Saturday, September 26, 2015

Thomas Nelson -- Benedict Arnold Invades
Of great aid to the Americans would be the French fleet.  It would be most valuable at the Battle of Yorktown.  But the fleet had to be kept in provisions and armament, and it was America’s responsibility to see that it was.  Early in June of 1780 the Continental Congress called for $2,000,000 to be placed in the Continental Congress Treasury to help provide for the French fleet.  Thomas Nelson set out personally to raise as much money as he could in Virginia.  His excursions took him through most of the southern counties of the state, but he had great difficulty finding people willing to advance their money.  The resources of the state were drained and people were poor.  Those who possessed money were afraid to trust it to no better security than that of the government, already too deeply involved financially to extricate itself from its difficulties.  Nelson was turned down everywhere.  But seeing that the need of the money was great, he decided he would add his own personal security to that of the government.  The people of the state trusted Nelson, and many accepted Nelson’s offer of security and loaned to the government what money they could spare.  Ultimately, Nelson succeeded in raising a good sum of money, through his own personal efforts, and through the efforts of his agents, whom he sent out with authority to use his name and pledge his fortune.
Nelson would take a great financial beating in this enterprise.  It seems that he kept a record of the amount of money he pledged to back these loans.  But during the year of war that came to Virginia the records were lost.  When it came time for the loans to be redeemed, the government was practically without funds.  And Nelson was forced to pay back the debts personally.  Nelson could not furnish the Continental Congress with an accurate record of these expenditures.  Consequently, he was never reimbursed for his losses.
In 1780 the British, under the generalship of Charles Cornwallis, opened in earnest their campaign to recover the southern colonies.  Having already captured Savannah in December of 1778, the British seized Charlestown in May 1780.  The Carolinas had little to oppose Cornwallis but hastily drawn militia.  Congress then sent Horatio Gates with an army of regulars south to aid the southern militia.  Gates was soundly beaten August 16 at Camden, South Carolina, and was replaced soon afterward by the competent Nathanial Greene.  Moving though Virginia on his way southward, Greene left General von Steuben as the temporary commander-in-chief of the Continental forces in Virginia and Greene’s personal representative.  Greene would need reinforcements from Virginia, and he thought this could be accomplished more easily with von Steuben in Virginia.  Thomas Nelson placed himself and his state militia under von Steuben’s authority.
On December 31, 1780, Thomas Nelson received a letter from a citizen informing him that 27 sails had been sighted entering the capes.  The arrival of the French fleet in Virginia had been eagerly awaited.  But no one knew yet whether this fleet was friend or enemy.  Nelson immediately informed Governor Jefferson of the fleet, and Jefferson sent the general down into the southern area of the state with full power to “take such steps as the exigencies of the moment might require” (Bowers 262).
Learning that the fleet was British, but believing it to be another raiding party, the governor called out half of the militia of the counties closest to the enemy, as well as one fourth of the militia from the more distant counties.  Jefferson intended to put 4,600 militiamen in the field.  On January 3, 1781, a force of 1,500 men sailed up the James River under the command of the recent American patriot turned traitor, Benedict Arnold.  At this time Nelson was about 13 miles above Williamsburg on the Chickahominy River watching the advance of the enemy and waiting for bands of militia to gather.  He wrote Jefferson in Richmond January 4 that the enemy had passed by the former state capitol and seemed headed for either Richmond or Petersburg.  He theorized that the enemy would “proceed as high up the river as they can for fear of desertion among their troops, to which they are much disposed” (Kimball 132).  Then, Nelson wrote the same day that the enemy had landed their full force at Westover and were marching for Richmond.  With militiamen from the counties of King William, King and Queens, Gloucester, and New Kent arriving daily, he expected his strength to be about 350 in a day.  He would then follow the movements of the enemy from the rear.
