Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Revolutionary War Sites in NJ & PA

Welcome back Readers,
The weekend prior to our New York City trip was an off weekend for me so I indulged in one of my interests - the Revolutionary War and all things related.  Fortunately for this weekend I was alone so the whining about the boring war sites and long field walks was noticeably absent.  I do love travelling with The Whiners but this weekend would have been tough on them.  Thanks for not being there family! 

A few food pics from my two weeks in NJ before we start exploring the sites. 

Kevin Coleman Pic - I always try supporting the local merchants when I travel.  I actually preferred their Summer Ale to this IPA.

Dana Johnson Pic - This is the Edison Chicken Pasta Something from Edison's Diner in Edison, NJ.  New Jerseyans are proud of three things when it comes to their diners - how bad the food is for you, how much food you get in the meal, and how inexpensive it is related to how much food you get.  They are correct Jim Lang - the diner served a delicious three course meal for under $20.  Course one was soup served in a 10 inch diameter bowl, course two was a salad served in same size bowl, and course three was the main served in a 12 inch bowl.  And not shallow poser bowls either, these were deep manly bowls.  I was almost full after the salad so I picked my way through the main dish which was to bad for me as it all tasted great.  

Dana Johnson Pic - NJ's pride and joy - the pork roll.  Not a lot to be proud of in NJ apparently.

Dana Johnson Pic - Spaghetti on pizza on the left - what's not to love there?  I forgot the name of the noodles and cheese sauce pizza on the right but that was pretty good also but I preferred the spaghetti.

For my Revolutionary War sites weekend I started out Saturday in Trenton, NJ at their visitor center.  Let the fun begin!

The Ten Crucial Days encompass three battles from December 25, 1776 to January 3, 1777- The First Battle of Trenton, The Second Battle of Trenton, and the Battle of Princeton.  I'll visit all three sites this day.  OH YEAH!!  One word of caution for this post - since the battlefields are 200+ years old they will either be preserved park settings or town streets so most of my battlefield site touring was info board reading and absorbing the surroundings.  There won't be any climbing to Lady Liberty's pedestal or similar tangible sights so prepare yourselves to be slightly underwhelmed on this post's photos.  

I'll cover them in more detail below but these battles were important for a few reasons.  Firstly, they followed the British chasing General Washington and the Continental Army out of the NY area.  The Americans had fought evenly to start the war so in response England deployed a larger war army to New York/America to stop the rebellion in late 1776.  England already had a peacetime army in America but it was much smaller and wasn't winning enough battles.  

Secondly, the British victories in NY took a physical toll on the army as well as psychological toll on the population and politicians.  The Continental Army shrank from 35,000 at its strongest point in the NY fighting to 3,000 after the NY losses with dwindling numbers attributed to desertion and battle losses.  When the army fled south Washington had his Lieutenant James Monroe (he was our Fifth and final Founding Father President) count the soldiers as they left the NY area and he counted the 3,000.  With the losses piling up and the army retreating, the Continental Congress was starting to wonder if Washington was the right man to lead the army.  The population was also divided about the war with about half of the population being Loyalists to England.  NJ in fact was mostly full of Loyalists who expected England to crush the rebellion so they were expecting a short war.

Thirdly, the soldiers tour of duty was one year long and was ending in January of 1777 so the army was about to lose many soldiers who wanted to return to their homes, jobs and families.  As a side note the length of tour was bumped up to three years of service starting in 1777 and it was not uncommon for soldiers to enlist then stay in the army until the war ended in 1783.  Sounds valiant and patriotic but with the punishment for desertion/treason being hanging it was as much self preservation as patriotism.  At this point in the war the army was in full crisis mode so Washington needed to turn the tide.

Upstairs of the center was this Mason's meeting hall which is shown as it would have been in Revolutionary War times.

The other half of the meeting hall.

The Old Barracks (link) were built in 1758 by the British for the French & Indian War.  Hessians quartered here before the war and Americans stayed here during the war.  It was also used as a surgery during the war and had many different inhabitants after the war.

