Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian Karl G. Elsea
When visiting Revolutionary War battlefields there are often replica field guns on the grounds. Not shown, in almost all cases, is the vehicle that pulled the gun to the battle – the limber. Though less “cool” it was essential.
Today, there is no surviving original Patriot field gun limber from the American Revolutionary War. That is a problem when attempting to reproduce representative Patriot field gun limbers. The normal starting place, Muller’s A Treatise of Artillery, does not include information concerning British field (light) gun limbers. Muller’s Treatise only contains information on limbers for medium and heavy guns.
The absence of any original limbers is especially gulling because the Patriots had access to both obsolescent designs and the most advanced designs. The Hessian field gun limber was probably the most advanced limber design in 1776, and the Patriot forces captured six of them at Trenton on December 26, 1776. The Hessian limber design had three important improvements; firstly, the pintle (pin that connects the gun carriage to the limber) was behind the axle of the limber thus allowing a shorter turning radius and less likely damage to the gun carriage. Secondly, an ammunition box containing sixty rounds was on the limber. Thirdly, two wheel-horses were used instead of one thill horse thus providing twice the braking power. It would be interesting to know if the Patriots reproduced or incorporated those design elements.
Brown Bess. Grasshopper. Charleville. May seem like random names with no connection to the title of this post. On the contrary though, these names, be it nicknames or the actual name, of the firearm or artillery piece were all used by the soldiers and militia of the American Revolution.
This Sunday, at 7 p.m. EST, on Emerging Revolutionary War’s Facebook page, the next “Rev War Revelry” will dive into the weaponry that was prevalent during the era of the American Revolution. Joining ERW will be T. Logan Metesh of High Caliber History LLC of which he is the founder.
With over a decade of experience working for the Smithsonian Institution, National Park Service, and the National Rifle Association Museums, Metesh is a sought after consultant, writer, and museum professional. He will use his interpretive ability to present history and research on firearms and firearms development to this historian happy hour.
We look forward to welcoming Logan Metesh to the “Rev War Revelry” Sunday night chat and hope you will join us as well.
One of the most amazing parts of the events on April 19, 1775 is just how sophisticated the colonial information network was. As soon as Lt. Col. Francis Smith’s British Regulars began to move across the Charles River, riders fanned out from Boston and to neighboring towns. Each town then had more riders that spread out and soon dozens of men were riding through the New England countryside warning of the fighting that took place. Soon information spread to the mid-Atlantic colonies and Philadelphia on April 24th. In the age of no electricity, the complexities and speed that news traveled from Boston to the other colonies was pretty amazing. Stories grew from person to person and it would take months and even years to decipher truth from exaggeration. It was imperative for both the “Patriots” and General Thomas Gage to get their version of the events of April 19th out as fast as possible. Facts or not, the importance of the public relations was of utmost importance to both sides to win the hearts and minds of the other colonies.
As the news reached Virginia, the colony was already at a crossroads with their
Governor. The last House of Burgesses that met in Williamsburg was dissolved in August 1774 over their vocal support of the people of Massachusetts after the Boston Port Act. The once popular Governor, John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore (Governor Dunmore), was angered over their overt support and ordered them dissolved and returned home. The legislature defied his orders and met soon after at the nearby Raleigh Tavern, thus constituting the “First Virginia Convention.” With questionable legal authority, the Convention called for solidarity and non-importation of British goods. They also agreed to meet again in the future. The “Second Virginia Convention” met in March of 1775 in Richmond, a safe distance from the Governor’s influence in Williamsburg. It was at this Convention that Patrick Henry made his famous “Give me Liberty or Give me Death” speech on March 23. Though considered radical at the time, the speech energized the Convention and set the tone. When the Governor learned of the Convention and especially Henry’s speech, he made a fateful decision to remove the gunpowder stored in the magazine in Williamsburg. Continue reading ““The Sword is Now Drawn…” The Powder Incident, Lexington and Concord moves Virginia to Revolution”→
When we think of Pennsylvania in the Revolution, we often focus on sites like Independence Hall, Valley Forge, or Brandywine. The southeastern corner of the state was its most populated region, the center of its industry and commerce, and the main theater of military action. On the surface it seems the Revolution only occurred in this one corner of the large state, yet other events took place on its far flung frontier.
