Saturday, November 17, 2018

The American Revolution*

The Death of Major Peirson, 6 January 1781
John Singleton Copley
Little is inevitable in history, and even less in warfare. God may be thought to be on the side with the largest battalions, and quite often it works out in that manner, but wars often turn on an untold number of factors, including strategic and tactical decisions, good or bad leadership, the experience of the soldiery, the availability of resources, success in getting supplies when and where they are needed, the conduct of foreign policy, ideological zeal, willpower, and a fair measure of good luck. - Almost a Miracle, John Ferling, page 563
In the middle part of the 18th century, Great Britain and France were in the midst of yet another conflict. The two nations had been fighting each other for centuries. In North America the French possessions in Canada looked to be on the way to encircling the thirteen colonies of the British.

The French were penetrating deep into the wilderness, setting up trading posts, trapping for furs, making friends (and customers) of the natives, and gradually pressing down towards the Mississippi valley. The British were rather alarmed. Here was this vast continent and their colonists clung to a fairly narrow strip along the Atlantic coast, while the French seemed to be on the verge of taking over the rest of the continent.

Of course, greed was involved as well. A number of wealthy landowners had their eyes on the lands to the west of the colonies, lands in which the inhabitants were being overly influenced by the French (as the English saw it). They wanted the land, and they wanted the Crown to shoo the French away.

What came about is something that we know as the French and Indian War, which was but a part of a larger conflict known as the Seven Years War, which was also being waged in Europe and as far away as India. One thing led to another and eventually the French were driven from North America. But wars cost a lot of money and the British Crown felt that the colonists, who would directly benefit from all this new territory, should help pay for it. Taxes were levied and people got mad.

An unruly mob in Boston, taunting British soldiers going about their lawful duties, were fired upon and several were killed. What we call the Boston Massacre. What the British called a "righteous shoot." But to be fair to the Crown, the soldiers involved were actually brought to trial, and acquitted! They were, I must note, ably defended by a fellow named John Adams. Yes, that John Adams.

Things were getting nasty in the colonies, so the British rolled back a number of the new taxes. But not all of them. Long story short, British tea gets dumped in Boston Harbor, British troops occupy Boston. Effectively putting the city under martial law and cutting the city off from the rest of the continent.

The British, knowing there were a certain number of colonists who were bound and determined to fight back, and not by negotiating, were arming themselves. Well, in point of fact, they had always been armed. The militia were a fact of life back in those days. The native inhabitants of North America weren't all that happy with these land hungry Europeans running around, scarfing up the choice bits of terrain and making all sorts of rules for everyone to follow.

So the natives would make their displeasure known, by raiding and killing. Hoping, no doubt, that if they made the neighborhood unsafe for the Euros, they might just pack up their stuff and go back from whence they had come.

So militia companies were formed. Many of them had seen action on the side of the British (as technically and officially they were also British) during the French and Indian War. (The French had Indians on their side, as did the British. The native inhabitants of the continent weren't above getting after their enemies while the whites were mixing it up as well.)

Anyhoo, now the British were rather concerned that those militiamen might give them a problem. Best solution? Disarm them. Which they tried, which led to the messy running fights of Lexington and Concord and the bloodbath at Bunker Hill. (Yes, yes, it was fought on Breed's Hill. But did you know that Waterloo wasn't fought at Waterloo? Yup, that battle occurred some miles south of that village.)

Eventually the skirmishing around Boston got serious (as if the fighting up until then had been in jest), The redcoats were besieged in Boston, mostly because their commanders weren't trying to escalate the whole mess, whereas the colonists were more than happy to do so.

The rebels captured a fort in upstate New York (Ticonderoga) and they invaded Canada! While the Canadian adventure was a miserable failure, the fort yielded a number of cannon plus the powder and shot to fire those cannons. Which a certain George Washington sent a Boston bookseller, Henry Knox, to go fetch. In the dead of winter.

Knox did bring the guns, the rebels put them on a hill in Dorchester, overlooking Boston, and the British realized that this was going to go badly and soon. So they agreed to pull out of Boston. Eventually they wound up in New York City (the island of Manhattan to be precise) which they held for the entire war. The same city that one George Washington really, really wanted to attack and capture. But he never did have the manpower, nor the seapower which the British had on call. Remember, Manhattan is an island.

