On January 17, 1781, General Daniel Morgan and his mixed force of Continental soldiers and militia defeated the British under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton. This victory for the patriots in northwestern South Carolina had major implications on the southern theater and the main British force under General Lord Charles Cornwallis. The battle, named after the use of the fields in which it was fought, Cowpens, also included one of the only instances in American history of a successful double envelopment.
On Sunday, at 7 p.m. EDT, Emerging Revolutionary War will be joined by American Battlefield Trust’s Kristopher White, Deputy Director of Education and Daniel Davis, Education Manager, in a discussion about the history and preservation of the Battle of Cowpens.
Round out your January weekend by joining us on our Facebook page for this live historian happy hour.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When thirteen North American colonies rebelled against the British crown, the future state of Florida was not part of that movement. In fact, the settled part of the future 27th state of the United States was partitioned into East and West Florida. Both colonies also declined an invitation to send delegates to the Continental Congress.
West Florida, spanned from slightly east of Pensacola, which was the capital, across to Louisiana and included parts of modern Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, and Mississippi. East Florida, spanned the rest of northern Florida from the Apalachicola River to the Atlantic seaboard and down the peninsula. The capital was located at St. Augustine, founded in 1565 by the Spanish.
During the American Revolution, both East and West Florida would play a role as the rebellion spread into a world conflict, bringing into the fighting the European nations of France and Spain. In East Florida, St. Augustine would send north British soldiers to assist in operations in Georgia and South Carolina and also house American prisoners, including three Signers of the Declaration of Independence; Arthur Middleton, Edward Rutledge, and Thomas Heyward, Jr. Other prisoners, both Americans and French were also confined to the town too.
On October 7, 1780, patriot militia, some coming from over the Appalachian Mountains descended on a Loyalist militia force in northwest South Carolina. This pro-British force, commanded by the only British regular on the field that day, Major Patrick Ferguson retreated onto Kings Mountain.
American fought American.
On that hilltop one of the pivotal battles of the American Revolutionary War unfolded. The ramifications reverberated through the southern theater of operations, played a part on the psyche of civilians and militia, and added luster to the burgeoning backwoods, frontier American persona.
Emerging Revolutionary War focuses in on the Battle of Kings Mountain this Sunday, on the next “Rev War Revelry.” Join us on our Facebook page at 7 p.m. EST for a historian happy hour, as we discuss, dissect, imbibe, and provide commentary on this strategic battle, the national park there, and the campaigns that decided this theater of operation.
This Sunday, May 10th, at 7 p.m. EST, Emerging Revolutionary War returns with the “Rev War Roundtable with ERW” for another installment of “Rev War Revelry.”
This week ERW welcomes guest historian Gabe Neville, historian and founder of the blog, 8th Virginia Regiment, and ERW historians Mark Maloy, Mark Wilcox, Billy Griffith, and Travis Shaw for a chat about militia (both Patriot and Loyalist) and Continental units. Click here to see Gabe’s blog.
Join the panel of historians as they debate, discuss, and share their favorite units, the differences between militia and Continental units, regiments or companies that deserve more recognition, or all of the above. Questions and comments are welcomed and encouraged.
Just head on over to Emerging Revolutionary War’s Facebook page Sunday evening, for our weekly happy hour historical discussion. We’ll be there sharing our insight, but not our favorite brews! See you Sunday!
Join Emerging Revolutionary War this Sunday, at 7p.m. EST on our Facebook page as we head, virtually, down to South Carolina to discuss the importance of that colony/state in the American Revolution.
Most are familiar with the larger engagements, such as Cowpens and Kings Mountain or maybe the massacre at the Waxhaws. How about the Siege of Charleston, or the battles of Ninety-Six, or the countless other engagements that made the Palmetto State (which got its nickname from this era) one of the most hotly contested areas of the entire conflict.
Joining the “Rev War Revelry” will be ERW historians Vanessa Smiley, former Chief of Interpretation and Education at the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution National Park Group, which includes Cowpens, Kings Mountain, and Ninety-Six and Bert Dunkerly, former park ranger at Kings Mountain and author of a few histories on South Carolina in the Revolutionary War topics.
We look forward to seeing you for our sojourn into the Southern Theater this Sunday. Oh, and remember to grab your favorite brew for the trip!
