Monthly Archives: August 2017

The Battle of Staten Island

The Battle of Staten Island

 

On this day in history, August 21, 1777, the Battle of Staten Island is lost by Major General John Sullivan. Staten Island was a major British outpost for the entire Revolutionary War. It was the first place in the New York area where British troops landed when the invasion of the area began in July of 1776.

 

A year later, and with the New York City area firmly in British control, General William Howe sent off thousands of troops from Staten Island by ship to take Philadelphia. This left Staten Island vulnerable and American Major General John Sullivan decided to use the vulnerability to stage an attack.

 

Sullivan learned that the British regulars were concentrated on the north of the island, but only around 700 New Jersey Loyalists were guarding the western side of the island. Sullivan decided to attack here, take as many prisoners as possible and destroy whatever British supplies and provisions he could.

 

On August 21, Sullivan gathered 1,000 troops from Maryland, New Jersey and Canada together. They marched to Elizabethtown and began crossing over to Staten Island in the morning. The force broke into several smaller groups with differing objectives. Colonel Matthias Ogden quickly conquered his assigned outpost, but met stiff resistance at the second, causing him to retreat to the Old Blazing Star crossing with dozens of prisoners and cross back to New Jersey.

 

General Sullivan himself led a successful attack that captured several prisoners, but was repelled when he tried to take the Loyalist headquarters. Brigadier General William Smallwood’s column drove off a Loyalist battalion and destroyed a trove of British supplies before the British regrouped and forced him to retreat.

 

Sullivan and Smallwood met and retreated to the Old Blazing Star where they had only three boats to cross back to New Jersey. 80 brave men held off the Loyalist attackers while the rest crossed back to New Jersey. Several of these defenders were killed and many were captured when they ran out of ammunition, but the rest of the American troops successfully evacuated back to safety.

 

The Battle of Staten Island turned out to be quite a mishap. The Loyalists had only 5 killed and 7 wounded, but captured between 150-250 patriots. The patriots, on the other hand, had 10 killed and 20 wounded, while capturing 84 Loyalists.

 

After the battle, Sullivan led his men to join the Continental Army amassing for the defense of Philadelphia, where they participated in the Battle of Brandywine in September. For his role in the debacle at Staten Island, Major General Sullivan was court-martialed for managing the affair so poorly, but he managed to beat all the charges.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org  

 

"National defense is one of the cardinal duties of a statesman."

John Adams (1815)

Banastre Tarleton is born

Banastre Tarleton is born

 

On this day in history, August 21, 1754, Banastre Tarleton is born. Tarleton is one of the more well-known British officers who served in the American Revolution due to his reputation as a brutal and heartless commander.

 

Banastre Tarleton (whose first name is pronounced "bannister") was born to the mayor of Liverpool in 1754. He went to Oxford where he was trained to be a lawyer. When his father died in 1773, the 19 year old received £5,000, which he quickly squandered on drinking and women. Tarleton then purchased a cavalry officer’s commission in the King’s 1st Dragoon Guards. Tarleton quickly proved his excellent horsemanship and leadership skills and was on his way to a successful military career.

 

In 1775, Tarleton volunteered to go to America with Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis on a voyage intended to capture Charleston, South Carolina. When the expedition failed, Tarleton went to New York and distinguished himself in battle. In December, 1776, Tarleton captured American General Charles Lee at Basking Ridge, New Jersey. He was soon given command of the British Legion, an American force made up of cavalry and light infantry. They became known as Tarleton’s Raiders.

 

In 1780, Tarleton’s Raiders were sent south to join in another attempt to capture Charleston and all of the southern colonies. Tarleton distinguished himself again and was involved in many important battles in the Carolinas.

 

Tarleton earned the reputation of being a bloody and ruthless butcher, an image based partly in fact, but partly false as well. The action that earned him the nicknames "Bloody Ban" and "The Butcher," was the Battle of the Waxhaws. The American militia was trying to surrender when Tarleton’s horse was shot from under him. The other British soldiers thought Tarleton was dead and began ruthlessly killing the surrendering Americans.

