On the Anniversary of the British Surrender at Yorktown, Read This Book

October 16, 2018

October 17 is an important date in American history. Not sure why? The Government Publishing Office, as always, is here with a publication to enlighten you.

On October 17, 1781 (that’s 237 years ago), Lord Cornwallis of Britain surrendered his army at Yorktown. March to Victory: Washington, Rochambeau, and the Yorktown Campaign of 1781, a publication by Dr. Robert Selig, walks readers through the American troops’ march to victory in the Revolutionary War and the large role the French played in helping America gain its independence.

Throughout this booklet learn the endearing details of the relationship between General George Washington and French commander General Rochambeau. Despite having reservations, Rochambeau pledged to use all the resources at his disposal to support Washington’s plan. France promised both to fight and also to agree to no separate peace until Britain formally recognized American independence. To work together to defeat the British under the command of Lord Cornwallis, these French and American military commanders had to overcome formidable barriers of culture, language, tactical doctrine, and political agendas. They used translators to work out plans, including the plan to commence an operation against the British, with Washington focused on an attack in New York and Rochambeau preferring an operation against British forces in the South. In the end, Rochambeau promised his full cooperation in an attack on New York City at the wish of Washington.

Despite having been enemies just 15 years earlier in the French and Indian War, the respect among the French and American troops grew steadily the more they worked together. Jonathan Trumbull, Washington’s private secretary, wrote, “The Junction of the two armies [which] is formed at this Place, & has commenced with high seeming Cordiality & Affection, demonstrated by constant Acts of Conviviality & social Harmony.” Baron Closen of the French army wrote, “I admire the American troops tremendously! It is incredible that soldiers composed of men of every age, even of children of fifteen, of whites and blacks, almost naked, unpaid and rather poorly fed, can march so well and withstand fire so steadfastly.”

General George Washington soon realized, however, that without additional massive reinforcements and material, as well as the assistance of a powerful fleet, an assault on New York had little chance of success. He became convinced it was best to head south. He wrote in his diary that he “could scarce see a ground upon which to continue my preparations against New York, and therefore I turned my views more seriously (than I had done before) to an operation to the southward.”

In early August 1781, French military officer Marquis de Lafayette drafted a report to Washington letting him know that Cornwallis and his men were settling in on the banks of the York River. But to trap the British army, a naval force would be necessary. Again, the Americans turned to the French in their time of need. Rochambeau informed Francois Joseph Paul de Grasse, the commander of the French fleet, of the demand for ships, and de Grasse agreed to send a fleet to Chesapeake. De Grasse’s fleet of 36 ships outnumbered that of the British, who had only 18. However, de Grasse promised to keep his fleet there only until October 15. So, the two commanders in chief hastily adjusted their plans to march south knowing that time was of the essence.

To throw off the British, Washington had a few tricks up his sleeve. He ordered ships for Staten Island and had bake ovens built in New Jersey. Made-up stories about movements and plans were intentionally leaked to the troops, in the hopes that they would be overheard by spies and passed onto the British headquarters. And by dispersing the French and American armies on multiple different routes south, the allies continued their antics to try to confuse their enemy. It wasn’t until early September that the British realized Cornwallis and his troops were in danger. By then, the first units of the Continental Army had already reached the northernmost part of the Chesapeake Bay.

During the march south, several American soldiers quit due to the fact that Robert Morris, financier of the American Revolution, did not have the funds to pay them. Once again, the French stepped in. On September 7, Morris asked Rochambeau if he could lend the Americans money to compensate the troops. Rochambeau gave him almost half the amount left in his treasury. This was the first and only time many Continental soldiers received hard money during their years of service to their country, and to say they were thrilled would be an understatement.

