On September 12, 1814, approximately 4,700 soldiers, a mix of British infantry and marines, were landed on the North Point peninsula, a jut of land between the Back and Patapsco River and on a direct line of march toward Baltimore. While the infantry and marines advanced toward the city, the British Navy’s task was to subdue the American fortifications in Baltimore harbor. The latter was foiled by the stout defense of Fort McHenry which served as the backdrop for the future national anthem, the Star-Spangled Banner.
Less is known about the accompanying land engagement, fought at North Point between the British and American militia. That battle, which cost the life of Major General Robert Ross, the British commander, saw the American militia retreat, but in order, and stymied the initial approach of the British toward Baltimore. Furthermore, the battle gave the Americans more time to add to their defenses.
To shed light on this aspect of the Battle of Baltimore, Emerging Revolutionary War will be joined by two historians, both of who have worked on volunteered at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine.
Jim Bailey is now the Chief of Visitor Services and Education at Manassas National Battlefield Park but is a former park ranger at Fort McHenry. The other guest historian is Chris Boyle who has been a National Park Service volunteer at Fort McHenry National Monument & Historical Shrine since 2005 in both the Fort McHenry Guard living history program and as an historical interpreter focusing on the Fort’s history from the War of 1812 through the Civil War. While not a native Baltimorean, he has called the city home for the last 20 years.
We hope you can join us on Sunday at 7 p.m EDT on our Facebook page for this historian happy hour.
On October 17, 1777, British General John Burgoyne surrendered his joint British, Canadian, and Hessian and Brunswicker forces to patriot General Horatio Gates near Saratoga, New York. Over 6,000 soldiers, the number placed by one historian is 6,222, became captives of war. Under the terms of the convention agreed upon by Burgoyne and Gates, the vanquished army was to march to Boston, Massachusetts, board British ships, and sail to England, to await formal exchange and to not participate in the war in America further.
When news reached the Continental Congress of this concession, that political body demanded a complete list of the troops surrendered to ensure the terms of the convention was to be upheld. When this was not forthcoming by the British, Congress reacted by vowing to not adhere to the stipulations of the convention. Burgoyne’s forces would not head back to Great Britain to await an exchange that year. Instead, these men were to be confined in camps both in New England and Virginia for the duration of the war. This force came to be called the Convention Army.
This Sunday, March 6, at 7 p.m. EDT, join Emerging Revolutionary War on our Facebook page for the next historian happy hour, as Dan Welch and Phillip S. Greenwalt discuss the Convention Army and what happened after the pivotal battle of Saratoga in October 1777.
As the Continental Army marched into Valley Forge on December 19, 1777, staff officers under the commanding general had scoured the local area for a residence suitable for George Washington that winter. While discussions and negotiations were taking place, since the Continental Congress had decreed that the army had to ask and could not just commandeer private residences which was a chief complaint of the British policy prior to the war, Washington spent five nights in his marquee.
Afterwards Washington and his military family, later joined by Martha Washington, the general’s wife, moved into the Isaac Potts House for the remainder of the winter encampment.
This tent, called a marquee and served as headquarters, sleeping quarters, and dining area, was pitched in a field in the valley. The site is now marked by a stone monument and within the boundaries of Valley Forge National Historical Park.
On the second annual Emerging Revolutionary War Bus Tour, “The Rise of the American Army: Valley Forge and the Battle of Monmouth” from November 11 -13, 2022, this site, where Washington’s marquee tent was hoisted, will be one of the sites shown to tour participants.
To secure your spot, click here or the link on the banner at the top of this page.
On the morning of August 27, 1780 there was a knock on the door of the Charleston, South Carolina residence of Christopher Gadsden, lieutenant governor of South Carolina. He had stayed when the city capitulated to British forces in May. Gadsden had represented the civil government and handed the city over to the British commander, Sir Henry Clinton. He was released on parole.
Now, approximately three months later, Clinton was back in New York, and the new British commander Lord Charles Cornwallis had reneged on the parole agreement. Along with another 20 civil officers, Gadsden was led through the town to the docks to a waiting ship, set to sail for St. Augustine in British East Florida.
