The Five Crucial Factors Behind The Ten Crucial Days

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My apologies for neglecting the blog of late, but (in my defense) I’ve been pounding the keyboard for sundry other purposes, including an article for the Friends of Washington Crossing Park newsletter that should appear October 1, another piece for the Summer 2023 Swan Historical Foundation newsletter (due out soon), and the item mentioned below. In addition, I’m over 40K words into a manuscript for what I hope will be book no. 5, which would be an extension of said item. (Holy sprained fingers!) There must be an easier way to ward off boredom.

This new article in the Journal of the American Revolution dissects the “Ten Crucial Days” campaign of 1776-1777 by focusing on five key analytical elements: leadership, geography, weather, artillery, and contingency. They obviously overlap, and perhaps this narrative neglects others worthy of consideration; however, it would be hard to argue that each of these did not have a significant influence on the outcome of a legendary winter offensive.

63. Putting Freedom in Perspective

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George Washington’s letter of August 24, 1774 to his friend Bryan Fairfax on the subject of American resistance to British colonial policy sheds some light on his innermost thoughts about slavery. In it, he wrote:

I shall not undertake to say where the Line between Great Britain and the Colonies should be drawn, but I am clearly of opinion that one ought to be drawn; & our Rights clearly ascertaind. I could wish, I own, that the dispute had been left to Posterity to determine, but the Crisis is arrivd when we must assert our Rights, or Submit to every Imposition that can be heap’d upon us; till custom and use, will make us as tame, & abject Slaves, as the Blacks we Rule over with such arbitrary Sway.

Washington was about to depart his home at Mount Vernon, Virginia, for Philadelphia to participate in the first Continental Congress, where the delegates asserted their right to be free of what they perceived as oppressive imperial rule, notwithstanding the ubiquity of human bondage about them.

Washington and his fellow slave owners were, of course, caught up in the paradox that applied to many of the more prominent members of America’s founding generation who engineered the rebellion of the 1770s. Their cause was that of liberty for some juxtaposed with a commitment to, or at least acquiescence in, slavery for others. In fact, at least a third of those who signed the Declaration of Independence were practitioners in our most infamous institution.

Still, the fathers of American independence and their followers were more than mindful of the extreme contradiction between their revolution in support of liberty and the slavery embedded in colonial society. Perhaps no more telling example of that clash of values can be found than in July 1776 when an unruly mob used slave labor to dismantle an equestrian statue of George III in New York City, acting in the cause of the colonists’ cherished liberty against a detested symbol of the English monarchy.

Certainly there was no dearth of British observers who opined about the hypocrisy of rebels advocating for liberty while owning slaves. Indeed, England’s renowned essayist, Samuel Johnson, in opposing Patriot protests against Britain’s colonial policy,  caustically inquired why it was that “we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of Negroes?” On the other hand, it’s not unreasonable to assume that slavery’s cruelty and omnipresence (legal in every colony but most prevalent in the South) spurred the grievances among Americans that produced their insurgence. Freedom seemed that much more precious when the colonists continually witnessed the humiliation and exploitation to which the enslaved were subjected. Hence Washington’s above-referenced observation. It arguably took a war—and the service of black soldiers’ in the Continental Army—to gradually move the needle in his thinking on this subject such that he became the only Founding Father to free his slaves, albeit upon his death.

Presumably Washington’s experience and reflection finally gave way to an understanding later articulated by Lincoln in regard to those defending the morality, or at least what they asserted as the practical necessity, of human bondage: “Although volume upon volume is written to prove slavery a very good thing, we never hear of the man who wishes to take the good of it, by being a slave himself.”

62. A Fourthful Quote

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Hi All –

The approach of the 247th anniversary of American independence calls to mind the following excerpt from President Lincoln’s Message to Congress in Special Session on July 4, 1861, in the incipient stages of the Civil War. I think it must rank among the most vital ever articulated in connection with the jubilee, and it’s obviously no coincidence that he chose that date to convey his missive  .  .  .

This is essentially a People’s contest. On the side of the Union, it is a struggle for maintaining in the world, that form, and substance of government, whose leading object is, to elevate the condition of men—to lift artificial weights from all shoulders—to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all—to afford all, an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life. Yielding to partial, and temporary departures, from necessity, this is the leading object of the government for whose existence we contend….

Our popular government has often been called an experiment. Two points in it, our people have already settled—the successful establishing, and the successful administering of it. One still remains—its successful maintenance against a formidable internal attempt to overthrow it. It is now for them to demonstrate to the world, that those who can fairly carry an election, can also suppress a rebellion—that ballots are the rightful, and peaceful, successors of bullets; and that when ballots have fairly, and constitutionally, decided, there can be no successful appeal, except to ballots themselves, at succeeding elections. Such will be a great lesson of peace; teaching men that what they cannot take by an election, neither can they take it by a war—teaching all, the folly of being the beginners of a war.


