American Elephants

A Rebellion With Lots of Spirit, No Money. by The Elephant's Child

“The country that declared its independence on July 4, 1776, had many advantages in the military struggle with Britain that was already under way. Finances,  however, was not one of them.

The United States was fighting on its home ground and could react quickly. Britain had to fight from a distance of three thousand miles and with a communications time lag of at least three months, often four. The American military commanders and politicians were intimately familiar with that ground; their British counterparts were often profoundly ignorant. Most of all, the United States had only to avoid losing the war until the British government and people tired sufficiently of the struggle and its mounting costs. Britain had to defeat and pacify a vast country awash in rebellion.

But Britain had virtually unlimited financial resources; the Americans had hardly any. Because of those resources it could deploy the largest and best navy in the world (although it had been allowed to decay considerably since the end of the Seven Years’ War). The British army was second to none in training and equipment, and could be easily augmented with hired foreign troops. The Americans had to scratch together what forces they could using state militias and privateers as much as if not more than the Continental Army and Navy.

The rest had to come from borrowing, some from wealthy Americans committed to the cause, but mostly from France and Holland, who were both, of course, far more interested in humbling Britain than in helping the Americans. Along with money, they also supplied about 60 percent of the gunpowder used by American forces. During the course of the war, American privateers seized some two thousand British vessels, worth, together with their cargoes some 18 million pounds.” *

So to overcome the limits of borrowing, the Americans turned to the printing press, with the usual result — inflation. From early 1779 to early 1781 prices rose nearly tenfold. Robert Morris, a Philadelphia merchant, took charge in 1781 and was able to raise financing to move the Continental Army from New York State to Yorktown, Virgina.

The French fleet blocked the entrance to Chesapeake Bay, cutting off relief to the British army. If the British wanted to continue the war they would have to raise, equip and transport a new army.  There was no political will to do so. The British were “war weary” in the common phrase of journalists. The British began negotiating a peace treaty that resulted in formal recognition of American independence in 1783. The Americans won the war by not losing.

* John Steele Gordon: An Empire of Wealth

The War Against England Begins: by The Elephant's Child

WilliamDiamond's Drum
July 2, 1775

General Washington arrived in Cambridge. The next morning, without ceremony, he took over command from General Ward. For the following two or three days he toured the lines, appraising his forces, their camps and their fortifications. He was accompanied by General Charles Lee who wrote to his old friend Robert Morris in Philadelphia: “We found e everything exactly the reverse of what had been represented. We were assured at Philadelphia that the army was socked with engineers. We found not one. We were assured that we should find an expert train of artillery. They have not a single gunner, and so on…”

 Two weeks later, he remarked of the army, “I really believe not a single man of ‘em is capable of constructing an oven,” Lee was a soldier of fortune who had seen a variety of troops in several parts of the world. He was described by a Yankee clergyman as “a perfect original, a good scholar and soldier, and an odd genius, full of fire and passion and but little good manners; a great sloven, wretchedly profane, and a great admirer of dogs.” Lee said of New England’s enlisted men:

…they are admirable — young, stout, healthy, zealous, good-humoured and sober.  Had we but uniforms, compleat arms, more gentlemen for officers, I really believe a very little time and pains would render ‘em the most invincible army that have appeared since the first period of the Roman Republic …The more we consider the affair of Bunker’s Hill the more wonderful it appears…

July 27, 1775

Three and a half weeks after his arrival at Cambridge, Washington summed up his efforts and the general situation in this way:

My whole time since I came here has been impolyed in throwing up lines of defence at these three several places; to secure, in the first instance, our own troops from any attempts of the enemy; and, in the next, to cut off all communication between their troops and the country …Their force, including Marines, Tories, etc., are computed, from the best accounts I can get, at about 12,000 men. Ours, including sick, absent, etc., at about 16,000 …

The enemy are sickly and scarce of fresh provisions…I have drove all the live[stock] within a considerable distance of this place back into the country, out of the way of the men-of-war’s boats. In short, I have, and shall continue to do, everything in my power to distress them. The [British] transports are all arrived, and their whole reinforcement is landed, so that I can see no reason why they should not, if they ever attempt it, come boldly out and put the matter to issue at once. If they think themselves not strong enough to do this, they surely will carry their arms (having ships of war and transports ready) to some other part of the continent, or relinquish the dispute; the last of which the Ministry [in England] unless compelled, will never agree to do. Our works and those of the enemy are so near and quite open between that we see every thing that the other is doing.