The enemy was able to reach Richmond and capture the town, but not before Jefferson had been able to flee to safety.  The militia had not gathered in time to join von Steuben’s regulars to attempt to turn back Arnold.  But soon the American forces were large enough to exert pressure.  However, considerable lack of supplies and ammunition handicapped them.  “Muskets and cannon that had been hidden from the British could not be found, other weapons had been handled so roughly in the excitement that they were unserviceable, and it was difficult to get wagons to transport usable arms to the troops who needed them” (Evans 92-93).  Von Steuben, on the south side of the James River, wrote to Greene about this time complaining bitterly of the shortage of arms, and of the lack of “tents and camp kettles.  It is impossible to describe the situation I am in – in want of everything” (Malone 141). 
In writing to Jefferson January 8 Nelson exhibits great disappointment at not being able to help prevent Arnold’s capture of Richmond.
“I am pained to the very soul that we have not been able to prevent the return of the enemy, but even the elements have conspired to favor them.  On Saturday night a flood of rain poured down as to render my plan abortive by almost drowning the troops, who were in bush tents that they (the enemy) may not go off without some injury.  I have ordered two pieces of cannon to be planted … where I am told we may do them mischief.  These cannon I propose to defend by infantry as long as I can … It is better to lose the guns than not to attack somewhere” (Kimball 142-143).
On January 13 Nelson reported the enemy’s withdrawal from Richmond and felt certain it intended “nothing further on the North side of James River at present” (Boyd 351).  He was right.  Arnold returned to Portsmouth, where he could feel safe from American resistance.  Von Steuben, “a fine organizer and trainer of troops, was not noted for brilliant tactical leadership in the field; he was, in fact, overly cautious and his brigade commanders soon appeared to be of similar inclination” (Evans 94).  He met with Nelson in Williamsburg January 20.  They decided that an attack on Arnold would be inadvisable.  Von Steuben decided instead “to concentrate on trying to contain Arnold at Portsmouth, keeping him from again raiding the heart of the state” (Evans 94).
Although Virginia’s forces outnumbered Arnold’s troops, the numbers were illusory.  “Absence from home and expiring enlistments were not the only things that made militia hard to keep.  Food, though plentiful, reached the troops only with difficulty and consisted largely of corn meal.  The men were housed badly in brush huts or tents, which in a typically cold, wet, Virginia winter was a circumstance not conductive to the highest moral.    Through late January and early February of 1781 Nelson wrestled with these problems, but despite his efforts his force dropped to eight hundred men” (Evans 95).
Arnold seemingly content to remain in Portsmouth, Virginia’s leaders hoped for the arrival of the greater portion of the French fleet.  With the fleet blockading all possible retreat by the sea after destroying Arnold’s ships, and American land forces engulfing Portsmouth on all other sides, Arnold’s army would be forced to surrender.  When three French ships (one 64 gun ship and two frigates of 36 guns each) arrived at the posts below Williamsburg on the James River, Nelson felt the time for Arnold’s destruction had arrived.  To von Steuben, February 14, he wrote, “What you expected has taken place.  I give you joy with all my soul.  Now is our time.  Not a moment ought to be lost” (Boyd 678n).  However, Nelson’s enthusiasm was dashed the next day after consulting the commander of the small fleet, Captain Arnaud Le Gardneur de Tilly.  The Captain’s three ships blocked Arnold’s passage out of the Elizabeth River into the James River and Chesapeake Bay; but one of Arnold’s ships had managed to slip past “which was reportedly dispatched to New York, and de Tilly, fearing that if he lingered he would be caught by a superior fleet, decided to leave” (Evans 97).  The Frenchman told Nelson that he would cruise off the capes to intercept British supplies, distress the enemy, and watch for the possible arrival of a superior British force.  In fact, he sailed directly to Newport, Rhode Island to join the main French fleet.
