|10 Key Campaigns|
Dr. Martin has taught history at West Point, The Citadel, and Rutgers. He is currently professor emeritus at the University of Houston.
Having devoted his career to speaking and writing about aspects of the American Revolution, his most recent contribution is a chapter to the book The Ten Key Campaigns of the American Revolution. The book is edited by Edward Lengel. It includes 10 chapters, each one written by a different expert, about a different military campaign that took place during the Revolutionary War.
Dr. Martin wrote the chapter on that book about the Saratoga campaign. Listeners of the American Revolution podcast know that we recently completed a series covering the Saratoga campaign as well. I was pleased to be able to sit down and talk with Dr. Martin about his most recent work as well as the Saratoga campaign more generally.
Michael Troy (MT) Dr. Martin, welcome to the American Revolution podcast. And thank you so much for speaking with me today.
James Kirby Martin (JKM): Well, I thank you in turn, I appreciate this opportunity to share some knowledge about one of the most important campaigns of the American Revolution sometimes overlooked, because so much of the emphasis is upon George Washington and the Continental Army, the main Continental Army, I should say. And if there's another, there's more than one other big story there. And this is one of the biggest from my point of view, that is the John Burgoyne campaign in 1777, which started out so well and turned out to be a colossal failure, that in turn really did help the Americans in terms of setting the stage to winning the war.
MT: So how did you get involved in that project to write this chapter for 10 key campaigns?
JKM: There are perhaps two background factors. One would be my long term interest in trying to understand the life, in the context of the times, of Benedict Arnold, because Benedict Arnold's a major player in the Saratoga story. In fact, some would argue, and I'm certainly among them, that are no less perhaps the machine machine, perhaps that was the real hero of the battle. He isn't acknowledged that way, officially, the Continental Congress decided to celebrate Horatio Gates, but Arnold in terms of the actual fighting was the key person. And that's that's one of the one of the reasons I was interested, because I've written in the area.
|James Kirby Martin|
So it really was this opportunity to work with the cadets to think these kinds of issues through. And John Burgoyne represents an incredible example of the kinds of things you might do, right, and the many kinds of things that you will do wrong if you find yourself a military leader. And so from that point of view, hopefully, it was very instructive for the cadets. And in turn, I took some of the findings of what we discussed in that course. And I put them together in this particular essay, which is entitled John Burgoyne's Great Gamble, gamble being a very key word, because he was a gambler from beginning to end in many ways in his life. And in terms of this particular campaign, he gambled big time, and he lost even bigger time.
MT: To take a step back. I've often wondered why the British thought this mission was so important. In other words, for several years, they had talked about wanting to cut off New England from the rest of the colonies by marching down from Quebec to New York. And Johnny Burgoyne was the one who really made the final attempt to do that. I guess it sounded good in London to draw that line and cut off this region from another region. But in reality, Burgoyne's march through the New York countryside, even if you had made it to New York. And it seems like people still could have gone where the army had been and kept wandering back and forth between New England and the rest of the colonies, and it really wouldn't have accomplished much. So what were they really trying to accomplish by this mission?
JKM: I think it's fair to say that in the spring of the summer 1775, at the time of Lexington and Concord, the Battle of Bunker Hill, the taking a Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point, that the British really believed that the Americans were an inferior foe. That's very, very important in terms of their thinking.
|Gen. John Burgoyne|
So what really happens at that point is having faced a very big mixed record at these particular battles, certainly at Lexington and Concord. At best, you could say that taking Ticonderoga was a fairly easy victory. But they weren't prepared. The British weren't prepared. And so they had to, well, what are we going to do? How are we going to go about putting down this rebellion?
Given the limited military means of the times, given the size and the scale of armies and navies, whatever military forces more generally, you had to develop some way to, sort of, put it this way, reconquer this area that was in rebellion in that area at this point in time in 1775 was primarily the New England colonies Massachusetts and Connecticut, New Hampshire. You can even throw in the Vermont territory which was disputed at the time. But the idea is, well how can we end this rebellion and by the end of 1775 and early 1776, the decision is made the best strategy is take control of that corridor of water running north from New York, for 150 miles up the Hudson River, who up Lake George what Lake Champlain, Richelieu River all the way to Montreal about 350 miles. And if you can cut off New England by taking that territory, New England on one side, New York and all the other colonies on the other side, you then can conquer or reconquer New England in detail, therefore, you shut down rebellion.
So this idea and this concept is there. We might call it the fundamental British strategy in the early stages of the war. What actually happens then, is in 1776, a whole plan falls apart because the generals don't really follow the plan. Sir William Howe decides to go chasing after Washington in New Jersey, completely convinced he could capture Washington's army. That will end it. Then you have this northern force that involves a general Philip Schuyler involves Benedict Arnold and others that is in the process of invading Canada. Now that force, those forces, will be defeated in Quebec. That is the rebel forces, the last day or nighttime of 1775 will be driven out of Canada in 1776.
