Image courtesy of Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Next Meeting: May 17, 2017

"General Howe and Mrs. Loring: The Myth vs. Reality Behind An Infamous Revolutionary War Affair," Sean Heuvel

Meetings are held in the Westhampton Room, Heilman Dining Center (dining hall--building 34 on the campus map), University of Richmond, at 6:00 p.m. with dinner available for purchase beginning at 5:00 p.m.

Due to the University of Richmond being out of session, we will revert to our summer schedule: The meeting will begin at 6:00 p.m. with dinner still available for purchase in the Dining Center beginning at 5:00 p.m. Please plan on joining us!

University of Richmond campus map:

Monday, January 30, 2017

Meeting Notes: January 18, 2017

"Money is the Sinews of War: George Washington, Money, and the Revolutionary War," Ed Lengel

Known as “First in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen”, George Washington was also a very savvy businessman and one of America’s first great entrepreneurs.

“These are some aspects of his life and career that are not well known,” said historian Edward G. Lengel at the January 18, 2017 meeting of the American Revolution Round Table of Richmond. “I got to thinking about Washington’s relationship with money and with business, and it opened up his thoughts and tactics as a military and a political leader.”

Lengel is the chief historian for the White House Historical Association and a former professor at the University of Virginia, where he also served as the director of the Washington Papers documentary editing project. He is also the author of the recently published book entitled First Entrepreneur: How George Washington Built His and the Nation’s Prosperity.

According to Lengel, the Washington Family had a knack for successful business practices from its earliest days in North America. John Washington, George’s great-grandfather, came to Virginia in 1656 for what he thought was a routine business trip.

“John Washington traveled to Virginia for the purpose of loading tobacco and going back to England, but a storm sank his ship in the Potomac River and he lost all of his cargo,” said Lengel. “He decided to stay and to settle down. He grew tobacco, got married and invested in land before dying at age 46”.

Lawrence Washington, John’s oldest son, inherited the bulk of his father’s estate. He died at age 38.

Augustine Washington, Lawrence’s younger son and George’s father, was a talented businessman who greatly expanded his agricultural landholdings and also invested in ironworks. His second wife and George’s mother was Mary Ball Washington.

“She often gets a bum rap by historians for being cranky and not very smart, based mainly on disagreements which she and George had later in life,” said Lengel. “However she and her husband shared the same vision. She prepared George for real life by teaching him about math, geometry, accounting and debt. George Washington always hated debt.”

Mary Ball Washington was also a good business manager according to Lengel. She managed the household staff and slaves on a daily basis, and ran her husband’s businesses whenever he traveled to England.

George Washington’s first job as a teenager was working as a surveyor. According to Lengel, it was an ideal job because he worked with prominent people such as Lord Thomas Fairfax, one of the richest people in the American Colonies.

“Not only did the Fairfax Family open all sorts of social contacts for Washington, but he gained considerable experience with land and how to reach down and look at dirt. Is it good soil or bad soil? He also learned how investing in good land could make people very prosperous,” said Lengel.

During the French & Indian War, Washington became a combat veteran---which affected his understanding of life according to Lengel.

“At the Battle of the Monongahela he leads the remaining troops in Braddock’s army off the field and past the cries of the severely wounded,” said Lengel. “It impacts him on what war does to people, to communities and to a nation. It teaches him the importance of making sure that troops get paid, get fed and get good care in general.”

On January 6, 1759 Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis, the wealthiest widow in Virginia.

“It’s preposterous to say that Washington married her simply for her money,” said Lengel. “Their marriage was a partnership. She chose him as much as he chose her.” 

George and Martha Washington settled into their Mount Vernon home where he made a business decision that would have a major impact on the rest of his life. He switched from growing mainly tobacco to growing wheat.

Under the British/Colonial system of trade, tobacco farmers got paid by British merchants in the form of credits toward the purchase of British goods. They did not receive hard currency for their tobacco sales, which often increased Colonial debt. Wheat was not subject to these trade regulations. Farmers could sell their wheat by themselves domestically or sell overseas via British and/or American merchants. Wheat was also easier on the soil and much less labor-intensive, which allowed Washington’s surplus staff and slaves to make the transition into new jobs requiring higher skills than tobacco farming.

