At the Range…

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At the range on Friday. A friend of mine took some videos and we were able to extract a few frames just to give us an idea of the combustion involved. When firing, you don’t really see the flash in the pan as you might suspect from these stills.

My Contribution to Historical Reenactment

This is an excellent, well animated synopsis of Yorktown and the events that led up to it:

Yorktown: Now or Never

Yorktown: Now or Never

http://www.mountvernon.org/animated-washington/yorktown/

The live action footage was taken from ‘The Battle of the Hook’ reenactment which I participated in. It was my first reenactment, and as noted in this post, I spent the majority of the first battle on my back. But alas, not all was lost! Seems as if the camera guy noticed my fabulous acting skills and incorporated me into the series at the 37 second mark:

casualty

45 solid minuets of acting. Will submit my nomination for “Best Historical Reenactment of a Dead Guy” category.

I highly recommend you check out the entire series, which is divided into small 2-3 minute chunks. The production, design and graphics are top notch. Hats off to the visual team for their work.

Almost a Miracle

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Almost a Miracle by John Ferling

Almost a Miracle by John Ferling

Compelling storytelling is a craft not easily mastered by many Historians. We’ve all struggled through books that do nothing more than lead us through a dusty timeline of historical events littered with stale flat historical figures. Worse yet is the historian with a knack for unnecessary detail and little interest in exploring the complexities of human motivation.

So it is with great pleasure then that one comes across a book that covers such a monumental topic such as the American Revolution with a flair for good storytelling. John Ferling’s Almost a Miracle is just that book. The one volume synopsis of the war would be my first suggestion for someone with a casual interest in the American Revolution.

Now time for a few observations of Ferling’s fine work:

Ferling is not a big fan of Lafayette.

Marquis de La Fayette

Marquis de La Fayette

Using words like “petulant”, “brash” and “sycophant”,  Ferling pulls no punches when describing young Marques as an opportunist who rides the coattails of Washington. Ferling notes Rochambeau’s concerns about Lafayette’s attachment to Washington and even points a finger at Lafayette for triggering the events at the battle of Monmouth that effectively ended Charles Lee’s tenure as a general in the Continental army.

Lafayette had a romanticized interpretation of the ideals that drove the Revolution, yet his motivations were complex. He also was driven by an ambition for fame and glory and this ambition was certainly a factor in his decision making.

After the war, Lafayette never wavered from this romantic notion of the Revolution and worked to bring this vision to France. Unfortunately, he was swept up in the chaos of the French Revolution and was fortunate enough to escape with his life.

Not afraid to sidestep historical doubts in order to tell a compelling story.

When dealing with history, very little can be said with absolute certainty. Debate still continues on two instances that Ferling address in Almost a Miracle.

Missed Opportunity?

Missed Opportunity?

One is Patrick Ferguson’s choice not to fire on Washington during the battle Brandywine. Many believe Ferguson spared Washington’s life that day, yet others maintain that this was not Washington at all, but one of the many European Aristocrats participating in the war (Count Casimir Pulaski).

Another is the supposed clash between William Washington and Banastre Tarleton during the battle of Cowpens. Did they briefly engage during the end of the battle? Perhaps, but there are still doubters this confrontation actually took place.

But trifling over the fog of history can bog down an otherwise compelling story, so I applaud Ferling’s choice to avoid the debates and ambiguities that all historians must wrestle with.

Ferling does not ignore the south

Nathaniel Greene

Nathaniel Greene

Ferling points out the essential and often overlooked British southern campaign. To most, Cornwallis magically appears in Yorktown. But Ferling leads us through the series of events in the south that placed him there. Kings Mountain, Cowpens and Guilford Courthouse and the cunning Nathaniel Greene are not overlooked.

Ferling is fair to Hortio Gates and Charles Lee

Disparaged by most historians and laymen alike, Lee and Gates are often exemplars of poor generalship. Ferling does not sugarcoat their shortcomings, however he also describes them as the two most experienced and talented generals under Washington. One is left to feel a twinge of regret that Lee and Gates personal shortcomings led them to infamy.