The Old Barracks is now a museum.  I watched a video on the ten days battles including the days leading up to the battles and immediate aftermath.  The museum also had a guided tour of a few rooms.  The docent was dressed in a period costume and was quite knowledgeable.  

A few bits and bobs from her: When the English soldiers sailed from England to America, the soldier's wives (including officers) would pack their luggage hoping to be selected to accompany their husbands overseas.  The wives were selected on a blind draw and only seven wives were drawn per ship.  Also from her - one story from the First Battle of Trenton about the Hessians was that they were drunk as the Americans attacked early on December 26.  The officers actually did have a Christmas night party while the enlisted men went to bed according to their normal schedule.  The Hessians fought well as expected since they were professional soldiers hired by England.  The morning surprise attack was the biggest factor in the victory; according to the museum some Hessian commanders did not report to duty when the alarm was sounded as they didn't believe the alarm was real.  After the soldiers moved out this was used as a hospital, apartment housing, houses, and various other facilities before it was turned into a museum and restored to its current condition to be museumized.

The inside of the compound.  It was common for armies in these times to winter indoors as opposed to sleeping in the field in tents during the rest of the year.  The reason was that harsh winters would kill more soldiers than battles so armies typically did not fight in the wintertime (i.e. Valley Forge) in that time period.  This fact also helped Washington surprise the Hessians at the First Battle.   

Sleeping quarters for the soldiers.  Six beds times two per bed equals twelve men to a room while the officers slept one or two to a room.  There was a fireplace in the room behind me and you see the tiny tables with accompanying stools.  Cosy accommodations to say the least.   

The officers quarters kitchen area.  This is more of a proper kitchen and dining area while the enlisted soldiers would have been crowded around a smaller mess hall type table.

Their fire protection system - these pots were kept filled with sand to throw on a fire as water was not always readily available.  Wells were not always full of water (especially in the winter) which meant a trek down to the closest river or stream to fill the pots with water which wasn't always feasible or timely.

I forget this person's title but the officers selected an enlisted soldier to basically be their gopher.  This is his bed.  The soldier would have been favored by the officers and he would have been one of the better soldiers.  Some of his perks would have been his own bed, roomier accommodations, better meals, possibly more drink, and a slightly elevated status compared to his brethren.

After the museum I walked around Trenton on my way to the next stop.  Here I stumbled across the WWII Memorial.  This is half of the Memorial and also the first half of the war - they listed a chronological time line of the war matched to an accompanying picture.  I spent a while here reading the time line and just contemplating life in general compared to that period in time.   

Vietnam Memorial.  Simple yet powerful.

I'm almost there - next up was Trenton War Monument which happened to be closed.  

A little about the battles - The First Battle of Trenton was fought on December 26, 1776 and was where old George turned the tide.  I won't have any pictures of the streets of Trenton where the first battle took place or by the Delaware River where the second battle took place as Trenton is a little run down.  Their historical battle signage/plaques were either stolen, never made, or well hidden as Trenton doesn't seem to do anything to advertise its historical importance.  It didn't bother me much as I had read up on the battles already so I just wanted to see the areas.  

As for the battles themselves, Washington was able circle into the city, surprise the Hessians, and capture the artillery where the War Monument now stands.  It is important because the artillery sat on the hill overlooking Trenton so once he captured them he could start blasting away the Hessians in the city below him.  The Americans won the battle with negligible casualties when the Hessian forces surrendered.  After the battle the Continental Army moved back across the river and towards Philadelphia where their main camp was located.  The Second Battle was fought down by the river on January 2, 1777.  Washington thought the British and Hessians would counter attack with reinforcements so as a preemptive measure they marched back north and established a defensive position by the river where they were attacked by the British.  The British attacked three times on that day and finally retreated to regroup at darkness in order to attack again the next day.  In another extremely insightful move, Washington took his troops and circled behind the British to meet them at Princeton.  I'm not sure if the real story of General Washington is as towering as all the history books tell or if he had a great PR guy but Washington seemed to have had a commanding and inspiring presence to those around him.  I also read that he was adept at reading his surroundings and choosing the correct course of action in order to win the battle.  I guess he had a little learning curve in NY as he was soundly defeated in some of those battles.    

