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A Deputy FOIA’d His Own Department’s Complaints. Here’s What He Learned

thin_blue_lineYou know that, “Thin Blue Line of Silence”? The term that generally enrages the living daylights out of our cop friends, because (1) they’re absolutely ready to throw a crooked or out-of-control cop off the force, and (2) they also know that every complaint is investigated, no matter how frivolous. Despite the fact that cops often seem to be handled gently by internal investigations (kind of like the way the bar association acts as enabler for corrupt lawyers), Matt, a career officer, knew that in his department, an out-of-line deputy was a lot more likely to be stopped by a fellow deputy. He FOIA’d the statistics that he thought would prove that, as he said, “the ‘cops don’t rat on other cops’ line is nothing but hogwash.” Sure, he admits, that has happened at times, but he resents the hell out of the idea that all cops do it.

And the numbers, which he published at The Bang Switch, seem to back him up.

In an effort to spread the truth, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to my own department regarding internal affairs complaints.  What I specifically requested was, for the last five (5) years, the number of complaints and whether or not they were substantiated.  But beyond those simple numbers, I asked to have the numbers split between public complaints filed and those filed internally, you know, the cops who always cover for dirty cops.

Here are the raw numbers, in a graphic:

If you were to look at just the statistics from public complaints, it would most certainly look like we were protecting our own due to the massive percentage of unsubstantiated complaints (98%).   It would still somewhat have that appearance if you were to just look at the total number of complaints as a whole (16%).  However, what I find most interesting is not only the number of internal complaints, but the significantly higher percentage of those complaints being substantiated.  Internal affairs complaints, filed by other deputies occurred an average of 1/3 as often as complaints filed by the public, yet they have a 2,500% better chance of being substantiated (50% substantiated for internal complaints vs. 2% for public complaints).

via That “Blue Code Of Silence”, That’s Not… | The Bang Switch.

To us, the most telling thing is not that the internal complaints were more likely to be substantiated — there could be many reasons for this. For example, conduct might have to be worse to motivate cops to file a complaint rather than try to resolve it face-to-face with a brother officer, compared to conduct that would motivate a civilian to file. And officers, unlike civilians, face consequences for a false or fabricated complaint. These consequences can be informal but serious (getting known as that guy in the department) or formal and serious (criminal charges, and/or dismissal). No, to us the most interesting details were that:

  1. The amount of complaints stayed fairly steady over five years;
  2. Internal complaints came in at a rate of 1/4 to 1/3 of overall complaints — many more than we would expect;
  3. The percentage of complaints sustained had relatively small variability year-on-year (excluding incomplete 2014).

You could consider it just a part of the job, if you ran that department: “Every year, we’re going to get a couple hundred of complaints from civilians and 50-80 complaints in-house — a few of the civilian complaints will point to our problem children, but half or more of the in-house complaints will.”

Just because someone filed a complaint, of course, doesn’t mean anything actually happened. Some criminals routinely file police brutality complaints, and some ministers and community organizers dealing with criminal communities encourage this. Prisoners in jails and houses of corrections have time on their hands and frequently listen to cellblock lawyers and jailhouse rumors promoting legal urban legends, generating a steady stream of invalid and frivolous complaints. Yet all these have to be investigated… just because a guy is a liar and convict, doesn’t mean he has lost all his rights.

With Apologies to Edgar Allan Snow

The Snow

SEE the silent flakes of snow,
Pretty snow!
What a world of misery is here until they go!
How they fall, fall, fall,
From the cold, forbidding sky!
And they cast their chilling pall
On field and forest, lake, stone wall
Forming drifts that overlie;
Falling down, down, down,
On our hibernating town,
To accumulumulation that does miserably grow
   From the snow, snow, snow, snow,
       Snow, snow, snow —
From the frosting and the freezing of the snow.

Good News and Bad News

First, The Bad News:

We’re running way behind on posts. Not sure why. Call it Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is med-speak for “winters tend to suck in the higher-numbered latitudes.” There’s also some real work, some stories that take more development, and a story that you may have heard (of an SF officer whose valor award was pulled by the vindictive Secretary of the Army, one John McHugh, who not only never served in the military but has never held a real job). We’re working that last story and, in a phrase some of you may recognize, developing the situation.

Now, The Good News:

arvn_flag_south_vietnamAs part of the campaign for an Academy Award for its Producer and Director, TODAY ONLY you can see the Oscar-nominated documentary, Last Days in Vietnam, for free at this link.

