Mention the words “artillery” and “American Revolution” and what name instantly pops into your mind? Henry Knox.
Yet, like George Washington, Knox needed competent officers under him to successfully organize, train, lead, and develop the artillery arm of the Continental Army.
Enter John Lamb.
Born on the first day of 1735 in New York City, he was destined to rebel. The reason he was even born in New York City was due to the fact that his father, a convicted burglar had been sentenced for deportation to the colonies in the 1720s.
His early upbringing saw him become a prosperous wine merchant and he quickly ingratiated himself into the burgeoning patriot movement by becoming an integral part of the Sons of Liberty in New York City. Continue reading “The Other Great Artilleryman”→
When the idea was formulated, back in April, to do a Sunday evening Zoom/Facebook live type history hour, the emphasis behind this “happy hour” was to style it as a more informal chat. Our goal was to create a virtual adaptation of what would occur if the same historians met at a tavern/bar/pub to casually chat about American history.
Speed up to this Sunday, June 7th, Emerging Revolutionary War will welcome three guest historians, who all have a connection to a historic tavern to join co-founder Rob Orrison on a talk about 18th century taverns. Yes, a “tavern talk about taverns.”
Joining Orrison on the hour-long happy hour chat will be:
Liz Williams, Executive Director of Gadsby’s Tavern in Alexandria, Virginia, part of The Office of Historic Alexandria, in which she has been employed with since 2004. She is a graduate of Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Virginia with a degree in Historic Preservation and a graduate degree in Tourism Administration from George Washington University. She has also worked at various historic sites in the Virginia and Washington D.C. area.
An ERW favorite and returning to the “Rev War Revelry” is Stacey Fraser, the Collections and Outreach Manager with Lexington (MA) Historical Society. One of the sites she oversees the collection of is Buckman Tavern, which played a role in the April 19, 1775 engagements that rolled through Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts.
The third guest historian is Sarah Kneeshaw, the Education and Public Programs Coordinator at Fraunces Tavern Museum. The tavern was built in 1719 in New York City by the De Lancey family. She joined the staff at the downtown New York City site (which is directly across from Federal Hall where George Washington was inaugurated president in April 1789) in 2016. Sarah holds a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from Fordham University and also attained a graduate degree in Museum Studies from John Hopkins University. She is a native of Staten Island.
Thus, this Sunday, set a side an hour-ish, starting at 7pm EST, to hear these four historians discuss taverns, their importance, and roles in the 18th century social, military, and political history of the burgeoning United States. With your preferred drink, be it an 18th century tavern concoction or not, in hand, we look forward to your questions, comments and insights.
After the Battle of Long Island, American forces evacuated to Manhattan Island. But with the British in command of the waters around New York, they easily could land their forces anywhere along Manhattan Island. On September 15th, the British crossed the East River north of New York City and landed at Kip’s Bay, easily pushing aside the American forces there. American forces in New York City were nearly cut off, but quickly retreated up Manhattan Island to Harlem Heights and began to dig in. On the morning of the next day, British troops arrived in front of the American lines at Harlem Heights. Washington expected an attack and decided to take the initiative.
Washington ordered a small party of 150 men called “The Knowlton Rangers” under the command of Lt. Col. Thomas Knowlton to move out and reconnoiter the British position. Knowlton quickly recognized the British were not planning a major assault but his force had brought about the attention of the British light infantry, soon the Knowlton Rangers were outnumbered and quickly retreated back to the American lines. When Knowlton reached safety, the British light infantry paused, placing them out in front of their main lines. Washington seized the opportunity and ordered an assault on their rear by Knowlton’s men and a reinforcement of 200 Virginia riflemen from the Third Virginia under Major Leitch.
