tv [untitled] CSPAN June 20, 2009 3:00pm-3:30pm EDT
defeated, including a defeat that very few americans even remember any longer, the surrender of charleston, more than 7,000 americans were killed, wounded or captured during that siege. but finally, at the end of 1780, general nathaniel greene was named the commander of the continental army in the south. in fact, at that point, after the battle of camden and the defeat of horatio gates, congress went to general washington and asked washington if he would select the commander of the continental army of the south. washington had, always through the war, declined to do that,
naming commanders was to get into a political minefield and he wanted to stay out of that, but the situation was desperate in late 1780. and washington did name somebody and he named general gray. washington, early on in the war, had seen qualities, and ironically had not soldiered before the war. he had ever been in a military unit until a few weeks before the war broke out. he was a bright guy, he was an extraordinary leader, and washington, who was almost unequaled in his ability to judge other people and to judge
them very quickly, came to c. green as his best general. as early as 1776, washington had indicated that if something happened to him, he'll congress would name green as his successor. in october 17, '80, suggested green be named the commander, and green wage a brilliant campaign over a period of 100 days in january, february and march, of 1781. i think it was the most brilliant sustained campaign waged by any american commander
during a war. it was modeled somewhat on washington's campaign in trenton and princeton. green had been part of that. so he was familiar with that. but this was a longer campaign. trenton and princeton had been a campaign that lasted less than 10 days. green's campaign lasted more than 100 days and went beyond that. by march of 1781, green has succeeded in causing enormous attrition in general cornwallace's army. korenwallace lost 40% of his men
between january and march. at that point, korenwallace, in late march of 1781, made a crucial decision. his orders were not to leave the carolinas until he had succeeded in pacifying those 2 states, but cornwallace decided he could not subdue the rebellion in the carolinas and georgia. food was funneling into those guerrillas from the north, through virginia, and that was
what was sustaining, so cornwallace violated clinton's orders comment there was a small army, 2500 british soldiers in virginia, cornwallace took his army into virginia in the spring of 1781 to link up with that british army and he thought that with that larger british army in virginia and with the british navy, its ability to use the rivers through virginia and use their speed, that they could simply out race the continentals, and they would be successful in shutting down those supply routes. but as we know, something else happened. when cornwallace went to
virginia, it opened the possibility of yorktown conlan and that was something that washington didn't envision so much as the french did. washington, twice, with the french commander in america, met with him in hartford, in september of 1780, and at whethersfield, conn. in may of 1781. in both of those meetings, he asked washington, what do you want to do? both instances, washington said i want to campaign to take new york city. and he argued with washington, we can't succeed, we cannot succeed in an attack on new york city. the british have held it too long. they have had 6 years to prepare
their defense, we cannot win. but he had been ordered by louis xvi, they fer to washington, do what he wants. so after that conference, at the weathers field conference, he agreed we will attack new york. washington rode back to west point, thinking that would be the next item on the agenda, but as soon as washington rode back, rode away, wroteshallow root to the admiral of the french fleet in the caribbean asking him to bring his fleet north, not to new york, as washington expected, but to the chesapeake, because rauchambeau saw the
possibility of trapping it. and that is exactly what happened. one last thing, there has been a debate since the moment of the peace settlement ending the war, over whether britain could have won this war. for upgrade many people, the idea that britain could not have won the war was attractive, for the navy, the british army, even for opposition politicians who had opposed the wall or all along, by saying it was an unwinnable war that presented them in a better light. but i don't think that is true. i think the british could have won the war in 1776, and should have won the war in 1776.
