Letters From Readers March 2007 Military History Magazine

The German View of Alvin York
The German point of view of Corporal Alvin York’s exploits, as recounted in the September 2006 issue, brought more detail and another dimension to the historical facts I learned years ago. Thank you for the time and effort put into the research.

John Rossetti
Delray Beach, Fla.

Judging Castro, Kennedy and Khrushchev
I have long enjoyed Military History magazine, and your November 2006 issue’s article “Inside the Cuban Missile Crisis” held particular interest for me. As interesting as the article was, I was hoping to learn more about Cold War events, such as the United States’ commitments to NATO and Eastern Europe, more international detail of its “containment” policy and why the Soviet Union’s attempt to install missiles in the Western Hemisphere reflected a genuine threat to American national security.

Additionally, the significance of Cuba’s relationship and history with the United States and why it might be in America’s interest to remove Fidel Castro is unexplained. Instead, Peter Kross concentrated on why it was only fair for Nikita Khrushchev to install those weapons, implying that somehow it was not legitimate for the United States to strive for military superiority.

I look forward to my next issue of Military History both for its inherent reading pleasure and for the further pursuit of historical fact.

Doug Schlief
Port Orchard, Wash.

The Greatest American Soldier?
I have been an avid reader of Military History since its first issue. I realize that your style is to present your subject in an approachable and lively fashion, but I must confess my surprise on the lack of scholarship shown in the cover story of your July-August 2006 issue concerning Peter Francisco. It appears that author Michael D. Hull has subscribed to many of the tall tales concerning Francisco.

The most egregious example is Mr. Hull’s reciting as fact the legend that Francisco was part of a forlorn hope hand-picked by “Mad” Anthony Wayne to assault the British fort at Stony Point, N.Y. Hull states that Peter Francisco was the second man to enter the fort, was the first to reach the flagstaff, and that in the morning “Francisco delivered the flag to Lt. Col. François Louis Teissedre de Fleury, a French army engineer fighting for the Americans.”

In fact, it was Fleury who was the first into the fort, followed by Lieutenant Knox and Sergeants Baker, Spencer and Dunlop, and it was Fleury who cut down the British colors with his sword. This is confirmed in Wayne’s dispatch to Washington the day after the battle and Fleury’s own letters shortly thereafter.  Fleury was given a medal by the Continental Congress for his valor, one of only 11 such medals issued by Congress during the Revolutionary War.

It is not credible that Wayne would omit to mention a man he “hand-picked” if in fact he had been among the first in the fort, as Hull contends. While Peter Francisco may have been at Stony Point, since unit lists are incomplete, no eyewitness account of the battle mentions him, and it seems strange that no one noticed a 6-foot-5-inch giant wielding a broad­sword and accomplishing all that Hull ascribes to him.

I am sure that Peter Francisco was a great American, but given his courage and physical appearance, no doubt some of his exploits have been magnified in the telling over the years. However, I expect better from Military History in ascertaining the facts, especially when lack of scholarship deprives a brave man, Lt. Col. Fleury, of his due recognition. Hull also states that 17 members of the forlorn hope at Stony Point were killed, but casualty returns of the battle list a total of 15 Americans killed for all assaulting columns.

Neil F. Cosgrove
New City, N.Y.

Michael D. Hull responds: Sometimes it is hard to tread the thin line between fact and legend because research unearths so many discrepancies. But I think my article on Francisco is about as factual as it could have been. I have no reason to doubt my principal source, William Arthur Moon, author of Peter Francisco, the Portuguese Patriot, when he quotes Captain William Evans as stating that it was Francisco who “was the first man who laid hold of the flagstaff and being badly wounded laid on it that night and in the morning delivered it to Colonel Fleury.”

I hope that Mr. Cosgrove did not misread me as to Francisco’s special 5-foot broadsword. He did not use it at Stony Point. In fact, as I made clear in the article, it was delivered to him on Washington’s order almost two years later.

Moon, who served as state supervisor of the Virginia Historical Inventory Project and headed the Virginia State Library’s Extension Division, did a great deal of
research on Francisco in Virginia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, the Azores and elsewhere. His book, published in 1980 by Colonial Publishers of Pfafftown, N.C., is thoroughly annotated. I also used other resources, including the Virginia Historical Society and the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Nevertheless, I have asked the Library of Congress for a copy of an 1828 letter from Captain Evans to the Virginia General Assembly in Richmond supporting a petition for a pension for Francisco. Evans, according to Moon, served with Francisco “in all the Northern campaigns.”

When I receive a response to my request, I will forward a copy to Mr. Cosgrove. Meanwhile, please rest assured that after many years of freelancing without complaints, and after 51 years as a journalist, I do not take a casual approach to the facts.

In the feature “Blood, Sand and Snow” in the January-February 2007 issue, the caption on P. 29 refers to the “Finnish port of Narvik.” As correctly stated in the text itself, Narvik is in Norway.

Send letters to Military History Editor, World History Group, 741 Miller Drive, SE, Suite D-2, Leesburg, VA 20175, or e-mail to MilitaryHistory@weiderhistorygroup.com. Please include your name, address and telephone number. Letters may be edited.