Friday, November 25, 2011

Eliot A. Cohen's "Conquered into Liberty"

Eliot Cohen is Robert E. Osgood Professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). He directs the strategic studies program at SAIS and the Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies, which he founded. His books include the prize-winning Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime (2002), Commandos and Politicians (1978), and Citizens and Soldiers (1985).

Cohen applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Conquered into Liberty: Two Centuries of Battles along the Great Warpath that Made the American Way of War, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Conquered into Liberty falls at the beginning of Chapter Four, “Fort Carillon, 1758,” which deals with the disastrous assault by an Anglo-American army nearly 15,000 strong commanded by General James Abercromby against a French garrison barely a fifth that size at what is now Fort Ticonderoga.

The book itself explores the roots of the American way of war in nearly two centuries of conflict with Canada; it does so by looking at eight battles and half a dozen ‘phantom campaigns’, from the burning of Schenectady in 1690 through a Confederate raid on St. Albans, Vermont in 1864. In each case I describe the fight, set it in a larger strategic context, and conclude by tracing the longer term consequences of the battle, down to the present day.

Page 99 sets the strategic picture (“The mood in Paris was far less resolute: Louis XV and his court faced two questions: what expense was Canada worth, and what, practically, could be done?”). The chapter begins, however, with a depiction of the actual assault, as seen by soldiers of the 42nd of Foot, the famed Scottish Black Watch.
Three times their commander ordered them to withdraw and three times they ignored him, one officer of the Fifty-fifth marveling that the Black Watch appeared like roaring lions breaking from their chains.  Canadian militia and colonial infantry attacked their flank, but the Scots brushed them off and continued to plunge into the dense growth. They got close to the French soldiers, barely visible in the greenery and smoke, who manned firing positions and picked them off, the Frenchmen passing loaded muskets to the marksmen on the wall. Some of the Highlanders even crossed over the barrier, but the French reserves, held for such a moment, counterattacked, and bayoneted the few who did.
The assault was a debacle but it did not save New France from the British armies that conquered her in 1759. The larger import of this campaign, however, was considerable: the American troops who made up the bulk of Abercromby’s forces learned a lot about the mundane business of organizing, training, moving and supplying armies. They also learned a great deal about the fallibility of British leadership, and less than twenty years later, those lessons mattered. “Unwittingly, along the Great Warpath and elsewhere the British army had trained its opponents in the next great American war.”
Learn more about the book and author at Eliot A. Cohen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue