Wig-Wags

Journal of a graduate student in military history and the American Civil War

Posts Tagged ‘American Revolution

Taming Democracy: “The People,” the Founders, and the Troubled Ending of the American Revolution

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tamingdemocracyl

I was delighted to find a package from Oxford University Press waiting at my door this afternoon and in it was a review copy of the new paperback edition of Terry Bouton’s Taming Democracy: “The People,” the Founders, and the Troubled Ending of the American Revolution. This looks to be a fascinating read, one that presents a more accurate picture of the founding fathers and the common man of the era.

This from the pre-publicity…

The Founding Fathers are generally considered the most highly regarded Americans in the history of our country; celebrated as the brave and noble group of visionaries who banded together to overthrow the British and bring democracy to the land. Yet what if, contrary to popular belief, these fondly remembered individuals weren’t the great purveyors of freedom for all that we accept them to be?

Taming Democracy devotes much of its pages to the ordinary citizens who protested against the Founding Fathers’ hypocrisy. Common citizens of all back grounds did everything from run for political office to organize political parties and uprisings against what they labeled “united avarice” controlled by “moneyed men.”

It’s worth noting that this book was recipient of the Philip S. Klein Book Prize of the Pennsylvania Historical Association and received Honorable Mention, Fraunces Tavern Museum Book Award.

boutonTerry Bouton is Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and holds a PhD from Duke University. His homepage at the university can be accessed here.

A Revolutionary People at War: The Continental Army and American Character, 1775-1783

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Charles Royster. A Revolutionary People at War: The Continental Army and American Character, 1775-1783. Reprint. University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

In his award winning, sweeping work on the American Revolution, Charles Royster sets out to prove his thesis that “there was an American character prevalent during the War for Independence and that we can profitably analyze it.” His focus is on the emotions, attitudes, and conduct of Americans in wartime but he also set out to prove that Americans exemplified collectively the disposition of revolutionaries. This notion of national character is an important one because it suggests an emergence of a sense of nationhood among the inhabitants of America’s colonies. Royster acknowledges that not all Americans were anti-British but he does conclude that the majority of Americans during the War for Independence were loyal to the revolution’s cause. These arguments are foundational to his discussion of the Continental Army. Royster deals with the rather broad topics of the ideals of revolutionary citizenship, society, and state by limiting his scope to the standards “that Americans defined for themselves in creating, recruiting, and fighting in an army” and it is this focus that makes the book more relevant to the military historian. He finds evidence of a disparity between society’s ideals and its actual conduct, the latter being “always flawed.” To find reasons for the disparity he touches, admitted lightly, on other areas such as religion, government, and commerce, drawing a connection between these and the way in which Americans related to the army.

Royster describes his book as analytical rather than narrative history. This distinction drives the book’s chronological format which supports his position that the study of revolutionary attitudes and the changes that took place over time are best observed “in the order that Americans experienced them.” Royster begins with an examination of the high ideals that Americans caught up in the revolutionary mindset placed upon themselves and others, ideals of virtue and valor. This foundation then allows him to explore the “tension” created when Americans failed to live up to those ideals and how they dealt with the disparity between desired standards and reality. Thus Royster begins with the years prior to the war’s start, describes the “rage militaire” of 1775, and then proceeds through the early war years in a series of chapters with religious titles and analogous themes: 1776: The Army of Israel, Jericho, and The Promised Land. The second half of the book focuses on Valley Forge, Treason, Division, and finally Legacy. It is in this final chapter that Royster brings together his analysis of the whole of the American experience at war.

This work is intended for students of early American history and particularly those who want to better understand the American Revolution. It should also find interest among military historians because of its focus on the experience of soldiers in the American Army of Independence as well as the institutional history of America’s armed forces. Royster’s forays into the realms of sociology, psychology, political, and civic history, should allow the book to find even broader readership. The work’s extensive notes section is worth mention. There is also an essay in the appendix that challenges some other authors who draw conclusions too quickly from statistics about American soldiers who fought in the Revolution, many of whom were both young and poor. The book is particularly noteworthy for its use of readily available primary sources but fresh approach to the information contained therein. His presentation is entirely satisfying albeit occasionally repetitive. One of the clear strengths of the book is its introduction to the reader of a broad number of characters of the period often through their own narrative or those of others around them.