The war was the British Empire's to win for damn near the entire contest. Even though they pissed away an army under Burgoyne at Saratoga and kept a whole lot of troops occupying New York, they still had enough to beat Washington. Oh yes, the Brits were also very keen to keep Little Rhody under their thumbs as well. Narragansett Bay will hold a lot of ships and is fairly sheltered.

The British defeated Washington on Long Island, chased him south and out of New Jersey, and pretty much were winning all of the battles. The day after Christmas in 1776, Washington led his ragtag army over the Delaware River and beat up on a German detachment (Hessians) quartered in the town of Trenton. Washington's boys bagged damned near the whole lot. (No, they weren't hung over from partying on Christmas Day, the weather was so bad they figured that no one in their right minds would attack. We Yanks are a bit daft, aren't we?) They also drove on to Princeton afterwards and beat up on a bunch of redcoats as well. Before sliding back over the river. They didn't win out but the redcoats were battered and bloodied.

Though the British were winning most of the battles, Washington would just not quit. In the meantime, guys like Ben Franklin were negotiating with the French (who are itching to get back at the British for the French and Indian War). At first it was a lot of money flowing the rebels' way. Then arms and other supplies.

Soon enough the French sent warships and troops.

Now all of this was costing the British and the French a lot of money. Boatloads (literally in some cases), which had to come from somewhere. They sure weren't getting any tax money from North America. The French government was taking out loans left and right to finance our Revolution.

Eventually, as often happens with a country trying to quell a rebellion a long way from home, the British were running out of ideas, money, and the will to keep going. Though General Cornwallis chased the rebels out of the south, and if he had stayed put, Britain might have kept the colonies of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. But he didn't, he chased the rebels into Virginia where he dug in at a small village on the Chesapeake called Yorktown.

Washington (who was finally convinced to forget about New York) went south with Rochambeau to besiege Cornwallis at Yorktown. Cannonaded to red ruin, and running out of everything, Cornwallis agreed to capitulate. He didn't show up for the ceremony and the British bandsmen actually didn't play The World Turned Upside Down, though from their point of view it most certainly had. Now the war didn't end there, though the fighting was over, for the most part.

While the diplomats negotiated, the British still held New York. But when the treaty was done, the British sailed away. As they left, Washington and the remnants of his army (establishing the old, and stupid, American custom of disbanding the army as soon as the war is over) marched onto Manhattan from the end opposite to the one the lobsterbacks were leaving from.

Many thousands of Loyalists went with them, never again to see the land they loved as much as the rebels did. Problem was, their love for their King wasn't really enough to get them into the field and actually fight. When they did try to form effective units, the British, for the most part, didn't take them seriously. The Royal Army felt the same disdain for the Loyalist troops as they did for the Continental troops.

So the British went home, home to figure out how they were going to pay for all that. Across the Channel, not even ten years after our Revolution was over, the French had one of their own. Our Revolution had pretty much bankrupted France. The people rose up and the French got to spend another twenty years fighting the British, and damned near everybody else in Europe.

Louis XVI and his queen lost their heads, as did a bunch of other people. While that didn't come about as a direct result of tea getting thrown into Boston Harbor, it pretty much sealed the fate of the French monarchy.

Funny thing history, you never know where it will lead...

Gravure illustrant la décapitation de Louis XVI.



This being the second installment of Sarge's "Off the top of my head" History Lectures. Meaning which, I don't do a lot of research before writing, picture me answering a question about a topic while you are sitting down, face to face, avec moi, perhaps over an adult-type beverage. Hopefully which the questioner is buying. (Hint.) Reader suggestions for future topics along these lines are welcome. Of course, the post might wind up being. "Hhmm, I know next to nothing about that." Hey, it happens.

76 comments:

  1. Your History Lecture, using the "American Revolution for Dummies" approach went rather well. Becoming dumber as I grow older I appreciate your technique. I owe you an adult-type beverage should we ever meet. Ya hit the salient points, especially the long British/French struggle and the French Revolution with too many Americans viewing our Revolution as an isolated event. Good reading for a non-snow Saturday morning, our forecast was blown! Good turnout on yesterday's comments Sarge.

