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

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“The year is over, I am heartily glad of it and hope you nor America will ever be plagued with such another.”

After reading this title you may assume this is a quote about the year 2020, but this is actually a quote from financier of the Revolution Robert Morris in a letter to George Washington describing the year 1776. While the year 1776 started with much promise and hope with the capture of Boston and the passage of the Declaration of Independence, the second half of the year saw the Patriot cause nearly destroyed.

After losing New York City and a long string of battles, Washington’s Continental Army had shrunk from more than 23,000 men to just around 5,000 by December. Washington breathed life into the dying cause at Trenton on the day after Christmas, defeating a Hessian garrison.  This glimmer of hope was almost crushed by the fact that most of his army’s enlistments expired on January 1st, and his army was on the verge of dissolution. As General Cornwallis and a large British army marched towards Washington and his army at Trenton, Washington needed to convince his veterans to hold on. It led to one of the most dramatic moments of the Revolution, which occurred on New Year’s Eve, 1776.

Washington receiving a salute at Trenton.

While many of Washington’s brave men believed they had done their duty, at this moment, they were needed more than ever before. All day on December 31, 1776, Washington’s generals appealed to the soldiers through impassioned speeches to reenlist. Washington authorized an exorbitant $10 bounty to those men who agreed to remain. Despite all these exhortations, very few men were agreeing to stay on. Finally, in one of the most affecting scenes of his life, Washington himself personally appealed to the patriotism of the men who had campaigned by his side.

Washington paraded Gen. John Sullivan’s and Gen. Nathanael Greene’s divisions just outside Trenton. He entreated the men to stay on just a few weeks more. He asked those who wished to reenlist to move forward, but at that point no one moved. Sergeant Nathaniel Root of the 20th Continental Regiment (Connecticut) remembered that the men were “worn down with fatigue and privation” and had their “hearts fixed on home.” Washington, pleading with his brave soldiers wheeled his horse in front of the men and declared to them:

“My brave fellows, you have done all I asked you to do, and more than could be reasonably expected; but your country is at stake, your wives, your houses and all that you hold dear. You have worn yourselves out with fatigues and hardships, but we know not how to spare you. If you will consent to stay only one month longer, you will render that service to the cause of liberty and to your country which you probably never can do under any other circumstances. The present is emphatically the crisis which is to decide our destiny.”

Moved by their commander’s words, more than two hundred of these men stepped forward to stay on and fight. The combination of patriotic pleas and hard currency helped persuade many more to stay. Washington retained a force of about 3,000 men from his army. These veterans would prove invaluable in the coming days, and some of them would tragically pay the ultimate price in the coming days.

America has persevered through many terrible years, and we shall again. The men who persevered in the winter of 1776-1777 give us hope. Happy New Year, from all of us at Emerging Revolutionary War!

To learn more about the campaign that saved the Revolution, check out my book: Victory or Death: The Battles of Trenton and Princeton or consider joining us on a tour of the actual sites in November.

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

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historians Karl G. Elsea and William W. Welsch

1778 sketch-map drawing of Battle of Trenton by Lt. Fischer
(courtesy of William S. Stryker, The Battles of Trenton and Princeton, Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1988, page128)

The v. Knyphausen artillery detachment:

Lieutenant Friedrich Fischer was about 37 years old and had about 20 years military experience. He was the senior artillery officer in Trenton. For administrative purposes he saw to the needs of the men, and horses, and equipment for the artillery in Trenton. However, for tactical considerations he was a detachment commander to two three-pounder field guns and crews and horses and equipment assigned to support the v. Knyphausen Regiment. He was to follow their orders unless overridden by the Brigade leader, Colonel Rall. Lt. Fischer never made it to his assigned regiment. The reason was the rapid advance by the Patriots on all fronts.

Each regiment of the Hessians as they came to Trenton in mid-December was assigned a significant building, usually a church, to form its “center of gravity.” The v. Knyphausen regiment was assigned the Presbyterian church, the Jagers were assigned the Old Stone Barracks, the v. Lossberg regiment the English church, the dragoons were assigned the Quaker meeting house, and the Rall regiment several taverns. The Artillery was assigned the Methodist church at the northeast corner of Queen Street and Fourth Street. Thus, the artillery horses, harness, and limbers were at the Methodist church for the three detachments. Three of the neighboring houses to the Methodist church each contained the men for an artillery detachment.

