The Siege of Ninety-Six begins

The Siege of Ninety-Six begins


On this day in history, May 22, 1781, the Siege of Ninety-Six begins against Loyalist troops at Fort Ninety-Six, South Carolina. Ninety-Six is a still existing village in South Carolina’s backcountry. The origin of the name is uncertain, but it likely has to do with the distance from Ninety-Six to a common travel destination, such as Lexington, South Carolina or the Savannah River.


By mid-1781, the American General Nathanael Greene had begun taking back the south from the British. Assisted by Generals Thomas Sumter, Francis Marion, Andrew Pickens and Col. "Lighthorse Harry" Lee, British posts across Georgia, North and South Carolina began to fall one by one. In May, the only major inland strongholds remaining were Ninety-Six in South Carolina and Augusta in Georgia. On May 22, sieges were begun against both of these inland posts. Henry Lee and Andrew Pickens led the siege on Augusta, which finally surrendered on June 6.


General Greene and 1,000 men laid siege to Ninety-Six, the central fortification of which was an 8 point star fort, called the Star Fort, with 14 foot walls. The fort was surrounded with a large ditch and abattis, which are large logs sharpened to a point and buried in the ground at an angle toward the attackers. The Polish Colonel Thaddeus Kosciuszko was Greene’s chief engineer in charge of the siege, which required digging ditches near the fort which would provide places for the attacking forces to hide. Such a strategy usually entailed digging ditches closer and closer to the intended target. By June 3, the Patriots were within 30 yards of the fort. They then built a Maham Tower, which is a tall tower on which riflemen could stand and fire down into the fort.


British Lieutenant Colonel John Cruger, in charge of Ninety-Six, blocked the fire from the tower by raising the height of the walls with sandbags. He also tried to burn the tower down with heated shot, but that was unsuccessful. Greene fired burning arrows into the fort, but Cruger countered this by removing the roofs of the buildings.


On June 7, Greene was reinforced by Henry Lee and Andrew Pickens after their successful capture of Augusta. On June 11, Greene learned that a large British force under Lord Francis Rawdon was coming from Charleston to rescue Ninety-Six from the siege. This put General Greene in the difficult position of either needing to successfully finish the attack soon or of retreating to get away before Lord Rawdon arrived.


On June 18, Greene led an all-out attack on Ninety-Six, hoping to capture the fort before Rawdon arrived. It was a bloody attack, much of it fought with bayonets hand to hand. Greene was successful at first in taking an outer redoubt, breaking through the abattis and removing the sandbags for the riflemen on the tower. Ultimately though, Cruger was successful in driving the attackers back. The following day, Greene led his men in retreat as Rawdon’s force was only 30 miles away.


Rawdon sent a force after Greene, but they soon came back after the exhausting march from Charleston. Having lost many of his inland posts and with the increase in patriot activity, Rawdon believed Ninety-Six was indefensible and abandoned the fort, the last major British inland post to fall in the south. Rawdon then marched back to Charleston with the rescued Loyalists, many of whom would eventually flee the country at the end of the war and end up settling in a town they named "Rawdon" in Nova Scotia.  


Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution


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

Nathanael Greene


Washington and Rochambeau Meet in Connecticut

Washington and Rochambeau meet in Connecticut


On this day in history, May 21, 1781, Washington and Rochambeau meet in Connecticut to discuss their options. By early 1781, the success of the American Revolution was in question. People were tiring of the war. Inflation was rampant. The Continental Congress had no money with which to pay its soldiers. Some soldiers were even threatening to mutiny. French involvement beginning in 1778 had failed to yield any significant victories. The British were in control of much of the south and had inflicted some severe losses on the Continental Army there, including America’s largest defeat of the war, when General Benjamin Lincoln surrendered 5,000 men at Charleston.


The French foreign minister, Charles Gravier, the Comte de Vergennes, realized something must be done quickly before the British solidified their gains. He sent millions in aid to Congress and authorized the French army at Newport, Rhode Island under General Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, the Comte de Rochambeau, to join the Continental Army near New York for an attack on the city. In addition, Vergennes sent word to Admiral François-Joseph Paul, the Comte de Grasse, who was in charge of France’s West Indies fleet, that he should join the Americans.


