tv John Ferling Winning Independence CSPAN September 11, 2021 12:42am-1:44am EDT
into the q&a box we will read them at the end now i will turn it over to my colleague to introduce john. >> that historical society of connecticut is pleased to cosponsor this conversation with dedicated historian who were minus with new information and maybe new theories especially that of the p southern strategy. we love that because as local historians here in connecticut as part of the american revolution came from many connecticut farmers we always want to learn mars john sperling professor emeritus enjoyed a long career teaching courses on the revolution , america's founders in us military history writing 13 books on the politics and tactics of the american revolution and early republic. every argue for a george washington and john adams. i prefer to tell you more about joined although his
parents are from west virginia grippingin galveston his mother was college-educated in 1920, taught school 11 years until sheer was beyond in west virginia offer marrying. also attending a baseball scholarship in the twenties took a job and then had one son johnba in 1940. has a bachelors in history from sam humans houston one —- although he is retired it hasn't stopped him from attending and speaking at seminars lecturing on podcast he and his wife carol and the four cats live near atlanta. but there's one more thing he likes to share, his love of baseball.
the first was a 1947 between pittsburgh and the brooklyn dodgers when jackie robinson scores the winning run. 's like any good historian especially to boston to see the red sox we like to hear that. so to hear this most recent book soo let's begin as a historian focused on the error the american revolution what do you love most about this chapter in history quick. >> thank you for having me and that historical society for inviting me tonight we are looking forward to doing this. for the united states and the social ideas during the course
of the revolution if you think about it lincoln when he talked about foursquare seven years agori was referring to 1776 and the ideas of equality and happiness for all people and when martin luther king talked about his dream it was that african-americans were cut in on the ideals that began with the american revolution. i was drawn to that and in addition because the revolution consist of two things. on the one hand the revolution itself came as a surprise to most of the participants no
one first saw the revolution coming. but there it was. so the thought comes up why did it occur? was it just a case of, on —- the colonists to green one —- to gain independence or was it a struggle to bring about a new day in the new world? there's plenty to study with regard to the american revolution but you have a double that and you have a war because most of the congressman new certainly when they declared independence in july 1776 that they really were independent and had to win their independence leaning on —- leading to a long war that had dark and uncertain
times in 1776 like a roller coaster of things when the united states in 1778 and many people felt this virtually including george washington felt this assured american independence and then things went south after that. the war becomes stalemate and that is the subject of my book. the four years after the great victory of saratoga from 1778 through yorktown through 1781 when i think the outcome of the war was until the very last moment, unknown. it could have gone in different directions. no one knew whether or not
america would gain independence or if it did or if the united states would include all 13 states it is a long struggle and tired of getting look looking at the revolution and the war itself and the fascinating cast of characters that were part of a political revolution. that's why i went into it and stayed with the revolution through my career. >> your new book, this is what hooks me, it challenges the assumption america won the war. instead great britain lost work could have one how did
you select this for your thesis? is a very different way to look at the independence. >> sure. i think the british have several opportunities at the outset of the war 1776 and to have won the war. general gauge commander of the british army at the time with the run downo to the war was coming on that winning in the first engagement of the war is crucial. if we can have enough troops over here to score a dramatic victory and probably their fervor for war would disappear. instead of that happening lexington and concorde face the british when name march back from concorde to boston.
