TURN: Episode 2, “Who By Fire”

Many twists and turns during this episode (some admittedly hard to follow with all that whispering). I will focus on one particular storyline for this post however.

Simcoe

Simcoe

The British soldier Simcoe finds himself and American prisoner after a failed ambush tipped off by Woodhull. The American captors,  Brewster and Tallmadge, recognize that Simcoe’s low status on the British totem pole will gain them very little actionable intelligence. However Simcoe’s Imperialist taunts quickly set off the thin skinned Americans. In no time, we find ourselves witnessing an ‘enhanced interrogation’ session that almost ends in an execution if not for the timely entrance of  American higher command. Tallmadge is reprimanded for his treatment of a British prisoner and subsequently threatened with court martial.

Caleb Brewster and Ben Tallmadge

Caleb Brewster and Ben Tallmadge

Does Simcoe bring this fate upon himself? One is left unconvinced. Brewster and Tallmadge take a noticeable step down in the ranks of Patriot heroes. Lives are at stake as in any war, but there remains nothing to be gained from this scene other than perhaps a lightly veiled commentary on modern interrogation.  Perhaps there was more at stake in the encounter that the series was letting on. We may never know why sending Simcoe off to a prison camp apparently was not an option.

Gentlemanly codes of conduct frowned on torture and harsh treatment of officers during the 18th century. The real harsh treatment fell upon enlisted men and civilians who were shipped off to prison camps or prison barges to suffer starvation and disease.

 
Washington insisted on fair and honorable treatment of prisoners. Even the dreaded Hessians were treated humanely. This was a policy that served he and the American cause well. Washington’s status of a man of honor grew as people realized he would not discard the principles of the Revolution in order to win the war.

These principles seem to be the same ones that saved our villain Simcoe. One certainly suspects he will be around much longer to prove to us that killing him would of been the better option. This is a moral conundrum that has been touched upon in movies like Saving Private Ryan. These situations (scripted or not) seem to test our faith in our principles and basic human dignity during a time of war.

TURN

Tags

,

turnThis will be the first in a series of observations and opinions on AMC’s spy thriller TURN. I will touch on some plot elements, but will avoid putting much effort into rehashing the plot of every episode. You will just need to watch it yourself!

AMC’s new Spy drama is based on the exploits of the Culper Ring, a spy organization built on the orders of George Washington during the Revolutionary War. The series revolves around Abraham Woodhull, an unassuming cabbage farmer who through hard luck and fate, ends up siding with the Americans to become America’s original James Bond.

On first impression, AMC did not cut corners with production design. The series premier had a very finished, authentic feel that looks to be on par with the standard bearer of Revolutionary War television, HBO’s John Adams. amc-turn

An early scene of downed American Dragoons being ‘mopped up’ by a Queen’s Ranger was both visually arresting and emotional. The Ranger bayoneting wounded men with his musket really gives one a sense of the deadliness of this 18th century tool of war. The deadliness was perhaps taken a bit too far when Robert Rogers hit a running Ben Tallmadge at what looked to be over a hundred yards (this nitpick from one who readily retorts naysayers that say muskets were woefully inaccurate. Perhaps Rogers was firing a rifle?)

TURN is crafted around the conflict between America and Britain, however the real tension in the series comes a layer deeper when one realizes there are really two wars going on here. One between a formal enemy and the other between one’s own countrymen. The dirty underbelly if the Revolution is where you will find the real danger, deceit and atrocity. No one is beyond suspicion at this point until the series can really be felt out.

britishIs there so delightful a villain as the British? This imperial foe is so full of arrogance and aristocracy that it must be tempting AMC’s writers to coast along with the stereotype. Yet the jury is still out on this (Patriot anyone?). The British are crafty, brutish, charming, and polite. Most of all, you get a sense of their power and influence. But If you are looking for a traditional ogre, Samuel Roukin’s ‘Simcoe’ is an especially well cast antagonist that looks to be fun to hate.

Jamie Bell as Abraham Woddhull

Jamie Bell as Abraham Woddhull

As with most spy dramas, it was difficult at times to interpret the hushed voices and follow a string of unfamiliar names. I worry that the storyline may be TOO subtle and difficult to pick up mid stream (as may be required for a cable series to build viewing momentum). Also, our antagonist Woodhull comes across as a bit flaky and mousy on first impression, but one assumes events will force him out of this phase.

