Monthly Archives: March 2019

James Madison is born

James Madison is born

 

On this day in history, March 16, 1751, James Madison is born. He would become one of the most influential of the Founding Fathers, the 4th US President and most importantly, the "Father of the US Constitution."

 

James Madison was born in Port Conway, Virginia. He was well educated as a boy and attended the College of New Jersey (now Princeton), where he studied under college president John Witherspoon, who would become a signer of the Declaration of Independence. When the American Revolution broke out, Madison was elected a member of the Virginia legislature as a young man. During this time, he became good friends with and was deeply influenced by Thomas Jefferson.

 

During the last half of the Revolution, he served in the Confederation Congress, where he was known for his hard work and brilliant mind. He served again in the Virginia legislature after the war and became increasingly concerned with the federal government’s inability to function. During his time as ambassador to France, Jefferson sent Madison dozens of books, many dealing with government, which Madison studied, making him an expert in matters of law and government.

 

Madison was one of the lead voices proposing a new constitution and was elected to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. Arriving earlier that most delegates, Madison put together a plan for a new government, which became the basis of the Convention’s discussions. The final product was largely a revision of his original plan and, for this reason, he is known as the "Father of the US Constitution."

 

Madison served at the Virginia ratification convention. He also helped get the Constitution passed in New York by writing the Federalist Papers, which described the purpose and intent of each part of the Constitution, along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay.

 

Madison was elected to the First Congress from Virginia and helped establish the new government and pass the Bill of Rights, which he also authored. While serving in Congress, Madison married Dolly Payne Todd. He was 43 and 17 years older than she. They had no children of their own, but raised Dolly’s son from a previous marriage.

 

Madison served as Secretary of State under Thomas Jefferson and helped oversee the Louisiana Purchase. After Jefferson, Madison rose to the presidency and served two terms, during which war broke out with Great Britain. The War of 1812 happened as a result of trade conflicts due to Britain’s war with France, the impressment of American sailors by the British navy and British arming of American Indians in the Northwest Territory. During the war, Washington DC was occupied and much of it destroyed, including the White House. After the war, however, American sovereignty and independence was affirmed and Madison remained popular.

 

Madison retired to his plantation, Montpelier, in Virginia in 1817. During his years of government service, his finances had suffered and he was in financial distress for the rest of his life. After Madison passed away in 1836, Dolly was forced to sell Montpelier within a few years.

 

Madison’s role in the founding era is probably not as well-known as that of Washington, Franklin, Adams or Jefferson, but he was truly one of the most important shapers of the American republic that we know today.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

“If individuals be not influenced by moral principles; it is in vain to look for public virtue; it is, therefore, the duty of legislators to enforce, both by precept and example, the utility, as well as the necessity of a strict adherence to the rules of distributive justice.”

James Madison (1789)

The Battle of Guilford Courthouse is the beginning of the end

The Battle of Guilford Courthouse is the beginning of the end

 

On this day in history, March 15, 1781, the Battle of Guilford Courthouse is the beginning of the end of the Revolutionary War. American General Nathanael Greene met Major General Charles Cornwallis in the woods around the small town of Guilford, North Carolina. In the previous two years, the British army had secured much of Georgia and South Carolina and set their sights on North Carolina.

 

The Americans on the other hand, had suffered a string of defeats, losing the two southernmost states and an army of 4,000 men at the disastrous Battle of Camden in August, 1780. General Nathanael Greene was sent south to take over the southern Continental Army in place of disgraced General Horatio Gates. Greene’s natural skill and wisdom quickly turned things around in the south.

 

Following two significant American victories at the Battles of King’s Mountain and Cowpens, General Cornwallis was determined to destroy Greene’s army which was retreating through North Carolina. Greene escaped across the Dan River into Virginia and the two sides retrenched and resupplied for several weeks. General Greene had already been at the area surrounding Guilford, determined that it was an ideal place to face Cornwallis and hoped to entice him to battle there.