As tensions increased between the American Colonies and Great Britain, Washington strongly supported economic protest measures such as a boycott of British goods in order to free America from the British/Colonial debt and credit system. For Washington, independence from Great Britain was primarily about economic freedom rather than political freedom. He viewed economic freedom as a means to allow Americans to strive toward long-term prosperity, both in terms of agriculture and industry.

During the American Revolution, Washington favored a strong continental army over the use of militia units. But why? According to Lengel, Washington understood what war meant as a result of his own experiences during the French & Indian War.

“Civilians are full of words and fine phrases about the will to win, and about fighting for homes and families,” said Lengel. “Washington looked at war from the standpoint of a veteran. He knew that money was the sinews of war, and how war can divide people. War creates hardships and suffering, and therefore it requires innovation, production, organization and a strong government to keep people united.”

According to Lengel, Washington realized that people who felt committed to the American Cause might one day give up the Cause if their families were starving. In fact Lengel said this situation came close several times during the war. 

Washington tried to keep American civilians on the side of his army by punishing any soldiers who plundered them, and by purchasing goods from civilians at local markets rather than seizing their goods. Washington also deferred to civilian authority via the Continental Congress and did his best to keep the legislature informed on his army’s operations. He understood the importance of keeping civilians on his side as an extension of the war effort.

After the war Washington saw the weakness in the Articles of Confederation and the danger in the virtual elimination of a national army and navy. He also recognized the importance of innovation during the Industrial Revolution and how it helped the world. Since the British were generally regarded as the world’s leading innovators during this time period, Washington recognized the need for America to emulate them.

“When Washington became president, he said his first and only aim was to establish the national prosperity,” said Lengel. “He wasn’t a Hamilton puppet. Washington had an economic strategy to establish national credit, a stable currency and a level playing field to protect commerce.”

Part of Washington’s economic strategy was maintaining peace with other countries. Despite cries from prominent Americans for war with Great Britain over the issue of the impressment of American sailors, Washington’s administration negotiated the Jay Treaty in 1795 which reduced tensions between the two countries and led to increased trade between them.

“Washington had wisdom and a deep understanding of America---and what we could become,” summarized Lengel.  

Edward G. Lengel has authored several books, primarily on the American Revolution and World War I time periods. His works include the following:

1. General George Washington: A Military Life

2. Inventing George Washington: America’s Founder in Myth and Memory

3. Thunder and Flames: Americans in the Crucible of Combat, 1917-1918

4. The New Nation: The Creation of the United States in Paintings and Eyewitness Accounts (co-author)

5. To Conquer Hell: The Meuse-Argonne, 1918

6. The Irish through British Eyes: Perceptions of Ireland in the Famine Era 

Prior to the speaker’s presentation the American Revolution Round Table of Richmond discussed the following topics:

1. Treasurer Art Ritter reported that the ARRT-Richmond treasury did very well in 2016 and is growing, thanks to a record-number of members and good participation by members and guests during the ARRT raffles held at each meeting.

2. President Bill Welsch noted that the Book Award Committee and the Preservation Committee are looking for suggestions as to any books which the Book Award Committee should consider for the 2017 award, and for any organizations which the Preservation Committee should consider as the 2017 preservation partner. Suggestions can be submitted to Book Award Chairman Mark Lender, Preservation Chairman Bert Dunkerly or President Welsch.

3. Several other announcements were made by members and guests regarding upcoming classes, conferences and events that relate to the American Revolution. Please read about these activities elsewhere on the ARRT-Richmond website.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Next Meeting: March 15, 2017

"Officer Resignations in the Continental Army: General Washington's Constant Headache," Bill Ferrarro

Meetings are held in the Westhampton Room, Heilman Dining Center (dining hall--building 34 on the campus map), University of Richmond, at 6:30 p.m. with dinner available for purchase beginning at 5:30 p.m. It is not necessary that you purchase dinner in order to attend the meeting.

University of Richmond campus map:

Revolutionary War Artifacts Crop Up in Gloucester Point Dig

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Internet Links of Interest

Two new links have been added to the "Links" tab above:

Johannes Schwalm Historical Association:
JSHA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to researching those German auxiliary troops (generically called Hessian) who remained in America after the Revolutionary War, became loyal citizens, made cultural contributions and were the progenitors of any thousands of Americans living today.

The George Washington American Atlas, Yale University Library

2016 Harry M. Ward American Revolution Round Table of Richmond Book Award Winner

The 2016 winner of our annual book award is:

Claudio Saunt, West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776 (New York: W.W. Norton, 2014).