Old George pointing the way towards the Delaware.  I saw a lot of George this weekend. 

Dana Johnson Pic - Jerk chicken, rice and plantain for lunch after walking the streets of Trenton.  It was so good, it reminded me of our meals on our honeymoon in Jamaica.  I figured it would be good as I was in a darker part of the city and received a funny look from one of the other patrons as I walked into the place.

My next destination was supposed to be the final stop on the Battlefield Trifecta Tour when I spied a stretch goal thanks to a Revolutionary War Flyer I picked up earlier in the day.  AWWWE-SOOOME!  First up, Washington Crossing State Park (Wiki link), the site where Washington crossed the Delaware River eight miles north of Trenton the night of December 25, 1776.  The plan was for a three pronged attack with the other two prongs or battalions crossing the Delaware south of Trenton.  Unfortunately for the Continental Army the harsh weather conditions prevented the other two battalions from crossing the Delaware.  You wonder who the two other battalion commanders were?  Me too - I had to look them up.  General John Cadwalader was supposed to attack a British garrison at Bordentown, NJ to prevent reinforcements from joining the British and Hessians at Trenton while General James Ewing was supposed to attack at the Trenton Ferry to prevent British and Hessians troops from fleeing Trenton.  Neither battalion carried out their attack plans so Washington ended up leading the main force into Trenton.  History only likes the winners. 

Site of Washington's crossing from the New Jersey shore.  The spot was selected by the army to cross because of its low probability of being detected by the British.  All the literature on the crossing says the weather was harsh and difficult to cross that night (as attested to by the other two battalions not crossing the river) so it was difficult for me to visualize that fateful night.  I have had a few UP winter nights to experience so I did close my eyes and try but it was difficult to imagine the logistics of the 2400 troops and artillery muscling their way through the thick ice.     

The Johnson Ferry House was where Washington and his aides went to plan the attack.  The docent said the house owners were sympathetic to the Continental Army but didn't say how they knew the house was sympathetic.  Most of New Jersey residents were Loyalists (loyal to England and King George III) so the army had to be careful as it moved around.

From the literature in the house was this writing from a Continental officer: "I am writing from the Ferry House.  The troops are all over, and the boats have gone back for the artillery. We are three hours behind the set time.  Glover's men have had a hard time to force the boats through the floating ice with the snow drifting in their faces...I have never seen Washington so determined as he is now.  He stands on the bank of the river, wrapped in his cloak, superintending the landing of the troops.  He is calm and collected, but very determined.  The storm is changing to sleet, and cuts like a knife."  I love these writings preserved in time.

After walking around the park it was time to cross the Delaware to Pennsylvania and see the Washington Crossing Historic Park (link).  I was just across the river so it was worth a short stop.

A copy of the historically inaccurate Washington Crossing the Delaware painting that hung in the visitor center.  As we saw many times on our travels, pictures like this are meant to capture the essence of the scene or person as opposed to capturing the authenticity.  This painting does a fine job of capturing Washington's magnificence with its heroic figure standing tall in the face of wintry adversity.  The back lit morning helps also, it's kind of like the sun is just shining on George and his upcoming victory.

Some of the inaccuracies from the info board by the painting: James Monroe is next to Washington holding the flag and was in fact Washington's Lieutenant but no proof exists that he rode over in Washington's boat.  The flag he is holding is actually the Betsy Ross, or Stars and Stripes, flag but that flag didn't exist yet.  The flag should have been the Grand Union flag but I'm guessing it wasn't very popular due to its similarity to Britain's flag.  Also in the boat is Prince Whipple but there isn't any evidence of him being at the crossing or battles.  The ice is shown in iceberg shape but the Delaware River ice forms in sheets.  The boat shown is not a Durham boat which was used to cross the river.  The Durham boats were used for transporting materials like ore so they wouldn't have had any benches to sit in.  Plus they were double ended unlike the boat shown in the painting.  The crossing also took place overnight not in the morning.  My stop at the Ferry House had info stating that the Continental Army left the Ferry House area to march off towards Trenton at 4 AM which meant all the soldiers and artillery would have been across the river by daybreak.  And finally, the horses in the background were brought over on the ferry, not in the boats as shown.  But lets not allow the facts to get in the way of a good story.  Anyway, let's go outside and explore some more. 