Charles Royster brings impressive credentials to his work which is a shortened version of his doctoral dissertation. He received all of his degrees from the University of California, Berkeley including an A.B. (1966), M.A. (1967), and Ph.D. (1977). At the time of the book’s publication, Dr. Royster was assistant professor of history at the University of Texas. He is now professor of history at the Louisiana State University. Royster has amassed an impressive list of publications several of which received academically recognized awards. His work Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans won the Bancroft Prize, The Lincoln Prize, and the Charles S. Sydnor Award in Southern History. A Revolutionary People at War was recognized with the 1981 Francis Parkman Prize from the Society of American Historians, the 1979 John D. Rockefeller III Award, the 1981 National Historical Society Book Prize, the 1980 Fraunces Tavern Museum Book Award from the Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York, and the 1980 Silver Medal, Nonfiction from the Commonwealth Club of California.

Overall, Royster provides an excellent addition to scholarship of early America.

Blogroll Addition – Alex Rose’s “The History Man”

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I’m pleased to add the new blog of author and historian Alex Rose to my blogroll. Titled “The History Man” (see link here), it appears to be a promising addition to Alex’s website at http://www.alexrose.com and to the history blogosphere. Alex is a fellow wordpress.com blogger so nearer my virtual neighborhood (good choice).

Alex is author of Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring, Kings in the North: The House of Percy in British History, and American Rifle: A Biography.

Kings of the North

 

 

 

 

Washington\'s Spies

 

 

 

 

 

A Biography  Coming in October, 2008.

Welcome Alex!

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Fabian Strategy and the American Civil War

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One of the concepts Millett and Maslowski mention in their book, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, is the Fabian Strategy. It refers to an approach by one side in a military conflict who avoids big decisive battles in favor of small engagements designed to wear the opposition down, reducing their will to fight and their numbers by attrition.

The term is attributed to Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus (ca. 280 BC-203 BC), a Roman commander who used the technique in fighting Hannibal during the Punic Wars. He harassed Hannibal’s army through small engagements and cut off their supply lines but avoided getting pulled into a decisive battle. Needless to say, the strategy requires time to succeed. Because of this, it also requires the support of the governing powers on the side that adopts it because there is no decisive showdown event. In Fabius Maximus’ case, the Romans politicians listened to his detractors (peer commanders) and replaced him with men who would confront Hannibal head on. They were resoundingly defeated at the Battle of Cannae (pictured right). The Romans eventually went back to the method of battle avoidance and harassment as designed by Fabius and eventually succeeded in driving Hannibal back to Africa.

The Fabian Strategy was used during the American Revolution by Continental forces against the British. While politically unpopular, Washington agreed to adopt it. Interestingly, the idea for its use NathanBedfordForrest.jpgcame from Nathaniel Greene.

I’d be interested in thoughts from my readers on use of the Fabian Strategy during the American Civil War. While I have yet to study in depth the exploits of Nathan Bedford Forrest (pictured right), my sense is that this kind of harassment of the enemy was a forte of his Tennessee Cavalry. I’ve also heard the phrase  “removing the Fabian” associated with Sherman’s march through the south. No doubt this refers to the ferreting out of harassing guerrilla-type forces.

Military History Phrase of the Day: A Pyrrhic Victory

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I ran across the phrase “A Pyrrhic Victory” this evening in reference to the Battle of Guilford Courthouse (teachers, see great lesson plan on this battle here) where Nathaniel Greene and Lt. General Charles, Earl Cornwallis clashed in one of the most important battles of the American Revolution.

Charles, Earl Cornwallis (pictured below, see bio here)

Cornwallis

Nathaniel Greene (pictured below, see bio here)

Charles Willson Peale painted a portrait of General Greene from life in 1783, which was then copied several times by C.W. Peale and his son, Rembrandt Peale.

“The armies met at Guilford Courthouse in a furious battle in which the British won a Pyrrhic victory. Cornwallis’s losses were so severe that he moved to Wilmington to recuperate and be resupplied by sea.”[i]

According to the good folks at dictionary.com,

Pyrrhic victory\PIR-ik\, noun:
A victory achieved at great or excessive cost; a ruinous victory.

A Pyrrhic victory is so called after the Greek king Pyrrhus, who, after suffering heavy losses in defeating the Romans in 279 B.C., said to those sent to congratulate him, “Another such victory over the Romans and we are undone.” [ii]

Pyrrhus of Epirus.

