“Rev War Revelry”: The Saratoga Campaign

The Saratoga Campaign and Battle of Saratoga sit near the top of numerous “Turning Points of the Revolutionary War” lists. It is a story that has been told many times. New research has shed additional light on the campaign’s well-known and trivial parts.

Join Saratoga National Historical Park interpreter and historian Eric Schnitzer for Emerging Revolutionary War’s Revelry on October 2, 2022, at 7 pm to learn about new research being conducted about the campaign.

We hope you can join us on Sunday at 7 p.m EDT on our Facebook page for this historian happy hour.

“That his northern laurels would be turned into southern willows” Major General Horatio Gates Arrives to take command in North Carolina, July 25, 1780

Opportunity knocked for Horatio Gates with the fall of Charleston, South Carlina in May 1780. A devastating loss for the Americans, with nearly 6,000 men of the Southern Army under Benjamin Lincoln surrendered to Sir Henry Clinton. Unless something wasn’t done soon, the entire southern colonies could fall and the revolution along with it. Congress needed someone who could inspire men to join the war effort and a trusted leader with a positive record. Washington put Nathaniel Greene’s name forward, but Congress in a rare move went against Washington’s wishes and appointed Horatio Gates as commander of the Southern Department on June 13th

Major General Horatio Gates, ca. 1794 by Gilbert Stuart

The road from his victory at Saratoga to the Southern Department wasn’t an easy one for Gates. He sought independent field command and many believe he wanted Washington’s position as commander in chief. His allies in Congress and the Continental Army lobbied heavily on Gates’ behalf and were able to have Gates appointed to the powerful Board of War (the defacto Department of Defense). Though an important role (and serving as Washington’s civilian superior), Gates believed he belonged in the field.  Though his role in the famous “Conway Cabal” is still debated today, he was implicated via letters in criticizing Washington’s leadership. Whether his involvement was real or not, the relationship between him and Washington (and Washington’s inner circle) was seriously damaged. Due to the situation, Gates resigned from the Board of War and accepted appointment as department commander of the Northern Department. In this role he was responsible to look after the New York Highlands and watch from British incursions from Canada or New York city. Gates was unhappy in this role and proposed another American invasion of Canada. Washington and Congress disagreed and rejected his plans. He disliked his task of dealing with enemy native tribes in the region and dragged his feet in following orders. Finally, that fall, Gates took command of American forces in New England with his headquarters in Boston. Though excited by this appointment, he quickly realized that this post was not where the action would be. The British left Boston in 1776 and since the city was peaceful and not a welcome place for a man seeking glory and military action. Finally, after much frustration, Gates asked to return to his farm in Virginia and arrived there by December 1779. Gates found himself a hero without an army and continued to brood over his situation.

Continue reading ““That his northern laurels would be turned into southern willows” Major General Horatio Gates Arrives to take command in North Carolina, July 25, 1780”

A Handsome Flogging: 244th Anniversary of the Battle of Monmouth Revelry

Join ERW historians on our Facebook page this Sunday night at 7 p.m. as we discuss the Battle of Monmouth, which took place on June 28, 1778. In preparation for our trip to Monmouth Battlefield State Park next week, and our annual bus tour in November, we will focus on the journeys of both armies from Valley Forge and Philadelphia, the transformations each had experienced during the winter and spring, and the decisions made by the commanders on the road to Monmouth and on the battlefield that hot summer day in June. We hope you can join us as we begin our commemoration events of what most historians declare the “battle that made the American Army.”

Prelude to Guilford Courthouse: Clapp’s Mill

This March brings the 241st Anniversary of the pivotal battle of Guilford Courthouse, NC. While this battle is of immense importance to the Southern Campaign, several smaller battles leading up to it have been largely overlooked. Through February and early March of 1781, detachments of the American and British armies maneuvered across the modern-day counties of Alamance, Guilford, Orange, Chatham, and Caswell. The is the second in a series of three articles.  