 

On March 14, Cornwallis learned that Greene’s army was near Guilford Courthouse and decided to strike. Greene had nearly 5,000 men, while Cornwallis had only 1,900, putting him at a severe disadvantage. More than half of Greene’s men were untrained Virginia militia, however, while all of Cornwallis’ men were battle-ready troops.

 

Cornwallis’ men first engaged Green’s around noon on the 15th. Greene’s men were arrayed in three lines several hundred feet apart, through mostly wooded terrain that was very difficult to get through. The British were able to cut through the first two lines, but with significant casualties. Many of the green American militia members fled at the first hint of danger. After a few hours of fighting, Greene finally ordered a retreat in order to prevent the loss of his army as had happened to General Gates at Camden.

 

Due to the American withdrawal, the British technically won the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, but at a huge cost. Cornwallis lost more than 25% of his force to death, injury or desertion, while the Americans lost only around 6%. Greene had preserved his army to fight another day, while Cornwallis was now forced to march back to the coast to recruit and resupply.

 

Camped at Wilmington and unable to recruit a large following of Loyalist supporters as he had hoped, Cornwallis finally decided to march north to Virginia to meet with another British army holding the Virginia coast under the direction of Major General William Phillips and the traitor, Benedict Arnold. It was at this time that the combined forces made their headquarters at Yorktown and were soon surrounded by the joint American and French forces of George Washington and the Comte de Rochambeau, leading to Cornwallis’ surrender and the end of major hostilities in the war.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

“We are soldiers who devote ourselves to arms not for the invasion of other countries, but for the defense of our own, not for the gratification of our private interests but for public security.”

Nathanael Greene

John Barry commissioned by the Continental Navy

John Barry commissioned by the Continental Navy

 

On this day in history, March 14, 1776, John Barry is commissioned by the Continental Navy. He would become known as the "Father of the American Navy." Barry was born in Wexford, Ireland. His family was driven from Wexford by the English and he learned a hatred of oppressing invaders when 3,000 Wexfordians were killed by an English army.

 

Barry began sailing as a boy with his uncle and settled in Philadelphia. He worked for several Philadelphia merchants, captaining their cargo ships to the West Indies. Just before the American Revolution broke out, Barry began working for the firm of Willing, Morris and Cadwalader, who assigned him to their 200 ton ship, the Black Prince. Barry sailed the Black Prince to London and on the return voyage set a record for the longest distance sailed in one day in the entire 18th century, traveling 237 miles in 24 hours. Upon arriving back in Philadelphia, Barry found out the war had begun. Congress apparently first employed Barry in October, 1775 and he assisted in the efforts to outfit and supply Congress’ first fleet of ships.

 

On March 14, 1776, Barry received a captain’s commission, signed by John Hancock, and was assigned the 14 gun USS Lexington. Barry sailed from Philadelphia on March 31 and engaged his first British ship on April 7, capturing the first ship by a Continental vessel in the war. On June 28, he helped defend a Pennsylvania ship carrying gunpowder and other supplies when it ran aground after being chased by British ships. Barry organized the removal of the supplies and the defense of the ship.

 

When there were only 100 barrels of powder left, he had the main sail taken down and wrapped around the gunpowder. When they abandoned the ship, he lit the end of the sail, draped over the side of the ship, on fire. By the time a British boarding party arrived, the flames reached the gunpowder and blew the ship sky high, killing several dozen British soldiers, in a blast that was heard for miles.

 

During the Revolution, John Barry captured at least 20 British vessels. He fought as a soldier at the Battles of Princeton and Trenton and during the occupation of Philadelphia. He was severely wounded in a fierce battle off Newfoundland, during which, after losing consciousness, he got up and rallied his crew until they captured the two British vessels that were attacking them. He fought the last naval battle of the war off Cape Canaveral, while delivering a shipload of Spanish coins to the Continental Congress.