On May 21, 1781, Washington and Rochambeau met in Wethersfield, Connecticut to discuss their options. Washington favored an attack on New York City. The American and French soldiers would now outnumber the British in New York by 3 to 1. Rochambeau, on the other hand, favored a less risky joint attack on British operations in Virginia under General William Phillips and the traitor, Benedict Arnold. They sent word to Admiral de Grasse of the options and the French army marched from Newport to White Plains, New York to join the Continental Army.


Admiral de Grasse sailed for the Chesapeake during the summer and sent word to Washington and Rochambeau that he believed a joint attack on Virginia would be the most effective option and encouraged them to join him. Washington abandoned the plans to attack New York and began to march south.  Meanwhile, British General Charles Cornwallis had taken a surprise turn into Virginia after suffering from his attempts to secure the Carolinas. Cornwallis received instructions from his superior, General Henry Clinton, to establish a deep water port on the coast. Cornwallis ended up in Yorktown, Virginia.


Admiral de Grasse arrived at the Chesapeake at the end of August and disembarked 3,000 new troops to join the Marquis de Lafayette, who was already in Virginia. On September 5, de Grasse’s fleet successfully fought off a British fleet sent to aid Cornwallis at the Battle of the Chesapeake. The failure of the British fleet to bring aid or assist in an escape trapped Cornwallis in Yorktown. Washington and Rochambeau arrived in September and laid siege to the city, outnumbering the British by 2 to 1. The Siege of Yorktown lasted nearly three weeks, ending in the surrender of Cornwallis on October 19.


The surrender at Yorktown did not end the war, but it did break the back of support for the war in England. A new group of politicians were quickly elected that began peace negotiations, culminating in the Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolution on September 3, 1783.   


Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

Parliament Shuts Down Self-rule in Massachusetts

Parliament shuts down self-rule in Massachusetts


On this day in history, May 20, 1774, Parliament shuts down self-rule in Massachusetts in response to the Boston Tea Party. In December of 1774, Boston citizens angry that Parliament was taxing imported tea, even though they had no elected representatives in Parliament, responded by dumping 42 tons of tea into Boston Harbor.


Parliament responded with a series of acts intended to reign in the unruly colonists. The acts were officially called the Restraining Acts, but were commonly called the Coercive Acts in England. The colonists, however, called them the Intolerable Acts and this set of acts was largely responsible for igniting the American Revolution.


The first act to be passed was the Boston Port Act which closed Boston Harbor to all trade until the ruined tea was paid for. This was accomplished with a naval blockade and thousands of troops in Boston. Naturally, the citizens of Boston resented the occupation of their city, just as they had when it was occupied a few years earlier, during an occupation which led to the Boston Massacre.


On May 20, 1774, Parliament enacted the next set of acts. The Massachusetts Government Act required that most government positions be filled by appointment of the King or the governor, who was himself appointed by the King. This effectively gave control of the government to the King. Massachusetts had a long tradition, as did all the colonies, of self-rule, with locally elected officials controlling local governments. As you can imagine, the citizens were outraged. In addition, the Act forbade town meetings (where much of the rebellion was being fomented) to meeting only once a year.


Along with the Massachusetts Government Act, the Administration of Justice Act gave the governor of Massachusetts the right to remove trials of colonial officials to other colonies or even to England. The purpose of this act was to remove the authority of colonial laws and colonial juries over government officials. Such locally created laws and local juries were often at odds with royal prerogatives. The Administration of Justice Act was actually called the “Murder Act” by George Washington because it allowed colonial officials to commit crimes against local laws and get away with them.


The final two parts of the Coercive Acts were the Quartering Act, which renewed the British army's authority to house troops on private property, and the Quebec Act, which expanded British French-speaking Quebec south to the Ohio River and west to the Mississippi. It granted freedom of religion to Quebec's Catholic speaking residents and also removed the right to self-rule in this territory. The Quebec Act outraged American colonists because the French were still seen as an enemy after the French and Indian War and Catholicism was viewed with disdain by many Protestants, not necessarily because of religious differences, but because of Catholicism's history of entanglements in authoritarian European governments. So the colonists viewed the strengthening of French Catholic Quebec as a direct threat.


Colonists in all thirteen colonies were alarmed by the Intolerable Acts. If self-rule could be closed down in Massachusetts, Parliament could do it in any colony. Their response was to form the First Continental Congress to deal with the Acts as one body. When the First Congress met in Philadelphia in September of 1774, they remonstrated with Parliament for changes to be made, but also warned all the colonies to begin gathering arms and ammunition to prepare for war.   


Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution


"I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us, that the less we use our power the greater it will be."

Thomas Jefferson

Georgia Declaration of Independence signer Button Gwinnett dies

Georgia Declaration of Independence signer Button Gwinnett dies


On this day in history, May 19, 1777, Georgia Declaration of Independence signer Button Gwinnett dies from wounds received in a duel with Brigadier General Lachlan McIntosh. Gwinnett was born in England around 1735. He moved to Charleston, South Carolina in 1762 and went into business. At the age of 28, he bought a large tract of land on St. Catherine’s Island, which was part of the colony of Georgia and became a prosperous planter. He was first elected to the Georgia Assembly in 1769.


As tensions with Great Britain grew, Gwinnett joined the patriots and was elected to Georgia’s extra-legal Provincial Assembly. The Assembly sent him to the Continental Congress as one of Georgia’s three delegates, where he voted for independence from Great Britain on July 2, 1776 and for the formal Declaration of Independence on July 4. His signature was written on the document when most of the other’s signed it on August 2.


At this time, Gwinnett was hoping to be appointed the top military leader of the Georgia state militia, but since he had no military experience, the position was given to his chief political rival, Lachlan McIntosh. Gwinnett continued to serve in Congress, but returned to attend Georgia’s convention to create a state constitution. Using a plan given to him by John Adams, Gwinnett wrote the first draft of Georgia’s first Constitution and became the Speaker of the Georgia Assembly. When the first governor, Archibald Bulloch, died, Gwinnett was made the President and Commander-in-Chief of Georgia’s militia.


Meanwhile, Lachlan McIntosh was recruited as a Brigadier General over Georgia’s Continental Army battalion. This put McIntosh and Gwinnett in a confrontational position as McIntosh had the official right to command the battalion, but, as President of Georgia, Gwinnett felt that the responsibility belonged to him. Gwinnett began to undermine McIntosh’s leadership and spread dissension amongst his top officers. When an expedition to capture St. Augustine in British East Florida failed, partly because of their squabbling, both were called back by the angry Georgia Assembly to defend themselves. During the process, McIntosh accused Gwinnett of being a “scoundrel and a rascal,” which were extremely inflammatory words at the time. Gwinnett demanded an apology, which McIntosh refused, causing Gwinnett to challenge him to a duel, the common method of gaining “satisfaction” in those days.


McIntosh and Gwinnett met on May 16, 1777 with their pistols near Savannah. At a distance of 12 feet, both men fired on one another and both were shot seriously in the leg. McIntosh would eventually recover, but Gwinnett was wounded mortally and died 3 days later from gangrene.


Button Gwinnett left a lasting legacy to Georgia and to America. He signed the Declaration of Independence and served in the Continental Congress during the critical years of the nation’s birth. He also wrote the foundation for Georgia’s first constitution and served as one of its first chief executives. As an interesting side note, Button Gwinnett’s signature is among the most valuable signatures in all of world history. Why? Only 51 copies are known to exist and many collectors have tried to put together complete collections of the signatures of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence. Gwinnett’s signature is so in demand and so rare, that a single copy sold for $722,000 in 2010, ranking in value right up there with the signatures of Julius Caesar and William Shakespeare!   


Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution


"If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed."

George Washington



The Mischianza is Thrown for British General Sir William Howe

The Mischianza is thrown for British General Sir William Howe


On this day in history, May 18, 1778, the Mischianza is thrown for British General Sir William Howe upon his resignation. It was the largest and most extravagant celebration the colonies had ever seen to that time. William Howe was the Commander-in-Chief of British forces in America. He had served at the Battle of Bunker Hill and led the invasion of New York.


Howe's tenure was controversial. He captured New York and Philadelphia, but failed to defeat George Washington's Continental Army. Howe finally resigned in late 1777 amidst a cloud of criticisms and received word that his resignation was accepted in April, 1778. Howe's military successes can be questioned, but nonetheless, he was extremely well liked by his soldiers. Several of his officers got together and planned a lavish ball and celebration, at their own expense, to honor his departure, which was called the Mischianza, which is Italian for "medley."