August 14, 1775

Reinforcements continued to arrive.  A newspaper report stated:

Last night arrived at the camp, …Swashan the chief, with four other Indians of the St. Francis tribe, conducted by Mr. Reuben Colburn, who has been honorable recompensed for his trouble. The above Indians came to offer their services to the cause of American liberty, have been kindly received, and are now entered the service. Swashan says he will bring one-half of his tribe and has engaged four or five other tribes, if they should be wanted.

Other new arrivals at Cambridge were additional riflemen from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. Dr. Thacher described them:

They are remarkably stout and hardy men, many of them exceeding six feet in height. They are dressed in white frocks or rifle-shirts, and round hats. These men are remarkable for the accuracy of their aim, striking a mark with great certainty at two hundred yards distance…They are now stationed in our  line, and their shot have frequently proved fatal to British officers and soldiers who expose them selves to view, even at more than double the distance of common musket-shot.

Late in August, Washington wrote:

…As we have now nearly compleated our lines of defence, we [have] nothing more, in my opinion, to fear from the enemy, provided we can keep our men to their duty and make them  watchful and vigilant. But it is among the most difficult tasks I ever undertook in my life to induce these people to believe there is, or can be, danger till the bayonet is pushed at their breasts…

The stalemate in Boston was to drag on until the following spring. But a second front was moving to attack Quebec. The province was largely inhabited by Frenchmen who were not all reconciled to having British masters.  In the summer of 1775 there were only about eight hundred regulars in the whole of Canada. One expedition under General Philip Schuyler and General Richard Montgomery assembled at Ticonderoga prepared to boat northward on Lake Champlain, hoping to capture St. Johns and Montreal before heading on to Quebec. The second expedition under Colonel Benedict Arnold proposed to go up through the wilderness, up the Kennebec River.

This is the point at which you have to read Kenneth Roberts Arundel and Rabble in Arms, historical novels written in the 1930s that turned many a young man into an historian. They follow Steven Nason of Arundel, Maine, as he joins Benedict Arnold in his march to Quebec. I have always loved those books.

From Voices of 1776 and Rebels and Redcoats

The Sound of War: America Finds a General by The Elephant's Child

WilliamDiamond's Drum
June 16, 1775.

“When the Congress convened in the morning, John Hancock, from the chair, informed Washington of is appointment and expressed the hope of the Congress that George Washington, Esquire, would accept their choice of him as General and Commander-in-Chief of the forces raised and to be raised for the defense of America. The Colonel bowed, took a paper from his pocket and read:”

Mr. President: Though I am truly sensible of the high honor don me in this appointment, yet I feel great distress from a consciousness that my abilities and military experience may not be equal to the extensive and important trust. However, as the Congress desire, I will enter upon the momentous duty, and exert every power I possess in their service, and for the support of the glorious cause: I beg they will accept my most cordial thanks for this distinguished testimony of their approbation.

But, lest some unlucky event should happen unfavorable to my reputation, I beg it may be remembered by every gentleman  in the room, that I this day declare with the utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with.

As to pay, sir, I beg leave to assure the Congress that as no pecuniary consideration could have tempted me to have acce3pted this arduous employment at the expense of my domestic ease and happiness, I do not wish to make any profit from it; I will keep an exact account of my expenses; those I doubt not they will discharge ,and that is all I desire.

And so it began.

“On June 23, Washington wrote a short note to his “Dearest,” and armed with his commission and instructions from the Congress, mounted his horse for the long ride northward to his army.”

from Rebels and Redcoats.

A Little British Humor: by The Elephant's Child

Scotland: Floor Eleven by The Elephant's Child

I do too have a sense of humor, though it doesn’t seem like it.  Here’s a little humor to break the bad news cycle.

It’s called:  Voice Recognition Lift

Remember the Men of D-Day, June 6, 1944 by The Elephant's Child

……………………………………………………………………………….(click to enlarge)

Major Werner Pluskat in his bunker overlooking Omaha Beach had heard nothing from his superiors. He was cold, tired and exasperated. He felt isolated. He couldn’t understand why there had been no reports from either regimental or division headquarters. …Once more he swung the artillery glasses over to the left, picked up the dark mass of the Cherbourg peninsula and began another slow sweep of the horizon. The same low banks of mist came into view, the same patches of shimmering moonlight, the same restless white flecked sea.

