Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Off the shelf...

Currently, I'm reading White Devil: A True Story of War, Savagery And Vengeance in Colonial America. I saw it at McKay's and thought "Friend Jenn would want me to read that," and so I bought it and put it on the To Read pile at home.

What an ugly little war was fought in the backwoods of New England! (And what an ugly little war in command tents, headquarters, state houses, and the editorial pages of nascent American newspapers...)

What's shockingly familiar is the whole "Big Army vs. SpecOps" fight between the established line regiments and the overpaid, underdisciplined colonial rangers, where a private made double the daily wages of his line counterpart, was frequently AWOL, and knew that if he got busted for something, his buddies would take axes to the flogging post. There's even an incident where a garrison commander complains about the attached ranger company's incessant target practice being a waste of ammunition.

If I ever get back up New Hamster way, I've got a new list of places I want to see...


Jay G said...

If you ever?

I thought you were coming to the Fifth Annual Northeast Bloggershoot?


Anonymous said...

Y'know, I could come to be irritated with your frequent mention of McKay's. Most of us aren't anywhere near someplace like that, and for readaholics, not having A Used Book Mecca nearby is among life's unpleasantnesses.

Last summer I visited a friend in Manassas, VA and driving to dinner discovered a McKay's in the old Dart Drug location on Rte 234 (which, oddly, doesn't show as a location on the McKay's web site???). Anyway, a couple of hours and a few hundred dollars later I filled the trunk with lots of bound words, the last of which I just finished. I'm now going through withdrawal.

Amazon is great, and I appreciate the combination of Prime and The Brown Truck of Happiness, but on the dollars/word ratio, McKay's is tough to beat.

As Glenn says, "more, please, and faster."

Firehand said...

I wish I could remember the book I read about ten years back on the subject of the War Department and development of new weapons; repeatedly you had the people in charge opposing just about EVERY advance because "It will cause the troops to waste ammo." Conservation of ammo apparently being of more concern than, say, winning a war.

Firehand said...

The other side, of course, being the kind of idiocy the Brit high command displayed going into WWI: "Yes, these machine guns are all very interesting, but nothing to get concerned about, what?"

mikee said...

It wasn't just the Colonials who thought "waste not, want not" beat out "aim small, miss small" in the 18th and early 19th Centuries.

Pat O'Brian's novels of the British Navy in Napoleonic times also shows repeatedly the absurd notions of the Admiralty that canon practice aboard ship should be limited to miming the actions of firing and reloading, without wasting all that precious powder and iron by actually, you know, firing the canon on a ship. British sailors apparently could overcome their lack of skill in using their weapons by their moral superiority over the French, Spanish, Dutch, Americans and others.

Various means of overcoming this lack of powder for target practice included ships' captains buying their own powder for practice, taking powder from captures (on the basis that the casks were perhaps leaking, under the guise of safe powder handling), finding a relatively safe target that could be bombarded with less than suicidal risk, like a rural battery on the French shore, and of course celebrating the birthdays of the Royal Family with "salutes" fired under battle conditions, down to the most distant relations of His Majesty.

Ed Foster said...

Something about tit and tat. I've never been one for white guilt, as I figure all history up until the early 19th century was tribal, with competing groups wandering around, each trying to better their lot at the expense of rivals.

A totally biological anology, with antibody squirting cells evolving in constant combat with other entities doing the same thing.

Some groups were better at it than others, due, I would imagine, to having evolved culturally in tougher climes and times. Some were also a tad more merciful.

Lose a battle with European settlers and they would usually put you on a reservation and try to Christianize you.

Lose a battle to Aztecs or Anasazi and you ended up in the stewpot.

The Han Chinese expansion destroyed more races, cultures, and languages by far than any other similar "Volkwanderung", but nobody beats up on Mr. Cheng down the the Heavenly Seasons Restaurant because of what his great-great-grandpappy did to some blue-eyed Tocharian or Scythian Yue-Chi.

Most of the "Indians" who died after the European discovery of America did so due to lack of resistance to Eurasian diseases, so any visitation from that part of the world capable of reaching America by sea would have had about the same effects, even if it had consisted of nothing more than hippie missionaries.

Here in Southern New England, the Indians discovered the easiest way to ensure the survival of their tribes in the new germy environment. They found that kidnapping large numbers of white women and children produced a mixed race people who had a chance to prosper under the new biological rules.

The Student Prince is possibly the best German restaurant in the world. It's certainly the most beautiful, is built in downtown Springfield Mass, and referred to by the locals as "The Fort", because it's where the few survivors of the massacre and destruction of the rest of Springfield held out in a desperate fight until Appleton's militia fought through to them and saved their bacon.

King Phillip's War gutted about every town in the Connecticut River Valley, and set up the foundations of the American Revolution. The settlers fought and won it on their own, in a desperate struggle, with virtually no help from the "Mother Country".

Oddly enough, it also formed the origin of what is called "Swamp Yankees", our local, rather ballsy "White Trash", an absolutely enjoyable bunch of people who have an almost gypsiesque disregard for silly little things like laws they don't agree with.

Most of the Christianized Indians fought alongside the colonists, and would have been quickly disposed of if they had been forced onto a reservation with other tribes.

Instead, they intermarried with the Cockney and Irish underclasses, with the occasional runaway slave here and there.

Some have worked their way up the ladder, made money, and gone Episcopalian. But most of them are still found in small houses out in the woods, and tend their lobster pots and fields when they can't get any other work.

