East Florida Rangers

When thirteen North American colonies rebelled against the British crown, the future state of Florida was not part of that movement. In fact, the settled part of the future 27th state of the United States was partitioned into East and West Florida. Both colonies also declined an invitation to send delegates to the Continental Congress.

East & West Florida colonies

West Florida, spanned from slightly east of Pensacola, which was the capital, across to Louisiana and included parts of modern Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, and Mississippi. East Florida, spanned the rest of northern Florida from the Apalachicola River to the Atlantic seaboard and down the peninsula. The capital was located at St. Augustine, founded in 1565 by the Spanish.

During the American Revolution, both East and West Florida would play a role as the rebellion spread into a world conflict, bringing into the fighting the European nations of France and Spain. In East Florida, St. Augustine would send north British soldiers to assist in operations in Georgia and South Carolina and also house American prisoners, including three Signers of the Declaration of Independence; Arthur Middleton, Edward Rutledge, and Thomas Heyward, Jr. Other prisoners, both Americans and French were also confined to the town too.

Continue reading “East Florida Rangers”

George Washington’s Commitment to the Southern Theater

Although the American Revolutionary War staggered into a period of inaction after the Battle of Monmouth Court House in June 1778, General George Washington, in charge of all Continental forces, remained steadfast in New York until the late summer of 1781. Even though the principal actions of the war moved to the southern colonies, resulting in catastrophic losses at Charleston, Waxhaws, and Camden in 1780 through 1781, Washington did his utmost to quell British incursions, reinforce public opinion, and provide whatever succor he could from a distance. What is evidence of his mindset and depth of concern for this theater of operations?

Simple. Look at the general officers he dispatched south from the main army to help the American cause in the Carolinas and Virginia. The list includes some of the most trusted officers that served Washington.

First, Benjamin Lincoln, who met his fate at Charleston, but had served ably in the north, even working in the tense environment of the Saratoga campaign, between the volatile Benedict Arnold and the complacent Horatio Gates.

Second, Nathanael Greene, who had overcome growing pains, the recommendation to hold onto Fort Washington in New York in 1776 comes to mind, to swallowing his pride and taking the thankless job of quartermaster general during the winter that won the war at Valley Forge. Greene was probably second to Washington in understanding the political, social, economic, even the geographical components of warfare. Although a decisive battlefield victory constantly eluded him, his leadership at Guildford Court House set in motion Lord Charles Cornwallis’s eventual demise at Yorktown in October of that same year.

Moving into the Old Dominion, Washington dispatched Baron von Steuben with Greene to recruit, train, gather supplies, and provide the steady hand that the Prussian born leader had shown so admirably at Valley Forge. As inspector general of the Continental army, Washington’s orders sending the baron south was a major testament to the importance of stopping British incursions into Virginia.

Following the baron, was another European born officer, the Marquis de Lafayette, one of Washington’s favorites. This independent field command showed the growing confidence in the young Frenchman who responded admirably to the task at hand, doing what he can and for the most part, swallowing his brashness, except at Green Spring when he precipitously attacked what he thought was a rearguard of the British. Yet, his actions, coupled with the next general to be discussed, helped keep Cornwallis in the area of operations that would lead to his demise.

“Mad Anthony” Wayne and his Pennsylvania Continentals were also ordered south to join Lafayette in campaigning in Virginia. Wayne, arguably the best combat general in the Continental army, bordering on reckless to his critics though, had masterminded the storming of Stony Point, the last major action in the northern theater. Lafayette and he would be a solid tandem as they worked with limited resources and supplies in the summer of 1781 to contain the British.

Besides these general officers of high rank, “Light Horse” Harry Lee also was sent south to assist Greene and militia, most notably Francis Marion. The partnership between Lee and Marion worked as close to perfection as humanly possible and a model for regular and militia force combined operations.

Another cavalry commander that was sent for duty in the southern colonies was a second cousin of George Washington, William. In charge of light dragoons, mounted infantry who could dismount to fight as infantry, he served admirably in the southern army until his capture at the Battle of Eutaw Springs on September 8, 1781.

William Washington

This list, not intended to be exhaustive but just exploratory, is an example of the importance the southern theater had to the strategic mindset of George Washington. Although the Virginian was fixated on the recapture of New York City until the opportunity to ensnare Cornwallis at Yorktown presented itself, he provided an amazing array of officers of capability to quelling British intensions in the southern theater.

Feel free to comment below on other officers that were sent south that played vital role in the ultimate American victory in this theater of operations.

“Rev War Revelry” Tackles Virginia 1781

Mention the following words to any casual student or enthusiast of the American Revolutionary War and we can almost guarantee what the first word(s) or topic out of their mouths will be.

Virginia.

1781.

American Revolution.

If you are thinking, Yorktown, or Siege of Yorktown or Surrender of Yorktown, then our rhetorical question above is correct.

Most people know about the Siege and Surrender at Yorktown, but Virginia was a hot spot of activity the summer leading up to Yorktown. With British troops, led by the likes of Benedict Arnold, William Phillips, Alexander Leslie, and lastly by Lord Charles Cornwallis in the Old Dominion throughout the year and American leaders like the Marquis de Lafayette and Baron von Steuben, Virginia saw very active campaigning ranging through most of the central and eastern parts of the colony.

That is why you need to tune in and Join Emerging Revolutionary War this Sunday, on our Facebook page, at 7p.m EST for the next “Rev War Revelry” as we discuss the events leading up to Yorktown in October 1781.

We will cover actions such as Spencer’s Ordinary, Green Spring, Gloucester Point and of course Yorktown.

ERW will be joined by historians J. Michael Moore, Kirby Smith and Drew Gruber. All three live and work in the “Historic Triangle” of Virginia. The three gentlemen all have researched, led tours and have written published works about this important period of the American Revolution.

Map by Michel du Chesnoy (1746-1804) 

This will be a precursor to ERW’s annual fall trip, when we will visit Gloucester Point, Spencer’s Ordinary, Green Sping and Yorktown (which we invite you to follow along with on our Facebook page).

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” Heads to Kings Mountain

On October 7, 1780, patriot militia, some coming from over the Appalachian Mountains descended on a Loyalist militia force in northwest South Carolina. This pro-British force, commanded by the only British regular on the field that day, Major Patrick Ferguson retreated onto Kings Mountain.

American fought American.

On that hilltop one of the pivotal battles of the American Revolutionary War unfolded. The ramifications reverberated through the southern theater of operations, played a part on the psyche of civilians and militia, and added luster to the burgeoning backwoods, frontier American persona.

Emerging Revolutionary War focuses in on the Battle of Kings Mountain this Sunday, on the next “Rev War Revelry.” Join us on our Facebook page at 7 p.m. EST for a historian happy hour, as we discuss, dissect, imbibe, and provide commentary on this strategic battle, the national park there, and the campaigns that decided this theater of operation.

(courtesy of NC Encyclopedia)

“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

African American Experiences in the Siege of Ninety-Six

There are important stories often hidden in the threads of our American history. It won’t be a surprise to many that these stories desperately need to come to light. But sometimes research is scarce, with limited or hard-to-find resources to fully tell these stories to their fullest. One such example are the stories of the enslaved and free African-American people who helped build the nation, starting back even before the colonies fought for independence. America’s fight for freedom from Britain is oxymoronic considering an entire population of blacks were still kept in chains after the war. But their contributions to that fight should not go unnoticed.

The history of the construction of the British defense fortifications, including the Star Fort, at Ninety Six, South Carolina, has many layers of these diverse stories that make up the fabric of the site’s history. Lt. Colonel Nisbet Balfour set up an outpost at Ninety Six after the fall of Charleston in early 1780. In terms of fortifications – specifically the stockades and protections around the town and the jail – during this initial occupation, Balfour wrote to Cornwallis on June 24, 1780, “As to this post, it is so situated, that three small redoubts, well Abbattis [sic], I think, can easily defend it…”

Balfour also encouraged using slave labor, stating that “we have carpenters enough, and ammunition.” Balfour’s plan to construct fortifications was similar to a more extensive defense system suggested by Patrick Ferguson in his “Plan for Securing the Province of So. Carolina, &c.” dated May 16, 1780. Ferguson also recommended using slaves to construct the fortifications.