Behind him in the bunker his dog Harras, was stretched out asleep. Nearby , Captain Ludz Wilkening and Lieutenant Fritz Theen were talking quietly. Pluskat joined them. “Still nothing out there,” he told them.” I’m about to give it up. But he walked back to the aperture and stood looking out as the first streaks of light began to lighten the sky. He decided to make another routine sweep.

Wearily, he swung the glasses over to the left again. Slowly he tracked across the horizon. He reached the dead center of the bay. The glasses stopped moving. Pluskat tensed, stared hard.

Through the scattering thinning mist the horizon was filling with ships — ships of every size and description, ships that casually maneuvered back and forth as though they had been there for hours. There appeared to be thousands of them. Pluskat stared in frozen disbelief, speechless, moved as he had never been before in his life. At that moment the world of the good soldier Pluskat began falling apart. He says that in those first few moments he knew, calmly and surely, that “this was the end for Germany.”      Cornelius Ryan: The Longest Day

ADDENDUM:  The Greatest Generation is passing into history. The youngest who turned 18 in 1943 will be 88 years old in 2013. Honor them, for they saved the world at enormous cost.  Think too, of those on the home front who built the ships and planes and made the materials that won the war. They built the arsenal of Democracy.

They were slogging, unglamorous men that no one envied. No battle ensigns flew for them no horns or bugles sounded. But they had history on their side.

Piper Bill Millin Pipes the Invasion Forces Ashore by The Elephant's Child

Reposted from 2010

Bill Millin, Lord Lovat’s personal piper, is pictured here ready to jump from the ramp of the landing craft into the icy water of Sword beach on June 6, D–Day, 1944.  Lord Lovat is thigh-deep in the water just to the left of Bill Millin’s arm.  As the Telegraph obituary says: “As the Cameron tartan of his kilt floated to the surface he struck up with Hieland Laddie.  He continued to pipe even as the man behind him was hit, dropped into the sea and sank.

Millin said “I was so relieved of getting off that boat after all night being violently sick.  When I finished, Lovat asked for another tune.  Well, when I looked round — the noise and people lying about shouting and the smoke, the crump of mortars, I said to myself  “Well, you must be joking surely.” He said “What was that?” and he said “Would you mind giving us a tune?” “Well, what tune would you like, Sir?” “How about The Road to the Isles?” “Now, would you want me to walk up and down, Sir?” “Yes, That would be nice.  Yes, walk up and down.”

And that’s what Bill Millin did, walked up and down the invasion beach at water’s edge, blasting out a series of tunes.  Bodies of the fallen were drifting to and fro in the surf.  Soldiers were trying to dig in and, when they heard the pipes, many of them waved and cheered — though one came up to Millin and called him “a mad bastard.”

For many soldiers, the piper provided a unique boost to morale.  “I shall never forget hearing the skirl of Bill Millin’s pipes” said One, Tom Duncan, many years later.  “It is hard to describe the impact it had.  It gave us a great lift and increased our determination.  As well as the pride we felt, it reminded us of home and why we were there fighting for our lives and those of our loved ones.”

After the Great War the War Office had banned pipers from leading soldiers into battle after losses had become too great. “Ah, but that’s the English War Office,” Lovat told Millin.  You and I are both Scottish and that doesn’t apply.”  Millin was the only piper on D-Day.

Millin died on August 17, 2010 aged 88.  He piped the invasion forces on to the shores of France, unarmed apart from the ceremonial dagger in his stocking.  The mayor of Colleville-Montgomery, a town on Sword Beach , has offered a site for a life-size statue of Millin opposite the place where he landed on D-Day. His pipes are in the Scottish War Museum.

Bill Millin’s personal account of D-Day is found here, and the Telegraph’s obituary is here. Millin has been justly famous in all accounts of the D-Day invasion, especially his courageous march across Pegasus Bridge at the crossing of the Orne.  This may have been the last time that a Scottish piper led Scottish troops into battle.

