Posts Tagged ‘South Carolina’

The French Revolution, which began with the 1790s, was seen by many American citizens as a chance for another country to throw off the shackles of tyranny.  After all, the Colonies had, in the previous decade, successfully removed British control.  The idea of the French doing the same had big appeal in the Colonies-turned-States.

But as we know, this upheaval quickly turned from “Revolution” to “Reign of Terror”, and fall of the guillotine’s blade became more common than sunrise and sunset in France.  Thousands of the nation’s leaders were slaughtered and tens of thousands of its civilians massacred in a display of countryman-against-countryman butchery that has been rarely duplicated in history.

King Louis XVI was beheaded in January 1793, his head and body stuffed in a basket, then eventually buried in a box.  One executioner began an impromptu business, selling bits of the King’s hair and clothing, as schoolboys cheered and licked the King’s blood.  Make no mistake, the American Revolution was about freedom, and the French Revolution was a disgusting display of man’s basest inhumanity and brutality.

England watched from across the Channel in horror.  William Pitt the Younger called the King’s execution “the foulest and most atrocious act the world has ever seen.”  France’s response?…a declaration of war on February 1.  News travelled slowly back then, and word of war didn’t arrive in America until early April, but it was immediately felt in the States, as pro-British and pro-French elements took their sides and waited for the government to make its position known.  President Washington very quickly (and very wisely, in my opinion) acted and, in April, offered up the Proclamation of Neutrality.  America would not take any side.

But in between the arrival of the news of war and the government’s decision to remain neutral, there was another arrival…this one in Charleston, South Carolina.  On April 8, 1793, the French Minister to the United States arrived aboard the frigate Embuscade.  His name?…Edmund Charles Genet.  But, as Chernow writes, “he would be known to history, in the fraternal style popularized by the French Revolution, as Citizen Genet.

For those with British sympathies, Genet was their worst nightmare.  For anyone siding with the French, here was a man to greet with effusive praise and much regailment.  Genet’s pomp and arrogance not only made him an incredibly polarizing figure, it also meant he was “all the news” for a while.  And that made it easier for the Frenchman to move about and peddle his influence, for Citizen Genet didn’t come to America to escape the Reign of Terror.  This man had an agenda.

And over the course of the next year or so, his disregard for American authority and American foreign policy, which under most circumstances was likely treated as sedition, would cause no end of trouble.

We’ll check back in on Citizen Genet again…trust me.

Recommended Reading: Alexander Hamilton

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The struggle to get here and put anything in print continues.  But there is light at the end of this tunnel, and things are starting to lighten up.  Activity around this place should pick up in the week or two.  I’ll keep things brief tonight, just because I’m a bit out of practice.

On March 19, 1863, a ship was lost off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina.  On March 19, 1965, a shipwreck was discovered.  It’s location was also off the coast of South Carolina.

And as you might guess, the ship lost and the ship found was one and the same.  The CSS Georgiana was a small vessel by today’s standards.  But by Civil War standards, she was a good size at 226 feet long and displacing more than 400 tons.  She was also iron-hulled, built for speed, and packed a considerable punch.  She was outfitted as a cruiser and given the job of raiding Union merchant shipping.

Unfortunately (for the Georgiana and the Confederates, not the Union), she never really got the opportunity to carry out her mission.  She ran afoul of the Federal Blockading Squadron which was guarding the seaward approaches to Charleston.  Sustaining heavy damage, Captain Davidson ordered the Georgiana abandoned, at which point she was scuttled in shallow water and subsequently burned by Union forces.

Fast forward exactly 102 years, when eighteen-year-old budding archeologist E. Lee Spence found the CSS Georgiana lying in just 5 feet of water.  He was soon the president of his own salvage company and beginning the process of removing cargo from sunken ship’s hold.  And according to the various sources I’ve looked through, Spence has recovered artifacts and cargo worth nearly $12 million.  But so far, none of the gold bullion rumored to be on board has been recovered or found…worth another $12 million or so.

I’ve been poking around looking for a photo or drawing or sketch of the Georgiana, but so far nothing.  If anyone can point me to one, that would be great!!