Though the American attack was supposed to be in the rear of the British light infantry, but because of confusing terrain and attacking too soon, the flanking column instead hit the British in their flank. The effect still had an adverse effect on the British light infantry as they began to fall back. The Americans fought with determination and bravery. Knowlton went down mortally wounded. Colonel Griffith wrote of Leitch “He conducted himself on this occasion in a manner that does him the greatest honor, and so did all of his party.” Washington wrote the next day that “The General most heartily thanks the troop commanded yesterday by Major Leitch, who first advanced upon the enemy, and the officer who so resolutely supported them.”
At the head of the attacking column both Knowlton and Leitch led their men forward to attach the British flank. Early in the attack both men went down wounded. Knowlton died on the battlefield, Leitch took three musket balls to the abdomen and was carried off the field. At first most reported his condition as improving and he was thought to survive his ordeal. Washington wrote “Majr Leitch of Weedons Regiment (Third Virginia) had three balls through his side, and behaved exceedingly well – he is in fair way of recovery.”
Soon the British began to retreat back to their main line. Washington then ordered an attack along his line and the British light infantry fell back to the main line in confusion. Soon the entire British line began to give way. After about a 90 minute fight, Washington learned that more British forces were arriving on the field and ordered his men back to the main line. Though not a major victory, the American army had finally stood up to the British and even for a moment, pushed them off the field in combat. The British suffered 14 killed and an estimated 154 wounded, with the Americans suffering 30 killed and 100 wounded.
Though most believed that Leitch was recovering from his wounds, by September 20th Gen. Horatio Gates wrote “Major Leitch of Maryland was wounded and despaired of.” As his condition worsened, there was little for regimental surgeon David Griffith could do but to try to ease Leitch’s pain. Griffith wrote to Leitch family friend Richard Henderson on October 3rd that “[I] disagreeable duty of informing Mrs. Leitch through you, of the death of her husband is imposed upon me. He expired yesterday morning at Hackinsack Bridge where he had been removed for his better accommodation…But on the 28th Sept he was seized by lock’d jaw – with spasms about his neck and throat so violent as to baffle every effort to minister to him by medicine.” It seems the death of Leitch was a tough and unexpected blow to his fellow officers in the Third Virginia Regiment.
Where Major Leitch’s remains are today is a mystery. Captain John Chilton wrote on
October 4, 1776 that “the brave Major Leitch who died of his wounds received the 16th was interred yesterday by the side of Major Henly.” We know the general area of the American camps in the fall of 1776, but this burial location is long lost to history. In 1897, historian Henry Johnston wrote in his account of the Battle of Harlem Heights that Knowlton and Leitch are probably buried somewhere “on St. Nicholas Avenue, between 135th St and 145th St.” in New York City. Of course the land has changed a lot since then and whatever remains were left were destroyed by modern development.
Today the area of the Harlem Heights battlefield is now under the campus of Columbia University in New York City. Today there is a simple plaque on the wall on the eastside of Broadway north of 117th Street. This plaque commemorates the Battle of Harlem Heights and depicts Major Andrew Leitch as well as Lt. Col. Thomas Knowlton (who was mortally wounded in the same attack as Leitch). Near here is where Leitch was mortally wounded turning the flank of the British line.
The search for Andrew Leitch continues. His contribution to the American Revolution is well documented through the letters of George Washington and others. When he moved to Dumfries, VA and where he lived is still unknown. We do know that he was influential enough to be elected to Prince William County’s Committee of Correspondence in 1774 and involved in the efforts to raise men and funds for local companies of troops. Continued research in his widow’s pension cases as well as researching contemporary archives may turn up new information. For now, he is honored with a plaque in New York City and a small park here in Virginia. My hope is that this story will end with an appropriate understanding and remembrance of a man who gave his life for our nation’s independence.
For Further Reading:
Johnson, Henry. The Battle of Harlem Heights. New York: Macmillan Company, 1897.
Peters, Joan. The Third Virginia Regiment of Foot, 1776-1778, Volumes 1-2. Westminster (MD): Heritage Books, 2008.
