Eutaw Springs

Emerging Revolutionary War is pleased to welcome back historian Bert Dunkerly, who is the co-author (with Irene B. Boland) of the upcoming book; “Eutaw Springs; The Final Battle of the American Revolution’s Southern Campaign” slated to be released this month. 

Part One

The weather was warm and the men had been marching for days, but their morale was high.  They had been through a lot recently: caught off guard and defeated at Hobkirk’s Hill, a month of grueling siege work – and for naught, at Ninety Six.   Not to mention the engagements that many of them had fought in previously: Kings Mountain, Cowpens, Guilford Courthouse, and dozens of smaller battles.

Yet the army that General Nathanael Greene led forward on the morning of September 8, 1781, was confident and ready to come to grips with its adversary.  Everyone from the private in the ranks on up to the commanding general knew that ahead lay an opportunity.

Battles in the Revolution were, in fact, rare opportunities for commanders.  Engagements were the short, pulse-pounding events that broke up the monotony of marching and maneuvering.  An army spent most of its time in garrison, in camp, or on the road.  In battle the infrequent opportunity came to crush an opponent and influence the outcome of a campaign, or the war.  These chances were few and far between.

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“Eutaw Springs” by Benson Lossing

Both commanders at Eutaw Springs appreciated this fact.  General Nathanael Greene’s forces had experienced a series of close calls at Guilford Courthouse, Ninety Six, and Hobkirk’s Hill.  The American army fought well in all of these engagements, save Hobkirk’s Hill, yet they met defeat in every one.  Greene hoped Eutaw Springs would put the finishing touches on his South Carolina campaign, and end it with a clear cut victory.[i]

Eutaw Springs was a rare chance for Greene to pick the time and place of engagement, array his forces to his choosing, and initiate the battle, and control its \tempo.  It was the only set engagement of the campaign, other than Guilford Courthouse, in which Greene chose the ground and initiated the battle.  Commanders do not often have this luxury, and Greene earnestly hoped to make the most of it. Continue reading “Eutaw Springs”

Two Places the American Revolution Could’ve Started

Recently, I had the chance to head to New England to take photos for an upcoming publication in the Emerging Revolutionary War Series. While there I ventured to Salem, Massachusetts and New Castle, New Hampshire. Two great places filled with American history and also what could have been even more American history.

The shooting war that became the American Revolution began in Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts on April 19, 1775. Yet, these two places; Salem, Massachusetts and Fort William and Mary in New Hampshire, almost, caused the war to begin.

Here is what happened.

On December 14, 1774, local militia raided the British post garrisoned by six men at Fort William and Mary near Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Faced with over 400 militiamen the garrison proved obstinate and did not accept surrender and when faced with an assault, actually fired three cannon shots at the charging militia. Open combat ensued but no deaths occurred before the militia gained the fort.

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Entrance to the fort, with the plaque commemorating the events in December 1774 to the right of the entrance.

During the afternoon, the militia would deprive the fort of over 100 barrels of precious gunpowder. By the next day, over 1,000 militiamen had arrived to lend support and within a few days, British General Thomas Gage had dispatched a small force on a British naval vessel but by the time they arrived, the commotion at Fort William and Mary had subsided.

Three months later and located approximately 50 miles south of Fort William and Mary is Salem where the following incident took place. Thomas Gage ordered 240 men of the 64th Foot Regiment under Lt. Col. Alexander Leslie on February 27, 1775 by water to the town. Upon arrival the force hovered off the coast waiting for the residents to attend their regular Sunday sermon. Soon after, the 64th Foot began to make the five mile march to Salem. A column of nearly 250 British regulars brought a lot of attention and soon riders were riding ahead to Salem to warn them of the approaching British. The men in Salem began to remove the cannon and hide them in the countryside.  The main objective for Leslie was a blacksmith shop on the north side of the North River.  Here is where it was reported that the ship cannons were being refitted for field use.

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Historic Marker commemorating the spot of armed resistance at the Salem Bridge on February 27, 1775.

The issue at the river was a draw bridge was the only way across and as the British approached, several men raised the drawbridge so the British could not cross.  By this time militia was on the opposite banks of the North River. An armed confrontation, one of many this winter, between colonials and Royal troops ensued. Leslie demand that the bridge be lowered so he could cross but the militia would not budge. Meanwhile, the cannons Leslie was looking for were being dispersed. Leslie threatened to fire on the militia, but Leslie’s senses got the best of him as he recognized hundreds of townspeople were now turned out and watching.  He did not want to have blood on his hands this day. Plus the safety of his own men became in doubt as the day was getting long and he knew he had to extricate himself somehow.

Soon a local minister proposed a compromise, the bridge would be lowered and the British could cross and march to the blacksmith forge just a hundred yards beyond the bridge.  If no cannon were found (which by now, they were all removed) then Leslie would turn around and march his men back to the ships on the shore.  To Leslie, this was an honorable compromise as his orders were to cross the river and investigate the blacksmith forge and shop. Soon after the British crossed the North River, they re-crossed and marched back to their ships.  Open rebellion was again thwarted. But a deadly precedent was set, the militia learned that the British did not intend to fire on them and such the bravery of each militia unit at each alarm was amplified.

Both of these affairs did not start the war. Both could have. We may never know why. But, what we do know is that they were example of how close the war was to starting. Lexington and Concord became the tipping point.

 

ERW Weekender: Battle of King’s Mountain

On October 7, 1780, one of the most pivotal battles of the American Revolution fought in the South occurred on a hillside in northwest South Carolina.The engagement brought militia from both sides; those loyal to the British and those adhering to the independence movement against each other. In fact, only one regular British soldier was present on that autumn day; the British commander Major Patrick Ferguson.

How did Ferguson and his militia end up on King’s Mountain? This was due to the campaign being waged by British General Lord Cornwallis in the Southern colonies.

Ferguson’s role was to protect the flank of Cornwallis’ force as it turned north from South Carolina. After issuing a call of bravado, where Ferguson gave Patriot militia an ultimatum; lay down your weapons or suffer the consequences, the British officer began to move through the South Carolina countryside. This decree emboldened the Patriot militia, some of which would come from across the Appalachian Mountains–or “Overmountain”–to join in the fight against Ferguson. This combined force would gather around Sycamore Shoals in present day Tennessee.

Word quickly reached Ferguson near Gilbert Town, North Carolina by way of deserters that a large force of Virginia, Carolinas, and militia from the area of Tennessee had arrived and were planning to march toward his encampment.

Still showing a high degree of disdain for the Patriot militia, Ferguson did not act immediately on the intelligence. Three days later, the Loyalist militia and the British officer started their retrograde movement toward Charlotte and Lord Cornwallis’s main army.

By October 4, 1780 now joined by a sprinkling of Georgia militia, the Patriots had reached Ferguson’s old encampment site. Two days later the militia forced marched through the Cowpens of South Carolina, which had not witnessed the hard hand of battle yet. Just a day’s march ahead was Ferguson’s forces.

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Colonial Road trace near Kings Mountain (author collection)

At this juncture, Ferguson made a fateful decision. Instead of continuing his retreat and he was less than a full-days march away from the main British army, the British officer held up his forces on a forested hill just inside South Carolina and laid out his camp on the highest point; Kings Pinnacle.

Realizing that time was of the essence, the Patriot force, now numbering 900 men, found plentiful horseflesh to mount up and close the gap between the two sides. Riding through the rain and darkness of the night of October 6, the fifteen-mile gap between forces was erased and by late morning the Patriot militia was reining up within striking distance of Kings Mountain.

By mid-afternoon, at approximately 3:00 p.m. the fighting erupted. The Patriot militia broke into smaller commands, numbering between 100-200 men and started to ascend the slopes. Luckily for the Patriots, Ferguson had not detected just how close the enemy was and had also neglected to fortify his encampment. His force though, outnumbered the Patriots by approximately 200 men.

Some of the Loyalist militia did not realize that the enemy had arrived until the Patriot militia came hollering and yelling up the slope of the hillside. With the conglomerate of various militia, there was no unified command of the Patriot forces and the fight quickly boiled down to independent maneuvering and fighting. Using the terrain, the Patriot militia fired from behind trees and boulders. Answering this tactic, Ferguson ordered a bayonet charge down the hill. This caused the Patriot force to retreat to the base of the hill as most of the men were carrying rifles which did not accommodate the bayonet.

Virginia militia Colonel William Campbell and North Carolinian militia Colonel John Sevier helped rally the militia that had broken and sent the force back up the hillside. This back and forth would happen a few more times; Ferguson’s force charging down hill with bayonets, the militia backtracking, than reforming, and charging back up after the Loyalist momentum had waned.

Finally, after an hour of combat the Patriot militia forced their way to the crown of the hill and was able to flank the Loyalist force and attack in rear of their position. This maneuver forced the Loyalists back into their encampment where numbers of them began to surrender.