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    1. Thanks Nylon 12. I need to do this periodically to see if I remember all the history I read!

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  2. Yes, that is pretty much the way I remember it; G. Washington was a fairly snazzy dresser.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

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    1. Unfortunately me camera was run over by Santa's sled.

      PLQ

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    2. Washington was one of the losing-est generals in American history. But he lost with Flair, and Style, and was a good chap, so we forgave him.

      McClellan? Not so much...

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    3. Paul - a leader needs to look the part, otherwise who would follow him?

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    4. "Washington was one of the losing-est generals in American history."

      He who wins in the end, laughs loudest.

      Paul L. Quandt

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    5. Beans - bear in mind, Washington had no formal military training, McClellan graduated West Point.

      Washington learned that all he needed to do was not quit. Which he didn't. Revolutionaries can't quit, once you start you have to fight it out, otherwise you'll probably be hanged.

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    6. What training Washington had, was British, and the British Army has a tradition of losing every battle, but the final one.

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    7. Heh, true.

      But in this case, Washington had the last laugh! (And the last victory.)

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  3. OFF TOPIC

    So, I looked up Major Ed Rasimus; he must have annoyed a number of O-6s and above to have retired as only an O-4. My father, who was not a pilot and started as an EM, made O-5 several years before he retired.

    Paul

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    1. Yes he did. Not sure exactly what the circumstances were, but it happened at Torrejon AB. He had made O-4 3 years below the zone (the earliest possible), ran afoul of a Peace Time Wing King and that was it. All that having been said, from then on, no Wing King was safe from his wrath if needed.

      There's a HUGE difference between Leadership and Management. Ras epitomized the first and loathed the second.

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    2. Thank you for the information, juvat.

      Paul

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    3. Yes, thanks for that Juvat. I thought I remember hearing (or reading) something about that.

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  4. Nicely recapitulated. Sending links to the grandbabies who may still have some not yet fossilized neurons.

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  5. The American Revolution in 60 seconds. Cliff Notes has nothing on you in being short, sweet, and concise.

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    1. I hope to have the accuracy as well, I do trip up now and then. (That whole "Royal Army" thing, my bad, I actually knew better.)

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  6. Cheers to you for a wonderful impromptu lecture. If I were in New England, I'd gladly buy you a pint (or three) for the privilege.

    As you touched on, one of the major British problems in this war was the questionable competency of some of their commanders. Whilst this has doubtless plagued armies from the beginning of time, it is a characteristically British problem—the lions led by donkeys thesis, and all that. It got me wondering how the 1812 Part Deux would've worked out had Old Nosey accepted the offer to put him in charge of His Majesty's forces in North America. While Wellington was unquestionably brilliant, he perhaps shines even brighter given the blandness of many other British commanders in the field.

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    1. The concept of hereditary positions and purchasing positions is one of the things that the American Civil War/War between the States showed was a great weakness, so we pretty much got rid of it (though we kinda reintroduced it during the Spanish/American War.

      The part of the concept of having some rich, titled dude in charge was so that said rich, entitled dude would put forth his munificent funds to supporting his troops, kind of harking back to the whole Knight-Body of Retainers thingy (a fighting knight was required to supply himself and a group of retainers, to include his squires, his sejants, various men-at-arms and support staff. Needless to say, broke knights only had themselves and their armor, while rich knights actually could control knights under them, supporting large armies. This kinda led to the armed brotherhoods of the later middle ages, and I am heading kinda off-topic so hold onto the handrails as we quickly shift back onto topic track.)

      This is how the Brits worked for many years, and I still think they have some hereditary positions, thought the funding is supposed to come from the government, not from the officer. A result of too few moneybags joining up and too many desperate nobles searching for fame and loot-loot, it's what gets the boys to jump up and shoot (Kipling.)

      And that, right there, is a whole different topic. Should an army loot, should an army be partially funded by loot, or is all looting evil?

      Now that Abrams (the politician, not the tank) has acknowledged her opponent won, but she's not conceded, and even Dems in Arizona admit the ballots there were hinky (of course, if McSally hadn't peed on all the Trumpites in Arizona, well...) the political weather is actually brighter for Florida (of course, no losing opponent will yet re-concede after conceding and then un-conceding.) So the point is I am actually feeling somewhat less depressed and may be able to squirt out a post once in a while.)

