tv Kevin Weddle The Compleat Victory CSPAN May 15, 2021 6:00pm-7:02pm EDT
myself up to speed through reading and then find someone who is an expert on the subject and have a conversation to make sure i understood what i read by having a conversation. but then i read for pleasure to relax before going to bed. . . . . my name is andrew, i'm the director of the international of the jefferson. it is my pleasure to introduce kevin who will be discussing his
new book, the complete victory saratoga and the american revolution published by oxford university. i'm splendid, splendid addition with color, illustrations and an excellent map. very useful. the battle at saratoga is often regarded as the turning part of the revolutionary war. victory one by americans, generally believed that victory lies within the u.s. kevin produced one of the most comprehensive accounts of the battle. it's of particular interest because he's a former army officer with 28 years of service. granger of west concluded two combats and professorship in
military theory and data of were college in pennsylvania. his previous book, the life of samuel was awarded to william toby award. kevin has agreed to do this program in an interview, conversations which will be followed by questions, i'd be grateful if audience members could put questions in the q&a at the bottom of your screen. kevin, thank you very much for joining us. >> thank you, andrew. i appreciate the invitation thank you to everybody out there attending. >> so i want to begin asking you to discuss how your military
background influenced your writing of the book. >> okay. well, i think first of all, it is important to, you don't have to be, have military background to be a good military historian. i'd say the greatest military historian hasn't had a military background so you look at the great military historians, you don't have to have a military background but i do think having extensive military experience like i do can maybe add another perspective to your research and writing. little things like i know what it's like to walk through the woods or the desert, wet, tired, hungry, two hours of sleep for six days straight or as battalion commander and former company commander, i can speak
with firsthand knowledge about morel training and discipline, small unit leadership, resilience and the famous statement that everything in war is simple but even the simplest thing is difficult, i understand the things a commander has to do. when we think of commanders on the battlefield, they are making important positions on when to attack and withdraw and when to do those things but there's 1000 other things big and small commander has to think about. things like the importance of logistics, which as you know in this campaign was critical and we'll talk about that a little more but logistics is absolutely important. when most think about logistics, they think about stuff. food and ammunition and things but there's also things like transportation and maintenance
and fuel, which in the 18th century for your animals and medical support, all those things are encompassed in logistics. as a combat engineer officer during my career so i understand the importance of terrain and how to understand terrain and hopefully how to describe terrain. i've done 25 years sapphires and battlefield tours where i have lived through military groups to civil war battlefields, basically all civil war battle fields in the east and the west that led battlefield tours to waterloo and normandy in the bridge and sicily and and you so when you do that, i think it adds a different perspective so i think all of those experiences
can help form my research and writing. sorry that's a long-winded answer to your short question. >> a book by people who served in the military because i thought they offered special insight. before we turn specifically to the battle at saratoga, i would like to ask you about more in general, i think this is very relevant especially american decisions withdraw from afghanistan, talk a bit about why they failed to defeat the david against smaller, maccabee who was a former military officer from a military background, writing the most detailed account on the british
side and were for america published in 1970 -- >> sometimes excused by the amount of the detail and over 500 pages. i think it's arguing that the british lost because of the commitment of where in the world and this war. in reality, he's arguing the war was winnable and it was lost by military leadership. he feels with good partitions but bad strategists. in other words, the micro level level. a short essay could the war of independence, he was opposed by one of the best scholars, john, influenced by his knowledge of
vietnam is british fighting insurgency more recently fought by the americans in afghanistan. like the u.s., they were unsuccessful and the 20th century, he used a huge success on the land. this is inspiration because the british were fighting minority chinese who had no outside or domestic support. it was still a long very brutal war kevin, i'm sorry to be long-winded. [laughter] >> no, that's great. >> my question to you, could the british have won the american were? >> okay, they don't -- don't want to disappoint you, i think it's yes, they had a chance
through 1777. i think after that, the americans could have beaten themselves. that's what i think. here's why. i think, how could have destroyed washington's army in the fall of 76 and vigorously followed up his victories in new york which he didn't do so i think that was their first opportunity. the second opportunity i think wasn't 1777 but not with going, i think the best opportunity to win the war was the plan to go to philadelphia, a decisive battle, i think by then by early 1777 especially after princeton, i think he realized washington in washington's army was the
