Wednesday, January 22, 2020

From Lexington to Trenton

Arnold's column is shattered in fierce street fighting during the Battle of Quebec
Charles William Jefferys
After finishing Rick Atkinson's first volume of his American Revolution trilogy a while back (available here), I was searching through my library for something else to read, preferably something about the Revolution. I had forgotten that I had this book in my library -

(Available here)
Written in 1952, i.e. before Your Humble Scribe first arrived on this planet, that blurb on the bottom of the front cover is accurate. This is my second time through this most excellent work. As I mentioned in an email to one of our gentle readers, I have little time for reading these days, what I would have made short work of a few months ago, now takes forever. I manage to get in only a few pages a day, which annoys me. I used to read voraciously, another excuse, no doubt, as to why I should retire sooner, rather than later. (Besides which I have a book - or two - myself which yearns to be free from the dark recesses of my mind...)

All that being said, the period of American history from April of 1775 to December of 1776 is one I can never get enough of, no matter how many books I read on the subject. From that bright spring day outside of Boston to that winter darkness on the banks of the Delaware River, the struggles of our forefathers to create this nation never cease to amaze and inspire me. Especially considering the utter nonsense being propagated amongst the citizenry in our own time.

At Lexington the British military swept aside a ragged band of armed citizens, they were somewhat surprised that these men stood as long as they did (which wasn't very long, one volley had them running). Those same redcoats received a bloody shock as their march to Concord (to seize arms and powder it should be mentioned) became a very bloody stroll through the Massachusetts countryside, opposed as they were by various and sundry ragged bands of militia.

Later at Breed's Hill the colonials had the effrontery to dig entrenchments (which should have been dug on Bunker Hill had the folks in charge actually obeyed their orders) to actually attempt to intimidate the forces then occupying Boston. "Up and at 'em!" cried General Howe.

Up the bloody slope the redcoats went, three times, before the colonials ran out of powder and shot and were forced to flee. The detritus of the British advance, dead and wounded British soldiers, should have convinced the British that these "damned colonists" weren't fooling around when speaking of their rights.

It did not.

A former bookseller, turned artillerist, led a group of hardy souls to Fort Ticonderoga on the shores of Lake Champlain where a store of cannon was available. These folks proceeded to haul a substantial train of artillery from the fort, across the frozen Berkshires, all the way to Boston, yes, in the winter. Whereupon the ragged colonials (now under the command of an amateur soldier and gentleman from Virginia named Washington) emplaced those cannon overlooking Boston, whereupon General Howe no doubt, upon beholding those cannon and fortifications overlooking his position, realized that he had two choices: engage in another bloody frontal assault, or skedaddle.

Skedaddle they did, first to Halifax (taking with them those who still supported the King, i.e. the Loyalists) and then eventually on to the city of New York. Which the British would occupy until the end of the war, after kicking the upstart colonials out of the place.

Before the evacuation of Boston took place (an event still celebrated in that city), a few folks had the idea that maybe the Canadians would like to be free of those awful Brits as well. So an expedition was laid on to "drive the British from Canada." One group, under General Richard Montgomery, who you may or may not have ever heard of, went up to Canada via the Hudson - Lake George - Lake Champlain route, while a second group under General Benedict Arnold, who you probably have heard of, headed towards Canada up the Kennebec River and the woods of Maine. In winter.

Needless to say, the invasion failed (which you can tell as Canada is not part of the United States). General Montgomery was killed in action and General Arnold was badly wounded (which left him cranky and moody for the rest of his days as I understand it) during the assault on Quebec City.

While Quebec is not on the way to Trenton from Boston, historically it was. The invasion of Canada was the only game in town whilst Washington and his army besieged Boston. It failed but not through want of trying. However, try as hard as you like, if your logistics suck, it won't go.

The Revolution was nearly over bar the shouting when Washington and the other colonial amateur generals tried to make a stand first on Long Island and then on the island of Manhattan.

In those days the western end of Long Island was wooded and rather hilly. Washington's forces entrenched in the area of what is now Brooklyn and positioned themselves to guard three passes through the hills.

There were actually four passes.

Yes, the British used the fourth to sweep the colonials from the field. Though the colonials managed to get across the water to Manhattan, in a very Dunkirk-like miracle, they really had no defenses against the Royal Navy which could sail up and down the Hudson and East Rivers at will. This of course enabled the British to bring artillery fire to bear on any position Washington chose to defend (remember, Manhattan is an island).

Harried out of New York and across New Jersey, losing many troops and supplies along the way, Washington's ragged army of amateurs was on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River as Christmas 1776 approached. At the end of that month the Continental Army (for so they were now styled) would be reduced to something around 1500 men. So many enlistments would expire on 31 December that Washington would scarce have an army at all.

Fortunately for him (and by extension, us) General Howe decided to go into winter quarters (hole up in comfortable surroundings until spring came) back in New York, leaving a line of outposts in "the Jerseys" as it was called back then (as opposed to just "Jersey" these days).