            Pyle’s Defeat on February 25, 1781 was a public relations disaster for the British. The next skirmish fought between the opposing forces was at Clapp’s Mill on March 2nd and has also been called the Battle of Alamance. On February 27th, Cornwallis’ army moved from Hillsborough to the Haw River, camping on the south side of Alamance Creek at an important crossroads.

Continue reading “Prelude to Guilford Courthouse: Clapp’s Mill”

Henry Clinton and “A Miracle on Sullivan’s Island”

By the Red Sea the Hebrew host detained

Through aid divine the distant shore soon gained;

The waters fled, the deep passage a grave;

But thus God wrought a chosen race to save.

Though Clinton’s troops have shared a different fate

‘Gainst them, poor men! Not chosed sure of heaven,

The miracle reversed is still as great—

From two feet deep the water rose to seven.[6]

–St. James Chronicle

While delegates to the Second Continental Congress debated the matter of Independence in 1776, the British brought the war to Charleston, South Carolina.  Defense of the city focused on Fort Sullivan, on Sullivan’s Island at the northern mouth of Charleston Harbor.  Major General Henry Clinton, commanding an Army expedition against the Americans, was determined to exploit the fort’s vulnerabilities.  He ultimately failed, but his effort, or lack thereof, prompted a British newspaper to craft a little ditty taunting the poor general.

Fort Sullivan
The Attack on Fort Sullivan, June 28, 1776 from Edward McCrady, The History of South Carolina in the Revolution, 1775-1780
Continue reading “Henry Clinton and “A Miracle on Sullivan’s Island””

The First American Civil War

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes guest historian Sean Chick

On October 7, 1780, Britain’s attempt to regain at least part of the rebellious North American colonies was dealt a major blow at King’s Mountain. The rebels rejoiced, since it was their first major victory since 1777 and it came after the twin disasters at Charleston and Camden. Thomas Jefferson, then governor of Virginia, considered it the decisive battle of the war. Years later, Theodore Roosevelt echoed that sentiment. In 1930, when the site was set to become a national park, Herbert Hoover gave a speech. For the embattled president, it was an attempt to shore up his falling support and vindicate his strategy to peel southern states away from the Democratic Party. Hoover said “This is a place of inspiring memories. Here less than a thousand men, inspired by the urge of freedom, defeated a superior force entrenched in this strategic position. This small band of Patriots turned back a dangerous invasion well designed to separate and dismember the united Colonies.”

Hoover, understandably, never mentioned the atrocities committed. Many were executed after the battle. Nor did he mention that King’s Mountain was not a contest between redcoats and rebels, but brother against brother. The only British man present was Major Patrick Ferguson. His command was made up entirely of Loyalists. His second in command, Captain Abraham de Peyster, was from New York City.

Joseph Galloway
(courtesy of NYPL)

Few groups in American history are as forgotten as the Loyalists and few were as complex. They were a varied lot, often making up the highest in colonial society, including wealthy merchants and colonial officials. They often included the very lowest in the society, such as recent immigrants, slaves, indigenous, and subsistence farmers. Their ideology was in many ways not radically different from those who rebelled. They were generally not in favor of absolute monarchy or the supremacy of Parliament but simply favored union with Britain and slow reform. A few, such as Joseph Galloway, were part of early protests against British colonial policy, but were unwilling to jump into the chasm of revolution. Some, such as South Carolina merchant David Fanning, were merely aggrieved and sought to settle scores. Others were on the margins of society and saw the colonists, or at least the revolutionary colonial elite, as their real oppressors.

The Loyalists were at first spurned by the British high command. Major General William had over 30,000 men under his command in 1776 and Loyalists would have added to the logistical strain. He also thought a soft war policy that he hoped would induce the colonies to return, and therefore it was reasonable to avoid civil war. Yet, by 1777 the British were using some Loyalist regiments. They would fight in John Burgoyne’s ill-fated drive on Albany and served as rangers at Brandywine.