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The first of three Artillery Engagements at the Battle of Trenton: December 26, 1776

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historians Karl G. Elsea and William M. Welsch.

Part I

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

The Rall Artillery Detachment:

It is well known that the Battle of Trenton saved the American Revolution from defeat. What is not well known is the story of two of the three Hessian artillery detachments and the description of their field guns. This series of articles tells the story of the three Hessian artillery engagements at the First Battle of Trenton. These three fights largely determined the victory for the patriots.

The field guns used by the patriots in the artillery engagement at Trenton were fairly well documented. The Patriots used British Armstrong design M1736 six-pounders, British commercial iron four-pounder barrels on Patriot designed carriages, and the Common Pattern British designed three-pounders (looked like scaled down six-pounders).

The Hessian three-pounder field guns were primarily designed to be beautiful, symmetric and fill both the roles of field (light) artillery and garrison (medium) artillery. The “brass” barrel was one caliber (caliber was equal to 3.01 English inch) thick at the breech, one half caliber thick at the muzzle, and was twenty calibers long from breech ring to muzzle. This symmetry came at a price, namely, the barrel alone weighted over 700 pounds. As a comparison, the 1776 designed British Congreve three-pounder barrel had a weight of 212 pounds and was 12.4 calibers long while the “Common” pattern three-pounder barrel used by the Patriots was 287 pounds and 14.5 calibers long.[i] This flaw in the Hessian guns concerning the weight required four horses to pull each gun and made each gun more vulnerable to sinking in mud. Field guns were supposed to be” light,” something these Hessian guns were not.

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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

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“Rev War Revelry” Discusses the Ten Crucial Days

On December 27, 2020 at 7 p.m. Emerging Revolutionary War historian Mark Maloy will sit down and talk with experts on the Ten Crucial Days campaign of 1776-1777 for the last “Rev War Revelry” for 2020.  Mark Maloy (author of Victory or Death: The Battles of Trenton and Princeton) will be joined by Larry Kidder (author of Ten Crucial Days: Washington’s Vision for Victory Unfolds), David Price (author of The Road to Assunpink Creek) and Roger Williams (Co-founder of TenCrucialDays.org) to talk all things Ten Crucial Days.  You can watch this discussion live on our Facebook page.

Everyone has heard about how Washington crossed the Delaware River on Christmas night in 1776, but now you can learn the fuller story. We’ll be talking on the 244th anniversary of the actual Ten Crucial Days, which occurred between December 25, 1776 and January 3, 1777. We’ll discuss the important events that occurred and look at some of the myths, misconceptions and lesser-known people involved. Additionally, we’ll talk about the sites where these important actions occurred and what you can see there today.

So, grab your favorite drink, this Christmastime season, and settle in to learn more about the ten days that saved the Revolution and changed the course of American history.

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Lee’s Plight at the Widow White’s: The Capture of Major General Charles Lee, December 12–13, 1776 – 244 Years Later

December 1776 was one of the darkest months in American history. The American Revolution was on the brink of collapse. New York City had fallen, George Washington’s Continental Army was disintegrating before the country’s eyes, and the British Army under Sir William Howe was steamrolling its way across New Jersey toward the Delaware River—the only barrier preventing Howe from squeezing the life out of the rebellion.

Following the fall of Forts Lee and Washington along the Hudson River the previous month, the Continental Army fled from the British in two major wings. Washington, commanding just 3,000 men, hastily made his way across the northern part of New Jersey in an attempt to get over the Delaware and into Pennsylvania. Major General Charles Lee, who the commander in chief described as, “The first officer in Military knowledge and experience we have in the whole army….,” commanded the other wing—7,000 men at White Plains situated above New York City in case Howe attempted to head north. Lee was eccentric and erratic, but was by far the American commander with the most military experience and knowledge at this early stage in the conflict, as Washington had admitted. This could not, however, protect Lee from the enemy.