In early September George Washington invited Rochambeau and his staff to stay at his Mount Vernon home. The two commanders continued their journey together and arrived at Williamsburg on September 15 to wait for the arrival of their troops. With a little teamwork, they met with de Grasse and convinced him to keep the French fleet in America until the end of October, buying them more time. After being supplied ships to help them finish out their journey to Virginia, members of the Continental Army were the first to arrive in Virginia. They docked at Archer’s Hope, marched into Williamsburg and camped behind the College of William and Mary. Yes – the college, which was founded in 1693, was already there at that time! The French met them about one week later. Once the French and American troops were all back together again (now in the South), the armies of Washington and Rochambeau finally set out for Yorktown.

Beginning on October 3, 1781, a series of attacks and counterattacks ensued among the British and the French and American forces. On October 16, the British managed to seize two French artillery positions, but the effort ultimately proved unsuccessful. So, they tried it another way and attempted to break the encirclement the French and Americans had created. But as troops were being ferried across the York River to conduct the attack, Mother Nature intervened. A storm disrupted the British operation. Cornwallis began to realize that the Americans and French held a decisive advantage. On October 17, a British officer waved a white handkerchief in surrender. The next day, two British officers met with an American and a French counterpart to negotiate surrender terms. The British government recognized the independence of the United States in the Treaty of Paris, which officially ended the Revolutionary War in 1783.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Read the full story of the March to Victory. Order this publication from the Center of Military History at the GPO Bookstore today.

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About the author: Blogger contributor Cat Goergen is the PR Specialist in GPO’s Public Relations office.


Happy Birthday, U.S. Navy!

October 9, 2014

US Navy logoOctober 13 marks the 239th anniversary of the establishment of the United States Navy. Dating back to the early days of the revolution, the Navy was initially formed when the Continental Congress voted to “fit out” two sailing vessels. The sailing vessels armed with carriage and swivel guns and manned by small crews were sent out in an effort to stop transports that helped supply British forces during the American Revolution. This effort mandated by the Continental Congress on October 13, 1775 established the Continental Navy, and thus is now recognized as the official birthday of the U.S. Navy. Celebrate the remarkable history of the U.S. Navy with these publications currently available from the U.S. Government Bookstore:

008-046-00289-4Naval Documents of the American Revolution, V. 12, American Theater, April 1, 1778-May 31, 1778; European Theater, April 1, 1778-May 31, 1778: This twelfth volume in the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Naval Documents of the American Revolution series tells the story of the Revolutionary War on the water during the period of April to June 1778. In the tradition of the preceding volumes—the first of which was published in 1964—this work synthesizes edited documents, including correspondence, ship logs, muster rolls, orders, and newspaper accounts, that provide a comprehensive understanding of the war at sea in the spring of 1778. The editors organize this wide array of texts chronologically by theater and incorporate French, Italian, and Spanish transcriptions with English translations throughout. Volume 12 presents the essential primary sources on a crucial time in the young republic’s naval history—as the British consolidate their strength in the Mid-Atlantic, and the Americans threaten British shipping in European waters and gain a powerful ally as France prepares to enter the war.

008-046-00202-9Sea Raiders of the American Revolution: The Continental Navy in European Waters: This book discusses three American Revolutionary War captains: Lambert Wickes, Gustavus Conyngham, and John Paul Jones. Each of them lead raids on British waters during the American Revolution.

008-046-00282-7Commerce Raiding: Historical Case Studies, 1755-2009: The book of sixteen case studies examining commerce raiding or guerre de course shows that this strategy has time after time proven itself a most efficient way for sea powers to exert pressure on an opponent, especially a lesser sea power or land power, but that land powers have had little success using this strategy against sea powers. Topics include international piracy, international trade and historical background for the American War of Independence, the Civil War, and both World Wars.

008-046-00263-1Talking About Naval History: A Collection of Essays: This collection of naval history essays provides a wide historical perspective that ranges across nearly four centuries of maritime history. A number of these pieces have been published previously but have appeared in other languages and in other countries, where they may not have come to the attention of an American naval reading audience. This collection is divided into parts that deal with four major themes: the broad field of maritime history; general naval history, with specific focus on the classical age of sail, from the mid-seventeenth century to the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815; the wide scope of American naval history from 1775 to the end of the twentieth century; and finally, the realm of naval theory and its relationship to naval historical studies.