Continue reading “The First American Civil War”

The Battle of Moores Creek Bridge: How Three Minutes Affected Three Years of War Strategy

Did the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge help keep the British away from the southern colonies during the first half of the war?

Months before its colonies officially adopted their Declaration of Independence, the British army was reaching a critical juncture in its war strategy: with the colonies in rebellion, where should they focus their attentions? The war was picking up steam and the British were looking for a stronghold in the colonies that would gain them resources such as men and supplies. They turned their eyes south.

The general impression of the southern colonies was that they were poorer and weaker than their sister colonies in the north. They also had been receiving word of heavy Loyalist sympathies in both the backcountry of South Carolina and the coastal areas of North Carolina, where large populations of German and Scottish immigrants had settled. Indeed, by the fall of 1775, Loyalist recruitment seemed to be quite successful. One evidence of this was at the First Battle of Ninety Six in November 1775, when nearly 2,000 Loyalists met a paltry force of not quite 600 patriots. Though this first Revolutionary War battle south of New England ended in a truce, British confidence was high.

The Royal Governor of South Carolina, Lord William Campbell, had fled the colonies by September 1775, leaving the colony mostly in the hands of the Patriots. That made the ultimate goal at this point in the southern colonies to capture the wealthy and strategic port of Charleston, South Carolina. Meanwhile, the Royal Governor of North Carolina, Josiah Martin, convinced British commanders to target key points along their route through his colony as they advanced on their mission. And as 1775 turned into 1776, plans were set in motion.

On January 10, Martin issued a proclamation calling on all subjects loyal to the Crown to take up arms against the rebellion in the colony. Authority was given to Loyalist leaders throughout the colony to recruit militia and gather all necessary provisions to muster in Brunswick, NC.

A copy of Josiah Martin’s Proclamation from January 10, 1776.
Library of Congress.

By mid-February, a contingent of several thousand loyalists was gathered at Cross Creek, NC, preparing to march towards their goal. Among those recruited were the famed Scotch Highlanders. Though not all joined the Loyalist cause, the Highlanders’ reputations as fierce warriors preceded the impending war in the colonies. This reputation may have stemmed from the Jacobite rebellion in the 1740s as well as British assumptions at the time that the HIghlands were a lawless land due their clan-based culture.

Loyalists weren’t the only militias stirring along the Carolina coast. Patriot militias had begun forming at the first news of Loyalists gathering as early as August 1775. In fact, some of those militias formed in Wilmington, NC became the foundation of the 1st North Carolina Regiment of the Continental Army and in February 1776, they were led by Colonel James Moore. At that time, they were joined by additional militiamen from the surrounding area, led by Alexander Lillington and Richard Caswell. Their goal was two-fold: protect Wilmington and prevent the Loyalist forces from reaching the coast.

By February 20, 1776, a clash between the British and Patriot forces was inevitable. British commander Donald MacDonald began to move his 1,600 men from Cross Creek towards his rendezvous point at Brunswick, only to find his way impeded along the Black River by Caswell’s blockade. On February 25, MacDonald had managed to get across the river and Caswell moved his 1,000 Patriots back to Moores Creek Bridge. There they set up defensive earthworks, prepped their two artillery pieces, and prepared for battle.

A map of the Moores Creek campaign, February 1776.
NPS/Moores Creek National Battlefield.

At 1:00 am on February 27, 1776, MacDonald’s second-in-command, Donald McLeod, led the British troops on their march towards the Patriot position. Arriving at an abandoned camp on the west side of the bridge around 5:00 am, a brief exchange of fire alerted the Loyalists to the Patriot sentries guarding the bridge, and ultimately, the Patriot forces lying in wait. 

McLeod with 50 men attempted to cross the bridge and attack the Patriot defensive position, but the attempt was futile and disastrous. Heavy musket fire coupled with a barrage of two artillery units killed 30 almost immediately, including McLeod. The remaining Loyalists quickly retreated and the battle was over almost as quickly as it had begun.

Bill Ballard’s drawing of the decisive moment during the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge.
NPS/Moores Creek National Battlefield.