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Marker to the memory of Major Patrick Ferguson (author collection)

Ferguson sensing the tide turning against the Loyalists, tried to rally his troops, supposedly yelling, “Hurrah,brave boys, the day is ours!” Gathering a few stalwarts, Ferguson made a desperate move to fight his way out of the encircling Patriot militia. A volley from Colonel Sevier’s militia force unhorsed Ferguson who fell entangled in his stirrups. Unfortunately, the horse, spooked with the musketry and smell of gunpowder dragged Ferguson through the Patriot line. After getting untangled from the straps on the horse, Ferguson lay prone on the ground, where a Patriot officer demanded his surrender. Still with some fight in him, Ferguson shot and killed the man. Other Patriot militia responding to the scene fired a collective volley at the downed British officer, killing Ferguson.

Some of the Patriot militia were opposed to accepting the Loyalist surrender, as they remembered the massacres and atrocities committed to their brethren in arms by the infamous Banastre Tarleton. Cooler heads prevailed and the firing died down.

By the time the second white flag was sent out by Captain Abraham DePeyster, Patriot militia officers were finally able to reign in their commands and over 600 Loyalist soldiers surrendered.

Within the one-hour and five minute engagement, Ferguson’s force ceased to exist. Total casualties for the Loyalist force was 290 killed, 163 wounded, and 668 captured. The Patriots suffered a total of 87 casualties; 29 killed and 58 wounded.

The Patriots, with the close proximity of Cornwallis’s forces, who the day after the battle would finally get the request for reinforcements from his slain subordinate, quickly retreated back into the safety of the South Carolina countryside.

However, the Battle of Kings Mountain would become a critical turning point, not only in the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution, but in the entire war itself. The victory, which demolished the Loyalist militia force covering his flank, forced Cornwallis to altere his strategy for the campaign. He would be forced to return to South Carolina, giving up advancing further than Charlotte into North Carolina in order to re-solidify control of territory in his rear. When Cornwallis finally returned to the Tar Heel State the following year, he would suffer eventually suffer a Pyrrhic victory at Guilford Court House in March 1781.

All that was in the future and so is your visit to this battlefield of the American Revolution.

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Kings Mountain Battle Monument commemorating the Patriot victory (author collection)

On March 3, 1931, Kings Mountain National Military Park was formed by an act of Congress and placed under the control of the United States War Department. Two years later, in March 1933, the property was transferred to the National Park Service by an executive order. At this juncture, the entire land mass of the park was comprised of 40 acres that had been originally donated by the Kings Mountain Battlefield Association. The park has grown since that time and now preserves slightly under 4,000 acres.

For further details on how to visit the battlefield, which includes trails, a visitor center, exhibits, and a bookstore, click here. The park is open daily 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with extended hours on the weekend between Memorial and Labor Days. Even better there is no fee to access this national military park!

*All the photos taken for this post was done by the author during a visit to the battlefield in autumn.*

 

 

Part 2: The Defense in Depth as a Revolutionary War Battlefield Tactic

For part one, click here

Brig. Gen. Daniel Morgan, the “Old Wagoner,” as he was known, commanded a light infantry corps assigned to Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene’s southern army. Morgan met with Greene in Charlotte, North Carolina on December 3, 1780.  Implementing a Fabian strategy, Greene split his army to harass the British while buying time to recruit additional soldiers. Greene ordered Morgan to use his 600-man command to forage and harass the enemy in the back country of South Carolina while avoiding battle with Lt. Gen. Charles Lord Cornwallis’ British army.

Once Cornwallis realized what was going on he dispatched Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton’s British Legion to track down Morgan’s command and bring it to battle. Tarleton commanded a combined force of Loyalist American troops. The Legion consisted of fast-marching light infantry and dragoon units. At its peak strength, the Legion numbered approximately 200 infantry and 250 dragoons. It was known for its rapid movements and for its ruthless policy of giving the enemy no quarter. Patriot forces feared Tarleton and his Legion, and for good reason.

By January 12, Tarleton’s scouts had located Morgan’s army in the South Carolina back country, and Tarleton began an aggressive pursuit. Morgan hastily retreated to a position at the Cowpens, a prominent crossroads and pasturing grounds for cattle. The field was about 500 yards long and about as wide, dotted with trees, but devoid of undergrowth, which served as a food source for grazing battle.

Once Morgan learned that Tarleton was pursuing him, he spread the word for local militia units to rendezvous with him at the Cowpens. Through the night, South Carolina militiamen drifted into camp. Morgan visited their camps, encouraging them to stand and fight. Morgan’s words were particularly effective; the grizzled veteran knew how to motivate these men. They would need to be prepared, because they faced a stern task the next day.

