tv John Ferling Winning Independence CSPAN July 3, 2021 12:03am-1:04am EDT
corporate world interviewed by amazon senior vice president alisha fuller davis and sunday live noon eastern on in-depth during our two hour conversation with pulitzer prize-winning author and historian, gordon read as she talks about american presidents, slavery and emancipation, prize-winning books include the hemmings of monticello and latest book on juneteenth. she will take your pulse, facebook comments, e-mails and tweets. watch book tv on c-span2 this weekend. ♪♪ >> good evening, everyone. i am tina i'm joined here with wilson's historical society. if you have any questions, popular into the q&a box and we
will read them at the end. i'll turn it over to my colleague. >> thank you, tina. the historical society is pleased to cosponsor this but that does dedicated historian with new information and new theories especially that of thes southern strategy. we love that because local historians especially here in connecticut, many important figures of the american revolution came from as well as a few battles fought and farmers who fed the continental army, we always want to horn more. john is professor at the university of west georgia where he enjoyed a mom career teaching courses on the revolution, america's founders and u.s. military history. he's been 13 books and many journal articles on thehe polits of the american revolution an early republic. he's a biographer of george washington john adams. while i can't read them all, i prefer to tell you more about
god. although his parents were from west virginia, he grew up ine texas. according to his biography, his mother was college educated in the 1920s, taught school for 11 years until banned by west virginia law. attending college in the 1920s the depression and ofsc his academics and took a job in texas, they had one son john in 1940. john has a bachelors in history from eastern university and masters in history for baylor university. although he's retired, he hasn't stopped from speaking seminars, lecturing on podcasts and spending time writing which is his biggest passion. he and his wife andat their forecasts live near atlanta but there is one more thing john likes to share, his love of baseball. first major league game he saw
was 1947 between pittsburgh and brooklyn dodgers when jackie robinson scored the winning run. john was hooked for life. like any good historian, he timed his research trip around games he wanted to see, especially boston to seek the red sox. those of us here like to hear that. we know our audience is looking forward to your most recent book, winning independence so let's begin. your focus has been on the american revolution, what you love most about this chapter in our history? >> first let me think you guys for having me in the library historical society and for inviting me tonight. i've been looking forward to this. i was drawn to the american revolution because that's where everything starts for the united states and our political system, social ideas were formed during the course of the revolution.
if you think about it, lincoln when he talked about fourscore and seven years ago was referring to 1776 and the ideals of equality and god-given rights and liberty and pursuit of happiness for all people and when martin luther kueng talked about having a dream, his dream was that african-americans would cut in on the ideals that began with the american revolution. i was drawn to that end in addition, because the revolution and study the revolution consist of two things, on the one hand there is the revolution itself which i think came as a surprise to most of the participants. a dozen years before 1776, no
one saw the revolution coming but there was so the question comes up, why did it occur and what was the revolution about? was it just a case of columnists trying to gain independence or was it thomas paine, sent in 1776, was it a struggle that would bring about a new world? there is plenty to study with regard to the american revolution but in addition, you've got a double dip because you've got a war. most of the congressman new when they declared independence in july 1776, that they had to win the independence and that led to a long war, a war that had dark
and uncertain times in 1776 and then like a roller coaster, right when france allied with the united states in 1778 and many people felt this virtually, including george washington felt that this virtually short american independence and things went south after that the war becomes stalemated and that is the subject of my book. therefore here's after the great victory at saratoga from 1778 -- 1781 when i think the outcome was until the very last moment, unknown. it could have gone in different directions, never knew until yorktown whether or not america
would gain independence orbited the united states wouldon inclue 13 states so it is a long dramatic struggle, i never get tired of looking at both revolution and war itself and theng fascinating cast of characters part of a political revolution and a war so that's why i went into it and i stayed with the revolution throughout my career. >> thank you. your new book featured tonight, winning independence, this is what hooked me as i read. it challenges the assumption that america won the war. instead, great lost a war one which is directly from 545. the nuance of this and how you selected, a very different way
to look at independence. >> i think that the british had several opportunities at thes outset of the war, 1776 -- 77. seventy-five, six and seven to have won the war. general gage, commander of the british army at the time the run down to the war was coming down from told london winning the first engagement of the war is crucial. if we can have enough troops over here that is a dramatic score, dramatic victory can probably there forever for work would disappear. instead of that happening, to clearly disaster cap based the british when concord from boston
and then they had a chance to score a dramatic victory two months later in boston and they could have scored their victory, the third in command at the time advised general gage, sent forces to theve backside and the american rebels up on top of the hill, we could score a victory but they didn't do that and they marched up the hill into a disaster and there were two instances in the campaign for new york and 76 when i think ife the british acted resolutely first on brooklyn when they had about half of washington's army trapped and again in september 76 when washington foolishly kept his army on manhattan and