So how important were these three approximate minutes of battle? This Patriot victory struck a huge blow to Loyalist recruitment in North Carolina – so much so that two months later, North Carolina’s delegates to Continental Congress were the first to vote for independence. And it created a rippling effect throughout the southern colonies, as one by one the royal governors were displaced and revolution took hold. 

No longer could the British see the Carolinas as easy targets. They abandoned this initial southern strategy to focus their resources on the war in the northern colonies. For the next three years, significant battles and events that we learn about today took place, thanks in part to the dominating Patriot showing at the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge.


If you’re interested in learning more about the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge, I strongly encourage you to visit Moores Creek National Battlefield’s website as well as their very active Facebook page. Both offer a wealth of information and additional resources for folks to explore.

The third Artillery Engagement at the Battle of Trenton: December 26, 1776

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historians Karl G. Elsea and William W. Welsch for the final installment of their three part series

1770 drawing of Hessian three-pounder gun and limber
(courtesy of Kriegskarten from Hessisches Staatsarchiv Marburg, Germany at
http://www.digam.net/?str=177)

The v. Lossberg Artillery detachment:

Bombardier Conrad Volprecht was about 44 years old with over 27 years of service. He led the v. Lossberg artillery detachment consisting of another bombardier, 13 gunners and 3 matrosses, with two three-pounder guns and associated horses, harness, and limber.[i]

Over two years after the battle and being a prisoner Bombardier Volprecht gave testimony that indicated the sequence of battle for his detachment was roughly as follows: First went to field, second fired north, third ordered south, and fourth got stuck in the mud till the end of the battle. There is a problem though, the sequence that better fits the data from the battle was as follows: first went to field, second ordered south, third fired west, and fourth got stuck in the mud.

 John Adams wrote “Facts are stubborn things. They cannot be altered by our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions.” In studying firsthand accounts of the battles in the Revolutionary War they are sometimes not correct or even true. For example, there is an enjoyable firsthand account (written many years later) by a patriot Sergeant White (The Good Soldier White) that is often quoted in accounts of the battle. Parts of his story are no doubt true. The problem is that when Sgt. White states he was with “Lieut. Munroe, our late President of the U. States” and “I was the first that reach them [cannons],” and “They had all left it, except one man tending vent,” those specific parts of the story cannot be true. Hessian Lt. Englehardt would not have time to do all that he did and then cross the Assunpink bridge before the Jagers if artillery men from Sullivan’s column were that far up King Street. Facts from the battle mean that part of that story does not work.

The most important place in all the 13 states fighting for independence on December 26, 1776 from 8:00 am to 9:00 am was the long, narrow bridge over the Assunpink creek. It was held by Hessian Sergeant Muller and 18 men. Sgt. Muller was about 50 years old with about 32 years of service. The importance of this place was not fully realized by the Hessians, but the Patriots knew it had to be closed, and General Washington had two full brigades, Sargent’s and Glover’s, tasked with taking, as quickly as possible, and then holding the bridge.

At about 8:03 am Patriot General Sullivan was about one mile from Trenton center along the River road when he attacked the outlying Jager pickets. General Sullivan had the artillery fire several canister shots at the Jagers. This firing also served as a signal to General Washington so he would know his other wing was attacking. It was to be recalled that General Washington started his attack about 8:00 am on the Pennington road and he also was about a mile from Trenton center. This cannon firing was also a signal to General Ewing so he knew when to start his distraction. General Ewing heard the three cannon shots and he quickly followed with his guns and howitzers firing ten shots from across the Delaware River. General Ewing kept up his firing until he could make out that Patriots were approaching. The v. Knyphausen regiment was forming on Second Street and was the logical unit to resist any attack coming from the River Road.