american center gravity. if he could destroy the army, that would and rebellion. he's not able to get his victory. he can't get that final decisive victory. after that, the workers into that different phase were ultimately is going down to the south and then you really have an insurgency like conflict and i think by then, only the americans could have beat themselves at that time. that is my personal assessment. when you look at how the saratoga campaign played out among one of the options actually does present, which he presents in a throwaway
afterthought manner as well, one thing we could do would be to use the navy, load up troops in canada, bring them back to new york and now we have this immense army and that army would, could have been enough to track down and destroy washington in the philadelphia campaign. that doesn't obviously happen but i think that was there last opportunity so does go back to what he was talking about the strategy, i think really there strategy failed them in that respect in 1777. i argue that in the book, as you know. >> that leads to my next question, one of the most comprehensive studies at saratoga, the timeline
enormously useful, very well written and constructed but you conclude with a generally accepted view that the british lost because of poor planning and failure of coordination to maine, the chief architect in london and i think you've got a slide of those three. >> i do. >> what you might like to do is show your slide. i don't really like you to say say which you blame where or
how. >> can you see my slide there? >> yes. >> i'm not going to talk about strategy here. okay. these two gentlemen, and you talked about this in your wonderful book, on the left is sir william, commander in chief in north america minus canada. on the right is his brother who is commander-in-chief in north america. of course george washington the american commander in chief, these are key folks who worked out the strategy in 1777 so clockwise from the top we got kueng george the third and on the right you have general sir
william on the bottom, john. on the left george tremaine former general and secretary of the the colonies and responsible for managing the war in north america. so early in 1777, commander-in-chief general sir william on the left and john were at this time is in london so he is in london with the king tremaine. both present plans for 1777 and they both argue that these are going to be war when he fights. so the plan is a very complex but imaginative plan. in some ways, it's a repeat of
the first british invasion of new york in the fall of 1776 which was commanded by general carlton, commander-in-chief in canada so this plan calls for three columns to advance albany new york so you see the first one would be the larger column from canada shut down the famous hudson river invasion order to albany. a secondary column, effort sometimes called diversionary effort, this one will go basically down to lake ontario and down the river, also to albany. finally the final column would be the main british army native american would come up the
hudson river all meeting at albany and from there, they really don't explain what they want to do but bottom line, they think they're going to split the more rebellious new england colonies away from what they hope they thought, less rebellious colonies and they would conduct a follow-up operation into connecticut, massachusetts and so on. so that is the plan, the king and jermaine liked this plan. frankly, i think there almost obsessed with this kind of thing using the quarter but how again, remembering how by this time has recognized washington as washington and maine american
army primary center gravity, how is commander-in-chief in new york city and what he argues is i want to go to philadelphia and if i do that, washington is going to be forced to defend philadelphia and i can trap him and destroy the american army in the rebellion so that first he considers marching to philadelphia but if he does, it could lead to all sorts of problems and protect his lines of communication in new york and of course he was burned in late 76, early 77 with the trenton princeton campaign that washington conducted against him so he uses the mobility of the royal navy brother commanded the navy and he loved his troops on
ships and his plan -- let me go back a second. his plan is to load on ships and take his army by c and ultimately they will end up going up the chesapeake bay land south of philadelphia and march on philadelphia so that's plan. again, fairly straightforward but obviously those are two very different plans and it's up to jermaine to coordinate these plans. there's jermaine in the center and he's got how on the left. the problem of course is a tyranny of difference. there's 3000 miles between london and new york and commander-in-chief in new york 3000 miles away. for jermaine and the king was
sitting there in london so when you got messages that can take two to three months to go back and forth across the atlantic, it makes it very difficult to coordinate a campaign. especially when you have decision-makers in london and in new york city so that is what leads the major problem trying to courtney these two plans and of course ultimately what happens, we can't get into the details here with the short time we have but ultimately what happens is cross, communications were modeled, misunderstanding should and confusion will take place and basically what happened, they approved the campaign with the understanding once he finishes, he will turn around and move his army of the
river to support him and they were going to campaign. which number one is very uncoordinated and confusing. the other thing is, it shows i think, both jermaine and their misunderstanding of what it takes north america especially what it takes to conduct operations in the wilderness of new york. they think these things can be done very quickly and the armies can be turned on a dime and moved very quickly to another location but of course that can't happen. it may have been able to happen on the plains of europe but it's not going to happen in north america so anyway, again, that's a long answer to your question. >> i'd love to get into that, very useful background.