Site of Washington's crossing from the Pennsylvania side.  What a glorious day - beautiful weather with fantastic sites.  The pictures and sights were not as interesting as some of my other vacations but this weekend was more fulfilling to me than most of the European cities we visited.

Finally onto the Princeton Battlefield for my final stop of the day.  On the night of January 2nd after the British withdrew, the Continental Army circled the British by marching all night to reach Princeton early in the morning on January 3, 1777 surprising them then defeating them in battle.  This battle culminated the Ten Crucial days which resulted in improved morale in the American people and more importantly, it gave the Americans confidence in their cause and the feeling that they could beat the British.  The residents in the states were still divided between separating from England and staying an English colony so these battles helped turn the tide of public opinion and gave Washington a much needed boost confidence among the Continental Congress.  

The Clark House which was supposed to have period furniture but it wasn't open today.  As was the case for most houses near battles, this was used as a field hospital during and after the battle.

Overlooking the long battlefield from Moulder's Battery.  At the height of the battle, the British turned the battle forcing the Americans to retreat to near this spot were Captain Joseph Moulder's battery sat.  From an info board: "With great skill and accuracy Captain Moulder directed intense and accurate fire from the American guns which prevented the British forces from advancing across the field."  The Americans regrouped and proceeded to push the British back into Princeton (a few short miles away) where they surrendered.  Huzzah!!   

I was done for the day with my planned itinerary but the day was so welcoming and the sun was still above the tree tops so I decided to check out Princeton campus.  I didn't want to end the day with the sun still up but my legs were about done for the day so I had to find a compromise between what my legs were telling me and what my mind was telling me.  So I drove to the campus and walked a little more before finding the football stadium where I grabbed a bleacher seat for a while to end the day.  

Frank Gehry's library.  I figured I would check it out on my Princeton campus wanderings since I like the different architecture styles on our travels but this building didn't impress me.  To modern I guess.

On my wanderings around the campus I checked out the stadium and watched some of the intercollegiate track meet next door.  A blue sky weather day with historic tourist sites - this long day was simply awesome.

My silhouette self portrait to end the day.  

Sunday - Since Saturday was such a long day I opted for a lazy day on Sunday.  After sleeping in and slowly dragging myself out of bed I had a choice to make: Atlantic City, NJ or Monmouth Battlefield State Park (Wiki link).  I had checked out the Atlantic City attractions on my trusty Trip Advisor app previously and there wasn't a lot there that interested me so I decided to continue my battlefield weekend tour.  Plus Atlantic City was 2-2.5 hours away and didn't feel like spending five hours in the car.  After driving to the park visitor center my first stop was to look around the insightful museum and watch the interesting short film.  A good prepper for my afternoon.  For this battle we will fast forward to June 28, 1778. 

I always wondered why the Germans were called Hessians.

Carol Seppanen Book Update - I just started reading this after my interest was piqued during this weekend.  My last book was Lawrence in Arabia: War Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East (link).  Lawrence was a key figure in the WWI Middle East Theater for those not familiar with him.  Great book for military buffs, told with an interesting blend of painstaking research and dramatic twists. 

British officers Sir Henry Clinton on the left, Major-General Charles Cornwallis on the right.  Clinton was Commander in Chief of the British forces during the battles.  Cornwallis was in command of the 1st Division under Clinton during the battles.  His "reckless strategies in the South" led to the British surrender at Yorktown later in the war.

The Monmouth Battlefield with commanders Clinton and Washington.  Paraphrasing from an info board - after a string of defeats in late 1777 Washington was desperate for a victory but also cautious enough to not be routed in any battles which may endanger the Revolution.  A very fragile war full of ups and downs.