In fact, in that same June 24 letter to Cornwallis, Balfour writes that most of the labor that was used to construct the Ninety Six fortifications was from roughly 200 enslaved blacks that the British took from area plantations. Who were these 200 men? Were they promised freedom in exchange for their labor? We may never know. While research is underway to uncover the stories of these 200 individuals, very little primary resources remain. But we can still acknowledge that the British defense of Ninety Six relied heavily on the forced labor of these black men.

Work continued into the fall and winter of 1780 on the defense structures at Ninety Six, this time under Lt. Colonel John Harris Curger, including several field fortifications called abatis: defensive obstacles formed by felled trees with sharpened branches facing the enemy. The trunks are put deep into the ground, usually 4-5 feet, and is typically hard manual labor in the hard red clay of South Carolina. In a letter on December 29, 1780, Lt. Colonel Isaac Allen wrote to Cornwallis’s aide, Lt. Henry Haldane, of the hard work of the men constructing the abatis. And yes, those men were enslaved men. “I… have orderd [sic] the Abattiss [sic] cut, but Kings work like Church work goes on slow. The Poor naked Blacks can do but little this cold weather.”

The Star Fort at Ninety Six, South Carolina. Photo: NPS/Ninety Six NHS

Next up in the defense plan was the Star Fort itself, a large earthen redoubt whose remains are still the best-preserved earthen fort from the American Revolution. Once again, those approximately 200 enslaved men were used in its construction. Upon the completion of the fort, additional work included a network of ditches and trenches both for communication and transport of supplies.

By spring of 1781, the defenses were ready. Lt Colonel Cruger’s military force was nearly 600 but this was supplemented by a large number of Loyalist civilians in the town as well as several hundred enslaved African Americans from the surrounding country. Most likely, though it’s not known for sure, these were the roughly 200 men who helped build those very physical defenses.

But the hidden story of the enslaved at Ninety Six does not stop there, nor is their story solely on the shoulders of the British. During the Siege of Ninety Six in May and June of 1781, there are several instances that beg for more research. The first is from the morning of May 23, when Patriot forces had been digging trenches towards the Star Fort throughout the night. An attack by Loyalist militia from the fort pushed the Patriots back and they managed to capture not only the tools the Patriots were using, but “several Negro laborers abandoned by the Americans.” (Greene, 128)

It should come as no surprise that the Patriots were also using slave labor. James Mayson, a wealthy Patriot supporter living just a few miles from Ninety Six, described later how foraging parties were dispatched to the countryside to get food and supplies for Greene’s army, which included slaves “not earlier recruited by the British.”

As the Siege dragged on into June, there is one more hidden story that deserves additional research to discover the identities of the enslaved men who risked their lives for the British military garrisoned at the Star Fort. As the heat of the early Carolina summer sapped water supplies, Lt Colonel Cruger needed to get water from a nearby stream, Spring Branch, to keep their supply up. But Patriot marksmen were at the ready to prevent this from happening. Turning to the enslaved in their midst, a handful of them were ordered to strip out of their clothing and go at night to the stream to file buckets. They apparently succeeded. A British lieutenant by the name of Hatton would later recall that their naked bodies were indistinguishable “in the night from the fallen trees, with which the place abounded.”

These are just snippets of hidden stories at just one site of the American Revolution. And that’s only during one specific time in Ninety Six’s history; additional stories exist for both before and after the war, during the French and Indian War, and during the Regulator movement, as well as stories of enslaved Natives from the time of early settlement in the region.

How many stories are yet untold? Who were these men and women who currently remain nameless? For these stories aren’t just tidbits of historical facts – they represent real people who experienced real emotions and a real existence at the time when our nation was first figuring out what it wanted to be. The stories of black Loyalists and Patriots deserve to be told and in doing so, will add a new layer of complexity and understanding to the story of America during the Revolutionary War and beyond.

Bibliography

Government Documents
Greene, Jerome A. Historic Resource Study and Historic Structure Report, Ninety Six: A Historical Narrative. National Park Service: Denver Service Branch of Historic Preservation, 1978.

