Saturday, June 6, 2015

eBook Review: Beat the Last Drum redux

Thomas FlemingBeat the Last Drum: The Siege of Yorktown 

  • Product Details

    • File Size: 3851 KB
    • Print Length: 278 pages
    • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
    • Publisher: New Word City, Inc.; 1 edition (February 26, 2015)
    • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
    • Language: English
    • ASIN: B00U2MF8WG
    • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
    • X-Ray: Enabled
    • Word Wise: Not Enabled
    • Lending: Enabled
    • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars (16 customer reviews)
    • Price: $2.99 

1. Short review: *:D big grin (Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars -- I love it. Have read it twice.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: I enjoyed Beat the Last Drum the second time more than I did the first. IMO this is a superbly written history.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? A roller coaster punctuated with walks in the park.
Outstanding value for the money. Easily worth ten times the price I paid.

2.2. What I did not like: Does not apply. First to last, it's good.

2.3. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? Yes.

2.4. The work in a nutshell:
     TF gave his history immediacy with quotes from journals and letters written by American, French, and English generals and sergeants, too. He included letters from German troops pressed into service for England.
     At sea: The Comte de Grasse snuck the entire French fleet through the Bahamas straits to surprise the British at Chesapeake Bay. Admiral Graves thoroughly screwed up the Battle of the Capes; his rear squadron -- commanded by Hood -- never got into action because of the way Graves drew up the battle.
     Graves retreated to New York to repair his ships. The day his fleet returned to sea, Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown.
     On land: Cornwallis's army staggered through Virginia. He kicked Continental butt whenever and wherever he engaged the army under the command of Lafayette. He pitched camp at Yorktown and Gloucester (on the north side of the river) and fortified his position to await supplies and reinforcements Clinton promised him.
     Cornwallis was secure in the knowledge that Washington's army possessed only field artillery -- 4-, 6-, and 12-pounder guns.
     But he was wrong.
     French Admiral de Barras brought heavy siege guns to America. Plus the Allies stripped guns from a frigate. For the first time since the siege of Boston, the Continental Army had all the artillery -- and ammo -- it wanted.
     The British maintained two large armies in America: Clinton's army in New York and Cornwallis's in Virginia. Washington spent the summer shadowing Clinton's forces in New York City. TF hints that Washington obsessed over New York because of his defeat there years before.
     In August, Washington decided to march south to confront Cornwallis. He was persuaded to choose that course because de Grasse's time on the American coast was limited, and Virginia was closer to the French naval base in the Caribbean than New York. The choice of Virginia gave Washington more time with naval support.
     Washington and Rochambeau marched south to join Lafayette and Steuben. The Allied army besieged Cornwallis and surprised him when their heavy guns opened fire. At one point, the Allies fired 150 rounds an hour for days on end. Yorktown ceased to exist. The Brits were living in holes dug into the ground. Their ships and boats in the harbor were sunk. 17 October 1781 Cornwallis opened negotiations for surrender. Two days later, the Redcoats and their German mercenaries marched out, stacked arms, and became prisoners of war.

2.5. Other: 
The personal side of Yorktown. 

The Americans: 
     George Washington: After Yorktown, GW returned to New York and continued to shadow the British army there. He also returned to the Sisyphean tasks of feeding, clothing, arming, and paying his army. 
     Lafayette: Lafayette held his commission from the Continental Congress and commanded American troops. He returned to France, fought for the revolutionists, and still spent a decade in a French prison. In 1824, he returned to the United States and was feted wherever he went. By law, Lafayette and his male descendants are American citizens. 
     John Laurens: Washington sent Laurens to France to get money by loan, gift, or graft. Laurens got most but not all the money. Washington sent Laurens to negotiate Cornwallis's surrender terms. Laurens had served under General Benjamin Lincoln when the Continental Army surrendered Charleston, SC, after a six-week siege and had marched out denied the honors of war. He denied them to Cornwallis. Laurens died in a small unit action the following year. Pity. 
     Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben: Steuben was known as a disciplinarian and exacting taskmaster, but the men in his command loved him, because he spent his own money to care for them. Unpaid by the Continental Congress, he sold his horse to finance a celebration dinner for French officers. He left the Continental Army in broken health and bankrupt. 