61. What the Hill?

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Hi All –

No doubt, you’ve heard of Bunker Hill, and perhaps Pork Chop Hill (from the Korean War)—and even Henry Hill (of the Lucchese crime family, played by Ray Liotta in the movie “GoodFellas”), but how many of you have heard of Hobkirk Hill? For anyone who may be interested, here’s a chance to acquaint yourself with this unsung event courtesy of a just-published article in the Journal of the American Revolution about a major minor battle in the War of Independence. Yes, I wrote the piece—but don’t hold that against it.

This being the longest thing I’ve written for JAR, I would love feedback from anyone intrepid enough to tackle it. For that matter, feedback on any of my JAR articles (listed here) would be most appreciated.

Best regards,


P.S. The image above is from The Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill: Charge of Colonel Washington’s cavalry against the British right flank to cover the American retreat, a hand-colored halftone of an illustration by F.C. Yohn from 1898.

Ear It Is

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Hi All –

For anyone who may be interested, you can listen here to the interview I just had with historian Brady Crytzer, author of Hessians and the forthcoming The Whiskey Rebellion, on the Journal of the American Revolution podcast “Dispatches” (episode 216). The discussion focuses on the article that was the subject of my last post, “Eutaw Springs and the Ambiguity of Victory.”

Best regards,


60. Another JAR Article

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I’ve gone far afield with my latest contribution to the Journal of the American Revolution, delving into the Southern campaign that others have written about so expertly—and I do so with trepidation and a sense of intruding into an aspect of the American rebellion that should be left to others. Be that as it may, this article focuses on what may have been the most savage and was one of the longest contests in our struggle for independence, the Battle of Eutaw Springs (depicted above in a print based on Alonzo Chappel’s mid-eighteenth-century painting).

Why Eutaw Springs? Several reasons, I suppose:

— the unvarnished brutality of the event, which I think truly brings home William T. Sherman’s reminder that “War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it”;

— the fact that this was the last major open-field battle of the Revolutionary War;

— focusing on it reinforces one’s perception of the conflict as a civil war, given the prominent role played by both Patriot and Loyalist militia in this engagement;

— its ambiguous outcome begs the question, which the article explores, of how one defines “victory” in a military context;

— the idea that this was the capstone engagement in General Nathanael Greene’s prolonged endeavor to fulfill his ambition of achieving a triumph that would earn him the acclaim of his and future generations;

— the irony of someone from New Jersey, known as the “Crossroads of the Revolution,” writing about a battle in South Carolina, which competes with the Garden State in claiming to have hosted more military encounters in the war than any other state—over two hundred battles, skirmishes, and raids; and

— finally, why not?

So if you’re interested, enter here, and I hope you find it worth your while.

59. A Few Thoughts on GW

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I’ve just had the pleasure of reading a chapter in a manuscript that the author asked me and others to review in connection with a book he’s crafting about what he considers to be the turning points of the war for independence, that is, the military events that altered the trajectory of the contest. This particular chapter covers the “Ten Crucial Days” (TCD) of the Revolution (December 25, 1776 – January 3, 1777), when George Washington’s army won its first three significant victories and profoundly reversed the momentum of the conflict. The draft cites to a quote by a noted military historian, the late Don Higginbotham, referring to the Continental Army’s legendary Christmas Night 1776 crossing of the Delaware River that began the TCD. Higginbotham asserted that this action was perhaps Washington’s “only really brilliant stroke of the war.”

Oh Yeah?

Having spent the last nine years immersed in the TCD, I certainly appreciate any recognition accorded any aspect of it by the historical community. That said, I would take issue with Professor Higginbotham’s assessment as being less than fair to GW, and that is the basis for what follows.

While perhaps not a brilliant strategist, Washington did have his moments . . .

(1) I don’t know if “brilliant” is the operative adjective for GW’s ordering Colonel Henry Knox to retrieve more than fifty cannon from Fort Ticonderoga in upper New York State in late 1775 and then placing them on Dorchester Heights outside British-occupied Boston, thereby forcing the British to evacuate the city in March 1776 or otherwise launch a suicidal attack, but I like to think it was an awfully shrewd piece of generalship. (And I’m not discounting that General William Howe, the British commander there, had been planning to leave Boston for months anyway or that GW’s generals had to dissuade him from launching imprudent attacks against the occupiers before then.)