then we had a chance to score a dramatic victory two months later at bunker hill in boston. really it could then the bloodless victory so the third in command at the time advised general gauge to send forces toto the backside and we will put the american rebels up on top of a hill and score of bloodless victory. but they did not do that and they marched up the hill and marched into a disaster. and there were two instances in the campaign for new york and 76 when i think if the british acted resolutely first when they had half of washington's army trapped but again in september of 76 on washington foolishly kept his
army on manhattan and did not get off that the british could have annihilated the entire continental army at that point in any of those victories would have won the war progressed or have another chance in 1777. the plan that london devised was foreign army to come down on campus —- canada when general howell moved north to rendezvous and catch washington's army in between and instead of doing that he went to his own devices and howell went after philadelphia. and missed, i think the last major chance the british had to win the war. that's not to say after that
was guaranteed but it's a long desperate were in with a collapsed american morale was sagging. and then in august of 1780 wrote a letter to the chief executive of pennsylvania in which he said i've almost ceased to help arthur lee who was an american diplomat since the beginning of the war we turn to america for the first time since before the war
began and landed in boston of all places now and is therefore a few days. and talks with a number of boston officials in massachusetts officials and i said by august of 1780 concluded the war would and in the negotiated settlement short of independence. so things are really up in the air. of course in yorktown america to gain independence it does kind of the war victorious and then celebrate about five more years with 250th anniversary ofor 1776. but i also argue that america could not have won the war
without such assistance the french were providing clandestine assistance beginning 1775 to provided munitions and weaponry and clothing and blankets and whatever for the americans. the knee allied with americans and then it was open for the americans to provide even more help eventually they sent over an army and they loaned a great deal of money to the americans that wound up costing the french king his head in the 17 nineties because the economic woes and the fallout of those problems that brought on the french revolution after 1789. the americans knew with french
help which is extremely important to remember. >> let's step back to somebody mentioned earlier sir henry clinton as part of your thesis he said there should be corrected treatments for her historians what have they misunderstood and why doesn't he receive credit to strategize they capture it would have changed the outcome the way wesu draw the map of america? >> yes. money go to my powerpoint is washington everybody knows here is another one of washington they hear us are henry clinton. he became the commander of the british army and learned of
his appointment in may 1778 he was the third british commander during the war. gauge have been there for many years before the revolution and was recalled after the disasters along concord road and bunker hill. and general howell succeeded him and he was commander 76 and 77 and resigned after saratoga so clinton was then named the commander healy that commander of may is 78 i found clinton an interesting figure he was from an eris aristocratic family his father
was a career naval officer who became the royal governor of new york and young henry when he was still growing apps that formative some of those formative years in new york city he joined the british army as a teenager and fought into wars before the revolutionary war and earned the reputation as a soldier who was seriously wounded with the engagement in germany with the seven years war in the 17 sixties. he was intellectually curious individual and read deeply on military history and military strategy and in the year
before the revolutionary war broke out he took a trip deep into eastern europe to observe a war with the russians in the turks hoping more about military strategy and tactics and then came over as the third in command with the british army landing just three or four weeks after lexington and just in time to see some action at bunker hill.re and served with some distinction in a couple of years before he is named commander to win a reputation asd the best strategist among the high-ranking officers in america during that time.
at the time of his appointment 40 years old, two years older then washington was with 30 years of experience and i think he did a good job as a commander that he had the misfortune i think of telling the commander as friends with the french and the americans and had to withdraw the troops from america and send them to the caribbean so when clinton had these orders he discovered he had to immediately relinquish 8000 of his troops and he had already lost all his troops that had
surrendered at saratoga so he had an army that was considerably smaller than the iny the british had had america one year before. but despite that, his orders were to bring washington to battle and then implement the new southern strategy so he faced an enormous task and from the very beginning, he knew he was up against it and in a letter that he wrote almost immediately after being named commander he said he thought it was inevitable that britain would lose the war in he feared he would be
scapegoated and it turns out he was prescient because after yorktown many people in england it's dave go clinton and they blame clinton arguing he was too passive and not a risk taker and was not dynamic enough and had not done enough to have wine a war that britain could have one think most of those arguments are picked up by historians down the road so that clinton's reputation in the literature has suffered as well and i tried to argue in the book that many of those allegations just are not true clinton was far more active than his foes
suggested he did take risk he was far more active than washington was during the four years between saratoga and yorktown thomas paine in the 17 nineties roast the pamphlet i don't agree with pain on this but he argued that washington slept in the field and the real winners of the war were generals horatio gates and nathanael greene. that washington was generally active much of that time and clinton was far more active. the most devastating thing attack or appraisal of clinton came about almost 75 years ago
where the scholars today and many still accepted that biographer in conjunction with a clinical psychologist and they argued he saw power but he had deep subliminal psychological problems that prevented him from acting on the power that he had frankly i think the argument is malarkey not that i'm a fellow of the science that obviously they cannot 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 do think clinton's reputation suffered from that. [laughter] but i think that study on clinton should be filed away in the circular file. certainly he made mistakes i recognize that in the book but i think he was a good general and exceedingly good strategist who didn't have much to work with and faced enormous challenges. so i hope my appraisal will
convince people to take another look at sir henry clinton. >> i didn't know anything about that but of his abilities i just realized with the chronology the questions are out of order. >> after saratoga adopted from the southern strategy what were they looking to gain? >> after saratoga many people in england wanted to drop out of the war it had gone on for three>> years. they had achieved virtually nothing. and now have lost an entire army at saratoga.
