“Soldiers and Countrymen…”

Before the horrific terrorist attacks that struck the United States on September 11, 2001, this date in American history saw the longest single day engagement with the highest number of combatants during the entire American Revolution fought in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Known to history as the Battle of Brandywine, approximately 30,000 soldiers were involved and 1,887 became casualties, the majority, 1,300 being Americans. One of those 1,300 individuals was Reverend or Chaplain Joab Trout, from New Hampshire.

Battle of Brandywine
(courtesy of NYPL)

The night before the engagement, he gave the following sermon beat the evening call on the eve of battle. And 242 years later the words still echo with a sense of patriotism and stoicism for a cause that was worth fighting and dying for. Below is the full sermon:

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“A Very Handsom Retreet”: Lt. Colonel Nathan Whiting and the Fighting Retreat that Decided the Battle of Lake George

This is a post from September 2016. It focuses on a critical military action that occurred during the Battle of Lake George, 264 years ago, today:

When analyzing the key actions of a military engagement in order to pinpoint a decisive moment or turning point, one does not usually come across a retreat and/or rout that actually attributed to the success of an army. However, during the late morning of September 8, 1755, roughly three miles south of Lake George in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, a contingent of men from Connecticut and Massachusetts, and their Mohawk allies conducted quite possibly the first ever organized fighting retreat in American military history – one that would turn the tide of battle and save their army from potential destruction. It is easy for a maneuver like this to be overlooked, but without the crucial time bought for William Johnson’s provincial army at its encampment along the southern shore of the lake by Lt. Colonel Nathan Whiting’s courageous New Englanders, Baron de Dieskau’s French army may well have emerged victorious during the Battle of Lake George and subsequently pushed their way to Albany’s doorstep.

Around eight o’clock in the morning, September 8, 1755, a column of men 1,200 strong was marched out of William Johnson’s camp at the southern end of Lake George. The column’s destination was Fort Lyman, roughly fourteen miles to the south located beside the Hudson River (present-day Fort Edward, NY). There, intelligence gathered by Johnson’s army had placed the 1,500 strong French force led by Jean-Armand, Baron de Dieskau, which was believed to be preparing an assault against the 500 man garrison of New Hampshire and New York provincials.

The contingent of reinforcements dispatched from the English camp was under the overall command of Colonel Ephraim Williams, 3rd Massachusetts Provincial Regiment, and was comprised of his own regiment, 200 Mohawk Indians, and another 500 men of the 2nd Connecticut Provincial Regiment led by Lt. Colonel Nathan Whiting. The column marched south down the military road with the Mohawk at its head, followed by the Massachusetts men, and Whiting’s regiment taking up the rear.

Nathan Whiting, born in 1724 and a resident of Windham, was 31-years-old in 1755 and one of William Johnson’s youngest field officers. He was a graduate of Yale and a veteran of the Louisbourg expedition during King George’s War – service which earned him a lieutenant’s commission in His Majesty’s Forces. When hostilities between England and France erupted in 1754 he was commissioned as the 2nd Connecticut Provincial Regiment’s lieutenant colonel and was sent to Albany to serve as part of the Crown Point Expedition, an offensive designed to oust the French from the Lake Champlain-Lake George-Hudson River corridor. The regiment’s colonel, Elizur Goodrich, was ill and bedridden during the Battle of Lake George, so Whiting served as the unit’s field commander during his absence. Whiting was a loyal officer and earnestly dedicated to the cause in which he was fighting for. Before reaching the southern shore of the lake on August 28, he penned a heartfelt letter to his wife that epitomized his character: “… [P]ray make your Self as easy as possible[.] I know your D[aily] prayers are for my preservation[.] Let it be an article of them that it not be obtained by any unworthy means, but in the prosecution of the Duty I owe at this time to my Self, my Country & my God.”[1]

About two hours or so and three miles into the march to Fort Lyman, the forward ranks of Ephraim Williams’s column of reinforcements were ambushed by Dieskau’s native allies, Canadian militia, and regular grenadiers of the Regiments of Languedoc and La Reine. The French outside of Fort Lyman had earlier uncovered dispatches from a dead courier that was sent to inform the English outpost that reinforcements were going to be sent from the lake encampment to assist it in case of an attack. Using this intelligence, Dieskau marched his army up the military road towards Lake George and prepared an ambush to surprise the oncoming party of reinforcements. Although the ambuscade was initiated prematurely before the entire column could march into Dieskau’s hook-like formation, it still succeeded in throwing the English force into confusion and sent it scurrying back up the road to Lake George. Both Ephraim Williams and Chief Hendrick (commanding the Mohawk contingent) were killed during the confrontation and all order was lost, leaving Whiting, who was now the highest ranking officer on the field, to try to prevent a disaster.

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The Bloody Morning Scout, 10:00 a.m. Map by Nicholas Chavez.

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George Washington’s Hometown: Alexandria, Virginia

George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, 1797. Washington was a familiar face in Alexandria from his boyhood days until his death. (Wikimedia Commons)

Alexandria, Virginia, often thought of as merely a suburb of Washington, D.C., is actually one of the most historic towns in the United States.  The town, founded in 1749, predates the nation’s capital and the nation itself.  While most towns and cities (such as Charleston, Philadelphia, New York or Boston to name a few) set aside museums, parks, and houses where George Washington may have spent an evening or had a meal, Alexandria, Virginia has the distinction of being Washington’s hometown.  Washington’s home, Mount Vernon, is only nine miles south of Alexandria.  Washington literally helped survey and lay out the very streets of the town in 1748.  Washington spent a considerable amount of time of his life with friends and family at Alexandria and became a leading citizen in the town.

A map of Alexandria drawn by George Washington in 1749. (Library of Congress)
Gadsby’s Tavern, where not only Washington, but John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison dined. (City of Alexandria)
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“Judiciously Designed and Vigorously Executed”: The March to the Dan River

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian Daniel T. Davis. 

Last month, I heard Emerging Revolutionary War co-founder Phill Greenwalt remark “when you think about retreats, victory is a word that doesn’t come to mind.” The period of January 18 to February 14, 1781 is the exception to the rule. During this time frame, the American army under Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene and the British under Charles, Lord Cornwallis, marched across the backcountry of the Carolinas. Known as the “Race to the Dan”, this episode between the engagements at Cowpens and Guilford Courthouse, is a largely forgotten but consequential even in the Southern Campaign of 1781.

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The Dan River (courtesy of Rob Orrison)

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Symposium Update

In today’s fifth installment of the September 28, 2019 symposium Before They Were Americans interview series, Katherine “Kate” Egner Gruber takes the spotlight. Gruber is the special exhibition curator for the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation. She earned her B.A. in historic preservation and classical humanities from the University of Mary Washington, and her M.A. in early American history from the College of William and Mary.

Employed by the Foundation as a curator since 2013, Kate Gruber has contributed to the development of the permanent galleries at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, including the award-winning signature film, Liberty Fever. As special exhibition curator, Gruber develops exhibitions for galleries at Yorktown and Jamestown Settlement, including “Tenacity: Women in Jamestown and Early Virginia,” open now through January 5, 2020 at Jamestown Settlement, and “Forgotten Soldier: African Americans in the Revolution,” open now through March 22, 2020 at Yorktown.  

Kate Gruber will be presenting her talk “A Tailor-Made Revolution: Clothing William Carlin’s Alexandria” at the September symposium.  

Headshot of Kate Gruber smiling into the camera

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Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban

Sebastien Le Prestre de Vauban, Seigneur de Vauban, and finally Marquis de Vauban, as one of his biographies begins, is probably not a household name to many enthusiasts of American history. Especially since he died on March 30, 1707 and never set foot in the Western Hemisphere. However, he did have a nephew, Jacques Anne Joseph Le Prestre de Vauban who served as General Jean-Baptiste Rochambeau’s aide-de-camp during the war. So, there is a family connection.

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Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Yet, he left his mark on places like Yorktown, Virginia, fought 74 years after his death and half-a-world away. French engineers, critical to eventual American victory in the American Revolutionary War, plied de Vauban’s craft and studied his text and learned from his exploits. Continue reading

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“De Kalb has died, as he has lived, the unconquered friend of liberty”

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Johann de Kalb (Charles Willson Peale)

On this date in 1780, Johann von Robias, Baron de Kalb, died of wounds received three days earlier during the Battle of Camden, South Carolina.

de Kalb, born on June 19, 1721 in the Principality of Bayreuth, was in charge of the American right wing during the engagement at Camden, leading the premier units, the Delawareans and Marylanders, of General Horatio Gates’ Southern Army.

When the left and center of the American line disintegrated, de Kalb’s force had to beat a hasty retreat before becoming completely surrounded. During this juncture of the fighting, the Baron’s horse was shot out from under him and the German was thrown to the ground. Before he could gain his feet, he was hit with three musket balls and bayoneted multiple times by approaching British soldiers. The wounds would prove mortal. Continue reading

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