Just over two weeks ago, ERW historians Billy Griffith, Phillip Greenwalt, Mark Maloy, Rob Orrison and Kevin Pawlak took a long weekend trip up to upstate New York. This was the fourth year that ERW authors have gotten together to take a “field trip” to see sites related to the French and Indian War and the American Revolution.
The trips not only serve as chances for research, but also to make new connections with public historians working in the American Revolution era. Along the way, we posted several videos from locations to give our followers an idea of some of the great places to visit out there. Again, our goal is to not just share this history, but to get people to visit these great sites.
Sites visited on the first day included the Stony Point Battlefield, where Americans under Gen. Anthony Wayne over ran a surprised British outpost. Reading about this action almost rings empty until you stand on the ground. Looking at the steep terrain that Wayne’s men climbed after traversing through a wetland, it is hard to imagine how the Continentals were able to take the British fort with so few casualties. Later that day we made a quick stop at George Washington’s headquarters in Newburgh. Here Washington lived from April 1782 to August 1783 and where he learned of the cease fire with the British, wrote his now famous circular letter to the colonial governors on his vision for the new government. Most importantly, here Washington responded to the Newburgh Conspiracy of his officers looking to possibly over throw the civil government. This site is also important in the history of the museum field as it is the first publicly owned historic site in the United States, opened in 1850 as a museum. A worthwhile nearby site, the New Windsor Cantonment site, preserves the camp site of the Continental Army during the 1782-1783 time period. Several of the buildings are rebuilt, including the Temple of Virtue, where Washington made his impassioned speech to his officers (with the assistance of his glasses) to diffuse their discontent with Congress.
The morning of the second day of the trip was spent visiting sites around Lake George, NY, including some much over looked French and Indian War sites. That afternoon sites along the upper Hudson including the site of the murder of Jane McCrea, Fort Edward and sites in Albany.
Early Sunday morning, a quick trip to the Bennington Battlefield State Park was highlighted with a great personal tour by Bob Hoar. The battlefield is well preserved and interpreted. Bob also shared some of his research into reinterpreting the battlefield using first person accounts and the landscape. Again, understanding the landscape of these places creates such a better understanding.
The majority of the day on Sunday was spent at Saratoga National Historical Park, posting several Facebook Live videos from various points across the battlefield. Also a special visit to the surrender site in Schuylerville which was recently preserved and opened as a memorial by the Friends of Saratoga Battlefield. A great preservation victory that adds to the overall story of Saratoga.
One of the highlights of the trip took place on Monday, where we received a behind the
scenes tour by Fort Ticonderoga staff. We started by learning about the military interpretive program by Ron Vido, Military Programs Supervisor. Anyone who has visited Fort Ticonderoga knows about their quality interpretive staff and programs. Ron also shared with us their plans to slowly restore the Carillon Battlefield (1758), which will be a great addition to the understanding of North America’s bloodiest battle before the Civil War. That afternoon we were treated to a behind the scenes tour of Fort Ticonderoga’s collections storage by Curator Matthew Keagle. The Fort has been collecting 18th century items for nearly 100 years. Their collection is one of the largest collection of 18th century military artifacts in the United States. From a Continental knapsack to an original copy of Baron von Steuben’s drill manual, the collection on display is only a small portion of what the museum owns. Matt also shared the museum’s ongoing work to digitize their collection for the purpose of research. The day was capped off by a visit to one of the best preserved battlefields in the United States, Hubbardton. Fought as part of the Saratoga Campaign, this is Vermont’s only battlefield. The landscape at the foot of the Green Mountains is amazing and the viewsheds are near pristine. A nice state park and visitor center are there to help explain the events of July 7, 1777.
