American Victory at the Battle of Great Bridge

American Victory at the Battle of Great Bridge

 

On this day in history, December 9, 1775, an American victory at the Battle of Great Bridge sets the stage for the British abandonment of Virginia. The Battle of Great Bridge was a decisive blow to the Royal Governor, John Murray, Lord Dunmore. The battle caused Dunmore to abandon Norfolk and seek refuge in a navy ship. After bombarding the city and a few more raids, Dunmore abandoned Virginia for New York, never to return.

 

In April of 1775, at the same time the Revolutionary War broke out in Massachusetts, Lord Dunmore ordered the confiscation of the gunpowder supply at Williamsburg, Virginia. The act alarmed the colonists, who began to rise up against him. Lord Dunmore began to fear for his safety, left Williamsburg and moved his family on to a Royal Navy ship at Norfolk.

           

Skirmishes continued for the next several months, escalating when a British ship ran aground and was captured, causing the death of several sailors in the fight. Dunmore issued a proclamation declaring martial law and began to fortify Norfolk as his last stronghold. 9 miles south of town, at a small village called Great Bridge, he had a small fort set up to guard the only approach south of Norfolk. The fort was on the north side of a small bridge on a road running through a swamp.

 

500 men from Virginia’s 2nd Regiment took positions on the south side of the bridge on December 2. Over the next few days, their numbers swelled to almost 900. The British garrison had less than a hundred men. Upon learning of the situation, Dunmore decided to send a few hundred reinforcements and attack the Americans first.

 

Early on the morning of December 9, the attack began. Dunmore had unfortunately been misinformed, however. His best intelligence estimated the rebel camp numbers at no more than 400 men. The overwhelming superiority of the Americans’ numbers led to a rout. The British lost over a hundred men killed or wounded, while there was only one American injured.

 

Lord Dunmore’s forces retreated to Norfolk. Alarm struck the town as the patriots’ numbers continued to swell, causing Dunmore and most of the Loyalists in town to flee to the ships in the harbor. Norfolk was occupied by the Continental Army and the royal navy ships maneuvered into a threatening position, causing much of the rest of the town to evacuate. On January 1, the ships began bombarding the town for nearly a whole day. The patriot forces began looting and destroying much of the Tory owned property in town. Within a few days, most of Norfolk had burned to the ground.

 

Lord Dunmore decided to withdraw, but continued making raids on shore for supplies. In February, he was able to occupy Portsmouth to try to reestablish a base of operations, but was driven back to the ships in March by General Charles Lee. After a few more raids over the next few months and living on a ship for months on end, Lord Dunmore finally gave up and abandoned Virginia in August. He sailed for New York, the royal government never to be seen again in Virginia.

 

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Jack Manning

Historian General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org  

 

"We should be unfaithful to ourselves if we should ever lose sight of the danger to our liberties if anything partial or extraneous should infect the purity of our free, fair, virtuous, and independent elections."
John Adams (1797)

Americans begin siege of Quebec

Americans begin siege of Quebec

 

Beginning on this day in 1775, Colonel Benedict Arnold and General Richard Montgomery lead an American force in the siege of Quebec. The Americans hoped to capture the British-occupied city and with it win support for the American cause in Canada.

 

In June, Congress decided to send two columns of 1,000 men each towards Canada. General Richard Montgomery proceeded up Lake Champlain and successfully captured Montreal in November before reaching Quebec City. Colonel Benedict Arnold led his men through the woods of Maine, approaching the city directly. On November 14, Arnold arrived on the Plains of Abraham outside the city of Quebec; his men sustained themselves upon dog meat and leather in the cold winter. The 100 men defending the city refused to either surrender to Arnold or leave their defenses to fight them on open plains, so Arnold waited for Montgomery to join him with his troops and supplies at the beginning of December.

 

The royal governor general of Canada, Sir Guy Carleton, had managed to escape Montgomery’s early successful attacks. He snuck into Quebec, organized 1,800 men for the city’s defense, and prepared to wait out the Patriots’ siege. But Arnold and Montgomery faced a deadline as their troops’ enlistments expired at the end of the year. On December 7, Montgomery fired arrows over the city walls bearing letters demanding Carleton’s surrender. When Carleton did not acquiesce, the Americans began a bombardment of the city with Montgomery’s cannon on December 8. They then attempted a disastrous failed assault on December 31, in which Montgomery was killed and Arnold seriously wounded.