But then you have this brilliant engagement resistance featuring Benedict Arnold as a Commodore of the Champlain fleet. And so he proves a worthy general both on sea as well as on land and he will help lay that British invasion coming out of Canada, and it will fail in October 1776. As we saw the Battle of Valcour Island, which really does do an effective job.
MT: I've often said that his loss at Valcour Bay was one of his greatest victories. It held of the invasion for an entire year, really,
JKM: Right, he stopped them. And that that that then will allow time to prepare for what is coming in terms of the John Burgoyne invasion in 1777. I should point out that Burgoyne was involved in that 1776 invasion, and he was under the command of Governor Guy Carlton who was the Governor General of Canada, or I should say Quebec province more specifically.
|Planned invasion routes (From Rev War)|
Burgoyne is convinced that, well, Carlton just didn't have how do we say this, didn't really have the guts you needed to finish the job. They should have proceeded beyond course they did. They should have gotten the Crown Point, then they should have launched an attack and at least have taken that Gibraltar of America we call Fort Ticonderoga in 1776. But it's really a problem of logistics that you get into because the deeper that army, Carlton's army, gets into New York, the longer the supply line is winter begins to come in. And Carlton takes a logical course and that is this pullback, this regroup we'll come back again at 1777.
Burgoyne's not happy about that. And Burgoyne wasn't really happy about being in America anyway. That was sort of his temperament. What he was doing here with these piddling colonists? So he gets permission, he goes back to England in the early part of 1777. That is amazing, because he really has worked out a plan, a full-scale operational plan as to how we should conduct this campaign. He presents it to King George the Third, presents it to Lord North, and to others, and convinces them that if you give him enough troops, you can invade from Canada, launch point Montreal. You can break right through because the easy part of that journey is really going actually up Lake Champlain as you go south. And the easy part is to get to Ticonderoga because it's basically an all-water route.
That's as far as he had gone. He didn't know what lay beyond him. And that's one of the major flaws of this particular plan. And that is, the territory gets much rougher to move through once you get beyond the lower end of Lake Champlain.
Well, anyway, that's sort of the background, I don't want to go on and on and on. But the key background in many ways is that Burgoyne believes that he can get the job done. That's typical of him because as a person who was not afraid to gamble, let's say at the table, and lose lots and lots, and recover and gamble again, his gamble is that what didn't work and 1776 could work and 1777. And he's gonna find out the plan is possibly very flawed. It will not bring him the great glorious victory that he hoped for.
And one more thing I just say very quickly before we continue, and that is, Burgoyne, in many ways, is a very, very proud individual. He believes he can get anything done. He believes through his own hubris or pride, that he will emerge as the great hero and all sorts of buildings and schools and whatever you want to come up with will be named after the great John Burgoyne, the great heroic general, rather than the goat that he turned out to be the revolutionary period from at least the British point.
MT: I find that to be a common trend with most generals of the time, and maybe now too. I don't know. But especially during that time. Most generals seem to think: If only I had the chance to be in command, if only I wasn't second in command or only a command of a division or something, if only I was the commander, I could do so much more than the guy on top of me. Burgoyne certainly felt that way and you see it in his Thoughts for Conducting the War from Canada. I guess you have to have a certain amount of hubris to become a general in the first place. And you build on that only by pushing the limits, pushing beyond the guy that's ahead of you, and proving that you're better than him in some way.
JKM: Well, that's really what happened, because Sir Guy Carlton was a careful individual. He knew, based on his experiences in warding off the attempt to take the city of Quebec, after the American defeat there at the end of 1775. He understood that guys like Arnold, and some of these other individuals were pretty tough, pretty tough folks, and they should be respected. And he also understood that if you're going to attack, you have to be well prepared. And it certainly learned that experience from his failures in 1776, because even though he's well prepared, the timing of his campaign was all wrong in terms of getting it launched too late in the year, before winter might might have set in.
It's really interesting, because Burgoyne, and Carlton didn't get along after this point in time. For going he's given the command, you're the one who's going to get the star, you know, that is you're going to be the star of the show. Carlton has to stay back in Canada. And one of the results of that, Carlton wasn't very happy about supporting Burgoyne, especially as he kept pushing farther south. And the issue of maintaining his supply line back into Canada became problematic. It was sort of like Carlton said, you're the show, man.
MT: You said you could do it. Why aren't you doing it?