Pyrrhus of Epirus

I am quite sure that a number of hard fought American Civil War battles had Pyrrhic victories.

[Note that the papers of Nathaniel Greene are available here.]

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[i] Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, (New York: The Free Press, 1994), 76.
[ii] Pyrrhus defined. http://dictionary.reference.com/wordoftheday/archive/2003/07/16.html
Photo source for Pyrrhus, Cornwallis, and Nathaniel Greene: Wikicommons, public domain.

Sobering Numbers

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As I was finishing up my reading on the American Revolution this evening, I learned the following regarding the percentage of the American population killed in several of our wars.

1st place:  Civil War  – 1.6 %  of population killed

2nd place: American Revolution – 1.0 % of population killed

By contrast, 0.06 % of Americans met their demise in the Mexican War, 0.12 % in World War I, and 0.28 % in World War II.

Indeed sobering.
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Source: Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, (New York: The Free Press, 1994), 82.

Next Course: “Studies in U.S. Military History”

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I just took a break from working on my academic book review due today to register for my next class which starts April 7. “Studies in Military History” is the second in the “core” requirements courses and so deals with more general topics. The first was “Great Military Philosophers.” The course examines the military heritage of the United States from the colonial period to the present. “Through a study of the literature of American military history, this course is a study of the individuals, military policies, postures, organizations, strategies, campaigns, tactics, and battles that have defined the American military experience.”

The reading list looks outstanding. Since I’ve placed my book order, I’ve posted these books on my virtual bookshelves that you can find here. The breadth of conflicts dealt with required that I expand my shelf categories which I’m completely fine with. I’ll post more about each of these as I get into the sememster.

  • American Civil War and The Origins of Modern Warfare
  • A People’s Army: Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors in the 7-Year War
  • The Army and Vietnam
  • Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War
  • For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, Revised and Expanded
  • A Revolutionary People at War: The Continental Army and American Character, 1775-1783
  • War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War
  • The Philippine War, 1899-1902
  • Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America
  • The GI Offensive in Europe: The Triumph of American Infantry Divisions, 1941-1945
  • The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity
  • Strategies of Containment: A Critical Reappraisal of American National Security Policy During the Cold War
  • Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq
  • Their War for Korea: American, Asian, and European Combatants and Civilians, 1945-1953

The instructor, Kelly C. Jordan, also looks excellent (ok they’ve all been excellent).

BA,  History,  Virginia Military Institute,  1986
PhD,  Philosophy,  The Ohio State University,  1999
MA,  History,  The Ohio State University,  1996

From the AMU staff biography site:
Kelly C. Jordan is a Colorado native who received his bachelor’s degree from the Virginia Military Institute but never quite got the hang of the South. Moving to the Midwest, he earned his master’s degree and Ph. D. from The Ohio State University. A retired Army lieutenant colonel, Jordan served for 21 years in the Infantry in mechanized and light units, including service in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. He retired from active duty in August of 2007. He is the author of numerous publications, including works addressing Military History, Military Education, and Strategy. He is currently preparing his Ph.D. dissertation regarding the combat effectiveness of the US Eighth Army in Korea for publication. Dr. Jordan has served on the faculties of the United States Military Academy at West Point, the United States Army Command and General Staff College, the United States Naval War College, and the University of Notre Dame, and he specializes in 20th century post-WWII land warfare, the Korean War, limited war, military leadership, and the development of US Army doctrine. He has won numerous awards for his teaching and writing, he is a huge Notre Dame football fan (even this year!), and he is always looking for ways to incorporate movie clips and other cool things into his classes, discussions, and presentations.

Really looking forward to this class! Now back to my paper!!!

The Civil War as Revolution – Part V

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[Note: This post continues a series on The Civil War as Revolution which is available at the following links: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, The Revolutionaries of the American Civil War, and Cogitating on Abraham Lincoln as Revolutionary.]