Ferling’s take on Washington was well thought out and concise.

Was Washington a brilliant General? No. About average according to Ferling. But Ferling points out the attributes that Washington did bring to the table and notes how these were unique and essential to the position. Washington’s ability to work with congress, collaborate with the French, focus on thousands of administrative details and adapt to the circumstances made him the “indispensable man”.


 

John Ferling

John Ferling

In summary, John Ferling’s Almost A Miracle accomplishes the difficult feat of consolidating a long complex period of American history in a very palatable and entertaining way. This book is certainly one to recommend for all those interested in the American Revolution. Well done!

 

Nathaniel Green and Georgia

Nathaniel Greene

Nathaniel Greene

Born in Rhode Island on August 7th, 1742 Nathaniel Green played a critical role in torpedoing the British southern campaign. Rarely victorious in battles, Greene nonetheless avoided disasters and stuck multiple blows to Cornwallis’s southern army. Greenes’ “flying army” eventually bled the British out of the South and into Yorktown. From there Washington and Rochambeau took over.

Nathaniel Greene was buried in Savannah’s Jonathan Square after succumbing to a heat stroke during a tour of his plantation.

Gerstner Tool Chest

Gerstner Tool Chest

Gerstner Tool Chest

My Dad found this in Summerville GA at a “Trade Day”. Trade day is essentially a lawn sale the size of a football field where everyone brings their whatnots and sells them.

This particular item is an old Gerstner Tool Chest and it is fantastic. Just enough ware and tare to fit nicely into my black powder 18th Century gun room. I’ve removed almost all of the tattered thin black leather shell to reveal the quality wood. Once I am done cleaning it up I’ll wipe it down with linseed oil and replace the ragged green felt that lines the bottom of the drawers. Quite a find!

 

TURN Episode 7: “Affairs of Honor”

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Ongoing observations on AMC’s TURN. Sunday nights. Check the listings. 

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 11.42.04 PMTURN takes a significant upward tick as we find Simcoe and Woodhull squaring off in a traditional 18th century dual. Woodhull is somewhat strong armed into the affair, but once committed, he is determined to see the whole mess through to the end. Unlike most duels which fall short of actual gunfire and bloodshed, we are witness to an exchange of fire from at least one side. The duel is by far the high point of the series to date.

Burr Fatally Wounds Hamilton In DuelThe writers of TURN seem to have done their homework on 18th century duels. One assumes that this is a historically accurate portrayal. Woodhull and Simcoe are to exchange fire until the duelists reach ‘satisfaction’. Who shoots first? Why that is a matter of a coin flip. I am left wondering when this affair of honor evolved into a simultaneous fire as was the case for a much more famous duel between Hamilton and Burr. 

Stephen Decatur

Stephen Decatur

Duels were much more common after the war (and into the war of 1812) and were a particular problem in the fledgling American Navy. One can only assume that men living in cramped quarters for months on end could get on each others nerves. Laws and orders were issued discouraging these duels, however the practice continued. The most famous duel outside of Hamilton, Burr and Jackson was between Stephen Decatur and James Barron. Like Hamilton, Decatur’s stellar career was cut short by a duelists bullet.  It was an American tragedy spawned by the timeless sins of pride and ego.

The 18th century duel is custom made for a historically based TV drama and AMC does it justice in episode 7. The duel holds a significant place in the American consciousness mostly due to the popularity of Westerns. The fascination with the duel lives on today, yet it is important to note that that some of Americas’ best and brightest fell victim to this affair of honor long before the rise of pulp fiction and the colt revolver.

Turn Episode 5

Continued observations from the AMC Series Turn on Sunday nights.
Charles Lee played by Brian  Finney

Charles Lee played by Brian Finney

We are introduced to our secret American traitor and he turns out to be somewhat infamous Charles Lee. Lee, while actually not a traitor historically speaking (as far as we know), nonetheless was a good choice for the writers of TURN. Lee’s actions during The Revolution were at best not helpful, and a worst, downright subversive.