 

The way the story was told, however, was that Tarleton had ordered the killing, earning him the reputation as a butcher, but this was not what actually happened. Tarleton quickly became a villain in the eyes of southerners. There are other accounts of Tarleton’s brutality, burning homes, destroying crops and so forth, but some of the legend surrounding Tarleton was also created by American writers such as Washington Irving.

 

Tarleton suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Cowpens when many of his dragoons were drawn into a trap. Tarleton barely escaped, but the incident ruined his reputation with Cornwallis. Tarleton later led a failed attempt to capture Thomas Jefferson in Virginia and was in command of Gloucester Point near Yorktown when Cornwallis surrendered.

 

After the war, Tarleton continued in the army and served in Portugal and Ireland. He also served as an MP representing Liverpool in the House of Commons for 21 years. He was a staunch advocate of slavery because this was one of Liverpool’s chief industries. Tarleton carried on an affair with British actress Mary Robinson for many years, but he eventually married Susan Priscilla Bertie. He had no children with either of them. Tarleton rose to the rank of general by 1812 and became a baronet in 1815.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org  

 

"Excessive taxation … will carry reason and reflection to every man’s door, and particularly in the hour of election."

Thomas Jefferson (1798)

The Battle of Fallen Timbers

The Battle of Fallen Timbers

 

On this day in history, August 20, 1794, the Battle of Fallen Timbers ends the Northwest Indian War and opens the Ohio territory to American settlement. At the end of the American Revolution, the Treaty of Paris stipulated that the British must abandon their forts north of the Ohio River and below the Great Lakes west to the Mississippi, turning this area over to the United States. This area was called the Northwest Territory.

 

The Indian tribes located in this area had no representatives during the negotiations in Paris and did not recognize the treaty. The American government considered the land to be fairly conquered territory in war. The American reasoning was that since these Indians were allied with the British during the Revolution, their claim to the land had been forfeited by losing the war.

 

American settlers began spilling across the Ohio River from Kentucky and other places after the Revolution. The Indians, which had already been driven back from their traditional hunting grounds in Kentucky, formed a confederation of tribes to resist the white settlement of Ohio, under Shawnee Chief Blue Jacket, Delaware Chief Buckongahelas and Miami Chief Little Turtle.

 

As attacks on white settlers increased, the American government tried to deal with the Indians by sending several expeditions into the area. In 1790 and 1791, two American expeditions suffered over 1,000 casualties at the hands of the Indians. In response, President George Washington and Secretary of War Henry Knox formed the Legion of the United States, a special division of the United States Army to deal specifically with the northwest Indian threat.

 

Major General "Mad" Anthony Wayne, a Revolutionary War hero, was given command of the Legion, which began forming at Pittsburgh in the fall of 1792. In 1793, Wayne and the Legion began marching north from Fort Washington (Cincinnati), constructing a string of forts along the way to supply the troops.

 

The decisive battle finally came when the Legion met Chief Blue Jacket on the Maumee River in northwest Ohio near present day Toledo. The Indians chose to make a stand in an area that had recently been hit by a tornado. All the trees were fallen, hence the name of the battle, and provided natural roadblocks to Wayne’s advancing troops.

 

Wayne had twice as many troops as the Indians, 3,000 to 1,500, and the Legion was quickly able to overcome them. The fleeing Indians fled to the nearby British Fort Miami, but Major William Campbell would not open the fort to the Indians, not wishing to start a conflict with the Americans. As the Indians scattered, Wayne’s troops destroyed villages in the area and finally returned home.