JKM: You're the one who thought you could get it done. That was a that really wasn't very helpful. And that's an example of this kind of, as you're talking about. This goes on all over the place. on the American side, you had Philip Schuyler. I read very highly and thought, along with Arnold, did a brilliant job of delaying Burgoyne after the taking of Ticonderoga.
| Gen. Horatio Gates|
But the Continental Congress sort of had this strange love affair with General Horatio Gates, former British officer, well regarded by many of the New England leaders. And they kept saying, Well, the only way we're going to stop we're going is we've got to supplant Schuyler with Gates, which they do in the middle of August of 1777. And Gates goes north meets Schuyler as the Americans are still retreating in front of the slowly-advancing British force. He relieves Schuyler, he does it all very rudely. And it's this, you know, I should be the one who's getting all the credit. I'm the one who can really defeat the British. And I just will draw a line somewhere and I won't let them by me.
And he is, well Gates is very, very overrated in that sense, because he can't seem to get along. He's threatened by Arnold. He had been threatened by Arnold. Arnold is getting too much attention. I'm not getting enough. And all of this is really what we might relate to the politics of command. Who's in charge here, and who's going to get the credit? When you would think on both sides, they would be doing everything they could, that is on the American side, trying to get along and work together carefully, on the British side, trying to get along and work together carefully.
But truthfully, when you look the record, it's almost embarrassing, because they, in each case, almost did as much squabbling among themselves, as they did squabbling back and forth against against their foes. So that's, that's an interesting part of the story, to say the least.
MT: Yeah, I actually see a lot of parallels between Horatio Gates and Johnny Burgoyne and that both of them seem to really focus a lot on lobbying, rather than fighting. Burgoyne, of course, as you point out in your chapter, saying he would go back to London for personal reasons, in '76. And then immediately went to go see King George and submit his plans for running the whole show. And General Gates all the time, he didn't participate in the crossing of the Delaware because he said he was sick. And then he rode straight down to Baltimore to complain to Congress about what Washington was doing.
JKM: The best doctors were involved Baltimore at that point. He didn't really visit them. But he certainly visited Samuel Adams and other supporters and, interestingly enough, got in some bad mouthing about Benedict Arnold because Washington had just favored Arnold to go and help with the command in New England because the British were setting up a naval base in Newport area of Rhode Island. And there'll be fighting there in this New England command zone. So Gates, was sort of peeved that Washington would select this guy. Arnold.
He's just some guy from Connecticut, you know. He's a merchant. He doesn't have any military experience. That's one of the amazing things about Arnold. For a guy who didn't have any military experience, he knew what he was doing. And he could command as I said, on land and on sea, and really play a very, very vital role.
This is all of course, before the so-called treason in 1780. But in 1777 Arnold's the guy. Gates didn't really care for that. That leads to problems at Saratoga. Because, I'm just gonna say, Arnold's the second command. But Gates' vision there is really let them come and attack us. We'll draw a line, you know, up from the Hudson River going west, over Bemis Heights. Then they've got to get around us, the British have moved slowly, the force has been worn down by series of other incidents that we haven't gone into. And we'll just wait him out. We'll just stand tall because I'm not really sure the Americans because remember, Gates is an Englishman. He's not really sure they're going to be those good fighters that Benedict Arnold believes in.
So there's really a controversy about how to even conduct themselves tactically in the battles. Arnold will carry the day because he'll become a leader in the field. And it really is a very important part of the story. But at the same time, Burgoyne, well he has more to see at this point, despite what we said about Guy Carlton he had some more unity of command with his subordinate officers.
Burgoyne is the slowest moving guy in town, there is no doubt, I shouldn't say in town, in the backwoods. It wasn't just because there's some reasons, one of which was he had to figure out how to get his artillery pieces, not only to the bottom of, actually not to the bottom to the bottom of Lake George, how to carry them overland to the river. And then how to move proceed. And if you look at, it took we're going to give you the dates. He left Canada, around the 15th or 16th of June, and made it to and overran Fort Ticonderoga, which is well over 100-150 miles, I don't have the exact number in front of me. He does that in well, approximately three weeks or maybe within that area, three weeks.
Well, then he gets there on July 6, but he is not actually in position for another two months. And it's a shorter distance. It's 60-70 miles he has to cover takes him over two months to get in position to even go at what is now the Gates, Northern Department Army on Bemis Heights and is worn out in the process in a whole variety of ways. And it really does set up the possibility of what will be a great American victory in the end.
MT: Yeah, I think a big part of his slow movement, you've got a credit Team Schuyler, for all the trees they felled and water they dumped to swamp the land that the British had to march through and killing the dead animals and leaving dead cattle over the, rotting corpses out over the streets.
