Week Ten: Chapter Ten “In Pursuit of Wild Pigs” pg. 185-210 Hilaritas editionBy Gregory Arnott
Special guest blotter
Our penultimate chapter covers three years and concludes the American Revolution narrative in the novel. Through the lens of Seamus Muadhen’s experience we are provided with decently accurate accounts of the historical record of those three years. Looking into some of the events mentioned in this novel I found that much of Seamus’ descriptions come from the memoirs of Joseph Plumb Martin, whose words on Washington’s marches are directly quoted on pg. 186. Wilson deserves more credit than he has been given for going back to first hand sources; while those sources occasionally enjoy a dubious credibility, it is generally accepted as a good practice.
Seamus might be wrong about the Colonial Army being the first “bare-arsed” army in history. It is sometimes accounted, although this might be apocryphal, that dysentery was so rampant amongst the fleeing English army that by the time they made their stand against the French at the funnel-abattoir that was Agincourt, many of the longbowmen fought without breeches. Shitting and shooting. I’m sure RAW would have appreciated the parallel.
Washington’s failed attack on Staten Island is reflective of the model modern major general’s fixation on New York since the beginning of the conflict. After his defeat in Brooklyn, the British pretty much had New York City as their base of operations for the duration of the War. Washington actually wanted to focus the campaign that led to Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown on retaking New York from the British.
The Dark Day of 1780 did cause a lot of hubbub amongst the Continental armies and the people of New England. (Seamus’ recollection of the cock’s crowing and whippoorwill songs is taken directly from Joseph Plumb Martin’s journals.) The incident did garner one bon mot for the historical record when Abraham Davenport, a member of the Connecticut Senate, said to his colleagues, who wanted to adjourn over fear of it being Judgement Day:
“I am against adjournment. The day of judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for an adjournment; if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish therefore that candles may be brought.”
His remark reminds me of a bumper sticker an uncle bought for me Christmases ago: “Jesus is Coming: Quick! Look busy!”
New England’s Dark Day is actually surmised to have been caused by forest fires that were raging in Ontario. Atmospheric effects before and after the Dark Day, the sun and moon having a reddish hue for example, are typical in such events. While West Virginia was not in the path of the recent dust plume, it is worth pointing out that much of the Southern United States just experienced hazy skies and fantastic sunsets due to dust from the Sahara Desert migrating across the Atlantic. The effects in the Caribbean were even more dramatic.
The Battle of Yorktown was even more fantastically awful than Seamus’ account indicates. Washington is recorded as having struck the first strike of the pickaxe at the beginning of the trench digging, although I couldn’t find anything about him striking three times. It is plausible, and I prefer to believe he did did did. Cornwallis had holed up in Yorktown and had sunk dozens of his own ships to block hostile naval access at the mouth of the York River. After this order he had all of the horses that couldn’t be fed over the course of a siege slaughtered and cast into the river. However, the tides swept the corpses back to shore so there was an overwhelming smell of decay in the air. And it rained and rained. Seamus’ complaints about the precipitation during the war are 100% accurate.
Joseph Plumb Martin’s memoirs also seem to provide some of the details for Seamus’ experience. Like Seamus, Martin was involved in various charges and taking of redoubts; his company cleared the way for Alexander Hamilton’s vaunted taking of a British redoubt. It is generally argued now that Cornwallis’ playing of “The World Turned Upside Down” was a detail added a year after the end of the Siege of Yorktown. However, this is one of those dubious facts that I choose to believe in myself.
And we end with Seamus Moon sailing back to Ireland to take up a new struggle against the goddamned British. And, since we are nearing the end of RAW’s final novel, we are left to wonder what he might have gotten up to forevermore.
From Eric: “A soundtrack for an unwritten sequel.”