008-046-00271-1New Interpretations in Naval History: Selected Papers From the Sixteenth Naval History Symposium: A selection of the best 12 papers presented at the 2009 Naval History Symposium, the 16th in the series. The contributors are all maritime and naval historians, and their contributions range from the U.S. colonial era through the 1960s. They are not tied to a central theme but represent the vitality of studies in naval and maritime history.

HOW DO I OBTAIN THESE PUBLICATIONS?

Shop Online Anytime: You can buy these and other publications (with FREE Standard Shipping worldwide) from the U.S. Government Online Bookstore website at http://bookstore.gpo.gov:

Shop our Retail Store: Buy a copy of any print editions from this collection at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday–Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., except Federal holidays, Call (202) 512-0132 for information or to arrange in-store pick-up.

Order by Phone: Call our Customer Contact Center Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5:30 pm Eastern (except US Federal holidays). From US and Canada, call toll-free 1.866.512.1800. DC or International customers call +1.202.512.1800.

Visit a Federal Depository Library: Search for these in a nearby Federal depository library.

About the author: Trudy Hawkins is Senior Marketing and Promotions Specialist in GPO’s Publication & Information Sales Division supporting the U.S. Government Online Bookstore (http://bookstore.gpo.gov).


Today in History: War of 1812 and Army Chaplains

June 18, 2012

Two hundred years ago today, on June 18, 1812, President James Madison signed into law the United States of America’s declaration of war against Great Britain to start the War of 1812.

Image: Naval services’ 1812 Bicentennial logo. Source: Navy History

Madison’s War

Fought for a myriad of reasons from the illegal impressment of American sailors onto British Navy ships to help them fight France to land grab ambitions against Canada, the War of 1812 was derisively called “Mr. Madison’s War” initially by many Americans, particularly in the Northeast.  Ill-prepared for the war with many untrained militia and without initial support from many individual states, America suffered a number of defeats, up to the capture and burning of Washington, D.C, including the White House and the Capitol building, in August 1814.

There were a number of American triumphs at sea with a much smaller American navy, and eventually, America was able to turn back British invasions in New York; Baltimore, with the famous battle at Fort McHenry where Francis Scott Key wrote the poem “Defence of Fort McHenry” that became our national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner;” and finally at New Orleans. (Remember Johnny Horton’s 1959 song “The Battle of New Orleans”?)

Eventually, the War of 1812 united Americans and became known as “America’s Second War of Independence.”

Army Chaplains during the War of 1812

In the book, Reliable and Religious: U.S. Army Chaplains and the War of 1812 by Kenneth E. Lawson, and published by the Office of the Chief of Chaplains of the Department of the Army, the heretofore untold story of Army Chaplains during the War of 1812 is explained in detail.

Historically, during the Revolutionary War, “there were 174 Continental Army chaplains and 93 militia chaplains.” A number of New England clerics served at Concord in, with some even shouldering muskets and fighting alongside their fellow soldiers. This continued to be true in the War of 1812, as many United States Army chaplains even fought alongside the soldiers they served.

Most of the chaplains (over 200) who served in the War of 1812 were militia chaplains. Only 13 official regular army chaplains served during the war, either directly with units or headquarters. One of the chaplains ministered to West Point cadets. Regular army chaplains were classified as  ”those of the rank of major and captain” and “received the same pay, rations and forage as a surgeon,” since presumably they “healed men’s souls.”

All 13 U.S. Army ministers were Protestant, and they came from all over the United States—from Vermont all the way down to South Carolina. Two chaplains, Rev. Carter Tarrant and Rev. James Wilmer, died while serving as military chaplains.

Reverend Joshua Thomas, “Parson of the Islands”

Reliable and Religious gives detailed accounts of the war and religious situation and chaplaincy activities in each state and territory during the War of 1812, including biographies of the chaplains who served in the campaigns in each state.