JKM: Slow movement, was very well done. It's a classic kind of delaying action. If you can't defeat the enemy in say, an organized set-piece battle. So what you really want to do is you want to build your strength by retreating very, very slowly Arnold understood this. Certainly Schuyler did.
|The Death of Jane McCrea, Vanderlyn 1804 |
You just keep slowly backing up, you keep drawing them in, you keep drawing them in as you're backing up. And it's that that really kind of amazing approach for which Schuyler has been in many ways criticized, well, why didn't he just stand and fight them? Well, he didn't have the resources to stand and fight them. But the resources are going to be developing, more and more militia come out.
There are various reasons for that. Some attribute this to the story of Jane McCrea, this so-called loyalist woman, who was butchered in late July by some Indians that were part of Burgoyne's campaign. That that story is spread all over New England about this butchering British soldiery. And will the Indians be threatening us actually in New England. And that helped the militia come out.
And what's happening is, as part of this pattern, is that Burgoyne's numbers keep going down, down, down, down, down. If he started with 8500, by the time of the first battle, September 19, he might be down to 6000 to 6500. He's lost most of his Indians, that is Canadian Indians who had joined the campaign.
In turn, by delaying the American numbers keep going up. So by the end of this, Burgoyne may have been down to 5000 and Americans were up to roughly 15,000. So delay is very, very important as a perfectly legitimate operational strategy. That's what really worked for the Americans. Right there, you had to get Schuyler, and with assistance from Arnold, the real credit. Gates didn't show up in time. In fact, a lot of the things that happen to Burgoyne happened before Gates showed up, so he's there for the cleanup, if I can put it, the cleanup guy who got the got the coin
MT: He put it over the goal from the one yard line basically.
JKM: That's right. That's exactly, a very, very good description. And another, you know, kind of analogy from that point of view, is that in any sport, football, whatever, basketball, don't ever take your opponent opponent so lightly, That's what Burgoyne did.
That was part of his hubris, humility, sort of condescension toward these outlanders that is the colonists they really weren't more true blue pretty subjects like him. And Burgoyne had a lot of good things happen to him because he was born in somewhat obscure circumstances. He also was in his mid 50s. And he spent a lot of time worrying about as they move through the wilderness. The story is he had 30, wagon loads of goods that belonged to him personally. He brought the family tea service with him. And he was not short on uniforms up to 25 or 30. And of course, my joke has always been, yeah, changes uniforms everyday because the bears out there, you know, the willingness to really be impressed. Oh, look, he's got this instead of that one.
MT: Always have to look the gentleman right?
JKM: Look, the gentleman. That's right. And that's part of it, is that, for the British generals more as a characteristic, they seem to worry about those kinds of things a little bit too much, rather than getting on with the actual campaigning that was going on. It's a fascinating story, both in terms of, let me put it this way, seeing the big picture strategy, we got to cut off New England from the rest of the colonies and then completely failing over a two-year period: '76 and '77 to implement that strategy effectively.
Of course, your question or your point was, what if Burgoyne had made it to Albany, so what? Well, General Howe, who is the overall commander in chief, in New York, that summer, instead of supporting Burgoyne and moving an army northward to Albany to complete this junction, he decides to send his forces out the middle of, not really in the middle of , the Atlantic Ocean, but they go by water. So 15,000, they come up through Chesapeake Bay. And ultimately, he will, around the 26th of September will capture Philadelphia after beating up Washington's army, and a couple of pretty bad battles. The British just didn't get themselves - they couldn't execute the plan. They couldn't execute the strategy. They couldn't execute the operational plan. And they made a lot of tactical errors when it got right down to it.
MT: Well, even when Howe took Philadelphia, everybody kind of said, so what? You know, you captured the enemy's capital now. Is the war over? No.
JKM: No, it's not Europe. You know, you take Paris, Okay. So if you take Paris, you probably captured France. If you take Philadelphia, all you do is move the Continental Congress, a very portable body and they just go west, and relocate out west about 100 miles and just wait until the British will give up and just go back. Because one of the outcomes is that after these two battles, Burgoyne is so beaten up, that he has little choice but to retreat, and will retreat about 10 miles northward up to what is today the area of Schuylerville, New York at that time actually called Saratoga in the he will have to surrender his whole force, not just portion of it, his whole force.
That in turn, along with a few other developments. But this is the key thing will encourage the French to come out openly in favor of American independence. They will go on to sign two treaties: one of Amity and Commerce, and one of Military Alliance. And the French will begin to pour, really, by the standards of the day, massive military forces into helping to defeat their old enemy and bring down the proud British Lion.
|Benedict Arnold |
That is one of the key developments. Because once France gets involved in this war, and once they are able to coordinate with American forces, it's not going to work well for the British. Because now they have not only the fight the Americans and they haven't defeated them completely. But now they have to fight the French and it will expand out. The Spanish really never come in, but they do help the French. The Dutch ultimately will get involved. And it really becomes like a gang up on the British, what would have been perceived as the most powerful of the Empires out there. And they do take a good licking in the end.
