Monthly Archives: August 2020

The Action of 9 August 1780 Takes Place

The Action of 9 August 1780 takes place

 

On this day in history, August 9, 1780, the Action of 9 August 1780 takes place during the American Revolution. It would be one of the largest naval captures of all time. Spain joined the American Revolution in 1779 as an ally of France and America against Great Britain. The entrance of France and Spain into the war was a great challenge to Britain, spreading her navy very thinly across the globe.

 

In the summer of 1780, Spain learned that a large British convoy would soon be leaving Portsmouth, England for the West Indies. Preparations were made to send 37 Spanish and French warships to intercept the convoy. 63 ships left Portsmouth by late July, including five East Indiamen, massive ships that made frequent voyages to the Far East and under the control of the East India Company, as well as over 50 West Indiamen, smaller ships that carried goods back and forth from the West Indies. The convoy was guarded by Captain John Moutray aboard the 74 gun HMS Ramillies and accompanied by two other war frigates.

            

The Spanish fleet, under Admiral Luis de Cordova y Cordova, left from Cadiz and finally spied the British on the evening of August 8th, 200 miles from Portugal. They used a trick to lure the British fleet right to them. During the night, lantern signals were given by the Santisima Trinidad, Admiral Cordova y Cordova's flagship, which the British ships mistakenly believed to be from their own commander. The fleet turned toward the signal and, in the morning, found themselves right in the middle of the Spanish fleet, which commenced an attack from all sides.

 

The Spanish fleet easily captured dozens of ships, one after the other. Many of the ships suffered significant damage as a result of cannon bombardment and numerous sailors were killed. When the five East Indiamen, the Godfrey, Gatton, Mountstuart, Royal George and Hillsborough, were captured, it represented the East India Company's largest financial loss in the company's history. In all, 55 ships were captured, one of the largest naval captures of all time. Only the three military escorts and five other ships managed to get away.

 

The loss to the British economy from the Action of 9 August 1780 was staggering. Not only were the ships and their cargos lost, but nearly 3,000 soldiers and sailors were taken captive. Tons and tons of military supplies were confiscated, including arms, artillery, ammunition and tents. The value of the lost cargo was around £1.5 million, an enormous amount of money. The financial loss to British merchants was so staggering, that numerous marine insurance underwriters in Europe went bankrupt. Prices for marine insurance skyrocketed and voices in Britain against the war spoke out all the louder. Captain Moutray suffered the punishment for the loss. He was court-martialed and lost command of his ship.

 

All of the captured ships were put into the Spanish navy. Admiral Cordova y Cordova would go on to capture 24 more ships during the war and would fight the Royal Navy to a standstill at the Battle of Cape Spartel after she brought supplies to the besieged British possession of Gibraltar. The Admiral would be celebrated for his role in the American Revolution, though he failed to stop the British from relieving the Great Siege of Gibraltar.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

President General

2019 – 2021

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

 

George Washington Creates the Badge of Military Merit

George Washington creates the Badge of Military Merit

 

On this day in history, August 7, 1782, George Washington creates what is now known as the Purple Heart award. It was originally known as the Badge of Military Merit.  Washington had long wanted an award for average soldiers who performed meritoriously in combat. From his headquarters at Newburgh, New York, Washington issued an order that read in part:

 

    "The General ever desirous to cherish virtuous ambition in his soldiers, as well as to foster and encourage every species of Military merit, directs that whenever any singularly meritorious action is performed, the author of it shall be permitted to wear on his facings over the left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth, or silk, edged with narrow lace or binding. Not only instances of unusual gallantry, but also of extraordinary fidelity and essential service in any way shall meet with a due reward."

 

The heart-shaped purple cloth medal was originally called the "Badge of Military Merit," and contained the word "Merit," surrounded by oak leaves. Those awarded the medal were to have their name recorded in a special book and were given the privilege of walking through any sentry or guard, just like officers could do. This was the first time a major military power awarded average soldiers for meritorious conduct in a time when awards usually went to the officers.