(2) The evacuation of Washington’s army from Brooklyn Heights to Manhattan on the night of August 29-30, 1776 was one of the most skillful in military history, being executed at night in small craft on difficult water without detection by a larger and more powerful enemy army and fleet. (Yes, you could say it compensated—perhaps—for GW’s litany of errors in connection w/ the Battle of Long Island on Auguat 27, but still it saved his army from complete destruction. That moment was nothing if not pivotal.)

(3) The end run by GW’s army around General Charles Cornwallis’s left flank from Trenton to Princeton on the night of Jan. 2-3, 1777, which led to the final victory of the TCD at Princeton, was not exactly chopped liver.

(4) GW’s deployment of General Matthias Roche de Fermoy’s contingent along the route from Princeton to Trenton on New Year’s Eve 1777 proved to be absolutely brilliant thanks to the leadership of Colonel Edward Hand, whose delaying action on January 2, 1777 (in Fermoy’s absence) arguably forestalled the destruction of GW’s army at what I believe was the most pivotal military encounter of the war—the Battle of Assunpink Creek, which I define as including the skirmishing by Hand’s force and the fighting at the creek.

(5) If GW’s sending reinforcements from his own army (including Colonel Daniel Morgan’s riflemen) northward to support the resistance to General John Burgoyne’s Saratoga expedition in 1777 wasn’t brilliant, it sure as heck was very astute. Kevin Weddle makes a point of this in his recent book, The Compleat Victory: Saratoga and the American Revolution.

(6) To my way of thinking, GW’s naming General Nathanael Greene to command the Southern Department of the Continental Army in late 1780 was more than brilliant. It was genius. Greene’s masterful Southern campaign, in the face of seemingly insuperable challenges and with the vital assistance of rebel militia, drove the British from the interior of the Carolinas and pinned them inside their coastal sanctuaries in Charleston and Savannah, which they evacuated before the end of 1782.

(7) I’d have no hesitation in characterizing as “brilliant” the adroit maneuvers orchestrated by GW in the late summer of 1781 to deceive General Henry Clinton into thinking that a Franco-American assault on British-occupied New York City was impending in order to divert his attention from the movement of allied forces southward to trap Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia, and thereby preclude Clinton’s timely intervention on behalf of Cornwallis in an attempt to forestall the climactic American military victory of the war.

(8) And while not of a strictly military nature, perhaps GW’s most brilliant stroke of the war was to order mass inoculation of the Continental Army against smallpox in 1777. (I suppose you could argue he had no choice, but it was still a dramatic gesture that was not without controversy and arguably indispensable to preserving the integrity of his army, as well as being the first major public health initiative ever undertaken in America.)

Oh well, history is an argument that never ends, by George.

Event Reminder

Hi All –

For anyone in the area who’s interested, on Saturday, April 29 I will be selling and signing copies of my latest book, The Battle of Harlem Heights, 1776, and my other scribbling during an author fair at the Princeton Public Library, Princeton, NJ, The event is part of the library’s twelfth Local Author Day and will be held from 1:30 – 4 pm in the library’s Community Room and first floor area.

Here’s a link to more information about the participating authors (listed alphabetically) and their work.

Also FYI

In terms of current literary activity, I’m wrapping up a new article (number seven) for the Journal of the American Revolution that I expect to submit shortly. This will be the longest one I’ve written for JAR and focuses on a different aspect of the Revolutionary contest than my previous efforts. (Hint: I’m invading the South.) More to come  .  .  .

I hope everyone is having a healthy and happy spring.

Best regards,


New Book Review and Author Signing Event

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Hi All –

For anyone who may be interested, here’s some news concerning the latest arrow in my literary quiver, The Battle of Harlem Heights, 1776—not to (uh oh) equivercate in this matter.

Review Snippet

James Stacy wrote as follows in the Winter 2023 issue of The Journal of America’s Military Past:

“David Price presents in less than 200 pages a remarkably well-researched, readable, and informative book on what is arguably a little-known, but very important episode of the American Revolution, the Battle of Harlem Heights…. The Battle of Harlem Heights is another enjoyable and informative book in Westholme Publishing’s “Small Battles” series. This series spotlights small, often overlooked yet important episodes of the American Revolution.”

If you’d like to read the entire review, please email me at [email protected] and I’ll be glad to send it to you.


If you know anyone who might be keen on the subject and is in the area, I will be selling and signing copies of this and my other books during an author fair that is part of the twelfth Local Author Day at the Princeton Public Library, Princeton, NJ, This event will be on Saturday, April 29 from 1:30 – 4 pm in the library’s Community Room and first floor area.

