“If General Howe attempts…”

On December 19, 1777 a bedraggled, underfed, undersupplied, and hemorrhaging manpower, the Continental army trudged into their permanent winter encampment at Valley Forge. Located approximately 20 miles from Philadelphia, General George Washington’s army would recuperate, revitalize, re-train, and march out six months later a different military force.

Meanwhile, the British army, victors of Brandywine and survivors of Germantown ensconced themselves in the colonial capital of the rebellious colonies after its peaceful fall on September 26, 1777. Commanded by Sir General William Howe the British were better fed, better equipped, and in theory better suited to continue conducting military operations to quell the rebellion.

Which begs the question, why did Howe not attack Valley Forge?

Sir William Howe

Although historians have grappled with this, there are a number of reasons why Howe did not press the issue during the winter months, some range from personal to logistical to how warfare was conducted in the 18th century.

Was Howe frustrated at Washington for not taking the bait at White Marsh in early December 1777 to fight outside defensive works and envisioned the same reticence would be shown by the Virginian if the British attempted an offensive action toward Valley Forge?

Or was Howe simply a man of his time and war was not practiced in winter when there were so many variables one could not control, chiefly the unpredictability of Mother Nature?

Was Howe already worried about his reception and defense when he arrived back in England? Only willing to take a low risk-high reward gambit, which he attempted in May 1778 at Barren Hill?

One of his own soldiers, Captain Richard Fitzpatrick in a letter to Charles Fox penned the following;

               “If General Howe attempts anything but securing his army for the winter I shall
consider him, after what has happened in the north, a very rash man. But if he
lets himself be governed by General Grant I shall not be surprised if we get
into some cursed scrape.”[1]

Or does this one paragraph explain the main reason behind no winter campaigning, “what has happened in the north.” A clear implication to the disaster of the other field army operating in the northern American colonies, Burgoyne’s that capitulated at Saratoga in October 1777.

Although we will never know for certain, this is a question that has come up in conversations, at book talks, and around the national park at Valley Forge. This is a question Emerging Revolutionary War will grapple with on our second annual bus tour, which will include Valley Forge, this November. Check the link “Bus Tour 2022” on the black banner above to secure your ticket and partake in the ongoing debate on why Howe did not attack. Limited tickets remain.

[1] Urban, Mark. “Fusiliers: The Saga of a British Redcoat Regiment in the American Revolution (Walker & Company: Manhattan, 2007).

“Rev War Revelry” The Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812

Emerging Revolutionary War’s next revelry will turn to the War of 1812, specifically its end. Turning their attention south, the British army focused on capturing the city of New Orleans from American forces led by Andrew Jackson. The long and large campaign culminated with the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815. The battle was a great American success and made Jackson a national hero.

Historians Kevin Pawlak, Sean Michael Chick, and George Best will examine the campaign that brought American and British armies to the Crescent City. We look forward to you joining us, at 7 p.m. EDT on our Facebook page for the next historian happy hour.

The Battle Of New Orleans, January 8, 1815. Final Battle Of The War Of 1812, Resulting In Victory For The American Forces Against The British. After A 19Th Century Work. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

The March from White Marsh

From November 2, 1777 until early-December, General George Washington and the Continental Army occupied a defensive position at White Marsh, approximately 13 miles northwest of Philadelphia. In early December, a series of small skirmishes erupted along the American lines in the last actions of the campaigning season of 1777. Frustrated by Washington’s refusal to emerge from his entrenchments, Sir William Howe led his British columns back to their winter abode in Philadelphia.

Washington moved the army shortly thereafter toward Valley Forge and their winter cantonment, arriving in that vicinity on December 19. As Washington prepared for the winter of 1777-1778 you can also start the preparations to follow this route with Emerging Revolutionary War on the weekend of November 11 – 13, 2022 on the Rise of the American Army: Valley Forge and the Battle of Monmouth Bus Tour. To secure your spot and further information, click here (or the link on the banner at the top of this page).

British Military Leadership and Provincial Loyalty

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian George Kotlik

Introduction

By 1775, King George III ruled over nineteen provinces in British North America.[1] Six remained loyal to the Crown during the Revolutionary War. Historians have so far explored, in great depth, the various reasons why the thirteen original colonies rebelled. On the flipside, why did some colonies remain loyal? What role did colonial governors play in securing their province’s loyalty during the rebellion? In an attempt to answer these questions, this research will focus on British North America’s mainland colonial governors and general assemblies during 1775. Data on the backgrounds of each British colonial governor on the North American mainland was gathered from their respective biographies. Hereafter, each governor’s background is considered by colony, listed in alphabetical order. Each biography is brief and not meant to be comprehensive. There is not enough time or space in this paper to accomplish that end. Instead, the biographies help determine the type of individual who governed each province at the rebellion’s onset – a unique factor that I argue contributed, in whatever small way, to a colony’s political disposition during the American Revolution. In addition to looking at provincial executive leadership, I have also inspected general assemblies. General assemblies were an important aspect in this research due to the fact that the mere presence of an assembly influenced a colony’s political disposition in 1775. What’s more, colonial governors wielded the authority to dissolve assemblies. That connection, in addition to the assemblies’ influence on provincial loyalty, I argue, merits their inclusion in this study.[2]

