Winter Tea Party winners: Angela's book,THE SCARLET COAT, will go to: Print copy- Andrea Stephens; e-book copy - Catherine Wight!

LUCY REYNOLDS has a table topper quilt on the way, and winners of the Valentine Ebook Collection are: Deanna Stevens, Caryl Kane, Anne Payne and Winnie Thomas. With thanks to all who joined in!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Heroes, Rogues, and Villains

Greene Monument at Guilford Courthouse, NC
 Amongst the discussions surrounding the recent History Channel miniseries “Sons of Liberty,” I saw disappointment expressed over the language used by various characters. One poster responded, essentially, that they are human, they are fallen. We may admire their deeds as founders of our country, but don’t think for a moment that meant they were sinless.

However you feel about History Channel's politically correct portrayal of figures such as Sam and John Adams, it’s true that many of the key players in the American Revolution were a mixed bag, morally. My last post was devoted to deconstructing popular opinion on one of them, the infamous “Bloody Ban,” Banastre Tarleton of the British Legion, but truth is that so many men of his time were neither half as evil nor half as righteous as popular history now portrays.

One of the odd benefits of initially studying the Revolution from the British perspective is that if there was any dirty laundry on those of the Continental side, they would have aired it. It was interesting overall to see who emerged as true men of honor, and who were ... not so much.

So I present you with a rough sketch of who, by admittedly my own subjective eye, could be categorized as heroes ... and rogues ... and then out-and-out villains.

HEROES

First up is our revered first President, George Washington. I was surprised—and quite relieved—that as bits of gossip surfaced about other prominent men and women, none did regarding him. True, his past isn’t entirely uncheckered ... there was one uncomfortable matter during the French & Indian War ... but by the time the RevWar rolled around, the worst that could be found was criticism regarding his accepting the position of Commander in Chief of the rebellion's armies. (King George shouldered his own share of criticism on the other side of the pond, for engaging those pesky rebels to start with.) His relationship with wife Martha was loving and constant, he did not drink or eat to dissipation, and while he is recorded as resorting to mild profanity in a moment of extreme frustration on the field of battle, well ... he was also human.

John Adams on left, Staten Is. Peace Conference
Second was John Adams. (Brother Samuel, somewhat of a hothead, could fall into the category of rogue.) Though some have charged him with thinking a bit too highly of himself, his faith—and his devotion to wife Abigail—shines strong and authentic even from the accounts of his enemies. From Wikipedia:

Throughout this life, Adams was opposed to slavery, never owned a slave, and was quite proud of the fact.[4] After the Boston Massacre, with anti-British feelings in Boston at a boiling point, he provided a principled, controversial, and successful legal defense of the accused British soldiers, because he believed in the right to counsel and the "protect[ion] of innocence".[5]

Third—and don’t shoot me for this—Charles Cornwallis, Earl of the realm and general of the British army. This is a man around whom scandal is conspicuously absent—whose devotion to his dying wife drew him home again to England, with the war still in full swing, then grief for her drove him back, just in time to head up the Southern Campaign in Henry Clinton’s wake. He found the Carolina backcountry enchanting, and though shocked at the viciousness of the partisan warfare shredding the very fabric of society, he endeavored to tread the line between English gentleman, and general of the army whose job it was to enforce order and loyalty to the Crown. Too bad he was so prone to unwise decisions when it came to war strategy, especially his insistence in pushing across North Carolina during the early spring of 1781 ... and I have to take points off for his calling in sick the day he was to surrender to Washington at Yorktown, and sending his second in command instead. Still, he was steps above being classed as a rogue or villain.
General Nathanael Greene

Fourth—no mention of heroes would be complete with mention of Nathanael Greene. General of the Continental forces after the complete rout of Gates at the Battle of Camden, he was raised a Quaker but later was read out of meeting for his interest in the militia and brewing revolt. Passionately and unfashionably devoted to a wife around whom rumors and scandal swirled, but who despite everything went to amazing lengths to join her husband on the field, when she could. All that aside, Greene was famous for his cool under fire, his brilliance at strategy, his patience in completely wearing out the British army.


