British troops sail up the East River

British troops sail up the East River

 

On this day in history, October 12, 1776, British troops sail up the East River east of Manhattan and land at Throgg's Neck. After successfully driving the Continental Army off Long Island in late August and occupying New York City in September of 1776, British General William Howe hoped to trap George Washington's army at Harlem Heights in the north of Manhattan.

 

On October 12, 90 flatboats sailed up the East River with more than 4,000 British soldiers. They landed at Throgg's Neck, a peninsula on Long Island Sound. The neighborhood in this part of the Bronx still bears the name Throg's Neck today. Howe's plan was to march across to Manhattan and trap the Continental Army between his troops and the other British troops at the southern end of Manhattan, with the Hudson River at Washington's back.

 

Washington's scouts observed the landing at Throgg's Neck and were ordered to destroy a bridge leading from the peninsula to the mainland. Once this was complete, Howe's troops were trapped on the island. It took them six days before they were able to reload on the flatboats and sail further up the coast.

 

After stalling the British on Throgg's Neck, Washington decided to evacuate his army to the north as quickly as possible. The army began marching north toward White Plains. On the 18th, the British troops landed at Pell's Point, 3 miles above Throgg's Neck. This time, the brigade of Colonel John Glover was waiting for them and delayed them by attacking from a stone wall. When the British advanced, Glover's troops retreated to another wall and fired on them again. This happened 3 times before the British finally stopped their advance and Glover's men got away.

 

The distraction at Pell's Point allowed the remaining part of the Continentals to get north and away from the possibility of being trapped against the Hudson. For ten days, the two armies maneuvered around each other and finally met on the battlefield at White Plains on the 28th, where 13,000 men on each side faced each other. The Battle of White Plains had roughly equal casualties on both sides, but Washington chose to retreat after losing the high ground at White Plains.

 

Pursued by Howe across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania, Washington was finally able to stop Howe by confiscating all the boats up and down the Delaware River, denying Howe a way across. The Continental Army sat in Pennsylvania and the British sat on the opposite side of the Delaware in New Jersey. Washington finally turned the tables with two surprise night time attacks on Trenton and Princeton, attacks which finally made the British realize the Americans were not going to be conquered as easily as they had thought.

 

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Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org   

 

"The truth is, that, even with the most secure tenure of office, during good behavior, the danger is not, that the judges will be too firm in resisting public opinion, and in defence of private rights or public liberties; but, that they will be ready to yield themselves to the passions, and politics, and prejudices of the day." 

Joseph Story (1833)

The Battle of Valcour Island begins

The Battle of Valcour Island begins

 

On this day in history, October 11, 1776, the Battle of Valcour Island begins. This was one of the first important naval engagements of the American Revolution, pitting American Brigadier General Benedict Arnold against British Captain Thomas Pringle.

 

The American campaign to capture Quebec in the fall of 1775 had gone disastrously. General Richard Montgomery was killed at the Battle of Quebec, while his second in command, Benedict Arnold, was seriously injured. Arnold continued a siege of Quebec City after the battle, but the Americans were eventually forced to withdraw. Arnold brought up the rear of the American forces, making a last stand at Fort St. Jean's, where he burned the fort and any ships he could not use, in order to deny the British from using them. Arnold then sailed down Lake Champlain to Fort Crown Point where the Americans were preparing for a British invasion.

 

Back at Fort St. Jean's, Canadian Governor and General Guy Carleton had no way of getting his troops further south since Arnold had destroyed all the ships. He was forced to build a fleet over the summer, many of which were made from pre-fabricated parts imported from Europe. Meanwhile, the Americans began enhancing their own fleet, bringing in hundreds of shipbuilders to Skenesboro since there weren't many shipbuilders in upper New York.

 

Benedict Arnold oversaw the construction of several ships that brought the entire fleet to 15. Arnold sailed north to reconnoiter British activities in September, coming close enough to St. Jean's to be fired upon. By the end of September, Arnold knew the British would be launching soon, so he headed south to Valcour Island, an ideal spot to engage the British.