Volprecht’s detachment with its two guns followed Lt. Fischer’s detachment east on Fourth Street from the Methodist church into the field north and east of the Quaker lane. Lt. Fischer’s detachment was falling back from its earlier engagement and picked up the v. Lossberg detachment as it passed by. It took longer for the v. Lossberg artillery detachment to prepare for the battle because the horses had to be collected, harnessed, hitched, and the guns limbered. Fischer testified that the “cannon were unhorsed, and the horses unharnessed and brought back again into the stable” from the cancelled early morning patrol.[ii] For the morning patrol the horses had been hitched and guns limbered at 4:00 am but the patrol was cancelled so the men/horses/limber/guns were brought back to the Methodist church and waited for sunrise to unhorse.  

The infantry of the v. Lossberg and Rall regiments followed Volprecht’s detachment into the field. It was in this field that these two regiments would form a line for battle. While waiting for the v. Lossberg regiment to form Volprecht was ordered by Lt. Weiderhold, “Artillery men, come here with the cannon” meaning they were to join the v. Knyphausen regiment.[iii]  The v. Knyphausen regiment was on Second Street heading to the open field just east of Trenton and away from the Assunpink bridge. Volprecht and his v. Lossberg artillery detachment moved south on Quaker lane, linked up with the v. Knyphausen regiment, and set up his gun position facing threats coming from Trenton. The following map presents Trenton as it was in 1776.[iv]

While this was happening on the Hessian side, the right wing of the Patriot forces was moving east on River Road. General Sullivan rushed two of his brigades toward the Assunpink bridge. Neil’s battery with Sargent’s brigade and Sargent’s battery with Glover’s brigade made it to the bridge and across. Glover’s brigade with Sargent’s battery continued along the Assunpink creek to cut off possible exits for the v. Knyphausen regiment. St Clair’s brigade was moving east on Second Street with Moulder’s (three four-pounders) and Hugg’s artillery (two three-pounders).

Hessian Bombardier Volprecht testified that he fired his gun five times and the other gun fired one time.[v] One of those six shots hit the fore horse of one of Hugg’s three-pounder guns as they advanced in support of Patriot St. Clair‘s brigade. John Greenwood, a fifer in the 15th Continental, recorded that one of Hugg’s guns had the fore horse shot by a Hessian three-pounder gun, ”the ball from which struck the fore horse that was dragging our only piece of artillery, a 3-pounder. The animal, which was near me … was struck in its belly and knocked over on its back. While it lay there kicking the cannon was stopped.”[vi]  That was the only hit scored by the Hessian artillery that day. St. Clair’s brigade with Col. Stark’s infantry in the lead applied great pressure causing the v. Knyphausen regiment to pull back farther east. Volprecht’s artillery detachment pulled back with the regiment.

As the Hessian artillery detachment pulled back east disaster struck both guns. Volprecht had been ordered into a valley without the ground being checked. Both guns got stuck in the mud. The rest of the battle the men of the artillery, with some aid from nearby infantry, was spent trying to extract the guns from the mud. One gun was extracted just before the surrender, the other gun was extracted after the battle was over.

Mud ended the third artillery engagement. The battle at Trenton was over. The Patriots had a great victory. What is shocking was the limited number of shots from the Hessian artillery. The Rall artillery detachment fired twelve solid shot and one grape, the v. Knyphausen artillery detachment fired “seven or eight shots,” and the v. Lossberg artillery detachment fired six shots.[vii] These few shots lend support for how quickly the Patriots won the Battle of Trenton.

Sources:

[i] William S. Stryker, The Battles of Trenton and Princeton (The Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1898), 388

[ii]Hessian Documents of the American Revolution, Morristown National Historical Park, ML, The Affair at Trenton Dec. 26, 1776, English Translation, ML 337

[iii] Hessian Documents of the American Revolution, Morristown National Historical Park, ML, The Affair at Trenton Dec. 26, 1776, English Translation, ML 277

[iv] Information taken from The Trenton Mapping Project located at www.trentonhistory.org/Documents/Trentonin1775.pdf  With the information available it is likely more buildings are shown rather than less.