Dr. Claudio Saunt is the Richard Russell Professor of History at the University of Georgia. In West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776, he has given us a very different perspective on the year of Independence. While he ties his narrative to events in the East—the focus of most historians of the Revolution—his primary concern is with developments far to the west. Saunt pictures a North America in a state of dramatic and often violent change. In 1776, as American rebels were seceding from the British Empire, the Russians were exploring Alaska, the Spanish were settling San Francisco, and the Lakota Sioux first entered the Black Hills in modern South Dakota. On the California coast near San Diego the Kumeyaay Indians fought their own war of independence from the Spanish. Professor Saunt’s book challenges us to see the Revolutionary period through a new and fascinating lens. Compellingly written and based on deep and interesting research, West of the Revolution belongs on the book shelves of everyone interested in America’s formative years.

Honorable Mentions:
John Beakes, Otho Holland Williams in the American Revolution (Mount Pleasant, SC: Nautical & Aviation Publishing Co. of America, 2015).

Ethan A. Schmidt, Native Americans in the American Revolution: How the War Divided, Devastated, and Transformed the Early American Indian World (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2014).

Robert M. Owens, Red Dreams, White Nightmares:  Pan-Indian Alliances in the Anglo-American Mind, 1763-1815 (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2015).

Derek W. Beck, Igniting the American Revolution, 1773-1775 (Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2015).

Marla Miller, Rebecca Dickinson: Independence for a New England Woman (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2014).

Ken Miller, Dangerous Guests: Enemy Captives and Revolutionary Communities during the War for Independence (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014).

Meeting Notes: November 16, 2016

"Fatal Sunday: George Washington, the Monmouth Campaign, and the Politics of Battle," Mark Lender

Fought on a June 1778 day when temperatures climbed above 95 degrees, the Battle of Monmouth was fought on two fronts---both the military one and the political one.

“It was a hard fought tactical draw,” said historian Mark Edward Lender at the November 16, 2016 meeting of the American Revolution Round Table of Richmond. “From a tactical draw came a political victory, and George Washington became an icon.”

Just a few months earlier Washington was looking like anything but an icon. In fact his ability to maintain command of the Continental army was very much at stake.

During the latter months of 1777, Washington’s army lost the battles of Brandywine Creek, Germantown and several smaller battles that led to the American evacuation of Philadelphia, the new nation’s capital. While Sir William Howe’s British army occupied Philadelphia during the Winter of 1777-78, Washington’s army endured the hard winter and shortages of food and other supplies at Valley Forge. Troop morale dropped, and an increasing number of American enlisted men and their officers began to question the leadership skills of their commander-in-chief.

In what historians today call the Conway Cabal, several American generals plotted with certain members of the Continental Congress to get Washington removed as commander-in-chief and replaced by Horatio Gates, the commander of the American army that won the Battle of Saratoga and forced the surrender of the British army under the command of John Burgoyne. The three American generals who were primarily behind the “cabal” were Thomas Conway, Thomas Mifflin and Horatio Gates.

“Mifflin was a dangerous man as far as Washington was concerned because he had good connections,” said Lender. “Gates definitely wanted Washington’s job after Saratoga when he got the public credit for winning the battle at a time when the country needed some good news.”

When word of the “cabal” leaked out and got back to Washington, he publicly confronted his critics. This caused them to back away temporarily, at least until after the next military campaign.

Washington wasn’t the only commanding general in the Philadelphia area with serious army problems. Sir Henry Clinton, the newly appointed commander of the British army occupying Philadelphia was disgusted with his new job and his bosses in London. 

As a result of France’s entry into the war on the side of the Americans, the British government ordered Clinton to evacuate Philadelphia and to move his army back to New York City where a significant number of his troops would board ships bound for Florida and the West Indies. Since the British navy didn’t have enough ships to transport Clinton’s army to New York City, his army would need to march across New Jersey to get there.

On June 18, 1778 the British completed their evacuation of Philadelphia with most of Clinton’s army crossing the Delaware River and occupying Haddonfield, NJ. Commanding Clinton’s first division was Charles Cornwallis. Commanding the second division and protecting the baggage train was Wilhelm von Knyphausen. 

Wherever possible the British army took two roads on their march toward New York City because their army stretched for 12 miles. In response to the British march through New Jersey, Governor William Livingston called out approximately 2,000 New Jersey militia under the command of Philemon Dickinson. 