Thank you to all the people that assisted us in this trip and all the sites that were nice enough to host us. We will be posting more on the blog in the future focusing on some of the stories around these amazing sites. Again, we encourage you to take the time to visit all these places. History books are great, but there is no substitute for being in the footsteps of history
During the night of September 23/24, 1779, Captain John Paul Jones led his frigate, Bonhomme Richard, into its legendary fight with Serapis. In the midst of a battle that was not going well for the Americans, British Captain Richard Pearson asked if Jones was ready to strike his colors and surrender. Jones offered one of the most famous replies in American naval history: “I have not yet begun to fight!” Or did he? Continue reading ““I Have not Yet Begun to Fight!” or Words to that Effect (September 23, 1779)”→
The financial direction of the gunnery was put into the hands of Fielding Lewis. Born into a wealthy family at Warner Hall in Gloucester County, Virginia in 1725, Fielding was the third son of John and Frances Lewis. Following his father’s footsteps, Fielding was a prosperous industrialist, running a fleet of ships to England and English ports, exporting tobacco and grain. In addition, he operated a store and served on numerous committees and local government associations that laid the groundwork for governing what would eventually become the United States of America. Fielding was addressed as Colonel Lewis, more often than not, reflecting his participation as a provider of provisions and raising the local Spotsylvania militia during the French and Indian War. Feats he was to repeat and go beyond during the Revolutionary War.
Often using his vast personal wealth, Lewis purchased schooners and sloops, outfitting them with artillery to patrol the Rappahannock River in an effort to protect civilian lives and property, and to stop British troops from seizing colonial weaponry.
In February 1776, Lewis purchased the schooner, Liberty, outfitting it with armory. Later, renamed Hornet, it sailed under the command of Richard Taylor of Caroline County. It carried a crew of twenty-one men. Lewis, then purchased a sloop named Defiance and placed it under the command of Captain Eliezer Callender. In April, Lewis purchased the pilot boat, Adventure, appointing Captain William Saunders at the helm.
Lewis commissioned ships to be built as well. The row galley was the most popular vessel used for defense of the river and harbor at the time. Although equipped with sails, the primary source of power was the oar. Larger row galleys measuring seventy feet long could carry a crew of fifty men. These galleys often-times carried two large eighteen pound cannons. Lewis commissioned another ship named Dragon and launched it in 1777; it was used primarily to patrol the Chesapeake Bay.
Free and enslaved blacks were often members of the crew. Around one-hundred and forty black men served with the Virginia fleet; one to ten on each of the seventy vessels. About ten served on the Dragon. Some of these men may well have been slaves belonging to Lewis or Dick. Only ten percent of black men who served in the navy were free, most were escaped slaves posing as free men, like Crispus Attucks, the first casualty of the Revolutionary War. To fulfill enlistment quotas, slaves served as substitutes for their masters. Unlike white men who served for a specific time, blacks were in it for the long haul; for only then could their service earn them the promise of freedom.
The first ship to engage in warfare was the Hornet, capturing four enemy merchantmen in the Rappahannock. Their ship, Speedwell, was taken into custody by the Virginia Navy and sent to the West Indies to bring back gunpowder. Fielding imported guns and ammunition for use in the colonies by the Rappahannock and the Patsey.
Lewis’s commitment to freeing the colonies from British rule was unrelenting. A wealthy man, he sacrificed nearly everything he possessed to see his dream of American independence from Britain rule become a reality. He sat on one local government committee after another. He bought ships and turned them into naval ships. He managed the financial direction of the gunnery, as well as procuring military materials. Col. Lewis appointed ship captains and he raised regiments, adding manpower to the Continental Army. During this time, Lewis didn’t neglect the on-going responsibilities he administered before the war. He presided over legal cases as the Justice of the Peace, provided religious leadership, administrative duties and support for the poor as a vestry member of St. George’s Anglican Church, and ran his plantation and mercantile business.