[v] Hessian Documents of the American Revolution, Morristown National Historical Park, ML, The Affair at Trenton Dec. 26, 1776, English Translation, ML 277

[vi] John Greenwood, Revolutionary Services of John Greenwood of Boston and New York, 1775-1783, 40-41. “the first intimation I received of our going to fight was the firing of a 6- pound cannon at us, the ball from which struck the fore horse that was dragging our only piece of artillery a 3-pounder.” Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/revolutionaryser00gree/page/38/mode/2u

[vii] Hessian Documents of the American Revolution, Morristown National Historical Park, ML, The Affair at Trenton Dec. 26, 1776, English Translation, ML 341

Christmas Night, 1776: How Did They Cross? The Horses:

Part II.

Part 1 of this article showed that a total of 23 ferry trips were required to move all of Knox’s artillery men, guns, horses, and carts across the Delaware River. In addition, there were other horses needed for the march to Trenton. Many of the likely 35 horses associated with senior officers and aids could fit in with the above 23 trips at a rate of a couple per trip, especially the ferry with only one cart. 

There were six ferries operating to move the Continental Army across the river at McKonkey’s ferry site. Each of the six ferries could likely carry a maximum weight of roughly 8,750 pounds. That weight estimate comes from the intelligence report from Capt. Losbiniere on 22 December 1776 concerning the “7 flat-bottom boats which may carry about 50 men each and two ferry Boats, which may carry the like number” that were with Col. Cadwalader at Bristol ferry.[i]  There is no reason to believe those ferries were different from those at used at McKonkey’s. If it is assumed a man weighed 150 pounds plus 25 pounds of musket and gear, then the weight for 50 men comes to 8,750 pounds. With those capabilities the Philadelphia Light Horse needed 3 ferries for their unit (8 horses and riders per ferry).

Possibly one more ferry trip for any leftover senior officers and aids horses was necessary.  That is 27 trips total needed. With six ferries working that is four trips for all with three additional trips required. Those five round trips by the ferries were estimated by Washington in his plan to require six hours; however, it actually took a nine-hour period (6 pm to 3 am). The additional hours required for the crossing was likely explained by the floating ice and the increased river current driving the ferries out of position.

The question was raised about how difficult it would have been to transport the horses across the river. The somewhat surprising answer may be that it was not as difficult as many assume. No doubt a few horses were a problem; however, the majority of the horses probably presented few problems. How we surmise this is as follows:

Firstly, we can safely speculate that at least some of the horses had participated in earlier ferry crossings during the army’s previous movements and retreats. Those horses would remember that nothing was amiss in the crossing.  Secondly, many of the farm horses transferred to pull guns had previous experience pulling carts and wagons across ferries to take produce to market. Thirdly, each team had a driver who knew the horses and he could strategically place the lead horse with a horse who had experience. As for the cavalry, each horse rider likely slowly leads his horse onto the ferry. Horses who see a previous horse move onto a ferry without incident generally lose their fear.

The following picture of a contemporary ferry crossing (1779) shows a typical crossing.[ii] This period ferry appears to measure about 48 feet long (without the two four-foot ramps) by eight feet wide. If one replaces the carriage in the painting with a field gun and limber then the person holding the reins would be the driver. Note the horses are in a pair; whereas, on a gun team there would be a thill horse in front of the limber and additional horse(s) in front of the thill horse.


Many of the campaigns and battles of the Revolutionary War are better understood if a study of horses was included in the analysis. Often, it was all about horses, or the lack thereof. Both General Burgoyne’s march south in the Saratoga campaign and General de Kalb’s march toward South Carolina show that the lack of horses was very important. As for the crossing of the Delaware, General Washington showed his skill in planning. More important, Washington was lucky. It was not the horses that drove the outcome but rather the bad weather and severe river conditions. These bad conditions set in place the delay that assisted the surprise attack.