Major General Charles Lee (1732-1782), the Continental Army’s second in command. New York Public Library Digital Collections

On multiple occasions at the end of November and in early December, Washington asked, requested, and then ordered Lee to bring his command into Pennsylvania so the army may be reunited. Lee hesitated, drug his feet, and then began to grow fond of the idea of having his own independent command in New Jersey away from the reigns of his superior, whose abilities he doubted. While Washington waited, Lee wrote to Congress on December 8 that he planned to stay east of the Delaware River and “annoy, distract, and consequently weaken [the British] in a desultory war.” On December 10, his command marched into Morristown, New Jersey, and two days later moved south west to Bernardsville. It was here, that Lee decided to search for more suitable conditions for a general to make his headquarters for the evening. He found what he was looking for three miles to the east in Basking Ridge at the two-story Widow White’s Tavern. With him, he took his aide, Major William Bradford, two French volunteer officers, and fifteen guards who situated themselves around the building. That evening, Major James Wilkinson, General Horatio Gates’s aide, rode to White’s Tavern with a dispatch for Lee from his superior.

The Widow White’s Tavern, Basking Ridge, NJ.

While Lee and his party got themselves comfortable that night, British dragoons were galloping about Central Jersey trying to find out all they could about Lee’s command’s whereabouts. Lieutenant Colonel William Harcourt, 22 year old Cornet Banastre Tarleton, and thirty or more horsemen of the 16th Dragoons had left General Charles Cornwallis’s headquarters at Pennington earlier in the day and rode willy-nilly to Hillsborough on their intelligence gathering mission without any success. They made their camp there in a house that was lit on fire in the middle of the night, forcing them to make a hasty escape and sleep within a hay barn. Early the next morning, they mounted up and continued on their task. Tarleton and several other dragoons were sent ahead of the rest of the group.

As the sun rose, the two groups headed in the direction of Morristown, scooping up several rebels along the way, but only receiving sketchy information about the enemy’s location. Near Basking Ridge, their luck changed as a rider from Gen. Sullivan was intercepted who had just returned from Lee’s headquarters. He led Tarleton and Harcourt within sight of White’s Tavern. Harcourt quickly formulated his plan of action—Lee was there, and he was going to capture this grand prize. Young Tarleton was ordered to rush the guards at the front of the structure, while he took his party around the back to surround and cut off their escape. It was 10 a.m.

As the dragoons prepared to make their attack, Lee was still inside White’s Tavern. Even though his command had begun to march out of Bernardsville, he chose to stay behind and finish breakfast and dictating a response to Wilkinson for Gates. His response was a clear shot at Washington: “… entre nous [between us], a certain great man is damnably deficient—He has thrown me into a situation where I have my choice of difficulties—if I stay in this Province [New Jersey] I risk myself and army and if I do not stay the Province is lost forever … unless something which I do not expect turns up we are lost—our counsels have been weak to the last degree….” Lee had no idea of the risk he was actually facing at that moment.

Shots rang out from outside after Lee finished his message. Tarleton and his dragoons swept out through the woods and violently fell upon the general’s guard. “I went on at full Speed,” Tarleton later recounted, “when perceiving 2 [guards] at a Door and a loaded Waggon; I push’d at them making all the Noise I cou’d. The [guards] were struck with a Panic, dropp’d their arms and fled. I order’d my Men to fire into the House thro’ every Window and Door, and cut up as many of the Guard as they cou’d.” Within minutes the fire ceased and the cornet demanded Lee and everyone inside the tavern to surrender or he set fire to it and kill them all. Lee was upstairs during the fighting hoping and watching for reinforcements. They would not come. Recognizing the inevitable, he sent Maj. Bradford outside to inform Tarleton that he would surrender.

The Capture of General Lee in Basking Ridge, NJ. NYPL

In the wake of the skirmish, Bradford, Wilkinson, and one of the Frenchmen managed to make their escape. Lee, however, would not be so fortunate. After surrendering himself to Harcourt, he was taken back to Pennington, sent to New Brunswick, and eventually to New York City for confinement. He would not be paroled and returned to the Continental Army for nearly sixteen months. The American army and the status of its cause for independence which it fought and bled for would be much different then.  

Marker at the Site of Widow White’s Tavern at the intersection of South Finley Avenue and Colonial Drive, Basking Ridge, NJ. The Historical Marker Database. http://www.hmdb.org.
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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.

Posted in Battlefields & Historic Places, Battles, Campaigns, Continental Leadership, Emerging Revolutionary War, Memory, Northern Theater, Revolutionary War | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Supreme Court at Risk

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian Dan Welch.