i think the british -- had the british had a more resolute, more active commander, they would have defeated washington's army on long island or manhattan island, and could probably have ended the war. even in 1777, the british might have won the war. the basic british idea is for an army in 1777, for and army to invade new york from canada while general howell took his army with the royal navy up the hudson river and join withburg:in albany. but then he let him come by
himself, and went after washington at philadelphia. it turned out to be an egregious blunder on howell's point. most people think the british could not have won the war after 1777. what i tried to argue in "almost a miracle: the american victory in the war of independence," in 1781, the last year the war broke out board began, america was very close to defeat. james lovell, a congressman from massachusetts, rhode a letter on the second day of seventeen 81 to john adams, and he began by saying we are bankrupt with a mutinous army. washington thought america had to score a decisive victory in 1781 or there would be no other chance, and john adams, who was
in europe, was writing that the french would not remain in the war beyond 1781. they were looking for an hon. exit. had there not been a decisive victory, what probably would have happened, a european peace conference, and the european powers, who had no sympathy for an american republic. would have devised some sort of solution for the war and it would not have been a very rosy solution for the americans, and the americans would have had to accept a bad solution or fight on by themselves, which would have been unthinkable.
so cornwallace's decision to go north into virginia, and rauchambeau's brilliance at seeing the opportunity to ensnare cornwallace in the summer and fall of 1781, turned everything around, and made a war that in january of 1781 had seemed hopeless, a winnable war. washington understood that. the american victory was little short of the standing miracle. thank you very much. [applause] >> we have some time for
questions. i would like to ask a little bit about the balance of the navy. we didn't have a navy when this started out, the british came and overpowering force, would you talk about that? what was the decisive turning point? was it when the french came up? was it before that? >> you mentioned earlier that james mcpherson is coming soon. in his wonderful book battle cry of freedom, he argues that in a war, as long as the civil war, there wasn't the turning point, but there were several turning points. that is true in the revolutionary war as well. there were 5 or 6 turning points. my first -- first pitch to battle of the conflict, was
absolutely crucial because it demonstrated to the americans that they could stand up against british regulars. i think the naval in gauge and when benedict arnold built a navy for america and slowed down the british so that when the british tried to evade in ticonderoga in the fall of 1776, as they had been slowed to the point that winter was setting in, so they had to postpone the invasion until 1777. that year gave the americans time to get ready for that invasion. washington's campaign in trenton and princeton, between christmas of 1776 and january of 1777 was absolutely crucial, not only
saved washington as commander of the continental army, but was a victory that enabled another army to be recruited for 1777. who would have wanted to go into a continental army that was losing almost every battle it was fighting? the defeat of burgling when he invaded new york and surrendered his army in saratoga in october 17, '77, was crucial. congress's decision made at the beginning of late 1776 but implemented in early 1777 to move from an army of one year and listees to regular army was absolutely crucial because it gave washington and army of
hardened veterans. the surrender of cornwallace's army was the final decisive turning point that led to the collapse of lord north's government and issued in a british government that was connected to a peace settlement. >> a leak in the dark, you damn washington with fake praise, you are openly critical with him. helping to promote this current book is also because he is critical. my question to you, is james thomas flexner, one of washington's -- many others, do you think washington was dispensable? >> i am rather critical of washington in this book although i tried to temper it by pointing
out that washington was an amateur, certainly not a professional soldier, he had attended a military academy. if you add up what washington did during his adult years, he only soldiers 15% of the time, he is a farmer, land speculator, he made a lot of -- in the new york campaign in 1776, during the valley forge winter, i don't think there was a cobol has washington thought of, as many historians call it, to remove washington, i don't think congress was close to removing washington at that point.