After turning coat, Benedict Arnold received a commission as a brigadier general in the British army as part of the deal that he made in order to betray his country.
In August 1781, George Washington decided to shift forces in order to attack the army of Lt. Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis in Virginia. Washington began pulling troops from the New York area. Lt. Gen. Sir Henry Clinton, the British commander-in-chief in America, realized on September 2 that Washington’s tactics had deceived him, leaving him unable to mobilize quickly enough to help Cornwallis. Further, there was still a significant force of Continentals facing him in front of New York, and Clinton did not feel that he could detach troops to reinforce Cornwallis as a result.
Instead, Clinton decided to launch a raid into Connecticut in the hope of forcing Washington to respond. Clinton intended that this be a raid, but he also recognized that New London could be used as a permanent base of operations into the interior of New England. Clinton appointed Arnold to command the raid because he was from Connecticut and knew the terrain.
Arnold commanded about 1,700 British solders, divided into two battalions. Lt. Col. Edmund Eyre commanded a battalion consisting of the 40th and 54th Regiments of Foot and Cortland Skinner’s New Jersey Volunteers, a Loyalist unit. Arnold himself commanded the other battalion, made up of the 38th Regiment of Foot and various Loyalist units, including the Loyal American Regiment and Arnold’s American Legion. Arnold also had about 100 Hessian Jägers, and three six-pound guns. This was a formidable force anchored by the three Regular regiments. Continue reading “The Battle of Groton Heights, September 6, 1781: The Fort Griswold Massacre”→
When I was completing my graduate degree in American history from George Mason University a few years back, I took on the challenge of trying to examine the motivations of American soldiers during the American Revolutionary War.
The basis was to examine, “why they fought” if I can borrow a line used frequently by Civil War scholars and historians.
Being a native Marylander, I narrowed my focus on soldiers from that colony/state.
Yet, I was struck by the continued emergence of one name in particular and this gentleman became a focal point of mine.
This gentleman became through the war and could not be ignored with any mention of Maryland and her patriotic citizenry’s service in the war. His name is Otho Holland Williams.
First a little background on Otho Holland Williams. Otho Williams’ early life mirrors that of many early American colonists. His parents, Joseph and Prudence Holland Williams were born and married in Wales before emigrating to the colonies and settling in Prince George’s County, Maryland.
Otho was born on March 1, 1749, one of eight children. The following year the family moved to western Maryland, settling near the mouth of Conococheauge Creek in Frederick County. Life on the frontiers of the British North American colonies could be rough and hard and before Otho reached adulthood, he lost his father. However, he showed enough promise and potential to be entrusted by a brother-in-law to a clerk position in Frederick County. Showing his ability to grasp a new skill, the young Williams rose to be given “final charge” of the clerk’s office before moving on to a clerk position in the larger town of Baltimore at age eighteen in 1757.
In Baltimore, Williams continued to enhance his reputation and business prospects. After seventeen years in the spiraling, busy port town situated on the Chesapeake Bay, Williams moved back to more familiar grounds in Frederick in 1774. With the move, he entered into the merchant trade, overseeing commercial enterprises in the growing town. Williams was building a respectable life and he would have been considered a gentleman.
However, nothing truly remarkable had happened to cause this ordinary British colonist in Maryland to be remembered by history. Events transpiring on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean soon reared an opportunity for Williams to change that.
Otho Holland Williams now 26 years of age, at the direction of the Committee of Observation of Frederick County, Md, on the 21st of June, 1775, would have heard of a letter from the Delegates of Maryland asking for the formation of two companies of “expert Riflemen to be raised” to join the army near Boston.
The gist of that correspondence is below:
“A letter from the Delegates of Maryland, and a resolve of the Congress enclosed therein, were read, requiring two companies of expert Riflemen to be furnished by this County, to join the army near Boston, to be there employed as Light-Infantry, under the command of the Chief officer of that Army
In the second company, Williams was elected one of three lieutenants and within the month was marching north to join the army, arriving in Cambridge in 22 days, marching over 550 miles, which needless to say gave a great first impression on the military officers and one that the future Commander-in-Chief George Washington would realize in New York.