[i] William S. Stryker, The Battles of Trenton and Princeton (The Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1898), 338

[ii] Camden County Historical Society, Drawing of the ferry done in 1779 in Lower Delaware River. Image retrieved https://www.living-in-the-past.com/ferry.html

Christmas Night, 1776: How Did They Cross? The Horses:

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes guest historians Karl G. Elsea and William W. Welsch. Short bios of both historians are at the bottom of this part.

Part I:

The purpose of this article is to further investigate General George Washington’s Christmas night crossing of the Delaware River in December, 1776, with added emphasis on the role of the artillery and horses   This is the result of discussions and collaboration between the two authors.

In an earlier article published by The Journal of the American Revolution, the second author posed the question of just how difficult was the crossing.  Given the weather, the river conditions, the expertise of the crews, and available original sources, this remains an unanswerable conundrum.  However, new research is able to provide a better understanding of the challenges posed in crossing the cannons and horses.

In calculating the number of horses needed to move the artillery, authors have been initially tempted to use the numbers provided from John Muller’s Treatise on Artillery.  Muller (about 1757) wrote that “A 3 pounder requires but 1 horse, a 6 pounder 2, a 12 pounder 3 of the light [field artillery] sort.”  That quote assumed roads as they were in England and Europe, and relatively flat and firm, dry surfaces with well-fed and conditioned horses. Those conditions do not apply well for Revolutionary War America.[i]

There is a primary source that states a three-pounders was pulled by at least 2 horses. John Greenwood, a fifer in the 15th Continental, recorded “the ball … struck the fore horse that was dragging our only piece of artillery, a 3-pounder.”[ii] This was important information because a three-pounder gun could be pulled by a single horse according to Muller. Because the weather was rainy and sleety, with the ground becoming muddy, an extra horse was required. That Patriot three-pounder gun had at least two horses.

There were old expressions that give important insight into what a horse could pull. For example, “on flat, firm ground a horse or mule can pull its own weight ten hours a day, every day.” Also, “on rough ground a horse can pull half its weight with large wheels.”[iii]  While those expressions offer what a well-fed horse could accomplish, we have no way of assessing the condition of the army’s horses, given that forage was a constant problem.

There was another issue concerning horses pulling in harness. Not all of their effort can be applied to the load being pulled. If there was more than one horse pulling a gun, then they were harnessed in tandem in America. The horse between the shafts for the limber was called the thill horse. In tandem the horse in front of the thill horse only had 3/4 of its draught applied to the load. If there was a horse before that one, then only half of that horse had the draught apply to the load. If there was a fourth horse in tandem, then only 1/4 of the draught can be applied. More than four horses in tandem provided no gain in pull and might make pulling harder. For example, cresting a hill with the Fore horse on down side and the Thill horse on the rise side of the hill would result in the forces being against each other.

 There was another problem, if the ground was rough or muddy then one must reduce the draught for all the horses by half. If a horse had a rider, then that horse’s ability to pull a load was reduced by half.

A typical Colonial farm horse available for pulling battalion guns in Colonial America was probably between 14 and 15 hands tall and weighed between 850 and 1,000 pounds. Large draft horses like the Conestoga were not used on battalion guns, they were reserved for large wagons.

It seems very reasonable that each gun in Washington’s force had an extra horse added due to the conditions of the ground. With the information presented above, the following presents the math for a light six-pounder guns as used by Hamilton and Forest.

The “old” six-pounder (Armstrong design 1736) with carriage and limber and everything with which to utilize the gun weighted about 1,800 pounds. Adding 24 rounds of ready fixed ammunition adds 202 pounds for a grand total of 2002 pounds that must be pulled.[iv] The “old” six-pounder would normally be pulled by two horses according to Muller. The thill horse would provide about 1000 pounds of draught and the fore horse about 750 pounds for a total of 1750 pounds of draught with 2 horses. As the math suggests, there was a shortfall in draught (2002 vs 1750) which means that the horses would likely wear out in less than 10 hours of work. The shortfall noted could be significantly greater when the condition of the ground was considered. With the thill horse and two fore horses added as a pair, then an additional 750 pounds of draught was available (for a total of 2,500 pounds of draught). Because the army was moving by a road then the horses in front of the thill horse did not have to be in tandem and could be added as a pair. This calculation demonstrates the six-pounder likely had an additional horse. The calculations would be similar for the howitzers.  That means the six-pounders, the four-pounders, and the howitzers each had three horses and the three-pounders each had two horses.