January 17, 1781 dawned clear and very cold. After his scouts reported Tarleton’s approach, Morgan rode among his men, crying out, “Boys, get up! Benny’s coming!” Morgan designed a defense in depth that was intended to draw the British Legion in and then defeat them by pouncing on their exposed flanks. He knew that his militia had a reputation of being unreliable, and his ability to maneuver was limited, so he elected to design and implement a defense in depth that took advantage of the terrain features of the Cowpens.

Banastre Tartleton, British commander at Cowpens
Banastre Tartleton, British commander at Cowpens

Tarleton was overconfident. He believed that Morgan’s command was hemmed in by the nearby Broad River and also believed that the cleared fields of the Cowpens were ideal ground for his dragoons, and concluded that Morgan must be desperate to fight in such a place.

Morgan had prepared three defensive positions. Selected sharpshooters out front and hiding behind trees manned the first line. They picked off a number of Tarleton’s dragoons as they advance, specifically targeting officers. Traditional accounts indicate that they downed 15 of Tarleton’s dragoons this way. Confused, the dragoons retreated.

Having accomplished their initial goal, the sharpshooters then fell back about 150 yards or so to join the second line, which consisted of Brig. Gen. Andrew Pickens’ militiamen. Morgan asked these men to stand long enough to fire two volleys, after which they were to fall back to the third—and main line—manned by Col. John Eager Howard’s Continentals, another 150 yards or so in the rear of the second line. Thus, Morgan had designed a textbook example of a defense in depth.

Andrew Pickens, commanded some of the South Carolina militia at Cowpens
Andrew Pickens, commanded some of the South Carolina militia at Cowpens

Some of the militia got off two volleys and then most of the militia fell back to a spot behind the third line. Tarleton orders his dragoons to pursue the retreating militiamen, and as the dragoons bore down on them with their sabres drawn, Col. William Washington’s Continental cavalry suddenly thundered onto the field, seemingly from nowhere. They routed the surprised Loyalist dragoons, who fled the field with heavy losses.

The infantry then engaged. With their drums beating and their fifes shrilling, the British infantry advanced at a trot. Recognizing that the moment of crisis had arrived, Morgan cheered his men on, rode to the front and rallied the militia, crying out, “form, form, my brave fellows! Old Morgan was never beaten!”

William Washington, commander of American cavalry at Cowpens and a distant relation to George Washington
William Washington, commander of American cavalry at Cowpens and a distant relation to George Washington

Tarleton’s 71st Highlanders, a veteran unit made of Scotsmen, which had been held in reserved, now charged the Continental line, their skirling bagpipes adding to the cacophony of battle. Howard ordered his right flank to face slight right to counter a charge from that direction, but in the noise and chaos, was misunderstood as a call to retreat. As other companies along the line began to pull out, Morgan rode up to ask Howard if he had been beaten. Howard pointed at the orderly ranks of his retreat and assured Morgan that they had not been beaten. Morgan then put spurs to his horse and ordered the retreating units to face about and, on his order, to fire in unison. Their deadly volley dropped numerous British soldiers, who, sensing victory, had broken ranks in a determined charge. The combination of this volley and a determined bayonet charge by the Continentals turned the tide of battle in favor of the Americans.

At the moment, the rallied and re-formed militia and Washington’s cavalry attacked, leading to a double envelopment of the British, who began surrendering in masses. Tarleton and some his men fought on, but others refused to obey orders and fled the field in a panic. Finally, Tarleton realized that he had been badly beaten and fled down the Green River Toad with a handful of his men. Racing ahead of his cavalry, William Washington dashed forward and engaged Tarleton and two of his officers in hand-to-hand combat. Only a well-timed pistol shot by his young bugler saved Washington from the upraised saber of one of the British officers. Tarleton and his remaining forces escaped and galloped off to Cornwallis’ camp to report the bad news.

And bad news it was: Tarleton’s Legion lost 110 dead, over 200 wounded and 500 captured. By contrast, Morgan lost only 12 killed and 60 wounded. His perfectly designed and perfectly implemented defense had worked even beyond the Old Wagoner’s wildest dreams and highest hopes.

Knowing that Cornwallis would pursue him, Morgan buried the dead and then withdrew to the north to live and fight another day. Morgan reunited with Greene’s army and the combined force headed for North Carolina. Morgan, whose health was fragile, soon retired from further duty in the field, but he had left his mark. Cowpens was his finest moment, and set a precedent for Greene to follow two months later at Guilford Courthouse.

Battle of Cowpens (Courtesy of Campaign 1776/CWT)
Battle of Cowpens
(Courtesy of Campaign 1776/CWT)

*Suggestions for additional reading: for a superb book-length microtactical treatment of the Battle of Cowpens, see Lawrence E. Babits, A Devil of a Whipping: The Battle of Cowpens (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998). This book is the primary resource consulted in drafting this article.