A former British officer turned Revolutionary, Charles Lee was captured by the British (by Banastre Tarleton actually) and eventually returned in a prisoner exchange. From there his career takes a turn for the worse as he steps in at the last moment in the battle of Monmouth and pulls rank over Lafayette to take command of the American army. A disaster ensues, ending with a legendary confrontation with an irate Washington. This yet untold confrontation offers a delightful chance for TV drama, as it is claimed that Washington went on a cursing spree of epic proportions.

washingtoncrossingdelaware

“It would be a shame if someone fell into this icy river and missed the battle”

In another storyline, our protagonists Ben Tallmadge and Caleb Brewster cross the Delaware on the way to Trenton thanks to the intel they smuggled to Washington. As they cross however, Ben takes an unfortunate plunge into the frozen river of limited production budget and we miss the battle of Trenton while Ben recovers from hypothermia over the next three days.

We get a glimpse of a larger British force as it falls for an American campsite ruse, but we are also left with the sad conclusion that a sizable battle is simply beyond the scope and budget of this series. The technology is certainly here in 2014, but it may be a while before TV and Hollywood look past comic books and goblins to portray a substantial 18th century battle. I heard a while back that Spielberg is interested in doing a series on Napoleon. If so, then this could really be the epic portrayal that does the reality of war during this era justice.

This is not to say that TURN comes across as a low budget TV series. They do a fantastic job. It is authentic and aesthetically beautiful. The details around costuming and set lighting is fantastic, even though details such as reloading a musket have been left out.

Overall TURN gets more interesting as the characters get caught up in actual historcial happenings. Perhaps this is simply one armchair historians bias, but the plotlines surrounding forbidden romance and tombstone cannon barriers isn’t as compelling. The more we sink into the historically correcte history of the Revoltuion, the better the series holds water.

Next we will turn to episodes 6 and 7 and I come to the conclusion that the writers of TURN are reading my mind. Things get really good!

What’s in a Title?

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Dec 23, 1783, Washington Resigns

Dec 23, 1783, Washington Resigns

NPR in Atlanta recently ran a segment that discussed the legislative turmoil surrounding the question of what to call the first leader of the United States. The Senate wanted a title with the appropriate gravitas that would command respect on the world stage. The House on the other hand shunned grand titles. Grand titles went to men’s heads and many feared it would be only a matter of time before America traded a foreign tyrant for a local one. It wasn’t as much Washington that the House feared, but his predecessor. It was unrealistic to assume that future leaders of America would deal with power as effectively as Washington and a grand title may give a weak willed leader enough wiggle room to assume powers unintended by the Founders. Title or not, this debate continues to this day, but the title of President is an issue that time has seemingly settled.

HBO's John Adams

HBO’s John Adams

HBO’s series John Adams also addresses this debate in a segment that paints the second President of the United States in a somewhat undistinguished light. As the Vice President, Adams  fumbles through lofty titles that eventually earn him the title of “His Rotundity” by detractors who accuse him of being swayed by his years in Europe. HBO somewhat unfairly paints Adams as a solitary figure obsessing over a non issue, but in fact the issue was hotly debated at the time and apparently never officially settled.  The Senate agreed to temporarily allow the lowly title of “President” until clearer heads could prevail. At an undocumented future date, they would revisit the subject and agree on a more distinguished title.

The proverbial can was kicked down the road and left for history and perception to shape. Before they knew it, a term used in Cricket leagues and other gentlemen’s clubs began to evolve into something much more substantial. Today we find hundreds of countries with Presidents across the globe, as these countries adopt this title in an attempt to capture a little of the weight it carries with it.

One is left wondering how much language shapes reality and vice versa. Sociologists and scientists are still studying this issue today. How does language shape consciousness? What are the evolutionary benefits of language?  Or even more profoundly, what if Benjamin Franklin had his way and the Turkey became the national bird of America? Would this bird would take on some of the noble qualities Franklin attributed to it? One is left wondering. Or maybe just a little hungry perhaps…

 

 

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