i want to -- an army of one, this is not it but i've always been confused by this idea that they were just misunderstood because in 1777 was the same plan of 1776 when he marched down from canada and linked up in albany. it's difficult to believe he was unaware when his deputies said they arrived from london fresh from jermaine and go north and not philadelphia. he needed no help so my question
is, if he led them, would that have changed the outcome? was the plan once they met up? if this is so important, why did they simply not join and even if the two armies have meant, how could they have ever held the line between new york and canada? >> there's a lot in those questions there. >> sorry. [laughter] >> let me take the last one first, why didn't he just sail around to reinforce him? should when submit is detailed plan to the king in jermaine, which i can't remember the exact date but it was there by 1777. he writes a long memo called
thoughts for conducting the war on the side of canada. a long memo. about 95% of it is describing how he would conduct the invasion from canada. like three lines of it talk about -- and the other thing we could do is sail around and reinforce in new york. clearly that was meant as a throwaway not even consider it and he even said after he said that in his memo, he said but we wouldn't get the good payoff, strategic impact of that wouldn't be as great as coming down from canada so he's very clear, he basically said we could do this but don't even think about it so he considered it and rejected it, in my mind. i think jermaine and the king
probably never even thought about it because they really loved this idea of coming the lake's north hitting south so i think that wasn't even part of the discussion. oddly enough, afterward, after it was all said and done, one of his criticisms, one of the many criticisms against jermaine was well, i told you we could have sailed around and reinforced him in new york city and you didn't pick the option. well, no, of course he didn't because burgoyne didn't put any emphasis on it at all so burgoyne was being disingenuous about that after the fact. the other part of your question,
what if he sailed up the hudson and met at albany? i'm not sure burgoyne would have made it no matter what even if he did sail up the hudson but say they have. say he was able to make his way to albany and how got up to albany as well. number one, maybe they could have done that but they never could have felt the ground. i never think they could have -- all the fortifications they would have needed to establish up and down the corridor, no matter how much support they had and hamilton, i think, he wrote this great letter in the late spring of 1777 and i'm thinking he was probably simply repeating in this letter what washington
was thinking, basically this letter was to one of the assemblies in new england, i think it was connecticut assembly that he was basically telling them don't worry, even if they do this, they are never going to be able to hold onto that territory. it would take an immense army to hold onto that territory and i think he is right. i don't think there is any way the british had the combat power to link up there armies in albany, conduct full on military operations to the east and new england hold onto the hudson river order to maintain supplies and so forth and keep the new england states separated from the middle states and seven states, i just don't think they could do it. i think the entire plan was
based on false assumption that number one, linking up these armies, good things would happen after that, she and of course the other assumption being that there are so many loyalists in upstate new york, they would go to his aid. that was a bad assumption. another assumption about native americans, native americans would flock to burgoyne's army and of course that didn't happen so it was based on a lot of bad assumptions should. >> he didn't get lunch canadians either. >> no. he didn't. the final piece of your question when you said about how he had to understand that he was meant to go up the hudson, i think that was true but remember his plan was often approved.
by the king and jermaine. i got what he mentioned, very explicit orders saying yes "the king and i" have approved your plan to go to philadelphia and after that, once you do that, then you need to go back so how is the commander-in-chief, he is reading it as commander-in-chief will, the boss approved my plan. the secondary part is burgoyne went undone. who knows when so he reads it as i think any commander-in-chief would so let's go to philadelphia. >> i want you to hold that, the miss assumptions that underlie the campaign, we will come back
to that when we wrap up and introduce audience questions and move on to the battle itself. this confused me for years, this wasn't bought in saratoga, is a location over several days. >> when i think of saratoga, i think of the saratoga campaign. a series of military operations so i think when we talk about the campaign, you've got to go back to july 77, fall on battle and then the battle of bankston and then the first battle of
want to go there to go there because there's nothing else around it. but even that tiny little battlefield there the staff is tremendous and the scenery is spectacular up there. so if nothing else the scenery should draw you to it and i history as a bonus. i cannot agree with you more. >> i have to ask you how much credit do we get to benedict arnold for saratoga quick. >> or we don't know just what a hero he was. and the british regarded him the best commander in washington in fact the most successful british admiral suggested the british makes him commander-in-chief in
america and then he did in the british army. >> right. he obviously plays a central role in 1736 in the first invasion of canada without for island but in the saratoga campaign once ticonderoga falls and general skyler the commander of the northern army , he is really almost at his wits and and one of the first things washington does as commander-in-chief, aside from to buck him up and improve his morale is he sends key leaders
up to help him out. and the two most important key leaders he sends are benedict arnold and benjamin lincoln both major generals. both of them are critical for the success. benedict arnold because of his fiery outstanding leadership from that guy and benjamin lincoln because of his unique ability to work with a militia. those are things that skyler doesn't have in his subordinates don't have. washington recognizes that in sends the two key leaders up there. almost from the moment benedict arnold gets there, he is everywhere.