 

The island had a narrow channel between itself and the mainland that would prevent the British from fully engaging the American fleet, which was significantly outnumbered and outgunned. On the morning of October 11th, the British passed Valcour Island, not realizing the fleet was hiding behind it. Two American ships came out, gave fight and lured the British ships back toward the rest of the fleet.

 

In fighting that lasted all day, most of the American ships were damaged and the gunboat Philadelphia sank. One American ship was beached on the island and boarded. During the night, Arnold managed to sail the fleet south in the dark and head for refuge. Captain Pringle was furious that his enemy had escaped and began a search. Over the next two days, the damaged fleet headed south, losing most of the remaining ships along the way. Some sunk, one was captured and several were scuttled to prevent the British from capturing them. Only 4 of the original 15 ships made it back to Crown Point.

 

Arnold's remaining soldiers made their way overland to Crown Point, where Arnold burned the fort down and retreated to Fort Ticonderoga. The British landed there on the 14th, but within a few weeks withdrew back to Canada because of the onset of winter.

 

Though the Battle of Valcour Island was lost, Arnold is usually credited with preventing a successful invasion from the north during 1776. The British troops knew that keeping supply lines open back to Quebec would be very difficult in the harsh New York winter, so they withdrew to try again the following year. When British General John Burgoyne brought the invasion the next year, it failed because the Americans had the entire winter and spring to gather masses of troops and supplies in preparation. When Burgoyne surrendered his army at Saratoga the next year, it was a major turning point in the war and the victory extended all the way back to the loss at the Battle of Valcour Island.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org   

 

"Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclination, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."

John Adams (1770)

General William Howe replaces Lt. General Thomas Gage

General William Howe replaces Lt. General Thomas Gage

 

On this day in history, October 10, 1775, General William Howe replaces Lt. General Thomas Gage as Commander-in-Chief of British forces in North America. Gage and Howe were the first two generals in charge of British forces during the American Revolution. A third, General Henry Clinton, would replace Howe in 1778.

 

Thomas Gage made a name for himself during the French and Indian War. He was part of General Edward Braddock's Expeditionary Force sent to drive the French out of the Ohio Valley in 1755. General Braddock was killed at the Battle of the Monongahela and Gage was injured. This battle also made George Washington famous for his organization of a successful retreat.

 

Gage went on to serve in several battles of the French and Indian War and eventually was made the military governor of the newly conquered Montreal, where Gage proved himself a smart administrator. He was soon appointed interim Commander-in-Chief of British forces in North America. When the previous commander decided not to return, Gage was given the position permanently.

 

The American rebellion rose during his tenure and Gage's understanding of the Americans led to many of the British policies that only made things worse. Gage sent troops to Boston in 1768 to enforce the Townshend Acts, resulting in the Boston Massacre in 1770. After the Boston Tea Party, Gage recommended the suspension of democratic town meetings in Massachusetts and the closure of its legislature. Gage was made military governor of Massachusetts in 1774. He confiscated military supplies at Somerville that fall which nearly ignited the war. The following April, Gage sent troops to confiscate the rebel munitions at Concord. The war began as colonists came out to defend themselves.

 

After the battles of Lexington and Concord in April 1775, more troops were sent to Boston, along with Generals William Howe, Henry Clinton and John Burgoyne. Boston was surrounded and the generals planned to break out of the city by attacking several points, including Bunker Hill on the nearby Charlestown Peninsula. When the rebels learned of the plan, they fortified the peninsula and fought the British for it on June 17. The British won the Battle of Bunker Hill, but lost 1,000 men in the process.

 

After receiving news of the horrible "victory," Lord Dartmouth, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, called for Gage's termination. General William Howe was named as Gage's replacement and the transfer of power took place on October 10, with Gage departing for England the next day.

 

General Howe did not fare much better than Gage against the Americans. After being driven from Boston when George Washington fortified Dorchester Heights with cannons from Fort Ticonderoga, Howe successfully invaded New York and defeated the Continental Army at the Battle of Long Island. Howe then drove Washington across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania. Washington successfully struck back though at the Christmastime battles of Trenton and Princeton.