It’s fair to say that it’s not as bad as we feared. We’d rather it didn’t win an Oscar, for reasons we’ll make clear below.

 

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/lastdays/

Here’s PBS’s blurb:

April, 1975. During the chaotic final days of the American involvement in the Vietnam War, as the North Vietnamese Army closed in on Saigon, South Vietnamese resistance crumbled. City after city and village after village fell to the North while the U.S. diplomats and military operatives still in the country contemplated withdrawal. With the lives of thousands of South Vietnamese hanging in the balance, those in control faced an impossible decision—who would go and who would be left behind to face brutality, imprisonment, or even death. At the risk of their careers and possible court-martial, a handful of individuals took matters into their own hands. Engaging in unsanctioned and often makeshift operations, they waged a desperate effort to evacuate as many South Vietnamese as possible.

As is usual for PBS these days, it begins with a commercial.

Finally, More Bad News:

It’s made by Rory Kennedy. She is one of “those” Kennedys — the eleven drug-addicted and booze-soaked kids of RFK, most if not all of whom have struggled with heroin addiction, if by “struggled with” you mean “happily embraced.” They’re living proof that Ethel Kennedy did a worse job as a single mother than the average crack-baby baby-momma from Camden to Compton, and Rory is pretty much center of mass for the group. Moreover, her former film-making partner was the daughter of Jane Fonda, and their production company was called, we are not making this up, Red Flag Films.

Her ambition was then stated to make films that highlight class consciousness. Yep, another trust-fund Commie.

Free historical video is always interesting, but little care was taken on accuracy. For examoles: VC dead misidentified as “victims of communist atrocities” (fair enough, though: we were not expecting Rory to admit there ever were communist atrocities); ARVN SP artillery misidentified as NVA tanks; a Navy officer turned State Department dweeb misidentified as SF; and numerous other gaffes. There is some interesting small arms to be seen, just as a reminder that by 1975 the ARVN were all M16-equipped, finally (they didn’t start getting them until 1970), and the rear area guys and cops still had M2 Carbines — as did the Marines and the various civilian agency types who backed them up at the Embassy.

You can see experienced troops using aimed fire and less-experienced troops firing bursts. This B-roll stuff is more interesting than the slanted narrative emerging. The villains are Nixon, because Nixon, naturally; President Ford; and Ambassador Graham Martin, although the film notes Martin’s dogged, if belated, conversion to enthusiasm for evacuation. The heroes are a handful of junior State, CIA and military officers who cultivated the press then and have never stopped, and of course, the media themselves.

It was viscerally irritating to have smug Walter Cronkite, later-discredited Peter Arnett, and later-discredited Dan Rather back in our faces after all these years. It’s disturbing to hear an American reporter enjoying the V-V day celebration with his NVA pals, but it’s not like we didn’t know that’s how those guys roll.

As an American, seeing once again the abandonment of the last 400 Viets in the embassy on the order of Ford and Kissinger, regardless of the fact that they had been promised evacuation,  was a shameful thing. Kissinger, of course, landed as always on cat’s feet. Had the Russians won the Cold War, he’d have been first in line to collaborate. He’s interviewed here, revising history and lionizing himself, as usual. The same greasy narcissism radiates from Richard Armitage, one of several officials who participated in the evactuation, but the one who has missed no opportunity since for self-promotion (and kneecapping of rivals). He, too, always leaves us with the impression that would have been elbowing Kissinger for first place in the Quisling line, in that alt-history lost Cold War.

The abandonment of the Agency and Chieu Hoi records, which is treated to some extent in Snepp’s controversial book Decent Interval, is not covered. Those records led to tens of thousands, possibly a hundred thousand, extrajudicial executions in the year after the evacuation.

Bottom line: interesting, probably most especially to those who didn’t live through it, like people who were too young in 1975. It’s a decent documentary, although the definitive history of the 1975 withdrawal has yet to be told. Still, it’s not as tendentious as we feared, and by and large period film and interviewed participants are allowed to do most of the talking.

Arrest Warrants, 101

warrantMatt G has a remarkable pocket class in how to do arrest warrants. There’s a little on search and combo warrants, too. If you, as a cop, follow his guidelines (which do cramp your play in a couple of ways, for good reasons), then you’re pretty well inoculated against showing up in the local (or, God forbid, national) press as that guy. He notes that he didn’t really master this until he had a good deal of experience himself, but until he did, he wasn’t a finished policeman.