ROGUES

These are the ones who, on either side, might not have been perfectly honorable, but you couldn’t help admire their panache, or they were considered darlings by their superiors. Yes, I believe Tarleton fits more closely here than the last category, but he’s joined by ...

Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee—the Continentals’ counterpart to Tarleton. Yes, really. He was quite the fire-eater, just as hotheaded as Ban Tarleton but looked upon with a kinder eye because he was Washington’s “pet,” while Ban was the favorite of Cornwallis. Consider the possible humor—and exasperation?—in the tone of this note from General Washington:

The measure you propose of putting deserters from our Army to immediate death would probably tend to discourage the practice[, but] I think that the part of your proposal which respects cutting off their heads and sending them to the Light Troops had better be omitted. (July 9, 1779)

“Mad” Anthony Wayne, General of the Continental forces, so nicknamed for a slightly crazy but wildly successful night attack on the British in 1779. So did he, or did he not, have something going on with Caty Greene? We may never know. He was, despite gossip and rumors, brave in battle and a devoted friend to the Greenes, present when Nathanael died tragically after the war, and remaining a source of support for Caty.

John Andre, self portrait
Daniel Morgan, another Continental general ... a crusty old veteran if there ever was one. Flogged once for punching an officer during the F&I War. Ignored Greene's orders to not engage Tarleton directly, but gave that lad a "devil of a whipping" at the battle of Cowpens. Among other things we know of him personally, there’s no record of a legal marriage between him and the woman he considered his wife, and he suffered in later years from severe sciatica in his back and legs. That alone might account for the crankiness.

John Andre ... another young, dashing figure—handsome, witty, talented British officer who managed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, captured by the Continentals and hung as a spy. It’s reported that he went bravely to his death.


VILLAINS

General Henry Clinton of the British
Benedict Arnold, famed Continental officer turned traitor ... dude, we get that your father was a drunk and a loser. We understand having the drive to better yourself. But letting jealousy and envy drive you to betray men who loved and trusted you ... okay, maybe just trusted, because personally speaking you were probably far too prickly to inspire actual love. But you were never really respected by the other side, either. Fail, good sir! Epic fail.

Henry Clinton, General of the British forces ... touchy, opinionated, sure that anything in the colonies was at his personal disposal. Including, and maybe especially, his landlady. Guilty of constant criticism of his superiors (General Howe) and bickering with those under him (General Cornwallis), and giving not very good military advice at times.

Continental General, Charles Lee
James Wemyss, officer of the British ... the one who most likely deserved the later hatred focused on Tarleton. Maybe some of the wild tales surrounding him were merely legend, as well, but some report that even Cornwallis, who gave the order to subdue the rebel populace in South Carolina, disapproved of Wemyss’ unholy zeal in carrying it out, and the methods he employed. (There is some evidence, as well, that some of these tales belong rather to loyalist Christian Huck, who met his end at Williamson’s Plantation in South Carolina, after earning the particular fury of the local Presbyterian population.)

And lastly, Continental general, Charles Lee. (No relation to the Lees of Virginia.) Pompous, self-serving, constantly critical of Washington. Lee gave up all his holdings in England to throw in his lot with the revolution, and thought he deserved payment for it. (Washington agreed to serve for no pay, only having his expenses covered.) In fact, he'd expected Washington's job and didn't get it. So, he might have fought for the Patriot side, even though he wasn't American-born, but he didn't like anybody, and nobody really liked him.


Agree? Disagree? Anyone care to add to this very short list? :-)

All images from Wikipedia and/or public domain.

13 comments:

  1. Wow, quite the list! Am on the lookout for a party of tar-and-featherers lol! I believe we can't truly know the nature of the men since we weren't there. I understand what you mean though about what is written about them that is negative. However, think of this--what if there was a repercussion for doing so? Charles Lee I've researched some and Harry Lighthouse Lee and I have sympathy for both men. Perhaps undeserved but I do. Harry and Charles both seem, to me as a former psychologist, to have some "issues" that make them more sympathetic. And in particular, Charles Lee, if you put yourself squarely in his buckled shoes coming from that background, can you really blame him for having that sense of entitlement?