Nelson was ill in Williamsburg February 19 with a severe cold.  He remained sick for a month.  Not surprisingly, he was bitter about de Tilly’s departure.  He wrote to Jefferson that Arnold would now “make use of all the Advantages which their Command of the Water gives them over us” (Boyd 650-651).  Because of some losses at the hands of the French fleet they would probably “wreck their Vengence on the Parts of the State most exposed,” especially Hampton, that had furnished pilots for the French.  “It gives me the utmost pain that I find myself unable to give them the Protection they merit” (Kimball 153).   He had now only a force of about 400 men.
“As February drew to a close, Nelson began to regain his strength, but a relapse forced him to remain in bed throughout the month of March.  Steuben was especially upset, for he had come both to like Nelson and to depend on his advice.”  In March he wrote Nelson that the Virginian’s indisposition “deprives me of your council and assistance at a time I am in the greatest want of it.  You are better acquainted with the Strength and weakness of this state and you have the confidence of the People – judge then how much I regret your absence” (Evans 98). 
Washington had also hoped that Arnold’s troops could be bottled up and taken.  Accordingly, the commander-in-chief sent to Virginia in March the French patriot, Marquis de Lafayette, and an estimate 1,200 troops, the “elite corps” of Washington’s army, the Light Brigade.  Rear Admiral Charles RenĂ© Dominique Sochet, Chevalier Destouches’ fleet, sent to augment Lafayette, was driven away March 16 near the mouth of Chesapeake Bay in the Battle of Cape Henry by a British fleet commanded by Vice Admiral Mariot Arbuthnot.  Destouches returned immediately to Newport, while Arbuthnot protected the bay for the arrival of land forces dispatched from New York to reinforce General Arnold.  Lafayette had landed in York March 14.  Because he had been deprived of the fleet, the plan for trapping Arnold was abandoned.
Works cited:
Bowers, Claude G.  The Young Jefferson 1743-1789. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1945.  Print. 
Boyd, Julian F., ed.  The Papers of Thomas Jefferson.  Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1951, IV.  Print.
Evans, Emory G.  Thomas Nelson of Yorktown: Revolutionary Virginian.  Charlottesville, The University Press of Virginia, 1975.  Print.
Kimball, Marie.  Jefferson War and Peace 1776 to 1784.  New York: Coward-McCann, Inc., 1947.  Print.
Malone, Dumas.  Jefferson the Virginian.  Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1948.  Print. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Writing "Alsoomse and Wanchcse" -- Warfare
Man being the aggressive species that he is, warfare between different language-speaking native Americans in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries was commonplace.  This was certainly true of the coastal Carolinian and Powhatan Algonquians. 
Weroances chose to attack different language-speaking tribes (and sometimes tribes that spoke the same language) not usually to acquire territory or goods but to exact revenge for offenses received.  Sometimes, attacks were ordered to obtain women and children for adoption purposes: to bolster tribal population or to reduce the likelihood of attack that could jeopardize the safety of those taken.  Decreasing an aggressive enemy’s motivation to act belligerently could also be accomplished simply by killing a number of its warriors.
Attacks were usually small-scale ambushes conducted by a few warriors led by a captain appointed by the weroance.  Places selected were often in wooded or reedy locations, in high weeds in open fields, and amongst well-grown corn stalks.  Once discovered, the attackers, if they had not already done so, sought to advance to within shooting range of the enemy without unduly exposing themselves, using whatever cover they could utliize.  Fast movement and the willingness to fall down or retreat to evade arrows were paramount.  Immediate outright kills with arrows were uncommon.  Arrow attacks were designed to disable their victims, who would thereupon be rushed and killed with clubs or wooden swords.  Once discovered, attackers would make terrifying war cries and briefly expose their garishly painted bodies hoping to disconcert their victims into taking hasty, foolish actions, like taking flight into an adjacent area chosen by the attackers for a delayed ambush.