So that this battle, I would argue, if you're going to line up ten key campaigns, this is number one. Now admittedly, I'm the author, so I'm a little bit biased on this. But without that development, without the sacrifice, amazingly enough of characters like Benedict Arnold, as you know, got shot up terribly in the left leg. He limping the rest of his life - almost died from this wound, and really becomes very embittered toward the American cause because of the treatment. Gates was not exactly nice to him. And there are lots of other instances of that. The whole thing gets around to one of the great ironies is that Benedict Arnold was perceived as the total anti-hero the revolution was the great hero at Saratoga. And I realize some may want to support Gates, but he's still the Johnny-come-lately in terms of what happened there.
MT: Right. There's a famous quote by Arnold when he's being carried from the field at Bemis Heights where someone asks him where he was shot. He said, in the same leg, I wish it had been my heart. And, you know, I almost wish it had been his heart because he had done so many wonderful things up until that time. And really, Bemis Heights was his last great contribution to the war. And if he had gone out on that high note, we would remember him is the most wonderful person, fighting General of the war, really.
I could have ended up - because I went to Paul Revere High School in Bath, Ohio, outside of Akron and Cleveland. I could have ended up going to Benedict Arnold High School instead. But that, but I guarantee you, there are not a lot of Benedict Arnold high schools out there, There are none anywhere.
MT: As much as he did in the first three years, he ruined it all.
JKM: You know, he's just like, gentlemen, Johnny Burgoyne who ruined it all for himself and spent much of the rest of his life really defending the ineptitude that he brought to that campaign. Arnold sort of had the same experience, and really many ways that very sad life after 1780 and he passes from the scene in 1801. In fact, there was so little concern, they weren't sure where he was buried for almost 100 years. It's actually a church along the Thames River, St. Mary's Battersea, where he is buried underground.
|Barry St. Leger|
These are amazing stories. Human beings, like all of us have all sorts of strengths and all sorts of flaws, and they sort of come together. And in the end really worked out well, for the Americans. I mean, this is this is a rich story with many elements.
We didn't talk about the Bennington battle, and the loss. When Burgoyne because he's getting bogged down in August, they start to run short of supplies, they're running out of horses, and he sends a rather large column of Hessians south into the Vermont territory, and they will run into American forces under General John Stark. This battle at Bennington in the middle of August, will wipe out that force. It gets killed or captured for all practical purposes, and that sort of sawing off one limb.
Then you have the other story of Burgoyne did have this diversionary force that went out through Lake Ontario, cut into the western end of the Mohawk Valley. It gets bogged down besieging Fort Stanwix actually called Fort Schuyler, at that point in time. That force, largely Native American force are mostly made up of members of the six nations that will be engaged in a bloody battle Oriskany on August 6. Ultimately they will be driven off by none other than Benedict Arnold, who goes westward and rushes a force westward and sort of drives the folks out of the ground, Arnold was coming, Arnold was coming. And he's bringing a huge army. And there's a panic. And that force, that is the St. Leger force has to pull back into Canada. So that diversionary force is lost. And so Burgoyne just becomes more and more and more of a sitting duck. And in the end, he loses everything
MT: I think you pointed out in the book Burgoyne had originally requested almost 15,000 troops for this mission, and ended up getting about half that?
JKM: That's right. It was more like 11,000. And then the British command said, Well, look, wars cost money. And, this is bleeding us down. I mean, we're still not probably, at that point, even free of the debt, from the French and Indian War, or the Seven Years War in Europe more generally. And we're just piling on debt after debt after debt. So we we sort of believe you can get the job done. And you're sort of overestimating what you really need.
|General Herkimer at Oriskany (from Wikimedia)|
So he ends up with 1000, which does include a few Canadian volunteers, it does include 5, 6, 7, it depends how you count, it is very hard to say, Native Americans of the of the various Canadian nations. And so he doesn't really have in his mind the strength that he really needs. And he's probably 2000-3000 short to give you a kind of a rough number.
That will become kind of like a fallback excuse. Well, I just they didn't give me enough. And I did everything I could. But since it didn't give me enough, it's their fault. It's not. And of course, I'm just getting into the blame game, which will go on and is actually in its own certain way rather entertaining if you if you read it. No, it's his fault. Well, you know, why did Howe go to Philadelphia? He didn't support me? The plan was he was supposed to come north. And that is, I guess that's human nature, we don't want to want to say, Okay, I screwed this up. And therefore, I'll go away quietly and not be subject to public scrutiny. And in the end, that sort of thing.