so when the news came in saratoga triggered a lengthy debate in the war of ministry to the war 1770 and the debate for one thing whether to remain in the war and if the decision was made to remain in the war what kind of strategy with a pursue? at this point to destroy the continental army and to win control of several northern provinces. they really had it succeeded on either score so at the end of the debate the notion of largely because the king insisted the war continue to
let me go back to my powerpoint the person that led the fight to remain in the war was lord george jermaine he was the secretary of state for the american colonies and jermaine come in that position he was in essence the minister of war and also had responsibilities for britain's army innd america. and jermaine understood a new strategy had to be developed and came up with what became known as the southern strategy and that was essentially to write off the northern colonies with the attempt to regain control of two or
possibly three colonies down south georgia, south carolina and possibly north carolina as well. and jermaine thought that was a plausible strategy because generally he was corrected that a greater percentage of colonist in the southern colonies had remained loyal than was the case in the northern colonies it was economically to the anglican church and other factors. so jermaine felt that by going into the south many of these loyalists would willingly bear arms for their king 8000
troops had to be relinquished by clinton they can be replaced hopefully by loyalists some would come into the regular british army that became known asla provincial regiments others were going to the newly structured loyalist militia with the british army would drive the rebels out of the area and iten comes in the british army to take possession of that area to pacify the area and if it worked out this is what the united states assuming it got its independence might have look like following the war. the area in red is the area of the united states everything else in their is possessed by
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.
in south carolina and georgia so cornwallis is going to be the major player in the war in the south from the time he takes command in june of 1780 down into the late spring of 1781 until he arrives at yorktown clinton comes back to new york and never saw cornwallis again so that is the strategy and what the british were trying to
accomplish. they came reasonably close. some things went wrong but at the beginning of 1781, clinton was far more confident than washington was of what was going to happen that year. they began 1781 more confident of the british success than any of the other four years that he was commander and i think what >> they will accept an
invitation from neutral nations in europe to come to a peace conference. into recognize an independent united states along the lines of that map that i showed her maybe would not agree to the independence of thed united states. this with a conference primarily of the european monarchs who were not very friendly to the republican government cannot is what the united states hot a point.