“Think about it. What was the reputation of militia at this point during the war? It wasn’t very good. However, the New Jersey militia had become battle-hardened and had two years of experience. They were an entirely different animal from two years earlier,” said Lender. 

The New Jersey militia’s job was to delay the British army and to skirmish with them. Meanwhile Washington moved his army from Valley Forge and across the Delaware River to Baptist Meeting House, known today as Hopewell, NJ. 

After holding a council of war with his senior subordinates Washington decided to hit the British hard but not to risk the entire Continental army in a general engagement. He selected approximately 4,000 troops to carry out this special assignment under the commands of Charles Scott and Anthony Wayne, and the overall command of Charles Lee. 

Lee was Washington’s second-in-command but the two men weren’t close to each other and shared very different viewpoints on how to fight the war. Lee had returned to the American army only a few weeks earlier after spending 18 months as a prisoner-of-war. 

“Charles Lee had the propensity to shoot himself in the foot. He was similar to Jackie Gleason in ‘The Honeymooners’---he had a big mouth,” joked Lender. 

When Washington offered Lee the command of this special force, he declined the offer because he didn’t feel it was a worthwhile command for an officer of his rank (major general). Washington then turned to the Marquis de Lafayette who eagerly accepted.

“Lafayette was only 19 years old,” said Lender, “and as a tactical commander he had a lot of growing up at this time.”

Shortly after Lafayette accepted the special command Lee changed his mind and agreed to lead the American vanguard against the British rearguard. On the night of June 27 Washington told Lee to use his discretion to land a blow against the British but not to take any undue risks with his troops. On the morning of June 28, 1778 Lee’s vanguard caught up with a small British force near Monmouth Courthouse.

“Lee had a difficult assignment,” said Lender. “Since he had just returned to the American army after spending 18 months as a British prisoner, he didn’t know his subordinates very well. In addition he didn’t know the terrain where he was going to fight, and he didn’t know what the British were doing. Were they retreating or staying put? The truth was that some British troops were retreating and some were defending.”

Lee ordered Anthony Wayne’s troops forward to hit the retreating British forces lightly for the purpose of getting them to stand and fight. Meanwhile Lee ordered Lafayette to circle around the British flank and hit these British troops from the rear. 

“Wayne hit the British a little bit harder than he intended,” said Lender. “As a result these British troops retreated back to Cornwallis’ first division, which turned around and advanced toward the Americans. Instead of 800 versus 2,000 troops, it was more like 6,000-8,000 British troops who were now bearing down on the Americans.”

The American attack ground to a halt. Some of the units started falling back without any orders issued by Lee. 

“Lee doesn’t know what to do,” said Lender. “His troops are retreating but in good order.”

A local militia officer and farmer named Peter Wikoff rode up to Lee and offered his assistance, and where the Americans might form a defensible line. While Lee was maneuvering his retreating units toward this new defensible position, Washington rode up to Lee. 

At first Lee expected Washington to congratulate him for conducting an orderly retreat. Instead Washington was visibly angry with Lee and couldn’t understand why Lee’s troops were retreating instead of attacking the British. Contrary to what many historians have written over the years, Washington did not relieve Lee on the field. 

“Nobody knows exactly what Washington said to Lee. Lafayette claimed that Washington called Lee ‘a damn poltroon’ but Lafayette made this claim 46 years after the battle. Scott claimed that Washington ‘swore on that day until the leaves shook on the trees,’ but Scott must have possessed incredible hearing because he was over a half mile away when Washington and Lee met each other,” quipped Lender.

Soon after the encounter Washington rode forward and realized that the British were advancing in large numbers. He gave Lee a choice. Lee could either stay in command of the retreated forces along the new defensible line, or he could ride back to the main American army and bring up these troops. Lee chose to command the new defensible line, which allowed Washington to ride back and deploy the main army and artillery on high ground called Perrine’s Ridge.

Meanwhile the British troops continued their advance but got ambushed by a flank attack from Anthony Wayne’s troops that were located in a wooded area called Point of Woods. British doctrine said that if ambushed, British troops were to turn and attack. The British did but got disorganized. Clinton and Cornwallis kept attacking with unorganized troops but the new American defensive line on high ground inflicted heavy cannon fire on some of Great Britain’s top guards and grenadiers.