A typical colonial period ferry (flat) designed to carry a large farm wagon to market, as would be case at McKonkey’s and Johnson’s ferries, would typically be about 48 feet long and 9 feet wide. A light six-pounder gun with three horses (fore horses in a pair) would be almost 40 feet long. Same for the 5.5-inch howitzer. The track of a six-pounder would be 4 feet, 8 inches leaving some room on the side(s). A three-pounder gun with 2 horses (thill and fore) would be about 35 feet long. With that information one can see that each gun would require a trip on the ferry, and there would be some space along the side(s) for some artillerymen and/or horses.

At least seven artillery ammunition carts had to be used – one for each artillery company. In addition, Forest’s artillery company needed an additional cart because he had two types of cannon, and thus a cart for each type of cannon. It may be that Moulder also required two ammo carts to carry adequate ammunition for his three guns. Each cart with horses would require about 24 feet, so two carts could be taken on a ferry.

Thus, Knox’s artillery would require eighteen ferry trips to move all eighteen cannons, one for each cannon and team.  Two trips required on a ferry for the four ammo carts (two carts per ferry) associated with Greene’s column (Forest, Hamilton, Bauman).  Three trips required on a ferry for the five ammo carts (two carts per ferry) associated with Sullivan’s column (Sargent, Neil, Hugg, Moulder).

CompanyNumber and Type CannonFerry Trips
ForestTwo 6-pounder guns Two 5.5-inch howitzers Two ammo carts2 2 2
HamiltonTwo 6-pounder guns One ammo cart2 1/2
BaumanThree 3-pounder guns One ammo cart3 1/2
SergeantTwo 6-pounder guns One ammo cart2 1/2
NeilTwo 3-pounder guns One ammo cart2 1/2
HuggTwo 3-pounder guns One ammo cart2 1/2
MoulderThree 4-pounder guns Two ammo carts3 1

[i] John Muller, A Treatise of Artillery the second edition (John Millan, Whitehall, London, 1768), 178.

[ii] John Greenwood, Revolutionary Services of John Greenwood of Boston and New York, 1775-1783, 40-41. “the first intimation I received of our going to fight was the firing of a 6- pound cannon at us, the ball from which struck the fore horse that was dragging our only piece of artillery a 3-pounder.” Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/revolutionaryser00gree/page/38/mode/2u

[iii] First author’s grandparents (paternal and maternal) farmed with horses in early 1900’s. Grandparent that farmed in Blue Ridge Mountain’s foothills and clay mud taught these expressions. The reader may find references to a horse pulling 1.5 times its weight on a road. That reference assumes roads with firm surfaces and includes, in its averaging of 1.5, roads with asphalt and concrete from more modern times.

[iv] Adrian B. Caruana, The Light 6-Pdr. Battalion Gun of 1776, (Alexandria Bay, NY: Museum Restoration Service, 1993), 14.

*Bios*

Karl G. Elsea graduated with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Va. Tech. and a MBA from UNCC. Son, daughter, and I participate in Revolutionary War reenactments. Have ridden horses most of my life. Was a coxswain in the U. S. Coast Guard and earned the Trident. Taught disadvantaged youth at a juvenile detention center. Own horses and pull a bronze four-pounder cannon and limber for living history.

William M. Welsch, a retired administrator at Montclair State University in New Jersey, is the current and founding president of the American Revolution Round Table of Richmond, and co-founder of the Congress of American Revolution Round Tables. He is a tour guide of Revolutionary War battlefields, frequent presenter and author of multiple articles on the Revolution. His interest areas include the Revolution in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the generals of the Continental Army. Welsch served in the United States Marine Corps and is married with two daughters and five grandchildren.