As expected, Spain’s reaction to the unsanctioned Catalan vote for independence has been to rush to exert central authority and seems to be moving to repudiate the independence vote by removing the seditious government and holding new elections. Catalonia’s leaders, having successfully persuaded much of their state to throw in with their ideas has, in doing so, undemocratically excluded the rest of Spain from a crucial national decision, and have endangered the autonomy the Catalan people have enjoyed up to this point. Such is the risks entwined with the pursuit of liberty. Bear in mind, no matter what your politics today, that politically Catalonia was already part of the Crown of Aragon when Ferdinand married Isabella of Castile in 1469, the act that essentially unified Spain. Continue reading
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Osprey Publishing (27 July 2017)
One of the big questions about the American Revolution is; how did the British lose when they won most of the battles? Richard Holmes pondered this briefly in one of his introductions, but came to no determination. But the truth is that the entire accepted story of the American War of Independence has yet to be rescued from the realm of myth and legend. And the trail to answering how the British lost the United States leads us to consider the Generals and politicians responsible.
General Howe is one of the most interesting. He remains a great anomaly in the record. Despite being the General to come closest to defeating Washington, and arguably never being defeated in a major engagement, he can be cited more than even Burgoyne, Clinton and Cornwallis as perhaps the man who lost the British Colonies in America.
This is the first book I have seen that sets out to examine his record in America. Utilising highly original sources, connected to the enquiry of 1778, David Smith takes Howe’s own words in his defence and excavates the truth from them. What is revealed is a story of a commander who should have been the man to defeat the American Rebels, but who through a number of personal flaws and a ridiculous expectation of a government giving orders from 3,000 miles away, essentially made it possible for the Republic of the United States to survive its most critical years.
This is a scrupulously fair book in my opinion. It defends Howe were he should be defended (the Battle of Long Island) and criticises were there is cause (His endless diffidence, his curious laxity and his cliquey approach to command). Using famous and rare excerpts from British and Hessian Officers we also get a fresh glimpse at the engagements of 1775-77.
What I found interesting in reading this book was the relative qualifications of the commander’s, on both sides. Here we have a war, prosecuted from London by a failed and disgraced soldier (Lord Germain), who evinced an unrealistic and blinkered expectation of reducing America to its pre 1750 state, in which nothing short of total victory without any concessions was acceptable. You have a field commander who is supposed to bring this about who is firstly a Whig, and secondly who has never commanded anything more than a battalion in action, seconded by a similarly quailed, though more robust second in command, thirded by a seperate commander in Canada, leaving us to conclude that in a shocking twist, the shamed Gentleman General Burgoyne, derided as more playwright than soldier, was probably the most experienced field commander in North America after Gage and Carleton. We need not examine that as of 1775, George Washington had commanded nothing larger than a battalion either, and got himself royally beaten doing so to boot.
With all of this illustrated, the adroit observations continue to tumble. The utter collapse of any cohesive strategy, the realisation that as more time went by, the Rebels, even with numerous tactical defeats could expect to ask for more and more concessions at a treaty table. Indeed even had Britain crushed the rebellion in 1776, the only year they (with hindsight) realistically came close to doing so, it is likely that it would not have eneded the American question, for the box once opened cannot easily be shut… at least notwithout breaking the box.
Whispers Across the Atlantick is an excellent book, the title of which nicely sums up the folly of Britain’s attempt to control the war from London. Among other things it’s also interesting to read of the political consequences for Howe and other commanders, being as each chapter begins with an excerpt from Howe’s defence before a court of enquiry. David Smith has written an excellent and refreshingly unbaiased account of Sir William Howe’s service in America, and its consequences, which adds a layer of depth to this enigmatic general that you rarely see in histories of the war.
As part of his master plan for capturing the Hudson Valley General Burgoyne detached General Barry St Leger to invade the Mohawk Valley to divert American resources. To secure this natural avenue, St Leger’s expedition aimed to capture Fort Stanwix (Renamed Schuyler by the Americans) which guarded the portage road between Wood Creek and the Mohawk River. He was joined by Sir John Johnson and his step Uncle Joseph Brant with 1,000 Iroquois and his own regiment of loyalists (Royal New York). Thinking it a ruin guarded by 60 men, when in fact it was newly rebuilt and had a Garrison of 550 men, Brant’s force advanced through Wood Creek as an advance guard to cut the fort off. Moving fast despite obstacles, terrain and enemy troops they managed a pace of 10 miles a day but arrived just too late to stop a supply column getting inside the Fort on August 2nd. Three days later on the 5th as St Leger was busy carving a supply road through the forest, building earthworks and having his sharpshooters start picking off stray colonials when he heard that a relief force, which had left Fort Dayton on the 4th would be upon him the next day. Continue reading
The foundations of the success of the “Great League of Peace and Power” were centred on a unified vision of cooperation and neutrality. From the early days until the mid 18th century the Haudenosaunee, proved adept in using their network of alliances to expand their territory and influence their neighbours.
When the Europeans had grown stronger. It had become obvious to the leaders of the League that they must not allow themselves to get embroiled in matters of no concern to them. Therefore they retained their powerful position and remained aloof while the French and British manoeuvred to gain influence over them.
As long as this status quo continued it seemed as if the Iroquois might survive as a nation, they were still expanding, and European trade was profitable. The “French and Indian War” changed everything. With the two great foreign powers locked in a death struggle for control of America, the Iroquois were inevitably drawn into the conflict. In this war they chose the winning side, mostly because the Mohawks respected William Johnson.
After the war and Pontiac’s failed uprising, the League tried to go back to its former course. However their strong policy of neutrality was gone, and they now had bonds of alliance and obligations to Britain, meaning that if there was another war they would get sucked into it again. Between 1758 and 1770 things went along peacefully for the Haudenosaunee. Men hunted and traded and went on raids, women farmed, oversaw things in the longhouse and had babies, winter turned to spring. Everything seemed normal, even if there was a war, there was no reason to think it would change anything. The British had beaten the French, and no one imagined another war on that scale occurring again. Few could have realised what was to come. Joseph Brant in many ways encapsulates the story of the Iroquois during this time. A legendary figure, still labouring under the stigma of Patriot propaganda, he was central to the Indian story of the American Revolution. For more on the rise of the Iroqouis please read my blogs on the subject by following the links above.
What happened after the Peacmakers and how the Iroquois got the nickname the Romans of the North. Continue reading