Finally, I am curious as to how much the writers can pull in historically specific elements that really give us a sense of the drama behind the American Revolution. One thing to ask ourselves as the series progresses is will this be just another spy thriller fitted into the shell America’s war for independence, or will this be something unique that helps us shape our understanding of this critical period of American history?

http://www.amctv.com/shows/turn

Sundays at 9pm

Ode to the Infantryman

This past weekend I visited the National Infantry Museum in Columbus GA. The museum offered a number of well done exhibits covering the history of the American infantryman.

We began our tour by a chronological stroll through a series of life-sized dioramas depicting significant battles in the Infantry’s history called ‘The Last Hundred Yards’. The battles included Yorktown,Antietam, Soissons, Normandy, Corregidor, Soam-Ni, LZ X-Ray, and Iraq. Naturally, I spent a bit longer at the first diorama. This was a depiction of the storming of redoubt #10 by Alexander Hamilton his 400 light American infantry.

Redoubt Yorktown National Infantry Museum

Redoubt Yorktown National Infantry Museum

A nice detail here depicts an unnamed African American storming up the side of the redoubt. It is notoriously difficult for historians to pin a number on the about of African Americans in the Continental army (some volunteered, others were substitutes for their ‘owners’), but most agree that the American Revolution was the most integrated war in American history up until Vietnam. Blacks fought and died for both sides, and it is important to note their contributions and sufferings as both civilians and soldiers.

Storming of Redoubt #10

Storming of Redoubt #10

It was interesting to see the balance that the museum sought to strike between an honest depiction of the horror and senselessness of war while simultaneously recognizing the sacrifices and courage of the men and women who endured it. You could easily become appalled by the realities of war, but the museum strived to balance this ugly reality by highlighting the honor, courage and sense of duty that drove American men and women into the armed services.  After all, this wasn’t an Oliver Stone anti war statement, this was a Museum next to Fort Benning.

 

 

 

Cowpens 2014

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Another cold yet sunny day greeted us at Cowpens this year.  The cold probably effected the turnout, as there were noticeably fewer reenactors this time around. Wesley and I ran into a few of the 2nd Carolina Regiment that we joined at the Battle of the Hook. It was great to see those guys.

My only regret this year was a clip I took of Park Ranger Will Caldwell. His tour of the battlefield was fantastic, however the wind completely destroyed the audio in the clip I took of him. SO disappointed with this. I was looking to add another clip similar to this one for the summary. Yet try as I might, I could not get a clear audio of his voice.

I did however make a new contact and hope to post a little on this mini cannon I came across that was owned by Eddie Davis.

Until then, enjoy the photos here. More at the flicker page here as well. 

Return to the Hook Part 4: Night Assault on the Redoubt

So far I had stumbled out of the gate at the Battle of the Hook. I had failed to jump on board with the morning amphibious assault, then I took a fall a bit too early during afternoon battle due to a faulty flint. I promised myself I would not skip out on anything moving forward.

To top off a busy Saturday, an assault on the British redoubt was scheduled. Calls for volunteers were made with one sole caveat before participating–sobriety. Taking advantage of my unlubricated state, I chose to join the assault party with roughly forty of my companions who were also not done marching across fields with heavy firearms. We joined together at the end of the field roughly a half mile across from the redoubt.

A redoubt is essentially a large dirt mound approximately six feet high, four feet wide at the top and spanning (in this case) about two hundred yards in length. A segment of the redoubt was split open to make way for supporting cannon.

IMG_8132The assault kicked off at dusk by cannon fire from both sides.

Our line waited patiently as the cannons traded blasts for about twenty minutes. As the darkness descended, the British, seemingly frustrated by our lack of progress, began heckling. Insults were hurled our way followed by boisterous laughter. The heckling reached its apex with a redcoat standing on the top of the redoubt to show us his ‘full moon’. I began to wonder how seriously they took the sobriety instructions. Our commander ordered one of the riflemen to take a shot at the next British infantryman with similar inclinations.

At last, the cannon fire resided and we were given orders to march. As we approached around a hundred and fifty yards from the redoubt, the British opened up. In easily the most impressive thing I saw all weekend, the entire top of the redoubt burst into a two hundred yard wide wall of fire.

British RedoubtAfter the impressive display of firepower, someone quipped that technically we were all dead now. No way many of us could of survived that volley. The British had turned out in force and easily outnumbered us three to one. Granted, we had chosen the more strenuous side of the engagement, volunteering to march yet again at the end of the day while our enemies lay comfortably behind a dirt wall. However, we were rewarded for our efforts with best view of the evening fireworks.

