Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The Best Answer to Calumny - An Excerpt from "Valley Forge"

The Best Answer to Calumny
An excerpt from Valley Forge
Written by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin

* * *

It had long chafed foreign-born officers such as Gates, Lee, and Conway that Washington’s leadership style kept faith with a meritocracy that favored young, competent homegrown generals with little formal military education over so-called professional soldiers. That the likes of Nathanael Greene, Henry Knox, and Anthony Wayne had ascended to key positions in the Continental Army was seen as an insult to the established hierarchy. Foisting an auditor like Thomas Conway upon the commander in chief was one of the few means Gates had of putting Washington in his place. But Conway’s promotion and appointment were only one front in a multifaceted assault.

March to Valley Forge painted by William Trego, 1883.
Earlier that fall Congress had approved a long-debated plan to professionalize the Board of War to more closely resemble Britain’s War Office. No longer would rotating congressional delegates make up the committee; it would now consist of three permanent members and a clerical staff tasked with acting as sole intermediaries between Congress, state authorities, and the army. The board’s original purview—compiling officer rolls; securing prisoners of war; and monitoring the movements of troops, arms, and equipment—was also expanded to include the supervision of recruiting operations and the oversight of arms production and procurement. General Mifflin, Adjutant Gen. Timothy Pickering of Massachusetts, and Washington’s fellow Virginian and military secretary Robert Hanson Harrison were initially elected to constitute the board’s directorship. But Harrison wished to remain at Washington’s side in the field and declined the post. His seat was awarded to the former commissary general, Connecticut’s Joseph Trumbull. At this Gen. Mifflin persuaded Congress to expand the board to five permanent members and recommended the appointments of the board’s former secretary Richard Peters and Gen. Gates to fill the new slots. Congress agreed and, again at Mifflin’s suggestion, Gates was named the board’s president.

If Mifflin did not hide his disdain for Washington, Gates was more subtle. The “Hero of Saratoga” had already shown himself to be a wily political operative, and as president of the new Board of War he was unlikely to remain satisfied with an offstage role filing regimental rosters or tending to prisoners. Behind the scenes he wisely juxtaposed his victory in the north against Washington’s stalled Pennsylvania campaign, so much so that, to most observers, Gates seemed, like Gen. Lee before him, to have set his sights on Washington’s job. For now, however, the board’s most urgent task was provisioning Valley Forge, and to that end its ukases flew fast and furious toward Lancaster, seat of the Pennsylvania state assembly ostensibly tasked with supplying the winter camp. The Board of War’s directives, though couched as suggestions, were intended to demonstrate to the state representatives that the national government would no longer abide their foot-dragging.

Congress also authorized the board’s principals to journey to the winter encampment on an official inspection tour. This mission fell apart almost immediately, fractured by personal politics worthy of the Byzantine court. After seeming to acquiesce in the congressional mandate, Gen. Gates announced suddenly that he and his fellow members were entirely too busy with reorganizing the board’s affairs to venture so far from York. Though the excuse fooled few, no delegates objected. It was left to soldiers like Connecticut’s truculent Gen. Huntington to speak plain. “I fancy they don’t like us well enough to come,” he bluntly informed his friend Joseph Trumbull.

Yet Huntington and officers of a similar mind had missed the forest for the trees. It was Gates’s offhand mention of the board’s reorganizational efforts that should have raised eyebrows. In fact, Gates and his fellow board members were in the process of securing from Congress unprecedented concessions, including the power to establish a network of supply depots throughout Pennsylvania and western New Jersey independent of Washington’s control. These would be manned by purchasing agents and transportation superintendents appointed by the board, in effect overriding the army’s established commissary department. Although the term would not enter the American vernacular for another 150 years, these were the first steps of a classic power play Gates and his cohort planned to spring against Washington.*

Not everyone in Washington’s orbit was as obtuse about the board’s intentions as Gen. Huntington. It took the Marquis de Lafayette less than a week after Gen. Conway’s arrival at Valley Forge to deduce the true intent of his presence. The young Frenchman wrote to Washington that before departing his home country he’d “believed that all good Americans were united together.” Now, however, he professed himself shocked at the Board of War’s duplicity, and in a separate note to Henry Laurens he warned the president of Congress to keep a watchful eye on Gates. The general’s successes in the north country, Lafayette noted, “have turned all the heads and raised his party to the highest degree. Some have been audacious, ungrateful, and foolish enough as to hope it would reflect on General Washington’s reputation and honor—men indeed to be pitied as well as despised.” Thus the new year opened with more and increasingly varied reports of “dirty arts and low intrigues” making their way to Washington’s headquarters.

