Monday, September 15, 2014

Professionals and Government Men in the Service of War

In the end, a peace treaty was signed, and all was right with the world, and the British and the Americans remembered that they were brothers. And they proceeded to eliminate the competition to their hegemony, and they harried privateers without let until there were no privateers left either side of the Atlantic. And there were taxes laid, and there were duties levied, and the Americans paid the British the debt they owed to Napoleon for the Louisiana Purchase. And there followed the Panic of 1819.

But once upon a time,  the British and the Americans were at war, and they used their professional Navy men to fight each other, and their professional Navy men often made mistakes that might easily have cost either side the war. But still they were more concerned with law and order than with winning. 

The British enlisted the aid of Jean Laffite, but he sent word to the Americans that the British planned to attack Ft. Bowyer, and the Americans, hearing this, sent Commodore Patterson to destroy Jean Laffite and his fleet of light ships that sailed in shallow waters.

And the Patterson expedition took the light vessels that the privateers had and they did not use them in battle, but only kept them from being used in service of their own cause. And even though Patterson knew there would be an attack on Ft. Bowyer, he did nothing to help the Americans at that fort.

But luckily for the Americans, the British had incompetent officers who did not know how to attack a fort in shallow waters, and Captain Percy, after heavy loss of life,  ended up having to blow up his own ship and return to Pensacola, beaten.

But still the Americans were not ready, and when Andrew Jackson set out to New Orleans, he did not even have the gunpowder and the flints that would be necessary to beat the British,  And all the while he was denouncing Jean Laffite and his men as banditti, he eventually realized that he needed their help. 

So the banditti were temporarily pardoned and enlisted and Jean Laffite supplied the gunpowder and the flint that won the Battle of New Orleans. And after the peace was signed, and after the Martial Law was lifted, and after life went back to normal. the ships that were pilfered were not returned, the gunpowder and flints were not paid for, and eventually, Jean Laffite and other privateers were run out of town, and outlawed and persecuted, until they were heard from no more.

That is the story of that war, in which neither side really won, and in which both sides agreed they disliked privateers more than they disliked each other. And it was decided we needed a stronger army and a stronger Navy, all at taxpayer expense. And the entire point of the American Revolution was forgotten.

It happened two hundred years ago, more or less. 

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