Tag Archives: American Revolution

Eyes of a Soldier

The mythology surrounding Lexington and Concord often obscure the history… of the events of April 19, 1775.  General Thomas Gage tried to put the day’s events into perspective for his anxious superiors across the Atlantic.  Gage knew too well that this was not going to be a suppression of “farmers with pitchforks.”

every hill, fence, and house

“…a continual skirmish for the space of 15 miles, receiving fire from every hill, fence, house, barn, etc.. the whole country was assembled in arms with surprising expedition, and several thousand are now assembled about this town threatening to attack…and we are very busy making preparations to oppose them.”   Gage to Earl of Dartmouth, April 1775

 

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Four Decades of Reading

Ageing leads to reflection… 42 years have passed and reflection reveals a life devoted to the study of history.  A career in education has shown how rare academic commitment can be…. all I have ever wanted to do is history.  These books inspired, taught, and frustrated me along the journey. ..

Civil War chess master

Civil War chess master

  • American Heritage History of the Civil War-Narrative by Bruce Catton.  Little more than a coffee table dust collector in most homes, the copy in my parents’ home was well worn.  Richly illustrated with historic photos and informative maps, it was the perfect introductory course in Civil War studies.  Luckily, video game consoles weren’t available during the early days spent reading Catton’s crystal clear prose.
  • Band of Brothers- by Stephen Ambrose.  WW2 stories from my Grandfather inspired me to learn more about the greatest generation.  Ambrose showed me the power of primary sources- there are hundreds utilized in this harrowing tale of Easy Company’s combat experience.  All of the vitriol aimed at Ambrose (much of it jealousy) causes us to forget what a great storyteller he was.
Uncle Steve and Maj. Dick Winters

Uncle Steve and Maj. Dick Winters

  • Red, White, and Black- by Gary Nash.  The book that deconstructed the mediocre history education I received in high school, Nash’s study opened my eyes to New Left historiography.  The colonization of North America was more complicated than Pilgrims, John Smith, and Ponce Deleon; Nash’s vision challenges the cereal box standard that passes for history in many high schools.
  •   The Killer Angels- by Michael Shaara.  Historical fiction at its very best, Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel about the battle of Gettysburg is steeped in history.  Shaara exposes us to the battle through the eyes of its key participants, a riveting format often imitated, but never equaled.  Growing up just an hour from the battlefield, this novel helped bring it to life better than any audio tour.
  • Lincoln’s Virtues-by William Lee Miller.  An “ethical biography” of our greatest President, Miller departs from the typical Lincoln canon.  Rather than recounting Lincoln’s deeds, Miller attempts to explain the actions by examining the history of his belief structure.  This book is essential in understanding the man behind the myths.
  • The Radicalism of the American Revolution- by Gordon Wood.  Spend enough time in college history courses and you’ll get the impression that the American Revolution was stale, conservative, and not all that revolutionary.  Wood sets the record straight in a compelling study that makes a brilliant counter to the anti-Americanism of Howard Zinn.  The work of Wood is so much more valuable than a passing quip by Matt Damon in “Good Will Hunting.”
Don't believe anything Matt Damon says

Don’t believe anything Matt Damon says

  • Gettysburg: The Second Day- by Harry Pfanz.  Richly detailed tactical study of the crucial day at the battle of Gettysburg that is essential reading to students of the battle.  Pfanz does more than explain the complicated troop movements; he brings the battle to life with the memories of the men who were there.  I spent many a Summer afternoon tramping the field with a well worn copy of Pfanz’s masterpiece in my hands.
  • The American Mind- by Henry Steele Commager.  Trying to explain the central American consciousness seemed an impossible task, but Commager’s signature study managed to frustrate a generation of history students.  He should be admired for valuing stories above statistics, personalities over presumption, and a firm belief in American exceptionalism.

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Heart of the Matter

At the heart of historical revisionism is distrust… a lack of faith in previous interpretations of the historical record.  This blog has bitterly observed the crass consumerism and intellectual vanity that often drive outlandish revisions in our history.  But, a closer examination reveals the true divide between revisionist and traditionalist- trust.

Maybe there's hope

Maybe there’s hope

As historians rush to laud Alan Taylor’s new revisionof the American Revolutionary movement, the distrust is laid bare.  If revisionist historians refuse to come out and proclaim all previous work wrong, then there must be a lack of trust.  Was Gordon Wood trying to deceive us when explaining how radical our Revolution was?  Did Dumas Malone wish to hide Jefferson’s feelings on slavery and freedom?  Was Edmund Morgan deliberately distorting history when explaining racial diversity in Colonial Virginia?  All revisionists will say is that works like Taylor’s are now “the standards.”   To hell with what came before…

Unite us, David

Unite us, David

There is no mass historical conspiracy to disregard… races or classes of people.  Gordon Wood should be read in first year graduate courses and beyond.  In their zeal to legitimize controversial interpretations, revisionists like Taylor and Annette Gordon-Reed propagate the distrust of these noteworthy predecessors.