Upon arrival in the oldest city in European North America, Gadsden was given the opportunity by Governor Tonyn to avoid incarceration in Florida. This is when the 56-year old patriot probably uttered the phrase below.
“I gave my parole once, and it has been shamefully violated by the British Government: I shall not give another to people on whom no faith can be reposed.”
With that decision, Gadsden landed himself in Castillo de San Marcos the large coquina stone fortress that stood guard over St. Augustine. Not only was the South Carolinian kept in a cell, he was kept in solitary confinement for the next 42 weeks!
Upon his release in September 1781, Gadsden and the rest of the civil prisoners were sent by merchant vessel to Philadelphia. Gadsden wasted no time in hurrying southward to South Carolina and a return to the state House of Representatives. He served in various political roles, although he had to decline the governorship because of the affects of his imprisonment. He died in 1805. A grandson, James Gadsden would give his name to the Gadsden Purchase.
Today one can visit Castillo de San Marcos, a national park unit within the National Park Service. When touring the Castillo you can view the cell where Gadsden spent his solitary confinement and read the accompanying exhibits.
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.
Two hundred and forty years ago, January 17, 1781, Brigadier General Daniel Morgan strategically manuevered his Colonial forces to defeat the British, led by Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, at the Battle of Cowpens.
What can we learn from the Battle of Cowpens? Military strategy, yes. Historical knowledge, absolutely. But as we near the 250th commemoration of the American Revolutionary War, how do we turn the battle into relevancy for today’s modern society?
As historians, we can find meaning and connection to places and events at their face value. It’s a natural ability we have ingrained in our knowledge-seeking souls. What about those that can’t and don’t? How do we make them relevant to them so that our history is not forgotten?
The answers lie in the stories we tell and how we tell them. Instead of rehashing the specific details of the Battle of Cowpens, I’m going to try something a little different: think of a time when you were able to not only prove that someone’s opinion of you was wrong, you used it to your advantage to achieve a goal. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Now recall that a key element of Morgan’s strategy was his use of the British underestimation of the Colonial militia forces. Before the Battle of Cowpens, Tarleton, like many British commanders, believed that the militia were mostly untrained or inexperienced civilians that would flee in face of a real battlefield. To be fair, this was witnessed at several battles (Battle of Camden on August 16, 1780 immediately comes to mind) so it’s a fair assessment.
Using this knowledge to his advantage, Morgan set a trap. Putting his militia front and center of his second battle line, he ordered them to fire off two volleys at the oncoming British before falling back. The perspective fueled the British assumption that the militia were fleeing the battlefield, and Tarleton drove his men forward… and right into Morgan’s trap.
Perhaps if Tarleton had not underestimated the militia, he would not have found himself in the only successful double envelopment in the American Revolution. But more to the point, Morgan took strategic advantage of the British perception of the militia’s capabilities.
While this battle’s lessons learned are easily applied to modern military education, how can we apply them to our everyday civilian life, particularly the lesson that comes from Tarlton’s mistake and Morgan’s strategy relating to the militia? The motto “never assume” comes to mind first. At the very least, it compels the message “Don’t let what other people may or may not think of you prevent you from achieving what matters most to you.” I personally like the potential of “If someone doesn’t see value in your abilities, prove them wrong.”
What life lesson do you pull from the battle’s story?
Every year the historians of Emerging Revolutionary War take a fall trip to research, visit Revolutionary War sites/battlefields and to promote our museum partners and preservation. The trip usually is a follow up to our Annual Symposium, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, that has been moved to May 22nd (you can get more information on speakers, topics and registration on our Symposium link from our main page).
After much discussion, we have decided to keep our annual fall trip tradition, but a more scaled back version. Don’t worry there will still be revelry and Facebook lives! Our original plan was to head to North and South Carolina, as a follow up to our visit there in 2018. In lieu of COVID-19, we have decided to keep it more “local” by focusing on sites in and around Yorktown, VA (many of our contributors are based in Virginia and Maryland). We will visit sites such as Gloucester, Yorktown, Spencer’s Ordinary, Green Spring, Great Bridge and Williamsburg.
We will be posting FB Live videos the entire trip, bringing you some behind the scenes opportunities with our museum partners, some exclusive talks with historians and we will wrap up the trip with a special Sunday Night Rev War Revelry. Stay tuned to our blog and social media pages starting on November 6th and continuing on to our Sunday Night Rev War Revelry on November 8th.