a great many people in congress were extraordinarily critical of washington. these are people who were close to washington. people like joseph reed who had been washington's first secretary, and during the first year or so, a couple years into the war in, he thought washington was fit to command a regimen but nothing beyond that. thomas mifflin, washington's aid to camp, quartermaster general in the last year of the war, he thought that washington was suited to be a clerk in a counting house but not as a general. they probably went too far. a great many people were
extraordinarily critical of washington, who were very close to washington, who saw washington up close. but having said all of that, i can't think of anybody else that i would have rather at as commander. tour they nathaniel greene of 1780, might have been able to have done a job as well as washington did or perhaps even better but green was not prepared for that kind of position. people like charles lee or horatio gates, they were out of the picture altogether because they had been professional british officers, congress wasn't going to go there. congress wanted a native-born american to be the commander. you look at who is around,
people like john sullivan, i just don't see anyone who would have fit the bill. you look at the total picture of washington, he is a pretty good administrator of the army. the officer corps was blindly loyal to washington. with state governors and congress. as a soldier with other qualities, in the end, the country was fortunate to have had him, i sometimes say i think the country was fortunate to have had washington and lucky to
have survived. >> i read that hundred american prisoners died in the all of ships of new york harbor, what prevented the british and americans from working out a system of prisoner exchange like we have had in other wars? >> there was a conflict between washington and congress regarding prisoner exchanges. the problem was once the prisoners were exchanged, the american prisoners would go home and wouldn't serve again, but the british prisoners would serve again or they would be rotated down to the caribbean and replaced by soldiers who were rotated up from the caribbean or from europe.
that became an obstacle to prisoner exchanges, and the results was there really are no significant prisoner exchanges until after yorktown. then they come pretty quickly in 1782 and most of the prisoners are, in fact, exchange. you have a few here or there who are swapped out but no really large exchanges before them. >> how important do you judge the battle in south carolina in january of 1778, that carlton lost badly? >> carlton is active after the fall of charleston in south carolina in the spring of 1780,
and in fact, after the collection of continental soldiers from virginia, essentially what happened was the american army was defending charleston against a british siege. congress ordered troops from the north into the south to augment general benjamin like an's army in charleston. and those troops sat out for charleston until the end of march and by the time the american army's surrendered in may, they were just entering south carolina. so carlton went after those virginia soldiers who were trying to retreat and get out of south carolina and he overtook them near the south
carolina/n.c. border for the end of may of 1780, attacked them, routed them, and after the americans surrendered, massacred 75% of those. it is following that that the war in the south really becomes a grim civil war. the americans, time after time, exacted revenge for carlton's massacre. at king's mountain in october, after the massacre in may, when the americans defeated a loyalist force at kings mountain, they not only killed a great many who surrendered, but they force them on a long march, a 50 mile march that bears a
resemblance to the death march. so many loyalists were killed during that march. let me read you the order from the american commander to his men. he issued an order, quote, to restrain the disorderly manner of slaughtering the prisoners. that is just one instance of exacting revenge. it really becomes a very grim war in the south, as civil wars tend to be. >> one more quick question before the break? >> you stated at the beginning that if the southern campaign had gone better the british were hoping to hole up vote southern colonies, the rest interested in new england.
do you really think it was politically possible for apiece to be arrived at in which the british would have consented, king george setting of independence of a large part of the colony's, if they had secured the whole area. including possibly virginia for many of the revolutionary leaders from virginia. >> there is a tendency in stalemated wars, when a war is stalemated and there is a negotiated settlement to simply leave the belligerents in
control of what they possess at the time of the armistice. so had there been a european mediation conference in 1781, assuming there hadn't been a decisive victory that year, and had the war been settled in that fashion, i think south carolina and georgia, certainly possibly n.c. as well, would have gone to the british. board no.'s majority was dwindling, and the opposition was growing more powerful every day, and wanting to get this war over at that point. there is a realistic possibility that it could have ended that way had it not been for yorktown. >> john ferling. [applause] >> our thanks to john ferling for joining us.
the book is "almost a miracle: the american victory in the war of independence" published by oxford university press. you can find out more about the library by viewing other archival programs by visiting pritzker military library. thanks for joining us. [applause] >> we are back for the web cast part of the program. i have one question to follow up and a couple others. you said that georgia was the first falling state in the revolutionary war. any repercussions to day? you live in atlanta. any repercussions of georgia to they for that? is there anything different in georgia than other southern states? >> most georgians are not aware that there was a revolutionary war.