Friday, January 23, 2009

Sizemore Gets Facts Wrong Again: Wartime Outsourcing Is as Old as the Nation

A dogged Blackwater critic in the media gets his facts wrong again - this time while reviewing a book about private military contractors. Bill Sizemore writes for the Virginian-Pilot, the main newspaper in the heavily military Norfolk, Virginia, area, and not far from Blackwater's headquarters in Moyock, North Carolina. Here's how Sizemore begins his article:

"WHATEVER ELSE the Iraq War may be remembered for, it has already achieved one unique distinction: It is America’s first outsourced war."


Sizemore is wrong. He doesn't know his American history. The nation's "first outsourced war" was its first war - the Revolutionary War. And the first American leader to do the outsourcing, according to military historian James L. Nelson, was General George Washington, as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army.

Nelson documents this amply in his new book, George Washington's Secret Navy (McGraw-Hill, 2008).

Others at the community and colonial levels took private sector initiatives to wage naval warfare, but Washington was the first leader chosen by the thirteen colonies who did so.
The first American naval enagement, on June 11-12, 1775, what Nelson calls "the first sea fight of the war," was carried out by private citizens in Machias, Maine, led by local businessman Jeremiah O'Brien. O'Brien captured the British warship HMS Margaretta. Some historians call the engagement the Battle of Machias. He outfitted a captured commercial vessel with the guns captured from the Margaretta, renamed the vessel Machias Liberty, and continued to raid British shipping as a privateer - with full authorization of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress(pp. 33-35). The US Navy has remembered O'Brien by naming five ships after him. The World War II Liberty Ship Jeremiah O'Brien remains afloat as a museum in San Francisco, California.

On June 12, 1775, the Rhode Island General Assembly resolved to build a small armed fleet, and it outsourced the job. The assembly resolved to "charter two suitable vessels, for the use of the colony, and fit out the same in the best manner to protect the trade of this colony."

Providence merchant John Brown leased his sloop, the Katy, as the first government-commanded warship of the American Revolution. Named as commander was a local former privateersman, Captain Abraham Whipple.

Rhode Island Deputy Governor Nicholas Cooke instructed Whipple that he was "employed by the Government for the Protection of the Trade of this Colony . . . to kill, Slay and Destroy, by all fitting Ways enterprizes and Means, whosoever, all and such Person and Persons, as Shall attempt or enterprize the Destruction, Invasion Detriment or Annoyance of the Inhabitants of this Colony." The main target: The frigate HMS Rose (pp. 58-59).

As the Commander-in-Chief of the new Continental Army, General George Washington sought to borrow one of Rhode Island's privately owned warships to be sent on a mission to capture British gunpowder stored in Bermuda, "for a price," according to Nelson (p. 59). Washington also employed the Katy as his first intelligence ship, instructing that Katy patrol the waters to intercept a British mail packet bound for New York (p. 60).

With little fighting to do on land, Washington brought the fight to the sea, to intercept British ships supplying Redcoat forces blockaded in Boston. Washington completely outsourced his navy. "Finding we had no great prospect of coming to close Quarters with the Ministerial Troops in Boston, I fitted out at the Continental Expence, several Privateers," Washington wrote in December, 1775 (p. 79).

Washington's first warship, Hannah, was a Marblehead schooner leased from a private businessman, John Glover. Says Nelson: "For the perfectly reasonable rate of 78 dollars a month, Glover was leasing his schooner to the army of the United Colonies and allowing her to be sent into harm's way. . . . Washington, at the cost of a dollar per ton per month, finally had a navy" (pp. 83-84). A second vessel, the schooner Two Brothers, was leased from businessman Thomas Stevens (p. 120). The schooner Triton, owned by merchant Daniel Adams, went to sea as the Harrison (p. 121). Another was the Endeavour, owned by Sion Martindale and renamed Washington (pp. 153-154).

Washington outsourced the boats that sent Col. Benedict Arnold on his bold Kennebec mission to invade Canada through Maine (p. 99).

On October 13, 1775 - the day recognized as the founding of the United States Navy - the Continental Congress resolved to fit out warships, giving specifications that matched the Katy. In other words, George Washington had outsourced a navy as a stopgap until the Continental Congress would create what would become the United States Navy.
Katy would be renamed Providence as a Continental Navy warship, and ultimately placed under the command of John Paul Jones (p. 131). The Continental Congress funded the outsourcing of other private vessels as early US warships, including the schooner Speedwell, commissioned Hancock; Eliza, commissioned Franklin (p. 152); the Lee (p. 177); and Hawk, commissioned Warren after Dr. Joseph Warren, the slain hero of the Battle of Bunker Hill (p. 169).

All the sailors were hired hands, fishermen and other seafarers-turned-contract soldiers and outsourced as sailors. Washington didn't like sailors very well, once referring to them as "our Rascally privateers-men" (p. 201). Even though Washington personally leased the schooners Lee and Warren, and ordered the hiring of their crews on contract, "many people, including on occasion George Washington himself, referred to them as privateers," according to Nelson (p. 211).

To expand the revolution's ability to attack enemy fleets, the Massachusetts House of Representatives enacted the "Act for Authorizing Privateers and Creating Courts of Admiralty," which Nelson says "would set off a wave of privateering" (p. 211).


"Privateering fever," Nelson writes, "swept Massachusetts once that colony's General Court authorized citizens to fit out private men-of-war. Five privateers were commissioned during December [1775] in Salem, Gloucester and Newburyport. The speed with which these privately owned and operated vessels put to sea, when contrasted with the time and effort Washington expended to put a like number into service, spoke to the huge potential profit to be made from privateering" (p. 236).

In Boston, which Washington held under siege, British General William Howe wrote that Washington's privately-owned warships "will hurt us more effectually than any thing they can do by Land during our Stay at this Place" (p. 248).

Meanwhile, the Continental Congress Naval Committee resolved to outsource the construction of more warships. It did so by authorizing the direct purchase of four merchantmen in Philadelphia, and converting them into armed vessels. The Black Prince became the 32-gun Alfred; the Sally became the 28-gun Columbus. Both were ship-rigged. Two brigs joined the fleet: another Sally, remaned Cabot with 14 guns; and Defiance, renamed Andrew Doria. At this time, Rhode Island's 10-gun sloop Katy became the Continental Navy's Providence (p. 263).

Sometimes, privateers and Continental Navy ships worked together, according to Nelson (pp. 292-293, 293). The Continental Congress authorized privateering in March, 1776 (p. 316).

George Washington preferred outsourcing a navy to actually building one at government expense. Writes Nelson, "he felt - correctly as it turned out - that the frigates authorized by Congress represented a colossal waste of money and effort" (p. 317). "It was only with great difficulty that the thirteen frigates Congress ordered in March 1776 were constructed, and their contribution to the war effort amounted to almost nothing" (p. 318).

Outsourcing is a tradition we inherited from the British. As Nelson notes, "During the French and Indian War, the British Department of Treasury had developed a system by which London firms were contractged to supply the troops in America, and those firms in turn subcontracted to colonial firms. When that war ended, the system had continued as a means to supply the peacetime garrisons that remained on the American continent." (page 7)

That's a far cry from what Sizemore writes in the newspaper. Sizemore wants to make outsourcing look like something new and dangerous. George Washington would probably disagree with him.

1 comment:

Matt said...

Outstanding rebuttal to Sizemore's article. I couldn't have said it better myself. The sea war during the Revolutionary War, in which we used privateers to a great extent, is little talked about. Thanks for bringing it up, and it would be interested to see what Bill has to say after this one. Cheers.