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Camden, South Carolina may not be a place that’s familiar to you, and that’s ok, because I’ve never been there, either.  But, like nearly every other town in existance, the World Wide Web provides us with an instant connection.  Displaying typical southern charm and called home by roughly 7,000 people, Camden is one of South Carolina’s oldest cities and appears to have a rich history.

Of course, not all the history is so great, at least for Americans.  Take this little nugget as an example…

In Revolutionary history, Camden (well, actually a battlefield just to the north of the city) is home to the Battle of Camden.  Fought on August 16, 1780, it was the worst Continental Army defeat in the entire war.  Think on that for just a minute…

In a series of conflicts spanning 7 or 8 years (depending on where you put the starting and ending points of the Revolution), the Continental Army suffered numerous defeats…we’ve talked about several.  Fort Washington and New York in the north, Richmond and Savannah in the south.  And there were smaller places in between.  Savannah fell with barely a shot fired.

So what makes Camden so embarrassingly special?  That’s a multi-part answer.  First, General Horatio Gates’ Continental forces significantly outnumbered (by nearly two-to-one) their Redcoat counterparts (led by the famous Cornwallis) in both men and cannon.  In addition, Gates was a former British officer, well-versed in British tactics and battlefield strategy.

But advantages like this mean little when the General made mistakes that nullified them.  Though he knew British formations well, he lined up some of his most inexperienced men opposite the most experienced British troops.  He was fighting in an area that was heavily loyal to the British, which meant getting fresh food and supplies from locals was, in the best case, problematic.  And that lack of good food and water led to sickness and disease, which compromised the power of his fighting force.  These were not the kinds of mistakes a leader of Gates’ caliber should be making…or were they?

Maybe Gates wasn’t nearly the General he thought he was.  Sure, there was the miracle of Saratoga a couple of years back, but unlike commanders who learn by placing their experience within a proper context, Gates learned that American troops were simply better than the British.  This was just clearly wrong, as copious amounts of battlefield testimony would have verified.

He may have been the big loser at Yorktown, but Charles Cornwallis was a brilliant tactician, and Gates was overmatched.  And that became apparent after the first volley at Camden.  The right flank simply disintegrated and men turned and fled the field.  The one militia to hold its ground (800 men from North Carolina) offered up stiff resistance, but with most other men heading for cover, they were badly outnumbered.

In one hour, the Continental Army (again, with a two-to-one advantage in men) had been trounced.  Killed and wounded totaled 900, with another 1,000 captured…half the original force…in one hour.  In addition, the Continental Army lost all 7 cannon and most of their supplies.  The British?…less than 70 killed and less than 250 wounded.

The disaster that was the Battle of Camden was the end of the line for General Horatio Gates.  He was stripped of his command, and just narrowly avoided a court-martial.

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Today’s History Lesson is likely to be brief.  Well, as brief as a name like Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier will allow.  Every time I wrote the name Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, it’d be like adding another paragraph to the piece.  So I’ll just use his title and, once I do that, not only will the lesson maintain its brevity, the person behind the name will probably become more familiar.

The Marquis de LaFayette.

Remember him from the American Revolution?  The Frenchman’s participation in our War for Independence was the product of some “cloak-and-dagger” action.  In December of 1776, Silas Deane (an envoy from the Colonies to France) had struck a deal with de LaFayette to lend his military expertise to America’s fight for freedom.

But things got complicated.  King Louis XVI, whose was already in a bad way with the British, was concerned about further angering King George.  So he forbade the 19-year-old military man from leaving the country, and ordered him to join his father-in-law’s regiment.  LaFayette tried to leave anyway…and was preparing his own ship for departure (the Colonies were too poor to even pay for his transit), when the police swept in to arrest him.

LaFayette disguised himself as a tourist.  Not actually, but he tried to make himself look as much like an innocuous courier as possible.  He eluded capture and made his way to Spain.  From there he set sail for America, where the next drama unfolded.

The ship he boarded had to stop in the West Indies to sell cargo, and LaFayette, facing arrest there, simply purchased the ship’s cargo, and ordered it delivered to the Colonies.

On June 13, 1777, the Marquis de LaFayette stepped onto American soil in South Carolina.  He would journey north, join Washington’s army, endure Valley Forge, and serve with distinction in the Continental Army.

We’re sure to discuss this man again.

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