Greetings! You are reading an article from The Mudville Gazette. To reach the front page, with all the latest news and views, click the logo above or "main" below. Thanks for stopping by!
July 1, 2011
Enemy Eyes (3 - Lt Sutherland's Ride)By Greyhawk
We've looked at events of April 18th and 19th, 1775 from the perspective of three British soldiers, each with distinct personalities and points of view. Two were writing diaries; the outspoken young Lt John Barker and the more experienced (and circumspect) Lt Frederick Mackenzie. The third account, the narrative of Ensign Henry De Berniere, appears to have been written as an official report of events.
Now we turn to a fourth account, that of Lt. William Sutherland, of His Majesty's 38th Regiment of Foot. His is also an official report. As is obvious from the opening statement quoted above, Sutherland was an enthusiastic volunteer. In fact, he seems to have been something close to a 'stowaway' on the boats that crossed from Boston that night, only presenting himself to the leaders of the expedition on the opposite shore. They were apparently quite happy to have him along. As an officer without troops to command he became an outrider on the march, his duties included scouting ahead and rounding up any stray locals he encountered along the way. (He accomplished this task on a horse very likely confiscated from one of those unfortunate locals, though Sutherland himself fails to provide us the exact details of how his mount was obtained. Once under fire in Lexington, the horse would demonstrate either its inexperience in combat or its support of the rebel cause - depending on the sense of humor of the re-teller of Lt Sutherland's tale.)
As a scout, part of his mission was to gather intel, and among the details he relates is a mention of the capture of Paul Revere.
Spelling error aside, his reference indicates Revere was a man Sutherland believed needed no further introduction in an official report, though he did make it a point to explain (with the "why" only in context) that once captured Mitchell and company couldn't keep him. Likewise Sutherland doesn't specifically mention Revere's warning (which he would have received only second-hand), however he does provide testimony on other reports on the strength of opposition the British (more specifically: Lt Sutherland) received along the way.
Sutherland's account was unavailable to historians until the 20th Century. An explanation of its discovery is included in its original publication here. Besides being simply a good read on its own, it offers fodder for a case study in small-unit leadership and decision making in the immediate moments leading up to combat - something that contributed greatly to the day-long slaughter that followed, which in turn launched the larger war.
Of course, like the previous reports we've examined, Lt Sutherland's account can also be read simply as one of true life combat adventure, as experienced by one man on one day. An excerpt - and more recent evaluation of the document (actually two documents, compared in this effort) by Donald N. Moran can be read on the web site of the Sons of Liberty Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution here. (Moran's text also includes other rare accounts, including Major Pitcairn's official report, which, like Sutherland's, was undiscovered for 150 years.) Here we also find an effort at some evaluation of Lt Sutherland, a man who was wounded in the fighting at Concord Bridge, and who closed his report with this statement of humble apology:
William Sutherland, Lt. 38th Regiment "
However, Moran is not alone among historians in speculating that Sutherland's spirited volunteerism and detailed account indicates a man "looking for personal recognition and possibly promotion" - a consideration that can't be ignored in evaluating his report today.*
"As an aside," Moran adds, "we were interested in finding out if Lieutenant Sutherland was successful in his efforts to gain promotion."
We found a letter dated August 11th, 1775, from Mr. Frances Hutcheson to Lt. General Sir Frederick Haldimand (11). It states: "... this has made the Generals form a Company of Riflemen of which Lt. Sutherland, the pretty Mrs. Sutherland's husband, is appointed Captain" [some things never change!].
More reading for Independence Day - online in their entirety and free:
Late News of the Exursions and Ravages of the King's Troops by Harold Murdock. Includes Lt Sutherland's full report - and a second account from a "Richard Pope," a man still identified only by name today - as published in 1927. (Murdock's title is a direct reference to that of the original publication of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress' version of the story of Lexington and Concord in 1775. By the 20th century - especially post-World War I, it was safe for Americans to write histories of the Revolution wherein British soldiers weren't treated as bloodthirsty myrmidons intent on slaughtering and enslaving helpless farmers.)