>> i thank you answer the next three questions. [laughter] >> we came up with a couple othersrs so when comparing and contrasting clinton and washington they emerged as parallel leadership potential effectively what is it about washington so which man would you prefer to serve under and why quick. >> first on the comparison of clinton in washington that me say a couple of things about that maybe there was a dozen pages i tried to look at the two to see what i could find about both of them and i found that there were some similarities between the two neither man was gregarious outgoing individual but in
washington's case it may have been washington had insecurities and didn't want people to get too close to him to discover what he feared were his weak points he felt as a leader he could not let anybody get very close to him and had to make difficult personal decisions reminds me of what kennedy said leaders have to be wrong and feared and washington may have felt that way in the case of clinton he acknowledged he was very shy and not outgoing he made one of the strangest comments ever made by historical figure i am a shy
pitch. [laughter] so neither of them are outgoing that clinton made friends were easily then washington who in a sense may never have ever had a real sense of worth throughout his life that those clinton and washington were brave and courageous men under fire i'm always amazed when writing on horseback right into the british soldiers firing they were no further away from the that are and pitcher on the baseball diamond and clinton
earned a reputation before this and during the revolution as somebody who was courageous under fire. but both i think faced similar problems during the war that both had problems with supplies in both had lack of money and lack of troop both clinton in washington endured credit on —- considerable criticism i'm not sure how many people remember today that there was a criticism of washington after he made several mistakes in the your campaign and 76 and then after the campaign of 77, even more even more open criticism and at one point the president of
congress said when washington communicated with congress it was met with peals of laughter. that congress cut off they could have ditched washington as his critics wanted that congress fortunately did not take that step knowing it would bring on political chaos and probably ruin the war effort and then congress cuts off the open criticism of washington and launches a campaign to make washington the iconic figure from valley forge to the end of the war to elevate him and then began celebrating washington's birthday annually and that sort of thing clinton ran into a lot of criticism also so in
the case for both of these guys my experience all the students complained about their professors i became a professor and they were complaining about the administrators so that sort of thing went on in the british army and among the americans make issues over promotion people that were left out were unhappy about that so they both ran into a great deal of criticism but there were plenty of differences between them and you mention when you were talking about washington was a leader and one of the differences is that washington i do think was a better leader then clinton and he just
exuded leadership he was a big man it was a time period to demonstrate that the average full grown american male 5-foot 7 inches tall only 5-foot 8 inches world war ii so had not changed much in the period after the revolution but washington was almost 6-foot and towered over other people in 1780 weighing 210 pounds and he is about the same size as a quarterback of ohio state and he did have a reputation of athleticism and
the equestrian of how you ride a horse he was majestic that clinton was about 5-foot seven and pretty average so there were differences in not respect him another difference was other than their background because clinton in england but one other difference was people today often forget that washington see washington as being above politics but really he was a very good politician almost unsurpassed in his political skills and clinton acknowledged openly even though he held a seat in the house of commons at one point
he acknowledged he was not a very good politician but he was a fish out of water in that regard. so there was some similarities and differences. >> to would you serve under? that is a tough question i guess that would depend on your rank that i think it would have served under either neither of the's guys to send in their man into battle and to squander troops and both of
them were trying to preserve because both hard humanitarian qualities about them but also both had so many shortages they could not afford to lose they were both good commanders and i would have been willing to serve under either one although i do know if i want to be a soldier in the revolutionary war. it was really tough. the higher ranking officers when the armies were on the move a lot they can travel on
horsebackan that any marched thousands of miles even in the british army we know about the suffering at valley forge in the american army but even in the british army then and were ill provisioned and ill-equipped it was a tough go and we're coming through pandemic now and they faced disease in the american army those two died wound up dying of disease not from combat so
that was ady risky and difficult and harsh environment that they faced while serving under both the generals and glad it had to serve on either side. >> after beingng on both sides of the war so benedict arlen arnold is he just a guy who wanted a steady paycheck? >> both. that is the one million-dollar question they said you cannot get entirely into arnold's mind to know what was going on. bellamy try to answer it this way he had some legitimate
grievances and was passed over for the promotion unfairly and unjustly i think and then when he became the military commander the british evacuated philadelphia many people turned against him w because he was consorting with families that were regarded as the tories you mentioned the daughter of the family suspected of being a tory family and was actually prosecuted for financial speculation so he had some legitimate grievances although many other generals did also in arnold is the one that commits treason which thomas paine wrote a pamphlet about in the wake of this of you