One of the more famous chaplains was Reverend Joshua Thomas, a fisherman turned Methodist minister who  founded churches and preached along Virginia and Maryland’s Eastern Shore, often using his log canoe. Joshua and his wife Rachel were living on Tangier Island just below the Maryland-Virginia border during the War of l812, when the British took possession of the Island and used it as build the 100-acre Fort Albion as their center of operations as they plundered the Chesapeake Bay shoreline and prepared for their invasion of Baltimore.

Image. Reverend Joshua Thomas, “Parson of the Islands”. Source: Findagrave.com.

Thomas, dubbed “Parson of the Islands”, was held in esteem by the infamous Admiral Cockburn who asked the minister to preach to 12,000 British troops as they prepared to go to war against Ft. McHenry in Baltimore.

On September 11th, 1814, on Tangier Island, Parson delivered his famous, fiery sermon, “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” with its dire prediction to the British that they would be defeated at the upcoming Battle of Baltimore.

Image: Rev. Joshua Thomas gives his “Thou Shalt Not Kill” sermon to British troops before the Battle of Baltimore in 1814 on Tangier Island. Source: “The Parson of the Islands” by Adam Wallace.

According to Lawson’s research, Rev. Thomas warned the British “of the danger and distress they would bring upon themselves and others by going to Baltimore with the object they had in view” and told them “it was given to me by the Almighty that they [the British] could not take Baltimore and would not succeed in their expedition.” His sermon turned out to be correct, as the Redcoats were turned back at Fort McHenry, with Francis Scott Key looking on and scribbling away.

To this day, the coastal Maryland celebrates “Joshua Thomas Day” in his honor.

Today’s Army Chaplains

During the Civil War, the Army Chaplaincy developed many procedures still in place, and most chaplains became less a “fighting parson”, and more “spiritual” in their emphasis. After the Civil War, in fact, chaplains were no longer permitted to carry weapons and are presently supposed to be issued a Geneva Convention Identity Card.

Today, the United States Army Chaplain Corps consists of highly educated (college degree plus theological graduate degree required) chaplains who are ordained clergy and endorsed by their particular faith group to serve all people, regardless of religious or non-religious affiliation. Most are typically embedded with the troops in deployed combat units, at service schools, military hospitals in the field and at military installations around the world.

Image: U.S. Army Chaplaincy image. Source: U.S. Army

According to the Office of the Chief of Chaplains’ website, the Army Chaplaincy has a long and distinguished record of proving aid and comfort to America’s soldiers around the world:

Since July 29, 1775, approximately 25,000 Army Chaplains have served as religious and spiritual leaders for 25 million Soldiers and their Families. Always present with their Soldiers in war and in peace, [U.S.] Army Chaplains have served in more than 270 major wars and combat engagements. Nearly 300 Army Chaplains have laid down their lives in battle. Six have been awarded the Medal of Honor… Currently, over 2,900 Chaplains are serving the Total Army representing over 130 different religious organizations… Their love of God, Country and the American Soldier has been a beacon of light and a message of hope for all those who have served our nation.

The Army Chaplain Corps’ mission is to provide “religious support to America’s Army while assisting commanders in ensuring the right of free exercise of religion for all Soldiers. In short, we nurture the living, care for the wounded, and honor the fallen.

Knowing this, it is probable that the Army Chaplains from the War of 1812 sang more loudly this forgotten stanza from Francis Scott Key’s original “Star-Spangled Banner” poem:

Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Image: Francis Scott Key standing on boat, with right arm stretched out toward the US flag– The Star-Spangled Banner– flying over Fort McHenry, Baltimore, Maryland, during the War of 1812. Source: National Archives

Find War of 1812 Bicentennial information and events in the United States and Canada at www.Visit1812.com. I’m off to see the War of 1812 Bicentennial “Star-Spangled Sailabration” in Baltimore Harbor!

HOW DO I OBTAIN the Reliable and Religious: U.S. Army Chaplains and the War of 1812 publication?

  • Buy it online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore.
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday-Friday, 9am to 4pm, except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find it in a library.

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (http://bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public.


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