He’s a cop with a small agency in Texas, and in big agencies, some of this may be in the hands of specialists, but it can’t hurt to know the way the thing works. One additional side benefit of doing it his way — your warrants have a better likelihood of holding up when offenders’ lawyers or persnickety judges try to shake them. Matt concludes with the why of it, with the reason you ought to take care on this basic building block of police work:

Fellow peace officers, a search warrant is a very specific exception to rights held by our citizens. Take it seriously. Do it right. Even if you don’t do them, know HOW to do them. If learning how is too much trouble, then go find other work, please. We’ve got this.

Let us be professionals.

via Better And Better: Warrants: how you serve them. (For the cops out there.).

While he’s written it from the cop POV, it’s also of interest to any one who may be on the other end of a warrant. (There’s a great discussion in the comments, too, encompassing the distinctions between search and arrest warrants among other things).

His comments on no-knock warrants and on cops whacking dogs, the last of which we’ve read and maybe even featured before, are also highly worthwhile.

Note that we’re frequently critical of police here, and some people in our community really lose it over the things cops do that make the news (which are, by definition, the things that were not near the norm). We’re even preparing something on a really, really bad police use of force with, as you might expect, a really, really bad outcome (citizen dead, public faith in the credibility of the officers and the agency shredded).

And because we’re frequently critical of police, we must note that, in fairness, our cops generally color within constitutional lines. Most Americans are so used to the system of constraints on police that they’re surprised when they find, in a foreign jurisdiction, that police may have general warrants to investigate, seize, or arrest anything and anybody without having to trouble a court of law. General warrants are something we tend to associate with George III or the Gestapo, but they’re actually a thing out there. Requiring a particularized warrant is an irritant to police, but as Matt points out, in the US system a warrant is a narrow and specific violation of an American’s rights, a violation that is expressly permitted by law for good reason.

Hat tip, Tam.

When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have blowtorches

The proliferation of blowtorches nearly claimed another family this week, as one of the deadly assault tools attacked a house, setting it on fire.

A small fire started at a home Tuesday after a man used a blow torch in an attempt to melt ice off the siding of his house, a fire official said.
Firefighters were called to 11 Bradley Lane around 9:30 a.m. after the siding near the front door caught fire, according to North Hampton Fire Lt. Peter Francis.
Francis said the fire spread into the sill and burnt “8-10 inches” into the subfloor of the house. The area of the fire was not large, Francis said, and the man had used buckets of water to extinguish most of it before firefighters arrived.
The damage was limited to the lower area near the door of the house.
Francis said the Fire Department conducted an overhaul to ensure it would not re-ignite.
According to Francis, the man used the blow torch to melt the ice because he was replacing siding on the house.

via Man using blow torch to melt ice starts small house fire – News – seacoastonline.com – Portsmouth, NH.

Remarkably, the man was able to acquire the blowtorch without any background check. These deadly flame-spewing instruments of Satan are widely available in hardware stores, and even by mail order. There is no waiting period, and no registration and licensing requirements.

moms-demand-logo-correctedEven common-sense blowtorch laws like background checks, “safe storage” laws, tax-funded “buybacks” and widespread confiscation don’t exist. You don’t know how many houses in your street contain these tools of torchy terror.

Why, someone else can own one without your permission, even if you have children! There ought to be a law about that, one that protects your Unique and Special Snowflakes™ from the militant State of Nature that lurks right outside. Moms demand action for torch sense, now!

 

UW: Deserting Weasel’s Deserted Buddies Speak

mad-magazine-trading-private-bergdahlYou have an opinion on Bowe Bergdahl, no doubt. We have an opinion on him, too, and on the feckless swap that returned Taliban leaders to the fight in return for a traitor. We have an opinion about the folks in that the National Capital Area who received this weasel with more respect than anyone in that city has lately mustered for those soldiers who, unlike Bergdahl, kept the faith.

But hey, who’s interested in our opinion? How about the opinion of the guys that Bergdahl actually left in the lurch? (Apart from, of course, the five or six guys who lost their lives looking for him. They were unavailable for comment). Anyway, USA Today was interested in what Bergdah’s platoon mates thought, and put that information into their paper today.

Here’s an excerpt of the whole essay.