The Greatest Leaders of the American Revolution You Have Never Heard Of

Sitting under a tree in north-central New York, suffering from a painful and mortal leg wound, yet still managing a successful defense after a powerful ambush, is a characteristic of a great military leader. All the while nonchalantly smoking his pipe!

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General Nicholas Herkimer (courtesy of the NPS/Fort Stanwix and Oneida County (NY) Historical Society)

Nicholas Herkimer was the epitome of a successful militia commander. The Battle of Oriskany was a turning point. Herkimer, sitting on a once innocuous hillside, was a major reason why.

Even George Washington recognized the importance of Herkimer and made mention of his decision to not seek a commission in anything more than the militia of his home state. Not only that simple fact of service recognized by the commander-in-chief, but also his pivotal role in the Northern campaign of 1777.

“It was Herkimer who first reversed the gloomy  scene of the Northern campaign. The hero of the Mohawk Valley served from love of Country, not for reward. He did not want a Continental command or money.”

Herkimer would succumb to the mortal leg wound ten days after the battle, but his role in what was described as “one of the bloodiest battles of the war” solidified his place in the category of “greatest leaders of the American Revolution you have never heard of.”

Born in the Mohawk Valley of New York to Palatinate immigrants, Nicholas was described as a slender built, dark complexioned, dark haired individual. When he was finished growing, he stood near six feet tall, a rather tall height in 18th century Colonial America. He could also boast of being multilingual, fluently speaking English, German, and Iroquois.

He saw action in the French and Indian War, helping to repel the French and Native American attack on German Flatts, New York on November 12, 1757. Although a disastrous day for the German community, as many were taken prisoner by the French and Native Americans, Herkimer’s role led to his promotion to captain in the militia within two months of the fighting on January 5, 1758. Thirty-years after his promotion to captain the town would be renamed “Herkimer” for the actions of this New Yorker during the subsequent war.

In April of 1758, Herkimer was present and assisted in the successful repulse of the French and Indian force.

With peace established in 1763, Herkimer looked toward personal matters, building a house on the south side of the Mohawk River in 1764. He married two ladies, both named Maria. One died and the other would remarry and move north of the border to Canada, after Herkimer’s death in 1777.

With tensions increasing in the 1770s between Great Britain and the colonies, Herkimer led the Tryon County, New York Committee of Safety and was elected colonel of the local militia. The Provincial Congress on September 5, 1776 promoted him to brigadier general of the militia. One of his first roles was to meet with Joseph Brant, a Mohawk military and political leader in an effort to try and keep the Native Americans neutral in the conflict between the colonies and Great Britain. He was unsuccessful.

During the Northern Campaign of 1777, with the thrust southward by British General John Burgoyne being the main column on its way to its destiny at Saratoga, a secondary column entered the Mohawk Valley under British General Barrimore”Barry” St. Leger. The combined British, German, Loyalist, and Native American force laid siege to Fort Stanwix, in present-day Rome, New York.

Herkimer heard about this and marched his militia to help raise the siege. His force was ambushed on August 6, as they were nearing Fort Stanwix. After the initial surprise, in which Herkimer received his wound, the militia responded well and a drawn out battle ensued.

Part of the reason that the majority of the militia recovered from the shock and endured the ensuing bloody carnage was directly related to the inspired leadership of Colonel Samuel Campbell who led one of the militia regiments in the force and Herkimer himself.

Herkimer, after having his horse shot and receiving his mortal wound in the opening shots of the engagement asked to be propped under a tree on the hillside his forces had utilized for their defensive stand He then calmly lit a pipe and with a continued cool demeanor directed the rest of the engagement.

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Famous painting depicting the mortally wounded General Nicholas Herkimer directing his militia from his position seated under a tree, during the Battle of Oriskany on August 6, 1777. (Painting by Frederick C. Yohn)

After the day-long battle, Herkimer ensured he was the last to leave the field, after all the wounded that could be collected had been removed.

Although his wound was dressed on the field, the injury became infected and amputation was the only course of action. In the woods of western New York, the surgeon doing the operation was inexperienced and the wound bled tremendously. Herkimer would succumb to the wound on August 16, at the age of 49. He was buried near Little Falls, where he had built his home in the 1760s. The cemetery today is known as the “Herkimer Home Burial Ground.”

 

 

*Nicholas Herkimer’s role in the war and the Battle of Oriskany and the St. Leger campaign is described wonderfully by Michael O. Logusz in Volume 2 of “With Musket and Tomahawk” published by Savas Beatie LLC in March 2012.*