Manuscripts & Papers
Ann Arbor. University of Michigan. William L. Clements Library. Patrick Ferguson, “Plan for Securing the Province of So, Carolina, &c,” May 16, 1780.

Ann Arbor. University of Michigan. William L. Clements Library. Nathanael Greene Papers. James Mayson to Greene, May 29, 1781.

Washington. Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. British Public Record Office. Cornwallis Papers. Balfour to Comwallis, June 24, 1780. BPRO 30/11/2 (1)

Washington. Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. British Public Record Office. Amherst Papers. Thomas Anderson. “Journal of Thomas Anderson’s” 1st Delaware regiment [May 6, 1780-April 7, 1782].”

Books and Pamphlets
Haiman, Miecislaus. Kosciuszko in the American Revolution. New York: Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in America, 1943. Reprint; Boston: Gregg Press, 1972.

Mackenzie, Roderick. Strictures on Lt. Col. Tarleton’s “History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781, in the Southern Provinces of North America.” London: Printed for the Author, 1787.

Stedman, Charles. The History of the Origin, Progress, and Termination of the American War, Volume 2. London: Printed for the Author, 1794.

Ward, Christopher. The War of the Revolution, Volume 2. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1952.

Weigley, Russell F. The Partisan War: The South Carolina Campaign of 1780-1782. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1970.

“Rev War Roundtable with ERW” Heads to South Carolina (Virtually)

Join Emerging Revolutionary War this Sunday, at 7p.m. EST on our Facebook page as we head, virtually, down to South Carolina to discuss the importance of that colony/state in the American Revolution.

Most are familiar with the larger engagements, such as Cowpens and Kings Mountain or maybe the massacre at the Waxhaws. How about the Siege of Charleston, or the battles of Ninety-Six, or the countless other engagements that made the Palmetto State (which got its nickname from this era) one of the most hotly contested areas of the entire conflict.

Joining the “Rev War Revelry” will be ERW historians Vanessa Smiley, former Chief of Interpretation and Education at the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution National Park Group, which includes Cowpens, Kings Mountain, and Ninety-Six and Bert Dunkerly, former park ranger at Kings Mountain and author of a few histories on South Carolina in the Revolutionary War topics.

We look forward to seeing you for our sojourn into the Southern Theater this Sunday. Oh, and remember to grab your favorite brew for the trip!

The Southern Theater of the American Revolution | American ...
Battle of Cowpens
(courtesy of ABT)

“Judiciously Designed and Vigorously Executed”: The March to the Dan River

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian Daniel T. Davis. 

Last month, I heard Emerging Revolutionary War co-founder Phill Greenwalt remark “when you think about retreats, victory is a word that doesn’t come to mind.” The period of January 18 to February 14, 1781 is the exception to the rule. During this time frame, the American army under Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene and the British under Charles, Lord Cornwallis, marched across the backcountry of the Carolinas. Known as the “Race to the Dan”, this episode between the engagements at Cowpens and Guilford Courthouse, is a largely forgotten but consequential even in the Southern Campaign of 1781.

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The Dan River (courtesy of Rob Orrison)

Continue reading ““Judiciously Designed and Vigorously Executed”: The March to the Dan River”

Rise and Fight Again for Southern Revolutionary History

From our friends at American Battlefield Trust (ABT). To learn more about the ABT, click here.

ABT

At stake are 31 acres associated with two Southern Campaign Revolutionary War battlefields, Hanging Rock in South Carolina and Guilford Courthouse in North Carolina.

At Hanging Rock, generous battlefield preservationists like you have already secured 141 acres. These 30 acres in the part of the battlefield where the initial Patriot attack began will add significantly to the land we have saved there already.

At Guilford Courthouse, the half-acre tract at stake may be small, but it’s part of a larger strategy to deal with the modern development crowding in on this battlefield from all points of the compass. Our plan is to buy up plots of battlefield land – including small ones and those with non-historic structures on them like this one – remove all non-historic structures and restore the battlefield. The Guilford Courthouse National Military Park has generously agreed to take responsibility for demolishing and removing the house on this plot, a considerable cost that we would typically need to cover. Continue reading “Rise and Fight Again for Southern Revolutionary History”