Subterfuge might also be employed to do injury to an enemy.  Part of a weroance’s fighting force might present itself as peaceful men whose purpose seemingly was to invite the enemy to participate in a feast of celebration or religious ritual.  The remainder of the weronace’s force would absence itself until the feast or ritual was underway or attack afterward at night.  Manteo and Wanchese, the two Algonquians taken back to England in 1584, told Thomas Harriot that this had occurred to the Secotans.
Participation in an attack was not voluntary.  A “lusty” principle warrior was selected by the weroance to lead the attack.  Another well regarded warrior was sent to the villages of the chief weroance to select, with a hearty slap on the back, their best warriors.  Each would be told to report on a specific day at a place of rendezvous.  No warrior dared be absent.  Few wanted to be.  From boyhood each village male had been trained to fight.  His huskanaw (initiation into manhood – see “Alssome and Wanchese” July 14, 2015, post) ceremony had conditioned him to disregard fear and loss of life, even by horrible torture.  Great exploits in battle brought a warrior considerable admiration and renown.  His success was publicly claimed and publicly rewarded.  He was encouraged at public occasions to recount his exploits in the presence of elite tribal members and visiting “royalty.”  It was his pathway to becoming a member of his weroance’s advisory council.  Conversely, if he were judged lacking in performance, the women who tortured the captives of a raid would deride him for his unwillingness to take chances.
Every warrior knew the fate that awaited him should he be captured.  His captors would build a fire, strip him, and tie him to a tree or a stake.  He would be executed by the women of the village or by a man appointed by the weroance.  Sharp mussel shells were used to gradually flay and cut off the captured warrior’s limbs, which were thrown into the fire.  He was then disemboweled.  His remains were either dried into a kind of mummy kept in a room or burned along with either the tree or the stake after trophies had been taken for drying.  Trophies were frequently dried hands worn in the victors’ knotted-up hair.  Scalps might be taken.  Any sign of pain showed by the victim brought derision.  Powhatans had mocking songs that their men sang.  A real man died stoically, or, better, he died deriding his tormentors.  Death with honor was the only possible end for a captured man, if he were not able to escape.
Victory was celebrated on the spot and back in the village.  Englishmen captured by the Powhatans “were brought home in a formal procession.  [John] Smith recorded the celebration that followed his own capture in 1607.  At the head of the procession was the leader of the party, Opechancanough, ‘well guarded’ by four rows of five men each, a row on each side of him, one in front, and one behind him.  Next came Smith, with a bowman preceeding and one on each side of him.  After that came the remaining warriors, walking in a long, snakelike file with a ‘sargeant’ on each side running up and down the line in opposite directions to keep order.  The file marched for ‘a [long] time,’ apparently around the town, before the men ‘cast themselves in a ring with a [victory] daunce.’  Smith wrote much later that the dance was actually three dances, in which they moved ‘in such severall [different] Postures, and singing and yelling out such hellish notes and screeches’ that Smith’s ‘stomache at that time was not very good’” (Rountree 125-125).
Fighting gear was primitive.  “The English thought the [Carolina] Indians’ weapons crude, and that these posed little threat to the colonists on the field of battle.  ‘If there fall out any warres between us and them, we having advantages against them so many maner or waies,’ [Thomas] Harriot wrote, ‘the turning up of their heeles against us in running away was their best defence.’  Wingina’s people had ‘no edge tooles or weapons of yron or steele to offend us withal.’  Their weapons, Harriot observed, ‘are onlie bowes of Witch hazle & arrows of reeds, flat edged truncheons also of wood about a yard long.’  They had no armor, and nothing to defend themselves with ‘but targets made of barks, and some armours made of stickes wickered together with threade.’  Still, the military technology employed by Wingina and his followers suited their tactics, and a warrior could fire several arrows in the time it took an English soldier to load and fire his musket” (Oberg 20).