 

The Battle of Fallen Timbers turned out to be the last major battle of the Northwest Indian War. The loss pushed the Indians to the negotiating table and most of present day Ohio was ceded to the Americans by the Treaty of Greenville on August 3, 1795.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org  

 

"Energy in the executive is a leading character in the definition of good government. It is essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks; it is not less essential to the steady administration of the laws; to the protection of property against those irregular and high-handed combinations which sometimes interrupt the ordinary course of justice; to the security of liberty against the enterprises and assaults of ambition, of faction, and of anarchy."
Alexander Hamilton (1788)

Major Henry Lee wins the Battle of Paulus Hook

Major Henry Lee wins the Battle of Paulus Hook

 

On this day in history, August 19, 1779, Major Henry Lee wins the Battle of Paulus Hook, New Jersey, during the American Revolution. Paulus Hook was a strategically located piece of land across the Hudson River from the tip of Manhattan Island. George Washington had realized the strategic importance of the ground and ordered a fort built there before the arrival of the British, but it was abandoned when the massive British force of over 40,000 soldiers took over the area in September of 1776.

 

In July, Brigadier General Anthony Wayne had captured Stony Point, a strategic prominence on the Hudson River below West Point, in a daring nighttime raid, capturing hundreds of British soldiers in the process. Major Henry "Lighthorse Harry" Lee, who had been involved in the reconnaissance at Stony Point, was inspired by the victory to propose a similar excursion to capture Paulus Hook.

 

George Washington turned down Lee’s proposal at first, but when Lee added boats for a quick escape, Washington changed his mind and authorized the mission. Lee gathered about 350 troops together at New Bridge, New Jersey on the evening of August 18th to march to Paulus Hook. The plan was to attack around midnight. Unbeknownst to Lee, Colonel Abraham Van Buskirk left Paulus Hook that same day with 130 Loyalists to track down patriot rebels in the area. Only around 250 soldiers were left to guard the fort.

 

During the trek, Lee’s guide led them rough terrain and his forces were separated. He lost track of about 200 Virginia soldiers and was forced to replan his attack. Paulus Hook was surrounded on two sides by water and by marshland on the rest. A single causeway crossed the marsh, which flooded with high tide. Once they arrived at the marsh, and already delayed by the guide’s route, it was nearly 3 am and the tide was rising. The soldiers were forced to wade in marshland in water up to their chests in some places, ruining their ammunition. When the time for the attack came, Lee ordered everyone to draw their bayonets instead.

 

When the attack began, the patriots quickly overtook the outer defenses of the fort, forcing some of the soldiers to retreat into a redoubt. Sleeping quarters were quickly surrounded and many were taken captive. Within half an hour, 159 prisoners were taken and 50 more British soldiers were killed or wounded, while only 5 patriots were killed or injured.

 

Unable to take a redoubt where several Hessian soldiers were barricaded and unable to break into its powder magazine, Lee ordered a retreat before reinforcements from New York City arrived. When they arrived at the designated location where the boats were supposed to pick them up, they found no one. The officer in charge had sent the boats back, thinking the mission had been called off due to the late hour. Instead, Lee was forced to march his men back to New Bridge, with British soldiers in pursuit. Eventually, he was reinforced by some of the Virginia soldiers he lost track of earlier and by another large force sent by General Stirling.

 

For his bravery at the Battle of Paulus Hook, Major Lee was commended by Congress and awarded a gold medal, the only such award given by Congress during the war to anyone with a rank lower than general. Later, Paulus Hook would be the last outpost in New Jersey to be abandoned by the British at the end of the war.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org  

 

"This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good disposition." Thomas Jefferson (1785)

Thomas Sumter is routed at the Battle of Fishing Creek

Thomas Sumter is routed at the Battle of Fishing Creek

 

On this day in history, August 18, 1780, Brigadier General Thomas Sumter is routed at the Battle of Fishing Creek. Sumter had been engaged in harassing British supply lines in early August while British Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis and American Major General Horatio Gates maneuvered their armies toward Camden, South Carolina.

 

When Gates was completely routed at Camden, he sent messengers to Sumter who was approximately 40 miles east, to rendezvous in Charlotte, North Carolina. Sumter turned his army around and started heading north up the Wateree River, but the going was slow because he was transporting dozens of captured British supply wagons, hundreds of horses and over 100 prisoners.