We returned a few rather pathetic volleys (this time a ‘flash in the pan’ from me. It was a rough day firing my Charleville), then closed into charging distance. The charge was a ton of fun, and I did my best Alexander Hamilton impersonation as we bound over the top of the redoubt and pushed away the retreating British.

Just like that, the assault was over and we all attempted to avoid the mud behind the redoubt and form lines to march back to the camp. The day had ended, and it was time to get some sleep.

Cowpens Countdown

Tags

Three days until Cowpens!

Here are a few more tidbits from previous Cowpens posts.

Here are a few common questions Chris gets during the reenactment…

Christopher Rucker, MD, is an artillerist at the Cowpens National Battlefield, where his volunteer crew interprets the use of the two British cannon used at teh January 1781 battle.
christopherrucker@msn.com

Christopher Rucker, MD, is an artillerist at the Cowpens National Battlefield, where his volunteer crew interprets the use of the two British cannon used at the January 1781 battle.  Here he provides some of the common queries his crew receives at the battle’s annual anniversary.

Volunteers and spectators can share their favorite questions with Chris at christopherrucker@msn.com

Questions we Frequently Hear:

1. “How far does the cannon shoot?” 

Answer: A battle’s winner is not decided like a spitting contest. The more germane question should be: what is the effective range of the cannon?  This 3 pounder can hit targets which are hundreds of yards more distant than the range of a musket, which is why the artillery rules the battlefield.

2.  “What does the cannon shoot?”

Answer: It is called a 3 pounder because it shoots primarily a solid iron ball weighing three pounds. A 6 pounder shoots a six pound ball, etc. The gun can also shoot canister, which is a tin can containing musket balls; the can disintegrates at the cannon’s mouth, the balls producing an effect akin to a large shotgun. Canister is a very effective antipersonnel round at close ranges.

3.  “Are you shooting cannon balls today?”

Answer:  There are people and vehicles and houses not very far beyond the clump of trees in our front. This is not a video game. We cannot shoot projectiles which would endanger lives and property.

4.  “Did you fight in the war?”

Answer: No, but my friend over there with the sponge-rammer was personal friends with Gen. Lafayette, and you should go over and ask him all about the general’s children.

5.  “How many people will a cannon ball go through before it stops?”

Answer: We have not conducted such research. I suspect that we could not find enough volunteers to arrive at an acceptable answer. Several, surely. Many, possibly. Depends on the range.

6.  “Are you hot (cold) in those costumes?” 

Answer:  Costumes are what you wear on Halloween. We are wearing uniforms. The two cannons here at the Cowpens were British, captured by the Americans, some of whom were regulars, some militia. Therefore, our six crew members are wearing Continental uniforms, British uniforms, and back country civilian garb as examples of what were worn during the battle.

7. “How much does the cannon weigh?” 

Answer:  There is a numeric code on the breech which lists the weight in hundred weights (112 pounds), quarters of a hundred weight, and pounds. The total is 206 pounds for the barrel. We have carried the carriage, without the barrel, with eight men. It weighs much more than the barrel, and soldiers could not have carried it very far, in what was then called “The Irish Method.”

8.  “Does the Park Service pay you?” 

Answer:  The volunteers here have provided their own uniforms, arms, accoutrements, tents, etc. We are here because we love history, and love to teach. We are paid by the satisfaction of questions answered, and curiosity kindled. Your thanks and the appreciation of the Park Service personnel keeps us coming back.

9.  “Did you sleep here in tents last night?” 

Answer: Some of us did. Some came directly from home, and will return home after the battle to a warm featherbed. Just like the militia was wont to do in 1781.

10.  “Why is this cannon yellow, and the other one over there is black?” 

Answer:  This gun is made of bronze, which is an alloy of copper and primarily tin. That other gun is made of iron. Bronze was lighter, so was valued over iron, since it required less horseflesh and manpower to maneuver than an iron gun of the same size.

11.  “Why is this gun called a Grasshopper?” 

Answer:  Soldiers have always invented nicknames for their weapons. We suspect that the gun’s recoil in the tall grass suggested the hopping motion of a grasshopper.

12.  “Is that a real cannon?” 

Answer:  Please come and touch the cannon after we fire, to confirm that it is not a figment of your imagination. If you mean to differentiate between an original or a reproduction, this is one of a pair of repros given to the USA on our Bicentennial by the British. Pretty magnanimous of the Brits, seeing as how we took the originals from them in battle, every one of their cannoneers dying at his post to defend the guns. A point of honor in the artillery is to never surrender the piece.

13.  “What’s a “piece,” anyway?”

