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General Greene loses the Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill

General Greene loses the Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill


On this day in history, April 25, 1781, General Greene loses the Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill near Camden, South Carolina. This was a tactical loss for the Continental Army in the south, but part of an overall strategy that eventually forced the British to abandon the interior of South Carolina and Georgia.


General Nathanael Greene had taken over the decimated American forces in the south in December of 1780. After a string of victories early in 1781, Greene had forced British Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis to the coast of North Carolina to regroup and resupply. Greene hoped to draw Cornwallis back to the interior to engage him further, but when Cornwallis did not fall for the bait, Greene turned south to reclaim South Carolina.


The British had built a string of forts along the interior of South Carolina and Georgia to hold the back country. Greene broke his forces into several groups that attacked various of these posts in hopes of breaking off their communications and supply lines in order to force them to retreat to the coast.


Greene’s 1,500 men went to the city of Camden, which the British had held for almost a year. Greene knew he did not have the strength to breach the town’s defenses, so he hoped to draw them out of the town and into battle. His men encamped on a ridge known as Hobkirk’s Hill northwest of the town.


On April 25th, British Colonel Francis Rawdon marched out of Camden, just as Greene had hoped and began to march up the ridge. Rawdon’s men marched up the ridge in a narrow formation, allowing Greene to attack from the front and both sides and gain an early advantage that inflicted heavy casualties on the British. Soon after the fight began, however, several of the key American leaders were shot, causing their units to break apart and flee. Rawdon took this advantage and charged up the hill, causing Greene to withdraw in full retreat, even though he had a much larger force. The Americans lost 270 killed, captured, wounded or missing, while the British lost 261.


Rawdon left a small group of dragoons (soldiers on horseback) to hold Hobkirk’s Hill and took the rest of his men back to Camden. After regrouping, however, General Greene brought his men back and they drove the dragoons off and reoccupied the hill.


The Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill was a tactical loss for Greene. Rawdon, however, was virtually trapped in Camden with Greene to the north, General Thomas Sumter to the south, Col. Andrew Pickens to the west and General Francis Marion between Camden and Charleston. The British posts began to fall one by one and Rawdon knew he had to get out of Camden and back to the coast.


On May 9, exactly two weeks after the Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill, Rawdon left Camden, after destroying its public buildings and many private homes, and began the march back to Charleston. Greene’s strategy had worked brilliantly so far by freeing northeastern South Carolina from British rule. By the end of June, all of the interior of Georgia and the Carolinas would be back in American hands and the British would be confined to Charleston and Savannah on the coast.


Jack Manning

Treasurer General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution


“People crushed by laws, have no hope but to evade power. If the laws are their enemies, they will be enemies to the law; and those who have most to hope and nothing to lose will always be dangerous.”

Edmund Burke

Declaration of Independence signer Benjamin Harrison dies

Declaration of Independence signer Benjamin Harrison dies


On this day in history, April 24, 1791, Declaration of Independence signer Benjamin Harrison dies. Harrison was from a politically prominent family of planters from Charles City County, Virginia. His family dated back to the earliest English settlement of Virginia. He was related by blood or marriage to several  other Revolutionary War heroes, including Martha Washington, Thomas Nelson and Peyton Randolph, and was a business partner of Robert Morris, who was known as the "Financier of the Revolution."


Harrison attended William and Mary College, but never graduated. At the age of 19, his father and two sisters were killed in a freak lightning strike and Benjamin left school to take over his father’s business at Berkeley Plantation, which also included a ship building business and breeding horses.


Harrison was first elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1749 and he served there for the next 25 years. He was elected to the First Continental Congress when the Revolution broke out and shared rooms in Philadelphia with his friend, George Washington. Harrison’s jovial personality had a way of reducing tension and he was thus often chosen to serve as the "Chairman of the Whole" in Congress, meaning he would guide the debates about tough topics.


Harrison served in this position during debates about the Articles of Association, which was Congress’ boycott of British goods, during the debate about whether or not to declare a declaration of independence from Great Britain and during the discussions on the actual language of the Declaration of Independence itself. Harrison was one of Virginia’s seven signers of the Declaration.


