64. How Conclusive are your Conclusions?

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Hope everyone enjoyed Thanksgiving. I know I’ve neglected this blog of late, due in part to other literary exertions, but felt compelled to scribble something that bears on what I’ve been doing and will hopefully satisfy an urge to be at least minimally conscientious about posting stuff. (I will not make a new year’s resolution to do better on this score because experience suggests—actually screams—that it would guarantee nonperformance.)

Anyway, what triggered this latest post is something from Al Frazza’s book, State of Revolution: My Seven-and-a-Half-Year Journey Through Revolutionary War New Jersey, Al, who created RevolutioaryWarNewJersey.com, provides a useful reminder to maintain humility in the context of historical interpretation—and other pursuits too, for that matter. In other words, it’s a good idea to know what you don’t know (so to speak). I’ve tried to keep that in mind when writing and doing my tour-guide thing at Washington Crossing and Princeton, but it never hurts to give the memory banks a nudge on that every so often.

So here’s the relevant excerpt:

…one should always stay humble about what one is researching. Always consider that, no matter how much you know, it is only a small part of the larger story, and that other people know things that you don’t. Even when it comes to the things that you know very well, it is good to be open to the possibility that you may be incorrect in your conclusions. It can keep you from finding a deeper truth if you are too confident in your assumptions.

And speaking of assumptions, one that I never made relates to an early holiday gift for yours truly that just arrived from the Journal of the American Revolution (JAR). I never know what’s going to (as they say at the Washington Crossing parks) really float the editors’ boat, but today I learned that one of my articles from earlier this year—Eutaw Springs and the Ambiguity of Victory—has been selected for inclusion in the next annual hardcover book produced by JAR, scheduled for release in April. These hardcover volumes feature the best (as determined by the editors) historical research and writing published by the journal during the prior calendar year—typically between thirty and forty articles (forty in the 2024 volume). They are available from Westholme Publishing, Amazon, or wherever books are sold. (Since 2021, I’ve written nine articles for JAR and three have made the cut for the annual volume. Boy, if only I could have hit .333 playing softball at Glen Ridge High.)

I hope to be able to share encouraging news on the next book very soon—but I don’t want to sound too, well, confident in that assumption.

In the meantime, I hope you all have a great holiday season and extend my best wishes for a healthy and happy new year!

If any of you will be attending the annual Princeton battle reenactment on January 7, I’ll be manning the “general store”for the Princeton Battled Society that day, i.e., selling stuff, along with my wife Alison. (I mean to say she’ll be helping me, not that I’ll be selling her.) So stop by and say hello. I’ll also be helping out at the Delaware River crossing reenactments at Washington Crossing Historic Park on December 10 and Christmas Day, so the same goes for them. (No, I will not be in a boat; I get seasick in a bathtub.)

Upcoming Talk

Hi all —

For anyone who’s interested, I’ll be giving a Zoom talk about my most recent book, The Battle of Harlem Heights, 1776, through the Fort Ticonderoga Author Series on Sunday, January 14 (2 – 3 p.m.). The link to register is here. Please note: admission is free for Fort Ticonderoga members, and there is a $10 fee for the general public. Most of my speaking events are limited to members of the hosting organization, so you might say this is the exception to the rule.

Best regards,


From One Blog to Another, by George

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I recently wrote an article for the Friends of Washington Crossing Park newsletter, entitled A Few Thoughts About George Washington, which was just posted on their blog. It’s essentially a reiteration of an earlier blog post of mine (number 59 on May 5 of this year), with a few very minor tweaks, but I’m posting a link to it here in case anyone didn’t get a chance to see it before or wants to revisit the piece for whatever reason—or is just looking for an excuse to peruse the park’s website.

Last night, I had the pleasure (and I do mean pleasure) of talking to the National Society of the Washington Family Descendants at their 69th annual reunion, held at the Philadelphia Marriott Old City. There were about eighty attendees, people from across the country who trace their lineage to Martha Washington or various Founding Fathers/Mothers. (Notwithstanding the moniker “Father of Our Country,” George was not functional in that respect, probably owing to his mild bout with smallpox as a youth.)  The group’s total membership exceeds five hundred, and they plan to hold their 70th such event next year in Savannah, GA. More power to them!

P.S. In case you’re wondering, the above image—Washington at the Battle of Trenton—is an 1870 engraving by Illman Brothers based on a painting by Edward L. Henry.

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.