 

In the fall of 1777, Howe captured Philadelphia, defeating the Continentals in two decisive battles at Brandywine and Germantown. The victory, however, was bittersweet. Howe had chosen to go to Philadelphia instead of helping General Burgoyne in New York. Burgoyne was forced into surrendering an army of 7,000 men at the Battle of Saratoga. Many scholars believe Howe hoped to receive the glory of conquering Philadelphia and was afraid that Burgoyne would upstage him if he won a battle in New York.

 

Knowing he would be blamed for Burgoyne's surrender, Howe sent a letter of resignation to London in October. He received notice in April, 1778, that General Clinton would replace him. Howe's soldiers threw him a grand festival called the "Mischianza" before he left because he was so well liked. General Clinton took over on May 24, the same day Howe sailed for England. Clinton would serve as Commander-in-Chief through the rest of the war, right up to the British defeat at the end.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org   

 

"Our unalterable resolution would be to be free. They have attempted to subdue us by force, but God be praised! in vain. Their arts may be more dangerous than their arms. Let us then renounce all treaty with them upon any score but that of total separation, and under God trust our cause to our swords." 

Samuel Adams (1776)

The Bombardment of Yorktown begins

The Bombardment of Yorktown begins

 

On this day in history, October 9, 1781, the bombardment of Yorktown begins, when American and French forces begin raining bombs down on the army of British General Charles Cornwallis in this small town on the Virginia coast. The bombardment of Yorktown would be the beginning of the end for Cornwallis’ army and for the entire American Revolution. Cornwallis was forced to surrender his 7,000 man army less than a week later.

 

George Washington and French General, the Comte de Rochambeau had marched south from New York over the summer to rendezvous with French Admiral, the Comte de Grasse, at Yorktown. The plan was to encircle Cornwallis in Yorktown with the French and American armies on land and Admiral de Grasse’s fleet on the sea.

 

After de Grasse drove off a small British fleet sent to bring aid to Cornwallis in early September, Cornwallis had no hope of reinforcements or escape. Washington led the combined allied forces of 17,000 men from Williamsburg on September 28 toward Yorktown. Over the next week, the allies moved closer and closer to the city, while Cornwallis strengthened his defenses. As Cornwallis’ position became more tenuous, he ordered the outermost defenses abandoned in order to consolidate his men, still holding out hope for another fleet of reinforcements from New York.

 

In the dark of night on October 6, the allies began digging a siege trench about a half mile from the British defenses. George Washington himself ceremoniously struck the ground with a pick axe to begin the digging. A 2,000 yard trench was dug extending all the way to the York River. The digging occurred on a moonless night. When the British awoke in the morning, they were astonished to see the trench. Over the next two days, thousands of trees were felled to reinforce the walls of the trench.

 

Dozens of cannons, howitzers and mortars began firing on the British positions during the afternoon of October 9, with George Washington firing the first American cannon. Many of the British positions were obliterated. British ships in the harbor were damaged. British soldiers hid in trenches and even set up their tents in the trenches for days as the fire continued to rain down. For almost a week the rain of fire did not stop.

 

On October 11, George Washington ordered the digging of a second trench, this one 400 yards closer to the town. The trench was largely finished the next day, but the end closest to the river was blocked by two British redoubts called Redoubt 9 and Redoubt 10. Both redoubts were overrun by the Americans and French on the 14th, removing the last defenses of the city. The next day, Cornwallis attempted to storm the allied positions, but this maneuver failed. The following day, he attempted to evacuate his troops across the river to escape, but this failed when a storm arose and scattered his ships.

 

After nearly a week of bombardment, Cornwallis met with his generals on October 17 and they decided to surrender. Negotiations took place for two days and on October 19th, the official surrender began. British troops marched out of the city to surrender and Cornwallis’ second in command surrendered Cornwallis’ sword to Washington’s second, General Benjamin Lincoln. General Cornwallis refused to attend the ceremony, feigning sickness. The surrender at Yorktown finally broke the back of the British will in Parliament and negotiations to end the war began in the spring.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Treasurer General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

"All men are created equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; among which are the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing the obtaining of happiness and safety."

