Wheat and Chaff

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From the Dispatches by Queen Hotchibobo: Our freedom is every bit as much at stake as it was in the days of the Revolution and we have the advantage of fighting in comfort and safety. If we fail in this, we don’t deserve the country our forefathers died to give us.

On July 3, 1775 newly minted General George Washington took command of the troops arrayed around Boston. He wasn’t particularly impressed with the army he inherited. He was able to choose out a few good officers and began to bring some semblance of discipline to the army.

His army, on the other hand, was probably more impressed with him than was justified at that point. He was, compared to the British Army and Navy he faced, rather inexperienced for the job. But he was the best they had.

In spite of his lack of experience, the British were forced to withdraw from Boston eight and a half months later when Washington finally occupied Dorchester Heights which had lain ripe for the taking most of the time Washington had been in command. Actually holding Dorchester was unlikely until Knox retrieved the guns of Fort Ticonderoga captured by Ethan Allen. More importantly, holding Dorchester and having the guns, meant the British hand was forced. As Dorchester commanded Boston it must either be taken or Boston evacuated. After a plan to take Dorchester was aborted, Howe chose to continue with his original plan and evacuated Boston.

Pretty impressive stuff for an army of rabble led by a generally inexperienced general. It was good for recruitment and so in spite of leaving a holding force in Boston, Washington saw a significant increase in his army as he traveled to and fortified New York. While there were still minor discipline issues and significant sanitation issues that debilitated a significant part of his force, Washington was riding pretty high in New York. The people were friendly, supplies were plentiful, and a quick end to a short war may have even seemed at hand.

Then the British arrived on the scene in a fleet that grew to as many as 400 ships. This time they brought their “A” game while Washington found himself in the reverse position he had occupied in Boston. Surrounded by water he had no navy. The friendly natives often proved to be loyal to The Crown, providing enormous intelligence to the British while Washington had no way to gather significant intelligence on British intentions. With a multitude of options to choose from, the British were able to apply military experience and tactics that were beyond the organizational capacity possessed by Washington and his officers.

His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

While the various battles of Brooklyn, Harlem, Ft. Washington, etc. provided many opportunities for patriots to exhibit determination, bravery and tenacity, most of the New York experience demonstrated Washington’s masterly ability to vacillate and retreat before an enemy that was better supplied, better trained and sported superior generalship.

Chased out of New York, Washington found several thousand of his men to be captured, hundreds dead, thousands more wounded or otherwise incapacitated, enlistments running out and desertion rampant.

The British hounded him across New Jersey until he crossed the Delaware. No not that crossing.

In late Dec, 1776 Thomas Paine published the first of a series of essays called “The Crisis,” beginning with what are now some of the most famous and inspiring words in the history of liberty:

THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.

The tiny army left to Washington at this point held fewer than 5000 men. Ill-equipped, underfed, freezing, sick, hounded and hunted across New Jersey but still there. There were not many summer soldiers or sunshine patriots left. Like a divine wind Howe and Clinton and Cornwallis had blown away the chaff, the tavern patriots, and the summer soldiers leaving only the wheat.

The situation was dire. Even those who had stuck around were pessimistic about the future of the war. Across America, Washington’s defeats and retreats left Congress scattering from Philadelphia and the final outcome of the war looking rather bleak for the rest of the colonists.

Then Washington did the unexpected. Knowing spring was likely to bring final defeat, knowing morale was abysmally low, not just in his army but across the colonies, on the night of Dec 25, 1776 he crossed the Delaware again. You probably know the story of how in the dark of night in freezing temperatures Washington moved a force of 2400 men across a swollen and ice choked Delaware River and then marched miles through the night to arrive in Trenton, NJ on the morning of the 26th. Washington’s men emerged from a snowstorm to attack the Hessians that were left to occupy Trenton. After a short fight which resulted in the death of the Hessian commander, Washington and his men captured about 1000 plus arms. This was followed by Cornwallis’ rebuffed counterattack in Trenton and the American capture of Princeton.

These victories were not militarily important. The number captured and killed paled in comparison to the numbers Washington had lost since the British fleet had arrived in New York. They did cause the British to withdraw most of their troops from New Jersey, but primarily because they didn’t want to fight during the winter and didn’t want to leave them exposed to Washington who plainly would.