One of those outposts was in Trenton, manned primarily by Hessians (think Germans from Hesse-Kassel, entire units hired by the British to suppress the rebellion, I'll write more about those guys one of these days POCIR). Which of course leads to a famous painting and (of course) this meme -

Reading of the troops struggling to get over the river, their timetable shot to Hell, marching on icy roads in driving snow and freezing rain, leaving bloody footprints as many of them wore naught but rags on their feet, is inspiring. Against all odds they surprised the Hessians and won a stunning victory. Imagine the utter chaos of that day after Christmas, 4000 men fighting in a small village (for Trenton was small in those days) in the cold of a wintry morning. Cannon fire, shouted commands, the rattle of musketry, the screams of the wounded as the Hessians, tumbled from their beds attempted to stop this ragged horde of Americans charging into their midst. Their commander mortally wounded in the process.

It saved the Revolution.

It should also serve as a reminder to those who think that we're a people easily cowed. We may not be as hardy as folks back then, but there is still a solid core of citizens who will stand their ground if pushed too far.

Sic semper tyrannis indeed.


  1. There's an excellent book by David H. Fischer, Washington's Crossing, published 2004 about that Christmas campaign, close to 400 pages with a good sized appendix. Really enjoyed reading that. Nice choice on that meme Sarge. Oh by the way, I saw Florida had wind chill warnings posted for this morning, wonder how Beans is doing?

    1. I have Fischer's book, I've read it a couple of times. Puts you right there, most excellent.

      I'm sure Beans is fine, might have to wear long sleeves today, maybe even regular shoes and not flip-flops!

    2. Cold... sooooo cooollllldddddd.....

      We opened up for fresh air when the sun went down (and most of the denizens who play their music in their cars too loud go inside.) Got the interior down to 53 degrees. Outside got down to 31 degrees.

      I was wearing 2 t-shirts, a long-sleeve denim shirt, fleecy athletic pants, a puffy camo jacket and flip-flops to take the dog for walks. Wind was blowing about 10-15mph, driving little frozen daggers of hate and more hate deep into my flesh.

      Inside, I took the jacket and flops off, and cuddled in bed with my warm blankets, and fought with the dog for them. He'll get under the top cover, start turning around and around and wrap my top blanket up around him, taking it off of ME! I have the perfect construction of flannel sheet, waffle blanket, top blanket that holds the heat in, cold out and doesn't weigh too much for my toes to handle. It's funny, but before I lay down, I am so cold sensitive, but as soon as I fall asleep I radiate huge amounts of heat. Dog likes it. Wife not so much.

      Secret to living successfully with an Exotherm. Same bed is okay, separate top sheets and blankets a must.

      And, yeah, it was cold last night. Blessed cold. No sweating. No mosquitoes. No people outside playing music at 2am or fighting or smoking pot or doing anything outside. Beans and Mrs. Andrew all very happy about this.

    3. And... Wet Cold sucks. Dry Cold is good.

      Last night? Wet Cold. Ground fog. And windy. And Cold. Horrible hurtful wet cold fingers of cold, because of all the moisture. Wet Cold sucks.

    4. Beans the 1st - A truly Beansian comment, full marks, superb detail.

      31° in Florida? Damn!

    5. Beans the 2nd - Wet cold and wind, Little Rhody in a nutshell. Not a lot of snow but the wind will freaking kill you.

  2. Thanks for this. On point as always. Also thanks for using my state's (Well, we're a Commonwealth) motto at the end. We tried to send a message to a certain group of would-be tyrants this past Monday. We'll see if they were listening.

    1. I really hate to see what the Progs are doing to the Old Dominion, I've loved that state since the first time I visited. Oldest granddaughter was born there, both daughters were married there.

      Hopefully this new set of tyrants got the message.

    2. Or what they've done to Massachusetts or Rhode Island, or Manhattan and Long Island (being the hell-places that have screwed up the rest of New York.)

      And as to getting the message, doubt it. Soro's and Bloomberg's money speaks much louder than the voices of the people.

    3. Little Rhody ain't as bad as some people think. Vermont is far worse.

    4. Little Rhody isn't now. But there's movement in the legislature to go full Massachusetts. Pro-2A rally in RH tomorrow.

  3. This is probably the best description of the early part of the Revolution I have ever seen. WELL DONE, sir!

    Indeed, "Sic semper tyrannis" indeed, and while Brooklyn may have changed since 1775, the will and determination to be free has not diminished in many Americans. Sure, there are some who may not be on the side of freedom, call them loyalists or progressives, and as in the Revolution about a third will be fighting for freedom, a third working against it, and the rest apathetic about the whole thing.

    Do not underestimate the feisty nature of patriots.
    John Blackshoe

  4. One of the things about Trenton not a lot of people understand was that it was kinda like Roarke's Drift. It was a supply depot. Full of food and shot and powder and... shoes, blessed shoes, and blankets and uniforms that could be re-died and shoes and food and... Yes, a small supply depot but Washington wasn't running 20,000 Zulu around, he only had a small thousand or so.