Harrison served on several important committees in Congress and helped create the Board of War, the Navy and the Committee of Secret Correspondence. He also served simultaneously as a lieutenant in the militia of his home county and as a judge. In 1781, Harrison and his family were forced to flee when the traitor Benedict Arnold, now working for the British, invaded Virginia near Harrison’s Berkeley Plantation. Arnold pillaged Berkeley and burned many of the family’s valuables, including family portraits, the reason why no contemporary portrait of Harrison exists except for a small miniature carried by one of the family members.


After the war, Harrison continued in the Virginia Assembly and as governor from 1781 to 1784. He also served in the Virginia Constitutional Ratification Convention where he was a strong advocate for the inclusion of a Bill of Rights.


Perhaps Benjamin Harrison’s greatest legacy was his progeny. His son William Henry Harrison would famously defeat the Shawnee leader Tecumseh at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, become a general in the War of 1812 and be elected the 9th President of the United States. In addition, William Henry’s grandson and Benjamin Harrison’s great-grandson, also Benjamin Harrison, would be a Civil War Union general and would be elected the 23rd President of the United States.


Jack Manning

Treasurer General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution

"Without freedom of thought there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as public liberty, without freedom of speech."
Benjamin Franklin (1722)

John Paul Jones Attacks Whitehaven, England

John Paul Jones attacks Whitehaven, England


On this day in history, April 23, 1778, John Paul Jones attacks Whitehaven, England, the only attack of the American Revolution on the British homeland and the first successful invasion of England in more than 700 years.


John Paul Jones sailed from Brest, France on the USS Ranger on April 10, 1778, on a mission to harass British shipping. He first sailed to the Irish Sea and captured or sunk a few ships. Then he decided to make a bold attack on the city of Whitehaven, a major port he used to sail from as a boy (he was born in nearby Scotland).


On the evening of the 22nd, Jones sailed to Whitehaven with the intention of burning a gigantic fleet of over 400 merchant ships grounded in the harbor due to the low tide. The ships were stuck in low water and anchored very close together. A fire could easily be spread by the wind through the rigging of the ships and burn the entire fleet.


Jones put 30 men into two small boats and rowed toward the shore. Two forts guarded the entrance to the harbor. Jones' boat headed toward the southern fort, while the other ship headed to the northern fort. Each ship was supposed to capture its fort, then set the nearby ships ablaze.


Heavy winds caused the short journey to shore to last for hours. The sun was already coming up on the 23rd when Jones reached his fort. He quickly captured the small security force and began to spike the cannons to prevent them from being used against them on their retreat. He sent the others to burn the ships, but their only light had gone out and they were forced to get a light from a nearby house. The small force boarded the nearest ship, called the Thompson, captured its crew and set the ship on fire. The under parts of the ship were soon in flames and Jones' sailors threw "matches" made of canvas and sulphur onto other nearby ships.


Unfortunately, one of Jones' crew snuck off and warned the townspeople, who soon came running to put out the fire. Jones and his men escaped with several prisoners, but the townspeople were able to put out the fire on the Thompson before it spread to other ships. None of the "matches" thrown on the other ships successfully caught fire either.


When the other boat from the Ranger landed at the northern fort, the sailors went into a nearby pub and helped themselves to the liquor. By the time they came out, the sun was already shining and their light had also gone out. Rather than getting another light and trying to set the ships ablaze, they abandoned their mission and rowed back to the Ranger.


After both boats arrived back at the Ranger, Jones sailed to the opposite side of the small bay and landed at Kirkcudbright, Scotland where he hoped to kidnap the Earl of Selkirk. The Earl was gone, however, so he took the Earl's silver dishes right off the breakfast table of the Earl's wife, just to prove he was there.


The entire Whitehaven raid caused little damage to the British mainland in the end. It did, however, have a major impact on the British consciousness. Britons realized their island was not safe from attack and that their navy was not invincible. Great strides were made across England to strengthen harbor defenses and increase the size of local militia groups to deal with future attacks. John Paul Jones was celebrated in America after the attack, but excoriated as a villainous pirate in England. He would go on to perform other exploits in the war, including the taking of the HMS Serapis at the Battle of Flamborough Head, and be celebrated as one of America's greatest naval heroes.


