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Military History - March 2013 - Letters From Readers

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: January 04, 2013 
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From Cincinnati to Paris
Regarding Thomas B. Allen's excellent story on the Society of the Cincinnati [January 2013]: I met French members of this society several years ago in the south of France. I was at the home of a French farmer. Also there, visiting from Paris, were his two young and beautiful sisters and his ancient aunt. They mentioned they had recently attended a Parisian chapter meeting of the Society of the Cincinnati.

With that opening I had to tell my story of being one of the earliest American soldiers at the liberation of Paris in World War II. On that exciting day on the Champs-Élysées I was welcomed by hundreds of local citizens. I related how all the men were pouring wine down me, and all the pretty girls were trying to kiss me. As I talked, I was looking at the two beautiful sisters and dreaming of that great day.

Suddenly, the ancient aunt pounded my back and shouted, "General, I was there! I might have kissed you!"

Later I researched and found the name of the French officer, their ancestor, who had served under General George Washington.

Maj. Gen. Erbon W. Wise
U.S. Army (Ret.)
Sulphur, La.

Superhumans?
In your description of the Nebelwerfer multiple rocket launcher [Power Tool, January, by Jon Guttman] you list "Weight of Shell: 248 pounds." However, you show two soldiers each lifting a shell on their own, one with little or no visible exertion. I know many view the Wehrmacht as superhuman, but this is too far.

Christopher Stanwood
Pitman, N.J.

Editor responds: One of our younger staff members, ironically of German descent, believes he could deadlift a 248-pound shell on his own—but not without visible strain, and certainly not with the speed necessary under combat conditions. We concede your point.

Marion, Yes—But Not Tarleton
I appreciate John A. Lynn's article "League of Gentlemen" in the November 2012 issue. It makes a valid and important argument about the way officers treated their foes. It explains the surprise Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton's forces received at Cowpens when they charged the second American line (Andrew Pickens' militia) and found the Americans were actually aiming at the British officers. This was unheard of in previous European warfare.

I need to expand a little on the illustration [on P. 43] captioned, "Lt. Col. Francis Marion, the 'Swamp Fox,' invites British Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton to a meal of roasted sweet potatoes." The story is lore passed through the ages and recorded by a few historians, some as fact and others as a tale. Few attribute the British officer as Tarleton. Copies of the original painting, done by John Blake White in the 1820s, were engraved by several, including Currier & Ives in 1876. The story usually involves the feeding of an unknown British officer rather than Tarleton, though "Bloody Ban" is selected for the well-fed officer.

It is better explained by Amy Crawford in her article "The Swamp Fox" in the July 1, 2007, issue of Smithsonian:

In early 1781 Revolutionary War militia leader Francis Marion and his men were camping on Snow's Island, South Carolina, when a British officer arrived to discuss a prisoner exchange. As one militiaman recalled years later, a breakfast of sweet potatoes was roasting in the fire, and after the negotiations Marion, known as the Swamp Fox…invited the British soldier to share breakfast. According to a legend that grew out of the much-repeated anecdote, the British officer was so inspired by the Americans' resourcefulness and dedication to the cause—despite their lack of adequate provisions, supplies or proper uniforms—that he promptly switched sides and supported American independence. Around 1820 John Blake White depicted the scene in an oil painting that now hangs in the United States Capitol.

Sometimes it is difficult to keep the true from the anecdotal, and this picture is one of those instances.

William R. Reynolds Jr.
Jefferson, N.C.

The painting in John A. Lynn's article "League of Gentlemen" is based on a legend that the meal was offered to a British officer under a flag of truce. The officer is wearing a red coat and not the green of the British Legion. Tarleton's troops have been mistakenly shown in red before, but Marion's uniform is accurate and detailed, making one believe the artist knew what he was painting. It is doubtful the officer is Tarleton, who would have sent a subordinate on such a mission. If the incident actually happened, the British officer is more likely a member of the 17th Light Dragoons, a troop of which was attached to my namesake's command.

Banastre Tarleton
Columbia, Mo.

Editor responds: To reference an oft-repeated line from the 1962 Western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." Apparently, our source for the caption did just that. We regret reprinting the legend.

Lost Writings
Major Douglas W. Roberts, U.S. Army (Ret.), retells a cliché long overdue for revision when he writes (Letters, November 2012), "History is written by the victors." If Roberts means the winners don't give the losers the opportunity to write their own history, the outpourings of memoirs by Confederate commanders and major Third Reich figures alone certainly invalidate that argument. But we may say, "History is written by the winners about the losers." Many more books have been written about Robert E. Lee than about Ulysses S. Grant, and the fascination with the Third Reich by British and American authors seems inextinguishable.

Stanley Sandler
Spring Lake, N.C.

Jackson Cover
[Re. "On Removing Seminoles," by Ron Soodalter, July:] Great article, but was it tongue-in-cheek humor to put a picture of Andrew Jackson a few weeks before his death from old age on the cover? The poor guy looks like he is waiting for the prunes dessert at the rest home.

Jackson wasn't perfect—even good men are not—but he is ranked by many historians as one of our best presidents. His accomplishments included dissolving the federal bank [at the time], which saved the country economically from what [many people feel] we are experiencing today at the hands of the current Federal Reserve Bank. Jackson was a fiery, energetic, multiple-war hero considered a man of integrity by many of his contemporaries. Surely there are better depictions of him available than the one shown on the cover.

Steve Shields
Carrollton, Texas

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