he is right at the forefront. he gave skyler advice. he is in the lead in leading raids on horses. he is at the head of the column and is sent to relieve and all of that thing. he is the right guy to send up there. this is a dynamic leader and that is what skyler needed. and again i say benjamin lincoln also doesn't get as much press but he is critical to american success at saratoga. he's not one who is leading the attack although he is wounded at the end of the first day of the last battle, seriously wounded
leading the attack, but that was not his major role. it was to get the militia out and as the commander of the northern department for skyler and he does a brilliant job at that. so the two key commanders along with other key leaders, daniel morgan is famous through this elite unit washington sends up there. those folks are all critical cogs in the american machine that ultimately win the saratoga campaign. but then when it comes to the final battle, benedict arnold plays a critical role in those battles in the first one, he is the one that gates assigns to manage the flow of troops
into the battle. he's actually not up in the front leading the attacks , that he is the guy feeding the troops into the battle to manage and does a great job there and in the second battle he is critical because he leads the final attack on the british fortification that end up outflanking the army to ultimately fall back is exhausted army and then is surrounded. so arnold is crucial for americans. i don't call him the victor of saratoga. some people do. i think gates could truly be called the victor even i'm not a big fan of gates. but arnold is critical for american success.
>> i wondered if you would mention horatio gates as a british officer and always suspected conspiring with as the commander in chief and then defeated himself by wallace at the battle of camden pretty much destroying the army in the south. and famously took up on his horse which led to battlefields i ways found a very cruel they estimated the pace at which he must have led. that was quite a pace for a man of his age. >> hamilton at the time leading very young man but they were our liability to the
british into that saratoga campaign. >> yes. my assessment of the german troops is, i think they did a solid job. the german commander was a solid commander. i think a lot of that is the ex post facto blame game. even before his surrender he places a lot of the blame on the german troops. i think he is grasping at straws at that point. of course to find about that a month later and he is incensed
because nobody said anything to him about troops performing poorly they were a solid contingent of truth but for instance in the battle of bennington you could call it the bennington campaign. but they were the wrong troops to send on the expedition. frazier, the commander of the british advance core, said that and argue that. they were the wrong troops to send on the independent operation like bennington. the perfect troops would be frazier in the right folks to send. so using them in the inappropriate way, just as
soldiers in the line of battle they were great and that's how they should've been used sending them off on these independent operations like bennington is a misuse of their capabilities. >> and to be blamed as well that's why bennington was so important and that demoralizing campaign reducing his troop numbers it is almost mirror of the campaign at cornwallis that essentially overwriting his commander in new york and to play the same
role as bennington in terms of upsetting that campaign. >> that's a great point. >> i'm getting close to introduce seeing questions from the audience but i to come back to the real failure and miscalculations. it seems to me what united all of the british commanders the error we continue to make in the 20th and 21st century is that extensive support in the revolution and that little opposition for ticonderoga could take and they were always optimistic and they
were twice the size of china but to be heavily outnumbered it is four / one when you hit saratoga and it's interesting to read his account because people were appearing from nowhere. basically modern-day new hampshire. and also he could not believe the training of the continental army with the british troops. >> yes. all these assumptions that everyone is making, i don't criticize the fact they made those assumptions. today, if one of the things we teach at work college of military planning.
when you are planning you never have 100 percent information. so in order to fill the gaps you have to make certain assumptions and that is understandable. so making assumptions are not bad in and of themselves, that you also if you make the assumption and you have to look at what if it is not true? what if loyalists don't come out in droves in new york after i take ticonderoga and help to fill up my logistical shortfalls? what happens if they don't? you have to at least think through that. none of these key leaders did that. they did not think through what if my assumptions are wrong what do i do then? how do i explain for that or how do i at least consider if
it doesn't hold true then maybe i need to stay at ticonderoga and tell a change the dynamic somehow with logistics or recruit more loyalists. whatever the case may be. but they didn't do those sorts of things. that is important for a military leader to do. >> i will turn to audience questions and encourage people watching to start writing and questions. the first says if that was the focus did washington and his troops to be captured or defeated why weren't they worried that marching ten would go north?