Jack Manning

Treasurer General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution


"Every new regulation concerning commerce or revenue; or in any manner affecting the value of the different species of property, presents a new harvest to those who watch the change and can trace its consequences; a harvest reared not by themselves but by the toils and cares of the great body of their fellow citizens." 

James Madison (1788)

Nathan Hale decides to join the American Revolution

Nathan Hale decides to join the American Revolution


On this day in history, April 22, 1775, Nathan Hale decides to join the American Revolution. Hale was from a New England family that dated back to the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He grew up in a large farming household in Coventry, Connecticut.


At the age of 14, he went to Yale College in New Haven, where he studied to be a school teacher. He took his first teaching job upon graduating in 1774 in East Haddam, but the following year took a job in New London at the age of 19. Hale was well-liked and known for his conscientiousness and, being college-educated, was held in high regard by the community. Nathan was the first schoolmaster in Connecticut to make regular classes for female students.


Nathan received word that the Revolution had broken out in Massachusetts at the school on April 22, 1775. That evening, the local townspeople had a meeting where Nathan asked to be let out of his contract because he considered it his duty to fight for his country. Hale received a lieutenant's commission in Connecticut's 7th Regiment, which left for Boston in September. There they joined the brigade of General John Sullivan and Hale was soon promoted to Captain of the regiment.


Hale saw no military action in Boston and, when the British abandoned the city, he went with the Continental Army to Long Island to defend New York City. Hale's regiment did not see action here either when the British attacked and took the island, much to Hale's disappointment. After George Washington moved his army back to Manhattan, the General devised a plan to place a spy within the British ranks on Long Island to find out when and where they would move against Manhattan.


Nathan Hale volunteered for the mission, apparently because he felt that he hadn't done anything useful yet in the war. Hale was dropped off at Huntington, Long Island on September 12, 1776. Unbeknownst to him, the British would invade Manhattan and drive Washington out of New York on the 15th, making his mission unnecessary, but since Nathan didn't know it, he continued with his mission.


Nathan posed as a school teacher looking for work and gathered information on British troop movements and strength and eventually made his way back to Huntington where he was to be picked up. Accounts vary on how exactly Nathan was discovered by the British. Some accounts have a Tory relative, a local who recognized him or a British soldier who recognized him, giving him up. At some point, British Lieutenant Colonel Robert Rogers, knowing Hale was a spy, approached him at a tavern and pretended to be a patriot sympathetic to Hale's views. Hale told him his mission and Rogers captured him.


Hale was immediately sent to New York City and interrogated by General William Howe who, without trial or jury, sentenced him to death. On September 22nd, Hale was marched to a tree in an apple orchard in New York and given the opportunity to say some last words. History tells us Nathan's last words were, "I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country." For his bravery and love for his country, he earned a well-deserved spot in America's pantheon of heroes from the Revolutionary War.


Jack Manning

Treasurer General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution


"When right, I shall often be thought wrong by those whose positions will not command a view of the whole ground." —Thomas Jefferson (1805)

George Washington welcomed by the citizens of Trenton

George Washington welcomed by the citizens of Trenton


On this day in history, April 21, 1789, George Washington is welcomed by the citizens of Trenton, New Jersey at the Assunpink Creek Bridge as he travels to New York to be inaugurated president. The bridge was the site of Washington’s victory over the British known as the Second Battle of Trenton or the Battle of Assunpink Creek during the American Revolution.


After a devastating defeat and the loss of Long Island and Manhattan to the British in the fall of 1776, George Washington had led the Continental Army in retreat across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania. The Army entrenched on the western side of the Delaware River, but the British were unable to cross because Washington had commandeered all the boats on the eastern side of the river. British Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis was forced to set up a series of posts across New Jersey, while he waited for an opportunity to attack Washington.


Washington took the advantage and crossed the river in the middle of the night on December 25th and won a surprise victory against the British allied Hessians at Trenton. Washington retreated back across the river, anticipating a counterattack from Cornwallis. Hoping to continue the momentum from the victory at Trenton, Washington decided to cross the Delaware again and meet Cornwallis head on.


They met at the Assunpink Creek Bridge just south of Trenton on January 2, 1777. The Continental Army repelled Cornwallis’ attack 3 times at the bridge, forcing Cornwallis to withdraw and wait to attack again in the morning. Instead, Washington quietly withdrew his troops in the night and went to Princeton where he won another surprise victory. This series of surprise victories brought much needed encouragement to the Americans, whose hopes were waning after the losses in New York.


On April 14, 1789, Washington learned he was elected the first President of the United States. He left Mount Vernon two days later on his way to New York City for his inauguration. On the way, he traveled through such towns as Alexandria, Georgetown, Baltimore, Wilmington and Philadelphia. He was received with great celebrations in every city along the way.


On April 21, Washington arrived to a celebratory crowd at the Assunpink Creek Bridge where the citizens had erected a triumphal arch. Washington passed under the arch and into Trenton where church bells were ringing and girls dressed in white sang a song to "The Defender of the Mothers, The Protector of the Daughters." Washington then dined at the French Arms Tavern before continuing his journey.


On April 23rd, Washington arrived at Elizabethtown, New Jersey, where he got on a barge headed for New York. Several dignitaries rode with him and a flotilla of small ships accompanied the barge to New York. The Spanish warship Galveston sat in New York’s harbor and fired a 13 gun salute when Washington passed. The Battery Fort on Manhattan’s southern tip fired a 13 gun salute in response and another when Washington landed. Thousands of people had come to welcome him into the city. New York Governor George Clinton met him at the pier and escorted him to the home prepared for him. Washington would be inaugurated one week later on April 30.


Jack Manning

Treasurer General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution


"There is but one straight course, and that is to seek truth and pursue it steadily." George Washington (1795)

Tensions in Virginia Lead to the Gunpowder Incident

Tensions in Virginia lead to the Gunpowder Incident


On this day in history, April 20, 1775, tensions in Virginia lead to the Gunpowder Incident in Williamsburg, Virginia, when Governor John Murray confiscates the colonists' gunpowder. Tensions with England had been increasing for several years, but when Boston was occupied, her port shut down and the Massachusetts Assembly disbanded in 1774, the colonists rose up in one accord to resist Parliament.


In September, 1774, the First Continental Congress brought representatives from twelve colonies together to form a joint response, one of which was to recommend that all the colonies organize their militias and store up arms and ammunition in case of war. As the Congress met, Royal Governor of Massachusetts, General Thomas Gage, confiscated the colonials' supply of gunpowder in Charlestown, in an incident called the Powder Alarm, which brought militia from all over New England to march toward Boston. When it was learned there had been no bloodshed, however, the incident died down.


Virginians organized their military companies and stored up ammunition as well, much of it in the public powder magazine in the capital, Williamsburg. Meanwhile, Lord Dartmouth, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, suggested that the governors of all the colonies should take action to prevent these growing supplies from being used against royal officers.


The incident that pushed Governor Murray to action may have been Patrick Henry's "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" speech, delivered on March 23, 1775. All the soldiers in Virginia had been sent to Massachusetts after the Powder Alarm, but there were still several Royal Navy ships in the area. Governor Murray secretly brought 20 marines on shore on April 19 and ordered them to confiscate the gunpowder in Williamsburg the following night.


On the evening of April 20th, the marines began removing the gunpowder, but local citizens noticed and sounded the alarm. Peyton Randolph, the Speaker of the House of Burgesses and first President of the Continental Congress, had to persuade the gathering crowd not to burn the governor's mansion down. The local council demanded the return of the powder, explaining it was their property and not the property of the royal government. Murray said he took it because he didn't think it was safe where it was located because of rumors of a slave uprising. The crowd then began to disperse.


Word had spread into the rest of the colony, however, and militia groups gathered in numerous locations. Murray threatened to burn Williamsburg to the ground and release all the slaves in Virginia. On the 29th, a large force of 700 men at Fredericksburg was persuaded by Randolph not to march on Williamsburg. On May 2, about 150 men in Hanover County under Patrick Henry did march toward Williamsburg. Violence, however, was averted when Carter Braxton persuaded the government to pay £330 for the confiscated gunpowder.


The Gunpowder Incident happened the day after the Battles of Lexington and Concord began the American Revolution, but before word of these battles arrived in Virginia. This incident shows that the Revolution could have just as easily broke out in Virginia, or numerous other places in the colonies. The entire incident caused Governor Murray to fear for his safety and move onto a navy ship in the York River, effectively ending royal rule in Virginia. Efforts were made over the next year to reestablish royal governance in the colony, but Murray fled permanently in August the following year.


Jack Manning

Treasurer General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution


"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

The American Revolution Begins

The American Revolution begins


On this day in history, April 19, 1775, the American Revolution begins when the first shots are fired at the Battles of Lexington and Concord. British troops had been occupying Boston for several years by this time, but their presence was increased after the Boston Tea Party in early 1773. This only angered the colonists, who began stockpiling weapons and ammunition for the anticipated fight to come.


In Boston, British General Thomas Gage received orders from London in April, 1775 to capture the rebels' arms and the leaders of the rebellion – specifically John Hancock and Samuel Adams. The patriots had already learned the British would be embarking on a major action soon. Patriot leaders fled Boston for safety. The city of Concord was warned that its weapons stash might be the target of the coming raid.


On the evening of April 18th, Dr. Joseph Warren received word from his inside spy, thought to be General Gage's wife, that the soldiers would march out that night. Their target was indeed the ammunition and weapons in Concord. Paul Revere and William Dawes were sent out late that night to warn Lexington and Concord of the impending attack.


Around 9pm that night, the soldiers were awakened and told to assemble. 700 made their way across the Charles River. As they marched to Lexington, they became aware of warning signals in the distance and realized their “surprise” had been discovered. Around 4 am on the 19th, Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith sent word back to Boston that the militia was gathering and he needed reinforcements.


As the message from Paul Revere spread around the countryside, local militia groups gathered and marched toward Concord. The Lexington militia gathered early in the morning under Captain John Parker. Lexington was on the road to Concord and the army would have to pass through the town or march around it. When the British arrived around 5 am, about 80 men were arranged for battle, but Parker told them not to fire unless fired upon. The British marched right in to Lexington and formed a battle line. Both sides were under orders not to fire. To this day, no one knows who fired the first shot at the Battle of Lexington, but shooting soon rang out and eight Americans lie dead, while only one British soldier was injured.


The army marched on to Concord and split up to search the town. Unbeknownst to them, most of the ammunition had already been carried away. North of town, at the Olde North Bridge, a standoff developed between 95 British soldiers guarding the bridge and several hundred gathering militia. This time, a panicking British soldier fired the first shot. The overwhelmed soldiers began to run for their lives when the Americans began firing back. Several were killed or wounded on both sides at the Battle of Concord.


The fleeing soldiers joined their comrades in Concord, and began marching back to Lexington, followed by an ever growing number of Minutemen who continued firing on them. Just when these fleeing soldiers got to Lexington, they met the reinforcements of another 1,000 men under the command of Brigadier General Hugh Percy. Percy ordered the group back to Boston, but the march turned out to be a tortuous one.


By this time, a few thousand colonists had gathered and placed themselves at strategic points along the road back to Boston. The soldiers found themselves under constant fire for the next eight hours. Numerous soldiers were picked off during the march. Many thought their death was inevitable. By the time the British reached Menotomy (now Arlington) the officers had lost all control and soldiers began fleeing and committing acts of atrocity as the fighting spread from house to house. Several colonists were killed in their own homes or in taverns along the road. The fighting spread into Cambridge as the colonists continued the pursuit. Eventually the soldiers reached safety in Charlestown.


By morning, more than 15,000 colonists surrounded Boston. 73 British soldiers had been killed and 174 wounded the day before. 49 colonists were killed and 39 were wounded. The Continental Congress would soon appoint George Washington the Commander-in-Chief and the militia surrounding Boston would be transformed into the new Continental Army. The American Revolution had begun and would last another seven years.


Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution


"Stand your ground. Don't fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here."

Captain John Parker