OT: War of 1812

victor steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Fri May 28 02:56:30 UTC 2010

I am ecstatic--160 years after the fact a researcher suggests that
Cooper, a fiction writer, "carefully researched the Battle of Bunker
Hill". One would hope that the research took place /before/ the
publication date. But why does this make any difference whatsoever? Is
the rest of Cooper's work of such painstaking accuracy that we should
assume that this work is an accurate reflection of the battle? I am

Cooper used the phrase "fire low" as an order in several books,
including The Pioneers. Yet, the expression is usually attributed to
Oliver Cromwell--it would be silly to assume that the expression was
unique, however, as the sentiment makes perfect strategic sense with a
firing force of suspect accuracy, expected close proximity and
clustering of the enemy, and low ammunition. The same can be said
about ordering to aim at officers, especially when opposing a
superiorly organized force.

By the same token, judging distance accurately is not something that a
barely trained colonial volunteer force would be expected to do. The
same goes for other inexperienced troops. So it makes sense to give
them an identifiable factor for determining shooting distance. Also
note that Swett's 1825 account gives a distance of 8 rods for the
first attack and 6 rods for the second, while stating that the Putnam
statement occurred some time between the two. By 1827, he combined the
quotes into a single tirade and included a reference to 8 rods with
it. Others followed suit and presented the lines in various
combinations--sometimes including "whites of their eyes" with "aim at
officers", sometimes with "eight rods", sometimes with "aim low".

So an alternative theory would assume that expression to be common in
military jargon, which would explain both the Prussian occurrences and
the Bunker Hill one. In this version, the only reason the phrase is
memorable is because of the significance of the battle, not because of
the uniqueness of the phrase. After all, we are dealing with muskets.

But I am not discounting the possibility of fictionalization either. I
made a deliberate connection with Soviet hagiography. There are more
parallels than most Americans would like to admit. Even biographies of
Washington, Jefferson, Lafayette, and other military and civilian
leaders were significantly enhanced and padded with fictitious details
by 1825-6--after all, this was barely 50 years after the Revolution,
just like the Soviets in the 1960s. And here's a battle that proved to
be memorable, with significant carnage. The fact that the better
equipped, better trained regulars suffered three times the casualties
of the Colonials makes the battle appear "heroic". Why not portray the
heroes as particularly, uniquely heroic, give them a few singular
phrases to be remembered by?

Whatever the case, it would be nice to have a few references--even if
they are equally unreliable--that predate the two 1825 accounts.
Absent that, they both appear to be works of fiction.


PS: It should be obvious by now that I am generally a skeptic when it
comes to hagiographic claims. Maybe it's the familiarity with a few
too many totalitarian regimes. Or maybe it's the recognition that
scientific (and mathematical and technological) achievements tend to
be named after people other than the ones who achieved them first.

On Thu, May 27, 2010 at 7:34 PM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at att.net> wrote:
> At 5/27/2010 07:08 PM, victor steinbok wrote:
>>For the Prescott reference we may have Washington Irving and Cooper to
>>thank. [http://bit.ly/d0A9vQ] I found nothing connecting the quote to
>>Prescott prior to the Knickerbocker mention of it by quoting Cooper's
> According to the Introduction to the State Univ. of New York Press
> edition (1984) of "Lionel Lincoln, or, The Leaguer of Boston", Cooper
> carefully researched the Battle of Bunker Hill, visiting Boston and
> consulting books and documents.  This must have been before Feb.
> 1825, the publication date.  I do not recall if the editors report
> whether Cooper interviewed anyone, or if so whom.
> Joel

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