didn't get off, the british could have annihilated the entire continental army at that time. any of those victories have one or more for the british and another chance in 1777 the plan that london devised was for an army to come down canada led by john burgoyne, general moved north with burgoyne and washington's army and instead of doing that, how left to go to his own devices and how went to philadelphia and missed, i think the last major chance the british had to win the war but that is not to say that
britain's defeat after that was guaranteed because as i said earlier, it is a long desperate work, lots of things go wrong for the americans after 1778 as the war so maybe american economy collapse, american morale was sagging and george washington in august 1780 wrote a letter to the chief executive of pennsylvania in which he said i've almost ceased help and at the same pop up washington was writing that letter, arthur lee who'd been an american diplomat at the beginning of the work overseas in europe was turned to america for the first time since before the war began and he landed in boston, boston of all
places now and he is there for a few days and talks with a number of boston officials and massachusetts officials and he wrote most of those invite august of 1780, concluded that the war would end in a negotiated settlement short of independence so things are really up in the air. of course yorktown america does when an gained victory, gains independent so america did come out of the war victorious. i would celebrate in a five more years with 250th anniversary of 1776 but i also argue that america could not have won the war without french assistance.
the french were providing assistance starting in 1775, they provided ammunition and weaponry and clothing and blankets and whatever for the americans and they allied with the americans and then it was open for the americans they could provide even more help, they sent over a navy and sent over and army and faye loaned a great deal of money to the americans which wound up costing the french king his head in the 1790s because the economic woes and follow for all of the loans contributed to france's problems that brought on the french revolution after 1780 so the americans do win the war
with french help which i think is extremely important to remember. >> thank you. >> could we step back to what you mentioned earlier, something the public, much about, general clinton as part of your thesis, you think he deserves correct treatment from historians, what aspect of his career of historians misunderstood and why doesn't he receive credit for strategizing the capture south carolina, georgia and possibly north carolina, a move that would have changed the outcome and redrawn the map of america? >> meco to my powerpoint here i'm up washington, as everybody knows, here is another one of washington but here is sir henry clinton. clinton became the commander of the british army, he learned of his appointment in may of 1778,
he was the third british commander during thehe war. gage had been there many years before the revolution, before the war and was recalled after the disasters long concord road and at bunker hill general william howe seemed to him and he was commander and 76 and 77 and resigned after saratoga so clinton was named commander, he will be the commander of the british army from may of 78 and a little beyond yorktown, i found clinton an interesting figure, he was from an aristocratic family in england, his father was a career naval
officer became the royal governor of new york and young henry when he was still growing up, spent some of his formative years new york city. he joined the british army as a teenager and he fought into wars before the revolutionary war and he earned a reputation as a brave, courageous, risk-taking soldier who was seriously wounded and engagement in germany in the seven years war in the early 60s. he was intellectually curious individual, he read widely, especially deeply on military history and strategy and the year before the revolutionary war broke out, 1774 out of his
own pocket, he made a trip deep into eastern europe to observe a war between the russians and turks hoping to learn more aboue military strategy and tactics. then he came over as the third in command of the british army, landing three or four weeks after lexington and concord just in time to see action at the hill. he served, i think with some distinction in the couple years before he is named commander, a reputation in some circles as best strategist among britain's high-ranking officers in america during that time. at the time of his appointment,
48 years old, two years older than washington but more than 30 years of experience and i think you did a good job as a commander. but he had the misfortune, i think of becoming commander at the same moment france entered the war and now that britain had to fight both the french and of the americans, they had to withdraw some of their troops from america to send them to the caribbean to meet the new threat posed by the french so when they have these orders, he discovered he had to immediately relinquish 8000 of his troops and he had already lost all his troops who
surrendered at saratoga so he would have an army, he did have an army that was considerably smaller in the army that thero british pattern america a year before but despite that, his orders were to bring washington to battle, hold on to new york, hold onto rhode island they left this new southern strategy that we will talk about later on so he faced an enormous task and from the beginning, clinton knew he was up against it. my fate is hard, as he put it in a letter he wrote almost immediately after being named commander, he said he thought it was inevitable that britain would lose the war and he feared he would be scapegoated for the
laws of the world and it turned out he was pressing get because after yorktown, many people in england did scapegoat went in and blamed clinton arguing that he'd been too passive, he wasn't a risk taker, he wasn't dynamic enough, he just had not done enough, they argued to have won a war that britain could have run. most of the arguments were picked up by historians down the road so clinton's reputation in the literature has suffered as well. i tried to argue in the book that many of those allegations are true. clinton i think was far more active than his foes suggested.