MT: But one of Burgoyne's real problems, I think after the defeat was, unlike a lot of the generals, he didn't have... he wasn't well-born. He didn't have brothers and cousins and uncles who were serving in Parliament to back him up politically. So once, once he failed militarily, it was kind of the end for him.
But really, he didn't have, as you say, he didn't have the peerage to fall back on. Because no matter how you cut it, he was not you know, he was "Gentlemen Johnny." He really wasn't individually been honored with great titles from that point of view.
And so when he gets back to England, he's got to say, well, this went wrong, that went wrong. But that was everybody else's fault. You know, there's Hessians they didn't know how to fight, who paid all that money for them. They were a waste of money. I tried to give you some more excuses if I came in, you know, what was the matter with St. Leger? Why did he run back at it into Quebec? They just left me in the lurch. We had it, we had it all going our way. And sort of this failure to admit, he screwed up.
One of the interesting things was, even though he lost, he really then signed this agreement, the surrender agreement called the convention of Saratoga. And this was one dumb idea. Even though Burgoyne lost the battle, they almost won in a certain way, because Gates, and I can say politely, in his semi-ineptitude, agreed to allow that whole force to be marched to Boston, and shipped back to England. So you send a force of 5000, with Burgoyne and its commanders back to England. All you have to do is turn around, release 5000 troops on home duty in England, send them back to America. And you haven't really knocked out that army.
George Washington, even the Continental Congress, which did have some ineptitude problems, to say the least. understood this was not a good plan. So they changed it. And I, don't know a lot of people know this, convention army, went to Boston, it was marched through Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania dollar all the way up to Charlottesville, Virginia, which was frontier at that point in time. And then they built a little community and that's where they waited out the war. Or they escaped and disappeared, these Hessians and British soldiers, into the countryside and blended in.
And it's also interesting that the Continental Army, which is always hurting for enough troops, Washington at a terrible problem, after 1776 because it's popular enthusiasm wore down over time. And so Continental Army recruiters and state recruiters are actively trying to recruit Burgoyne's army into the continental and state forces. It did have some success in doing so, as the convention army moved all the way out to Charlottesville.
It's an interesting story in and of itself. What do you do with an army after you've captured it? We don't really have the facilities I guess, to just throw them all in prison. You know, we don't have an Andersonville situation. Although personally Since we're pretty bad, as you know, and the British don't have much of a record, nor do the Americans in terms of treatment. Think of the ships out in the harbor in Brooklyn, in America, many Americans captured who died on those ships - a very, very tragic story. But, but in this case, that army did not get back to England. So it did not get back into play. And so Gates, really, even though that was kind of a muffed job on his part, Gates still emerged as the hero because those leaders of Congress just liked him for some reason. I'm still trying to figure out why
MT: I put it down to that he was really good at lobbying. He would ingratiate himself to power and the New England delegates just ate it up.
|Fort Ticonderoga (from Wikimedia)|
JKM: Yes, he was a political general. As a type, he's a political general. Schuyler just assumed because he was of the American elite, a wealthy person who had served in Congress, that he would have some clout. But the New Englanders didn't like him. For one reason they didn't was he will go in July, and into August of 1775 go to Ticonderoga takeover command from sort of an incompetent guy named Benjamin Hinman, who's from Connecticut.
And he tries to put discipline into those troops. Wait a minute, you know, what are you trying to do tell us we should march in a line, we should learn the fundamentals of how to campaign? and be disciplined and be on guard and, you know, sentries out? what's the matter with this guy? And the New Englanders buy that in right into a new season? Well, this person thinks well of himself from the area of upstate New York, and therefore he sort of put down.
Arnold just didn't have the skills, I guess. It wasn't afraid to tell people. He wasn't afraid to tell people when he let me rephrase that he did not suffer fools lightly. And he was surrounded by some real lightweight fools. And he paid the price.
MT: Arnold you either really loved him or you really hated him. And I think most people fell into the latter camp.
JKM: Isn't that amazing. It's true. So many of his peers really didn't like the guy. But the soldiers underneath him - they they were glad because they, they knew that he was supporting them and that he respected them and that he would do anything he could to not get them killed in combat, but to get them to win in combat.
MT: I guess "love" is a strong word. They respected him as a leader, or they hated his guts and thought he was a criminal.
JKM: That's right. So it's goes both ways in this in this particular situation.
MT But the issue with Schulyer too, I think a lot of it had to do with the age-old New York - New England rivalry.