 

Historians have verified only three recipients of the Badge of Military Merit during the Revolution, though there are some others who may have received it. The reason for so few awards of the medal is unclear, but it probably had to do with the fact that the war was almost over when it was created. The medal was never officially discontinued, but fell out of use for over a century. The picture of the medal above belonged to one of the three verified recipients, Sergeant Elijah Churchill. It now belongs to the New Windsor Cantonment, a New York historical site which was the last encampment of the Continental Army during the American Revolution.

 

The use of the Badge of Military Merit faded after the Revolution, but in 1918, General John Pershing revived the idea of a badge of merit. General Charles Summerall, US Army Chief of Staff, pushed the idea of reviving the badge in 1927. In 1931, his successor, General Douglas MacArthur, pushed the idea further and the US War Department announced the creation of the "Order of the Purple Heart" on George Washington's 200th birthday, February 22, 1932. The awards could be given to anyone who met certain criteria back to April 5, 1917.

 

At first, the Purple Heart was awarded for meritorious conduct on the battlefield, just as the original Badge of Military Merit was, and was only awarded to members of the US Army. In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an order extending the Purple Heart to other branches of the US Armed Forces, and to those who had been killed in military service on or after December 7, 1941.

 

Also in 1942, the "Legion of Merit" was created, which is an award for meritorious conduct in battle. This made the Purple Heart award obsolete, so its requirements for award were changed. Today, the Purple Heart is awarded to anyone who is wounded or killed during military service in the US Armed Forces. It is the oldest existing US military award, with the exception of the "Fidelity Medallion," a one-time award given to three soldiers involved in the capture of Major John Andre, the British spy who helped facilitate Benedict Arnold's treason.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

President General

2019 – 2021

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

"Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it." 
Thomas Paine (1777)

New Yorkers Fight at the Battle of Oriskany

New Yorkers fight at the Battle of Oriskany

 

On this day in history, August 6, 1777, New Yorkers fight at the Battle of Oriskany, one of the bloodiest battles of the American Revolution. In the summer of 1777, British General John Burgoyne invaded New York from Canada. His first goal was to reach Albany, then to take control of the Hudson River valley, in order to separate New England from the rest of the colonies.

 

British Lieutenant Colonel Barry St. Leger commanded 800 British soldiers in western New York. He was ordered to march east to join Burgoyne’s campaign. St. Leger’s route was to march down the Mohawk River valley toward Albany, but he had to pass Fort Stanwix (or Fort Schuyler as the patriots called it) at present day Rome, on the way. St. Leger’s troops, along with 800 Indians laid siege to Fort Stanwix beginning on August 2.

            

Meanwhile, Brigadier General Nicholas Herkimer of the Tryon County militia learned of the siege and ordered the militia to gather at Fort Dayton, 28 miles east of Fort Stanwix. Herkimer marched with about 740 militia and 100 Oneida Indians who allied with the patriots.

 

On August 5, St. Leger received word that the militia was coming. He sent out 450 men, mostly Seneca and Mohawk Indians to stop them. Herkimer sent out scouts to Colonel Peter Gansevoort at the fort with a plan for Herkimer’s men to attack the British when Gansevoort signaled with 3 cannon shots. Gansevoort was then to make a sortie out of the fort as a distraction. Unfortunately, the scouts could not get through the British lines until after the battle began the next day.

General Herkimer directing the Battle of Oriskany by Frederick Coffay Yohn

 

On the morning of August 6th, Herkimer sat waiting for the cannon signal. When it didn’t come, his subordinates pressed him to attack anyway, even accusing him of being a Tory for not attacking. Herkimer finally ordered the attack, but as they marched through a deep ravine, they were ambushed from the sides by the Indians. The militia scattered and the Indians attacked with tomahawks. Hundreds were killed or wounded on both sides. General Herkimer was shot in the leg early on.

 

In the afternoon, a thunderstorm allowed Herkimer’s men to regroup on the edge of the ravine. Herkimer sat wounded under a tree, smoking a pipe and issuing orders. The scouts finally reached the fort and Colonel Gansevoort sent out a sortie that raided the Indian encampments, stealing their supplies. When word reached the Indians, they abandoned the attack on Herkimer, who gathered his men and retreated back to Fort Dayton.

 

The Battle of Oriskany was one of the bloodiest of the war. 385 patriots were killed, with another 50 wounded and 30 captured, more than half of Herkimer’s force. 15% of the British and Indian attackers were killed and injured as well. Nicholas Herkimer died from his wounds a few weeks later after an unsuccessful leg amputation.

 

The Battle of Oriskany marked the beginning of the Iroquois civil war between the Oneida and Tuscarora tribes, who were loyal to the patriots, and the other four tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy, the Mohawk, Seneca, Cayuga and Onondaga. The Siege of Fort Stanwix came to an end on August 22 when Benedict Arnold, who was still loyal to the Americans at this time, approached with a large army, forcing St. Leger back to the west.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

President General

2019 – 2021

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

“We must make our election between economy and Liberty, or profusion and servitude.” Thomas Jefferson (1816)

 

 

The Battle of Dogger Bank

The Battle of Dogger Bank

 

On this day in history, August 5, 1781, the Battle of Dogger Bank sees a major battle between British and Dutch ships during the American Revolution. Britain declared war on the Netherlands in December of 1780 for helping the Americans in their Revolution. The Dutch never formally aligned with America, but throughout the war, they had engaged in transporting French supplies to America, primarily through St. Eustatius, a Dutch possession in the West Indies.

 

The Netherlands was a small power whose status as a naval and mercantile superpower was already waning. After declaring war, Britain blockaded the Dutch coast to monitor and prevent naval and merchant ships from leaving port. The blockade wreaked havoc on the Dutch economy and merchants began crying out to the government to provide military escorts for merchant ships.

            

In early August, a large fleet of 70 merchant ships left the Texel, accompanied by 7 ships of the line, along with a number of smaller armed ships. The military escort was captained by Admiral Johan Zoutman, a long term and distinguished Dutch naval figure who would later have Fort Zoutman in Aruba named after him. This structure still stands and is the oldest Dutch structure on the island.

 

On August 5th, Zoutman’s fleet was spotted near the Dogger Bank in the North Sea by British Admiral, Sir Hyde Parker, as he escorted a British fleet from the Baltic Sea back to England. The Dogger Bank is a large area of shallow water off England’s coast that stretches 160 miles long and 60 miles wide. The water in this unique area is only about 50 feet to 120 feet deep, about 70 feet shallower than the rest of the North Sea.

 

Admiral Parker quickly sent the merchant fleet under his supervision on to England and gave pursuit to Zoutman’s fleet. Parker’s fleet was not in the best shape. The British navy was stretched very thin and all over the world at this point in the American Revolution. Many of Parker’s ships were worn out and in need of maintenance. Some were not even built as warships, but were commercial vessels pressed into military service. Most of the ships did not have their full inventory of cannon operational.

 

The battle began around 8 am on August 5 and continued for several hours with both sides taking severe damage. The Dutch merchant ships left the battle and returned to the Texel and around 11 o’clock, Admiral Parker began a retreat. There was no clear winner in the battle, with both sides suffering very high casualties, although the British were successful in turning back the Dutch merchant fleet. 104 British sailors were killed and 339 wounded. 142 Dutch sailors were killed, with 403 wounded, although some reports placed the Dutch casualties as high as 1100. One Dutch ship sank that night.

 

The Battle of Dogger Bank occurred only two months before the surrender of British General, Lord Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia. British Admiral Parker would go on to complain about his ill-equipped fleet. He would be appointed the naval commander of India in 1782, but would go down with his flagship, the Cato, on the voyage to the Far East.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

President General

2019 – 2021

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

“It was by one Union that we achieved our independence and liberties, and by it alone can they be maintained.”
James Monroe

Bird’s Expedition against Kentucky comes to an end

Bird’s Expedition against Kentucky comes to an end

 

On this day in history, August 4, 1780, Bird’s Expedition against Kentucky comes to a close. A series of British expeditions to capture the American frontier was launched in 1780. The goals included the capturing of St. Louis and New Orleans, Louisville and Vincennes. Most of these ventures failed, but the most successful was a campaign into Kentucky led by Captain Henry Bird from Fort Detroit.

 

Bird’s objective was to capture Fort Nelson at the falls of the Ohio River, the present day site of Louisville, Kentucky, which was then the main base of American general, George Rogers Clark. Bird left Detroit with 150 men in June and met with Indian allies to discuss plans for the upcoming raid.