The Fifth Convention met in May of 1776 and authorized the Virginia Committee to reimburse Lewis 1,059 pounds to pay privateers who imported provisions. He was also reimbursed an additional 1,800 pounds in July. However by the end of the war Lewis was virtually bankrupt. He was owed a considerable amount of money but he never recouped all of the money he invested. By 1780, Lewis’ health had deteriorated to the extent that he was no longer able to manage the gunnery and the full responsibility fell on the shoulders of Charles Dick, who had used his personal credit to finance various tasks related to the success of the gunnery. The Convention was delinquent in its payments to Lewis, Dick and the sixty employees at the gunnery. Dick closed the factory for a time due to his inability to meet payroll. He wrote to Governor Thomas Jefferson his frustrations about the lack of funds:
“I will do all in my Power to carry on the Work; but impossibiltys I cannot do … There must be proper stores laid in, Provisions, Walnut Plank for Gun-stocks, Iron, Steel are the principal articles, and these require even a good deal of Real money – And without which little or nothing can be done; I cannot speak plainer.”
The gunnery closed in 1783, the same year that the Treaty of Paris was signed establishing the independence of the United States of America. The manufacturing plant continued to operate, repairing muskets badly damaged after the war. Subsequently, once the gunnery ceased operations, the property and land was sold to trustees of the Fredericksburg Academy, whose president was James Mercer. The academy opened in 1786.
The last major battle of the Revolutionary War occurred at Yorktown. Major General Charles Cornwallis surrendered to General George Washington in October of 1781. By December, Fielding Lewis, at the age of fifty-six, had succumbed to his battle with (consumption) tuberculosis. Charles Dick died a few years later in 1783. True patriots, Fielding Lewis and Charles Dick sacrificed their fortunes and health to free colonial America from British rule and were eye-witnesses to the birth of a new nation.
Today, at Historic Kenmore, in Fredericksburg, Virginia, stands the 18th-century plantation home built by Fielding Lewis and Betty Washington Lewis. The home, the pre-Revolutionary colonial kitchen and the Crownsinshield Gallery are open to the public for tours. Besides the antique collection of furniture and decorative arts, a musket produced by the Fredericksburg Gun Manufactory hangs in a display case in the gallery.
In the pages of American history, Col. Lewis and Charles Dick stand out as men whose faithful and persistent dedication to the cause of liberty lives on as an example of true patriotism.
“Fielding Lewis and Charles Dick may not have served on the battlefield during the Revolution, but they fought their own battles on the homefront, sacrificing all they had to keep the Gunnery running, naval ships operating and the militia supplied. Their sacrifices should remind us all to ask ourselves if we would be willing to do the same if ever called upon.” – Meghan Budinger, Aldrich Director of Curatorial Operations, The George Washington Foundation.
*Endnotes “Protecting the New Nation: The Fredericksburg Gun Manufactory
Photo Credit Information
Meghan Budinger, curator, sent me a list of questions that I had to answer in order to get permission to use the photographs from their collection.
State Marker: N-7,Fredericksburg Gun Manufactory
Courtesy of the George Washington Foundation (The Papers of George Washington Revolutionary War Series, Fielding’s letter to George Washington)
Courtesy of the George Washington Foundation (The Papers of George Washington Revolutionary War Series, Military Manual)
Courtesy of the George Washington Foundation (Musket: Fredericksburg Gunnery, Gift of Thomas Mellon II, 1936.)
Courtesy of the George Washington Foundation (Colonel Fielding Lewis, portrait by John Wollaston, Courtesy of the George Washington Foundation, circa 1755-1757.)
Courtesy of the George Washington Foundation Memorial stone from The Sons of the American Revolution
Emerging Revolutionary War is honored to welcome back historian Malanna Henderson.
Located at 200 Gunnery Road between Dunmore and Ferdinand Streets is the Old Walker-Grant public school. The three-acre campus is home to the Fredericksburg Regional Head Start educational program. Built in 1938, Walker-Grant was the first publically financed high school for black youth in Fredericksburg. The institution was named for Joseph Walker and Jason Grant.