JKM: Absolutely. and a lot of that goes back to the Vermont territory. Schuyler has been very active and going after the Green Mountain Boys and trying to get them arrested. And Ethan Allen, who's one of the great ghosts of the whole revolutionary story, from my point of view, accomplished, amazingly, so little unless you read his great memoir, which he, of course, captured Fort Ticonderoga, the name of the great Jehovah in the Continental Congress, when he probably said "come out you old rat" referring to the British commander there,
MT Yeah, but he supposedly said that before there was a Continental Congress
JKM The Continental Congress had just started its session the same day, May 10 1775
MT: Schuyler and the New Yorkers still thought Vermont was very much a part of New York and thought that until 1790. That made New Englanders very hostile to any New Yorkers.
JKM: Well, Schuyler did accept the Green Mountain Boys as a regiment, even though he didn't want to. And he respected their decision to not elect Ethan Allen but Seth Werner is their colonel in command. So as you know, the Allen's story can go on and we could go on about that. He decides to sort of single-handedly capture Montreal. He gets himself captured in the trying to take Montreal in September 1775 get shipped off to England, spends 18 months or so in an English prison.
MT: He actually did time in the Tower of London, one of only two Americans to have that privilege.
JKM: And then, in turn, he'll come back. They decided to give me an honorary colonelcy, but they don't. Washington says in this guy, he's not worth the time. We never know what he's going to do.
MT: The funniest thing I've ever heard about Alan was long after the war, he ended up marrying a woman who was from New York or had a New York family. He inherited a lot of their New York claims in Vermont, and he spent most of his later years fighting for New York land claims, after spending all of his early years fighting against them.
JKM: Curious, seriously curious endings through his through his life. But that's true. That's true. He's a very colorful character, although probably not very critical to the credit that he gets is sort of a leader of the of the revolutionary era. And you're right. The gentleman from South Carolina was the other person. And I'm trying to remember his name, who was in the Tower of London.
JKM: Yes, Henry Laurens, that's right. And that's, an interesting story in itself. So he missed out on the daily negotiations of the peace of Paris that's being worked out in 1782 and 1783. I mean, it's like the revolution is just one great story after another.
Let me tell you this one. Over the years, I've given a number of talks to various groups, and then some and individual American, Sons of the American Revolution meetings. In one of these, a few years ago, I said okay, here are three battles. I'm going to describe in fairly, briefly, but fairly. I'm not going to try to favor one. And then I want you to vote and decide which was the most significant. So battle number one would be the Trenton-Princeton campaign. We'll just call it one battle, even though it's more than one, and I described it. And then the second would be the great victory at Saratoga, and I bias the audience already by saying great. But I tried to avoid that. And then the third would be the siege and the battle of Yorktown in 1781.
And I described each one. I said Okay, I want you to rate these 1-2-3 in terms of which mattered the most. And it was rather curious, because without my prompting, Saratoga swept the field as the most critical because it's the classic turning point of the war. And then there ,was actually a tie between, and you can make the case either way, between the Trenton campaign that sort of saved the cause, and a brilliant tactical turn about victory by Washington and a few others. Or, of course, Yorktown, because Yorktown sort of was the wrap up. Once you lost the second major army, it was going to be hard to come back. And a lot of that has to do with the sheer cost of maintaining the war. The British were really beginning hurt financially. How many more armies could they afford to lose, and not really went back almost any portion of the colonies?
|Surrender at Saratoga (from Wikimedia)|
So it was sort of an interesting exercise. But it also relates back to our book, they have these various campaigns. And one of the things I think readers could do is they read about the various campaigns is compare and contrast them. Not only get a better, perhaps a more complete overall sense of the war and how it was fought, but which of these really mattered the most, lining them up and asking, whys, and trying to determine, in the end, what really did matter. They all mattered. But they all mattered in different ways. And some may have mattered more than others in the end.
But that's part of the interesting part of doing historical analysis from my point of view, and learning some military history, learning some of the fundamentals of making war, like when I taught at West Point, we will talk about strategy, grand strategy, operation, operational planning, tactics, and so on, so on and so forth. And it's a very, very interesting way to learn about a very important...because we human beings are good at making wars, there's no doubt about that. It helps to understand what they're all about how they're fought, and why some win some lose.
MT: Yeah, I think the three, campaigns you mentioned, Trenton, Saratoga, and Yorktown were the the three, for lack of a better word, winningest campaigns for the Patriots. Trenton kept the army alive at a time when it could have been murdered in its crib. Saratoga, of course, brought in France, and Yorktown was the coup de gras.