In January 1776, Capt. Price, of the rifle company, was promoted to major in Col. William Smallwood’s Maryland Regiment. The gentleman who replaced Price was Williams who succeeded him as captain. Williams’ star continued to rise and in June 1776 was appointed major in Colonel Hugh Stephenson’s newly organized rifle regiment. He was still a major in November when he saw action in New York.
While other Marylanders serving valiantly but unsuccessfully in the opening engagements of the battles around New York City, further the Hudson River stood Fort Washington and stationed there was the rifle company that Otho Williams was a member of.
Upriver from New York City the Americans had constructed two forts on either side of the Hudson River. On the island of Manhattan stood Fort Washington, named in honor of the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. On the other bluff, stood Fort Lee named in honor of Charles Lee, a major general in the American army that had overseen the defense of New York City prior to the Continental Army’s arrival. Nathanael Greene, the very capable American general convinced General Washington that his namesake fort could be held and although of a different opinion initially, Washington relented to his subordinate. The decision would have dire consequences for Williams and the men in the rifle regiment.
Before discussing the role of Williams and his gallant band of riflemen in the defense of Fort Washington, one fact that cannot be looked over is the rapid rise that Williams had undertaken. The mere fact that a young boy, with no prior military experience, could rise to the rank of major was truly exceptional.
To rise to that similar rank in the British army would depend more on family prestige and the ability to pay the price for the commission. That this was not the case in the American army was a sign of the difference in ideals and make-up of the military. The American colonies were revolting against the aristocratic regime of Great Britain, so to imitate their promotion mechanisms would seem out of place with the republican ideals espoused by the aspiring new republic. Furthermore, the ability to navigate the command structure with the added benefit of superior’s being promoted or more morbid, die, allowed Williams to rise.
However, the previous mentioned attribute only tell a portion of the career so far of Williams. His commitment and perseverance to the cause had been duly noted and he would soon show the coolness and battlefield leadership that would cement his rise through the officer ranks.
Williams commanded men of the rifle company occupied a portion of the outlying trenches that surrounded the fort because of a very grave insight the defenses in the environs of Fort Washington could not accommodate the number of American defenders. In their exposed position, the men from Maryland and Virginia would come into contact with their British and Hessian counterparts in the opening stages of the conflict on November 16, 1776. The action commenced in the morning and would be an all-day, drawn out conflict, the epitome of a “fight to the death” type battle. Part of the reason the affair turned out to be so relentless and bloody was the fact that the Americans had refused to surrender the fort initially and the ensuing action could quite possibly result in the British and their allies showing no quarter if the Americans suffered defeat.
History does not depict whether the men with Williams and under the command of Colonel Rawlings knew this fact, but what they did know was that they had been given an assignment to defend the fort and the men from Virginia and Maryland were prepared to do just that.
Unfortunately, after facing overwhelming odds and the collapse of other sections of the American lines, Williams and his men were forced to fall back from their exposed positions. During the action Colonel Rawlings received a severe wound to the leg, resulting in a fracture of the bone. Serving as second in command, Williams assumed command of the rifle regiment, continuing to show his unwillingness to yield the field even after suffering a severe groin wound.
With the wound and the collapse of the American lines, he did not command for long. The survivors of the regiment, along with the rest of the fort’s garrison, surrendered to the British and German forces.
After the conflict, a Hessian survivor remarked about attacking the Maryland riflemen, in which Williams was most likely in command of; that “he had a hard time of it.” Another enemy soldier noted the inordinate number of wounded. Official casualty reports, listed 2,780 Americans, including Williams, as prisoners of war, and another 149 were killed and wounded. The British lost 458 killed, wounded, and missing during the day long fight.