Political Correctness Gone Amok, But It’s More Than That. by The Elephant's Child


After two Muslim terrorists slashed, eviscerated and beheaded a British soldier on a London street in broad daylight a few yards from his barracks, and in full view of civilians and unarmed British policemen, it took 20 minutes for armed police to arrive to do something about the terrorists.

British policemen, however, quickly arrested an 85-year-old woman for shouting “Go back to your own country” outside Gillingham Mosque, handcuffed her and took her away in a van. A Kent Police spokesman said “An 85 year old woman from Chatham was arrested on suspicion of a public order offence.”

Pat Condell is a British citizen who believes in plain speaking, and frequently speaks plainly. As Sergeant Friday used to say “Just the facts, ma’m.” Political correctness is a real problem, when the possibility of offending someone becomes more important that lives and safety. Political correctness is antithetical to a free people.

ADDENDUM: The Holder Justice Department says it will help enforce Islamic Sharia Law.

DOJ: Social Media posts trashing Muslims may violate Civil Rights

In its latest effort to protect followers of Islam in the U.S. the Obama Justice Department warns against using social media to spread information considered inflammatory against Muslims, threatening that it could constitute a violation of civil rights.

We have previously established that the Obama administration has no respect for the separation of powers in the Constitution. Add to that the Bill of Rights. Mr. Obama and Mr. Holder need to re-read the First Amendment. This is a lawless administration.

Visit a Victorian Farm, Circa 1880 by The Elephant's Child

If you have time this weekend, and need a respite from the Boston bombings,  I recommend this documentary from the BBC. It is called Victorian Farm, and is an observational series following a team who live the life of Victorian British farmers for a year.

This is not ‘reality TV’. In Britain, the Acton Scott estate in Shropshire is a world frozen in time, the time of Victorian rural England. The buildings and grounds are cluttered with antique tools and machinery collected by the Acton family, who have lived on the estate since the 12th century.

The team consists of two archaeologists, Alex Langlands and Peter Ginn, and historian Ruth Goodman who go back in time to relive the day-to-day life of a Victorian farmer.  The team moves into a Victorian smallholding on the Acton Scott estate that has not been used in nearly half a century. Their first job is restoration of the cottage. As incoming tenants, they help thresh the previous summer’s wheat crop, their first experience of steam-powered machinery. Alex attempts to sow a wheat crop using horse power. Ruth and Peter install a range in the cottage and take a trip to the canals to load up on coal.

They have as a guide, an 1844 guidebook explaining Victorian tools, and local folk knowledgeable in traditional country ways come by to help them with unfamiliar tasks. It is very professionally done, and if you have no interest in history, probably not your cup of tea. The full documentary is six hours long, but broken up into manageable segments. I enjoyed it immensely. Not Kim Kardashian, but serious scholars discovering the past by doing. Watch a little, you’ll get hooked.

Not Surprising, but Disappointing, Mr. Obama. by The Elephant's Child

President Obama has decided to give the funeral of Baroness Margaret Thatcher the same treatment he gave to the funeral of Hugo Chavez, dictator of Venezuela. He has opted for a presidential delegation including no current politicians to be led by George Shultz and James Baker both of whom served as U.S. Secretary of State when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of England. Mr. Obama has gone out of his way regularly to demonstrate his ideological opposition to the United Kingdom and his small, crass, lack of manners. He forgets that he represents the country and assumes that, as usual it is all about him.

Whether he approved of Mrs. Thatcher or not, she remains a towering world historical figure who stood firmly with American President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul to bring down the Soviet empire. Lord Powell, her private secretary and friend wrote:

She was a remarkable woman, a true leader, relentless in her determination to improve the condition of Britain.” Lady Thatcher had faults, but to acknowledge them “does not diminish the unmatched scale of her achievements as prime minister. She killed off socialism in this country, changed the face of Britain and rescued us from being a nation in retreat.”

John O’Sullivan a long time confidante wrote that she was a mix of the meritocratic and the charismatic, “combination of towering world-historical figure and ordinary middle-class housewife”. The ordinariness is important: Lady Thatcher proved that a woman from a non-privileged background could rise to the top of the Tory party and become prime minister. But her flair and determination to win was what made her a true leader rather than a run-of-the-mill politician. Nothing better reflected that than the courage she showed during the Falklands conflict – her insistence upon liberating the islands rather than negotiating with the invaders. There was a similar refusal to compromise in her dealings with the Soviet Union, offering moral leadership abroad to millions resisting the tyranny of communism.