It’s December 9, 1775. Not only was the future of the fledgling Patriot’s cause at stake, but the future of our yet-to-be created Supreme Court was as well. 

Over the previous months, rebel forces in the area had been engaged with Lord Dunmore’s troops for control of military supplies in the colony of Virginia. This eventually led towards the area around Norfolk, where Dunmore’s forces had fortified a position opposite a river crossing that was strategic both militarily and economically. The position, south of Norfolk, at Great Bridge, was not uncontested. Just opposite Dunmore’s stockade, known as Fort Murray, on the other side of the river, rebel forces settled in, arriving on December 2.

Col. William Wofford, in command of the 2nd Virginia Regiment and about 100 men of the Culpeper Minutemen battalion, began entrenching their position opposite Fort Murray while more militia from surrounding Virginia counties and North Carolina marched towards their aid. As more men arrived, as well as several pieces of field artillery, Lord Dunmore grew wary. He believed his only course of action was to attack Wofford’s men and drive them from the field. The attack was set to begin by dawn’s early light on December 9, 1775.

Found in the ranks of Wofford’s command that morning as the battle opened was a father and son, Thomas and John Marshall. Thomas, a vestryman, High Sheriff, and a member of the House of Burgesses had brought his son with him into the patriot ranks from Fauquier County.  By the time of the battle, Thomas, who had been active in the organizing and raising the Culpeper Minutemen, had been appointed its major. His son John, age 20, its first lieutenant.

John Marshall’s biographer later recounted the importance of this moment on the young nineteen-year-old, writing “The young soldier in this brief time saw a flash of the great truth that liberty can be made a reality and then possessed only by men who are strong, courageous, unselfish, and wise enough to act unitedly…He began to discern, though vaguely as yet, the supreme need of the organization of democracy.”

John Marshall went on to serve as the fourth Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court in 1801. Marshall remained at the post for thirty-four years, and, during his tenure, the Marshall Court brought the role of the Supreme Court to the fore, issued more than 1,000 decisions, and set the precedent of handing down a single majority opinion.  These accomplishments and influences are just some of many that Marshall had on the Court, the federal government, and American history.  Today, on the 245th anniversary of the battle of Great Bridge, it’s interesting to pause, reflect, and wonder how very different the United States and the Supreme Court might have been had Colonel Wofford’s forces, among them John Marshall, been defeated that day at the “second Bunker’s Hill affair….”

Pictures of Great Bridge Battlefield and monuments.

Posted in Battlefields & Historic Places, Battles, Civilian, Emerging Revolutionary War, Memory, Militia (Patriot) Leadership, Minute Men, Revolutionary War, Southern Theater | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dr. Peter Henriques Book Talk

On December 13, 2020 at 7 p.m. Emerging Revolutionary War historian Mark Maloy will sit down and talk with preeminent George Washington historian Dr. Peter Henriques to discuss his latest book about the indispensable man of the Revolution, First and Always: A New Portrait of George Washington.  Peter Henriques is Professor of History, Emeritus, at George Mason University and gave the keynote address at the inaugural Emerging Revolutionary War Symposium in May of 2019.  You can watch this discussion live on our Facebook page.

George Washington is without a doubt the most important man in the story of America’s founding.  Henriques has studied Washington for decades and in 2006 published a book Realistic Visionary: A Portrait of George Washington.  Rather than a biography that covers everything in Washington’s life, both Realistic Visionary and now First and Always are “portraits.”  They are broken up into individual stand-alone essays and delve in depth into some of the most interesting and at times controversial aspects of Washington’s life.  Among these are Washington’s relationships with his mother, fellow Founding Fathers, and slavery.  The result is a deeper and fuller understanding of who George Washington really was.

To get a signed copy of Dr. Henriques new book First and Always, you can send $27.95 to 13704 Heritage Valley Way, Gainesville, VA, 20155.

Additionally, we will be talking with Dr. Henriques on the 221st anniversary of the final illness of George Washington.  Washington became ill on December 13, 1799 and died late in the evening on December 14, 1799.  Henriques is an expert on the death of George Washington and the author of a book The Death of George Washington: He Died as He Lived that explores the final days of George Washington, so we will also discuss Washington’s death. We hope you are able to join us! If you miss the live talk, you will still be able to watch it on either our Facebook page or YouTube page in the future.

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