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Lewis Lapham: Red Coats Bawled, Got Drunk at Surrender

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Lewis Lapham
Lewis Lapham, of "Lapham's Quarterly," in New York. Photographer: Paul Goguen/Bloomberg

July 20 (Bloomberg) -- It was supposed to be an easy victory for the British. To defeat the scrappy American rebels, they had a professional army, a large navy, experienced officers, ready credit and a booming economy.

(To listen to the podcast, click here.)

Instead, on the morning of Oct. 17, 1781, in Yorktown, Virginia, a red-coated drummer mounted the parapet, followed by an officer holding up a white handkerchief.

The Revolutionary War was essentially over. As the humiliated British troops marched to the surrender field to throw down their arms, some were totally enraged, some cried openly. Many were already drunk.

One South Carolina observer felt so sorry for them he briefly forgot their “insolence, their depredations and cruelty.”

I spoke with Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy, author of “The Men Who Lost America,” on the following topics:

1. Distant War.

2. No Occupation Army.

3. Provisioning Troops.

4. Professional Arrogance.

5. War’s Ironies.

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(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

Muse highlights include Greg Evans on movies and Jeremy Gerard on theater.

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at lhl@laphamsquarterly.org.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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