Answer:  The entire weapon is called the “piece” or “the gun.”  The barrel is the “tube,” which sits on the wheeled platform called the “carriage.” The piece was drawn by horse, or could be manipulated short distances on the battlefield by men called “mattrosses,” wielding ropes. The advantage of this small Grasshopper is its portability; it could negotiate the trackless back country without being mired in mud which would immobilize larger cannons, and it could be broken down into its components for transport on horseback, if needed.

14.  “If the gun fires a solid ball, how come in the movies the cannon balls blow up when they hit?”

Answer:  Please do not rely on Hollywood for your history lessons. A ball from a relatively long “gun” such as the 3 pounder travels a low trajectory, spending a short time in flight, too brief for a fused, hollow, explosive shell. A shorter mortar, or a howitzer, throws its projectiles at a higher trajectory, which allows enough time for the fuse in their hollow, powder-filled shells to explode the projectile over the target. Contact fuses were not used in the Revolutionary War, so shells didn’t explode on contact.

15.  “Is your sword sharp?”

Answer: My sword is seldom used for battle. The officer gives both a verbal and visual command to the man who fires the cannon. In the din of battle, a spoken command might be missed, so the officer lowers his raised sword as he verbally commands “Fire.”

16.  “Is that water bucket for the horses?” 

Answer: That is a “sponge bucket,” used to dampen the sponge which is introduced into the bore to extinguish lingering sparks from the previous charge. Sparks and fire are the bane of the artillerist, and our drill is designed to minimize the risk of a “premature ignition” which could cause an “energetic disassembly” of the cannon and its crew.

17.  “If that’s called a Grasshopper, how come it doesn’t hop when you fire it?” 

Answer: See question 3.  Without the resistance of a projectile, the force of the rapidly expanding gases during ignition of the charge exits the barrel without producing a visible “equal and opposite” reaction of a recoil. When you watch our drill, the crew is careful to stay outside the wheels as much as possible, so that a recoiling gun doesn’t cause injury.

18.  “How much gunpowder are you using?”

Answer: Enough to make noise. The propellant is properly called “black powder” and is a mixture of potassium nitrate (nitre), sulfur and charcoal, just like in 1781. The 3 pounder used charges ranging from four to eight ounces, packaged in a linen bag, to which the ball was strapped with a wooden disc called a sabot. We use aluminum foil instead of linen, and find that four ounces of powder is plenty loud for the purpose of a demonstration.

19.  “Are you using a fuse?”

Answer: We are using a “quill” placed in the vent hole on top of the cannon, which communicates with the tube’s interior. Hollow goose feather quills, or its modern equivalent of a soda straw filled with black powder, do good service, and offer more rapid ignition than a fuse, important when the target is moving. For demonstration purposes, we use a paper quill, ignited by a smoldering “slow match” held in the “linstock.” During the War, waterproof tin tubes filled with powder were preferentially used over quills, lit by a flare-like device called a portfire, which was lit by the linstock.

20.  “Did they use these cannons at Gettysburg?”

Answer: I believe that you are confusing two different conflicts. Small cannons such as this Grasshopper were obsolete by the end of the Revolution, relegated to British provincial outposts. It is uncertain whether the two original three pounders used at the Cowpens still exist, although they are known to have changed hands several times during the war. They may have suffered an ignominious demise by being melted for scrap, an unworthy end for weapons whose crews died defending them.

Twistification thanks Dr Rucker!

I want to thank Chris for taking the time to put together responses to questions he and his crew often receive. You can follow up with him at: christopherrucker@msn.com

Check out the demonstrations below. I apologize for the shaky video (but consider yourself fortunate I did not drop my phone all together after a cannon fires).

Next year I’m bringing a tripod.

233rd Battle of Cowpens Anniversary This Weekend!

This will make it my third year in a row for Battle of Cowpens Anniversary Celebration. In honor of the event that helped inspire the creation of this blog, I’ve posted a few of my favorite media from anniversaries past…

Lets start with Burt Puckett’s wonderful summary of the battle:

Here is a link to some photos and videos I took during the 231st Anniversary

Fire!

Fire!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/zellner/sets/72157628882169983/

This year I would like to get a good clip of one of the battlefield tours by one of the park rangers. Any other suggestions?

If you plan on being there, please drop me a line in the comments and maybe we can chat some on Saturday.

