions. The Muskets, the tomahawks, and the ever famous rifle. Had the weather been different we would have been treated to full demonstrations of the weapons, but instead we had to settle for the stories.

Once the lectures were done we were lead downstairs and outside into the rain where were thrown into ranks and taught the basics of marching in formation. How to keep your spacing and stay in line. The kids in the group had some issues, mainly because they were miserable, but after about fifteen minutes, we were able to march in a straight line, make left turns and right turns, drop from column into line and stand to. The ground was sopping wet, no umbrellas were allowed of course so we were all soaked through. But no one seemed to care. We had done well enough to where our instructors decided to try and teach us one of the most difficult march maneuvers of the age, the dreaded wheel. Standing shoulder to shoulder, the line would wheel either left or right, changing the direction it was facing, one end of the line moving forward while the other end marked time, becoming the hinge that the line wheeled on.

We botched it horrible. I mean come on, it would take CA soldiers forever to learn that maneuver, there was no way we were going to pull it off after a hour on the field. But no one cared. We we wet and miserable, but we were getting to see what the soldiers that fought for our country had to go through. It was special. Now I will tell you this, there is more to tell about this night but we will save those stories for another time…

A Night at the Magazine Part One

In the picture is the Magazine that is located at Colonial Williamsburg. The Magazine itself has a long history having been destroyed and rebuilt many times over the 200 plus years it has existed. The magazine was the building were the towns powder and weapons were stored and during the build up to the outbreak of the Revolution became the focal point of those that sought defense from the crown and those to subdue the simmering rebellion.

The story that I want to tell about the Magazine is a personal one and it starts in the rain. You notice in the picture that it was raining, it had been for quite sometimes that day and it would continue. You may also notice that there are some people standing out in it. I took the picture and was relatively safe across the street under a large tree that kept me dryish.

In about fifteen minutes from when this picture was take, one of the evening programs at Colonial Williamsburg was about to take place, and according to the ticket, it was rain or shine. You see the experience that you were going to get to part in was a “training” session with the Continental Army. A real basic boot camp where you would be taught to march and maneuver with other people, much like the soldiers themselves had to learn.

A school group showed up to take part, about twenty 8th graders that had signed up for the program. It was not just raining, but storming. Thunder rolled and lightning was flashing in the distance. The actual re-enactors that that were to run the program (and who were all active duty Marines) debated whether or not the program should continue in the weather, were constantly talking back and forth with the main office trying to decide on whether it would be safe to continue. For my part it should be noted that earlier in the day my hiking boots had exploded on a trail and as such I had been forced to change into a pair of trainers. I was wet, oddly cold and standing in a group of about thirty people including the school group and a number of fathers with young sons, all deciding what we were going to do.


Stay tuned for Part Two


Book Review: Thrust for Canada: The American Attempt on Quebec in 1775-1776


Thrust for Canada: The American Attempt on Quebec in 1775-1776 by Robert McConnell Hatch poses the theory that the invasion of Canada by the American Colonies came very close to succeeding, and may have if not for issues of command and control. The book starts with the Quebec Act of 1774 and covers the American military campaign from the initial success at Ticonderoga, all the way to the end at Valcour Island.  The authors’ goal is to show the campaign from both sides, focusing more on the politics of the people than the military aspects.

The Quebec Act placed Canada in the middle of the Americans conlifct with Britian. American leaders decided that striking Canada was necessary for defense and hoped to liberate the colony. The social classes in Canada viewed the conflict differently, forcing Governor Carleton to mount a defense with few resources and a population with suspect loyalty. The Americans were led into the field by Richard Montgomery and Benedict Arnold who struggled to create an army from scratch. Montgomery led the attack up the St. Lawrence and after facing the enemy and his own men captured Montreal.  To strike directly at Quebec, Arnold took a different route, facing horrible weather, near starvation and mutiny within his own ranks. In front of Quebec, the Americans joined forces and in the final attack Montgomery was killed and Arnold wounded, effectivly ending the campaign for Canada.

There have been many books written covering the various parts of the campaign in detail. Hatch does not dwell with the personalities instead he deals more with the politics than the military aspects of the campaign. This was noticed in the glossing over of the American attempts on St. John and in regards to Arnold’s expedition. There is a place for this book in the historiography of the campaign, but it does not stand alone. It is with the Canadian side of the campaign the value of the book is displayed.

The author’s research is deep. With many pages of sources listed in the bibliography, many primary sources, he did not short shrift the subject. There were copious footnotes, but they were done in such a way as not be intrusive to the narrative. There were many resources that I have seen used in other books on the subject, but also some new sources presented.

The author does a very admirable job in proving the thesis of the narrative. There were numerous reasons that the American campaign should have succeeded and the author is able to explain why they did not. This book should be considered as a must read, if only for the depth and detail that the author puts into the Canadian perspective. If you are looking for a military breakdown and blow by blow account of the military campaign there are other resources. However, if you wish to dissect the human aspect on both sides of the opening act of the American Revolution, this is a book that will provide it.