Continue reading “British Military Leadership and Provincial Loyalty”

“No body ever heard of a quarter Master, in History”

In the spring of 1778, General George Washington chose Major General Nathanael Greene to be the quartermaster general of the Continental army, replacing General Thomas Mifflin who had resigned the previous November. Greene was hesitant and wrote the quote that graces the title of this post. He was leery of giving up a field command to take a thankless job that faced a mountain of difficulties and was more administrative. From the start of his tenure in this important post, Greene brought about effective change. His never ending responsibilities included allocating resources, installing the right people into positions, and untangling contracts, transportation woes, and developing a concept, such as supply depots on potential campaign routes were vast improvements over what his predecessor accomplished.

Nathanael Greene

Greene though yearned to return to an active field command and through his close connection to Washington along with his due diligence as quartermaster, he was assigned command in the southern theater. His assignment was to replace Major General Horatio Gates as the head of Continental forces after the latter’s defeat at Camden, South Carolina in August 1780. Greene’s role in this position is well-documented and outside the scope of this post. One of the decisions he made, early on in his tenure as commander, paid huge dividends and is usually relegated to a passing few lines in most histories of the southern campaigns. What Greene wrote years earlier about “quartermaster in history” the quote that gives this piece its title, holds true in this instance as well.

On December 4, 1780, Greene wrote to Edward Carrington, then on assignment scouting the rivers and topography through North Carolina and southern Virginia, offering him a new assignment; that of quartermaster general for the southern army. After finishing his surveying of the rivers and water transportation, Carrington was ordered to head toward Greene’s forces, bringing supplies that had been gathered with him as well.

This decision, to place an officer of the caliber of Edward Carrington, in that position was a wise move. One that passes largely unheralded. A decision, though, that ultimately leads to success and eventual victory. In this case the momentous “Race to the Dan” that saved Continental forces, fatigued Lord Charles Cornwallis’ British forces, and played an early role in the latter’s move toward Virginia.

Continue reading ““No body ever heard of a quarter Master, in History””

“I gave my parole once…”

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.

Christopher Gadsden

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.

Gadsden was held in the cell to the right
(author photo)

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.

The First American Civil War

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.

Joseph Galloway
(courtesy of NYPL)

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.

Continue reading “The First American Civil War”

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.

Continue reading “The first of three Artillery Engagements at the Battle of Trenton: December 26, 1776”

East Florida Rangers

When thirteen North American colonies rebelled against the British crown, the future state of Florida was not part of that movement. In fact, the settled part of the future 27th state of the United States was partitioned into East and West Florida. Both colonies also declined an invitation to send delegates to the Continental Congress.

East & West Florida colonies

West Florida, spanned from slightly east of Pensacola, which was the capital, across to Louisiana and included parts of modern Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, and Mississippi. East Florida, spanned the rest of northern Florida from the Apalachicola River to the Atlantic seaboard and down the peninsula. The capital was located at St. Augustine, founded in 1565 by the Spanish.

During the American Revolution, both East and West Florida would play a role as the rebellion spread into a world conflict, bringing into the fighting the European nations of France and Spain. In East Florida, St. Augustine would send north British soldiers to assist in operations in Georgia and South Carolina and also house American prisoners, including three Signers of the Declaration of Independence; Arthur Middleton, Edward Rutledge, and Thomas Heyward, Jr. Other prisoners, both Americans and French were also confined to the town too.

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George Washington’s Land Interest in British West Florida, 1773-1774

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes guest historian George Kotlik.

After the French & Indian War, the British Crown sought to regulate colonial westward settlement and expansion. This was done for a variety of reasons. First, British ministers believed that westward expansion would require administration over newly acquired territory.[1] British leaders also feared that unrestricted colonial expansion could lead to ungovernable colonies who would, over time, seek to split with Great Britain.[2] Most importantly, Britain had acquired Florida and almost all of the territory under New France east of the Mississippi River at the conclusion of the Seven Years’ War. British ministers sought to redirect western settlement towards Canada and the Florida’s.[3] Regulation of western land settlement also protected Indian lands from white encroachments. This measure sought to prevent further Indian wars.[4] The impositions placed on westward settlement infuriated colonial land speculators who sought to gain much wealth in acquiring western lands. After the Great War for Empire, George Washington and other veteran officers of that conflict were awarded land in exchange for their services to the Crown.[5] Many eyed lands in the Ohio Country, but after the October 7 Proclamation of 1763, most acreage in that vast wilderness lay out of reach. The account of Washington’s interest in North America’s western lands is popular and well-known. However, lesser known is the former British officer’s interest in West Florida land.[6]

Continue reading “George Washington’s Land Interest in British West Florida, 1773-1774”