January 27, 1776: Henry Knox Delivers the Noble Train of Artillery to Washington

 

One of the interesting aspects of wars and revolutions is the unexpected talents and abilities that come to the fore in the most unlikely of individuals.  As that remarkable year 1775 was drawing to a close, General Washington, if he was to force the British  to leave Boston, needed a substantial artillery force, which he entirely lacked.  Twenty-five year old Colonel Henry Knox, a fat Boston book seller prior to the War, came up with the idea of transporting the artillery from newly captured Fort Ticonderoga in northern New York to the siege lines around Boston.  This was accomplished by Knox from December 5, 1775 to January 27, 1776, transporting sixty tons of artillery and ammunition, 59 cannon, mortars and howitzers, through wilderness in the dead of winter, a truly astounding feat. On December 17, 1775 Knox wrote to Washington:

I return’d to this place on the 15 & brought with me the Cannon being nearly the time I conjectur’d it would take us to transport them to here, It is not easy [to] conceive the difficulties we have had in getting them over the Lake owing to the advanc’d Season of the Year & contrary winds, but the danger is now past & three days ago it was very uncertain whether we could have gotten them untill next spring, but now please God they must go – I have had made forty two exceeding Strong Sleds & have provided eighty Yoke of oxen to drag them as far as Springfield where I shall get fresh Cattle to Carry them to Camp – the rout will be from here to Kinderhook from thence into Great Barrington Massachusetts Bay & down to Springfield There will scarcely be possibility of conveying them from here to Albany or Kinderhook but on sleds the roads being very much gullied, at present the sledding is tolerable to Saratoga about 26 miles; beyond that there is none – I have sent for the Sleds & teams to come here & expect to begin [to] move them to Saratoga on Wednesday or Thursday next trusting that between this & then we shall have a fine fall of snow which will enable us to proceed further & make the carriage easy – if that should be the case I hope in 16 or 17 days time to be able to present to your Excellency a noble train of artillery. (more…)

Published in: on January 27, 2016 at 6:12 am  Leave a Comment  
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Defeat at Quebec

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The year 1775 ended on a note of defeat for the Americans. Since December 6, 1776 the city had been under siege by the combined forces of General Richard Montgomery and Colonel Benedict Arnold. Twelve hundred Americans confronted 1800 British regulars and French Canadian militia.  The Americans realized that the British would eventually strongly reinforce Quebec by sea, and that a prolonged siege in the teeth of a Canadian winter would probably do far more harm to the besiegers than the besieged.

Thus before dawn on December 31, 1775, in the midst of a blizzard, the Americans began a two pronged assault on the lower town of Quebec, the plan being that the forces led by Montgomery and Arnold would meet in the lower town, and then scale the walls of the upper town.

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Published in: on January 12, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Defeat at Quebec  
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Liberty or Death

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As faithful readers of this blog know, I like to play strategic level games recreating past conflicts.  One game that I am looking forward to is GMT Games’ Liberty or Death:  The American Insurrection. Part of the COIN series of recreations of asymmetric counter-insurgency struggles throughout history, it uses counters and cards to recreate the Revolutionary War with the following sides, each of which have differing abilities and goals:

 

 

As the British, you have to deal with an Insurrection across a massive region.  With control of the seas (at least until the French arrive), you have extreme flexibility and can move across the coast and cities at will.  You will muster Tories to support your efforts.  They will march with you to battle, but they need your cover.  You can control any space you choose, but you cannot answer every threat on the map.  The Indians will work with you but, like the Tories, will need you to coordinate and protect them when the Patriots become aggressive.  With the leadership of Gage, Howe, and then Clinton, you will be able to strike a potentially decisive Brilliant Stroke if the stars align.  Each leader brings something new to the war effort.  If you can strike the decisive blow and Win the Day you will be able to build Support and reduce Opposition in short order.  If the option to Battle the French in the Colonies presents itself, it will be hard to pass up!

As the Patriots, you initially aren’t powerful enough to counteract the British Army.  You will need to pick your battles and initially spread the Militia to key areas.  Over time you can train a force of Continentals to take on the British Regulars.  Until then, Rabble-rouse and work with the French to challenge British dominance.  Skirmish with the British in small numbers to make their stay expensive.  Will the French be there when you need them?  Persuade the local population to give you resources to keep the heat up.  Watch the Indians on the Frontier because if they develop their forces unanswered you won’t be able to win the game regardless of what happens with the British.

As the Indian player, you have selected the lesser of two evils in aligning with the British.  You will work with them to lower Opposition using Raids but you will be developing your footprint by Gathering forces and building villages.  The British can help you to protect them from the Patriots and in return you can assist the British in controlling the region.  War Chief Joseph Brant and later War Chief Cornplanter give you the ability to mount a decisive attack with your War Parties but will it be worth exposing your villages to Patriot attack?

As the French, you have the ability to be the thorn in the side of the British in North America.  With the Hortalez Rodrigue et Cie Company, formed to feed the Patriots resources, you can fund the Insurrection.  Your agents can rally assistance in and around Quebec and you can facilitate privateers to steal resources from the British. When you sign the Treaty of Alliance with the Patriots, you can bring French Regulars to America to March and Battle.  You can also increase French Naval Intervention, Blockade Cities, move Regulars by sea and Skirmish with the British.

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Published in: on January 11, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Liberty or Death  
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Washington Refuses to be Beaten

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Each year, as Christmas is approaching, I think of a Christmas long ago in 1776.  The year in which we declared our independence from Great Britain was a year of military disaster for the United States.  Washington and his troops had been beaten time after time, and as the end of the year approached the Revolution seemed to be dying.  The British controlled New York, the largest city in the colonies and the major port.  New Jersey had been conquered.  The Continental Congress was in flight from Philadelphia, in expectation that the British would next move on that city.  Washington’s army had been reduced to around 5,000 ill-clad and ill-fed poorly trained troops, vastly outnumbered by their British adversaries and their Hessian mercenaries, all well-trained, well equipped, well clad and well fed.  Most of the enlistments of Washington’s troops would be up by the end of the year, and few of them seemed likely to re-enlist.  Defeat seemed all but inevitable to all but Washington.  In this hour of doom, he rallied his troops and launched the Trenton-Princeton campaign, which restored the morale of his Army, liberated much of New Jersey, and put new heart into American patriots everywhere.  Washington had worked a military miracle.

The feat is all the more impressive, in that privately Washington was well-aware of the odds against him, and feared that defeat was probably likely.  We see that in two letters he wrote on December 10 and 17, 1776, to his nephew Lund Washington, who ran Mount Vernon in his absence:

Dear Lund:

    * * * * *

    I wish to Heaven it was in my power to give you a more favorable account of our situation than it is. Our numbers, quite inadequate to the task of opposing that part of the army under the command of General Howe, being reduced by sickness desertion, and political deaths (on or before the first instant, and having no assistance from the militia), were obliged to retire before the enemy, who were perfectly well informed of our situation, till we came to this place, where I have no idea of being able to make a stand, as my numbers, till joined by the Philadelphia militia, did not exceed three thousand men fit for duty. Now we may be about five thousand to oppose Howe’s whole army, that part of it excepted which sailed under the command of Gen. Clinton. I tremble for Philadelphia. Nothing, in my opinion, but Gen. Lee’s speedy arrival, who has been long expected, though still at a distance (with about three thousand men), can save it. We have brought over and destroyed all the boats we could lay our hands on upon the Jersey shore for many miles above and below this place; but it is next to impossible to guard a shore for sixty miles, with less than half the enemy’s numbers; when by force or strategem they may suddenly attempt a passage in many different places. At present they are encamped or quartered along the other shore above and below us (rather this place, for we are obliged to keep a face towards them) for fifteen miles. *** (more…)

Published in: on December 21, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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November 13, 1775: Montgomery takes Montreal

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Of all the former British officers who fought on the patriot side in the American Revolution, the most militarily talented was Richard Montgomery.  Born near Swords in County Dublin in 1738, he was a member of an Ulster Scots family notable for supplying officers to the British Army.  After studying at Trinity College he joined the 17th Foot in 1756, his father purchasing an ensign’s commission for him.  During the siege of Louisburg in 1758 his courage and initiative earned him promotion to Lieutenant.  In 1759 he participated in the siege of Fort Carillon and in 1760 was made adjutant of the regiment, a singular honor for an officer so young.  During subsequent fighting in the West Indies he was promoted to Captain.  After participating in the suppression of Pontiac’s Rebellion, Montgomery returned to Britain to recover his health, exhausted and ill from years of campaigning.

In Britain he became friends with Whig members of the British Parliament, including Edmund Burke and began to question British policies in America.  He sold his commission in 1772 for 1500 pounds, intent on retiring to America and becoming a gentleman farmer.

In America he married Janet Livingston, sister of future Founding Father Robert Livingston in 1773.  It was a love match marred by a dream in which Janet saw Montgomery being killed in a duel with his brother.  Montgomery responded stoically,  I have always told you that my happiness is not lasting…Let us enjoy it as long as we may and leave the rest to God.

Associated with a strong New York patriot family, additionally politically powerful, Montgomery gradually became a firm patriot, convince that the British government was acting tyrannically against the Americans.  On June 22, 1775 he was appointed a Brigadier General in the newly formed Continental Army and made deputy to Major General Philip Schuyler who commander the Continental forces in the north, charged with the invasion of, or, as the Americans saw it, the liberation of Canada.  Schuyler’s health failing him, Montgomery took command of the invasion force. (more…)

Published in: on November 13, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on November 13, 1775: Montgomery takes Montreal  
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Through a Howling Wilderness

American traitor Benedict Arnold, a 34 year old Connecticut merchant at the beginning of the Revolution, had considerable military ability, as he first demonstrated in his epic march through the Maine wilderness in September-November 1775 on his way to join in a two-pronged attack on Quebec, Brigadier General Richard Montgomery leading the other prong up Lake Champlain.  Traveling over 350 wilderness miles, ill-supplied, Arnold’s force of 1100 was reduced to 600 starving men by the time they reached the Saint Lawrence River on November 9, 1775 across from Quebec.  It was a miracle that Arnold was able to complete the march with such a sizable force.  On November 8, Arnold sent off a report to Washington: (more…)

Published in: on November 8, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Through a Howling Wilderness  
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November 5, 1775: Washington Ends Guy Fawkes Day

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The idiotic anti-Catholic celebration of Guy Fawkes Day , observed each November fifth, was effectively ended two hundred and forty years ago in America during the Revolution, in large part due to George Washington.  Here is his order on November 5, 1775:

As the Commander in Chief has been apprized of a design form’d for the observance of that ridiculous and childish custom of burning the Effigy of the pope–He cannot help expressing his surprise that there should be Officers and Soldiers in this army so void of common sense, as not to see the impropriety of such a step at this Juncture; at a Time when we are solliciting, and have really obtain’d, the friendship and alliance of the people of Canada, whom we ought to consider as Brethren embarked in the same Cause. The defence of the general Liberty of America: At such a juncture, and in such Circumstances, to be insulting their Religion, is so monstrous, as not to be suffered or excused; indeed instead of offering the most remote insult, it is our duty to address public thanks to these our Brethren, as to them we are so much indebted for every late happy Success over the common Enemy in Canada. (more…)

Published in: on November 5, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on November 5, 1775: Washington Ends Guy Fawkes Day  
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Penobscot Debacle

 

One of the great fiascos in American military history, the Penobscot Expedition of 1779 has faded into almost complete obscurity.

The British had long wished to form a new colony for displaced loyalists.  What is now the State of Maine seemed perfect for the proposed colony of New Ireland.  The forests of the new colony would supply ample naval stores for the Royal Navy, and due to its location it could also serve as a base for raids on New England.

In June of 1779 the British constructed Fort George on a small peninsula jutting into Penobscot Bay.  The garrison consisted of 700 regulars: 50 men of the Royal Artillery and Engineers, 450 of the 74th Regiment of (Highland) Foot and 200 of the 82nd (Duke of Hamilton’s) Regiment, all under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Francis McLean.

Massachusetts reacted promptly to this invasion of territory the Bay State claimed.  An expedition of 44 ships and 1000 troops, Continental Marines and Massachusetts militia, was rapidly gathered.  Lieutenant Colonel Paul Revere commanded the artillery.  The expedition arrived at Penobscot Bay on July 25, 1779.

On July 28, 1779 an assault by land was made against Fort George.  The Americans incurred casualties of approximately one hundred men but took the heights near the Fort.  The high casualties of this day seemed to dampen the enthusiasm of the leaders of the expedition.  Brigadier General Solomon Lovell contented himself with besieging the fort, while Commodore Dudley Saltonstall, who would be cashiered from the Continental Navy for his performance during this expedition,  refused to close with and destroy the small British fleet off Fort George, despite frequent requests from Lovell that this be done and for Saltonstall to bombard Fort George. (more…)

Published in: on October 21, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Penobscot Debacle  
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October 17, 1777: Saratoga

Yonder are the Hessians! They were bought for seven pounds and ten pence a man. Are you worth more? Prove it!