George Mason

William Butler raids Onaquaga and Unadilla

William Butler raids Onaquaga and Unadilla

 

On this day in history, October 8, 1778, William Butler raids Onaquaga and Unadilla, two Iroquois villages used as a base of operations against patriots on New York’s frontier during the American Revolution. Onaquaga and Unadilla were ancient Indian villages, but were some of the most advanced Iroquois cities, complete with "good houses, Square logs, Shingles & stone Chimneys, good Floors, glass windows &c." The two towns had 700 residents between them and even had a grist mill and a saw mill.

 

Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant, who was educated in the colonies and had family ties to the British Superintendent of Indian Affairs, led allied Indian and Loyalist attacks on the frontier during the Revolution. One such attack on German Flatts (modern Herkimer), drew a request from New York’s Governor George Clinton asking George Washington for the use of Continental Army soldiers to retaliate. Washington agreed and Lt. Col. William Butler was given the task of retaliating.

 

 

In early October, Butler left Fort Schoharie with a mixed force of 267 Continental soldiers and militia. On October 6, the force arrived at Unadilla. Butler’s scouts came back with a prisoner who informed Butler that most of the residents had fled the town, with most going to Onaquaga. Butler sent part of his troops immediately toward Onaquaga, which they reached on the evening of October 8. The soldiers marched into the city, but, like Unadilla, found it abandoned. The residents of both towns had obviously caught wind of the impending attack.

 

Over the course of the next two days, Onaquaga was completely destroyed. More than 40 houses and the saw mill and grist mill were burned to the ground. Livestock was captured and tons of grain were destroyed. After leaving Onaquaga to return to Fort Schoharie, the troops stopped again at Unadilla on the 10th and destroyed it as well. Every building was razed… except for the home of the prisoner who had helped them.

 

Throughout the summer and fall, both sides executed a series of attacks against the villages and settlements of the other. The attacks on Onaquaga and Unadilla, however, outraged the Iroquois more than usual. These two towns were some of their most advanced cities and they were rightly proud of them. The response to their destruction came as a bloody attack on Cherry Valley, New York, in November, where 30 settlers and 14 soldiers were killed, including many women and children who were butchered.

 

The Cherry Valley Massacre, as it came to be called, brought down the full wrath of the Continental Congress, which authorized an expedition to wipe out the Iroquois presence in New York. The Sullivan Expedition was sent to complete this mission the following year. The expedition wiped out dozens of Iroquois villages and destroyed all their crops for the following winter, leading to mass starvation and a mass migration to Quebec where the Indians found solace with their British allies. Even to this day, Iroquois descendants live on reservations created for them when they migrated to Canada after their ancestral towns were destroyed during the Sullivan Expedition.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Treasurer General
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

The Battle of Kings Mountain

The Battle of Kings Mountain

 

On this day in history, October 7, 1780, the Battle of Kings Mountain turns the tide in the southern campaign of the American Revolution. The patriots in the south had suffered a string of devastating defeats with the fall of Savannah and Charleston, and the capture of two major Continental armies at Charleston and Camden.

 

After taking over most of Georgia and South Carolina, British General Charles Cornwallis marched into North Carolina and set up camp at Charlotte with the intention of taking over the rest of the colony. British Major Patrick Ferguson was placed in charge of traveling inland to raise an army of Loyalist citizens from the backcountry population. Ferguson issued an ultimatum that the rebels should lay down their arms or he would destroy their homes and villages. Patriots in the area, however, would have no such thing.

 

Patriot militia leaders such as James Johnston, John Sevier, Isaac Shelby and William Campbell gathered 1400 men together from Virginia and North Carolina and set off to attack Ferguson and his growing Loyalist army. By the end of September, Ferguson had gathered 1100 Loyalists and his army was growing every day. Ferguson began a retreat back to Cornwallis, however, when he learned of the large patriot army that was gathering against him.

 

Ferguson was in retreat and had requested reinforcements from General Cornwallis, but his intelligence on the patriots’ movements was very poor. On October 6, his army reached Kings Mountain, 9 miles south of present day Kings Mountain, North Carolina, just over the South Carolina border. In a classic display of underestimating the Americans, Ferguson set up no perimeter and no defenses. He had no idea the patriot militia was even anywhere near.

 

On the morning of October 7, the patriots rode the last several miles to Kings Mountain and attacked in the afternoon. The battle was a series of skirmishes where the patriots would run up the hills of the mountain and the British would charge down upon them with their bayonets. The militia would run back down the hill because they had no bayonets, then after the charge stopped, the militia would gather again and run back up the hill.

 

The patriots took the Loyalists completely by surprise. In only an hour of fighting, the Loyalists suffered heavy casualties. As they began to surrender, many militia members killed those who were surrendering in revenge for similar atrocities committed earlier at Waxhaws and other places. 290 British soldiers were killed and 163 were wounded. Another 668 were taken prisoners. The patriots had only 29 killed and 58 wounded – an astounding and morale boosting victory.

 

The Battle of Kings Mountain was an extremely pivotal battle of the American Revolution. The battle forced Cornwallis back to South Carolina for the winter. It discouraged Loyalists from joining the British and greatly encouraged the patriots in the south. The following spring, another series of pivotal battles sent the British running to the coast for reinforcements. Unfortunately for them, the place General Cornwallis chose was Yorktown, Virginia, where his entire army would surrender only a year later.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Treasurer General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

“Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined.”

Patrick Henry, Speech on the Federal Constitution, Virginia Ratifying Convention (5 June 1788)

 

The Battle of Forts Montgomery and Clinton

The Battle of Forts Montgomery and Clinton

 

On this day in history, October 6, 1777, the Battle of Forts Montgomery and Clinton are lost by the Americans. 1777 brought about a plan by the British government to split off New England from the rest of the colonies. General John Burgoyne was to march south from Quebec with a large army that would meet another large army at Albany commanded by General William Howe coming up from the south.

 

Burgoyne’s mission was successful at first, but eventually ran into trouble when its long supply lines became unsustainable and his Indian allies abandoned him. Burgoyne became stalled at Saratoga about 30 miles north of Albany, facing an army of 9,000 Americans just to the south.

 

When Burgoyne received word that General Howe had gone to capture Philadelphia instead of coming to Albany, he knew his army was in jeopardy. He wrote to General Henry Clinton, who had been left in charge of New York City in General Howe’s absence, and asked him to send immediate help. Clinton sent 3,000 soldiers up the Hudson on October 3, informing Burgoyne that he would begin an attack at Forts Montgomery and Clinton around the end of the month in hopes of drawing at least some of the Americans away from Burgoyne. By the time Burgoyne received the message, he knew the help would come too late.

 

Fort Montgomery sat on the north ridge of a gorge where the Popolopen Creek empties into the Hudson, while Fort Clinton sat on the south ridge. Both forts guarded a great chain stretched across the river to prevent British ships from sailing upriver

 

On October 6, Clinton landed 2100 soldiers at Stony Point and marched them north toward Fort Clinton. After they engaged a scouting party, the forts were alerted to the British presence. Clinton sent 900 men under Lt. Col. Mungo Campbell to march around the gorge to Fort Montgomery, while the rest waited with General John Vaughn for a simultaneous attack on Fort Clinton.

 

American General George Clinton, who was also the rebel governor of New York and a future vice-president, and his brother, General James Clinton, guarded the two forts with about 700 men, so they were outnumbered 3 to 1. George Clinton sent out men to guard Fort Montgomery from the west. They put up such a strong defense that Campbell’s men took all day to finally reach the fort. When they finally breached the fort, Campbell was killed and the British went on a vicious crusade, killing everyone they could. Governor Clinton and about half the defenders escaped. Meanwhile at Fort Clinton, the Americans put up an equally strong defense. Like Fort Montgomery, Fort Clinton eventually fell. James Clinton and many of his soldiers escaped down the cliff to the river.

 

The Americans lost 75 killed or wounded and 263 captured, while the British had 41 killed and 142 wounded. After the Battles of Fort Montgomery and Fort Clinton, the British broke the chain extending across the river and sailed north for further attacks. Eventually, however, this force was called back to New York in order to send aid to General Howe in Philadelphia. Both forts were burned by the British upon their retreat.

 

 

In spite of the tactical victory by the British, this mission was ultimately a massive failure because General Burgoyne received no help at Saratoga and was forced to surrender his entire army. This American victory encouraged France to join the war on the American side, ultimately sealing the fate of Great Britain’s hegemony in North America.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Treasurer General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

"Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice?"

George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796