 

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Jack Manning

Historian General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org  

 

“The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of the rulers are concealed from them."
Patrick Henry, 1788

Marquis de Lafayette arranges to fight with the Americans

Marquis de Lafayette arranges to fight with the Americans

 

On this day in history, December 7, 1776, the Marquis de Lafayette arranges to fight with the Americans. Meeting with Silas Deane, one of the American ambassadors to Paris, Lafayette arranged to join the American war as a major general. Forbidden to go by King Louis XVI, Lafayette obtained a ship and, escaping the efforts of the King to detain him, set sail in April of 1777. He was only 19 years old.

 

Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette, was an aristocrat born in the south of France from a distinguished line, including a marshal who served in Joan of Arc’s army, a legendary ancestor who fought in the Crusades and his grandfather, the ultra-wealthy Comte de La Rivière. Lafayette was trained for the military from a young age. Due to his military and society connections, he became a member of the Freemasons where he was exposed to the ideas of the Enlightenment and political liberty. Many of these connections supported French involvement in the American Revolution against Britain and Lafayette determined to join the Americans in their fight for freedom.

 

Fearful of being arrested, Lafayette left Europe dressed as a woman to avoid detection. He arrived in South Carolina on June 13, 1777 and made his way to Philadelphia. Congress did not want to receive him at first, believing he was just another Frenchman looking to make a name for himself. Eventually, Ben Franklin persuaded George Washington to accept him as a personal aide. Washington and Lafayette grew very close, even to the point that Lafayette was almost treated as a son. He became one of Washington’s inner circle and one of his most trusted advisers during the war.

 

Lafayette went on to serve in the Battle of Brandywine, where he was injured. He served in New Jersey with General Nathanael Greene; helped expose the cabal of General Thomas Conway to replace George Washington; fought in the Battles of Barren Hill, Rhode Island and Monmouth; and was eventually sent back to France to help negotiate more substantial support for the Americans. After returning to the US, Lafayette was put in command of three regiments in Virginia where he fought against the traitor, Benedict Arnold and General Charles Cornwallis. Lafayette’s actions trapped the General at Yorktown, contributing to his surrender on October 19, 1781, where Lafayette was present at the surrender ceremony.

 

When Lafayette returned to France, he joined the French government, where he served for many years as a politician and military officer. During the French Revolution, Lafayette was branded as a traitor for helping the King and was captured while trying to escape the country. He spent the next five years in an Austrian prison. His wife narrowly escaped the country through the intervention of the American ambassador, Gouverneur Morris, but several of her family members went to the guillotine. After the Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte negotiated Lafayette’s release and he returned to France, continuing to serve in the Chamber of Deputies.

 

In 1824-25, the Marquis de Lafayette made a grand tour of the United States at the invitation of President James Monroe. Lafayette toured all 24 states at the time and was received as a hero of the American Revolution. Lafayette visited such places as Mount Vernon, the Brandywine Battlefield, Williamsburg and the University of Virginia, meeting with such notables as President Monroe, Thomas Jefferson and the aging Dorothy Hancock, widow of John Hancock.

 

Although Washington had died more than 30 years earlier, he and Lafayette had frequent correspondence while he was still alive. When Lafayette finally died on May 20, 1834, he was buried in Paris under soil from George Washington’s grave.

 

http://www.revolutionary-war-and-beyond.com

 

Jack Manning

Historian General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org  

 

"All men are created equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; among which are the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing the obtaining of happiness and safety."
George Mason

Whitemarsh skirmishes turn in Americans’ favor

Whitemarsh skirmishes turn in Americans’ favor (1777)

 

General George Washington’s battered forces manage to outsmart British General William Howe’s year-end attempt to drive the Americans from the hills in what is now Whitemarsh Township, Pennsylvania, north of Philadelphia.

 

According to legend, a Quaker housewife named Lydia Darragh gave Washington’s men warning that the British planned to attack. Although the Pennsylvania militiamen sent to meet Howe’s troops on December 5 quickly fled, their retreat back to the hills proved a strategic boon. From the hills they could see Howe’s every move, and Howe overestimated the Patriots’ strength. Washington successfully deceived his opponent by having his men set extra campfires.

 

By December 6, Howe realized that he would be unable to use his preferred flanking strategy against the Americans, as they could see his every move from their lofty vantage point. On December 7, Howe chose to engage on Edge Hill on the left side of the American position. American General Daniel Morgan led his riflemen against the British in the style of guerilla warfare for which they would later become famous in the Carolinas, though he was eventually forced to retreat in the face of an attack by General Charles Cornwallis’ regiment.

