The French Cavalryman

   “Colonel Armand’s dragoons and militia displayed a good countenance, but were soon borne down by the rapid charge of the legion. The chase again commenced…” So wrote British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton in his work, “A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781, in the Southern Provinces of North America” regarding his pursuit of retreating American militiamen from the disastrous battlefield at Camden, SC in August 1780, and the gallant effort of one Patriot cavalry commander, a foreign officer, who sought desperately to reform the panicked militia and make a stand. He was Lieutenant Colonel Charles Armand Tuffin, Marquis de la Rouerie.

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Armand

   French by birth, Armand was one of many European soldiers to come to America in the 1770’s with hopes of obtaining high ranking commissions in the fledgling Continental Army during the Revolution. Arriving in 1776, Armand’s service in the war would generally become overshadowed by that of his more famous countryman, the younger Marquis de Lafayette, who would arrive a year later.

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Artistic License and the French Artillery Park at Yorktown, A Case Study

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian Karl G. Elsea

It is common for artists to use “artistic license” when painting historic events including American Revolutionary War art. The problem is this practice also

aids inaccuracies persisting. Here is one case study of one picture involving an historic event that is presented by the National Park Service (NPS) at Yorktown. Please note the staff is helpful and the grounds are beautiful. As for the severity of the problem, the reader can decide after reading the information.

The following picture is from the field at Yorktown where the French Artillery Park was located. The picture illustrates the idea of what an artillery park was.

The problem is this picture contains a number of images that are wrong. For example, the carriages, wagons, carts, and limbers should be painted light blue. The French Army artillery had been painted light blue prior to 1750. There is a lot of confusion to this day concerning gun and limber carriage colors. This confusion may have been generated by a current belief there was one French artillery color. The French used the color of the items to assist which department owned the material. The French Navy department [Ministry of Marine] was responsible for the colonies, including North America, and their cannon were on red carriages with, in all most all cases, iron barrels. The French Quartermaster’s department had their wagons were painted a brighter red. The French Army artillery was painted light blue with bronze barrels. Thus, the French Army barrels shown should appear to be “brass.”

Continue reading “Artistic License and the French Artillery Park at Yorktown, A Case Study”

Abercrombie’s Sortie

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian Kevin Pawlak

On October 15, 1781, British General Charles Cornwallis penned a note to his superior officer General Sir Henry Clinton. Cornwallis told Clinton that American and French forces seized two redoubts, 9 and 10, along the York River the previous night. “My Situation now becomes very critical,” he glumly said. Before his army, entrenched outside of Yorktown, “shall soon be exposed to an Assault in ruined Works,” Cornwallis desperately sought to break the Allied stranglehold slowly bleeding his army. The general turned to Lt. Col. Robert Abercrombie to break the Allied lines anyway he could.

Map of the Allies’ Second Parallel and Abercrombie’s Sortie (from Jerome Greene, The Guns of Independence)
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Savannah, an International Engagement

Last week I wrote about the various German principalities that contributed manpower to the British attempt to subdue the colonies. I ended the post with:

“An introduction to another aspect of how the American Revolution had far reaching international complications and commitments.”

I figured this week I would return to that theme and share a portion of the Battle of Savannah in 1779, from the perspective of how many nationalities had native sons take part in the fighting.

Besides the three obvious nationalities; British, German, French, and American, the following countries represented; Ireland, Haiti, Poland, Sweden and Switzerland.

The British commander was General Augustine Prevost, who was born in the Republic of Geneva on August 22, 1723 and like an older brother joined the British army. He saw action in the French and Indian War with the 60th Regiment of Foot and at the conclusion of that conflict even served a brief term as governor of West Florida.

During the American Revolution he was ordered to invade Georgia in 1778 and had taken command at Savannah in January 1779, although he wanted to resign in favor of a younger officer to take charge. His replacement was captured while enroute to relieve Prevost, thus the Genevan was still in charge during the subsequent siege and fighting in September and October 1779.

Curt von Stedingk, hailed from Swedish Pomerania in 1746 and by the time of the Siege of Savannah he had been tabbed to lead part of the offensive. He made it to the British entrenchments where he valiantly placed the American standard. Stedingk was wounded in the fighting. He received a decoration from the French and after the American Revolution George Washington invited him into the Society of Cincinnati. This created some controversy in his native Sweden as the king, Gustav III forbade Stedingk from wearing the ribbon and medal as it was from his service to a “revolting people.” He went on to have a long military career, including fighting Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzig.