But Saratoga is interesting because the British were constantly complaining, the leaders, the commanders were constantly complaining, they didn't have enough troops, no matter how much Britain sent. And, with the entry of France, even if France hadn't sent a single soldier or ship to America, just their declaration of war caused Britain to remove so many thousands of British regulars from North America to go defend the Caribbean. And they had concerns about a French invasion of mainland England. So, the fact that Saratoga brought France's entry into the war is what made it so absolutely important. It turned the tide of the war and made it clear that America had a path to victory,
JKM: Right, that dispersal of forces is one of the most important things that happened. Because, to put it this way, what the British did was they took their eye off the target. What had become what it started as a civil conflict or civil war, now actually became, and would, to use the fancy term transmogrify, or turn into, a world war, before it was all said and done. And the winners in the end turned out to be the Americans, at least some of us look at it that way. I'm not saying all folks everywhere, even in England might look at it that way. But..
MT: The Tories weren't too happy about it.
JKM: Anyway, so it's a fascinating story. And the more folks get involved with it, the better from my point of view.
MT: Yeah, I think it's laid out very well in the book, you know, each of the ten campaigns and how it led us from, how can we possibly win this thing to, you know, by the end, victory is clearly inevitable. I think the British really had the mindset after France into the war that this war has been lost. And right now we're doing damage recovery. We want to minimize our losses at this point.
They were willing to toss off North America for because, you know, one sugar island in the Caribbean, much more valuable to them than the entire continent, I think. But yeah, I think the book does a wonderful job of laying all that out. And I think everybody should check it out. I recommend, I really, I could talk to you for hours about all this. This is really fascinating, but I want to be respectful of your time. The book, again, is called the Ten Key Campaigns of the Revolution and recently went on sale I think last week, well last week from when we are recording this, a few weeks ago by the time people here this.
JKM: Yeah, But it's out and available. And here it is, it is.
MT: It is available. Each chapter, as I said, was written by a different expert. You, of course, did the Saratoga campaign, and we have nine other really great writers who wrote on the other campaigns. So for anybody who's interested in, specifically in the military aspects of the Revolution, this does a really great job of summarizing all of them. So, Dr. Martin, thank you so much for speaking with me today. I'd really enjoyed our talk.
JKM: Right maybe do it again sometime. Glad to. Take care.
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James Kirby Martin is professor emeritus at the University of Houston:
Further Reading:The 10 Key Campaigns of the American Revolution, Simon & Schuster, 2020.
Historian Ed Lengel has brought together ten of the most highly respected Revolutionary War experts to present the stirring narratives of history-altering military campaigns that formed a new nation.
Accessibly written, the lay reader will take a tour through British America from Quebec City's frozen fortress, to the Concord's Old North Bridge, Cross the Delaware with Washington and through South Carolina with the "Swamp Fox" Frances Marion. After reading these ten riveting essays, every American will sound like an expert on our nation's fight for freedom.
The Ten Campaigns:
- Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill by Glenn Williams
- Quebec and the Champlain Valley by Mark Anderson
- Brooklyn to Fort Lee by Todd Braisted
- The Crossing and The Ten Crucial Days by William L. Kidder
- Ticonderoga To Saratoga by James Kirby Martin
- Brandywine to Valley Forge by Michael C. Harris
- The Monmouth Campaign by Mark Lender
- Charlestown to Kings Mountain by John Buchanan
- From Cowpens to Guilford Courthouse by John Maass
- The Allied March to Yorktown by Robert Selig
Other works by James Kirby Martin:
Men in Rebellion: Higher Governmental Leaders and the Coming of the American Revolution. New York: Free Press, 1976.
The Human Dimensions of Nation Making: Essays on Colonial and Revolutionary America, Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1976.
The American Revolution: Whose Revolution? Huntington, New York: R. E. Krieger Pub. Co. 1977.
Interpreting Colonial America; Selected Readings, New York: Harper & Row. 1978.
In the Course of Human Events: An Interpretive Exploration of the American Revolution, Arlington Heights, Illinois: AHM Pub. Corp. 1979.
Citizen Soldier: The Revolutionary War Journal of Joseph Bloomfield, Newark: New Jersey Historical Society, 1982.
A Concise History of America and its People, New York, NY: Harper Collins College. 1995.
Benedict Arnold, Revolutionary Hero: An American Warrior Reconsidered. New York: NYU Press, 1997.
American and Its Peoples: A Mosaic in the Making (5th ed.). New York: Pearson Longman, 2003.
Forgotten Allies: The Oneida Indians and the American Revolution, New York: Hill and Wang, 2006.
A Respectable Army: The Military Origins of the Republic, 1763-1789, Wheeling, Ill.: Harlan Davidson, Inc. 2006.
Ordinary Courage: the Revolutionary War Adventures of Joseph Plumb Martin, Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. (4th ed) 2012.
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