07 November 2010

Hey Adam: This is court intrigue!

In our recent piece for Small Wars Journal, Adam Elkus and I (or rather, Elkus-Burke) alluded to the court intrigues of the past, often involving the press, between politicians and combatant commanders not unlike the recent scandal involving General Stanley McChrystal and Rolling Stone Magazine.

We noted that political infighting among generals and politicians, with mainstream media serving as the battlefield, is hardly new. As we were writing the piece, Adam astutely noted the example of General Ulysses S. Grant's frequent bouts with the press.

However, on my long trans-Atlantic flight yesterday, I encountered an even better example of court intrigue dating back to the American Revolution in Piers Mackesy's The War for America. It appears that the American colonists were greatly empowered due to the fact that senior British officers of the day were so drama-prone, they resembled not so much Wellington and Nelson, but rather, Lauren Conrad and Nicole "Snooki" Palozzi.

Oh yeah, I di-id.

"You spent months trying to sink Benedict Arnold's fleet of rowboats?"

This is no exaggeration, either. The Battle of Saratoga, seen as one of the most crucial battles of the American Revolution, was lost, in no small part, due to General Sir Guy Carleton's refusal to send any assistance from Canada south through Lake George and the Hudson River valley to General John Burgoyne.


Forces under General Carleton, pursuing Benedict Arnold (at the time one of us Yanks) delayed for months while constructing a fleet large enough to finally clear Arnold's ragtag boats from Lake Champlain. But as in so many insurgencies, while Carleton's forces were victorious, the insurgent army was allowed to escape and survive, keeping the flame of rebellion alive.

General Burgoyne, one of Carleton's rivals, seized the opportunity to wrest control of the American campaign from Carleton, relegating Carleton to a remote outpost in Canada. When Burgoyne's forces were being pressed by Colonial regulars and militiamen, Carleton selectively interpreted his instructions in such a manner that he would not be forced to assist Burgoyne, giving the Colonists one of the largest victories of the war. Unity of command, one of the all-important principles of war, was non-existent, not only in a physical sense (the lines of communication between Canada and New York were blocked by both terrain and the Colonists), but also in a political-military sense as well.

Carleton resigned his post after the fighting season, though, strangely enough, in response to a feud with Lord George Germain.

This, of course, pales in comparison to a feud between two naval officers, Admiral Augustus Keppel and Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser, over blame for a less than satisfactory outcome during the Battle of Ushant. Both parties blasted one another in the press, and the tendency of senior naval officers to have significant influence in Parliament brought the feud into the political sphere.

When the dust had settled, Keppel was found guilty at a court-martial, and Palliser was the subject of a formal inquiry. Keppel's verdict sparked riots in London, and massive factional infighting among the ranks, leading to the resignation of several captains--including every naval division commander. One British officer, Admiral Sir Robert Harland, remarked that he refused to "serve with or command men high in rank who differ so much in opinion with me on the great points of naval discipline". Tensions were so high that the HMS Victory and HMS Formidable, flagships of Keppel and Palliser, were docked in separate berths, for fear of a confrontation between her crews.

Hey, this actually sounds like Fort Bragg in the 1970s...

1 comment:

Joseph Fouche said...

It's fitting that "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne was also a successful playwright:

"On his time Burgoyne was a notable playwright, writing a number of popular plays. The most notable were The Maid of the Oaks and The Heiress. He assisted Richard Brinsley Sheridan in his production of The Camp. Had it not been for his role in the American War of Independence, Burgoyne would most likely be foremost remembered today as a dramatist."

This is somewhat ironic given that he lost control of the narrative at Saratoga: