Secrets of the Patriot Limbers

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian Karl G. Elsea

When visiting Revolutionary War battlefields there are often replica field guns on the grounds. Not shown, in almost all cases, is the vehicle that pulled the gun to the battle – the limber. Though less “cool” it was essential.

Author’s limber and photo. Obsolescent British design with cart hook-up hardware modification

Today, there is no surviving original Patriot field gun limber from the American Revolutionary War. That is a problem when attempting to reproduce representative Patriot field gun limbers. The normal starting place, Muller’s A Treatise of Artillery, does not include information concerning British field (light) gun limbers. Muller’s Treatise only contains information on limbers for medium and heavy guns.

The absence of any original limbers is especially gulling because the Patriots had access to both obsolescent designs and the most advanced designs. The Hessian field gun limber was probably the most advanced limber design in 1776, and the Patriot forces captured six of them at Trenton on December 26, 1776. The Hessian limber design had three important improvements; firstly, the pintle (pin that connects the gun carriage to the limber) was behind the axle of the limber thus allowing a shorter turning radius and less likely damage to the gun carriage. Secondly, an ammunition box containing sixty rounds was on the limber. Thirdly, two wheel-horses were used instead of one thill horse thus providing twice the braking power. It would be interesting to know if the Patriots reproduced or incorporated those design elements.

Continue reading “Secrets of the Patriot Limbers”

Review: Braddock’s Defeat: The Battle of the Monongahela and the Road to Revolution, by David Preston. Oxford University Press, 2016. Reviewed by David A. Powell

Emerging Revolutionary War is honored to welcome back guest historian David A. Powell. 

When George Washington opened fire on a small party of Canadian militia commanded by Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville in May of 1754, he fired the first shots of what would eventually become the French and Indian War – and the Seven Years War across the rest of the globe. Many scholars have also acknowledged that this incident set the spark for what would become our own American Revolution.

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Braddock’s Defeat: The Battle of the Monongahela and the Road to Revolution, by David Preston.

Of course, Washington intended none of those things; instead he was carrying out the British Crown’s policy of staking claim to and defending the Ohio Country, lately disputed between France and Britain.  However, Jumonville’s death set irreversible forces in motion, not the least of which was the capture of Washington’s own company of Virginia Colonial Militia at Fort Necessity by a much larger French response in June of 1754.

The direct consequence of that encounter was the creation of a new British army, including two regiments of regulars and a train of artillery, rushed from Ireland and England to re-assert Crown control over the forks of the Ohio. Command of this new expedition fell to Major General Edward Braddock. Arriving in 1755, Braddock’s mission was to lead this new force from Fort Cumberland, in western Maryland, to the site of the French Fort Duquesne (present-day Pittsburgh.) That campaign ended in disaster on July 9, 1755 when Braddock’s column collided with a combined force of French and Indians just a dozen miles short of Duquesne, resulting in horrific British losses – including Braddock.

Not surprisingly, this story has been fertile ground for historians. Fine monographs have already been written on the campaign, as well as on the French and Indian War as a whole. Having a particular interest in the period, I have read a number of those works. Naturally, I was curious when I first heard of Dr. David Preston’s new book exploring the campaign.

Preston, a professor at the Citadel, has delivered a tremendous book. Combining new research and close analysis of previously known sources, he provides fresh new perspective on General Edward Braddock, his ill-fated expedition, and the French & Indians opposing him.

Preston finds that Braddock, far from being an unyielding martinet uninterested in either the “savages” or using Colonials, worked hard (if unsuccessfully) to bring Indian warriors into his force, and showed more respect for the colonial elements under his command than some previous historians have portrayed. A number of factors precluded Braddock’s success here, but it was not for want of trying.

Where Preston’s interpretation really shines is in exploring the French and Indian sides of the war. A new account of the battle, located in a French archive, casts new light on the French efforts to defend Fort Duquesne – a venture whose success was by no means a sure thing. Preston also explores the Indian Nations’ complex and diverse reasons for casting their support with the French, which was also not certain. Preston makes it clear that the French defense was in many ways based on fortuitous circumstances rather than planning, especially in regards to the timing of the campaign.

Preston’s detailed description of the battle in question on July 9 presents a clear and detailed exploration of the sequence events as far as they can be known; where the author speculates he notes that, and explains the basis of his interpretation. Above all, his narrative is well-written, exciting and drama-filled.

Preston also excels in his summation of the long-term impact of Braddock’s defeat, both on the fortunes of British North America in the two years following the battle (which ran from bad to disastrous) and on the longer term consequences: the development of light infantry and ranger tactics, leadership, and the growing rift between American colonials and England.

Students of both the Seven Years War in America and the American Revolution will want to read Braddock’s Defeat. Get your copy today.

Review: The French and Indian War and the Conquest of New France, by William R. Nester. Published by the University of Oklahoma Press, 2014 (paperback).

Both the American Revolutionary War and the French and Indian War (as it was called in North America) have been the subject of many history books.  The original American sources have been pretty much culled through, as have many of the British sources.  But French sources have not received the same scrutiny.  Why this is the case, is not clear.  Of course, the French language is a barrier to English-speaking historians.  I believe another factor is that French historians have not shown much interest in either war, and when they have, they have failed to use adequate footnotes, making it difficult for other historians to follow up on the sources they have used and confirm their credibility.  In the French and Indian War and the Conquest of New France, William R. Nester, a professor at St. John’s University in New York City, helps to address this imbalance.  His history of the French and Indian War (called the Seven Years’ War in Europe), which was fought from 1754 to 1763, is from the French perspective and he has relied on many original French sources.  Interestingly, despite the title of the book, about half of the book, if not more, occurs in France and the rest of Europe.   This decision is understandable; paraphrasing one contemporary, Canada was lost on the battlefields of Germany.

Nester
“The French and Indian War and the Conquest of New France”

Nester starts his history by explaining the disorganized and weak state of the French political system.  One might believe that because France had a monarchial system, its government was efficient, but the contrary was true.  For one, the French legislature, dominated by merchants, lawyers and the middling classes who suffered the burden of heavy taxation (aristocrats were not taxed), frequently hesitated or refused King Louis XV’s constant requests for more funds to fight his wars and pay for his extravagant lifestyle.  As a result, his administration was constantly deep in debt and always short of funds it needed to fight.

The court of King Louis XV was a convoluted maze of intrigue, dominated by the king’s beautiful but conniving mistress, Madame de Pompadour.  Due to her heavy influence on King Louis XV, if she did not approve of a general or a foreign diplomat, that individual would either never be retained or would eventually be fired.  This was no way to run a great country.  Continue reading “Review: The French and Indian War and the Conquest of New France, by William R. Nester. Published by the University of Oklahoma Press, 2014 (paperback).”