"Who fired the first shot at Lexington?" by Donald Moran (including excerpts from Sutherland and several other contemporary accounts).
*Footnote: it's interesting now to evaluate Sutherland's report for commonality with reports from his seniors, to find the Lieutenant's contribution to the "official" record. In many ways his role is clear, and clearly important. (He is, for example, the first officer to report being fired on - the flash in the pan story - by rebels.) In others - including the portions quoted above - less so.
Major Pitcairn's report (see Moran) - likewise undiscovered for a century and a half, would condense Sutherland's (and any other) intel on opposing forces to "intelligence was received that about 500 men in arms were assembled, determined to oppose the Kings Troops and retard them in their march." (Consistent with, and wholly explainable by Revere's warning relayed by Mitchell.)
On this topic Lt Col Smith would report to Gage (here, along with still more accounts) only that which he himself had heard: "We found the country had intelligence or strong suspicion of our coming, and fired many signal guns, and rung the alarm bells repeatedly." In turn, Gage's first report to (Secretary of State for Colonies, in London) Dartmouth (text here - dated April 22nd) explains that "It appears from the Firing of Alarm Guns and Ringing of Bells that the March of Lieutenant Colonel Smith was discovered, and he was opposed by a Body of Men within Six Miles of Concord" - repeating only Smith's report, and near verbatim. (At that time the other reports were still being compiled. Interesting side note: In Gage's letter to Dartmouth Lexington, obviously important but perceived as incidental to strategic-level considerations - isn't even mentioned by name.)Finally, the account Gage prepared for public consumption in the Colonies reads "About 3 o'Clock the next Morning, the Troops being advanced within two Miles of Lexington, Intelligence was received that about Five Hundred Men in Arms, were assembled, and determined to oppose the King's Troops..." a direct quote from Pitcairn.
Notable, however, is something missing: nowhere in Sutherland's account (or Revere's or any others) is found any specific claim that Revere said there would be 500 men at Lexington. That detail ("at Lexington") is provided in Sutherland's quotes of his sources - the man in the sulky and the men with the wood - and from his own sighting of "a vast number of Country Militia going over the hill with their arms to Lexington." Obviously claims of 600 or 1,000 at Lexington were wrong; and if Sutherland actually saw those "vast numbers" himself they weren't bound for Lexington, where 80 militia members were assembling (and had been in town for some time) on the Green as the British advanced. However, many historians have added "at Lexington" to Revere's warning, and then done admirable jobs defending him for being wrong/bluffing etc. A noble defense on their part, indeed, and often convincingly delivered - but necessitated only by their own previous addition to the history.
Lastly, while Sutherland's other details and numbers didn't fit in the ultimate versions of events offered by those above him, his battlefield intel must have had some effect on British preparations - mental and physical - in the immediate approach to Lexington, and on their subsequent actions through Concord, too. This returns us to that case study bit mentioned above; there are lessons learned there still useful today.
Posted by Greyhawk / July 1, 2011 1:04 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
Furthermore, I will occasionally use satire or parody herein. The bottom line: it's my house.
I like having visitors to my house. I hope you are entertained. I fight for your right to free speech, and am thrilled when you exercise said rights here. Comments and e-mails are welcome, but all such communication is to be assumed to be 1)the original work of any who initiate said communication and 2)the property of the Mudville Gazette, with free use granted thereto for publication in electronic or written form. If you do NOT wish to have your message posted, write "CONFIDENTIAL" in the subject line of your email.
Original content copyright © 2003 - 2011 by Greyhawk. Fair, not-for-profit use of said material by others is encouraged, as long as acknowledgement and credit is given, to include the url of the original source post. Other arrangements can be made as needed.
Contact: greyhawk at mudvillegazette dot com