Our goal is not just to share with you great information and encourage support for historic sites/museums but also to share with you the fun and passion we have for interpreting the events around the American Revolution. As a public history focused effort, we feel making history fun and accessible leads to a great appreciation for our shared history. We hope you join us virtually on our trip this November.
There are important stories often hidden in the threads of our American history. It won’t be a surprise to many that these stories desperately need to come to light. But sometimes research is scarce, with limited or hard-to-find resources to fully tell these stories to their fullest. One such example are the stories of the enslaved and free African-American people who helped build the nation, starting back even before the colonies fought for independence. America’s fight for freedom from Britain is oxymoronic considering an entire population of blacks were still kept in chains after the war. But their contributions to that fight should not go unnoticed.
The history of the construction of the British defense fortifications, including the Star Fort, at Ninety Six, South Carolina, has many layers of these diverse stories that make up the fabric of the site’s history. Lt. Colonel Nisbet Balfour set up an outpost at Ninety Six after the fall of Charleston in early 1780. In terms of fortifications – specifically the stockades and protections around the town and the jail – during this initial occupation, Balfour wrote to Cornwallis on June 24, 1780, “As to this post, it is so situated, that three small redoubts, well Abbattis [sic], I think, can easily defend it…”
Balfour also encouraged using slave labor, stating that “we have carpenters enough, and ammunition.” Balfour’s plan to construct fortifications was similar to a more extensive defense system suggested by Patrick Ferguson in his “Plan for Securing the Province of So. Carolina, &c.” dated May 16, 1780. Ferguson also recommended using slaves to construct the fortifications.
In fact, in that same June 24 letter to Cornwallis, Balfour writes that most of the labor that was used to construct the Ninety Six fortifications was from roughly 200 enslaved blacks that the British took from area plantations. Who were these 200 men? Were they promised freedom in exchange for their labor? We may never know. While research is underway to uncover the stories of these 200 individuals, very little primary resources remain. But we can still acknowledge that the British defense of Ninety Six relied heavily on the forced labor of these black men.
Work continued into the fall and winter of 1780 on the defense structures at Ninety Six, this time under Lt. Colonel John Harris Curger, including several field fortifications called abatis: defensive obstacles formed by felled trees with sharpened branches facing the enemy. The trunks are put deep into the ground, usually 4-5 feet, and is typically hard manual labor in the hard red clay of South Carolina. In a letter on December 29, 1780, Lt. Colonel Isaac Allen wrote to Cornwallis’s aide, Lt. Henry Haldane, of the hard work of the men constructing the abatis. And yes, those men were enslaved men. “I… have orderd [sic] the Abattiss [sic] cut, but Kings work like Church work goes on slow. The Poor naked Blacks can do but little this cold weather.”
Next up in the defense plan was the Star Fort itself, a large earthen redoubt whose remains are still the best-preserved earthen fort from the American Revolution. Once again, those approximately 200 enslaved men were used in its construction. Upon the completion of the fort, additional work included a network of ditches and trenches both for communication and transport of supplies.
By spring of 1781, the defenses were ready. Lt Colonel Cruger’s military force was nearly 600 but this was supplemented by a large number of Loyalist civilians in the town as well as several hundred enslaved African Americans from the surrounding country. Most likely, though it’s not known for sure, these were the roughly 200 men who helped build those very physical defenses.
But the hidden story of the enslaved at Ninety Six does not stop there, nor is their story solely on the shoulders of the British. During the Siege of Ninety Six in May and June of 1781, there are several instances that beg for more research. The first is from the morning of May 23, when Patriot forces had been digging trenches towards the Star Fort throughout the night. An attack by Loyalist militia from the fort pushed the Patriots back and they managed to capture not only the tools the Patriots were using, but “several Negro laborers abandoned by the Americans.” (Greene, 128)
It should come as no surprise that the Patriots were also using slave labor. James Mayson, a wealthy Patriot supporter living just a few miles from Ninety Six, described later how foraging parties were dispatched to the countryside to get food and supplies for Greene’s army, which included slaves “not earlier recruited by the British.”