Like most people, we have opinions about how Bowe’s release affects these issues. Unlike others though, we were his team leaders, friends and brothers in arms. We have firsthand knowledge of the case and were interviewed as part of the investigation.

For five years, Bowe was held captive and likely tortured, suffering a fate that haunted us daily. We might never understand what happened inside the Taliban prisons that held him, nor will we know what was said in the political backrooms in Washington, D.C., that led to his release. Even so, the facts of his desertion need to be known in order to understand what the consequences and precedent will be if his acts go unpunished.

Here is what we know:

  • Bowe claimed in a video filmed during his captivity that he fell behind on a patrol. This is false. As any member of the U.S. armed forces can tell you, our most fundamental operating procedures make this impossible. Soldiers do not “fall behind” like a child in an aisle at a grocery store. In every Army platoon on patrol, all members maintain visual contact at all times.
  • Observation Post Mest was a small and relatively obscure base for roughly 30 Army soldiers. That June 30, as on all other days, OP Mest was completely secure. The only way off the base was to put one foot in front of the other. Our platoon went to sleep. When we woke up the next morning, we were down a man.
  • Days before Bowe disappeared, our platoon leader told us to plan to leave the OP and transition responsibility to the local Afghan National Police detachment. For reasons unknown to us, Bowe mailed his belongings — letters, laptop, photos and personal items — back to America. It’s hard to know exactly what Bowe’s intentions were, but it’s clear that he was planning for a permanent departure, not just from his post but from the military — even though eight months remained in our deployment.
  • No one walks off an OP in Afghanistan unaccompanied for any reason. And no one goes anywhere without his weapon. Reports that Bowe had often previously left the base alone are inaccurate.
  • Upon discovering Bowe was missing, our platoon was directed to focus on finding and interviewing potential eyewitnesses to his departure in the surrounding villages. Several local villagers reported seeing an American fitting Bowe’s description that morning, alone, including one Afghan boy who said he saw a soldier crawling through tall grass away from OP Mest. Team leader Evan Buetow monitored the radio with the aid of an interpreter, who reported hearing the locals discussing an American asking to contact the Taliban.

We are eager to hear Bowe’s side of the story. We, platoon members he committed to stay with and protect, have many questions that deserve answers. While the details of Bowe’s captivity are difficult to hear, we are concerned by the glaring holes in his narrative….We are eager to hear him defend his actions.

Naturally, we do recommend that you Read the Whole Thing™. In the USA Today there are many links corroborating what the deserted soldiers say about the “glaring holes in his narrative.”

And they call for a prompt scheduling of a court-martial — something that neither Bergdahl, nor his fans in the Administration, nor the Taliban, nor those uniformed politicians in the E Ring, want to see.

An Honest Soldier is Never Forgot

the_boozers_stone

Stone, circa 1946.

In front of the cathedral in Winchester, England long stood a thin memorial stone, resembling a gravestone. It may indeed be a grave marker; no one today can be sure if Thomas Thetcher is buried there, or some other place entirely. His stone is an odd artifact on the grounds of a church that has many such (like the last resting places of King Canute, Izaak Walton, and Jane Austen, some rather disparate British legends).

Winchester Cathedral has become a sort of church of legends, where scarcely anyone worships any more, but the choir conducts a moving evensong — House of God demoted to tourist attraction. The unusual stone  memorializes a soldier of George III, and seems to have been erected soon after his demis, but it has been restored or replaced at least twice. The text on it explains why it has come to be known as The Boozer’s Stone:

IN MEMORY OF

THOMAS THETCHER

a Grenadier in North Regt. of Hants Militia who died of a violent Fever contracted by drinking Small Beer when hot the 12 of May 1764 Aged 26 Years

In grateful remembrance of whose universal good will towards his Comrades, this Stone is placed here at their expense as a small testimony of their regard and concern

Here sleeps in peace a Hampshire Grenadier

Who caught his death by drinking cold small Beer

Soldiers be wise from his untimely fall

And when you’re hot drink Strong or none at all.

This memorial being decayed was restored by the Officers of the Garrison A.D. 1782

An honest Soldier never is forgot

Whether he die by Musket or by Pot

This Stone was placed by the North Hants Militia when disembodied at Winchester On 26th April 1902 in consequence of the original Stone being destroyed

Replacement stone as of early 2014.

Replacement stone as of early 2014, with no-class graffiti.

