Thursday, July 23, 2015

4th of July & the American Military

As we pause to celebrate the anniversary of our nation’s independence every July it seems appropriate to consider the vital role played by the American military in the birth of our nation.

Admiral Vernon
AKA "Old Grog"
Long before the 1776 Declaration of Independence Americans were fighting in foreign lands on our behalf.  In 1741, during the War of Jenkins ear, about 3,600 American colonial troops were supporting a British assault on Cartagena in what is now Columbia.  Admiral Edward Vernon of the Royal Navy, nicknamed  “Old Grog”, was the commanding officer of this expedition.  Among the troops was Lawrence Washington, the older half-brother of George.  The assault was not a success but, nevertheless, Lawrence must have spoken highly of his commanding officer to his brother as George would later name his home in Virginia in honor of the English Admiral…Mount Vernon.

American troops supported their mother country by helping to invade French Canada during the Seven Years War (or French and Indian War, 1754–1763). George Washington gained his first military experience fighting in the Ohio Valley in this conflict.  At the battle of Quebec, which took place on September 13, 1759, Wolfe defeated Montcalm, with six companies of American rangers participating alongside British forces in the battle. The French lost Canada to the British.

Tun Tavern
US Marine Corps Museum, Triangle, VA
The United States Marine Corps was famously founded on November 10, 1775 at the Tun tavern in Philadelphia.  The very first American Navy was founded on June 12, 1775 by Rhode Island.  In addition about 1,700 Letters of Marque were issued by the Continental Congress from 1776 on to authorize American merchant ships to capture British shipping.

The American Revolution is often portrayed in rosy-hued colors due to its remoteness and patriotic outcome.  It was, in fact, a horrendously bloody conflict.   This war lasted over eight years -- more than twice as long as American participation in WWII.  Recent scholarship has placed the total number of Americans killed in the American Revolution at around 25,000 which compares to a total US population of the thirteen colonies in 1775 of 2.4 million.  Thus over one percent of the total population of the thirteen colonies were killed over the course the nearly eight and half years of the war’s duration.  Many Americans, for example, died as prisoners of war on English prison hulks.

While significant battles were fought on American soil at places such as Saratoga, Trenton and, of course, Yorktown, American patriots also felt compelled to adopt more aggressive offensive measures.  Britain was, after all, a global superpower of the day with far greater naval, economic and military resources than the thirteen colonies could muster.  American leaders sought to dramatize the cost of the war to Britain by taking the conflict to her shores and possessions.

Letter signed by Benedict Arnold
Camp before Quebec
March 17, 1776
In 1775 American forces invaded British Canada, besieging Quebec.  On March 3, 1776, Commodore Esek Hopkins, in the first amphibious assault in US military history, landed marines and sailors on New Providence Island and managed to seize Fort Nassau in the Bahamas.

John Paul Jones spikes the English Guns
Whitehaven, UK
 In 1778 Captain John Paul Jones, later acclaimed the founder of the American Navy, led a raid on the mother country itself.  American sailors and marines of the sloop Ranger disembarked to launch a raid on Whitehaven in Cumbria.  No one was killed or even injured but a coal ship was burnt.  The British press was outraged that the rebel Americans would dare attack England and insurance rates on shipping soon doubled.  In 1999 the town of Whitehaven officially pardoned John Paul Jones and launched its annual Whitehaven festival!

Whitehaven Pub
Thanks to the courage and sacrifice of those American patriots who served in our military we are able to celebrate the 4th of July.

Christopher Kelly is the co-author of America Invades: How We’ve Invaded or Been Militarily Involved with almost Every Country on Earth.    His next book with Stuart Laycock, Italy Invades: How Italians Conquered the World will be published this fall.

The Los Angeles Daily News was among many publications to run the above editorial...

Thanks LA Daily News and thanks to our vets!

You can now purchase Commander Kelly's 
first book, America Invades or on

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