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    2. "The concept of hereditary positions and purchasing positions..."

      On that topic, I highly recommend this book---

      https://www.amazon.com/Reason-Why-Story-Charge-Brigade/dp/0140012788/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1542481943&sr=1-3&keywords=the+reason+why

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    3. Debra Reynolds (doorkeeper)November 17, 2018 at 11:54 AM

      RHT447, excellent advice! I just finished "The Reason Why" about a year ago, I love Cecil Woodham-Smith and wish she'd lived to write many more historical books. I also read her biography of F. Nightingale (what a revelation!) and have The Great Hunger on my nightstand. She's very readable even for someone like me, who longs to know more history but hasn't the basics to start with!

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    4. Thanks David, thanks Beans.

      It's often been remarked upon about the British and the purchasing of commissions. The second and subsequent sons of the upper class would not inherit anything, it was the Church or the Army. Many relied upon their positions in the Army to support themselves. Truth be told as well, the rankers didn't really trust officers up from the ranks. They grew up working for the titled, they expected that as their lot in life. It had more to do with tradition than efficiency. But England still (at least for now) still stands and the Empire they built was impressive.

      Also I would note that Sir Arthur Wellesley (later Duke of Wellington) made use of the purchasing system.

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    5. RHT447 and Debra - The Reason Why is a superb book, I've read it multiple times. Explains the Crimean War very well.

      Yes, I wish she had written more.

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    6. The system works if policed. The problems occur when Lord Dumbasshite's second son, Milord Totallydumber Dumasshite is kept in because his daaaaaaaddy has friends in high places, even though Milord Totallydumber is dumber than a sack of cold fish and chips, and the food is less oily and greasy, and less corrupt even after 3 days in the hot sun, than said Milord...

      Semi-hereditary positions filled by entitled asses who have no military ability at all are what dragged the system down. The ceiling was blocked from advancement from below, and there was no way, except sickly seasons and bloody wars, to weed out the weak.

      That is the danger of an inherited upper class. And it is also a problem over here. Not gonna name names, but we all can pretty much name at least one name right off the bat.

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    7. Spot on, as usual.

      But it was her turn!

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  7. "They were, I must note, ably defended by a fellow named John Adams. Yes, that John Adams."

    Indeed. Ably portrayed here---

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F2nzwbkj9TU

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  8. Wellington was well aware what English speakers would do the La Haye Sainte or La Belle Alliance (and let's not even talk about Hougomont). However, his headquarters was technically located at Waterloo village some eight miles away, and less subject to Anglophone mangling. And there came out of it a nice "broken token" song, "The Plains of Waterloo". Check out June Tabor's version of it.

    Also, just a minor quibble about your excellent essay. There is no Royal Army in Great Britain as the Crown requires Parliamentary consent to maintain a standing army. However, there are (or were) individual Royal Regiments within the Army, as distinguished by the dark blue facings on their uniforms.

    Cheers!

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    1. Yup, I dropped the ball on the Royal Army. Parts of it are, but thanks to Cromwell, that service belongs, for the most part, to Parliament. Politics aside, during the Revolution it was a tool of the King and his ministers.

      I know about the why's of Waterloo, the Germans call it La Belle Alliance, the French the Battle of Mont-St-Jean. But Wellington, like you say, named it for precisely the reason you state. BTW, I've visited his HQ in Waterloo, a very interesting place.

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  9. Hmmm, does, “Follow the money” seem to be in play?
    I want to say something about doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, but that’s a little strong language wise.

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    1. England wanted our natural resources, especially our trees. And they denied the colonials the right to advanced manufacturies (we weren't supposed to be able to cast bells (if you can cast a bell, you can cast a cannon) or do much of anything really fancy. They wanted to remain in economic control. Which is one of the main contentions between us and them, as part of the taxes levied were on manufactured goods that we should have been able to manufacture here, thus saving the taxes.

      Now, shift forward 240+ years. We see local and state governments trying to control the manufacture and sale of lots of things due to taxes. Sales tax, income tax, environmental fees, etc. Especially true towards the economic warfare towards self-defense items (hey, let's tax Ammo!) Can't wait to see how this is going to all turn out...

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    2. Skip - Follow the money is always in play.

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    3. Qui Bono. There, I finally got spell check to admit "Qui" is a word.I have up, the first time.

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    4. Exactly!

      (I would daresay that most Chanters have a far better vocabulary than spell check!)

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  10. Hey Old AFSarge;

    You did an excellent synopsis of the events of the French and Indian Wars through the American Revolution and the French Revolution and how they related. Most people don't realize that they were related. "For want of a nail the war was lost" as the phrase went. And from what I read, Ben Franklyn was quite popular with the ladies in the French Court and that helped sway the King Louis the XVI to help the Americans out.

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    1. Ben Franklin was very popular with the French ladies.

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    2. A seductive and loquacious tongue he did employ in the service of his country.

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    3. Heh, and no little measure of common sense as well!

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  11. A great summary of American history! Thank you!
    It was nice to see mention of the fur trade and its importance as well as a competitive factor between the Brits and Frogs.

    One of my favorite books which helps put so much of the exploration and settlement of North America into perspective (including everything from the Atlantic to the Pacific) is "Fur, Fortune, and Empire," by Eric Jay Dolin. Well written and researched, easy and fun to read. Available as an audiobook and really worth the effort to find for the enlightenment and entertainment within.
    Of course, with a couple more posts like today, Sarge will have covered everything pretty well by hisself.
    John Blackshoe

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    1. That book sounds excellent. I'll add it to the list. (With the hundred or so others I want to read!)

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    2. JB: "...the Brits and Frogs." Do you really dislike green amphibians so much that you would slander them by associating them with the French?

      PLQ

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    3. Why does everyone hate the French?

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    4. I once read a book written in France, an English translation, on the history of the German soldier, from Friedrich to 1945. He mentions that Germany, to a certain extent, had to contend with the world's worst neighbor, in France. So even the French don't always trust the French.

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    5. Well, there is that.

      You have to remember though, France was a nation when "Germany" was nothing but a mob of petty bishoprics and dukedoms. Their is probably something to be said for the Roman influence. I read somewhere that civilization, back in the day, stopped at the Rhine.

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    6. East, if you believe the Romans. (Probably the French as well.)

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    7. The overbearing attitude of the typical Frenchman is what peeves off people towards the French. Little things like whining to the EU and UN over little things like the use of champagne from Champagne made with champagne grapes, while 'sparkling wine' made with champagne grapes tastes just as good if not better but because of the frogs, well, can't call it 'champagne.' Carp like that.

      Because they were at one time the dominant power in Europe, always being the 800lb gorilla while everyone else was still a collection of semi- or totally independent city-states and micro-countries. And then, after having their asses handed to them continuously by smaller and less 'pure' conglomerations, still think that they are #1.

      Can't remember who said it, maybe Patton, something about you'll be better off fighting the French than being their allies. You'll get screwed less. Very paraphrasing, but...

      My dad, when going to F-84G training, was there at the same time as a bunch of frogs. They treated everyone with disdain, but the dumb Cajun provincial? They had it out for him. Stuff like that, except about everything, well, and they call us "Ugly Americans" even though we saved their asses twice and tried to support their lame-butts in most all their colonial losses.

      I think a lot of the good will that Lafayette and other great Frenchmen built during the Revolutionary War was lost when France decided to do the whole chop-everyone's-head-off thingy.

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    8. Funny story from my days in NATO -

      Four entities operated the E-3 AWACS system: the United States, the United Kingdom, NATO (the aircraft are operated out of Geilenkirchen in Germany, they are all registered in Luxembourg), and France. Boeing kept the software and hardware updated and periodically the operators of the system went to Boeing's plant (in Seattle) for briefings and meetings. When the US would come, Boeing would put on a big party on the last night. When the UK came, they did the same. Ditto for NATO. When the French came?

      "Nice seeing you. Bye."

      Yup, no party. So I've been told. But in truth, I've met Frenchmen in Paris who were alright. Their officials do tend to get snooty.

      Ah well, I suppose when you go from being a big deal to a "used to be," it is wrenching.