really believe this or he was trying to smooth over the fallout from the treason. he pointed that out to people that when he said that many people argue that arnold was after the many and he did get a great deal of money from the british for turning code but there is another side to that equation that arnold owned a considerable amount of property in new england and if america wound up winning the war he would lose all of that property so really it is a trade-off he would lose valuable property they gain the money the british would pay he priorra would have done just as well financially had
he remained on the american side of what has intrigued me abouty arnold is he negotiates with the british through intermediaries and a report to serve henry clinton and for a long time he didn't know who it was the intermediaries were talking to justin important american who might be willing to commit treason not until august 1780 that arnold makes the decision to turncoat and what happens in august of 1780 cornwallis scored a huge victory over an american army in south carolina commanded by
horatio gates it was the fourth american army in 20 months destroyed in the southern theater and more than 8000 american troops that were killed or captured in those four engagements that is the same month washington writes a letter to say i almost ceased to hold than the same one that are thoroughly in boston says that many of the leaders in massachusetts now believe the war will and with a negotiated settlement short of independent so you can argue that when arnold finally makes his final decision to turncoat of august 1780 he may very well have believed the
americans goose was cooked in the british are going to win the war and they got on the winning side but nobody really knows what was going on. >> i like that you put them into the context of all the time and anguish and decision-making it's not sudden for him to suddenly switch sides it really could have been anyone in a similar position with rank and opportunity that did put them in a new context so was he a traitor just getting a paycheck. [laughter] thank you. now we need to get questions from the audience thank you very much are we ready for that? >> so bringing it to the
modern era all require sacrifice the number in the american revolution the people involved what you want readers to understand about the impact in the consequences of war? >> there were two or three things many more than that in my mind whenever the book one of the things they already mentioned and i wanted people to understand just how long the struggle to win independence was.
because saratoga occurs october 1777 and a huge british army surrenders there and textbooks always detect saratoga as the turning point of the revolutionary war there has been a tendency on the part ofde many people everything that followed saratoga was anticlimactic and that guarantee in it was guaranteed i wanted leaders to come away from my book understanding that war had to be five after saratoga that victory wasn't wasn't a guarantee thinking that he could still win the war in 1781.
and to be aware just how grim this war was. about 15 percent of those who fought on the british side died in this war. and as best as i have been able to determine roughly the same percentage of people who fight on the american side died. to put that into meaningful terms, the united states lost about 350,000 men in world war ii that the united states have lost 15 percent of the soldiery and sailors and world war ii so it is a war really much bloodier than are aware
and also as i mentioned i wanted people to understand the outcome of the war is after saratoga and during that for years after more americans died in during the 30 months of or before roughly about 65 percent of all americans is far on america's side died after saratoga another 4000 americans who died fighting for great britain and in fact in 1780 more americans were fighting for great britain than in the continental army that's what i wanted readers
to come away with so what i tried to do in the book look at the crisis that clinton plays in and the decisions they made what they knew and what theyy didn't now when they made those decisions sometimes i think people read history back words but obviously they didn't know that when they made their decision they didn't know if it would be a good decision or a bad decision but i just had to make that based on what they knew at that time so i try to out the book looking at the decisions that clinton and washington and nathanael greene and others made why
they made the decisions what they did and what they knew when they did. spirit was the reason for the british to allow to negotiate peace? what was in it forhe them? >> many people in england just wanted to get out of the war. had gone onfo for a long time. there was a fear they would lose all the trade with america that france would got gobble up in the british economy might be ruined the longer the war continued. so there were son in england pushing for negotiated that immediately after saratoga the head of the war ministry
learns of saratoga and proposes a negotiationac settlement nearly is referred to the peace plan is 1778 and he sends a commission of diplomats known as the carlisle commission that came over too american 1778 and they were authorized to negotiate a settlement.rl what the lord was willing to accept was everything the first continental congress had asked for on the eve of war with one exception and that was independence they would not recognize independence but he can let the continental congress remaining give americans autonomy and on and
on what the first continental congress asked for. so right up to the pinnacle of power in england people were willing h to accept a negotiated settlement spend your answers haven't for your writing is thoughtful extensively researched. >> absolutely and lightning. i really do encourage iranians to pick it up and read it there is a completely different perspective and refreshing like with the revolution thank you for spending your evening with us here at the historical society hopefully we will see you in person. >> elect forward to to that as well