Walker, born into slavery in Spotsylvania County in 1854, was freed after the Civil War and moved to Fredericksburg. Employed in a paper mill, Walker was self-taught and had a keen interest in expanding educational opportunities for black youth. He served as the sexton at St. George’s Episcopal Church for more than 50 years. Jason Grant was born free in Chatham, Ontario, Canada, in 1861 to a middle-class family. He attended Wilberforce Educational Institute in Ohio. He met an inspiring educator from Fredericksburg and decided to move there and teach. Grant taught at the county and city schools and also served as principal. His career spanned 42 years. Both Walker and Grant worked diligently to establish a learning institution for black children whose educational opportunities were marginalized by the social order of the day: segregation and racial discrimination.
Over two-hundred years ago, this location was once the site of the Fredericksburg Gunnery plant; the first government ran factory of its kind in the nation. Established in 1776, its existence was paramount to the victory of the Continental forces in winning the Revolutionary War.
By then, the colonists had interpreted an array of British economic policies as threatening their rights as Englishmen. When a slew of taxes were demanded of the colonists who were accustomed to governing themselves, their rebellious cry became, “no taxation without representation.” Until then, the planter-statesmen and other notables still felt they could reconcile with the mother country, despite the occurrences of the Boston Massacre in 1770 and the Boston Tea Party in 1773. However, in Virginia an odious act by the royal governor put the colonists on notice that the British were willing to spill more blood in an effort to vanquish the rebellion.
In the dead of night, on April 21, 1775, a mixed military unit of His Majesty’s Navy and Marines confiscated gun powder and armaments from the Williamsburg Magazine. This vital repository of weapons was stockpiled for the defense against Indian raids, slave revolts and riots. The action of the British soldiers left Virginia virtually defenseless.
John Murray, Fourth Earl of Dunmore and the last royal governor of Virginia ordered the raid. Many colonists saw this as the last straw. Dunmore had repeatedly rebuked the colonial statesmen’s demands, dissolving the House of Burgess and other political committees. An aristocrat, accustomed to having his word obeyed without question, Dunmore saw the burgeoning independence of the statesmen as an affront to his authority and responded by acts of retribution instead of compromise.
Blood had already been spilt at the Battles of Lexington and Concord a few days prior. Thus, disarming the colonists seemed a logical strategy to weaken their resolve. The shot heard around the world occurred in the north and in the south; the stealth act of a midnight raid struck a wedge between Britain and the American colonies that was irreparable.
The colonists had to arm themselves if they were going to war with England, whose military might seemed Herculean to the limited martial skills of the local colonial militias. There was no standing army. Each of the thirteen colonies had their own reservists, comprised of farmers, merchants and tradesmen who were needed sporadically for lawless incidents.
On July 17, 1775, the Third Virginia Convention convened in Richmond to create a working government structure. Delegates were elected to serve on the Committee of Safety, which replaced the Committee of Correspondence. Its powers were comparable to the defunct House of Burgess. The most important resolutions that sprung from those meetings were to raise two regiments, a total of sixteen companies of sixty-eight men each to serve one year tours. In addition, sixteen districts of Minutemen were planned. In all of the county militias, the remaining free white males between the ages of fifteen to fifty were to muster, eleven times a year. Below is a page from Colonel Lewis’s manual on military exercises and drills, dated 1777.
The last meeting of the convention took place on the 26th of August. An ordinance to build a gun manufacturing plant was enacted. One prominent Virginian intellectual described it as, a first step “in open defiance of British parliamentary law.”
The five commissioners appointed to operate the gun factory were Mann Page; William Fitzhugh; Samuel Selden; Charles Dick and Fielding Lewis, George Washington’s brother-in-law, husband to his sister Betty Washington. Lewis was elected chairman of the Committee. As it turned out, the only men who stayed the course was Charles Dick and Fielding Lewis.
Initially, the convention issued to Lewis 2,000 pounds to construct the gun manufacturing plant. Early in November, Lewis purchased a ten-acre tract of land located south of town. He also leased a nearby mill on four town lots.
Knowing how desperate the Continental Army was for arms, Lewis penned a letter, on February 4, 1776, to George Washington in haste. Now the Commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, George received this letter from Fielding describing the developments of the factory and the formation of the army regiments they were establishing. Of note, in August of 1775, Patrick Henry was named Colonel of the 1st Regiment, and the 2nd Regiment was commanded by William Woodford with Alexander Spotswood serving as major. In January of 1777, Hugh Mercer was named Colonel of the 3rd Regiment.