he did take risks, he was far more active than washington was during the four years between saratoga and yorktown. thomas paine after the war of the 1790s wrote a blistering pamphlet talking washington and pain argued, i don't agree with pain on this but pain argued that washington slept in the field, as he put it and the winters of the war were general gage and nathaniel but washington was generally an active during much of that time, clinton was far more active and the most devastating attack or appraisal came about almost 75
years ago but still i dollars still accepted today and it was a study made by clinton's biographer in conjunction with a clinical psychologist they argued that clinton sought power but he had deep subliminal psychological problems that prevented him from acting on the power he had and i think he picked argument as malarkey, not that i'm ant particular boat of history but in this case they were obviously unable to put clinton on the couch and talk with him but in addition clinton left behind virtually no private correspondence that would have opened a window to his inner
self so i think clinton's reputation suffered from that, there is your kitty. [laughter] >> this is joey just joining us now. [laughter] >> it's all right, i closed the door so mine couldn't get in the room but anyway, i think that study on clinton should be filed away in their circular file. he certainly made mistakes, i recognize in the book but i think he was a good general, exceedingly good strategist who didn't have too much to work with. based enormous challenges so i hope that my appraisal will convince people to take another look at sir henry clinton.
>> i didn't know anything about him until reading this but i did lead in terms of this ability. we are going to stay with him a little bit and i just realized with the chronology our next questions are out of order. after britain's saratoga in 1777, the so-called southern strategy, what was it and was there something to gain from 1778 onward? >> i think aftered saratoga, the british, many people in england after saratoga a wanted to drop out of the war it had gone on for three years. they had achieved virtually nothing and now have lost in entire army at saratoga so when the news came in saratoga
triggered a lengthy debate in the war went into the winter of 1778 and there was a debate for one think brother to remain in the war and if the decision was made to remain in the work, what kind of strategy what they pursue? down to this, the strategy had been to try to destroy the washington's continental army and win control of several northern provinces and they really haven't succeeded on either score so at the end of the debate, the notion of remaining in the war prevailed largely because of kueng insisted that the war continue.
let me go back to my powerpoint here. the person who really led the fight in the war was george jermaine, he was the american secretary, secretary of state for the american colonies and jermaine, in that position, jermaine was, in essence, the minister of war and he also had responsibilities for britain's army in america and jermaine understood that a new strategy had to be developed and jermaine came up with what became known as the southern strategy in fact was essentially, virtually right off the northern colonies, and attempt to regain control of two and possibly three colonies down
south. georgia, south carolina and possibly north carolina as well. jermaine thought that was a plausible strategy because, maybe generally corrected in this that a greater percentage of columnists in the southern colonies had remained loyal to anyone that was the case in the northern colonies. ... case. >> 8000 troops had to be
georgia and south carolina and virginia were retaken the british already had east and west florida in a war that is in 1763 and still in control of the trans- appellation west and still in control of canada. so the united states to be small and weak and surrounded by a great european power that would face a very uncertain future and they were many in england that died at this played out in this fashion here e many in england that thought if this played out in this fashion
and not a very long in the united states they would seek to return to the british empire because they would have the expanding and whatever so that was the southern strategy cobbled together in the winter of 1778 and london and as i mentioned a little bit earlier, when clinton receives his orders, it includes implementing the southern strategy which he gets around to pretty fast.