 

When General Cornwallis learned of Sumter’s movements, he immediately dispatched Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton with 350 soldiers to capture him. Sumter and Tarleton, who had burned Sumter’s house to the ground earlier in the summer, were archrivals.

 

While pursuing Sumter, Tarleton characteristically drove his men to the point of exhaustion and had to leave more than half of them behind when he arrived at Sumter’s still smoldering camp at Rocky Mount on the 17th. He took 160 of the most capable men, most on horseback, and continued the pursuit.

 

Sumter did not receive any intelligence regarding Tarleton’s location on the morning of the 18th and inexplicably called a halt so his men could rest, placing only two sentries in the direction he last knew Tarleton to be. When Tarleton’s band surprised the sentries they were both killed and unable to warn Sumter’s camp.

 

Tarleton came upon Sumter’s camp to the northwest of the confluence of Fishing Creek and the Catawba River, hence the name, the Battle of Fishing Creek, also sometimes called the Battle of Catawba River. It was around noon and most of Sumter’s men were sleeping or cooking. Some had gone off to a nearby plantation. Their guns lay in a huge pile in the middle of the camp. Sumter was napping underneath a wagon.

 

Tarleton ordered an immediate charge. His cavalry was into the middle of the camp and in control of all the weapons before the Americans hardly knew what was happening. Many were cut down as they stood up to defend themselves. The rest scattered and a brawl began. Over 300 Americans were captured and 150 were killed. All the British prisoners were released and the captured supply wagons and horses secured. Sumter escaped on a horse with no saddle and rode all the way to Charlotte where he arrived alone.

 

The rout at the Battle of Fishing Creek was one of the worst of the war. Sumter was able to get a measure of revenge on Tarleton, however, the following November, when he inflicted Tarleton’s first major defeat of the war at the Battle of Blackstock’s Farm, even though Sumter was severely wounded in the battle. Sumter, though he had his faults, would be one of the primary people responsible for recapturing the south from the British and forcing Cornwallis to his retreat and surrender at Yorktown the following year.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org  

 

"It is the duty of every good citizen to use all the opportunities which occur to him, for preserving documents relating to the history of our country."

Thomas Jefferson (1823)

Newport Jewish congregation addresses George Washington

Newport Jewish congregation addresses George Washington

 

On this day in history, August 17, 1790, the Newport Jewish congregation addresses George Washington. Washington traveled to all 13 states during his years as President, but he had deliberately skipped Rhode Island when he toured New England because Rhode Island had not yet adopted the US Constitution and, therefore, was not part of the United States. Once Rhode Island finally ratified in May of 1790, Washington immediately planned a trip to visit the state.

 

Newport, Rhode Island saw much destruction as a result of the Revolutionary War. When the town was occupied by the British, patriots were forced to flee their homes, which were then occupied and wrecked by British soldiers. Later, after the war was won, Loyalist citizens were forced to flee and leave their property. Newport never really recovered its glory days as one of North America’s leading cities of commerce.

 

The first Jewish congregation was founded in Newport in 1658, when 15 Spanish and Portuguese Jewish families arrived from the West Indies. Congregation Yeshuat Israel met in the homes of its members for over a century before building a synagogue in 1763. When Washington arrived in Newport on August 17, he was received by a large throng of people and addresses to him representing several groups were read in a public ceremony.

 

The warden (a sort of lay leader) of Congregation Yeshuat Israel, Moses Seixas, represented the Jewish congregation at the ceremony and read an address that praised Washington and gave God thanks for protecting him during the war. The letter expressed the congregation’s gratefulness for civil and religious liberties in the new United States, precious gifts that Jews in other nations did not enjoy.