           

Bird ran into trouble when the Indians were hesitant to attack Fort Nelson. General Clark, or the "Chief of the Big Knives," as the Indians called him, struck terror in the hearts of the Indians for his many raids and victories in the recent past. Instead of attacking Clark’s base, they insisted on attacking less significant posts in eastern Kentucky. Settlers were filling Kentucky and were protected by small posts or forts located every few miles. The Indians wished to attack these lightly guarded posts and capture prisoners and booty. The prisoners could be exchanged for money at Detroit, taken into slavery or adopted into the tribes.

 

Bird argued with the Indians for days, but finally was forced to give in to attacking the smaller outposts on the Licking River. A large force of a thousand men, mostly Indians, arrived at Ruddell’s Station early on June 24th. Ruddell’s Station was a stockaded log fort with about 20 families inside. Approximately 350 people lived in the vicinity. The fort was surprised and a gun battle began. When a British cannon shot a hole through the wall, the fort quickly surrendered.

 

Unfortunately, the Indians violated the peaceful surrender terms and rushed in, took prisoners and killed several people. The settlers were stripped naked and all their goods plundered. To Captain Bird’s horror, the Indians killed all the settlement’s cattle, which he intended to keep for food. On the 26th, Bird and the Indians approached the nearby Fort Martin. This fort quickly surrendered, but again, the Indians violated the prisoners, killing some and taking the rest prisoner.

 

Captain Bird was exasperated by this time. He had no food to feed hundreds of prisoners and the Indians could barely be controlled. They still refused to attack Fort Nelson and wanted to perform more raids on small settlements for booty and prisoners. In addition, it was rumored that General Clark was amassing a force to retaliate against Bird’s Expedition. Bird finally convinced the Indians to call the expedition off. During the march back to Detroit, some prisoners were killed if they straggled. All were nearly starving and they were forced to march quickly because General Clark was now coming in pursuit.

 

Bird finally reached Detroit on August 4, exhausted and nearly starved. Of the hundreds of prisoners that survived, some joined the British army, while others settled in Detroit. Some were forced into slavery or adopted into Indian tribes. All those who remained in British custody until the end of the war were finally returned to Kentucky when the war ended and the state of Virginia paid to help bring them back to Kentucky.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

President General

2019 – 2021

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

“A man has property in his opinions and the free communication of them.”
James Madison

Benedict Arnold given command of West Point

Benedict Arnold given command of West Point

 

On this day in history, August 3, 1780, Benedict Arnold is given command of West Point. Arnold was trained as a pharmacist and opened a pharmacy and bookstore in New Haven as a young man. He was involved in many mercantile ventures, including owning his own ships that made frequent voyages to the West Indies.

 

The British acts such as the Sugar Act and the Stamp Act greatly harmed Arnold’s business. He was soon in debt and involved in anti-British groups such as the Sons of Liberty. When the American Revolution broke out, Arnold was appointed a captain in the Connecticut militia. He went to the Siege of Boston and participated in the capture of the cannons at Fort Ticonderoga.

           

Arnold led 1100 men across the Maine wilderness to assist in the invasion of Canada, a journey which saw 300 deserters and several hundred succumb to illness. In Canada, Arnold led troops that laid siege to Quebec City, a battle in which his leg was severely injured. During the retreat from Canada, Arnold was placed in charge of Montreal for a time. He later built a fleet on Lake Champlain, which, though it was destroyed by the British, successfully delayed an invasion down the lake.

 

Arnold was turning out to be a brave and well-known soldier by this time, but he was also beginning to make enemies. He was headstrong and appeared to be too interested in financial gain. He often clashed with his superiors. The first of many accusations arose that led to a near court-martial.

 

After Canada, Arnold was given command of troops in Rhode Island and participated in the Battle of Ridgefield, Connecticut, where he was wounded again in the left leg. Arnold was deeply offended when others were promoted to general over him. Arnold was sent to New York in 1777 where he won acclaim for his role in the Battles of Saratoga, but where he also had a public feud with General Horatio Gates and disobeyed his orders. Arnold’s leg was severely injured yet again and he spent the winter at Valley Forge, after which he was given command of Philadelphia, which was recently evacuated by the British.

 

During his time in Philadelphia, Arnold became more and more intertwined with local Loyalists. He became involved in a series of business deals that earned him a court-martial for using his position for personal gain. Fuming from the convictions and still angry for being passed over for promotions, Arnold sent an offer to supply intelligence on American movements to the British. The agreement developed into a plan to surrender West Point, the most strategic place on the Hudson River, to the British for a large sum of money when Arnold was placed in command there on August 3, 1780.

 

The plan was discovered, but Arnold was able to escape to the British lines before being captured. He was made a brigadier general in the British army and soon led an invasion of Virginia, which destroyed Richmond and wreaked havoc through the state. Arnold later led an invasion of Connecticut which destroyed much of New London and captured Fort Griswold.

 

After Cornwallis’ surrender, Arnold sailed for England, where he lobbied for more attacks in America. After the war, and unable to serve in the army due to his injuries, Arnold tried unsuccessfully for years to get another government appointment. Arnold eventually established another shipping business in New Brunswick, Canada in the late 1780s, but he was forced to leave after several bad business deals. He died deeply in debt back in London in 1801. As you probably know, Arnold’s name became synonymous with "traitor" in the United States, a tragedy underscored by Arnold’s heroism and valor in the early days of the Revolution.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

President General

2019 – 2021

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

"The aim of every political constitution is, or ought to be, first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society."
James Madison (1788)

Pierre Charles L’Enfant is born

Pierre Charles L’Enfant is born

 

On this day in history, August 2, 1754, Pierre Charles L’Enfant is born. L’Enfant was a French born engineer and architect who came to America to fight in the American Revolution.  After the Revolution, L’Enfant established an engineering firm and is best known for designing the city of Washington DC.

 

Pierre L’Enfant’s father was an artist in the court of Louis XV and a teacher at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. L’Enfant studied art under his father, but also studied military engineering. In 1777, L’Enfant was recruited to fight in the American Revolution. This was a common way for young or disenfranchised European soldiers to boost their careers or find a job when they couldn’t find one at home.

           

L’Enfant became a military engineer in the Continental Army and served under fellow French Major General, the Marquis de Lafayette, who recruited L’Enfant to paint George Washington’s portrait when they were at Valley Forge. L’Enfant was injured in the Siege of Savannah and later served as Washington’s Captain of Engineers until the end of the war.

 

After the war, L’Enfant moved to New York City and established an engineering firm. He designed homes, public buildings and other items such as medals and furniture. One of L’Enfant’s most notable projects was redesigning Federal Hall for Congress in New York in the old City Hall building.

 

When the final location for Washington DC was determined, L’Enfant was given the plum assignment of designing the new federal city. L’Enfant envisioned a city with grand avenues, public parks and grandiose buildings. His original plans included a "President’s House" that was five times larger than the White House that was actually built. L’Enfant’s plans included a long avenue from the "Congress House" to the Potomac, which later became the National Mall. The plans called for streets in a grid pattern, intersected by wide avenues at diagonal angles named after the states.

 

L’Enfant’s basic plans were adopted, but he was eventually forced out of the position due to his unwillingness to bend or negotiate with the commissioners in charge of building the town. Commissioners made changes to L’Enfant’s original plans and largely left them behind. The disgrace of losing this position affected L’Enfant’s finances for the rest of his life. He did manage to work on several more public projects, including Fort Washington on the Potomac and the cities of Perrysburg, Ohio and Indianapolis, Indiana. He also taught engineering for a time at the United States Military Academy. In spite of this, L’Enfant died a poor man, leaving only about $45 worth of belongings when he passed away.

 

In 1901, the McMillan Commission was formed to revive Washington DC. The commission dug up the old L’Enfant designs for the city and used them as a basis to revamp the city’s parks and public spaces. The result was the creation of the National Mall, the reclaiming of land along the Potomac where the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials now stand and long term plans for future development based on L’Enfant’s original ideas, that now include the Smithsonian buildings along the mall and the congressional office buildings around the US Capitol. L’Enfant was reinterred in Arlington National Cemetery in 1909, overlooking the city he helped design.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

President General

2019 – 2021

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

"No power on earth has a right to take our property from us without our consent."
John Jay