That was the state of the stone as it was just after World War II, when it was featured in the Artillery branch’s trade journal (.pdf), Fires Bulletin. Since then, it has been replaced yet again by the Hampshire Regiment (in 1966). The illustrations here are the 1946 and current stones.

And there you have it. We daresay Thetcher is the only Grenadier of  Georgian times to be so memorialized, but what do we know? “Small beer” was beer with very little alcohol, the antonym of strong beer. And one can, when drinking a cold beverage on a hot day, collapse with a closed airway, although it probably does not matter how much alcohol is in the drink.

Headshot at 100 Yards… With a 1911

We’ve mentioned before the old Paul Poole / Sandy Ballard trick of nailing target after target with a .45 at 100m, which they used as a way to wake up us young pups in SOT and make us pay attention. It was more of a stunt than something combat-useful, but it made us realize that those old guys (Hell, Poole was a SOG and Son Tay vet who must have been in his 40s, ancient!) had some powerful tricks to treat us new dogs. Here’s three missed shots until the fourth goes “ding!” at 100 yards. You can do learn to do this.

And it is a huge confidence builder with your pistol when you do.

The video is from a trainer named Israel “Ish” Beauchamp, who commented on our site and thereby incentivized us go look him up. We don’t know the guy, but he’s s cop who’s been plowing the fields of PSD work and training for years now, and we liked his video for these reasons:

  • It shows you what can be done with a non-magical, ordinary service pistol. (Can’t do this? Then you need to train more).
  • It’s directly focused on the matter at hand, unlike videos that ramble or digress.
  • It’s completely absent the bluster and self-promotion that some YouTube “stars” indulge in.
  • Dude knows how to stay on point, and to edit a video.

Unlike that famous ex-PSD legend-in-his-own-mind on YouTube, we get the impression that Ish is a grown-up who would be great to take a class with, no matter whether you’re an ace shooter, a pro with some too-long-off-the-range rust on him, or a novice wondering what all those gadgets on the left side of your .45 actually do. 

In Case of Blizzard, Keep Calm and Shovel On

keep-calm-and-shovel-on-112The local TV stations are predicting that we’re going to get hammered with snow and wind, maybe 7 or 10 or 31 inches of the white stuff in 40 or 50 or 70 knot winds. The reporters are reporting this with the sort of glee that sportscasters everywhere but New England have lavished on Tom Brady’s undersized balls lately.

Now, this may be nothing much. After all, a big storm is to local TV what a missing plane is to CNN, or a lost blonde somewhere to Fox News: an excuse to cover it like the NSA monitors on Eric Holder’s enemies list. So some percentage of the storm predictions are simply wishful thinking by TV newspeople, the kind of dysfunctional humans who might set kittens on fire for the entertainment value of watching them burn. We looked at the aviation weather forecast and it looks like a bad-end-of-normal winter storm to us.

For the love of Mike, that’s what happens in wintertime: it gets cold, and precipitation comes down in the solid state of matter, to wit, snow. You’d think snow had never fallen this side of Narsarssuaq before, from the caterwauling and carrying on in the media.

But Here’s Something to Read if We Get Snuked1

But what if we do get snuked, and wind up off the air? How will you ever fill your blog-reading hours? Well, we have a few posts that will post on schedule. And in addition to those, we can send you over to this massive index post at The Firearm Blog:

http://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2015/01/23/shot-show-complete-round-posts-show/

In which, they link to all one-hundred-sixty-nine of TFB’s SHOT Show posts. Now, they run the gamut from stuff we’re kind of interested again to yawn-another-AR to things that make you just go, “Huh?” (Like the fact that you can have an artificially-distressed finish put on your gun to conceal the fact you’re a total poser. Yes, really). But no matter who you are, you’ll find something you like. We liked the Colt 1918 Self-Loading Rifle, a license-production Ohio Ordnance BAR with Colt markings and a deep, rich blue finish. We didn’t like the price tag quite so much ($8,799) but we reckon the entire batch will sell. (That means 1,000, netting Colt a topline of nearly $9 million, a lot of which will stick to retailer and jobber fingers).