 

Washington’s response to the congregation’s address has come down as one of the great expressions of religious liberty of the Founding Fathers. Washington wrote a reply a few days later in which he expressed thanks for the good wishes from the congregation. He expressed how the government of the United States gave everyone freedom of conscience, as long as they conducted themselves as good citizens. He then affirmed that the Jews had every right to dwell safely in the United States.

 

The Hebrew congregation’s original copy of the address was given to Washington and now resides in the Library of Congress. Washington’s original reply, written in the hand of his secretary Tobias Lear, resides in the B’nai B’rith headquarters in Washington DC.

 

Congregation Yeshuat Israel still meets in the same synagogue in Newport today. Touro Synagogue, as it is called, is the oldest still standing synagogue building in the United States. Every year, Seixas’ and Washington’s letters are read in a ceremony celebrating religious toleration at the synagogue.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org  

 

"It is the manners and spirit of a people, which preserve a republic in vigor. A degeneracy in these is a canker which soon eats to the heart of its laws and constitution."

Thomas Jefferson (1787)

The Battle of Camden

The Battle of Camden

 

On this day in history, August 16, 1780, the Battle of Camden is the worst American tactical loss of the Revolutionary War. In the battle, Major General Horatio Gates loses nearly 2,000 men to the British and has his commission taken away as a result.

 

Horatio Gates was the victor at the Battle of Saratoga, one of the pivotal battles of the American Revolution. Gates forced British General Richard Burgoyne to surrender his entire army at Saratoga, a victory that led France to join the Americans who proved they could take the fight to the British.

 

When the British took the battle to the south by capturing Savannah in December, 1778, and Charleston in January, 1780, the Continental Congress put Gates in command of the Southern branch of the Continental Army, hoping he could stem the growing British occupation, which, by May of 1780, had engulfed all of South Carolina and Georgia.

 

Gates arrived in North Carolina in July and began gathering a new army, more than half of whom were untried militia. Gates’ army marched into South Carolina through heavily Loyalist territory toward Camden. On August 16, an army of 2,100 British soldiers under Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis arrived at Camden to meet Gates’ 3,700 men.

 

Gates inexplicably placed his least trained men, 2,500 North Carolina militia, against the best trained British officers, while placing his best trained Continental soldiers against the weakest part of Cornwallis’ army. The armies faced off early in the morning and the British were the first to fire upon the green militia troops. When scores of their brothers fell all around them, the militia immediately scattered. General Gates, who had been waiting with the reserve troops in the rear, fled as well when he saw the militia run.

 

The Continental troops on the right flank put up a stiff fight and nearly broke the British lines, but they were eventually overpowered by the overwhelming British numbers and a cavalry charge. Johann de Kalb, a German born officer who was serving as a Major General in the Continental Army, received a mortal wound in the battle. In only one hour of fighting, the Americans lost 2,000 soldiers. Over 1,000 were captured and over 900 were killed or wounded. The British had only 69 killed with 245 wounded.

 

The Battle of Camden is typically viewed as the worst tactical loss to the Americans in the Revolution. Gates seemed to be overconfident from his victory at Saratoga. He was in heavily Loyalist territory far from adequate supply lines; his misplacement of troops on the front lines led to a rout; and he severely underestimated the strategic skills of General Cornwallis.

 

After the battle, General Gates ran for three straight days north into Virginia. For his role in the debacle, Congress stripped him of his command and began procedures to court-martial him. The Southern command was given over to General Nathanael Greene. Gates never received another field command during the war, but he was able to escape an actual court-martial after some of his defenders in Congress stood up for him. Fortunately, the very able Nathanael Greene was able to take the abysmal situation in the south and turn it around quickly. In less than a year, Greene was able to reconquer South Carolina and Georgia and trap General Cornwallis in Virginia, the victory that secured the end of the American Revolution.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org  

 

"It has been a source of great pain to me to have met with so many among [my] opponents who had not the liberality to distinguish between political and social opposition; who transferred at once to the person, the hatred they bore to his political opinions."

Thomas Jefferson (1808)