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.
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”→
After our sojourn to the French and Indian War last Sunday, “Rev War Roundtable with ERW” returns to the American Revolution this weekend at 7 p.m. EST. Join Emerging Revolutionary War and a guest historian as they discuss, comment, and chat about the pivotal Siege of Yorktown in 1781.
Although the war did not officially end with the capitulation of Lord Charles Cornwallis’ German and British forces on October 19, 1781, the major loss reverberated in in both the colonies and the halls of Parliament. The euphoria on one side of the Atlantic will be matched in this happy hour historian discussion, with no set agenda, and your comments, toasts, thoughts, opinions, and questions will be strongly encouraged.
Joining ERW will be Kirby Smith, formerly of Colonial National Historical Park and currently a Training Instructor for the Department of Defense. He is a 16-year veteran of the United States Army and is native of the Yorktown area. Kirby is also an expert on the Battle of Green Spring that occurred during the summer of 1781 and can be considered part of the Yorktown Campaign. This last major land battle prior to the siege featured such military luminaries as Marquis de Lafayette, Anthony Wayne, Lord Cornwallis, and the infamous Banastre Tartleton.
Besides Kirby, Kate Gruber, Special Collections Curator for the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation and Mark Maloy a National Park Service ranger will be joining the happy hour discussion.
As we bid adieu to the month of May, let’s all grab a drink and discuss the beginning of the end of the American Revolution. We invite you to join us in our virtual tavern via our Facebook page this Sunday.
Emerging Revolutionary War would like to thank Drew Gruber, for bringing this connection to our attention.
During the May 5th, 1862 Battle of Williamsburg as Confederate soldiers ran down into what would be called the bloody ravine they ran headlong into men from New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts. In an effort to push the Union soldiers out of the ravine and sweep them from the field brigade after brigade was sent into the fight. Among those was four Virginia regiments under AP Hill. After leaving the relative safely of the City they deployed in some form of a line and pitched down into the ravine too.
In the ravine hand-to-hand combat, fallen trees, driving rain, and the thick smoke made communication almost impossible and command fell on company commanders to keep the battle moving in their favor. Among the men in Hill’s brigade fighting down in the bloody ravine was Tipton Davis Jennings of the 11th Virginia Infantry. His account of the fighting here at Williamsburg will be of particular interest to your readers of the ERW blog.
Writing in 1897 his “Incidents in the Battle of Williamsburg” appeared in the Confederate Veteran Magazine. In fact Kate and I covered this in an earlier ERW post titled, Revolutionary Memory. (click here to read that post).
“Just then,” he wrote, “we happened upon what was apparently an ancient line of grass-grown earthworks. We learned afterward that portions of Washington’s line of entrenchment were yet discernible thereabouts. And so it is possible that we ragged ‘Rebs’ were actually defending the same works were [sic] once stood the ragged continental ‘Rebs’ fighting, the hessian of Europe, as we were now, some eighty years later. So doth history repeat itself.”
At first glance is this a cool anecdote and yet rather odd. However, when you consult french maps from the Williamsburg region created during the Yorktown Campaign you’ll find references to Mulhenburg’s “lights” camped in this very area. Moreover, almost hidden in plain sight on one of Sneden’s 1862 maps is and “Old Fort of 1781.” Civil War soldiers seemed wholly cognizant of the Revolutionary landscape around them and like Jennings used it to spur on their cause(s).
Yesterday, on the 158th anniversary of the May 5th, 1862 battle the American Battlefield Trust launched a campaign to save the 29 acres over which Jennings charged. Perhaps it is this very same ground where the original cast of “ragged continental ‘Rebs'” also campaigned. Click here to read about that initiative and for further information on how to donate.
A few weeks ago, heading to the airport after the first Emerging Revolutionary War symposium, fellow ERW historian Rob Orrison made a pit stop in a residential neighborhood in Prince William County, Virginia.
To the average traveler to the Ronald Reagan International Washington National Airport this slight detour would not be normal. Yet, for two historians of early American history, these detours are rarely common.
This particular detour took us to a portion of the King’s Highway that has been preserved by the Prince William County Historic Preservation Division. Along this stretch soldiers in the French Army under Comte de Rocambeau and Continentals under General George Washington traversed on their way to Yorktown to entrap the British under General Lord Charles Cornwallis.
Thus, one king’s soldiers, King Louis XVI took a route named for monarch to assist rebels in trapping the ground forces of another king, that of Great Britain by using a road named for the British monarch. Interesting to think about the naming of the road in those terms.
Portions of this route are still preserved today, other sections have been modernized and blacktopped to be Route 1.
Below are a few photos I snapped, including the size 14 Nike shoe belonging to yours truly, re-enacting marching down the thoroughfare like the patriots of 1781.
Sebastien Le Prestre de Vauban, Seigneur de Vauban, and finally Marquis de Vauban, as one of his biographies begins, is probably not a household name to many enthusiasts of American history. Especially since he died on March 30, 1707 and never set foot in the Western Hemisphere. However, he did have a nephew, Jacques Anne Joseph Le Prestre de Vauban who served as General Jean-Baptiste Rochambeau’s aide-de-camp during the war. So, there is a family connection.
Yet, he left his mark on places like Yorktown, Virginia, fought 74 years after his death and half-a-world away. French engineers, critical to eventual American victory in the American Revolutionary War, plied de Vauban’s craft and studied his text and learned from his exploits. Continue reading “Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban”→
While reading background on the siege and victory at Yorktown, Virginia in October 1781, I came across the following passage written by historian Jerome Greene.
“The officer was then quickly escorted to Washington’s headquarters in a nearby house, where he delivered Cornwallis’s message: “I propose a Cessation of Hostilities for 24 hours, & that two Officers may be appointed by each side, to meet at Mr. Moore’s house to settle terms for the Surrender of the Posts of York & Gloucester.” One can only imagine the emotions coursing through Washington’s body as he read these words.”
That last line is what really struck me.
Every image we have of George Washington depicts a stoic expression staring back out of us. Historians have a few instances from a long life of the Washington behind the marble, behind the self-imposed restraint, that he crafted for posterity.
However, he was human, he did have a fiery temper and he was a passionate person. One of the reasons he strove so hard to mask those emotions, to keep them in check, to keep perspective, and to persevere.
Those competing inclinations would have been bubbling at the surface on October 17, 1781, when that written communication was handed to him outside Yorktown, Virginia. What that moment must have been like, for Washington, for the French and American forces, and for all those fighting in favor of American independence.
Jerome Greene wondered about it. I am curious about it. Are you?
A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit Yorktown National Battlefield. This evening I was scrolling through my cache of American Revolution photos on an external hard drive, when I came across the picture below.
A simple monument to three luminaries of the American Revolution. Three brilliant young men, one of which, John Laurens, would fall in one of the last small engagements of the war.
Could you imagine the conversation between the three that fateful October evening of 1781?
Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian Malanna Henderson
“It is not for their own land they fought, not even for a land which had adopted them, but for a land which had enslaved them, and whose laws, even in freedom, oftener oppressed than protected. Bravery, under such circumstances, has a peculiar beauty and merit.” – Harriet Beecher Stowe.
The words spoken by “the little woman who wrote the book that started this Great War,” so said Abraham Lincoln, according to legend, upon meeting Mrs. Stowe sometime in 1862, rang true for black patriots in the Civil War as well as those in the Revolutionary War.
The Smithsonian tome, The American Revolutionary War: A Visual History quotes a Hessian officer in 1777, as saying, “No regiment is to be seen in which there are not Negroes in abundance and among them are able-bodied and strong fellows.”
In every battle of the Revolutionary War from Lexington to Yorktown; black men, slave and free, picked up the musket and defended America; and yet, many historians as well as visual artists have omitted their contributions in the history books and their images on canvases depicting historic battles. The need for white historians to “overlook,” “underestimate,” and or “erase,” these sacrifices is a gross negligence that distorts and misrepresents American history; and furthermore, it continues to disenfranchise the patriotic heroes of the past and malign the self-image of millions of Americans today simply because of the color of their skin.
Black soldiers have always fought two wars simultaneously; wars declared by their government and the unspoken wars at home for liberty, equality and before the Civil War, for citizenship.
What kind of men fight for the liberty of others when their own liberty isn’t guaranteed?
True patriots: James Armistead Lafayette was one such person.
Slaves serving in the rebel military was a question that manifested itself early amongst the colonial government agencies. Their presence rankled many, while others welcomed them and praised their bravery. Some men of color had fought gallantly and with distinction as they stood alongside their white compatriots, defenders of liberty on the Lexington Green in April of 1775.
For instance, in the Battle of Bunker Hill, Peter Salem, a slave, served with courage under fire, as varying accounts reported. Salem was introduced to George Washington as “the man who shot Pitcairn,” the British Royal Marine Major who shouted to his men before Salem shot him down, “The day is ours.” Despite the competence and bravery of such men on the battlefield their exploits didn’t convert the wide-spread reluctance of most colonists to accept black men as soldiers.
General George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, harbored the same common prejudices of the southern-planter ruling class of which he was a member. In July, he instructed recruiters “not to enlist any stroller, negro, or vagabond, or person suspected of being an enemy to the liberty of America.” Commanders in each colony and regiment made up their own minds. Some ignored his command. Their decision was based on need and experience. Those who had already served successfully with black militia and minutemen may have seen no cause to alter their regiments.
By December of 1776, Washington back-pedaled on his decision, allowing for black veterans of Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill to serve; but of the slave, he maintained his objection. However, some junior officers appreciated the contributions of blacks. Col. John Thomas wrote John Adams on October 24, 1775, “We have negroes, but I look upon them as equally serviceable with other men, for fatigue (labor); and, in action many of them have proven themselves brave.”
As the war raged on, the necessity for able-bodied men settled the question. White soldiers, who usually served for only a few months to a year, mustered out, died or were wounded; while others deserted. Black soldiers who expected to receive their freedom if they served were in the war for the duration. This was a positive factor for the commanding officers who had to re-train all new recruits. Around five-thousand blacks served in the Revolutionary War as soldiers. However, a vast unknown number provided a myriad of support services.
Another reason the colonials reconsidered enlisting blacks was the bold military tactic that occurred in November of 1775. Lord Dunmore, the last royal governor of Virginia, ratified a proclamation freeing all indentured servants and slaves of rebels if they would fight for the British. Thousands of people fled the plantations to gain their freedom. This single act struck a devastating blow on two fronts, it threaten their economic stability and increased the tension between master and slave, with the master fearing slave revolts and the permanent loss of their property. Moreover, it upset the social order. Enslaved men serving alongside whites put them on an equal footing in the battlefield, which violated the white supremacy dogma that governed current thought and practice.
Born into slavery on December 10, 1748, in New Kent, Virginia to owner William Armistead, James enlisted in the Revolutionary War under General Marquis de Lafayette in 1781. His owner was a patriot and most likely received the bonus James would have gotten for enlisting had he been free or white. Enlistment bonuses comprised of money, land or slaves.
By the time Armistead entered the war, the efforts of Benjamin Franklin and other colonial agents had secured a military and economic alliance with the French. A long-time imperial rival of British expansion, the French provided naval ships, money and personnel.
Marquis de Lafayette (born Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier) was a descendant of ancient French nobility. His father, a colonel in the French Grenadiers had died in the Seven Year’s War (known as the French and Indian War in America) when the young nobleman was only two years old. The political ideals of liberty and equality espoused by the colonials matched his beliefs and fired his military ambitions. Perchance, his yearning to play a role in America’s fight for independence from British rule may have been spawned by a desire to avenge his father’s death.
Since Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation, it was easy for Armistead to gain access in the enemy camps as a runaway slave seeking his freedom. While providing varied services to the British, he gained the confidence of Brigadier General Benedict Arnold, who by now had defected to the British. He charged Armistead with scouting, foraging and spying. Armistead was able to comfortably go between both camps, in essence becoming a double spy. He carried false and misleading information to the British but provided accurate intelligence on the movement of British forces and details of their military strategies to General Lafayette.
When Arnold left Virginia, Armistead was able to deceive General Charles Cornwallis as well, who rampaged through parts of Virginia and burned Richmond, the capital. He sent Colonel Banastre Tarleton to capture the entire legislative assembly, which included Daniel Boone, Patrick Henry and the governor. The plan was thwarted by an astute young man named Jack Jouett. Although, a few were apprehended, among them Daniel Boone; Jouett’s actions prevented the British from arresting the biggest prize: Governor Thomas Jefferson.
By early August, Cornwallis had made plans to establish fortifications in Yorktown, expecting reinforcements to increase his troops of approximately nine-thousand.
General Washington, in the meantime, had joined forces with Comte de Rochambeau to recapture New York. With intelligence supplied by James Armistead, they learned that Cornwallis was in Yorktown waiting for military support. French Admiral de Grasse, with a fleet of about twenty-eight naval ships, was on his way to the Chesapeake from St. Dominick (present-day Haiti). A plan to surround Cornwallis by land and sea appeared possible. The French naval fleet, along with the Washington’s Continental and Rochambeau’s French forces, headed to the enemy’s headquarters. Once Washington reached Yorktown, General Lafayette’s regiment joined him. Thus, Armistead’s accurate and meticulous reports were vital to the American victory that culminated in Yorktown on October 19, 1781.
Later Cornwallis met the Marquis at his headquarters and was flabbergasted to find his spy James Armistead present.
The Treaty of Paris in 1783 severed ties from Britain, the mother country, and established America as an independent nation. That same year, the Act of 1783 was passed freeing slaves who had fought in the Revolutionary War on their masters’ behalf. However, it excluded slave-spies. Ergo, James Armistead, who risked his life by providing information to help win the freedom of many, was himself denied freedom. Was his life in less danger operating under subterfuge as a spy amongst the British than it would have been, had he served as a soldier on the battlefield? I think not. Had his espionage been discovered, he surely would have had to forfeit his life.
After the war, Armistead was returned to slavery. Even his own master didn’t have the legal right to free him because of the Act of 1783, omitting slave-spies from emancipation.
When learning of his compatriot’s status, the Marquis penned a certificate to the Virginia legislator in October of 1784 imploring them to grant Armistead his freedom, declaring:
“This is to Certify that the Bearer By the Name of James Armistead Has done Essential Services to me While I had the Honour to Command in this State. His Intelligences from the Ennemy’s Camp were Industriously Collected and More faithfully deliver’d. He properly Acquitted Himself with Some Important Commissions I Gave Him and Appears to me Entitled to Every Reward his Situation Can Admit of. Done Under my Hand,” Richmond, November 21st 1784.
The legislator didn’t act upon the request straightaway. However, again in 1786, James Armistead applied for his freedom and it was duly granted on January 9, 1787, with a fair compensation to his master, William.
In honor of his benefactor, James Armistead added Lafayette to his surname. After emancipation, he moved a short distance south of New Kent, near Richmond, Virginia and acquired forty acres of less than suitable farmland. He married and had a family. He even owned slaves. History doesn’t tell us if he bought enslaved relatives to free them or if they were bought to farm his land as field hands.
It wasn’t until 1819 that he applied to the state legislature for financial assistance to ease his poverty. This time, the response was immediate; he received $60 and an annual pension of $40 for his service during the Revolutionary War.
Unlike James Armistead Lafayette, many blacks who worked as laborers, guides, messengers and spies were not as fortunate. Whether they were pressed into service or willingly answered the call, most neither received their freedom nor wages for their behind-the-scene contributions to the war.
In 1824, the Marquis de Lafayette visited the United States and was lauded as a hero of the American Revolutionary War in Richmond with festivities and a parade. Spying Armistead in the crowd, it is said he halted the procession, dismounted from his horse and embraced his old comrade.