Washington's Headquarters at Valley Forge, also known as the Isaac Potts House. Built circa 1773.
Few of these “intrigues” came by official post or mail coach. Instead most arrived at Valley Forge by hint and rumor, like daylight emanating from a sun so beclouded that neither particle nor wave carried it directly. One old friend alerted Washington that Gates’s allies had convinced influential congressional delegates, particularly the New Englanders, that it was only the commander in chief’s terminal mismanagement that had allowed the British to take Philadelphia. Another reported whispers in York that the Continental Army actually outnumbered Gen. Howe’s troops by a factor of three or four, yet for some reason Washington refused to engage. Patrick Henry forwarded an anonymous letter he’d received in Virginia that scorned Washington’s leadership and posited, “We have wisdom, virtue and strength enough to save us if they could be called into action. The northern army has shown us what Americans are capable of doing with a GENERAL at their head. The spirit of the southern army is in no ways inferior to the spirit of the northern. A Gates, a Lee, or a Conway would in a few weeks render them an irresistible body of men.” Henry and Washington both recognized the author’s handwriting as that of the general’s old ally turned antagonist Dr. Rush.

This is where the personal embodiment of the world’s first laboratory of democracy stood in the thirtieth month of the American Revolution— blamed for losing both New York and Philadelphia; his troops resembling an army of beggars; his supply lines a laughable calamity; and his authority nibbled and nipped at from all sides by jealous and power-hungry subordinates. All this might have been enough to induce a commander of lesser character to throw up his hands and return home to his wife and family. Washington, needless to say, was not that commander.

* The first appearance of power play, in 1921, related to an American football formation. A decade later it had gravitated to hockey, and in 1941 the term was applied to politics.

About the Book
December 1777. It is 18 months after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and some 12,000 members of America’s beleaguered Continental Army stagger into a small Pennsylvania encampment 23 miles northwest of British-occupied Philadelphia. The starving and half-naked force is reeling from a string of demoralizing defeats at the hands of King George III’s army, and are barely equipped to survive the coming winter. Their commander in chief, the focused and forceful George Washington, is at the lowest ebb of his military career. The Continental Congress is in exile and the American Revolution appears to be lost.

Yet a spark remains. Determined to keep the rebel cause alive through sheer force of will, Washington transforms the farmland plateau hard by the Schuylkill River into a virtual cabin city. Together with a dedicated coterie of advisers both foreign and domestic—Marquis de Lafayette, Baron von Steuben, the impossibly young Alexander Hamilton, and John Laurens—he sets out to breathe new life into his military force. Against all odds, as the frigid and miserable months pass, they manage to turn a bobtail army of citizen soldiers into a professional fighting force that will change the world forever.

Valley Forge is the story of how that metamorphosis occurred. Bob Drury and Tom Clavin, the team behind such bestsellers as The Heart of Everything That IsThe Last Stand of Fox Company, and Halsey’s Typhoon, show us how this miracle was accomplished despite thousands of American soldiers succumbing to disease, starvation, and the elements. Here is Steuben, throwing himself into the dedicated drilling sessions he imported from Prussian battlefields. Here is Hamilton, proffering the shrewd advice that wards off his beloved commander in chief’s scheming political rivals. Here is Laurens, determined to integrate the Continental Army with freed black men and slaves. Here is Lafayette, thirsting for battlefield accolades while tenaciously lobbying his own king for crucial French aid.

At the center of it all is George Washington, in the prime of his life yet confronting crushing failure as he fends off political conspiracies every bit as pernicious as his incessant military challenges. The Virginia planter-turned-general is viewed by many as unqualified to lead the Continental Army after the humiliating loss of Philadelphia, and his detractors in and out of Congress plot to replace him. The Valley Forge winter is his—and the revolution’s—last chance at redemption. And, indeed, after six months in the camp, Washington fulfills his destiny, leading the Continental Army to a stunning victory in the Battle of Monmouth Court House. The momentum is never again with the Redcoats.

Valley Forge is the riveting true story of a nascent United States toppling an empire. Using new and rarely seen contemporaneous documents—and drawing on a cast of iconic characters and remarkable moments that capture the innovation and energy that led to the birth of our nation—Drury and Clavin provide the definitive account of this seminal and previously undervalued moment in the battle for American independence.

About the Authors
Bob Drury is the author/coauthor/editor of nine books. He has written for numerous publications, including The New York Times, Vanity Fair, Men’s Journal, and GQ. He is currently a contributing editor and foreign correspondent for Men’s Health. He lives in Manasquan, New Jersey.

Tom Clavin is a bestselling author and has worked as a newspaper and web site editor, magazine writer, TV and radio commentator, and a reporter for The New York Times covering entertainment, sports, and the environment. He has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, and National Newspaper Association, and two of his books were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. His first professional job was as a publicist and proofreader for Sterling Publishing, which at the time produced annual editions of The Guinness Book of World Records. He began freelance writing and editing in 1980, and moved to Sag Harbor, NY two years later. Tom still lives there, and his two children, Kathryn and Brendan, were born and raised in Sag Harbor. His career has included working in the newspaper game on eastern Long Island – 15 years as a roving writer for The New York Times, managing editor of The East Hampton Star, editor-in-chief of the Independent chain of weeklies, and writing arts features and the “Farther East” column for the Press News Group. Gradually, writing nonfiction books became his full-time occupation.

Do you enjoy the articles and features that The History Girl produces each week? 
If so, consider a donation to keep the movement going!


Post a Comment

Thanks for the comments!