The grand event was not merely a ball though. It was a grand display of opulence and extravagance, complete with a regatta sailing down the Delaware River, a jousting tournament, costumes, military bands, arches of flowers, a ball room and banquet hall constructed just for the occasion and fireworks and dancing that lasted into the night.


Captain John Andre, the captain who would later be hanged by the Americans for his role in the Benedict Arnold affair, was the main planner of the Mischianza. Andre was a soldier, but was also an artist, poet and singer. He personally designed the whole display from front to back. He painted murals, designed the tickets, ordered tons of food and built bleachers with covered awnings for the joust.


The affair began with a regatta sailing down the Delaware from Philadelphia. The boats were covered in flowers, banners and awnings and many of the leading citizens, mostly Loyalists, and top officers and officials were among the guests. The flotilla sailed down the river as most of Philadelphia watched from the shore and dozens of boats brought onlookers out to see the display. The procession landed south of town and made its way to Walnut Grove, the mansion of merchant Joseph Wharton, where they went to the jousting field.


12 knights fought for the hands of the most eligible maidens in town, which included the daughters of many leading citizens. After the joust, the procession walked to the ballroom, specially constructed for the occasion, where they were entertained all evening and finally secret doors were opened up to reveal a grand dining hall. Later in the evening, the fireworks began and the guests danced and drank until morning.


General Howe sailed for England a few days later where his leadership faced an inquiry by Parliament. The grandness of the Mischianza was questioned by Tories and patriots alike. Many felt the display was too extravagant, especially since Howe had failed to obtain any type of significant victory. Others criticized the lavish expense of the event while people all around Philadelphia, including George Washington's army, which was then at Valley Forge, were starving due to the war. In later years, the Mischianza came to be looked at with romantic sentimentality by those who remembered it. In reality, it probably reveals a good deal about why the British lost the war in the first place. Its chief officers were often more concerned with titles, rewards and promotions than they were with actually winning battles.   


Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution


“All the powers of government, legislative, executive, and judiciary, result to the legislative body. The concentrating these in the same hands is precisely the definition of despotic government." 

Thomas Jefferson, 1781- Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XIII

The Battle of Thomas Creek Ends the Second Florida Expedition

The Battle of Thomas Creek ends the Second Florida Expedition


On this day in history, May 17, 1777, the Battle of Thomas Creek ends the Second Florida Expedition, an attempt by Georgia patriots to invade British East Florida during the American Revolution. After the French and Indian War, eastern Florida was ceded to Great Britain by Spain. It became a separate colonial province with its capital at Saint Augustine.


East Florida had a very small population, but Saint Augustine became an important British military base. When the Revolution began, it remained loyal to the Crown and thousands of Loyalists fled there to escape persecution. The influx of people brought about a food shortage and raiding parties into Georgia were established to confiscate food and wreak havoc on Georgia patriots. In addition, the Creek Nation to the southeast was allied with the British and aided the raiding parties into Georgia.


In response to all this, three attempts were made by Georgia to capture Saint Augustine. All three failed and were plagued by infighting. The first expedition in late 1776 failed due to food shortages and the recall of Continental Army General Charles Lee back to the main army. The third expedition, in the spring and summer of 1778, failed due to infighting of the leaders of different militia factions and a superior British opposing force.


The Second Florida Expedition ended in disaster and the death of Button Gwinnett, a Georgia signer of the Declaration of Independence. As President of Georgia in early 1777, Gwinnett planned an expedition against Saint Augustine. He had no military experience, so command of the mission was given to Brigadier General Lachlan McIntosh, Gwinnett's chief political rival. Both tried to lead the mission, causing unnecessary delays. Their constant fighting caused the General Assembly to call them both back to Savannah after they had already left on the mission, command of which was given to Colonel Samuel Elbert. McIntosh and Gwinnett would famously fight a duel over who was to blame for the mission's delays and Gwinnett would be mortally wounded.


Colonel Elbert continued the expedition to East Florida, sending the cavalry over land and taking the rest himself down the coast in ships. The cavalry arrived first at the Nassau River, but were forced to wait for days for Elbert's flotilla. Meanwhile, East Florida governor, Patrick Tonyn, sent 200 Loyalists and Creek to ambush the approaching patriots. On May 14, Indians captured some of the patriots' horses, but one of the Indians was caught and allegedly tortured and killed by the militia, which outraged the Indians.