Colt 1918 SLR TFB

If your taste runs more in the Teutonic direction, then Ian McCollum, familiar from his Forgotten Weapons home base but wearing his TFB hat for this report, tells us that new MP-44s and MP-38s are really, no kidding, no fooling, coming from Germany to the USA, and they’ve already cleared the significant hurdle of ATF tech approval for import. (Of course, it’s not as if their word, even in writing, means anything, as their volte-face on the SIG brace shows). Anyway, here’s the MP-38. Just looking at it gives us an urge to storm Eben Emael.

elbemp38

Now, not everyone gets the jones for foreign and obsolete hardware like we do. Some people want only the trendiest and most mod-ly. We got that covered. While ARs are kind of dull these days, not in .338LM (8.6 x 70) they’re not. Meet Ulfbehrt.

Ulfbehrt

Yes, he’s named for the Viking sword marking we’ve discussed here before, the meaning of which is not documented, but only speculated upon. As we wrote in 2013:

No one knows who, or what, Ulfbehrt was. The name does not exist in surviving documents at all. Was it a man’s name? Perhaps not, as swords with the name were made for some 200 years. The name of a lost god? A name for the product, an early trademark? No-one knows.

There are so many mods to this Alexander Arms design, it looks closer to a Barrett than to an AR in some ways — which is fitting because of the .338 LM’s almost .50-like ballistics. But internally it’s not an AR at all — it’s more like a Degtyaryev machine gun in its flap locking system (There were a lot of them: DP-28, DA, DT, RP-48, DShK, RPD, and we’re probably forgetting a few). It just shows that the ergonomics battle is over, and the AR stands triumphant.

As these three posts show, there’s something for everyone there. There are not only more photos and information at each of those articles, there’s still the other 166 to look at.

We’ll be Back, That Is, If We Go Away at All

We survived the Blizzard of ’78 (a friend of our cousin got out his show car and went around pulling people out of snowbanks. We should probably mention that Charlie’s show car was an M3 halftrack). Indeed, we drove home from work in the Blizzard, in a 1969 Pontiac Catalina with a huge engine, a two-speed slushbox automatic, and skinny bias-ply tires, which is how most people rolled in those years before SUVs were a thing, and when Toyotas had paint the faded the first year and fenders that were a fine filigree of rust by the third, and most Hondas came with only two wheels.

So we’re fully expecting to survive this one. Our power, maybe not. Blogbrother installed an automatic generator this year so we may all wind up surfing his couches for a couple of days, if the news stations get their wish and the storm is a real disaster.

Notes

  1. “Snuked” — nuked by snow. Yes, we totally made that up.

The Other Revolution of 1775

In April, 1775, the Revolutionary War opened with a bloodless British victory in Lexington, followed by an easy victory in Concord… followed by a sanguinary and hard-fought retreat that made the British relief force’s (QRF, 18th-Century style) leader, Brigadier-General Lord Hugh Percy, bitterly aware he hadn’t won at all.

Colonial propaganda print of the Battle of Lexington. Both sides gave orders not to fire, and afterward insisted the other fired first; historians have little hope of ever sorting it out.

Colonial propaganda print of the Battle of Lexington. Both sides gave orders not to fire, and afterward insisted the other fired first; historians have little hope of ever sorting it out.

First, the operation was a mission failure: Francis Smith’s soldiers and John Pitcairn’s Royal Marines hadn’t captured the men and most of the stores they were after, but they did precipitate an open rebellion. Despite Smith’s leadership and courage in the embittered retreat, and Percy’s, in coming after him, each command had taken unsustainable casualties. Their recent operations, where they sortied against suspected enemy arms dumps, were over. They were besieged in Boston. And this wasn’t supposed to happen to His Majesty’s army! Percy wrote, in grudging admiration of the rebels:

Whoever looks upon them as an irregular mob will find himself much mistaken. For my part, I never believed, I confess, that they would’ve attacked the Kings troops, or have had the perseverance I found in them yesterday. They have men among them who know very well what they were about.1

But, while the scale of the outbreak of organized violence was new, the fight itself had been a long time coming. In 1773 and 1774 hostility to the Crown and the British regulars who had descended upon restive Boston in 1768 had risen to a level tantamount to war. (The British forces came, not to defend the colonists against foreign or Indian threat, as in the past, but to keep the Americans in line). In Worcester, a day’s march west of Boston, patriots had seized the courthouse and sent His Majesty’s representatives packing in the fall. In Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a day’s ride to the north, tipped off by that rascal Paul Revere, they’d seized Fort William and Mary from a caretaker force in December 1774. This was a bloodless demonstration of armed rebel might, making off with His Majesty’s cannon, powder and shot, before the Navy could land men (which they did: too late to capture the rebels, who slipped away). The colonials, resurrecting methods that had been honed by Indian raids in the prior century, were masters of asymmetric warfare — they could mobilize, and organize, and demobilize, in such as way as to put force against weakness, but evaporate against force. Such was the militia, the minutemen.

don troiani minutemen

Painting of Minutemen, by Don Troiani

All across New England, rising tensions struck hardest against civilians who were loyal to King George III and England. These tended to be well-to-do landowners, professionals, and leaders of society, but they often fled with little more than the shirts on their backs. They wound up under the protection of the Crown, in the only place in New England where the Crown could protect them: under the guns of Boston.

