Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, December 13, 2019 3:35 pm

A pep talk when the good guys badly need one

My friend Dan Conover posted something on Facebook Thursday that was so good that, with his permission, I’m sharing it. I’ll have a minor footnote of my own at the end.

* * *

The news is awful these days. Or should I say, the Republican *response* to the news is awful. Grinds the soul. Shreds hope. And the natural reaction is to retreat into pessimism. After all, what can we do?

Well, here’s a pep talk from history, and it’s as much for me as you.

On March 15, 1781, a fragile and reconstituted American Army under General Nathaniel Greene — a Quaker — finally turned to fight a pursuing British Army commanded by Lord Cornwallis at a place called Guilford Courthouse.

Greene’s army outnumbered Cornwallis’ redcoats, but that barely concerned the British commander. His army was comprised of battle-hardened professionals. The bulk of Greene’s force were simple militiamen. Locals with no experience or training. The kind of unreliable amateur fighters Cornwallis had routed time and again in the South.

How would such men stand up to cannon fire and bayonet charges in a major battle?

Greene, who understood both the limitations and the value of his militiamen, deployed them as the first defensive line the British would encounter. Before the battle commenced, he visited those nervous citizen soldiers, and gave them simple instructions: Hit the enemy hard once once or twice, then run like hell.

When I was a kid visiting the battleground in Greensboro, N.C., I felt disappointed to read that plaque. Reports that many of the militia fled the field after just one volley didn’t exactly fill me with Tar Heel pride in those days.

Now I understand Greene’s wisdom. He knew untrained irregulars under untested leadership couldn’t be counted on to hold up through the prolonged chaos of battle. But he also knew that he couldn’t win without them. That’s why he put them up front and kept things simple. Hit the Redcoats one good lick.

And brother, did they.

Cornwallis sent his best, most veteran infantry unit marching across the field toward that Carolina militia, bayonets affixed to enormous Brown Bess muskets. Just the sight of the Empire’s fearsome soldiers had sent previous backwoods militias running for home.

But those untrained Tar Heels stood their ground until the enemy was right in front of them — and unleashed a devastating 1,500-gun volley. An officer in the Scottish infantry unit that received that volley, the 71st Regiment of Foot, later described how it mowed down half of his proud Highlanders in an instant.

Some of those Carolina farmers ran off after that. Others stuck around to reload and try again. Some stood their ground and died on it.

But they did the job that was needed. And it mattered.

By the time the advancing Redcoats reached Greene’s Continental regulars, the British casualties were so high, and their tactical situation was so dire, that Cornwallis did the unthinkable. He ordered his cannon to fire, point blank, into the hand-to-hand melee in front of him.

Again, Greene was wise. Rather than have his precious Continentals cut to shreds by cannon, he ordered a retreat. Cornwallis slaughtered as many of his troops as ours with that order, but that’s why history records Guilford Courthouse as a British victory.

A truly Pyrrhic victory. Modern historians consider Guilford Courthouse to be the decisive battle of the Southern Campaign — and the singular disaster that forced Cornwallis to Yorktown, where his surrender to General George Washington seven months later effectively ended the American Revolution.

Like the militiamen of 1781, we don’t have to be superheroes. We don’t have to win every battle. We just have to show up when it counts, and do the job.

And we’ve been doing it, too. Instead of shrinking from the clear and present danger last year, we showed up in force in November 2018. That’s how we won back the House of Representatives, and our votes 13 months ago are why Trump’s Ukraine treason is bound for an impeachment trial in the Senate.

Sure, Trump’s base still doesn’t get it. But there were plenty of Lindsey Graham-ish Tories in the Carolinas during the Revolutionary War, too. They were on the wrong side then. They’re on the wrong side now. Fuck ’em. March on.

And no, we’re not likely to remove Trump from office in the Republican Senate. But so what if Trump wins a sham trial in that McConnell-controlled chamber? As British politician Charles James Fox wrote after learning of Cornwallis’ “win” at Guilford Courthouse, “Another such victory would ruin the British Army!”

It’s not going to be easy between now and the election. Our enemies know they’re outnumbered, which means they’re going to pull every dirty trick they know to break our morale and keep us away from the polls on Nov. 3, 2020.

Our side is going to make mistakes, too. It’s nature of conflict. Get your mind right for it.

But if we show up and vote when it counts? Like those nervous North Carolina farmers taking their one shot in 1781, we’ll make history.

Don’t we owe them that?

* * *

Lex again. I have lived in Greensboro for more than 30 years. Not only have I visited the battleground site numerous times, as a reporter I covered the commemoration of the battle more than once. Yet never before has anyone explained to me how and why the Continental troops achieved what they did as well as Dan has. Thanks, pal.

 

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: