From November 2, 1777 until early-December, General George Washington and the Continental Army occupied a defensive position at White Marsh, approximately 13 miles northwest of Philadelphia. In early December, a series of small skirmishes erupted along the American lines in the last actions of the campaigning season of 1777. Frustrated by Washington’s refusal to emerge from his entrenchments, Sir William Howe led his British columns back to their winter abode in Philadelphia.
Washington moved the army shortly thereafter toward Valley Forge and their winter cantonment, arriving in that vicinity on December 19. As Washington prepared for the winter of 1777-1778 you can also start the preparations to follow this route with Emerging Revolutionary War on the weekend of November 11 – 13, 2022 on the Rise of the American Army: Valley Forge and the Battle of Monmouth Bus Tour. To secure your spot and further information, click here (or the link on the banner at the top of this page).
On the night of September 20, 1777, while encamped in Chester County, PA just outside Philadelphia, a division of American soldiers was defeated in a swift surprise attack by a slightly smaller British force. American propagandists, in an effort to galvanize Patriot support, would make the most of this encounter to show the British Army as overly brutal and bloodthirsty. On the foggy morning of December 9, 2019, members of the ERW paid a call on this battle site; Paoli Battlefield Historical Park.
David Smith, Whispers Across the Atlantick: General William Howe and the American Revolution, (NY: Osprey Publishing, 2017).
If it’s true that George Washington lost all his battles, but won the war, then it’s equally true that Sir William Howe won all his battles and lost the war. Of course, neither premise is accurate, but they pithily sum up the conventional interpretation of each commander’s accomplishments on the battlefield, wrong as they may be. Washington’s role as Commander-in-Chief has come under increased scrutiny as Americans revisit their history. His chief adversary, however, Sir William Howe, has largely escaped focused study. David Smith set out to rectify that shortfall in his doctoral dissertation, which became the basis of Whispers Across the Atlantick. Historians should thank him for it. Continue reading “Winning the Battles and Losing the War: A Review of Whispers Across the Atlantick: General William Howe and the American Revolution, by David Smith”→
From a Pennsylvania State Historical Commission marker, one quickly can find out the importance of Osborne Hill to the Battle of Brandywine, fought on September 11, 1777.
The hillside was the site of British General William Howe’s post in which he coordinated and commanded the different components of the British and Hessian forces that day. The battle opened the way for the British conquest of Philadelphia and was the largest, in terms of manpower fighting, of any American Revolutionary War battle.
In southeast Pennsylvania on September 11, 1777, the largest battle, by number of combatants, was fought between the British forces under Lord General William Howe and the Continental and militia forces under General George Washington. After the day long engagement, one of the bloodiest of the entire American Revolution, approximately 1,900 men were killed, wounded, or captured. Washington lost 8% of his entire force that day, Howe 4%.
Yet, the Battle of Brandywine has been eclipsed by the history that followed shortly thereafter the bloody engagement. Fifteen days after the battle along Brandywine Creek, Howe’s British and Hessian forces will capture Philadelphia and Washington’s army will spend the pivotal 1777-1778 winter at Valley Forge. Although the battle has been the subject of a few histories and folded into larger campaign studies, Michael C. Harris’s book-length treatment is the first to take an analytical and discerning eye to the engagement and separate myth from fact. Published by Savas Beatie, LLC, in 2014 in hardcover, the book has now been released in paperback. Continue reading “Review: Brandywine, A Military History of the Battle that Lost Philadelphia but Saved America, September 11, 1777 by Michael C. Harris”→
On a recent trip to Boston, I was shown by fellow Emerging Revolutionary War historian Rob Orrison, Dorchester Heights. One of my favorite quotes of the entire American Revolutionary War was in reference to the Continental Army’s move to fortify the very heights at Dorchester.
“My God, these fellows have done more work in one night than I could make my army do in three months.” Uttered by General William Howe the morning after the Americans had used the night to build an entire fortification network on the commanding hillsides of Dorchester.
This move, conducted in the secrecy of the night, led to the British evacuation of Boston, after an aborted offensive by the British do a providential snowstorm. Less than two weeks after that influential night, on March 17, 1776, the British evacuated Boston, never to return.
I did not get to spend too much time on the heights but I was able to snap a few pictures, shown below. But, I did have the great fortune to be on the heights at night, looking out over Boston, which has grown just slightly since 1776. A few moments of silence ensued, where I had the chance to mull over what that view must have looked like and what the soldiers who hurriedly dragged the fascines and gabions, and shoveled dirt that night must have worried about as they feverishly tried to finish their duties.
The cannon that bore down on Boston from the heights of Dorchester Heights were a product of one of the greatest feats of the entire war. Former Boston bookseller turned artillerist extraordinaire had brought the heavy armament on an arduous trek, through the late stages of winter from upstate New York to the Continental Army besieging Boston.
Henry Knox was the man behind the delivery and he would serve as George Washington’s Chief of Artillery before the war was over. Afterwards, Knox would become the first Secretary of War in Washington’s Administration. At Dorchester Heights, with Washington’s planning and Knox’s delivery the city of Boston was liberated without firing a shot.
The heights retained its military importance through the end of the War of 1812. By the end of the 19th century, in 1898, the General Courts of Massachusetts had commissioned a monument to stand on what remained of the heights. The white marble Georgian revival tower that stands 115 feet, commemorates that night in 1776 that American soldiers did what British soldiers would take months to complete. By 1978, after a listing on the National Register of Historic Places, the monument and remaining hill site was handed to the National Park Service by the city of Boston. Dorchester Heights became part of Boston National Historical Park which was established in 1974.
When planning a visit to Boston National Historical Park and to Dorchester Heights, which is open to visitation, both during the day and at night please consult the website for the national park here. That way you can familiarize yourself with the regulations and how to make the most of your visit.
A fisherman by trade before the war, the savior of the American Continental Army during the war on two occasions, and returned to civilian life with personal, physical, and economic hardships because of the war.
That one line could simply sum up John Glover of Marblehead, Massachusetts. Unfortunately, Glover has received scant attention; a few lines here, a page in this publication, or a reference in passing when talking about the engagements around New York or the Crossing of the Delaware.
Daniel Glover is more than well deserving of the epithet, “one of the greatest leaders of the American Revolution you have never heard of.”
Born on November 5, 1732 in what is now Danvers, Massachusetts, where he lived until the death of his father when he was just four years old. His mother Tabitha Bacon Glover moved young Daniel to Marblehead, on the coast of Massachusetts where he would apprentice, when he came of age, as a shoemaker. He eventually looked toward the sea and made a living as a merchant.
Daniel became well-entrenched in Marblehead society, he joined the local militia in 1759 and entered politics, aligning himself with the Whig party in 1760. By the time of the first shots on the Green of Lexington and the North Bridge at Concord, Glover was a colonel of militia in the Marblehead Regiment.
Although his regiment made the march to Boston and took part in the siege, Glover was away on detached duty when the Battle of Bunker (Breed’s Hill) was fought. When George Washington rode into Cambridge, Massachusetts and assumed command of the American forces, Glover lost his headquarters. A product of Glover’s fine taste, the Marblehead sailor had picked the home of a loyalist as his own command post. Washington chose the mansion, which now is a national historic site, as his own. Yet, a company of Glover’s Marblehead soldiers was also chosen to be the guard of Washington’s new headquarters.
Showing his importance and marshaling his background in shipping, Glover donated one of his own ships, the Hannah, named after his spouse, to build a hodgepodge navy for use by the Americans. One of the ships that made this volunteer navy actually captured a British ship, the brig HMS Nancy in which held as its cargo, 2,000 muskets, 30,000 rounds of artillery ammunition, and one brass mortar amongst other crucial military supplies much in need by Washington’s army.
After the siege of Boston was lifted with the evacuation of the British, Glover, with the rest of the Continental Army, headed south to New York City where another campaign and another chance to show his worth to the cause awaited.
On the night of August 29 and into the early morning hours of August 30, Colonel Glover and his able Marblehead regiment sailed the majority of Washington’s forces from Brooklyn across the East River to safety. Altogether, approximately 9,000 soldiers, plus artillery and supplies escaped from under British General Sir William Howe’s command. With Marylanders under Lord William Stirling launching ferocious rear-guard suicidal charges, Glover’s men saved Washington’s army that late August night.
A month and a half later, on October 18th, Glover’s Brigade of Massachusetts soldiers held off a large contingent of British and Hessian mercenaries as Washington’s army retreated to safety. With approximately 750 men at his disposal, Glover’s rearguard action held over 4,000 enemy soldiers from threatening the retreat of the American forces.
Showing his humility, Glover would write about seeing the enemy come ashore before the engagement at Pell’s Point, that his first inkling was to give “a thousand worlds to have General [Charles] Lee or some other experienced officer present.” Luckily for the Americans, Glover did not get his wish and led admirably.
Glover’s command stuck with Washington’s forces during their retreat across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania and eventually to the banks of the Delaware River. In the prelude to the pivotal “Crossing of the Delaware” the former Marblehead sailors and their 43-year old commander would prove crucial.
To complete the surprise, Washington had to get his men across the ice-clogged Delaware River and to Trenton, New Jersey. Washington laid his eyes on Glover and outlined his thoughts and the big issue at hand; how to ferry his men across?
The response to his commander in chief was simple; to “not be troubled about that, as his boys could manage it.” Another primary account said that Glover and his command showed “perseverance…accomplished what at first seemed impossible.”
With Washington’s daring plan and Glover’s practicality, the “impossible” happened and the Americans scored a cause rallying victory at Trenton on December 26, 1776 and another equally important victory at Princeton, New Jersey on January 3, 1777.
After these winter battles, Glover went home to care for his gravely ill wife, Hannah, but there was nothing he could do. After a year long struggle, Hannah died on November 13, 1778 leaving John with eight children, including the oldest John who was a captain in his father’s Marblehead regiment.
While at home, George Washington petitioned the Continental Congress to promote Glover to brigadier general. Congress agreed and on February 21, 1777 the former Marblehead merchant became a general in the Continental Army.
When Glover returned to active duty, he was given the task of escorting the British and Hessian prisoners captured at the Battle of Saratoga and also took part in the unsuccessful attempt to expel the British from Newport, Rhode Island in 1778.
The end of the war saw him still in service in the Hudson Highlands where most notably he was on the board of officers that sentenced British spy Major John Andre to death. At the very end of the war, on September 30, 1783, Glover received a brevet to major general.
With the war over, Glover and his second wife, Francis Fosdick resided in Marblehead. However, Glover’s health and family were devastated by the war. Glover’s health was impaired by years of hard campaigning, including struggling with malaria in 1777. He lost his first wife Hannah during the war and his oldest son, John, disappeared as a prisoner-of-war while being transported over the Atlantic Ocean. Even his pre-war career, as a merchant, was greatly impacted by the seven-year conflict.
Glover rebounded as best he could and did serve in a few political positions, including in the Massachusetts State Legislature and as a Selectman for Marblehead. One highlight of the post-war years was when President George Washington stopped over in Marblehead and was entertained by his former subordinate.
On January 30, 1797, Glover passed away from hepatitis at the age of 64 and became one of the greatest leaders of the American Revolution you have never heard of.