When somebody around here gets caught poaching deer out of season, it's usually a skinny brunette with a long nose and one of a dozen or so names. But they don't get caught all that much, because the State Police aren't as good as the Swampies in the woods, and the local cop is usually their cousin.

Cocky, touchy, independent pricks. You have to love them. So maybe the story had a happy ending after all, with all the players passing on something of themselves.

Lewis said...

And that, my friends, is why we love Ed Foster.

Just the other day I had noticed that had finally put up epub versions of Henryk Sienkiewicz' trilogy (With Fire and Sword, the Deluge, and Pan Michael, aka Col Wolodowyjowski), so I downloaded them and got to reading, and I was on page 58 of 708 of With Fire and Sword when the Polish nobility started a'sneering at the "white trash" Cossacks. Now, I'm not a redneck myself, more the shame, but I'm not too far away from it, and somehow the haughty Poles got my back up and I wasted a couple of hours listening to Johnny Cash and Steve Earle and John Hiatt ("Damn this town"), and concluded, although I didn't have Ed's words to hand, that "cocky, touchy, independent pricks" are vastly underrated in this world, and that for all our pretensions and posturing, they're probably the guys waking up with M4s and M16A4s ever day.

But, uh, I finally started reading "With Fire and Sword" again.

WV: Ingshess. The Inghsess is coming, the Ingshess is coming!

Stretch said...

Ed, My in-law live in the Fla. panhandle. Not natives but their neighbors sound a whole lot like "Swamp Yankees." Of course they've real swamps.
Jeff Foxworthy is right: "Redneck" isn't about geography.

One of my favorite "Annoy a liberal" games is to ask a Liberal; "What 3rd world country is better of under self rule?" It's a damn short list and exclusively (I believe) one of former British colonies.

Borepatch said...

Sudbury, MA (where we used to live) is worth a detour (in't in the Boston 'burbs). The militia there broke the back of King Phillip's warriors in 1680 or so. They all died to a man, but they saved the town and the frontier.

Largest loss of life in any war during Sudbury's history.

There's quite a lot about Massachusetts that I didn't like during our exile there, but the history is a delight.

Tam said...


Sadly, that would involve setting foot in Massachusetts, which I wouldn't do even if I'd accidentally dropped a hundred-dollar bill and it blew over the state line.

Kristopher said...

And those same rangers and their friends and relatives annihilated the army that tried to march south from Canada to relieve NY during the American Revolution.

Men, women, and kids, all with cannon and firearms they had been incessantly wasting ammo on.

Kristopher said...

Ed: a lot of those "kidnapped" white women went voluntarily.

The five civilized tribes were rather matriarchal in hierarchy, and they probably got a much better deal there.

russell1200 said...


King Philip's War was won by the Governor of New York who sent over his Mohawk allies to scare the local indians to death. It worked very well. It is also an incident that the MA historians often do not make much note of - treating it as something of an afterthought.

At the same time King Philips war was going on, Bacon's Rebellion was going on in VA. It is the two of them combined that helped bring on the 1775 revolt by the counter-intuitive result of bringing more direct English control over the colonies.

staghounds said...

Might I also recommend "The White", by Deborah Larsen.

When I lived in Connecticut, it was always a bit of a nostalgic back down South feeling to unexpectedly stumble upon untended monuments of war, even if the dates were 200 years too early.

Bram said...

I will definitely read.

"Swamp Yankees" - We just called them "Townies" when I was growing up in New England. Ed is right - they have a casual yet complete disregard for laws they don't like from busy-bodies in Boston and Hartford.

Bram said...

"Men hang out their signs indicative of their respective trades.

Shoemakers hang out a gigantic shoe;

jewelers, a monster watch;

even a dentist hangs out a gold tooth;

but up in the Franconia Mountains God Almighty has hung out a sign to show that in New England He makes men."

- Daniel Webster

Goober said...

The "aim small, miss small" tactic of infantry warfare has always won out. I can't think of a single time in all of infantry history where the group that was trained to take a bit more time and make their shot count lost out over the "volume of fire" guys who were afraid to waste ammo on practice.

Even to this day, you have a startling difference in the shot-per-kill ratio between the Marines and the Army. The reason? I've heard that the Marines teach marksmanship and emphasize it from the first day of training, whereas the army is still more or less on the old vietnam era paradigm of "volume of fire" and "fire superiority" being more important than fire effectiveness.

The British in the revolutionary war had a lot more guns thatn we did, and their guns reloaded and fired a whole lot faster than ours (smoothbore muskets are very fast to reload). But we still won, and we did so in no small part due to "aim small, miss small."

BGMiller said...

Dammit all.....

Just about every time you post about some book you've read my poor wallet gets savaged. I dare say you've cost me more in the last year than those thieving bastards on the Potomac.

At least I'll have some over time to close out February.


Drang said...

I am so glad Martin Luther King County has a great library system. At least once a week Tam or Bobbi or maybe Glenn Reynolds will post aboutt a book...

Sigman said...

We had a pretty ugly little war of our own here on the Southern frontier from the 1760s until the1800s. We white fought the Indians, British and Indians, and the Indians (again). Being Indian fighters made John Sevier and Andy Jackson famous.

Bram said...

Goober - You are correct (I've been in both services). Marines emphasize relatively slow, very accurate fire from long distances. They really drive home basics like good shooting positions, breathing, and trigger pull.

The Army is all about fast shorter range shooting. Maybe more a useful style in an urban battle, useless in the open desert and mountains.