The refugees bedeviled Governor Sir Thomas Gage. Gage was, in Rebel propaganda, and therefore in many later American history books, as a heartless, bloodthirsty monster, but in fact he was a cautious and sensitive soldier who had little taste for war on fellow Englishmen, and was incensed that the rebellious colonials did. Gage sympathized with these refugees, but he couldn’t easily feed and house them.

For all his concern for the dispossessed Loyalists, Gage had little sympathy to spare for his own redcoats. They were the sweepings of the workhouses and jails, or boys so poor that the miserable life of a soldier was a step up. And they were treated much like livestock, casually beaten and abused, fed just enough to keep them alive, and paid very little. (Enlisted men in the Navy fared no better, which is why the Navy used pressgangs). The Army as an institution had a grudging respect from Britons, and an Army officer could be a gentleman of a somewhat discounted sort, but soldiers themselves were not viewed much differently from the beggars and thieves with whom contemporary London teemed. (The above-mentioned Lord Percy was a rare exception; gout-wracked and irascible, he nonetheless believed in leading by superior example, not by the lash, and he was generous and gentle with his men, forbidding floggings in his regiment. He saved his ire for General Lord Howe, with whom he could not get along).

Unless one lucked into Percy’s 5th Regiment of Foot, one’s life as a musket-bearer for HM George III was a life of hardship, circumscribed by cruelty, and motivated by dispensations that tended to 0% carrot and 100% stick. Iron discipline was enforced by the lash and the noose; it was thought quite a fine thing that the lobsterback feared his NCOs more than any imaginable enemy.

These reenactors are a lot more ragged in their formation and fire than the real Redcoats would heve been.

These reenactors are a lot more ragged in their formation and fire discipline than the real Redcoats were, or ever would have been.

You could say that the British Regulars who stood and delivered at Concord, and who kept order throughout the bloody retreat on 19 April 1775, had been quite literally “whipped into shape.” But it was a functional shape, and the red uniforms of the British Army were known and feared worldwide. By far and away, any British formation in the Colonies in 1775 was vastly more powerful than any similar-sized body of their irregular enemy, simply by dint of their greater experience at drill.

But the enemy was culturally different, and here was the revolution. He joined the fight, not because it was a Hobson’s choice between the King’s shilling and the gallows, but because it was his fight. The colonial American was much less observant of class distinctions than his peers from metropolitan England. Peerage in America was something remote, a reference to a motherland that more and more colonists had never seen. (There was not, for instance, any lord whose seat was Boston or New York).

The colonists were, as one loyal officer wrote home, “Drunk with liberty.” Colonies founded in New England by groups akin to the Levellers of the English Civil War lacked the instinctive class deference that characterized metropolitan England. The citizens there wanted to rule themselves, for good or for ill.

Part of the change would be an Army and Navy of volunteers with the natural rights of free men, not a formation of pressmen, serfs, slaves or helots (all of which have some point of comparison to the state of the English ranker of 1775). The liberty-oriented American volunteer would cause his own army some difficulty over the years: short enlistment terms and elected officers were both troublesome in the US Civil War. But the British Army’s class stratification and peculiar institutions weren’t done causing trouble for Britain, either. (Two words: “purchased commission.”)

Today, there’s been some cultural convergence in the evolution of the two armies that descend from the ones that glowered at each other across no man’s land on Roxbury Neck, during the siege of Boston. The US and British Armies are more like one another, culturally, today, than either one is like its 1775 forebear. But there are also some differences which stem, in part, from those very different origins.

Notes

  1. Quoted in Ketchum, p. 25.

Sources

Ketchum, Richard M.  Decisive Day: The Battle for Bunker Hill. An Expanded and Fully Illustrated Edition. New York: Anchor, 1962.