Henri Christophe, the only monarch of the Kingdom of Haiti, was a drummer boy in a French regiment during the Siege of Savannah. The unit, the Chasseurs-Volontaires de Saint-Domingue was comprised of various ethnicities hailing from the island of Saint Domingue. Christophe may have been wounded around Savannah. He would distinguish himself in the Haitian Revolution before claiming his kingdom and naming himself monarch on March 28, 1811.

Casimir Pulaski, nicknamed “the father of American cavalry” was mortally wounded by canister while attempting to rally retreating French forces. The grapeshot that felled the Warsaw, Poland native is on display in Savannah or Charleston, depending on what account you believe; or possibly neither? He never regained consciousness and died on board the ship Wasp two days after his wound on October 11.

Arthur Dillon and his “Wild Geese” Irish Regiment, in the employ of the French, also took part in the failed attempt to subdue Savannah. Dillon, born in 1750, continued in the French service until being executed in Paris in 1794 due to his royalist leanings.

With such an international cast of personas, which did include rank-and-file from the countries not listed, the Siege of Savannah showed the global reverberations the conflict had. The preserved plot of land pays homage to this fact, which, if nothing else brings you to want to visit the city, is reason enough!

“Rev War Revelry” The Importance of Germantown

On October 4, 1777, General George Washington’s Continental Army struck the British outpost at Germantown, Pennsylvania. Less than a month after the Battle of Brandywine and approximately a week after the loss of their capital, Philadelphia.

Initially successful, Washington’s forces got bogged down by fog and British holdouts in a stone structure called Cliveden. What started so promising did end in a tactical defeat for the Americans. Yet, coming days before the climatic battle in New York, dubbed Saratoga collectively, the cause of American independence was buoyed.

Although outshone in the annals of history by Saratoga, the setback at Germantown proved decisive in the French court, especially with the French foreign minister, who saw that the simple fact that Washington could regroup following Brandywine and come within some bad luck and fog of defeating the British was testament to resolve of the American effort for independence.

To cut through the fog and discuss the campaign, engagement, and repercussions of the Battle of Germantown, Emerging Revolutionary War invites back historian and author Michael C. Harris this Sunday for the next installment of “Rev War Revelry” at 7pm EST on our Facebook page.

He will join a duo of ERW historians. In addition, his publication, Germantown: A Military History of the Battle of Philadelphia, October 4, 1777, is now available through the publisher, Savas Beatie, LLC. Click here to order.

We look forward to hearing your comments, questions, and/or opinions this Sunday. So, set a side an hour-ish–as you know historians can get to talking and lose track of time easily, especially when books are also involved–for this historian happy hour.

“He was everything an excellent officer should be…” Remembering Baron de Kalb

On this day, in 1780, Baron de Kalb, died at 59 years old. He had commanded admirably at the Battle of Camden, on August 16, 1780, overseeing the right of the American line where he received his mortal wounds.

Marker on the Camden Battlefield, although not in the “exact spot” that Baron de Kalb fell (author collection)

Below are a few excerpts about the German-born de Kalb.

On his deathbed, as noted by his aide, the Chevalier du Buysson, de Kalb wanted it known that:

His most affectionate compliments to all the officers and men of his division; he expressed the greatest satisfaction in the testimony given by the British army of the bravery of his troops….and the exemplary conduct of the whole division gave him an endearing sense of the merit of the troops he had the honor to command.

Although just a child, at seven years old, in August 1780, Mary Kershaw remembered the day de Kalb was buried in Camden. She lived until 1848 but would regale people with her reminiscences.

She also witnessed the burial of Baron de Kalb, with his sword at his side, between two British officers. It would later be found that “he lay, it seems, in the ‘custom of knighthood’ as last of his race, buried in his armor, that is to say his helmet, his sword, and his spurs were in the grave with him.

Original grave location for de Kalb in Camden (author collection)

General Horatio Gates, who commanded the American forces at Camden, penned the following to General George Washington, upon the news of de Kalb’s passing.

Too much honor cannot be paid by Congress to the memory of Baron de Kalb; he was everything an excellent officer should be, and in the cause of the United States he sacrificed his life.

Lastly, the French ambassador and former staff officer of de Kalb, the Duke de la Luzerne, wrote:

The fall of that excellent Officer, the Baron de Kalb–so much to be regretted by France and the United States…

Yet, the spirit of de Kalb. the resolute soldier, would live. Both within his former division and in the reconstituted Continental forces in the southern theater, as these regular army soldiers (and militia) would see the cause through to a successful conclusion.