Top Ten Tips for Holding A Empire Together

King George III

King George III

Ok may be a few years overdue, but here are Twistification’s tips for His Royal Majesty King George the Third:

  1. If people from your country risk life and limb to travel over a thousand treacherous miles to practice their religion without persecution, expect some skepticism regarding your policies from their offspring.
  2. Taxes can work, but you may want to consider administrating them locally and gathering feedback.
  3.  The Continental Congress wants to negotiate. Don’t force their hand and give them no other choice but to declare war.
  4. Mr. Washington, Mr. Franklin and Mr. Jefferson deserve some military and administrative recognition. They have more influence and talents than you realize (Mr. Adams and his cousin are a lost cause however). That didn’t work? Ok now that the war has begun:
  5. Push your Generals to take advantage of early victories. The rebellion can be crushed early, but if you give the Americans time to recover, things will escalate out of control. And whatever you do, don’t let them gain any moral victories. 
  6. Banastre Tarleton

    Banastre Tarleton

    Make sure your Generals coordinate strategically. Divas will not help your cause in the new world.

  7. Don’t lose a big battle. I repeat DON’T LOSE A BIG BATTLEYour neighbors across the channel are looking for an excuse to join the fight and turn this regional uprising into a worldwide conflict.
  8. Patrick Ferguson and his modified rifle might be a good investment considering the amount of American rifles mustered against your army.
  9. The South isn’t as Loyalist leaning as you think, and your cavalryman Tarleton is not going to help matters.
  10. As just as their cause may be, inciting slaves and indians against your subjects will backfire.

Was Gettysburg the South’s Waterloo?

Tags

Allen Guelzo’s sermon style talk on Gettysburg and its meaning is both thorough and entertaining. Guelzo convincingly argues that had Robert E. Lee won the battle, the South would of marched into Washington and forced peace negotiations and Southern independence. Yet, Guelzo argues that the South’s defeat at Gettysburg was in essence it’s “Waterloo moment”.

General Meade

General Meade

Victory at Gettysburg came despite the leadership of the timid and unremarkable General Meade. How did he accomplish the most famous victory of the war against a superior Robert E. Lee? The answer is that he had a group of tenacious subordinate Generals who pulled him away from his overcautious McClellan like tendencies. It was these unsung generals who uncompromisingly pushed forward to defeat Lee and save the Union.

Yet Guelzo’s analogy to Waterloo falls a little flat. He ends the talk with the comment “Waterloo? What’s Waterloo?”.

Well, it wasn’t Gettysburg thats for sure.

For one thing, had Napoleon won Waterloo, he would not of been able to force peace like Lee hoped to accomplish. Waterloo was the first in what would of been a series of desperate battles to retain Napoleon’s power. Unlike Lee, had Napoleon won the battle, he still had a million mustered soldiers to face. The Prussians and the Russians were coming, and there would be no singular smashing victory that would sway popular opinion and force peace. Napoleon did not have the luxury of fighting against a democracy in Europe.

Horatio GatesIf I were to humbly suggest a comparison to Gettysburg from an earlier historical battle, I would suggest Saratoga.

Like Meade, Horatio Gates managed to pull off a victory despite his caution and passivity. And it was Gates’ subordinate Generals that would ultimately gain the credit for victory. Benedict Arnold and Daniel Morgan’s dogged determination (with the help of the American Rifle) guided the Americans to victory.

The political and military consequences of Saratoga and Gettysburg were also similar. In both cases the enemy’s back had been broken.

In the case of the South, they would never mount an offensive campaign in the North again. The window to influence political opinion before the election had closed. Those in the North clamoring for peace and conciliation would take a back seat to the war hawks like Lincoln who demanded unconditional surrender.

For the British, the loss at Saratoga turned a small regional rebellion into a world war. The victory convinced France to formally ally with the Americans and declare open war with the British Empire. Not only did the loss eliminate a large British contingent in America, it also further diluted British resources in the region as they stretched their military across the globe to defend against the new French threat. At this point, the war in America almost became a second thought. Britain would never again be able to fully focus its military might against America.

In conclusion, i content Gettysburg’s significance had more in common with Saratoga than Waterloo. What was at stake was a military and political killing blow, not a last ditch defensive effort gone wrong. Where Guelzo suggests Lee and Napoleon on the losing end, I humbly counter with Meade and Gates on the victorious end.

Would love to hear others thoughts on this!

Shout out to Mike Bell at 790 the Zone

Tags

, , , ,

The Patriot

The Patriot

I have to give credit to sports talk radio guy Mike Bell from 790 The Zone who today mentioned that he almost stopped at the Cowpens National Battlefield to see “where Mel Gibson beat Tarleton”, but it was too far off I-85. Like most Americans, Bell exclaimed, he preferred his national battlefields just off the highway.

Funny stuff right there.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.