“…our Gunn Manufactory is now beginning & expect by New Years day to have near fifty Men imploy’d who will make about Twelve Gunns compleat a Day…”
The gunnery was close to the Hunter Iron Works, an important supplier. James Hunter, the owner, added the manufacturing of muskets to his production output, independent of government funding. He also supplied regiments with axes, spades, shovels and mattocks.
The items produced at the Fredericksburg Gunnery were muskets, bayonets, flint locks, ramrods and more. The plant encompassed a main manufactory, a stone powder magazine, cartridge works, repair shops and a vegetable garden, for the benefit of the employees.
Charles Dick ran the day to day operations, hiring a master workman and artisans. Although, the very capable Mr. Dick never discussed his origins or even his birthdate; the self-made man wasn’t a member of the established gentry. However, he easily found his place amongst Fredericksburg’s leading citizens. Dick was a successful merchant, land owner, Mason and a well-respected member of the community. He served on several important civic organizations; the Committee of Correspondence and later the Committee of Safety. A business partner and personal friend of Fielding Lewis, Dick was godfather to Lewis’ first son.
On September 22, 1775 an advertisement for locksmiths was published, most likely in the Virginia Gazette. Dick needed gunsmiths, artisans and a variety of other laborers to make the gunnery productive. It was evident, early on, that there was a deficiency of expert gunsmiths ready for hire. The House of Delegates passed an apprentice act so Dick could train a class of artisans from the white youth in the area. The young men would be housed, fed and clothed; all paid for by the government. Dick forbade the drinking of beer and rum at the establishment, a drastic change from Eighteenth Century practices. Three black men were engaged to cook, bake and do an assortment of odd jobs. Whether they were slave or free is unknown.
In an emergency the aristocrats of the town, women, too, worked at the factory stuffing cartridges, etc., for the more than one hundred guns hastily readied for the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania militia. The most commonly used weapon at the time was the British Brown Bess, a muzzle-loading smoothbore musket. It fired a single shot ball or a cluster shot which fired multiple projectiles like a shotgun. About four shots per minute was the typical output from most soldiers. By May of 1777, the factory produced similar muskets to the British Brown Bess by the rate of twenty per week.
Debuting yesterday, the Campaign 1776, an initiative by the Civil War Trust, released an animated map that covers the “entirety of the American Revolution,” according to Civil War Trust Communications Manager Meg Martin.
At eighteen minutes in length, the video is a “succinct and engaging” access to gaining an overview of the entirety of the American Revolution, from the first shots in Massachusetts at Lexington and Concord to the culmination of the Siege of Yorktown in 1781. The video even includes a segment entitled “The Twilight Years” which explains the two years the war continued on after the victory at Yorktown; from 1781 to 1783. One can also jump to different parts, as the video has subheadings at the bottom to break the eighteen minute video into segments.
The video combines modern photography,with “live-action footage, 3-D animation, and in-depth battle maps” to give the viewer a sense of what the American Revolution, the pivotal event that “shaped America” was like.
Furthermore, “The Revolutionary War” animated map is part of a larger series of animated battle maps of battles on Civil War battles, which can be found here.
This animated map may be the first in the series of American Revolution and War of 1812 battles that the Campaign 1776 and Civil War Trust team is contemplating doing. We will all have to stay tuned and find out.
Yet, this animated map, of the entire American Revolution, is a great beginning introduction, so sit back, dedicate eighteen minutes, and learn about this defining moment in American history.
*Emerging Revolutionary War would like to thank Meg Martin of the Civil War Trust for the information about this release.*
On a cold January morning 234 years ago, one of the most stunning events in American military history took place in a cattle pasture. Cowpens, South Carolina, was an overwhelming American victory, at a time when one was desperately needed.
What went so well? General Daniel Morgan understood the limitations and strengths of his troops, as well as those of his opponents. He used that to his advantage, along with a keen eye for terrain and a good understanding of the strategic satiation.