She was a great lady, and the world was better for her stubborness and determination.

Margaret Thatcher: The Free Society Speech 1975 by The Elephant's Child

Lady Margaret Thatcher, R.I.P. by The Elephant's Child

The watershed year was 1979, and the battlefield was Britain. After an unprecedented series of strikes, especially in the public sector, dubbed by the media ‘the winter of discontent,’ Margaret Thatcher, the first woman to become leader of a British political party became  Britain’s first woman Prime Minister on 4 May 1979, having led the Conservatives to a 43-seat electoral victory. Mrs. Thatcher, soon dubbed by the Brezhnev regime “the Iron Lady’ (a title she relished), called herself a ‘conviction’ politician, as opposed to a consensus one. She implicitly  repudiated much of Conservative post-war policy, and especially its tacit agreement with the Labour Party that whole areas of British public life, including the welfare state and the nationalized sector, were sacrosanct. Her first task was to curb the legal power of the trade unions which, as we have seen, had been growing steadily since 1945. A previous attempt at reform by the Conservative government in 1971, the comprehensive and ultra-complex Industrial Relations Act, had proved unworkable and had been promptly scrapped by the incoming Labour Cabinet in 1974. Mrs. Thatcher’s government, having learned the lesson, set about the problem on a step-by-step basis, enacting in all five separate acts, over the space of three parliaments, which progressively ended a whole series of special union legal privileges, made many strikes and forms of picketing unlawful, and subjected unions that broke the law to severe financial penalties. Mrs. Thatcher also made it clear that the police, in dealing with ‘mass’, ‘flying’ and ‘secondary’ pickets, which had made it virtually impossible in the 1970s for employers to resist strike demands and so inflicted grievous damage on both the private and public sector would be fully backed by her government. …

The decline of union restrictive practices and of overmanning in many sectors produced a rise in productivity in Britain, which in several years during the decade, was the highest in Europe; and for much of 198os the British economy expanded rapidly: in 1988, for instance, it was still growing at 4 per cent after seven years of continuous expansion, a record unique in the post-war years of continuous expansion, a record unique in the post-war period. But what particularly struck foreigners about the performance of the Thatcher government was its success in reducing the state sector, by the process known as ‘privatization’. This had two aspects. The first was the transfer of nationalized industries, such as Cable & Wireless, British Steel, British Airways, British Telecommunications, British Gas, and the water and the electricity supply and distribution industry into private ownership and management. …Privatization rapidly transformed the loss-makers into  profitable companies.British Steel, for instance, had incurred the largest loss in corporate history, some £500 million, the year before it was privatized; by the end of the 1980s it had the highest productivity rates in the European steel industry and was the most profitable steel company in the world. The turnaround at British Airways was scarcely less spectacular.

The foregoing comes from Paul Johnson’s Modern Times, an essential book.

Then there was the Cold War, and the unlikely triumvirate of the Polish Pope, Britain’s Iron Lady, and the American actor turned President, Ronald Reagan. If you didn’t watch these excerpts from Herb Meyer’s speech, do take the time. If you’re short on time, just watch the middle excerpt.

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were essentially soul mates, which doesn’t mean they didn’t have their disagreements, but they were world significant figures in history and will be long remembered. Courage, iron will, and keeping their eyes on the prize. Paul Johnson again:

Thus the year 1989, which the Left throughout the world had planned as a celebration of the bicentennial of the French Revolution — the beginning of modern radical politics, as it was argued — turned into something quite different: a Year of Revolutions indeed, but of revolutions against the established order of Marxism-Leninism. Not all of them succeeded.

Prime Ministers and Presidents come and go, and some of them are significant and put the world on a different path, and some aren’t and don’t. Lady Margaret Thatcher was one of the significant ones.  Rest in Peace.

ADDENDUM: I quoted historian Paul Johnson regarding Margaret Thatcher. The Wall Street Journal opinion page has featured today, an article from Paul Johnson on “The World-Changing Margaret Thatcher: Not since Catherine the Great has there been a woman of such consequence.” It may be behind a pay wall, but here is a link to the piece, and here is the Journal’s own piece.


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