Howitzer shells.  I love these exhibits.

Grape shot and case shot. 

Also in the museum was this picture of Washington being sworn in as our nation's first President at Federal Hall in New York in 1789 - we wuz there!

The myth of Molly Pitcher (Wiki link).  Molly Hays was the wife of an artillery soldier and was part of the artillery crew along with her husband.  Contrary to folklore, she did not heroically take up the station of her dead husband to keep the artillery piece firing, she was actually part of the crew.  Although rare, there are many instances of women working with their husbands throughout the war.  Many women traveled with the armies to cook, clean, launder and generally support the armies while staying with their husbands (remember the English soldier's wives packing their belongings into a trunk and gathering at the ship's send off hoping to be selected?).  Well, Molly just happened to be the person chosen by the war propagandists to turn American sympathy towards the war effort so now she's famous.  

On Combs Hill - looking down onto the battlefield from the site of American artillery that turned back the British counterattack and saved the battle.  The cannons drove back the British forcing their retreat and giving the Americans the victory.

Overlooking the sweeping landscape where the Americans attacked and then were driven back by the British.  This was the last major battle fought in the north and solidified Washington's reputation as a great general and leader.

Looking back at Combs Hill - you can see the white visitor center building.

Imagining what it would be like anxiously standing behind this poor breastwork fence watching the enemy advance towards me as the battle starts.  The courage it takes to fight in wars is unbelievable. 

For below.  This action by Lee ended his military career.

The site where Washington confronted Charles Lee (Wiki link).  Lee led the initial charge against the British with a smaller advance force but his forces were struck by disorganized panic and started a chaotic retreat.  When Washington came up with the full army he stopped the panic and vigorously admonished Lee.  This view is looking towards the British front.   

These pictures don't do enough justice to show the size of this park.  I spent over four hours here (good thing the Whiners weren't here - they would have been UPPPPPPP-set) and about three hours was spent walking the trails.  I only walked about half of the trails so this place was massive.

The probable site of Molly Hays' artillery crew overlooking part of the battlefield.  The Americans were camped behind me.

Molly Pitcher carrying her water in a battle re-enactment.  The day was very hot and the museum said it was hard to distinguish who died from the battle and who died from the heat.

After spending four plus hours here I was getting tired of walking and the rain clouds were rolling in so I called it a day at the battlefield park and meandered my way back to the hotel for the night.  In all I visited two historic crossing sites, four battlefield sites, a few period establishments, and had a fabulous weekend.  But its back to work on Monday.  Bummer.

I'm not a bucket list type of person but if I were one I'd probably put two US based war related sites on my list -Gettysburg and Valley Forge.  Hopefully in the next couple of years we'll visit Washington D.C. and I'll be able to hijack the tour bus long enough to see Gettysburg.  Hopefully.  Valley Forge on the other hand is a place I didn't have any plans of seeing in spite of my desire.  But sometimes fate intervenes in a helpful way.  I'm not sure why Valley Forge has always interested me but I've always wanted to see it in person. 

Thursday - On our last day of training the class ended early to allow the out of towners to catch their evening flights out of NY and NJ.  Since I was meeting the family the next day I had an afternoon off so after five seconds of debating it in my head I jumped in the car, punched King of Prussia, PA into the SatNav, and took off for Valley Forge National Historic Park (link).  I would only have a couple of hours to see the large camp and was rained on again to end the day but it was worth it.  Maybe I should start joining my cousin Tim on his battlefield tours - I love this stuff!

From some pamphlets at the site - The Continental Army wintered here in 1777, from December of 1777 to June 1778.  The winter was harsh but more men died in the warmer spring months from diseases  like influenza, typhus, typhoid and dysentery than from the cold in the winter months.  The camp was selected for a variety of reasons.  It was located between the wintering British army and Philadelphia, it was located on a hill (natural defensive barrier) by a river (water source), and was close enough to towns to get supplies for the army.  They left here in June 1778 and fought he British at Monmouth later that month.  As a war related note, in May 1778 France entered into an alliance with the Americans which resulted in helping America win the war.  Thanks France!

