Friday, February 19, 2021

The Race to the Dan

 From Journal of the American Revolution:

Like most of the war in the south, the Race to the Dan is overshadowed by Yorktown. The mere fact that George Washington was not a participant relegates the story to a second-tier status. The Race, however, holds unique challenges for the historian and the storyteller. It occurred over more than two hundred miles, depending on how you count it, rather than at one identifiable spot. Nathanael Greene’s genius is to be found in his mastery of logistics and strategy, which are subjects that make many people’s eyes glaze over. Though heroic and difficult, it was still a retreat and retreats don’t lend themselves to celebration. Its significance is not so much in what it achieved but rather in what it made possible, which requires detailed explanation.

Consequently, the Race to the Dan has been given short shrift for more than two centuries. It is mentioned in the war’s histories, but almost never in detail. In writing this book, Mr. Waters was determined to correct that and he has succeeded. One can’t resist noting the appropriateness his name: the waterways of the Carolinas play a central role in the story. He makes plain from the beginning that the story is personal to him. He is a conservationist and doctoral candidate in South Carolina who has made a career of conserving the Palmetto State’s watersheds. “Rivers are my business,” he says at the very beginning of the book. He also plainly declares, “We all need heroes, and . . . Greene has become one of mine.”[2]

Mr. Waters holds out John Buchanan as the lone historian who has previously given the story proper attention and he credits the publication of The Papers of Nathanael Greene, completed in 2005, with making his own work possible. He is a gifted storyteller with a unique style. French military terminology appears frequently. He often addresses his readers directly, reminding us sometimes to recall important bits of context. He uses contractions where other writers are more formal. The result is a book that is intelligent but unaffected, written by an author who is more interested in drawing us in to his passion than in demonstrating how much he knows. It is a pleasure to read.

When Major General Greene took command of the Continental Army’s Southern Department, he inherited a string of failures. Horatio Gates had been humiliated at Camden. Abraham Buford had been clobbered at the Waxhaws. Benjamin Lincoln had surrendered at Charleston. The Department’s first commander, Charles Lee, oversaw a tremendous victory at Sullivan’s Island in 1776 but deserved little credit for it. The Carolinas’ real successes had been achieved by state and militia forces. William Moultrie had won on Sullivan’s Island by defying Lee’s instructions. The Overmountain Men had won at King’s Mountain without a Continental officer in sight. Locals like the Swamp Fox (Francis Marion) and the Carolina Gamecock (Thomas Sumter) had kept the cause alive while most of the Continental lines from Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina sat imprisoned at Charleston. (Read more.)


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