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Shaara's 'The Glorious Cause' puts compelling face on Revolution

January 06, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND

George Washington: This army has survived an astonishing volume of catastrophe, and I am confident we will survive this one as well. It has become something of a lesson for me, that positive change is often born of disaster.

Nathanael Greene: Would it not be better if we could avoid disaster altogether?

In his new book The Glorious Cause, Jeff Shaara characterizes this conversation as occurring after the desertion of Benedict Arnold to the British in New York and the rout of Horatio Gates at Camden, S.C. - a couple of low points for the Americans in a war that was full of them.

Shaara is better known locally for authoring Gods and Generals, the third of a Civil War trilogy that includes the Battle of Antietam. But truth be told there's probably as much lasting lore in the Tri-State from the Revolutionary War than from the Civil War.

Jefferson County, W.Va., folks, of course, are familiar with Gates and his home at Traveler's Rest. Unfortunately, Gates doesn't make out so well in the book. Historically, Gates' fame rests mainly with his victory at Saratoga, in which he defeated "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne.

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But Glorious Cause makes Gates out to be more of a befuddled bystander, with the true American heroes being a pre-turncoat Arnold and another man with local ties, Daniel Morgan.

Morgan was every stereotype of a frontiersman rolled into one. Tall, swashbuckling, profane, hard-drinking, cussing and swearing, teeth missing, etc., he led a company of sharp-shooting Virginia riflemen against the British in the north, then somewhat reluctantly accepted an offer to head into the Carolinas.

Most notably, Morgan engineered an ingenious and almost humorous strategy against the British at the Battle of Cowpens. He had the deadeye, but squirrely North Carolina militia out in front of the lines. On the arrival of the British they were ordered to pop up like prairie dogs and did the two things they did best: Pick off the horsemen with two well-placed shots each and then "run like hell" behind the continental lines. They kept running around the back of their own army, from left flank to right, where they surprisingly emerged at day's end to polish off the last of the British offensive.

In 1821, the Virginia legislature honored his memory by naming a county after him - Morgan County - in what is now West Virginia and home to the county seat of Berkeley Springs.

Apt, since Berkeley Springs was pretty obviously a revolutionary town not loyal to the crown. You can tell by the streets, usually: In Berkeley, they have names like Washington, Independence, Congress and Liberty. Contrast this with Martinsburg, W.Va., and Chambersburg, Pa., with their King and Queen streets.

Franklin County, Pa., did come to see the light on its roads though, as a stretch of the U.S. 11 highway near Chambersburg will attest.

The Battle of Monmouth (N.J.), occurred almost in the back yard of Molly Hays and her husband, so naturally he went off to man a cannon and she - unable to bear having him out of her sight, went along. The day was stiflingly hot, and lugging a big pottery water pitcher, Hays made numerous trips between the fatigued men and a nearby creek.

As she returned to the field one last time, she saw a quiet huddle of men. They parted slowly to reveal behind them her husband, shot dead by British musketfire. After grieving a few moments, Hays began to work the cannon herself, hoisting heavy shell and powder into the big gun's barrel.

As the day wound down and the battle was won, Hays drew the attention of the chief of artillery, Gen. Henry Knox, a short, round, bespectacled bookseller - the Revolution made generals out of curious clay - who rode up to the woman he knew by first name only.

Hays cowered, fearful she would be reprimanded and ordered from the field. Instead, Shaara says, he simply extended his hand and said "This army shall not forget your service ... Molly Pitcher."

It seems to me that particularly in light of the patriotic fervor that gripped the nation in the post 9-11 months, The Glorious Cause is valuable reading alone for establishing ties to names of vague familiarity, names we may have heard once or twice in school or seen on a road sign or noticed incorporated into the name of a town - Daniel Morgan, Nathanael Greene, Molly Pitcher, Tech Tilghman, "Mad Anthony" Wayne, Robert Morris, Henry "Light Horse Harry" (and father to Robert E.) Lee, Cornwallis and one of my all-time historical favorites, Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, better known as Lafayette.

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