 

After the Revolution, Barry got back into mercantile shipping and made several voyages to the Orient. When George Washington re-established the Navy in the 1790s, Barry was made Commodore of the United States Navy, receiving Commission Number One, dated June 4, 1794. He oversaw the building of the Continental Fleet and captured several French vessels during the Quasi-War. He finally retired on March 6, 1801 after bringing the USS United States back to Philadelphia from the West Indies. Barry trained numerous sailors who went on to be naval leaders of the War of 1812 and is often called the "Father of the American Navy." He passed away in 1803 at his home near Philadelphia.

 

*Note that some sources say Barry received his captain’s commission on December 7, 1775, when the Lexington was purchased by Congress. The Lexington was apparently not received until March, 1776, however and later sources indicate he received the captain’s commission at this time.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

“It had been happy for me if I could have lived a private life in peace and plenty, enjoying all the happiness that results from a well-tempered society founded on mutual esteem. But the injury done my country, and the chains of slavery forging for all posterity, calls me forth to defend our common rights, and repel the bold invaders of the sons of freedom.”

Nathanael Greene

The Battle of Fort Charlotte ends

The Battle of Fort Charlotte ends

 

On this day in history, March 13, 1780, the Battle of Fort Charlotte ends when Spanish Governor of Louisiana and General Bernardo de Galvez takes the city of Mobile, Alabama, which was then part of British West Florida. Mobile was originally a French settlement and Fort Charlotte was built in 1723 to guard the city. Britain gained control of West Florida in 1763 after the French and Indian War.

 

When Spain officially allied with the United States against Great Britain in 1779, Spanish Governor of Louisiana, Bernardo de Galvez, set about driving the British out of the Gulf Coast. He quickly took control of the southern Mississippi River and then set his sights on Mobile before attempting to take Pensacola, the capital of West Florida. He sailed from New Orleans in January of 1780 and arrived at Mobile Bay on February 13.

 

Captain Elias Durnford was in charge of the British garrison at Mobile with about 300 men. He had already been strengthening Fort Charlotte’s defenses after hearing of Galvez’s campaign in Louisiana. On the arrival of Galvez’s fleet, Durnford quickly sent word to Pensacola requesting reinforcements.

 

Durnford also burned down the entire town of Mobile, causing great distress to the inhabitants, in order to prevent the Spanish foes from using the houses and shops of Mobile for cover or as a base of operation. A large British force from Pensacola was sent overland to help, but they got bogged down in the swampy bayou. It soon became apparent that no reinforcements would arrive.

 

Meanwhile, Galvez built entrenchments around the fort and began a cannon siege on March 10. With no reinforcements, Captain Durnford knew his 300 men would not be able to stand long against Galvez, whose force was more than twice the size of his own. Within a few days, the walls of Fort Charlotte were breached. Captain Durnford surrendered the garrison on March 13, ending British rule in Mobile, forever.

 

Governor de Galvez renamed Fort Charlotte Fort Carlotta and began making plans to conquer Pensacola, the last British stronghold in West Florida. The British made an attempt to retake Mobile the following January when Galvez was gathering together his Pensacola invasion force in Havana, but this attempt was quickly repulsed. Pensacola fell to Galvez March 9, 1781 bringing British rule in West Florida to an end forever.

 

The foundations of Fort Charlotte were discovered in downtown Mobile and about one third of it was reconstructed in the 1970s. Today, the site goes by the name of Fort Conde, which was the French name for the fort, and houses the official welcome center for the city of Mobile.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

"We have heard of the impious doctrine in the old world, that the people were made for kings, not kings for the people. Is the same doctrine to be revived in the new, in another shape — that the solid happiness of the people is to be sacrificed to the views of political institutions of a different form?"

James Madison (1788)

British invasion fleet arrives off Cape Fear, North Carolina

British invasion fleet arrives off Cape Fear, North Carolina

 

On this day in history, March 12, 1776, a British invasion fleet arrives at Cape Fear, North Carolina, intending to capture the rebellious territory and march on to take Charleston, South Carolina, the largest port city in the south. British Major General Henry Clinton’s plans were thwarted though, when he learned that a local army of Loyalist supporters had been destroyed a few weeks before at Moore’s Creek Bridge.