the expedition then that takes charleston in the siege operation in april and then, clinton appoints just after charleston draws, clinton appoints charles card —-dash cornwallis to be in charge of the pacification of south carolina and georgia and cornwallis orders were to focus on south carolina and georgia peaked go into north carolina if he thought it would help him to subdue a rebel.
so cornwallis will be the major player in the war in the south from the time he takes command and june down into the late spring 1781 until he arrives at yorktown. clinton meanwhile comes back to new york and never saw cornwallis again until after yorktown. so that was the southern strategy and what the british tried to accomplish and they came reasonably close that maybe we could talk about later on this evening but at
the beginning of 1781, clinton was far more confident than washington was and clinton later said he began 1781 more of british success than any of the four years so clinton ultimately thought that if the allies of the french and americans could be prevented from scoring that decisive victory in 1781 that the war was in a negotiated settlement. washington felt that, lafayette says that, john adams is writing to
congress and telling congress pretty much the same thing. and saying they had been here three years and having gained anything you have to gain anything and they will accept the invitation from neutral nations and then to come to a peace conference and whatt would have happened is anybody's guess may be to recognize an independent united states along the map i showed her maybe it wouldn't with the independence of the united states. and with the republican governments and that is what the united states had.
>> you answered the next three questions. [laughter] >> when comparing and contrasting clinton in washington what you have been doing, what is it about washington that the guiles the americans? which would you prefer to serve under and why? >> first on the comparison of clinton and washington, let me say a couple of things about that. may be this section runs a dozen pages trying to look at the two to see what i can find about both of them. neither man was a gregarious outgoing individual that
washington had insecurities he didn't want people to get too close to him. and that maybe it was simply that washington as a leader felt he could not let anybody get very close to him and had to make difficult personnel decisions. he didn't say this but it reminds me of what jfk said, brave leaders have to be both loved andid feared. and that clinton acknowledged he was very shy. he made one b of the strangest comments made by any historical figure he said, i
and a shy bitch. [laughter] so neither of them were really outgoing that that in the sense and in a real sense of the word so throughout his lifefe so those clinton in washingtonr and those that were under fire. and always amazed at the battle when washington was riding on horseback were no further away than a pitcher from a better on the baseball diamond and clinton had earned
the reputation and during the revolution as someone who was courageous under fire. that both of them faced similar problems that both had problems with supplies and lack of money and truth for whatever. both clinton and washington endured incredible criticism during the war. i'm not sure how may people remember it today but in the net they your campaign and then after the campaign of 77 even more. even more criticism of washington. at what point that president
of congress said but then congress could have ditched washington as these critics wanted. and then with that political chaos to ruin the war effort. and then to launch a campaign to make washington and iconic figure and to elevate him and to celebrate washington's birthday annually.im but clinton ran into a lot of criticism.
but then all the professors and then the administrators so i think that same sort of thing went on in the british army and among the americans. there were issuess over promotion and people that got left out were unhappy. so both of them ran into a great deal of criticism. but there were plenty of differences between them and then you mentioned why washington was a leader i think he was a better leader than clinton but this is a
time period to study the roles and the average american male was 5-foot 7 inches to all tall he was only 5-foot 8 inches in world war ii. and hadn't changed much. so six-foot 4 inches tall he towered over other people. in 1780 he weighed 210 pounds. six-foot 4 inches 210 pounds the same size as a quarterback. and then to have that reputation of athleticism. like how you write a horse.
that clinton was 5-foot 7 inches and pretty average in many ways. other than the background. but one other difference was people today often forge that washington they often see washington as being above politics but washington was a very good politician. he was almost unsurpassed in those political skills. clinton acknowledged openly holding a c in common that he
was not a very good politician micah fish out of water in that regard. there were similarities and differences. >> who would you serve under? >> that is a tough question. it would depend on your rank but i think i would have served under either man. neither of the's guys were bloodthirsty or sent their men into battle in hopeless situations to squander the troops.
and those had humanitarian qualities because they had so many shortages of troops they cannot afford to lose troops. so they were both good commanders i would be willing to serve under either. i don't know if i would have wanted to be a soldier in the revolutionary war on either side. it was a tough go. the officers, the higher ranking officers were on the move a lot.