Mark your calendars for September 28, 2019! Emerging Revolutionary War is excited to announce that we are partnering with Gadsby’s Tavern Museum and The Lyceum of Alexandria, VA to bring to you a day long Symposium focusing on the American Revolution.
Alexandria is George Washington’s hometown and we feel is a great place for us to start this new endeavor. Historic “Old Town” Alexandria is home to dozens of museums and historic sites as well as great pubs, restaurants and shops. Gadsby’s Tavern Museum is the premier 18th century tavern museum in the country and is host to the famous annual George Washington Birthnight Ball. The Lyceum: Alexandria’s History Museum will be our host location. Today The Lyceum serves as the City’s history museum and is a center of learning through lectures, demonstrations and exhibits.
This year’s theme is “Before They Were Americans” and will highlight several topics
about the years leading up to the American Revolution. Our speakers include: Phillip Greenwalt, Katherine Gruber, William Griffith, Stephanie Seal Walters and Dr. Peter Henriques as the keynote. Registration will open on July 1, 2019 through AlexandriaVA.gov/Shop or by calling 703-746-4242. Stay tuned as we highlight each of our speakers and their topics.
The British and loyalists would not have to wait long. Word of the landing reached the Massachusetts government within a matter of days, and preparations for a counterattack began almost immediately. There was such a hurry to respond that the General Assembly voted to carry out the operation with state forces rather than wait for Continental assistance. Despite the initial rush it still took a month to assemble a force of over 1,000 militiamen, as well as the food, arms, and other supplies to sustain them. All of these troops and their supplies would be transported by a fleet of 21 transports, accompanied by nearly twenty state and Continental navy vessels and privateers. Among the warships the largest was the Frigate Warren of 32 guns which served as the flagship of Commodore Dudley Saltonstall. The Connecticut born officer was given overall command of the naval forces – no small task given the lack of experience with large scale fleet actions among his subordinates. Command of the land forces was given to Massachusetts Brigadier Solomon Lovell. Lovell has seen experience early in the war outside of Boston, but was also relatively untested in battle. The inexperience and poor communication between Saltonstall and Lovell was to have a decisive impact on the coming expedition. Notable among the other officers in the expedition was Paul Revere, who commanded the Massachusetts artillery. The expedition was also joined by a band of the local Penobscot Indians allied to the Continental Congress.
The New England fleet entered the Penobscot Bay on July 25th and immediately attempted a landing. Clearly outnumbered and with their works incomplete, General McLean and his men were determined to resist the Americans, but expected the worst. Saltonstall’s fleet sailed in close to the shore and exchanged cannon fire with both the British defences and the three remaining Royal warships, now under the command of Captain Henry Mowatt. In the confusion and smoke the Americans lowered seven launches full of marines and militiamen, but as they neared the shore they were met by a hail of musket fire. At least one of the attackers – a Native American – was killed and the boats returned to the safety of the fleet. It was an inauspicious start to the battle for the New Englanders and already the relationship between the two commanding officers was becoming strained. General Lovell knew little about sailing or naval operations. He questioned the Commodore as to why he couldn’t just sail his fleet into the harbor and blast the British to pieces while his troops landed under their covering fire. The Connecticut seaman replied curtly, exclaiming “You seem to be damn knowing about the whole matter! I am not going to risk my shipping in that damned hole!”
On the 26th a second militia landing on the peninsula was repulsed after the lead boat carrying militia Major Daniel Littlefield was swamped by British chain shot, drowning the Major and two privates.That same day, however, the Americans scored a small victory when a force of 200 Continental marines and artillerymen landed on Nautilus Island and captured the small British battery there. More artillerymen were landed and soon the Americans had a battery from which they could harass the British shipping. With the Americans making some headway Captain Mowatt withdrew the remaining British ships deeper into the harbor, creating a defensive line across the Bagaduce River.
In the summer of 1778, Lieutenant Colonel George Rogers Clark of the Virginia militia launched one of the most daring American military operations of the Revolutionary War when he invaded the “Illinois country” and captured Cahokia and Kaskaskia in modern-day Illinois and Vincennes in southern Indiana, effectively neutralizing British power on the Illinois, Wabash, and Mississippi Rivers. Henry Hamilton, Lieutenant Governor of Quebec and Britain’s Superintendent for Indian Affairs in Detroit, could not allow such audacity to succeed, lest Britain’s influence with the western Indian nations wane. Learning of Fort Sackville’s fall at Vincennes on the Wabash River, he set out to recapture it.