 

Clinton sailed south from Boston in January with 1,200 men. He was to meet another fleet sailing from Ireland under the command of Sir Peter Parker. Parker’s fleet would carry 2,000 soldiers under the direction of Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis. In addition, North Carolina Governor Josiah Martin was raising a Loyalist army to join Clinton. The overall objective was to quickly subdue the rebellion in the south, with the help of what was believed to be large numbers of southern Loyalist supporters, and restore colonial rule in the southern colonies so the army could focus on the more rebellious north.

 

Clinton arrived off the coast of Cape Fear on March 12. He quickly realized his plan would not work when he learned of the defeat of Governor Martin’s Loyalist army at the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge. In addition, Parker’s fleet, which was supposed to have left Ireland in December, had not yet arrived. Clinton was forced to wait off the coast until the first of the fleet arrived on April 18. The rest of the fleet, which had been battered by a rough crossing and scattered, was not fully present until May 31.

 

Clinton met with the governors of North and South Carolina and Captain Parker. Due to the loss of the Loyalist army, they decided that disembarking in North Carolina at this time would be unwise. Instead, Parker suggested a direct assault from the sea on Charleston. His scouts had learned that the fort at the opening of Charleston’s harbor was only partially complete and he believed it would be easily taken, giving them complete control of the harbor.

 

When Clinton and Parker sailed from North Carolina, with Governor Martin on board, royal rule in North Carolina was essentially over. General Cornwallis would not make another attempt to re-establish British rule there until 1780 during the southern campaign, which ultimately failed as well.

 

When Clinton and Parker reached Charleston and attacked Fort Sullivan, Colonel William Moultrie successfully repelled the attack from the unfinished fort. The stunned and humiliated Clinton and Parker were forced to abandon their attempt to retake the south. Instead, they sailed north and joined General William Howe’s invasion of New York. The British would not return to the south until 1778, when they began a new southern campaign with the capture of Savannah in December of that year.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

"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

The Commander-in-Chief’s Guard is formed

The Commander-in-Chief’s Guard is formed

 

On this day in history, March 11, 1776, the Commander-in-Chief’s Guard is formed, a unit charged with the personal protection of the Commander-in-Chief’s personal household and the papers and money belonging to the Continental Army.

 

With the taking of Dorchester Heights on March 4, George Washington knew British General William Howe would be forced to abandon Boston. Consequently, Washington began making plans for the defense of New York City, which he believed would be the next most logical place of attack for the British army.

 

First, however, Washington decided to create an elite unit of soldiers responsible for protecting his own person and household, as well as the official papers of the army. On March 11, 1776, Washington sent an order to each regiment surrounding Boston, requesting that 4 soldiers be selected for the unit, which would meet for the first time the next day at noon. The letter requested that the men be selected based on their "sobriety, honesty, and good behavior," and that they be "from five feet, eight Inches high, to five feet, ten Inches; handsomely and well made."

 

The unit was officially called the Commander-in-Chief’s Guard, but was popularly known as Washington’s Life Guard. The Guard normally had around 180 men who guarded Washington’s headquarters, ordered and prepared his food, escorted his personal baggage and the papers of his office on journeys, delivered messages and looked after Washington’s personal staff.

 

When Washington arrived in New York City after the Siege of Boston had ended, an assassination plot against him was uncovered, which included several members of his own guard. Sergeant Thomas Hickey, one of Washington’s Guard, was born in Ireland and had deserted from the British army. He was the only conspirator hanged for his role in the affair and was the first soldier to be tried for treason. The following April, when the Guard was reformed due to expiring enlistments, Washington required that no foreigners be part of the team, required that all or most of them be loyal Virginians and forbade any British deserters from being part of the army.