they traveled on horseback that everybody else marched and they marched thousands of miles. even in the british army we know about valley forge and whatever then then were ill provisioned and ill-equipped and whatever. and coming through a pandemic now and most of the americans soldiers and up dying it is a
harsh environment that they face. and then tois serve under both generals that have to serve under either side. >> . >> it has to be with being on both sides. >> didng he just want a steady paycheck? [laughter] or is he a traitor? >> that's the million-dollar question and a lot j of biographers have looked at that. so let me try to answer this way.
he was passed over for the promotion unfairly and unjustly i think and then when he became theva military commander in philadelphia the british evacuated many people turned against him because he was consorting with families that were regarded as tory families those that were suspected of being a tory family. so he had legitimate grievance says but then to commit treason which thomas wrote a pamphlet about and where you
try to have the fallout that there is a second thing here many people argue saying he was just after the money. and then he would turncoat but then there is another side to the equation that if america i wound up winning the war he will lose all that property and this would give many the british would pay at an would have done justop as well
financially had he remained on the american side. but one ofnd the things that has intrigued me aboutav arnold is so those intermediaries report to hillary clinton for a long time she didn't know - - he didn't know who they were talking to and they might be willing to commit treason. and then to make the decision to turncoat. so what happens august 1780? cornwallis scored a huge victory over an american army
at camden in south carolina. in army commanded by horatio gates. and that has been destroyed in the southern theater. and then to those four engagements. and then to write the letter i've almost ceased hope in the same month that arthur lee and boston says that many of the leaders in massachusetts now believe the war will end in a negotiated settlement short of independence. so i think we can argue when arnold makes his final decision, he very well may have believed the
americans goose was cooked in the british would win the war and he was trying to be on the winning side. having said all that is speculative, nobody knows what wasoi going on in arnold's mind. >> i love you put him in the context of the decision-making it is not a impetuous move for him to switch sides it could've been anyone in a similar position in terms of frank and opportunity. i appreciate that put him in a new context. >> i think we need to get some questions from the audience so thank you very much.
>> the audiences typing in questions. and then members ofri the american and revolution so what do you want moderators to understand about the impact and consequences of war? >> there wered two or three or more than that. one of the things i have already mentioned is i wanted people to understand how long the struggle to win independence was.
think because saratoga in 1777 the huge british army surrenders and textbooks always depict saratoga as the turning point of the revolutionary war that there has been a tendency on the part of many people to think that anything that follows saratoga was anticlimactic in the american victory was guaranteed what readers to come away from my book understanding and along grandma had to be fought and the victory was not guaranteed. thinking that clinton did - - clinton could still win the war but i wanted people to be
of how grim this war was. 15 percent of those that fought on the british side died with pretty heavy attrition and best as i have been able to determine the same percentage of people that fought on the american side to put that into meaningful terms united states lost 350,000 men and if they had lost 15 percent more than 2 million americans will die in that war. it is a much bloodier war than
many people are aware. and i want people to understand that is determined after saratoga and then more died than roughly 65 percent of those that fought on america's side died after saratoga there is another 4000 americans who died fighting for great britain during this war and in 1780 there are more americans fighting for great britain than on the continent.
that's i want readers to come awayn with what i'm trying to do in the book is look at the crisis that washington faced and clinton faced and then the decisions that they made during the crisis. and what theyy know and what they didn't know when they made those decisions people read it backwards they know how it comes out that the actors obviously didn't know that they didn't know if it would be a good decision or a bad decision and they have to make it based on what they knew at that time. so i look at the decisions that clinton and washington and nathanael greene made, why they made the decisions that
they did and when they did. >> what is the reason for the british to allowed to negotiate peace? what is in it for them? >> it has been going on for a long time they were winning the war therere is a fear they were going to lose that france would gobble up postwar commerce with america and the british economy might be ruined. so there were son in england who were pushing for negotiated so immediately after saratoga so he proposes
that negotiated settlement as that peace plan of 1778 and actually sends a commission diplomats known as the carlisle commission coming out and then authorized to negotiate a settlement and what they were willing to accept was essentially what the first continental congress had asked for on the eve of war with one exception that was independence the north were not recognized independence but he was willing to let a continental congress remain giving americans greater autonomy at
the first continental congress had asked for. so right up to the pinnacle of power for those who were willing to accept ar, negotiated settlement. >> your answers are thoughtful and well research. >> they have a completely different perspective so thank you for spending your evening with the historical society. hopefully we will see you in person. >> i look forward to that.