Ongoing observations on AMC’s TURN. Sunday nights. Check the listings.
TURN 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.
The 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.
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.
Continued observations from the AMC Series Turn on Sunday nights.
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.
“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!
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 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…
This 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.
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.
Is 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
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?
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
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
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.
American Cavalry by Don Troiani (?)
American Cavalry by Don Troiani (?)
Storming of redoubt #10
Alexander Hamilton leads the American Light into the redoubt.
Surrender of Lord Cornwallis by John Trumbull…and spikes!
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.
The 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.
After 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.
Ok may be a few years overdue, but here are Twistification’s tips for His Royal Majesty King George the Third:
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.
Taxes can work, but you may want to consider administrating them locally and gathering feedback.
The Continental Congress wants to negotiate. Don’t force their hand and give them no other choice but to declare war.
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:
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.
Make sure your Generals coordinate strategically. Divas will not help your cause in the new world.
Don’t lose a big battle. I repeat DON’T LOSE A BIG BATTLE. Your neighbors across the channel are looking for an excuse to join the fight and turn this regional uprising into a worldwide conflict.
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”.
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.
If 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.
As a Zellner, I’ve occasionally pondered the history of the name and its obvious German roots. The curiosity never stretched beyond the cursory until my mother started digging up the family history. As it turns out, there is a strong possibility that the Zellner name can be traced back to a particular German mercenary brought over to fight in the Revolutionary War.
Das Ansbach-Bayreuther Infanterie
Born in Hannover Germany, George Peter Zellner (or Zöellner) came to Staten Island as an enemy of America. George was most likely a member of a 1778 contingent of reinforcements sent to the rebellious colonies to bolster the British mercenary army of Anspach-Bayreuth. Known to Americans under the blanket term of ‘Hessians’, these soldiers owed no particular allegiance to the British cause other than a shared view of Americans as a rebellious people who had turned against their rightful King.
George may of been a member of the Anspach-Bayreuth Infantry, or perhaps a member of the Jägercorps. The Jäger, (the German word for ‘Hunters’) were light infantry troops that specialized in skirmish tactics and reconnaissance. These elite troops were an essential component of Cornwallis’ army. Mostly composed of hunters and woodsmen, these troops were well equipped to handle the heavily wooded terrain and counter the skirmish tactics of the American militia.
History of the Anspach-Bayreuth
Shortly after inheriting the Bayreuth territory, Markgraf Christian Friedrich Carl Alexander von Anspach signed a treaty on 1 February 1777 to provide troops in support of the British Army in North America. These Anspach-Bayreuth units hailed from a politically fractured region located today in modern Germany.
18th century Germany bared little resemblance to the Germany we know from more recent history. These Germanic people (as Caesar coined them), were a disjointed group of principalities that would not see any cohesion until Napoleon arrived to set the foundation of a unified state through the Code Napoleon and other administrative reforms.
As a recent inheritor of Bayreuth county, Markgraf saw an opportunity for profit from the American Revolution. However his decision to send troops across the perilous Atlantic into a foreign war would have repercussions. The suffering endured by the troops fractured the connection between he and his people. Markgraf would eventually sell the two counties of Anspach and Bayreuth to his cousin, the King of Prussia.
Like many of the German mercenaries, George Peter Zellner decided to remain in the colonies after the war. He would eventually migrate from North Carolina to Georgia. As a resident of Georgia and a bearer of George’s middle and last name, I am perhaps a representative of his lineage. I’ll probably never know for sure, but I can thank my mother’s research to bring to light this exiting possibility!
Marie over at The Rasnickfamily.org shared with me a Bayreuther Zeitung newspaper clipping from 1802. It it lists the names of the Ansbach-Bayreuther troops who did not return to Germany. Sure enough Georg Peter Zollner was listed here.
Georg was a musketeer in the Ansbach regiment who hailed from Markt Erlbach. He was captured at Yorktown and “probably slipped away during the march from the Hessian Barracks in Maryland to New York where his comrades boarded ships to go home back to Germany”
Saturday morning began with formation and drills. After about two hours, I was able to mentally grasp the basics of marching and maneuvering in tight ranks. Yet even though the concepts were clear, it was obvious that a certain amount of time would be required for the physical motions to become second nature.
As a result, marching and maneuvering did not get easier as the weekend progressed. Every motion demanded and act concentration and focus. Missteps effected everyone in close proximity. Even marching in a straight line proved to be a struggle as I found myself shuffling in order to step on the correct foot and avoid kicking the person in front of me.
By the close of the weekend I figured my brain was just wired to walk in the opposite manner of most people. I was sore from locking my body straight and shuffling my feet to find the correct footwork. Unfortunately, my familiarity with group choreography did little good in formations this tight. I did my best to cope by learning to follow the rhythm of the marching drum and take it as they say, one step at a time. The others in the troop kept me in line as well, repeatedly reminding me to assume ‘trail arms’ when I was busy concentrating on walking.
Formation drills drove home the importance of maneuvering during the 18th century. Unit cohesion, battlefield mobility, and concentrated fire was the ultimate goal. These tight formations had but one primary goal– to maximize the effectiveness of the musket.
For those familiar with modern day firearms, safety etiquette requires that proper distance from another person be observed when discharging a firearm. Only an accident or a joke in poor taste would result in discharging a firearm a few inches away from other person.
18th century reenactment offers an entirely different experience.
Firing and reloading shoulder to shoulder was a requirement for a soldier of the line. If you happened to be a bit taller than your comrades, you would be positioned in the second row where you were expected to fire OVER the shoulder of the man in front of you.
This type of firing was a unique experience, and one that I recommend if you are a fan of firearms. It is the only real way to experience the combat effectiveness of the musket.
Firing as a concentrated mass becomes less a single act of an individual and more of a coordinated action of a larger whole. For someone living within the context of a highly individualistic 21st century mindset, this is truly a step into the past. In short, the unit becomes a collective fire-breathing, smoke spitting, shotgun blast.
The British Line moonlightcourt.com
It is easy to understand how a well drilled foot unit can be the most effective and powerful weapon on the battlefield. However, effectiveness like this takes training. Now I understand why troops drilled 40 hours a week.
I consider myself somewhat competent at loading and firing my musket, yet during the chaos of a “battle” I often behaved like a rank novice. I found myself reloading my musket using all sorts of improvised motions.
A number of factors played into my inconsistency:
While firing and reloading in close quarters, there is a great deal to keep in mind. The musket must always be pointed away from others (until firing at an enemy unit). The torso cannot be tilted as it would interfere with the man next to you (watch those elbows!) Most importantly, if you were in the back row, you had to make sure you did NOT step too far away from the row in front of you. This mistake would result in the the muzzle discharging too close to faces and ears.
The pressure to reload and fire on command was palpable when facing a wall of enemy troops trying to do the same a few short yards away. I will not pretend to understand what sort of emotions soldiers experienced during an 18th century battle (or for any battle for that matter) but I can understand to some degree the difficulty involved in maneuvering and firing in the mists of a noisy, smokey and chaotic environment.
Only the muscle memory acquired from constant drilling could alleviate the pressure and chaos that interferes with the smooth operation of a musket. Now I understand why they drill…and drill…and drill. The importance Baron Von Steuben cannot be underestimated.