Monday, May 15

Planning our historical tour

Back to the Southern theater of the Revolutionary War as Christine begins to plan trips for us (checking out a book and the SC tourism  website).

My top choices for visits in terms of the history are the Battle of Cowpens and something with Francis Marion.

The Battle of Cowpens was a great victory for the rebels, owed mostly to General Morgan, who contravened military wisdom on purpose to get the results he wanted, and he was right.

I'm just going to quote from the Wikipedia article, with my own organization:
  • placed his army between the Broad and Pacolet River, thus making escape impossible if the army were routed.
    • His reason for cutting off escape was obvious; to ensure that the untrained militiamen would not, as they had been accustomed to do, turn in flight at the first hint of battle and abandon the regulars
  • Selecting a hill as the center of his position, he placed his Continental infantry on it, deliberately leaving his flanks exposed to his opponent. Morgan reasoned that Tarleton would attack him head on and he made his tactical preparations accordingly.
  • Realizing that poorly trained militia were unreliable in battle, especially when they were under attack from cavalry, Morgan decided to ask the militia to fire two shots and then retreat
    • so he could have them reform under cover of the reserve (cavalry commanded by William Washington and James McCall) behind the third, more experienced line of militia and continentals.
  • The movement of the militia in the second line would unmask the third line to the British.
  • The goal of this strategy was to weaken and disorganize Tarleton's forces (which would be attacking the third line uphill), before in turn attacking and defeating them.
  • Howard's men would not be unnerved by the militia's expected move, and unlike the militia they would be able to stand and hold, especially since the first and second lines, Morgan felt, would have inflicted both physical and psychological attrition on the advancing British before the third line came into action.
  • Furthermore, by placing his men downhill from the advancing British lines, Morgan exploited the British tendency to fire too high in battle.
  • Furthermore, the downhill position of his forces allowed the British forces to be silhouetted against the morning sunlight, providing easy targets for Patriot troops. With a ravine on their right flank and a creek on their left flank, Morgan's forces were protected against British flanking maneuvers at the beginning of the battle.
Morgan insisted, "the whole idea is to lead Benny [Tarleton] into a trap so we can beat his cavalry and infantry as they come up those slopes. When they've been cut down to size by our fire, we'll attack them." In developing his tactics at Cowpens, as historian John Buchanan wrote, Morgan may have been "the only general in the American Revolution, on either side, to produce a significant original tactical thought."

Morgan's victory at the Battle of Cowpens is often compared by historians, to the classic double envelopment of the Romans by the Carthaginian army under Hannibal at Cannae in 216 B.C.

Was Banastre Tarleton the Sherman of his day?

Washington's Fabian strategy devolved to Greene:

Gates was replaced by George Washington's most dependable subordinate, General Nathanael Greene. Greene assigned about 1,000 men to General Daniel Morgan , a superb tactician who crushed Tarleton's troops at the Battle of Cowpens on January 17, 1781. Greene proceeded to wear down his opponents in a series of battles ( Guilford Court House, Hobkirk's Hill, Ninety Six , and Eutaw Springs), each of them tactically a victory for the British, but giving no strategic advantage to the victors. Greene summed up his approach in a motto that would become famous: "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again." Unable to capture or destroy Greene's army, Cornwallis moved north to to Virginia.

(I quoted this passage last time, but I still love it!)

I've got a theme going here: Washington, Greene, Marion, Fabius, Dowding: All of them could win by not losing. Why is that strategy so attractive to me?

Furthermore, could the jihadists use this strategy against us in Iraq? Are they? We're there. We have to be willing to see it through.

Or, maybe more fantastically, if we can't 'win' outright, is there any way we can turn the tables and use this strategy on them?
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