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    9. @OldAFSarge-5:21
      France was barely a nation at the time of the French Revolution. France has had over three centuries now of enforcing the language of l'Isle du France (even during WWI, different dialects were mutually hard to understand [as with UK troops], where Germany has had only about 1.5 centuries of enforcing "High German". I don't "hate" the French any more than I hate the Germans, but there are a lot of reasons for disliking both. France was no more a friend of the US than the US was an enemy of England, at least until WWI, when they both needed us -- badly.

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    10. And there are reasons for liking both, post-WWII. That's a different matter. Over the last 15 years, there are fewer reasons for liking either. :(

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  12. Probably the biggest miracle of the US revolution was it that managed to not degenerate into terror and dictature the way the French one in 1789 and Russian one in 1917 ended up. In the revolutionary fervor it is all too easy for jacobins or bolsheviks to hijack the whole enterprise...
    US had the incredible set of poiticians that managed to hammer out the basis for Republic that evolved down the 2 centuries down the road, shedding slavery and creating true federal state on the way, as well as getting the broadscaled state interventionism in economy during New Deal. There were bad ideas on the way as well (prohibition...) but thankfully the beauty of the system of voters feedback loop made it work.

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    1. Truly. Something weird there. And it also mostly held for the aftermath of the American Civil War/War between the States. As bad as Reconstruction was, it could have been far worse.

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    2. I think one of the reasons that the American Revolution succeeded is that it was a revolution to maintain the status quo (as it existed in the colonies) rather than to overturn the status quo as happened in France and Russia.

      And, as you mentioned, we were very fortunate to have such a remarkable set of men to shepherd the country through its early days.

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    3. Paweł, you get to the heart of the matter as always.

      Few people know that officers in the Continental Army nearly made the Revolution go "French" if you will. A number of American officers were very ambitious and some were greedy. But cooler heads won out.

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    4. Beans - Maybe it's because we're a free people and not slaves to an aristocracy, which some are trying to resurrect and some are eager to foment. Free stuff! Only slaves get free stuff.

      Captain Obvious - Essentially correct there I believe. Also, the old regime "went home" when it was over. There was nowhere for the Bourbons and Romanovs to go, so for them it was fight or die. But yes, keep things as they were, no radical changes in direction. (Like some call for now, which they should be careful of. Both "sides.")

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    5. Along these lines, y'all do realize who the ' keep and bear arms ' was aimed at?

      HINT: It was NOT aimed at foreigners.

      Paul L. Quandt

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    6. There are many in Washington, Hollywood, and the Press, that have already deemed themselves aristocrats. The entire Democrat leadership, for example.

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    7. I would not disagree with that assessment, though it ain't all of 'em, just most.

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    8. OldAFS, at 12:26PM

      Mayhaps why I am so aghast and depressed after watching so many socialists and closet-royalists try to turn us away from being a bunch of rugged individualists who cherish freedom and the ability to argue with each other to a collective with an elite leadership in control.

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    9. Yup, you can't convince the serfs that they are, indeed, serfs. Galling innit?

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  13. So, I went back and made additional comments in a number of past day's posts. Likely solely for my own entertainment as I don't expect anyone else has either the time or interest to read them. One of the things that helps pass the time as I sit here all by my lonesome for weeks at a time. Woe, poor me.

    Paul

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  14. Chris, you do an outstanding job of catching the critical elements and weaving together so that the tide of historical events becomes comprehensible. I have just finished Nathaniel Philbreck's newest - In the Hurricane's Eye: The Genius of George Washington and the Victory at Yorktown = and I do recommend it. He encapsulates much of what you have covered, and fills in a lot of the specifics leading up to Yorktown.

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    1. I love Philbrick's work, that book shoots to the top of the list!

      (And it's a very long list!)

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  15. By December 1944, we had forgotten the 'nobody attacks in bad winter weather'lesson.

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    1. We got 'Hessian'ed by the Hessians, so to speak. Total boner move. No one can move through the Ardennes, except the Germans, apparently.

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    2. And they did it multiple times! 1870, 1914, and 1944.

      Heh, "Hessian'ed by the Hessians," I like it!

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    3. and then there are Russians who mastered the way of the winter offensive...
      Moscow 1941, Stalingrad 1942, Vistula-Oder 1945...

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    4. Well, Russians and winter. The two seem to go together.

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    5. Hey AfSarge;

      LOL, Something about the shared misery,

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    6. Heh, I think you're onto something there MrG.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)