Powhatan and Carolina war clubs were thick wooden clubs or stout wooden truncheons having one or two sharp edges or truncheons with attached deer antlers or sharp stones.  Rather than tied together sticks, Powhatan warriors used shields made of thick, round bark hung on their left shoulders to protect that side of them when they fired their arrows.
Arrow wounds were usually fatal.  The likelihood of severing an artery was great.  An arrowhead wedged in ribs was not retrievable.  The best a victim could hope for would be to have the arrowhead pass entirely through a limb without severing an artery.  The arrow could then be broken or cut in half behind the exposed arrowhead and the remaining part of the shaft withdrawn through the entrance hole.  Herbal or ground up root salve would then be applied and days of rest followed.  If infection did not occur, recovery was probable.  An arrowhead lodged in the body (not in ribs) had to be removed through the entrance hole.  The U.S. Army during the Indian wars in the West in the 1870s devised a clasping mechanism that, inserted through the entrance hole, secured the head to prevent it from separating from the arrow shaft.  In the 1580s any attempt to pull the arrowhead out of the entrance hole usually caused separation.
Works cited:
Oberg, Michael Leroy.  The Head in Edward Nugent’s Hand.  Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008.  Print.
Rountree, Helen C.  The Powhatan Indians of Virginia: Their Traditional Culture.  Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1989.  Print.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

"Far as the Eye Can See"
Robert Bausch
Robert Bausch’s first person narrated “Far as the Eye Can See” is the best historical novel that I have read this year.  It is instructive about hostile relations between Native American tribes and whites (and, especially, the U.S. Army) in the West during the 1870s, it is character driven with important romantic elements, it is an adventure story -- I was to the very end of the novel concerned about the protagonist’s fate -- and it is philosophical. 
Bausch’s protagonist is a twenty-nine year old man that calls himself Bobby Hale.   We are told that much of Hale’s childhood was devoid of affection.  His mother died of cholera when he was nine.  His father abandoned him immediately thereafter.  He was raised in Philadelphia by a spinster aunt, who “never once looked upon me with anything but impatience and disparagement.”  During the Civil War he joined the Union army seven times to collect enlistment bounties: each time joining, collecting his bonus, deserting, moving to a different Northern city, changing his name and enlisting.  Near the War’s end, not able to desert, he experienced fierce combat.  “I seen men dropping next to me in rows like something cut down by a thresher in a wheat field.”  After the War he stayed in the Richmond, Virginia, area for four years working menial jobs but dreaming vaguely of living a free life in the Far West “where land was there for any fellow with the nerve to stake it out and call it his.”  Eventually, he bought a horse, a 32-cartridge repeating carbine, and other essential equipment and accompanied a wagon train out of St. Louis headed for Oregon.  All of this is important for us to know prior to the first major event that Hale narrates.
“Far as the Eye Can See” opens with a prologue.  Hale has done something not yet revealed that has caused him to abandon his job of scout for the army, whose mission is to find and collect all of the Indian tribes in the Yellowstone River area and move them to specific areas near specified forts.  The act that Hale has committed has him believing that both soldiers and Indians have good reason to track and kill him.  Traveling hastily toward Bozeman, Montana, he discovers that he is being followed.  Hiding behind an outcropping of large boulders, he sees what appears to be an Indian crawling through underbrush seemingly intent on attacking him unawares.  He wounds the Indian and discovers the person is a young woman.  The shot has ripped a shallow tear across her abdomen.  She tells him that she is a half breed, has escaped from a Sioux village, and is fearful that her Indian husband is tracking her to kill her.  Hale treats her wound and they leave, together, determined to find a distant sanctuary.
The novel now backtracks to Hale’s experiences prior to his meeting “Ink,” the half-Indian, half-white woman.  We read of Hale’s adventures of being a part of the wagon train headed out of St. Louis.  We meet several white characters possessing varying degrees of bad character.  (They reappear later in the novel)  We meet also two individuals who will influence positively Hale’s evolving character.  One is Theo, the wagon train leader, wise of the shortcomings of mankind, of life on the trail, and of Indian values and behavior.  The other is Big Tree, Theo’s wagon master, a six and a half foot massive Crow.  Both men believe that when Indians and white men interact more often than not it is the white man who is the savage.