 

 

 

 

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On Experimentation

Friends and rivals

Friends and rivals

The American experience has always been built on experimentation… Our very existence doubted by most of the world, the optimism of Thomas Jefferson became essential to the survival of our republican experiment.

 

As the election of 1796 loomed… the friendship between Jefferson and John Adams waned.  Jefferson reminded his friend of their experiment:

picture-2

“I am aware of the objection to this, that the office becoming more important may bring on serious discord in elections. In our country I think it will be long first; not within our day; and we may safely trust to the wisdom of our successors the remedies of the evil to arise in theirs. Both experiments however are now fairly committed, and the result will be seen. Never was a finer canvas presented to work on than our countrymen…. This I hope will be the age of experiments in government, and that their basis will be founded on principles of honesty, not of mere force….If ever the morals of a people could be made the basis of their own government, it is our case.”   Jefferson to Adams, February 28 1796

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Simply Awful History Movies Part 2

Early in 2000, the Smithsonian Museum of American History announcedit would assist in the production of an epic film about the American Revolution starring Mel Gibson.  Historians, history buffs, and living historians were further enticed by the original script detailing the exploits of “Swamp Fox” Francis Marion.  Disappointment with “The Patriot” started early, as producers ordered a substantial rewrite of the script after researching the complex life of Marion.  Apparently, a slave-owning Indian fighter cannot be heroic in a major Hollywood production.  Gibson instead portrays an anachronism- a South Carolina plantation owner who allows free blacks to work his land; a rebel torn between his family and the American cause.

Cute kids mask bad movie

Cute kids mask bad movie

It’s as if a group of impressionable, idealistic college sophomores… sat down and scripted the American Revolution “as it should have been.”  Young women stand up and chastise their elders in town meetings, slaves struggle for freedom in the deepest parts of South Carolina, and the evil imperialist British forces commit mass murder similar to the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre of 1944.  There’s plenty of speechifying, Gibson’s slow boiling, hunky Heath Ledger, and adorable children- but the film is woefully short on history.  Couldn’t the Smithsonian have advised on more than just costuming?  Gibson’s rage is incapable of overwhelming such a careless script  (the same script that compares British soldiers to Nazis.)  The Hollywood community doesn’t have the courage to make a film about the complexities of American history.  We are either preached to with politically correct drivel like “Dances with Wolves,” or insulted with comic-book nonsense like this monstrosity.

1776 or 1944?

1776 or 1944?

 

 

 

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Most Unfortunate Demise

The circumstances surrounding the death of George Washington… confuse and mislead scholars and novices alike.  Misinformation is purported as fact and sold to the general public, only confusing the matter further.  Washington died of a sore throat– illustrates the limitations of 18th century medicine and how his death could have been prevented.  Washington was bled to death by his doctors– implies that common medical practices in 1799(five pints were taken)  were responsible and that his death would have been prevented by modern medicine.  Lost in all the speculation is the ailment that actually killed Washington.

 

In 1997, Dr. W. McKenzie Wallenborn of the University of Virginia School of Medicine performed an analysis of Washington’s symptoms and the course of his illness.  His results show that far from a simple sore throat or lamentable bleeding, Washington’s demise was caused by an acute infection his doctors were ill-equipped to handle.  He observed:

More than a sore throat

More than a sore throat

“I think that it is very reasonable and possible to make a determination of the disease process that was the cause of George Washington’s death. He had acute epiglottitis (supraglottitis) which is a severe, rapidly progressing infection of the epiglottis and surrounding tissues that may be quickly fatal because of sudden respiratory (airway) obstruction by the inflamed structures.”

Too much blood James!

Too much blood James!

An affliction that can be fatal by modern standards… Washington’s team of physicians: Dr. James Craik, Dr. Elisha Cullen Dick, an Dr. Gustavus Richard Brown, had little or any options in treating their esteemed friend.

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Heart of the Matter

At the heart of historical revisionism is distrust… a lack of faith in previous interpretations of the historical record.  This blog has bitterly observed the crass consumerism and intellectual vanity that often drive outlandish revisions in our history.  But, a closer examination reveals the true divide between revisionist and traditionalist- trust.

Maybe there's hope

Maybe there’s hope

As historians rush to laud Alan Taylor’s new revisionof the American Revolutionary movement, the distrust is laid bare.  If revisionist historians refuse to come out and proclaim all previous work wrong, then there must be a lack of trust.  Was Gordon Wood trying to deceive us when explaining how radical our Revolution was?  Did Dumas Malone wish to hide Jefferson’s feelings on slavery and freedom?  Was Edmund Morgan deliberately distorting history when explaining racial diversity in Colonial Virginia?  All revisionists will say is that works like Taylor’s are now “the standards.”   To hell with what came before…

Unite us, David

Unite us, David

There is no mass historical conspiracy to disregard… races or classes of people.  Gordon Wood should be read in first year graduate courses and beyond.  In their zeal to legitimize controversial interpretations, revisionists like Taylor and Annette Gordon-Reed propagate the distrust of these noteworthy predecessors.

 

 

 

 

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