“During the fight, Clinton did something really stupid,” said Lender. “He tried to lead from the front and nearly got shot before a British soldier slashed an American who was trying to shoot Clinton.“ 

At approximately 1:45 p.m. the British infantry quit attacking. Then their own artillery opened fire, and for the next two hours both the British and American artillery fired at each other in what historians now call the Great Cannonade. While both sides made a great deal of noise, they inflicted few casualties.

It was during the Great Cannonade that the Legend of Molly Pitcher was born. Most likely there were two women on the battlefield at this time and one of them was probably Mary Hays, who served next to her husband on a gun crew. Reports vary but most likely she served water to her gun crew on this extremely hot day (thus the “Pitcher” name), or carried ammunition from the box to the loader. There are also accounts of a woman serving as a rammer on a gun crew but this is less likely true. 

After the Great Cannonade some American troops and artillery under the command of Nathanael Greene fired into the British left flank from a strategic position called Combs Hill. Taking heavy casualties, the British pulled back their troops late in the afternoon and resumed their march toward New York City. They left behind their seriously wounded soldiers. Washington sent small units of troops to shadow the British and to harass them. 

According to Lender, the Americans suffered approximately 500 killed or wounded at Monmouth while the British casualties were much higher at approximately 2,000 troops killed, wounded or deserted. As a result of the record heat on the day of this battle, more soldiers died from heat exhaustion than combat.

“The Battle of Monmouth was over but there was a political end game. Charles Lee had to go,” said Lender.

Two days after the battle Lee wrote a letter to Washington and demanded an apology for the way Washington treated Lee when they first met during the middle of the battle. Rather than apologize, Washington offered Lee an official inquiry into Lee’s conduct during the battle. Instead Lee asked for a full court-martial in order to clear his name. Washington promptly agreed and had Lee placed under arrest.

During this time several of Washington’s most loyal subordinates, including Alexander Hamilton and John Laurens, began a massive letter-writing campaign where they “spun” the Battle of Monmouth into a great victory, and praised most of the senior American officers other than Charles Lee. Letters of this nature were sent to very influential Americans, such as Henry Laurens who was John Laurens’ father and also president of the Continental Congress.

At the court-martial the judges were all good friends of Washington’s. They found Lee guilty of disobeying orders to attack on the morning of June 28, making an unnecessary and disorderly retreat in the face of the enemy and disrespecting the commander-in-chief for what he wrote to Washington shortly after the battle. Lee was officially suspended from the army for one year but he never returned.

“The charges of disobeying orders to attack and ordering an unnecessary and disorderly retreat were ridiculous but Lee was definitely guilty of insubordination”, said Lender.

Mark Edward Lender is the co-author along with Garry Wheeler Stone of the new book entitled Fatal Sunday: George Washington, the Monmouth Campaign, and the Politics of Battle. He is also a professor emeritus of history at Kean University in Union, NJ and the co-author of A Respectable Army: The Military Origins of the Republic and Citizen Soldier: The Revolutionary War Journal of Joseph Bloomfield. Lender is also a member of the American Revolution Round Table of Richmond and serves as chairman of the organization’s annual book award committee.

Prior to the speaker’s presentation the American Revolution Round Table of Richmond discussed the following topics: 

1. The membership voted unanimously to support two board recommendations to rename the Round Table’s annual book award after the late Harry M. Ward, and to donate $100 toward the University of Richmond’s Harry Ward Scholarship in History. Dr. Ward was a founding member of ARRT-Richmond and served as its senior advisor for many years.

2. President Bill Welsch called the membership's attention to an article that appeared in the Fall 2016 edition of "Hallowed Ground," the quarterly magazine of the Civil War Trust and Campaign 1776. The article entitled "Burgeoning Partnerships" cites the American Revolution Round Table of Richmond for being the first American Revolution Round Table in the nation to make a donation to Campaign 1776 and its efforts to preserve the nation’s American Revolution and War of 1812 battlefields. 

3. Mark Lender, chairman of the Round Table’s annual book award committee, announced that the winner of the 2016 book award is Claudio Saunt’s West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776

4. Walt Pulliam presided over the election of ARRT-Richmond officers for the 2017-18 term. He read the list of nominees received so far, one person for each office. (See the ARRT-Richmond website for the complete list.) Pulliam then called for additional nominations from the floor and when no further nominations were made, he called for a vote. The membership unanimously approved the proposed nominees for the 2017-18 term. 

--Bill Seward