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  2. LOL, oh good! I was hoping for some discussion on this one. Very true, we can't really know the nature of the men, at this point. We can only judge by the reports of others--or by their own accounts.

    Did I make it sound like I don't approve of "Lighthorse Harry"? That wasn't it at all. I've just found the similarities between him and Ban Tarleton very interesting--one account commented that if not for the war, they'd likely have been friends. It was also reported that Henry Lee could be as ruthless on the battlefield as Tarleton.

    Charles Lee--yes, perhaps "villain" is too strong a term, and I bow to your greater study of him. Maybe it's to his credit that he didn't turn traitor like Arnold, because they both seemed to suffer from the same raging jealousy and wounded pride when they weren't properly recognized for their accomplishments. (Or maybe we should blame the pretty Peggy Shippen for leading Arnold astray ... ?)

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  3. I I wonder how many of these guys suffered from mental health issues. Wow, that is interesting about Harry wanting to "off with their heads"!!! I love Washington's droll response back to him!!!

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  4. Love your list, Shannon! I would add another two heroes: Henry Knox and Frederika Von Riedesel. For Rogue (or villain) I would add Gen. John Burgoyne. The latter was too busy drinking and eating with his comrades to feed his starving troops. Amongst other things...

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    1. oh, I was just thinking of the Baronness!! I'm quite taken with her story. Aren't you working on something related to her, or just finished? Henry Knox did seem like a decent chap. And Burgoyne ... yes! Clinton was rather guilty of that sort of behavior, too.

      Thank you for taking time to chat! :)

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    2. I gave a nod to the baroness in my latest manuscript. She was a much loved woman. :)

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  5. Interesting list and discussion. Wish I had the time and energy for the level of research you girls have done. Love the drollery in all instances. Shannon, your tone in this post was perfect! Thank you for the tidbits.

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    1. Thank *you,* Judith, for stopping by! Glad you enjoyed it. :-) I rather had fun compiling the list, but there were SO many others I could have mentioned!

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  6. Great list. On the topic of Sons of Liberty, the program admitted that this was an artistic interpretation of the period. Many historical inaccuracies made the viewing somewhat difficult, but nevertheless, at least the period is starting to gain the attention it deserves. Several websites on the numerous/comical inaccuracies from the series exist. For me, the ride of Paul Revere, in the middle of the day, without the signaling lantern is what sent me to watch something else the final night of the series.

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  7. Thanks for your thoughts on that! I didn't get to see it, not having cable or satellite TV, but the talk about it was interesting. Have to admit I loved the promo pics, but thought Ben Barnes' cute scruffy beard was extremely NOT period correct. :) I'm told the John Adams miniseries was more accurate, although I haven't seen that one, either. But as you say, it's nice to see the era getting more attention, and enough people are speaking up about the historical discrepancies that maybe others will go read up on it for themselves.

    Thank you so much for taking the time to comment! I enjoy the discussion.

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  8. You vastly underrate Benedict Arnold's importance in the early years - Fort Ticonderoga, which provided heavy cannon to evict the British from Boston, Quebec and Montreal, where his second expedition very nearly turned the tide (and his selfless leadership inspired great devotion from his men), Valcour Island, which despite being a loss still delayed the British advance from Canada for a whole year, and at Saratoga a good case can be made that his appearance despite Gates' orders rejuvenated the men's morale and led to victory. Prickly and defensive he was, but read the list of the number of slights and insults he received from Congress despite his achievements and there is little wonder at his discouragement. Yes, his second wife led him astray (note that he lost his first while on campaign to Ticonderoga, but had little time to grieve), but if a Rogue is half Hero and half Villain he deserves to be promoted for being that consecutively, rather than simultaneously. GW

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    1. Thank you for your very thoughtful post! You're right, he contributed hugely in those early years--which was what made his betrayal so very devastating. And I find it interesting that accounts make it sound as if he were the only one to turn "traitor"--when vast numbers of men switched sides, from either side of the conflict, for far lesser reasons than he did.

      I appreciate your stopping by and providing a bit of balance!

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