Friday, August 30, 2013

Lost before it began

From my last post, I promised a synopsis of the Battle of Bunker Hill. Well, I apologize, but I forgot that there were a few conflicts that happened before it, and were vital to the escalation of the war. 

Many people look at the American War of Independence (AWI) with a certain degree of almost mythological inaccuracy. Many of the characters have been popularized, ingratiated or overly vilified. My goal is to tell it like it was, not embellish with patriotic rhetoric or overly critical analysis, but to call the shots as they happened.

Before we dive into the blow by blow of the conflicts I wish to set the stage by saying that in 1770, what we now call the USA was a colony of Great Britain. Big surprise right? Not really. What we take for granted in that though is exactly what it would have meant to be a colony of the UK or better said what difference the common person, you or I 250 years ago would have noticed between being a colonist of the UK or being a citizen of the US. In reality, the American colonies, by 1770, when the Boston Massacre happened, the Colonies were already almost fully autonomous. They clamored for no taxation without representation due to the Stamp act and Townsend acts that put taxes on goods that the colonists were consuming and buying already when in reality, they simply ignored the Stamp act, didn't buy the stamps and published their goods and burned down the houses of those that collected the tax on the stamps. On top of this, rather than pay the taxes levied on sugar based goods from the Townsend Acts, "Americans" simply turned to to nothing short of piracy. Rather than dock at port and offload cargo to be counted and taxed, they would offload their cargo further down shore and not have to pay the tax. The reality of the matter is that as colonists called for reform. they were paying less than 1.9% of what British citizens in London were paying (Americans paid sixpence to the British average of 25 shillings, or rather 302 pence). So really, what were they crying about?

The other myth I wish to dispel is that ALL colonists wanted independence. The truth of the matter is that the split was more 50% Patriot, 25% Loyalist and 25% Neutral. When hostilities broke out in Boston in 1775, a majority of the push for change came from citizens north and east of the Hudson. So it is with this framework in place that we descent upon Boston in the winter of 1770. 

As a British soldier you were promised sixpence a month and 3 square a day. You were promised to see the world and indeed you could. As a 17-23 year old boy from mostly poor families, the prospects otherwise were bleak to say the least. The adventure of the American colonies would have seemed like a dream. With no barracks, most of these boy-soldiers would have quartered with American families who would bed and feed the troops and often launder their clothes. For some this was a welcome opportunity for enterprise, a great symbiotic relationship, the soldiers had a place to stay and the quarters would often get paid for the extra services rendered. as summer wears on though, the British begin to wear out their welcome. Many misdeeds of the troops are published, tales of wanton and craven acts visited upon the chastity of virtuous colonial women who were powerless to stop the advances of the Lobsterback cretins. Soldiers begin to slack on their debts and cause further strife. By the time winter rolls around soldiers are sock of the ungrateful colonists and the colonists are sick of everything British. 

While on patrol a group of soldiers come across a group of angry settlers near the customs house. The mob is vicious and numbers near the hundreds. They throw insults, chunks of ice, snow and bits of rock at the vastly outnumbered patrol. They yell out things like "Go on now, you cant kill us all!" and "Fire damn ye, Fire!", the crowd willing to commit suicide by scared young redcoat. A shot is fired. The scared British discharge their weapons into the crowd and 5 are killed where they stand. The first "victims" of a war that would not start for another 5 years. 

Tune in next week for the spirited defense of the perpetrators of the smallest "massacre" to be so named. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Where'd you get your information from?

Recently, my studies have deviated from my normal field of the Napoleonic era to that of the American War for Independence. I have been reading two really great books on the subject, Hibbert's Redcoats and Rebels and W.J. Wood's Battles of the Revolutionary War. Though they may sound dry, both of these books have brought the conflict to life in a way I have never before experienced.

                                                       Lexington Green

Redcoats and Rebels is a rather unconventional take on the subject as most books tend to be from American colonial perspective,  rather patriotic volumes glorifying a war well fought. This book, however, is written from the perspective of the side that lost. Using almost exclusively English source documents, Hibbert is able to put together a view of the war through the eyes of the Lobster-backs. It brings a fresh approach to the conflict as it gives eyes to what King George and all his white wigged friends in Parliament and the military were doing while Washington and Adams had a war to win and a nation to forge.

Battles of the Revolutionary War takes a little more conventional approach, the typical "so and so moved his troops here, they did this and this happened" type of feel, though the delivery is almost Hollywood-ized in that it is presented in an almost theatric approach that makes the battles come to life.

                                                   American Minutemen

The way I am reading them helps out as well. I will read in Redcoats and Rebels until I reach a battle. Then I will read the account of the battle first in Battles of the Revolutionary War, then in R&R. using the two together sheds light on the war in a way that almost makes you want to sign the enlistment papers outside your local tavern. They both discuss the follies and strengths of the leaders involved but do so from a boots in the mud perspective gathering direct info from the diaries of soldiers that were there. This flesh and blood, smoke and powder feel make these both a must read for anyone interested in the war.

My next post will deal with the Battle of Bunker Hill...there are some pretty interesting turns of events that made this almost sure victory into the noteworthy first near defeat the British had of the War.

Purchase Redcoats and Rebels
Purchase Battles of the Revolutionary War