Ted Kennedy, Irish-American History Buff
After lunch we boarded our bus for a visit to Valley Forge. On the way, I talked about the importance of George Washington and his regular army. They were the soldiers who had won the war. When the struggle began, Congress thought they could rely on militia — amateur soldiers called from their homes for a few months’ service. But they were often intimidated by Britain’s professional soldiers, backed by cannon and cavalry. Soon the militia grew reluctant to serve.
I told how the New Jersey militia had been called out in 1776 when Washington and his soldiers were retreating after their defeats in and around New York City. Only one thousand out of 17 thousand men on the state’s muster rolls had responded. The reason, Washington saw, was “the want of a regular army to look the enemy in the face.” Keeping regular American army in the war became the centerpiece of his strategy.
At Valley Forge, I had arranged for the younger Kennedys to be allowed to pick up and examine muskets and other artifacts at the Visitors Center. The boys had a marvelous time imagining themselves sniping at redcoats. I told how grim life had been at Valley Forge in 1778 — food had run short, uniforms and shoes had deteriorated. Over 300 officers had resigned and 2,000 men deserted to the British army, which was living in relative comfort in nearby Philadelphia.
But the ordeal had a marvelously happy ending — the arrival of the news that Ben Franklin had signed a treaty of alliance with France, making the most powerful nation in Europe our ally. I told how an ecstatic Marquis de Lafayette had rushed to Washington’s headquarters when he heard the news and kissed the startled commander in chief on both cheeks.
On the bus back to Philadelphia, Senator Kennedy was in a jovial mood. He told me how much they all had enjoyed the day. Then, with a twinkle in his eyes, he asked: “Tom, I have a question about those sixteen thousand militia guys in New Jersey who didn’t turn out in 1776 — they were all Republicans, right?”
That was an easy question for an historian who had grown up with a father and grandfather who never voted anything but the straight Democratic ticket. “Senator,” I said. “I didn’t realize you’d been doing such deep research. Of course they were!” It was the perfect Irish-American ending to a day I would never forget.
I sat down at my computer and
e-mailed the dedication of Now We Are Enemies to American History Press: “In memory of Senator Edward Kennedy, my favorite Bostonian and a fellow admirer of America’s Revolutionary
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