Saturday, February 20, 2010
The American Revolution is a remarkable conflict to study, for several reasons. It can be argued that the war should never have been fought; that the British Army should have won hands down; and that once won, the young United States should have failed as a political enterprise and rejoined the British Crown within it's first ten years.
But independence WAS declared, the war WAS fought and won by a handful of poorly trained and equipped amateurs up against the most professional army of the day, and the sentiments that led to the Revolution evolved into the most successful and enduring political philosophy ever devised; as expressed in the the Federalist and anti-Federalist Papers, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address.
I have often wondered about what the American Revolution was like from the British point of view. Specifically; the point of view of the front-line British soldier, far from home fighting people who looked like him, spoke like him, for all intents and purposes WERE him, in a fantastic land that resembled Europe save for the vast, untamed wilderness.
How did THIS . . .
. . . ever defeat . . .
. . . . . . THIS?
Now, a remarkable set of letters have surfaced that shed light on the British point of view during the American War of Independence. The papers were the property of the Strachey family in Britain for about two centuries, later sold to the US newspaperman James Copley, who collected documents relating to American history.
According to the documents, the British military began to despair of victory almost as soon as the conflict began in 1775. A letter from Gen John Burgoyne, dated 25 June 1775 in Boston, gives an early assessment of how bad things looked:
"Our prospects are gloomy," he told an unidentified lord in a letter written after the first two battles of the campaign in Massachusetts – a humiliating defeat to a local band of militiamen followed by a victory but with heavy losses at Bunker Hill.
He describes the British position as "a crisis that my little reading in history cannot parallel," and predicts that the Crown would only be able to subdue the rebellion with the help of German or Russian allies.
"Such a pittance of troops as Great Britain and Ireland can supply will only serve to protract the war, to incur fruitless expense and insure disappointment," he said.
The Burgoyne letter is part of the collection of papers and correspondence of Sir Henry Strachey, chief aide to the Howe brothers who led the British war effort. Strachey later held a similar role at the Paris peace negotiations.
In March 1777, Sir Henry writes that the American revolutionaries are much more "obstinate" than realized by the "short-sighted folks in England".
A sentiment evidenced by the Rattlesnake flag, the first American naval jack flown:
A note to my Commonwealth readers: Here at Blog STORMBRINGER we love Britain and all things British. The Revolution was a terrible conflict that caused much tragedy and suffering, but it produced what we have today and for that I am thankful. I am also truly thankful that America was a product of Britain, versus France or Spain, and I celebrate our two countries special relationship.
When I served alongside the British Army, the "sqaudees" of the Duke of Edinburgh's Royal Regiment (Berkshire and Wiltshire) explained to me that the red triangle on their beret flashes represented the white cap feathers their predecessors of the famed "Berks and Wilts" regiment dipped into Brandywine Creek, which flowed red with American blood following Washington's defeat there in September of 1777.
I told them two things: "Yeah, well who won in the long run?" and "Thank God we were YOUR colony, and not the French."