On May 17, the cavalry reached the Loyalists who were hiding in wait at Thomas Creek. When they were fired upon, the surprised Georgia militia turned to flee, only to run right into more Loyalists who had come up behind them. A handful of Georgia patriots were killed or wounded, but more than 30 were captured. Unfortunately, the Creek Indians tortured half of them to death in retaliation for the alleged murder of their compatriot a few days before. The rest of the Georgia militia escaped and made their way to rendezvous with Colonel Elbert. When Elbert discovered what happened at the Battle of Thomas Creek, he called off the mission. They were already deep inside enemy territory, many had already been killed or captured, they suffered from food shortages and a fleet of British ships was nearby. The Americans would not attempt another invasion of East Florida.


The British forces in Saint Augustine would later play an important part in the overall British strategy to reclaim the south during the latter part of the Revolution. All of East Florida would eventually be ceded to Spain by Britain at the end of the war and would not become part of the United States until 1822.   


Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution


"All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree." 
James Madison (1787)

The Battle of Alamance brings the War of the Regulation to a close

The Battle of Alamance brings the War of the Regulation to a close


On this day in history, May 16, 1771, the Battle of Alamance brings the War of the Regulation to a close when North Carolina "Regulators" are defeated by Governor William Tryon. The War of the Regulation is often viewed as a pre-cursor to the American Revolution because it pitted regular settlers against corrupt colonial officials.


The War of the Regulation was the result of a severe drought and the heavy influx of new settlers into the inland parts of North Carolina during the early 1760s. The population grew quickly, bringing not only farmers, but also businessmen to the county seats. Farmers went into debt during the drought and the local population became dependent on merchants’ supplies from the east. As debt increased, many fell into trouble and were brought to court by the merchants. A small cabal of merchants, lawyers, judges and sheriffs arose around each county courthouse that took advantage of the indebted population, often enriching themselves at the people’s expense.


This led to the rising of the "Regulators" who attempted to reign in these corrupt officials, by force if necessary, when reason failed to prevail. The late 1760s saw many acts of violence against local officials, including an incident when the Regulators interrupted the North Carolina Assembly meeting in Hillsborough. Public buildings, shops and private residences were destroyed and some officials were severely beaten. Much of the population was sympathetic to the Regulators views, but did not support the use of violence.


By 1771, Governor Tryon decided to put an end to the rebellion, gathered a thousand trained militia soldiers and marched into Regulator territory, arriving near Great Alamance Creek on May 14. The Regulators also raised 2,000 men, but they had no military training or official leadership structure and had little ammunition. Instead of fighting, they hoped to intimidate Tryon with their greater numbers. Tryon, however, was not intimidated and, on May 16, offered pardon for anyone who would leave and pledge his oath to the Crown, while requiring that the key leaders of the Regulation be turned over for prosecution.


The Regulators refused, but asked for an exchange of prisoners who were captured the previous day. Tryon agreed but moved his army closer, to within 30 yards of the Regulators, who sensed they were about to be fired on. At this point, Governor Tryon shot negotiator Robert Thompson dead in a spate of anger. Knowing things were about to unravel, he sent a white flag-bearing messenger to the Regulators, who fired on him in anger for the killing of Mr. Thompson and an all-out battle ensued.


After Tryon’s hat was shot through, he sent a second white flag, but this messenger was also shot, angering Tryon into ordering an all-out pursuit. The Regulators scattered and fled the battlefield. The victorious Tryon then marched through Regulator territory, requiring the citizens to sign oaths of allegiance to the Crown and destroying the properties of its leaders.


In all, somewhere between 9 and 27 militia were killed and 61 injured. 9 Regulators were killed with dozens and dozens injured. The Battle of Alamance brought the War of the Regulation to an end. Many of its key leaders were killed or executed after being captured. Others fled to other states or beyond the Appalachians to make new settlements. The Battle of Alamance and Governor Tryon’s actions were viewed favorably by most colonists at first, who viewed the Regulators as rabble-rousers. Questions did arise, however, about the methods of taxation and government coercion in North Carolina, which helped feed the rising flames that would ignite into the American Revolution in less than four years.  


Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

"It’s not tyranny we desire; it’s a just, limited, federal government."
Alexander Hamilton