    Tactical victory, Morale victory,... Strategic victory (in that this one battle allowed for the continuation of the fight.)

    And then the fat kraut shows up and the hand-writing's on the wall. Can you call a Prussian a kraut?

    The retreat from Manhattan was a backhanded victory. Washington was able to withdraw his troops without being cut to smithereens.

    But Trenton? Trenton was the first step forward in a while. And very surprising, the dispirited, downtrodden Colonists did not act like raving blood-lusty animals against the Hessians. Kinda like the rally yesterday... So peaceful...

    1. I believe most of the Hessians who came to the colonies stayed here. Freedom? Ample land? Nah, I want to go back and live under some semi-retarded hereditary prince. Said no Hessian ever.

      The Prussians make the rest of Germany look bad, so that is allowable.

    2. Actually quite a few, not most. I looked it up.

    3. And the Prussians are still jerks...

    4. Amazing the number of German POWs from WWII wanted to, and succeeded in remaining here after WWII. Almost like this horrid nation of ours was so much better than theirs.

      As to Prussians, I think they're born with a stick up their chocolate whiz-wang.

  5. Is it possible a certain governor of a certain commonwealth, and a certain house full of Burgesses of same said commonwealth, be given a gift copy of this? With the pertinent paragraphs (to wit, the paragraph describing the purpose of the bloody Redcoats marching to Concord) and pertinent Latin phrase be highlighted?

    And with a pink highlight used on the fate of the chaps from Hesse?

    Jus' sayin'.

    1. I have no objection at all to such a thing.


  6. The story of our American Revolution has always inspired me.

    Not quite as epic as the Spartans, but damn close. To think that mere Farmers could talk back to the King was surely upsetting to the King, but when we started winning.....!

    1. Very true. George III had to take us seriously at that point.

  7. Human nature being what it is, and reality being not tee-vee news, invented narrative, or a movie, I suspect the the ratio of freedom haters to can't be bothered to foundational and principled Americans is about the same as it was in 1775. If push comes to shove the RN isn't going to relocate the former to a safer clime. No, they'll have to, as the Brexiteers are wont to say these days, "move to yurp!"

    1. Oh yeah, they'll have to book their own passage as well.

      Might be the yurps won't want 'em either!

  8. (Don McCollor) older book (fictionalized conversations) "The Unvanquished" by Howard Fast(first published 1942) captures the spirit of the war. The Marblehead fishermen in Washington's army were the ones who made the evacuation from Manhattan possible. Later, at Throgg's Neck, they held the rearguard. "They were hard, sharp men with long faces and long noses, and salt in their blood, and they were in the war because freedom for them was not an ideal but an obsession." Glover's (fictionalized) instructions to his officers were "Them will be coming from over yonder"..."We'll be a-setting here"..."We'll keep a a-setting here"....

    1. Sounds like an excellent book, I'll have to track it down.

      Thanks Don!

  9. Nice post - sorry for the somewhat late comment (again!) but have been driving most all day, ended up down in Beans' neck of the woods, but a bit east near Daytona. Ultimate destination tomorrow is south of Miami, where it should be pretty nice (said touching wood). Is kinda raw down here, drizzly and chilly. Not quite sure why Beans was carrying on so much about how cold it was though :-) Actually, I do understand, since the often wet cold we got in Dallas was much worse than substantially colder, but drier, places I've lived since then. I also hope that Gov. Coonman and accomplices got a message on Monday and act accordingly, but I have my doubts. Tyrants are going to tyrant. I do hope that the good citizens of the Commonwealth then act accordingly on election day - I hold out the same hope for the national electorate on that day. All these bastiges need to be held accountable!

    1. No such thing as late here at The Chant. We're always open. 😁

      Tyrants gotta tyrant, now it's up to us citizens to citizen! VOTE 'em OUT!

  10. I think on eof the main reasons why Americans are the sort to be pretty easy going until we aren't is because our forefathers from the 1600"s until the early 1900's were the immigrants who came from Northern Europe. So the Scots, Irish, English, Welsh, Germans, Poles, Swedes, Danes, Finns, Norwegians, Hollanders, French. They were the folks who woke up one morning and said "Honey, it just isn't working here, we need to move to the Colonies. And then did so. Their neighbors, relatives, and associates were the ones who stood on the dock and waved good-bye, and then returned to their life under the thumb of whatever puffed up royal was there.
    We have always been a nation of doers, of figuring out what we wanted, and then figured out a way to get 'er done, over, under, around, or through, whatever it took. And yes, over the years, some of those genes have been diluted a bit, but when push comes to shove, we have a very long history of shoving back. Maybe we as a nation got a nice big dollopping taste of what true freedom is, and how important it is. Maybe as a majority, we are just that much more stubborn and persistent. After all, if you were living in Northern Europe in the 16, 17, and 1800's...there was a lot of cold, damp, windy weather. Builds more character then folks who are hanging out on the beach in Italy, Spain, Greece or in Persia or northern Egypt all day. Just saying...

    1. "Puffed up royal" - nice turn of phrase Suz. Great comment.


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