The psychological victory, on the other hand, very likely turned the war and made success possible.

 

Which brings us to today. It might be nice to imagine ourselves encamped at Newtown, PA. Only the most patriotic of patriots at our side. We could wish the elections of 2010 were analogous to Washington crossing the Delaware or even leaving a surprised Cornwallis in Trenton while he had moved on to capture Princeton.

I doubt there is reality in that.

If the 2010 election parallels the Revolution we have not at this point advanced so far as New York. Instead we return to Boston to find a proper equivalent, a disorganized motley crew, inexperienced, poorly led finding ourselves handed the high ground by an enemy so dominant and arrogant to believe it didn’t matter. That enemy thinking they would merely sweep us away at will. I don’t know if we have the guns of Ticonderoga to prove ourselves on this hill.

Already we find the worm tongued loyalists in our midst, occupying our trenches, speaking the right pass-phrases while selling us out to The Crown.

If we win this field it will, like Boston, only serve to make a very powerful foe enraged; sure to move to new heights of tyranny. Meanwhile we are almost certainly outnumbered by summer soldiers and sunshine patriots. Worse are the closet loyalists and profiteers in our midst selling books and TV deals and, when elected, governing from the positions and perspectives of our enemies. Washington lost 80% of his men from New York to Newtown. Next time you are at a gathering look around and note, 4 out of 5 won’t be in Newtown, if you or I make it that far.

“When I look round, and see how few of the numbers who talked so largely of death and honor are around me, and that those who are here are those from whom it was least expected . . . I am lost in wonder and surprise. . . . Your noisy sons of liberty are, I find, the quietest in the field. . . . An engagement, or even the expectation of one, gives a wonderful insight into character” Joseph Reed

The quiet hero, the loud-mouthed braggart, the cool “expert” or the bookish recluse; which of them shall run and which of them shall stand firm? I don’t think even they yet know. We are on the threshold of an engagement that will peel back the layers and reveal the character of a nation.

We are as yet too insignificant to really be noticed by the enemy. 2010 might have stung a bit but that is all. We have not won any battles that will alter the future. They haven’t even repealed the Stamp Act or the Intolerable Acts.

America is the threshing floor, we are about to be sorted.

 

 

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janis
April 30, 2011 7:40 am

What a masterful and telling piece, Rogue! I salute your knowledge of history and your ability to apply it to the events of the present day. And, like you, I wonder truly which of those who consider themselves “leaders” in this fight, both in the Beltway and online, to be the real soldiers. Ready to fight when the odds look the worst, and ready to stand fast when their egos are threatened. For many of them, their egos mean more, much more, than their country. And certainly more than their countrymen. Excellent piece. Thank you for saying something that resonates!… Read more »

Woodsman
April 30, 2011 9:26 am

One word to describe this analogous moment in past and present history. Bravo!

Each successful skirmish is but a stepping stone to to the next battle and desired end game. Quit or get comfortable and you lose.

Well done!

texasgalt
Editor
April 30, 2011 10:40 am

Rogue, we are at the tipping point. Many conservatives realize that, but find themselves living in relative comfort, if not luxury. When / if they reach a point where they fear the current government more than they love their possessions, then they will be willing to risk their fortune and their honor, and maybe even their lives.

Great writing. Thanks.

vassarbushmills
Admin
April 30, 2011 4:37 pm

What an inspiration, Rogue. I’ll be in touch.

redneck hippie
Editor
April 30, 2011 4:48 pm

This is great, Rogue. The psychological victory you noted at Trenton and Princeton were something we still have yet to attain in our battle for America. Frankly, I do not see it happening, because our foes are not the kind to retreat in order to fight another day. They may go underground, but the whole time they will be conjuring more deceptions in order to gain their evil sway. It’s the difference between an ideological war and a shooting war. In the latter the vanquished don’t have the ability to get back up again. Over and over I’m reminded of… Read more »

lineholder
May 1, 2011 1:25 am

Mr. Rogue, sir, as someone whose knowledge of history isn’t anything comparable to your own, my deepest thanks for sharing your viewpoint on this period of our history.

What strikes me the most is that in the darkest hour, Gen. Washington risked the most with a tenacity and boldness that we probably wouldn’t find in many if any of our modern day leaders. The leaders we have now would be far more inclined to take the path of least resistance.