 

Although Howe decided against attacking the main American line, General Charles “No Flint” Grey grew tired of waiting for Howe’s go-ahead and launched a separate attack on Edge Hill. The Patriots narrowly avoided disaster at Grey’s hands. A cavalry squad arrived just in time to save Continental officers Colonel Joseph Reed and General John Cadwalader from death at the ends of Hessian bayonets. Having successfully softened Washington’s position, Grey decided against further combat.

 

After two days of inconclusive skirmishes, Howe decided to return to the city on December 8th. He made no further attempts to attack Washington’s troops that winter, a decision for which he was eventually relieved of his duties.

 

http://www.revolutionary-war-and-beyond.com

 

Jack Manning

Historian General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org  

 

"As a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights."
James Madison

Battle of White Marsh begins

Battle of White Marsh begins

 

On this day in history, December 5, 1777, the Battle of White Marsh begins. Also known as the Battle of Edge Hill, this was the last battle of 1777 between George Washington’s forces and the British army occupying Philadelphia. The battle ensured the British would remain in Philadelphia throughout the winter of 1777-1778, while Washington’s army moved to Valley Forge, where it took up winter quarters.

 

The British began what is known as the Philadelphia Campaign by landing 15,000 troops at the northern end of the Chesapeake Bay near Elkton, Maryland, about 55 miles from Philadelphia. British General Sir William Howe chose this location because the approach to Philadelphia from the Delaware River, which went straight into the town, was nearly impregnable, being guarded by Forts Mifflin and Mercer and a series of spikes in the river that could impale ships just south of the city.

 

Washington’s forces were badly defeated at the Battle of Brandywine, the first major engagement of the campaign. After this, Howe was able to march straight into Philadelphia, causing Congress to flee inland to York. Part of Howe’s forces occupied Philadelphia, while the main body camped at Germantown, 5 miles north of the city. Washington attacked the British at Germantown in a battle that highly impressed the courts of Europe, even though he lost this engagement as well. General Howe then moved all his forces to Philadelphia to concentrate on the city’s defense in October, while Washington set up a formidable system of defensive works just south of the town of White Marsh, 13 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

 

The deep of winter was fast approaching and both sides wanted to make a last effort to attack the other side decisively before they had to take up winter quarters. Very late on December 4, Howe marched 10,000 men north out of Philadelphia. A series of skirmishes took place beginning on December 5 that lasted for the next four days. Howe’s different battalions tried to find a way to flank or penetrate Washington’s defenses, but were unable. Skirmishes took place around the southern edge of White Marsh on Edge Hill, Chestnut Hill, around Wissahickon Creek and near places with names such as Tyson’s Tavern, Sandy Run and Three Mile Run.

 

After 4 days of unsuccessfully trying to find a way to penetrate Washington’s line, Howe decided to turn back. His troops were running low on supplies and it was extremely cold at night. His men had not brought overnight gear such as tents, so they were sleeping in the open air. With that, Howe withdrew to Philadelphia where his men made winter quarters.

 

The British had lost 120 men killed, wounded or missing and suffered over 200 deserters at the Battle of White Marsh. The Americans lost 200 men. George Washington was disappointed that he had not been able to draw Howe into a larger battle at White Marsh, but he also conceded that it was time to winter. On December 11, 10,000 troops began to march to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where they would spend the brutal winter of 1777-1778.

 

Jack Manning

Historian General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

"An ELECTIVE DESPOTISM was not the government we fought for; but one which should not only be founded on free principles, but in which the powers of government should be so divided and balanced among several bodies of magistracy, as that no one could transcend their legal limits, without being effectually checked and restrained by the others."
James Madison- Federalist No. 48, February 1, 1788

Washington’s cousin tricks Loyalists

Washington’s cousin tricks Loyalists

 

A force of Continental dragoons commanded by Colonel William Washington–General George Washington’s second cousin once removed–corners Loyalist Colonel Rowland Rugeley and his followers in Rugeley’s house and barn near Camden, South Carolina, on this day in 1780.

 

After nearly a year of brutal backcountry conflict between Washington and the fierce British commander Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton (who was infamous for Tarleton’s Quarter, the murder of colonial POWs on May 29, 1780 at Waxhaws), Washington had retreated to North Carolina the previous October. Commanded to return to the South Carolina theater by Brigadier General Daniel The Old Wagoner Morgan, Colonel Washington still lacked the proper artillery to dislodge the Loyalists. He told his cavalrymen to dismount and surround the barn. While out of Rugeley’s sight, Washington’s men fabricated a pine log to resemble a cannon.

 

This Quaker gun trick, named so because Quakers used it to be intimidating without breaching their pacifist vow of non-violence, worked beautifully. Washington faced the cannon toward the buildings in which the Loyalists had barricaded themselves and threatened bombardment if they did not surrender. Shortly after, Rugeley surrendered his entire force without a single shot being fired.

 

When informed of the pacifist victory, General Charles Cornwallis, commander of the British armies in America, informed Tarleton that Rugeley’s performance ensured he would never rise to the rank of brigadier. A few weeks later, Tarleton would himself face an even worse humiliation at the hands of General Morgan during the devastating Battle of Cowpens. The harrowing civil war for the hearts and minds of the Carolina backcountry had finally begun to favor the Patriots.

 

http://www.revolutionary-war-and-beyond.com

 

Jack Manning

Historian General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org  

 

"We should be unfaithful to ourselves if we should ever lose sight of the danger to our liberties if anything partial or extraneous should infect the purity of our free, fair, virtuous, and independent elections."

John Adams (1797)

General Nathanael Greene takes over the Southern Department

General Nathanael Greene takes over the Southern Department

 

On this day in history, December 3, 1780, General Nathanael Greene takes over the Southern Department of the Continental Army after the Americans suffered a string of defeats in the southern states. General Robert Howe lost the city of Savannah, Georgia; General Benjamin Lincoln lost the city of Charleston, South Carolina with over 5,000 soldiers; and in August, 1780, General Horatio Gates’ army was destroyed at Camden, South Carolina with almost 2,000 men killed or captured. These losses left South Carolina and Georgia completely in British hands. British General Charles Cornwallis then turned his sights on North Carolina and his ultimate goal, Virginia. After these defeats, morale was at an all-time low in the southern colonies. There was virtually no army remaining. Congress needed to turn something around before the South was completely lost.

General Nathanael Greene

 

Congress had bypassed George Washington’s authority by appointing all three failed generals in the South. This time, they deferred to Washington’s judgment as Commander-in-Chief, who immediately selected General Nathanael Greene to take over. Greene had already proved himself in battles at Trenton, Brandywine, Germantown, Monmouth and Newport and had shown an enormous talent for organizing and logistics as Quartermaster General at Valley Forge. Nathanael Greene was the owner of a foundry in Coventry, Rhode Island and had trained himself in the art of war through books. He was appointed a Major General in Rhode Island at the outbreak of the war and soon became a Brigadier General in the Continental Army, becoming one of Washington’s most trusted advisers.

General Nathanael Green Statue Guilford Courthouse National Military Park

 

Greene took charge of the Southern Department at Charlotte, North Carolina on December 3, 1780 and things immediately began to turn around. Greene first concentrated on rebuilding the forces with the help of his legendary organizational skills and ability to procure supplies and garner local support. He began making strikes against Cornwallis, but would pull back and outrun the British pursuers, often using swollen rivers to keep distance between them. Cornwallis’ army began to wear out as Greene drew them further inland, away from their supply depots on the coast. Greene gathered all the forces he could to Guilford Courthouse in Greensboro, North Carolina and fought a battle there that was extremely costly to the British, who were forced to return to their base at Wilmington on the sea. Cornwallis decided to abandon his attempt to conquer North Carolina and he turned north to Virginia instead, setting up the surrender at Yorktown less than one year later.

 

Rather than follow Cornwallis into Virginia, General Greene turned south and aided the local militias in driving the British back from the interior toward the sea. By the time the Treaty of Paris was signed to end the war, only a few southern coastal cities remained in British hands. The remainder of their territory was securely in American hands.

 

General Nathanael Greene is usually regarded as the most talented military mind of the American Revolution after George Washington, even though he never won a single decisive victory. All the major battles he fought in the South were draws. However, his strategy of dividing and weakening the British lines, separating them from their supply lines and forcing them to a chase on long marches eventually wore them out and returned the South safely into American hands. Nathanael Greene is truly one of the great geniuses and heroes of the American Revolution and deserves all the praise he usually receives.

 

Read what happened on other days in American history at our On This Day in History section here.

 

http://www.revolutionary-war-and-beyond.com

 

Jack Manning

Historian General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org  

 

“To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead.”

Thomas Paine