By Sue Moore
As a prelude to the Battle of Sunset Lake’s Revolutionary War re-enactment, the Vicksburg Historical Society is featuring a talk on two real battles of the war that were won by the Continentals. AJ. Hartman, a history teacher in the public schools and with the Osher Life Long Learning Academy at Western Michigan University, is the guest speaker for the monthly series on Tuesday, June 21 at 7 p.m. at the Community Center.
Hartman will paint a picture of the battle for Trenton which was made famous by the painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware River in a rowboat amid ice floes, with the wind whipping and rowers pulling their oars with all their might. It was a big surprise to the Hessian solders on Christmas Eve, 1776, as they celebrated the occasion. In fact, they were drunk and guarding the city while the British were safely in comfort much further away. “General Washington picked a bad spot in the river to cross because he wanted to get there directly, where he could have chosen easier crossings from his camp at Valley Forge. His total casualties were small but he lost one quarter of his troops because their enlistment was up and they summarily left for home,” Hartman said.
The Continentals had no particular strategy during the war and this drove General Cornwallis crazy because he couldn’t figure out what was going on in the American side. Their tactics were more hit and run, where the highly trained British fought in the traditional European way: Each rank would fire a volley, then stand back for the second and third to advance in a frontal pattern. The militia just kept nipping away at the British until they finally had them surrounded at Yorktown in 1781.
The other two battles Hartman is contemplating for his presentation are those of Ticonderoga and Saratoga, but he will let that be a surprise to the Historical Society’s audience. Actually, he could colorfully describe the entire war if given enough time.
“AJ is an extrodinary young man,” according to Nancy Rafferty, his school librarian in Constantine when he was scarfing down every book in her middle school library. “He loved to read and loved learning. Just very bright, but he was also a challenge. He had such a thirst for knowledge and was funny as can be.”
What Rafferty didn’t acknowledge was that Hartman was bored a good deal of the time. That meant trouble if teachers he had didn’t recognize this and give him a chance to exercise his mind in classroom work. Some teachers did work with him and those he remembers with great fondness. Thus, he became a teacher himself, but not before he took several divergent paths to get there.
He first went to Michigan Tech but after two years came back home and got a job as a janitor in the Mendon school system. He thought he wanted to be a mathematician but hit the wall when it came to calculus. One teacher in particular counseled him to get away from math and become an economist. He subsequently enrolled at Glen Oaks, then Goshen College where he finally achieved his B.A. degree, and then finished a Master’s degree at Spring Arbor College. “I understand how the economy drives things and you combine that with the love of history, it became my world,” Hartman said. He ended up teaching social studies at Elkhart Central high school, Three Rivers and then Lawton, where he retired at the age of 57 last year. He is now a baker at Fletcher’s Pub in the Oakwood Plaza and teaching Osher classes at WMU. They are continually filled, perhaps in part because they include course titles such as Let’s Get Naked while studying the Roman Baths.
You won’t want to miss this talk, according to Ted Vliek, who heads up the Historical Society board of directors.