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Ruins seen from the capitol, Columbia, S.C., 1865. Photographed by George N. Barnard. 165-SC-53. In the last post, I discussed challenges to the revolutionary nature of the American Civil War by historical revisionists. A second challenge was made by historical economists who contended that the Civil War caused an economic slowdown, not acceleration. Historian James McPherson counters that it is inappropriate to examine the economics of the country as a whole during the war because it so utterly devastated the economic resources of the south. He posits that the North saw economic growth during the war and that “after the war the national economy grew at the fastest rate of the century for a couple of decades, a growth that represented a catching-up process from the lag of the 1860s caused by the war’s impact on the South.”[i]

The third challenge to the Civil War as revolution addressed the plight of Southern blacks and contested that they saw little or no change in their circumstances after both emancipation and the Southern surrender.

Some argued that the Republican Party’s commitment to equal rights for freed slaves was superficial, flawed by racism, only partly implemented, and quickly abandoned. Other Several generations of a family are pictured on Smith’s Plantation, South Carolina, ca. 1862. (Library of Congress)historians maintained that the policies of the Union occupation army, the Freedmen’s Bureau, and the national government operated in the interests of the white landowners rather than the black freedmen, and that they were designed to preserve a docile, dependent, cheap labor force in the South rather than to encourage a revolutionary transformation of land tenure and economic status. And finally another group of scholars asserted that the domination of the southern economy by the old planter class continued unbroken after the Civil War.[ii]

But McPherson considers these arguments flawed suggesting that they reflect “presentism,” “…a tendency to read history backwards, measuring change over time from the point of arrival rather than the point of departure.”[iii] He points out that dramatic change did occur and the statistics prove it out. “When slavery was abolished, about 90 percent of the black population was illiterate. By 1880 the rate of black illiteracy had been reduced to 70 percent, and by 1900 to less than 50 percent. Viewed from the standpoint of 1865 the rate of literacy for blacks increased by 200 percent in fifteen years and by 400 percent in thirty-five years.”[iv]

Emancipation had equally dramatic economic impacts. It amounted to nothing less that the “confiscation of about three billion dollars of property – the equivalent as a proportion of the national wealth to at least three trillion dollars in 1990.”[v]

In effect, the government in 1865 confiscated the principal form of property in one-third of the country, without compensation. That was without parallel in American history – it dwarfed the confiscation of Tory property in the American Revolution. When such a massive confiscation of property takes place as a consequence of violent internal upheaval on the scale of the American Civil War, it is quite properly called revolutionary.[vi]

McPherson sites other economic impacts of emancipation including the redistribution of income in the South post war which “was by far the greatest in American history.”[vii] Equally dramatic was the change in political power in the post war South that resulted from the freeing of the slaves. Blacks achieved the vote in 1868 and within a year represented the majority of registered voters. In four years, 15 percent of the officeholders in the South were black. [viii] “In 1870, blacks provided three-fourths of the votes in the South for the Republican party, which controlled the governments of a dozen states in which five years earlier most of these black voters had been slaves. It was this phenomenon, more than anything else, that caused contemporaries to describe the events of those years as a revolution[ix] This fact caused the pendulum of thought to swing back in the 1980s to support of the Civil War and Reconstruction experiences as revolutionary.

Historian Eric Foner calls the post war period in history “Radical Reconstruction” and found it unequaled in history in its support of the black laborer and thEric Fonereir political rights. Regrettably, some of the gains made were reversed by the counterrevolution that followed when the Democratic Party was revived in the north and the indifference of the Republicans of the north toward blacks in the south increased. But, as McPherson points out, “the counterrevolution was not as successful as the revolution had been.” Blacks in the south remained free, continued to have the vote, could still own land, and could still go to school.[x]
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Note: I highly recommend historian Eric Foner’s website for access to a number of his articles and to his lectures on the Columbia American History Online (CAHO) site. You can register for a free trial subscription to CAHO.

Photos: First: Ruins seen from the capitol, Columbia, S.C., 1865. Photographed by George N. Barnard. National Archives Ref. # 165-SC-53.  Second: Several generations of a family are pictured on Smith’s Plantation, South Carolina, ca. 1862. (Library of Congress)abraham-lincoln-revolutionary.jpg

Copyright © 2007 Rene Tyree

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[i] James McPherson, Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution, (New York: Oxford University Press), 11., [ii] Ibid., 14., [iii] Ibid., 16., [iv] Ibid. [v] Ibid., 17. McPherson sites studies by Roger Ransom and Richard Sutch., [vi] Ibid., 17-18., [vii] Ibid., 18., [viii] Ibid., 19., [ix] Ibid., [x] Ibid., 23.