Theo, Hale, Big Tree, and several other members of the train ride out ahead of the wagons.  Indians suddenly appear.  Surrounded by a party of galloping, yipping Sioux braves, not understanding that individual braves are taking “coup” – touching the tops of white men’s heads with the tips of their lances not to kill but to enhance their reputation for courage and to make good medicine – Hale shoots one of them.  Theo is disgusted.  He must now prepare the wagon train for certain attack.  He tells Hale, “But the truth is, we went into Indian country and murdered a brave.  That’s what we done.  There ain’t no other way to look at it.”  Big Tree’s assessment of whites, expressed after a later incident, is “Wasichus [white men] kill for gladness.”
Theo stops the wagon train at Bozeman and nearby Fort Ellis to wait out the winter.  Deciding to reside permanently in Bozeman, he urges Hale to lead the train to Oregon in the spring.  Hale refuses to take the responsibility.  Theo then recommends that Hale accompany Big Tree on a winter hunting, trapping expedition through the wild lands of the eastern Rocky Mountains.  Hale and Big Tree do this for seven years.  What Hale learns about Indian life from Big Tree and from his experiences is the second major section of the novel.
When Big Tree and Hale eventually part, Hale returns to Bozeman.  In route, he overtakes a wagon owned by two white women whose husbands, missing for more than a year, are presumed to be dead.  He helps them reach Bozeman.  During this third major section of the novel we observe an evolving relationship between Hale and one of the women that tests Hale’s reluctance to make commitments.  Hale eventually promises to escort the two women to Oregon in the spring.  He chooses in the meantime to scout for the army because it will provide him an income and warm shelter when he is not on the trail.  Hale witnesses firsthand the intractable thinking of the officer class regarding “the Indian problem.”  We experience the incident that causes Hale to flee and, eventually, to wound the half-breed girl called Ink.  The final section of the novel depicts the dangers he faces and the extent to which he is willing to accept the obligations he feels he must honor regarding the women in Bozeman and Ink’s safety and future.
What interested me most in the novel was Hale’s journey toward commitment to others.  Because of his experiences, he has, justifiably, a harsh opinion of mankind.  At one point in the novel, he and other wagon train members witness a bald eagle seize a puppy and carry it to its nest.  The puppy, observing the humans below, wages its tail, then whimpers, then commences to howl.  The train moves on.  We do not need to be told the puppy’s fate.  Hale comments: “I couldn’t help but think that maybe we’re all a little bit like that dog.  We occupy our little space of earth and wait for the damn bird to strike.” 
There is so much viciousness that he witnesses, so much stupidity, so much hatred.  Life daily is “strife and struggle.”  Awaking each morning, he must “look for trouble again.”  He wants to believe that there is goodness for him, goodness for any man.  Thinking of the two women that he had left in Bozeman, he muses: “It’s a tragic kind of world we find ourselves in, all the time looking for some way to have what we want, hoping for nothing but a reason to hope.”  And, “we don’t know all the time what is taken away and what is given.  Sometimes we know what we have been given only when it’s been lost.”  In the novel’s final chapter he reflects that people talk of living in peace, of not wanting to go to war, of not wanting to kill or be killed.  But these, he decides, are just words.  “We’re all lying to ourselves and everybody else.  … Something way down inside of me feels like it’s dripping and damp and completely evil.  I know I am a animal that can talk and there ain’t nothing that will ever save me or no one else.”   But, like every human, he has innate needs.  Not like every human being he can be empathetic.  Ink recognizes his goodness.  The final five pages of the novel reveal whether or not he is strong enough to utilize it and whether or not the malevolence of others will eliminate the opportunity.