 

During the winter at Valley Forge of 1777-78, Baron Friedrich von Steuben was tasked with training the Continental Army in European battle techniques. He chose the Commander-in-Chief’s Guard as his model for training the troops. Von Steuben trained the Guard with his techniques and they in turn trained the rest of the army, turning it into a formidable fighting force. To reduce the possibility of inter-colony rivalry, the Guard was augmented with soldiers from all the other colonies for the training.

 

Washington’s Life Guard was formally disbanded on November 15, 1783. Only 330 men served in the Guard for the entire duration of the war, so it was an extremely elite unit of which to be a part. Only two men, Major Caleb Gibbs and Captain William Colfax commanded the Guard during its entire eight year existence. Major Gibbs was a member of the famed Marblehead Regiment founded by General John Glover. William Colfax later became a general in the War of 1812.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

“No power was given to Congress to infringe on any one of the natural rights of the people.”

Theophilus Parsons,

Massachusetts Convention on the ratification of the Constitution, January 23, 1788

Last Naval Battle of the American Revolution

Last naval battle of the American Revolution

 

On this day in history, March 10, 1783, the last naval battle of the American Revolution is fought off Cape Canaveral, Florida, as Captains John Barry and John Green try to deliver a shipload of Spanish silver to the Continental Congress. John Barry, captain of the USS Alliance, arrived in Martinique from France in January, 1783. There he found orders from Robert Morris of the Continental Congress to sail to Havana, Cuba to pick up 72,000 Spanish silver dollars that were to be used to finance the Continental Army.

 

When Barry arrived in Havana, he discovered that Captain John Green, aboard the USS Duc de Lauzun, was already there with the same orders from Morris. The silver was already loaded on Green's ship so the captains decided to sail together in case they encountered any enemies along the way. The ships left Havana on March 6 and sailed part way with a Spanish and French fleet that was making its way to Jamaica.

 

On the 7th, the Americans left the fleet and headed north, but ran into two British ships, the HMS Alarm and the HMS Sybil. Barry and Green headed back toward the Spanish and French fleet and as soon as the British ships saw the fleet they sailed off. On the 8th, Barry and Green sailed to the north again and reached Florida, with Barry constantly slowing his ship because the Duc de Lauzun was much slower. On the 9th, the two agreed to transfer much of the money to the Alliance because the Duc de Lauzun's slow speed made it vulnerable to the British ships patrolling the area.

 

On the 10th, the Alarm, the Sybil and a third British ship, the Tobago, found the American ships off the coast of Cape Canaveral. As the British gave chase, as usual, the Duc de Lauzun dragged behind. Captain Barry pulled alongside Green and persuaded him to throw most of the ship's cannons overboard to lighten the load. A fourth ship of unknown origin appeared on the horizon, which caused the British ships to hold back, making Barry think it must be French or Spanish. Barry then maneuvered between the Duc de Lauzun and the Sybil, which began firing.

 

The Alliance took several direct hits, including one in the captain's quarters which killed one and wounded several others. Barry commanded his men not to fire, but sailed directly for the Sybil. When they were in extremely close rage, he ordered the men to fire and they unleashed a torrent of cannon fire on the Sybil. After a firefight of 40 minutes, the Sybil fell quiet and began to sail off. Nearly 40 had been killed on the ship and another 40 wounded.

 

The Alliance, the Duc de Lauzun and the ship from the horizon, which turned out to be the French ship Triton, chased the British ships, but lost them in the night. The rest of the silver was transferred to the faster Alliance and the ships headed north. The Duc de Lauzun was able to travel up the Delaware to Philadelphia on the 18th and the Alliance made it to Newport, Rhode Island on the 20th. Only a few days later, word arrived that the Treaty of Paris had been signed on February 3, bringing the Revolution to a close and making this engagement the last naval battle of the Revolution.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

"Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: First a right to life, secondly to liberty, and thirdly to property; together with the right to defend them in the best manner they can." 

Samuel Adams