As the Siege dragged on into June, there is one more hidden story that deserves additional research to discover the identities of the enslaved men who risked their lives for the British military garrisoned at the Star Fort. As the heat of the early Carolina summer sapped water supplies, Lt Colonel Cruger needed to get water from a nearby stream, Spring Branch, to keep their supply up. But Patriot marksmen were at the ready to prevent this from happening. Turning to the enslaved in their midst, a handful of them were ordered to strip out of their clothing and go at night to the stream to file buckets. They apparently succeeded. A British lieutenant by the name of Hatton would later recall that their naked bodies were indistinguishable “in the night from the fallen trees, with which the place abounded.”
These are just snippets of hidden stories at just one site of the American Revolution. And that’s only during one specific time in Ninety Six’s history; additional stories exist for both before and after the war, during the French and Indian War, and during the Regulator movement, as well as stories of enslaved Natives from the time of early settlement in the region.
How many stories are yet untold? Who were these men and women who currently remain nameless? For these stories aren’t just tidbits of historical facts – they represent real people who experienced real emotions and a real existence at the time when our nation was first figuring out what it wanted to be. The stories of black Loyalists and Patriots deserve to be told and in doing so, will add a new layer of complexity and understanding to the story of America during the Revolutionary War and beyond.
Government Documents Greene, Jerome A. Historic Resource Study and Historic Structure Report, Ninety Six: A Historical Narrative. National Park Service: Denver Service Branch of Historic Preservation, 1978.
Manuscripts & Papers Ann Arbor. University of Michigan. William L. Clements Library. Patrick Ferguson, “Plan for Securing the Province of So, Carolina, &c,” May 16, 1780.
Ann Arbor. University of Michigan. William L. Clements Library. Nathanael Greene Papers. James Mayson to Greene, May 29, 1781.
Washington. Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. British Public Record Office. Cornwallis Papers. Balfour to Comwallis, June 24, 1780. BPRO 30/11/2 (1)
Washington. Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. British Public Record Office. Amherst Papers. Thomas Anderson. “Journal of Thomas Anderson’s” 1st Delaware regiment [May 6, 1780-April 7, 1782].”
Books and Pamphlets Haiman, Miecislaus. Kosciuszko in the American Revolution. New York: Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in America, 1943. Reprint; Boston: Gregg Press, 1972.
Mackenzie, Roderick. Strictures on Lt. Col. Tarleton’s “History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781, in the Southern Provinces of North America.” London: Printed for the Author, 1787.
Stedman, Charles. The History of the Origin, Progress, and Termination of the American War, Volume 2. London: Printed for the Author, 1794.
Ward, Christopher. The War of the Revolution, Volume 2. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1952.
Weigley, Russell F. The Partisan War: The South Carolina Campaign of 1780-1782. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1970.
The War of 1812 is considered by some historians as the end of the American Revolutionary Era. From the conflict, the United States will find a war hero and future president, Andrew Jackson and a poem by lawyer Francis Scott Key that turns into our national anthem.
But, the origins of the war, the military actions that spread around the United States, from Louisiana to the nation’s capital, to the invasion of Canada, and on the high seas are largely overlooked. There are numerous reasons for this.
That, in part, is why, this Sunday, at 7pm EST, on ERW’s Facebook page, the next historian happy hour “Rev War Revelry” will be focused on this important conflict. Join ERW historian Phillip S. Greenwalt along with the following guest historians for an hour-ish discussion of the three-year war.
Joining Phill will be;
Dan Davis, of the American Battlefield Trust, who has lectured on Andrew Jackson and the Battle of New Orleans. He is also a full-time historian with Emerging Civil War.
Also, formerly of Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, and now working for the National Park Service in the Washington D.C. area, guest historian Jim Bailey will be the second of three guest historians.
Leaving the best for last, okay pun intended, as all three guest historians are great. But in all seriousness, the third guest historian joining for this revelry will be George Best. He is a park ranger for the National Park Service at Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park and volunteers as the Communications Coordinator for the Friends of Maryland’s War of 1812.
We look forward to you joining with your thoughts, comments, and questions this Sunday on our Facebook page (there will be an event post for you to use as a reminder) as we discuss this three-year conflict that had reverberations for many years afterwards.