The Battle of Guilford Courthouse

 

“We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again.”

Major General Nathaniel Greene

 

A good video featuring animated maps on the battle of Guilford Courthouse on March 15, 1781.  Fought on the site of present day Greensboro, North Carolina the American force of 4500 men under General Nathaniel Greene consisted mostly of militia.  General Lord Charles Cornwallis commanded a force of 2000 British regulars.  The fight was over after ninety minutes with the British holding the field, but having suffered casualties of twenty-five percent, Greene’s strategy of deploying his men in three successive defensive lines having made the victory of Cornwallis a bloody one for the British.  Greene retreated to the interior of North Carolina, and with his weakened force Cornwallis did not dare to follow.

After a few weeks recruiting and refitting his force, Cornwallis eventually decided to march into Virginia, initiating the campaign that would end in his surrender at Yorktown.  Greene marched in the opposite direction to South Carolina, initiating the campaign that would lead to the liberation of the Palmetto State.

August 16, 1780: Battle of Camden

 

 

 

 

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“But was there ever an instance of a General running away as Gates has done from his whole army? And was there ever so precipitous a flight?  One hundred and eighty miles in three days and a half.  It does admirable credit to the activity of a man at his time of life.”

Colonel Alexander Hamilton’s comment after the battle of Camden

 

 

 

 

 

The battle of Camden, August 16, 1780, was a humiliating defeat for the Americans.  Led by General Horatio Gates, a former British officer, 3700 Americans, more than half of them militia, were defeated by 1500 British regulars and 600 Loyalist militia.  900 Americans were killed and wounded, and a thousand Americans captured, compared to a British loss of 68 killed and 250 wounded.  Most of the American militia ran at the opening of the battle and Gates fled with them, riding his horse 60 miles to Charlotte, North Carolina.  Gates, thankfully, was never given a field command again.  His blundering had thrown away the only major American regular military force remaining in the South.  It was a disaster for the Americans and a humiliating one.

The one bright spot in this fiasco was the heroism of General Johann de Kalb and the Maryland and Delaware Continentals he led.  Born in 1721 into a family of peasants, de Kalb managed the incredible feat in Eighteenth Century Old Regime France of rising due to sheer ability to the rank of Brigadier General and entered the ranks of the nobility as a baron.  He first became familiar with America in 1768:  serving as a French spy he traveled throughout the colonies to determine the level of dissatisfaction of the colonists with British rule.  He grew to sympathize with the Americans.  He came back to America with Lafayette in 1777, becoming a Continental Major General.

After Gates and the militia fled, de Kalb and his 800 Continentals fought ferociously against the entire British Army, making charge after charge, with de Kalb at the head shouting, “To me, my Continentals!”  His Continentals were defeated only after de Kalb fell with 11 wounds.  General Cornwallis, commander of the British forces at Camden, had his personal surgeon treat his brave adversary.  De Kalb died three days later.  To a British officer who offered his sympathy, de Kalb gave a ringing reply that should be remembered by every American:  “I thank you sir for your generous sympathy, but I die the death I always prayed for: the death of a soldier fighting for the rights of man.”  The towns and counties named DeKalb throughout the United States are a tribute to a very brave man and able soldier who died for his adopted country.

Here is the report of Cornwallis on his victory:

Cornwallis, Charles, the Earl
1780 Letter from Charles, the Earl, Cornwallis to Lord George
Germain, dated 21 August 1780.
My Lord:
It is with great pleasure that I communicate to Your Lordship an Account of a Compleat Victory obtained on the 16th Inst., by His Majesty’s Troops under my command, over the Rebel
Southern Army, Commanded by General Gates.

In my Dispatch, No. 1, I had the honour to inform Your Lordship that while at Charlestown I was regularly acquainted by Lord Rawdon with every Material incident or Movement made by the
Enemy, or by the Troops under His Lordship’s command. On the 9th Inst. two Expresses arrived with an account that Genl. Gates was advancing towards Lynche’s Creek with his whole Army, supposed to amount to 6,000 men, exclusive of a Detachment of 1,000 Men under Genl. Sumpter, who, after having in vain attempted to force the Posts at Rocky Mount & Hanging Rock, was believed to be at that time trying to get round the left of our position, to cut off our communications with the Congarees & Charleston; That the disaffected Country between Pedee & Black River had actually revolted, and that Lord Rawdon was contracting his Posts and preparing to assemble his force at Camden. (more…)

Major Andrew McClary

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I occasionally encounter people who claim that freedom is an abstraction, and that they would never die for an abstraction.  That has never been the case in my family.  McClareys have fought in all the nation’s wars down to the present, and we have attempted to remember them beginning with the first, Andrew McClary, a man who has fascinated me since my father told me about him so long ago.

He is memorialized in the  above section of a painting  by John Trumbull and depicting, with artistic license, “The Death of General John Warren.”  The Major is shown raising his musket to brain a British soldier attempting to bayonet the dying Warren, a warlike action quite in character for him, and one which warms the cockles of my heart.  My wife has noted over the years how much I resemble Major Andrew, and it is intriguing how his facial features have been passed down through the generations of my family.

Born  in 1730 in Ireland, at an early age he emigrated to New Hampshire with his family.  He grew to six feet, a giant of a man for his time, jovial in disposition but always ready to fight if need be to defend his rights or the rights of those he loved.    The colonies were fortunate that quite a few men, like George Washington, who had served in the French and Indian War, were still in the prime of life and constituted a potential officer corps with, in many cases, combat experience, at the time when the Revolution began.  Major Andrew McClary was typical of these men.  After serving as an officer in Rogers’ Rangers during the French and Indian War, and singlehandedly throwing six British officers out of a tavern window during a loud “discussion” on a memorable evening, he had settled down as a farmer outside of Epsom, serving as a selectman of that town,  a member of the New Hampshire legislature, and, always, as an officer of the New Hampshire militia.  When news of Lexington and Concord reached him, he abandoned his plow, told his young family he was off to fight the British, and immediately marched off with a company of 80 militiamen to the siege lines around Boston. There he met up with his old friend from Rogers’ Rangers Colonel John Stark, who made McClary a major in his regiment of New Hampshire militia.

At the battle of Bunker Hill, Major McClary led the regiment onto Breed’s Hill, where the battle was fought on June 17, 1775.  The advance of the regiment was momentarily blocked by a gaggle of Massachusetts militia standing about on the road doing nothing.  That obstruction was removed when McClary yelled out that New Hampshire would like to borrow the road, if Massachusetts was not using it. (more…)

Published in: on June 27, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Major Andrew McClary  
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May 4, 1776: Rhode Island Renounces Allegiance to King George

 

 

 

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On May 4, 1776, the Rhode Island legislature passed an Act of Renunciation, renouncing allegiance by Rhode Island to King George III:

 

WHEREAS in all states, existing by compact, protection and allegiance are reciprocal, the latter being only due in consequence of the former: And whereas George the Third, King of Great Britain, forgetting his dignity, regardless of the compact most solemnly entered into, ratified and confirmed, to the inhabitants of this Colony, by his illustrious ancestors, and till of late fully recognized by him—and entirely departing from the duties and character of a good King, instead of protecting, is endeavoring to destroy the good people of this Colony, and of all the United Colonies, by sending fleets and armies to America, to confiscate our property, and spread fire, sword and desolation, throughout our country, in order to compel us to submit to the most debasing and detestable tyranny, whereby we are obliged by necessity, and it becomes our highest duty, to use every means, with which God and nature have furnished us, in support of our invaluable rights and privileges; to oppose that power which is exerted only for our destruction.

BE it therefore enacted by this General Assembly, and by the authority thereof it is enacted, that an Act entitled, “An Act for the more effectual securing to His Majesty the Allegiance of his Subjects in this his Colony and Dominion of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations,” be, and the same is hereby, repealed.

AND be it further enacted by this General Assembly, and by the authority thereof it is enacted, that in all commissions for offices, civil and military, and in all writs and processes in law, whether original, judicial or executory, civil or criminal, wherever the name and the authority of the said King is made use of, the same shall be omitted, and in the room thereof the name and authority of the Governor and Company of this Colony shall be substituted, in the following words, to wit: “The Governor and Company of the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations:” That all such commissions, writs and processes, shall be otherwise of the same form and tenure as they heretofore were: That the courts of law be no longer entitled nor considered as the King’s courts: and that no instrument in writing, of any nature or kind, whether public or private, shall in the date thereof mention the year of the said King’s reign: Provided nevertheless, that nothing in this Act contained shall render void or vitiate any commission, writ, process or instrument, heretofore made or executed, on account of the name and authority of the said King being therein inserted.

Rhode Island thus became the first colony to declare independence from the British Crown.  The date is commemorated as Rhode Island Independence Day in Rhode Island.

(more…)

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April 26, 1777: Sybil Ludington’s Ride

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The eldest of twelve children, Sybil Ludington grew up in a household of ardent patriots, her father being the commander of the local militia in Duchess County New York.  On April 26, 1777 she became, at age 16, a heroine of the Revolution when she rode forty miles to her father’s militia encampment at night on her horse Star to spread the alarm that the British were moving on Danbury Connecticut.  During her ride she successfully defended herself against a highwayman using a long stick.  She used the same stick to bang on the door of houses along the way to let the occupants know that the British were on the march,  Thanks to her, her father Colonel Henry Ludington chased after the British with 400 of his militia.  They were unable to intercept the British before their attack on Danbury, but they, along with other militia units, harassed the British as they retreated to New York.  The campaign is considered a turning point that helped ensure firm patriot control in Connecticut.  Sybil received the personal thanks of George Washington. (more…)

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April 19, 1775: The Shot Heard Round the World

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare,
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1837) (more…)

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James Otis: Forgotten Founding Father

 

 

“The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the crown. It may be frail – its roof may shake – the wind may blow through it – the storm may enter – the rain may enter – but the King of England cannot enter.”

William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, March 1763, in his speech against warrantless searches allowed under the proposed Excise Bill before the British Parliament.

James Otis had a glittering career ahead of him.  At the age of 35 in 1760 he was Advocate General for the Admiralty Court in Boston.  His wife Ruth was heiress to a fortune worth ten thousand pounds.  He threw it all away and resigned his post to represent pro bono, he refused the fee they wished to pay him saying that in such a great cause he despised all fees,  colonial merchants subject to writs of assistance.  A writ of assistance was a court order that allowed British officials to search at whim houses and businesses of those suspected of smuggling without obtaining a search warrant.  These writs were in effect for the lifetime of the King during whose reign the writ was issued.  Bearers of writs of assistance were not responsible for any damage caused by their searches.  Otis viewed the writs to be a violation of Magna Carta, English case law and the traditional English legal doctrine that an Englishman’s home was his castle.

In a  five hour address that captivated listeners at the Boston State House on February 24, 1761, James Otis denounced the writs of assistance:

Your Honors will find in the old books concerning the office of a justice of the peace precedents of general warrants to search suspected houses. But in more modern books you will find only special warrants to search such and such houses, specially named, in which the complainant has before sworn that he suspects his goods are concealed; and will find it adjudged that special warrants only are legal. In the same manner I rely on it, that the writ prayed for in this petition, being general, is illegal. It is a power that places the liberty of every man in the hands of every petty officer. I say I admit that special Writs of Assistance, to search special places, may be granted to certain persons on oath; but I deny that the writ now prayed for can be granted, for I beg leave to make some observations on the writ itself, before I proceed to other Acts of Parliament.

In the first place, the writ is universal, being directed “to all and singular justices, sheriffs, constables, and all other officers and subjects”; so that, in short, it is directed to every subject in the King’s dominions. Every one with this writ may be a tyrant; if this commission be legal, a tyrant in a legal manner, also, may control, imprison, or murder any one within the realm. In the next place, it is perpetual; there is no return. A man is accountable to no person for his doings. Every man may reign secure in his petty tyranny, and spread terror and desolation around him, until the trump of the Archangel shall excite different emotions in his soul. In the third place, a person with this writ, in the daytime, may enter all houses, shops, etc., at will, and command all to assist him. Fourthly, by this writ not only deputies, etc., but even their menial servants, are allowed to lord it over us. What is this but to have the curse of Canaan with a witness on us: to be the servants of servants, the most despicable of God’s creation?

Now, one of the most essential branches of English liberty is the freedom of one’s house. A man’s house is his castle; and whilst he is quiet, he is as well guarded as a prince in his castle. This writ, if it should be declared legal, would totally annihilate this privilege. Custom-house officers may enter our houses when they please; we are commanded to permit their entry. Their menial servants may enter, may break locks, bars, and everything in their way; and whether they break through malice or revenge, no man, no court can inquire. Bare suspicion without oath is sufficient.

Otis lost the case, but his bold stand was considered the start of the American independence movement.  John Adams was present during the speech and later wrote:

“The child independence was then and there born,[for] every man of an immense crowded audience appeared to me to go away as I did, ready to take arms against writs of assistance.”

In the years to come he helped popularize the phrase, “No taxation without representation.”  Mental illness cut short his services to the American cause, illness exacerbated by his receiving a blow to his head from a British customs inspector in 1769.  In years to come he would have alternating periods of madness and lucidity.  His wife Ruth, although her personal political sympathies were Tory, loyally stood by her husband and cared for him.

Otis did not let his madness stop him from bearing arms.  Hearing the artillery bombardment preparatory to the battle of Bunker Hill, he snuck out of his house, got a rifle, and joined the American troops on Breed’s Hill.  After the battle he walked home. (more…)

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April 7, 1776: Lexington Takes Edward

 

On March 14, 1776, that sea going Catholic son of Ireland John Barry, received his commission as a Captain in the Continental Navy.  He wasted no time making his mark.

Barry was placed in command of the USS Lexington, 14 guns, on December 7, 1775.  Captain Barry took the Lexington on its maiden voyage on March 26, 1776.  On April 7, 1776, Barry had his initial victory of the war, taking H.M.S. sloop Edward after a short but fierce engagement.  This was the first naval victory of the new Continental Navy and the first British warship captured by the Americans. Barry had begun his victorious military career and started to earn the proud title of Father of the American Navy.

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April 3, 1776: Continental Congress Authorizes Privateers

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Congress on April 3, 1776 formally authorized American privateers to raid British merchant ships.  In this Congress was merely recognizing what was already well under way, the patriot governments of the various colonies having issued letters of marque and reprisal since the beginning of hostilities.   The British parliament would authorize privateers against American merchant ships in December 1776.

Privateers were a traditional part of European naval war which fitted in well with the American national character.  Private operations, a common seamen on board a privateer after a successful cruise of capturing several British ships, could come back home with a small fortune in his pocket, often enough to purchase a small farm, or an inn, or set himself up in trade.  Privateers led by more daring commanders would even make prizes of several smaller ships of the Royal Navy.  Of course the risks were commensurate with the rewards, with death by sinking, or the slow death of rotting away in a British prison hulk if a crew was captured, ever a possibility.  Most American sailors were eager to take the risk, so many that the Continental Navy often found it difficult to man its ships. (more…)

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The Old Line’s Bugle, Fife, and Drum

Something for the weekend.  Maryland, my Maryland.  Written by James Ryder Randall  in white heat in 1861 after he learned that his friend Francis X. Ward had been killed by soldiers of the 6th Massachusetts in the Baltimore riot of 1861.  A heart felt plea for his native state to join the Confederacy, set to the tune of O’Tannenbaum  it became one of the more popular songs in the Confederacy.  Tuberculosis prevented Randall from serving in the Confederate Army, so he joined the Confederate Navy.  After the War he was commonly referred to as the poet laureate of the lost cause.  A Catholic, his later in life poems were usually religious in nature.

Although the Civil War brought forth Maryland my Maryland, there are many references to Maryland’s proud Revolutionary history:


 Thou wilt not cower in the dust,
Maryland!
Thy beaming sword shall never rust,
Maryland!
Remember Carroll’s sacred trust,
Remember Howard’s warlike thrust,-
And all thy slumberers with the just,
Maryland! My Maryland! (more…)

Published in: on March 5, 2016 at 5:53 am  Comments Off on The Old Line’s Bugle, Fife, and Drum  
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