For more information and the source of these excerpts please consult:

“De Kalb, One of the Revolutionary War’s Bravest Generals” by John Beakes

What’s So Bonhomme about Richard?

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes guest historian Dwight Hughes

The recent disastrous conflagration aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) in San Diego harbor brings to mind the original warship by that name and its fiery fate, a tale excellently told in a previous post by Eric Sterner (“I Have not Yet Begun to Fight!” or Words to that Effect (September 23, 1779)).  “Bonhomme Richard” means “good man Richard” in French. So, who is Richard? What was good about him? Why is his name on a man-of-war?

The United States Navy likes to carry forward the labels of famous vessels. This is one of the oldest and most revered monikers in navy history, originally assigned in 1779 by Captain John Paul Jones to a rather decrepit French merchantman armed with a motley collection of guns. The French government donated the former Duc De Duras to Jones to sail against their mutual enemies, the British.

John Paul Jones

Jones famously engaged the powerful frigate HMS Serapis on September 23, 1779 in English waters off Flamborough Head, Yorkshire. The ships grappled together and blasted away at point blank range. Both were battered and ablaze in sinking condition with many casualties when the British captain surrendered. With Bonhomme Richard going down fast, the Americans took over Serapis and managed to save her.

John Paul Jones became the “Father of the U. S. Navy” (or one of them). Bonhomme Richard entered legend as the warship that won and sank. She and her successors also represent those rare U. S. Navy vessels whose names are rendered in a foreign language.

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Lafayette at Brandywine

Marquis de Lafayette was a French aristocrat serving in the French army, and recently married, when the Revolution broke out in America.  He followed events with interst, and was motivated to come and fight with the Americans.

He arrived in March, 1777, nineteen years old and eager.  He immediately formed a friendship with Washington, and was an aide on his staff.  In the meantime British forces had invaded Pennsylvania, intent on capturing Philadelphia.  Washington’s army took a position behind Brandywine Creek, and the British attacked on September 11, 1777.  British troops had flanked the Americans, and reinforcements were rushed to the threatened sector, making a stand on Birmingham Hill.

Eager to get to the fighting, Lafayette and a group of French officers rode to the unfolding battle at Birmingham Hill, arriving as the action was at its hottest.  Approaching from the south, they rode up the Birmingham Road, and turned to the left, coming in behind the brown-coated troops of General Thomas Conway’s Pennsylvania brigade.

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Review: Revolutionary Brothers, Thomas Jefferson, the Marquis de Lafayette, and the Friendship that Helped Forge Two Nations by Tom Chaffin

Thomas Jefferson, Marquis de Lafayette, two household names from the American Revolutionary War. One the author of Declaration of Independence and one of the great political minds of the era. The other, a Frenchman, enamored with the ideals of the rebelling colonies of British North America who risked a maritime crossing, was wounded at Brandywine, and served both on the field of battle and the international sphere to help achieve American independence.

That much is known about these two gentlemen, icons of history. How about their friendship, one that spanned decades and brought both men through times of personal and professional difficulties. Although years separated visits and both men were well into adulthood before making their respective acquaintance, the friendship helped cement the bond between countries, from aid during the American Revolution to a thankful nation celebrating the return of the Marquis in the mid-1820s.

This friendship has finally been captured in narrative form by historian Tom Chaffin, author of other historical works and biographies in a book published by St. Martin’s Press in 2019.

Continue reading “Review: Revolutionary Brothers, Thomas Jefferson, the Marquis de Lafayette, and the Friendship that Helped Forge Two Nations by Tom Chaffin”

Battle of Fort San Carlos – Westernmost Battle of the American Revolution

St. Louis, Missouri is considered the gateway to the west for the United States beginning in the 19th century. In the 18th century, St. Louis was not on the radar of many in the burgeoning United States.

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Western Reach of the Revolution, wayside informational tablet at Gateway Arch National Park (author collection)

However, the westernmost engagement of the American Revolution unfolded in the town of St. Louis, crushing British designs to conquer the territory from the Spanish, who were allied with the French and thus the United States.

On May 26, 1780, a hodgepodge force of 300 townsfolk, free and enslaved blacks, French settlers, and Spanish soldiers rallied to defend their town from the advance of a combined British and Native American force. Continue reading “Battle of Fort San Carlos – Westernmost Battle of the American Revolution”