Best regards,


58. Could We Have Lost the Revolution?

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The answer to the question posed above is “no.” At least according to historian Page Smith, writing in his magisterial work, A New Age Now Begins: A People’s History of the American Revolution (McGraw-Hill 1976). Smith’s analysis, in the final chapter of his second and concluding volume, echoes the thought expressed by John Adams many years after American independence was achieved: “But what do We mean by the American Revolution? Do We mean the American War? The Revolution was effected before the War commenced. The Revolution was in the Minds and Hearts of the People.” (Letter to Hezekiah Niles, February 13, 1818)

Here then is Mr. Smith (pp. 1823-1826):

Historians are great ‘if-ers,’ and the revolution offers them a field day…. One consequence of the work of the ‘if-ers’ is that the Revolution has commonly been treated as a ‘war’ rather than as a ‘revolution.’ This of course was the British mistake as well. In a war, especially in the eighteenth-century variety, when one side has absorbed a sufficient number of defeats, lost a sufficient number of soldiers, and surrendered a sufficient number of towns and cities, it adds up the profits and losses, finds that the debit column far outweighs the gains, and petitions for peace, or, more abjectly, surrenders. But a revolution is a different matter. A revolution is for keeps. A true revolution is not reversible; it cannot be ‘defeated’ in any conventional sense. The people can be decimated, starved, virtually destroyed, and in the right circumstances, by means of utter ruthlessness, the revolution can be suppressed. But ‘suppressed’ is different from ‘defeated.’

There must have been some reason why America was the graveyard of British military reputations; why no British general emerged with his laurels untarnished. After all, these were the same men, or at the very least the same type of men, who had administered a decisive drubbing to the French and Spanish during the Seven Years’ War. They made up the best military and naval force in the world. As we have seen, it never occurred to any but a handful of congenital optimists that they could be defeated by a ragtag citizen army of untrained levies. And properly speaking they weren’t. They ‘won’ almost every major engagement. From the ‘battle’ of Lexington and Concord, which wasn’t, properly speaking, a battle at all, to Yorktown, the British claimed an almost unbroken series of victories….

The American Revolution was, in modern parlance, the first ‘people’s liberation movement.’ In order to make any sense out of the question of whether Great Britain could have ‘won the war,’ we have to rephrase the question in a different form: Could Great Britain, after, let us say, the battle of Bunker Hill, and after, certainly the Declaration of Independence, have reduced the colonies to a ‘proper state of subordination’? Could they, in short, have turned off the revolution? Could they have restored the status quo ante bellum, as the military and diplomatic historians put it? And the answer, of course, is an emphatic no. It is quite literally impossible to imagine [Governor] Thomas Hutchinson returning to Massachusetts to guide its affairs and squabble with his council once again; or William Tryon back in North Carolina or New York [where he had served successively as royal governor], or, indeed, any other governor directing the affairs of this or that colony. In 1779, with the Carlisle Commission, Great Britain went as far as it could have possibly gone short of granting complete independence in meeting the American grievances that had brought on the ‘war’; and while Washington and Congress ‘feared it like the devil,’ it caused hardly a stir among the rank and file of patriots. No peace movement developed in the states to barter for a return to the parental fold, which had once appeared such a haven of security. It was indeed as Washington had said of the people crowding around him on the march from New York to Virginia [en route to Yorktown in 1781]: ‘We may be beaten by the English…but here is an army they will never conquer.’

American independence was not a precarious issue, hanging always in the balance, resting on a victory here or there, on this alliance or that, on the preservation of Robert Howe’s army of the Southern Department, or Benjamin Lincoln’s army of the Southern Department, or Horatio Gates’s army of the Southern Department—each of which were successively obliterated—or even on the survival of Nathanael Greene’s army, or the Continental Army of George Washington himself. The Revolution was, quite simply, the first and one of the most powerful expressions of the determination of a people to be free.

Well, there you have it. For those wishing to take issue with any of the above, have at it. As they say, history is an argument without end.

What Now?

Dear Reader,

This feels like a good time for me to hit the “pause” button on creating new posts. After spending more than two and a half years in the blogosphere, I’ve reached a point where it feels more like a chore than an opportunity—and that suggests that, at least for the near future, I need to take a blatant blog break. (Try saying that three times fast.) This pivot won’t necessarily entail a total or permanent abstention from blogging, as I foresee wanting to share information or thoughts on a particular topic at various times or posting a link to something that I hope will be of interest to you (especially if it’s something to which yours truly has been or will be connected). I’ll always enjoy writing, so you can expect me to seek outlets for that impulse, that is, beyond compiling a really long and diversified grocery list.

To anyone who may be disappointed by this news, I offer my regrets and a reminder of the sage advice commonly attributed to P.T. Barnum: “Always leave them wanting more.” And to those who feel otherwise, I’m pleased to do you this favor.

Thank you very much for reading, and I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride. We’ll see where it goes from here. As Yogi Berra allegedly opined, “It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.”

Best wishes,