>> ironically much more concerned how being attacked by washington. >> yes. >> that was a real possibility washington could have gone north. >> right. in fact, during the period , let me get my dates right, when how loads the troops onto ships but has not left yet , washington really doesn't know what he will do and in fact washington assumes he will go up the hudson. and then once they fail, washington still doesn't know where they are going. they could go to newport , rhode island are down to charleston or up to delaware to philadelphia or again go up
the hudson. washington is trying to figure out what is happening during that period. when you read his letters during that period it is very frustrating. he says on more than one occasion if only we had something like the royal navy. he's really coming at this because it provides the british with mobility so washington thought about moving up the hudson. but it was more to intercept how. he was counting on skyler in washington was much more focused but had he gone up the hudson washington would have been compelled to follow. >> it would have been very
interesting to see what the military results would have been with something like that. great question. host: this is a complement from a member of our audience. david says your book is excellent. i will be using it on age of the hudson this summer as a guide in the campaign with your accounts of the battle. and that is the finest i have read. thank you. >> i made my week. >> greetings from troy a new york as a lifelong hudson valley resident with an interesting presentation and
so this is a mess perpetuated with that conventional battle and that plays into the idea of that armed citizenry so how do you see them militia? >> i think they are critical to americans success. the big battles, the final two of saratoga, the american combatants, that the militia are critical because they are the ones banning fortification
and the american fortifications are really important because they control the road to albany in the river to albany. that is one of the reasons why he clings to the fortification and only commits a small percentage of the total force and then the importance of that, they are doing things to free up the continental troops to con on - - conduct combat operations like logistics support and things like that. and the militia are the ones that are the primary combatants during the campaign. so of course at the end of the campaign as you mentioned with
less than 6000 troops are surrounded by we don't know how many but 18 or thousand on - - 18000 americans that fully two thirds are militia. so they are very important to feel the victory at the very end. very important from start to finish with the entire campaign the militia is very important. this is one of the reasons why i think washington is so shrewd for those generals who understand the militia they work very well and are popular with the militia. both benedict arnold and benjamin lincoln are generals that have those traits.
mainly because of his work early in the war around boston. so the key american commanders at the end when this is all said and done, the primary commander and his two major subordinates of benedict arnold i don't think it is any surprise at all three of them work very well with militia for a very interesting talk easily forward to reading the book. it is a privilege for us. so i have to say at west point i was enormously impressed by the american army in the offices they are it did not
coincide i would imagine those instructors would be happy to be back at west point out of harm's way but actually it is quite the opposite. >> and to be what those fellow officers are involved with. that they want to be there they are not officers like you met brought in civilians. didn't just try to blame it on the press that they had military lessons. it was just very impressive.
>> did any part of the campaign take place at fort william henry? >> that campaign came through the area, especially the logistics. so to go see ticonderoga, he also moved the army to the tip of lake champlain. and with the big artillery train and the large pieces of his logistics train to the tip of lake george. he decides to move the rest of the army south. so yes, they move through that
area but hopefully it plays no role. >> we are getting close to the end of our time. i just want to come back to my thoughts of the counterinsurgency and get your reaction. one is the extensive support of the rubber one - - rebellion a resolution and how often we get that wrong. of course we talk to america or britain to give the exaggerated account and then to tell people in london just before yorktown with the americans to support the
british but he always insisted on that. when the situation is fluid people are changing sides and in those modern methods for the opinion poll but we still can't get the accurate representation but it seems to me and those to get a sanctuary to the american ships because the dutch were sending vital supplies. the british army has always been very small the real pride is the navy.
the naval museum is much bigger. [laughter] so basically of an army of conquest. about one third of the british army if the british had won the war how do you maintain by force? >> right. once the french come in night have to worry about all of your overseas possessions not just north america but the west indies and defending the homeland itself.
all of those things start to play into it that they didn't have to worry about before. i agree with you completely. after saratoga in the war move south, again only americans could have be in themselves at that point. that is possible. they could have done that. they could've made some boneheaded errors, but they were just right enough to win this. >> and the british are sending more ships and personnel to the caribbean off of the saratoga. and they are expected to win this with fewer troops. >> yes. handed an impossible task which goes to show saratoga is
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