The British: 
     Charles Cornwallis: After Yorktown, Cornwallis fought two successful campaigns in India. Named the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and suppressed an Irish rebellion in 1798. Never lost a battle before Yorktown and never lost again. 
     Henry Clinton: Dithered away his time in New York City until it was too late to save Cornwallis. Wrote a 575-page book citing the Lando Calrissian defense, but King George III blamed him (rightly) for the loss of the thirteen colonies. Never held another command. 
     Thomas Graves: Never commanded another fleet but was second-in-command to Admiral Richard Howe at the Battle of the Glorious First of June. For his part in this battle, he was promoted to full admiral and elevated to the peerage. It is better to be lucky than good. 
     Samuel Hood: One of the few competent British naval officers who agreed to serve under John Montagu, the Earl of SandwichFirst Lord of the Admiralty. Served as second-in-command at the Battle of the Virginia Capes; his rear squadron never got into action. Despised Graves. Mentored Horatio Nelson when Nelson captained a frigate under his command. Nelson, Rodney, and Hood are the Trinity of British naval heroes. 
     Bartholomew James: First lieutenant of HM frigate Charon, at anchor in the river to support Cornwallis. Volunteered for a number of hazardous assignments, including command of a fire-ship and a scouting sloop. On land, successfully led a midshipman and 34 sailors to bring the last British battery back into action. Less than an hour after they fired their first shot, Allied counterbattery fire had dismounted or destroyed five of their six guns. Only James and his midshipman -- both wounded -- returned from the action. For this, he received the personal thanks of Cornwallis. Rose to the rank of rear admiral.

The French:
     Jacques-Melchior Saint-Laurent, Comte de Barras: Carried heavy siege artillery to the Allied army at Yorktown and joined de Grasse in the blockade of Chesapeake Bay. Sailed with de Grasse at the Battle of the Saintes when the French fleet was decisively defeated by Rodney and Hood.
     François-Joseph Paul, Comte de Grasse: Brought his fleet through the Bahama straits to reach Chesapeake Bay. This surprised the British. Fought off Graves at the Battle of the Virginia Capes  Six months after defeating Graves, lost his fleet to Rodney and Hood at the Battle of the Saintes.
     Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, Comte de Rochambeau: Commanded the French expeditionary forces. Loaned money to Washington to keep the Continental Army going and still took orders from Washington. Those times when you think the French don't know how to fight, look up Rochambeau. A consummate soldier and gentleman.

     An observation I made that is not explicit in the book is that the men of Washington's Continental Army were better soldiers than the British or the French. They marched faster than the French: the Continental Army crossed the Hudson River in one day; their French counterpart -- of similar size -- needed four. They fought better than the French: in the assaults on the forward British redoubts at Yorktown, the Americans took their objective -- redoubt number ten -- at a cost of nine dead and twenty-five wounded; the French casualties taking redoubt number nine totaled forty-six dead and sixty-eight wounded.
     What made the difference?
     The French, obedient to orders, waited for their sappers to cut a breach before they entered the redoubt. The Americans had no patience for that and climbed the palisades individually. The effect was that the Americans were quicker into action.

     A table of casualties suffered at Yorktown from combat (Dead and Wounded) and disease:

Casualties Dead Wounded Disease
American 30 100
French 60 193
Total Allied 90 293 1,500

British 156 326 2,000

     This ration of 5:1 (disease:combat casualties) continued until the American Civil War and the institution of field sanitation and hygiene standards by the Union Army. The French sent officers to study these standards because, as a result of improved field sanitation, the Union Army suffered fewer losses in combat than the French Army did in peacetime bivouac.

     By the way, the militia were crap. Only at the Battle of Cowpens did militia acquit themselves. Militia can stand a post and raise an alarm, but they defend badly and they have not the discipline to assault an enemy.
     I bring this up only because Thomas Jefferson placed his faith in militia for the defense of the nation. It was a failed idea then and it is a failed idea now. Jefferson was an exceptional political propagandist, but on all matters military and naval, he was a table-top amateur who could not defeat a second-year ROTC cadet.
     The USA Reserves and the National Guard are not militia even if they are treated so by law. They are trained to regular army standards.

     05 September 1781 de Grasse defeated Graves's attempt to force Chesapeake Bay. Cornwallis was already encamped at Yorktown but not entrenched. The Allied army under Washington was just south of Philadelphia; likely it was on the north bank of the Delaware River, but whether it was east or west of the Schuylkill River, I do not know.
     Why Cornwallis sat there and waited until Washington invested his position, I do not know. Did he truly place his faith in the incompetent Clinton?

     There is a significant typo at location 2073. September 7 should be September 17.


2.6. Links: Thomas Fleming

2.7. Buy the book: Beat the Last Drum

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