Some brief facts about Valley Forge from the visitor center displays.

Redoubt model for the visual people.

Some games played by the soldiers to pass away their free time.

Surprising part of camp living at the time.

The part of camp life not as much fun as socializing - inoculations and spruce beer.

Ever wonder where the terms half dollar, quarter dollar, and pieces of eight came from?

A two Shillings note - paper money in America at that time was not common and wasn't accepted as payment by most people.

After the visitor center displays I hopped into my rental and drove around the huge camp to see the rest of it.  It was spread out with displays and buildings open to the public.  If I remember correctly the road around the camp was over ten miles long!

Some soldier shelters.  Washington had the soldiers built wooden shelters for the winter instead of having them sleep in tents.  Some other daily activities were cooking food, gathering wood, finding meat and vegetables, training, guard duty and going on patrols. 

Shelter chimney.  The winter was harsh with freezing and thawing temperatures, alternating snowfall and rain, and a general lack of provisions including meat, vegetables, clothing and shoes.

Cozy accommodations.  Twelve to a shelter with a fireplace and a few feet between the bunks.

The National Memorial Arch at Valley Forge.

Statue of General Anthony Wayne (Wiki link).

From a random hillside overlooking the surroundings.

The Marquis de Lafayette (Wiki link), one of Washington's aide-de-camps who formed a lifelong father - son bond with Washington.

The Battle of Monmouth, another historically inaccurate picture as Washington never charged directly into battle there.  You can always find the central figure of the painting by following the eyes of the figures shown in profile who are staring in admiration at their leader.

Fun facts.

The Isaac Potts house is where the officers wintered.

Planning parlor.

House bedroom.

Other half of the room in the above picture.

Servants usually slept in the attics or uppermost floors.  Not quite as nice for them.

The kitchen.

The front of the house, it is set up as a period museum now.  I would have taken a better picture but was getting soaked at this point.

Obligatory stained glass picture at the Washington Memorial Chapel as I continued my tour.  The park was shutting down for the day and the rain had started so I drove around the rest of the park and checked out a few more buildings including this chapel.

Inside the chapel.

And outside the chapel.  I can't go a whole trip without visiting at least one church you know.

That wraps up an amazing few days for me.  A great weekend touring Revolutionary War with a bonus afternoon stretch goal.  Sights I have always wanted to tour but wasn't ever in the area to take them in.  How great is that?

Friday - On my way to LaGuardia Airport to meet the family I drove around the area including Rutgers campus.  Here is the site of the first intercollegiate football game between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869 (link), it's a gymnasium now.  Booorrring!

This weekend reawaken my Revolutionary War interest so now I am listening to the audio book The Summer of 1787: The Men Who Invented the Constitution on my commutes which I find fascinating.  Listening the book reminded me of our summer vacation of 2008 when we went to Ocean City, Maryland and spent a day in Philadelphia checking out Ben Franklin's house, the Antietam Battlefield (Wiki link), Independence Hall (Wiki link - my second UNESCO World Heritage Site visit), and other important sites in our countries history.  I loved Philly and would like to make return trip one day.  Mesa Verde National Park was my first WH site when I spent part of a college summer in Denver for those keeping tally at home.  

In front of The Liberty Bell in Philly.  Kalle doesn't remember the vacation but Karl does.  Not sure why she's sticking her gut out here.  Kids just do goofy things sometimes.

Also from that 2008 vacation is this pic of the kids in front of old George.  Occasionally you will get the spontaneous picture capturing their natural personalities as is the case here.  I remember it being a hot day in Philly (as Karl's red face attests) and this was towards the end of the day when fun loving Kalle saw an opportunity to jab hot and cranky Karl in the ribs.  He was not amused but she obviously thought it was a fun game.  Ah the memories.

That's all the trip news I have for now but like MacArthur I shall return.  And also like MacArthur I'm not sure when so I'll talk at y'all later.

Thanks for listening,