General John Stark to his men prior to the Battle of Bennington

 

Something for the weekend.  The Fate of John Burgoyne sung by Bobby Horton, turning his attention to the music of the Revolution rather than his usual stomping grounds, the Civil War.  Two hundred and thirty-eight years ago the turning point of the American Revolution occurred with the surrender of his British army by Major General John “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne.  A playwright and sometime member of Parliament, Burgoyne has gone down in history as something of a fop and an amateur incompetent soldier.  This is unjust to him.  Burgoyne was a career officer who took his duties seriously and his overall military record indicates above average ability combined with a streak of ruthlessness.  However, his invasion of northern New York in 1777 with 7,000 troops from Canada was doomed by events largely out of control.

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Supposedly his invasion was to be coordinated with the efforts of General Howe commanding the main British army in New York.  However, no orders were issued to Howe requiring such coordination and he embarked on a campaign against the American de facto capital of Philadelphia, leaving Burgoyne to fend for himself among the wilds of frontier northern New York.

His was a polyglot force, much of it ill-suited for frontier fighting.  That was certainly the case with his Hessian mercenaries and British regulars.  The Loyalists and Indians under his command were more suited for the area but brought their own problems including lack of discipline and a desire for loot and sometimes murder.

The campaign started well for Burgoyne and by July 6 he had taken the strategic fort of Ticonderoga, the gateway to northern New York.  Then the campaign went south for him as Burgoyne’s army proceeded south.  The first blow was that a column led by Lieutenant Colonel Barry St. Leger that was to cooperate with Burgoyne, became bogged down besieging Fort Stanwix in western New York.  Patriot Tryon County militia under General Nicholas Herkimer fought a bloody battle against St. Leger’s Indian auxiliaries at Oriskany.  Losses on both sides were devastating with General Herkimer being mortally wounded.  Indian morale plummeted due to their losses.  Patriot General Benedict Arnold caused St. Leger to break the siege and retreat by using loyalist Hans Yost to spread among the Indians the news that Arnold, actually leading a small force, was on his way to relieve Fort Stanwix with an army as numerous as the leaves of a forest.  Without the support of his Indian allies, St. Leger had no choice but to retreat.

Burgoyne’s campaign suffered its worst single blow when Indians from Burgoyne’s army on July 27, 1777 murdered Jane McCrea, a young woman on her way to visit her sweetheart, ironically a Loyalist officer with Burgoyne’s army.  News of her murder spread like wildfire and converted hordes of Loyalists to being Patriots over night.  Thousands of militia poured into the American army of the North, and across northern New York a common sign on cabins, farms and businesses read:  “Gone to fight Burgoyne.” (more…)

Published in: on October 17, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments (5)  
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September 22, 1776: Nathan Hale’s Only Regret

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How beautiful is death, when earn’d by virtue!
Who would not be that youth? What pity is it
That we can die but once to serve our country.

Joseph Addison, Cato (1712)

 

Death at 21 is always a tragedy, but Nathan Hale’s heroic death 239 years ago today ensured him Earthly immortality.  A schoolmaster before the Revolution, he was a Captain in the 7th Connecticut when he volunteered to take on the immensely dangerous task of being a spy, at the request of General Washington, behind enemy lines in New York City.  He was soon captured by the British, perhaps betrayed by his Tory cousin Samuel Hale.  Interviewed by General Howe, his fate was a foregone conclusion:  spies were always to be executed.

The night before he died he requested a Bible and a member of the clergy.  Both requests were denied.  According to British officer Frederick MacKensie, who was present, Hale met his death with great fortitude:

He behaved with great composure and resolution, saying he thought it the duty of every good Officer, to obey any orders given him by his Commander-in-Chief; and desired the Spectators to be at all times prepared to meet death in whatever shape it might appear.

At the foot of the gallows, before he entered eternity, he uttered the comment that has ensured that his memory will be cherished as long as their is a United States of America.  British Captain John Montresor, who was present, told under a flag of truce to American Captain William Hull the next day:

“On the morning of his execution, my station was near the fatal spot, and I requested the Provost Marshal to permit the prisoner to sit in my marquee, while he was making the necessary preparations. Captain Hale entered: he was calm, and bore himself with gentle dignity, in the consciousness of rectitude and high intentions. He asked for writing materials, which I furnished him: he wrote two letters, one to his mother and one to a brother officer. He was shortly after summoned to the gallows. But a few persons were around him, yet his characteristic dying words were remembered. He said, “I only regret, that I have but one life to lose for my country.””

Then the light of the rising sun vanished before the eyes of Nathan Hale, but not, I trust, either  the light of the Grace of God or the light of the American Revolution.

Published in: on September 22, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on September 22, 1776: Nathan Hale’s Only Regret  
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