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

Whiskey rebels gather to march on Pittsburgh

Whiskey rebels gather to march on Pittsburgh

 

On This Day in History, August 1, 1794, the Whiskey rebels gather to march on Pittsburgh at the height of the Whiskey Rebellion, a tax revolt that threatened to derail the early United States under the new US Constitution.

 

Farmers on the frontier often operated small distilleries to supplement their incomes. Their grain was often converted to whiskey for easy transport across the Appalachians. Whiskey was often used as a form of payment on the frontier as well. This caused the prices of common items to rise, which disproportionately affected the poor. The tax affected western distillers more than it did eastern distillers, who were often much larger and could afford to pay the tax.

           

Violence began to break out in 1791 when the government began establishing tax authorities in the frontier counties. Tax officials were tarred and feathered, had their homes vandalized and were threatened into resigning their positions at gunpoint. Those against the tax began to organize, form militia groups for resistance and even form their own "Congress."

 

Matters came to a head in July, 1794, When a US Marshall began delivering subpoenas to distillers in western Pennsylvania who had not paid their taxes. Rebel militia surrounded the home of General John Neville, the tax inspector for western Pennsylvania, believing the marshal was there. Hundreds of militia surrounded Neville’s home and a battle broke out with US Army officers at the home. The rebel leader was killed along with several others on each side. Neville’s house was burned to the ground.

 

Rebel leaders began to call for open rebellion at this point and a meeting convened on August 1 at Braddock’s Field east of Pennsylvania. The most ardent advocated a march on Pittsburgh, the center of the whiskey tax’s supporters, to loot and destroy the town. The residents of Pittsburgh calmed the crowd down by sending representatives to the gathering who agreed with the injustices being protested and offering to let the crowd march through the town peacefully, with free whiskey for all. This ameliorated the crowd’s fury and the following day thousands of protestors marched through the town peacefully, burning only the barns of Major Abraham Kirkpatrick, the leader of the US Army soldiers at Neville’s home.

 

The march on Pittsburgh brought down the full wrath of the US government. Most of President George Washington’s advisers believed the rebellion could only be put down by force. Washington ordered the militias of four states to gather and personally led 13,000 men toward western Pennsylvania. When they arrived, the rebellion quickly dissolved. Dozens of rebel leaders were rounded up, but few were ever prosecuted and only two were convicted. These were pardoned by Washington.

 

The response to the Whiskey Rebellion proved that the new federal government had the power and the will to put down internal rebellion. It also helped establish the authority of the federal government on the western frontier and the notion that freedom of assembly and petitioning the government for redress of grievances were part of legitimate protest. The Whiskey Rebellion was also a catalyst for the development of the Democrat-Republican party of Thomas Jefferson, which pitted those who wanted a less powerful central government against the Federalist Party of George Washington and John Adams.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

President General

2019 – 2021

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

“Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, an murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”
John Adams

 

 

 

Rachel Fletcher confirms the Betsy Ross Flag story

Rachel Fletcher confirms the Betsy Ross Flag story

 

On this day in history, July 31, 1871, Rachel Fletcher confirms the Betsy Ross Flag story. Rachel was the third daughter of Betsy Ross. Her affidavit is important to the question of whether or not Betsy Ross actually created the first American flag, an idea that some historians doubt.

 

Today, most Americans are taught that Betsy Ross created the first American flag. This was not the case, however, until after the 1870s. The Betsy Ross flag story was first told publicly by her grandson, William Canby, in a speech to the Historical Society of Philadelphia. Canby, who was only 11 years old when his grandmother died, told that he heard his grandmother say from her own mouth that she had created the first flag, along with other details of the event.

           

Canby told that a secret committee, consisting of George Ross, Robert Morris and George Washington, approached Betsy shortly before the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The men showed Betsy, a seamstress, a flag design and asked her if she could make it. Betsy said she would try and offered several suggestions to change their design, including the use of 5-pointed stars, instead of 6-pointed stars. George Washington then redrew the design himself, incorporating Betsy’s suggestions.

 

Betsy completed the flag and it was approved by Congress. Betsy then embarked on a lifelong career of flag making for the government. The Betsy Ross flag story was first told to a national audience in the July, 1873 issue of Harper’s New Monthly magazine. From there, it entered into American folklore.

 

The problem with Canby’s story is that there is absolutely no other evidence corroborating his story. Extensive searches have been made in the National Archives, the Pennsylvania Archives and Betsy’s own papers and no such evidence has been found. This makes the affidavit of Rachel Fletcher, signed on July 31, 1871, all the more important.

 

Rachel stated that she heard her mother tell the story of George Washington asking her to make the flag on numerous occasions. In addition to Rachel’s testimony, a niece and a granddaughter of Betsy’s signed written affidavits affirming the same.

 

There is circumstantial evidence indicating Betsy’s story may be true, such as the fact that she and George Washington sat next to one another at church, George Ross was her husband’s uncle and some paintings place the 13 star flag in battles that would corroborate her story.

 

Some historians claim that since the story cannot be proven with outside evidence, the story must not be true. A more accurate assessment would be that since the story cannot be proved with outside evidence, that it may not be true. On the other hand, it may be true, just unverifiable. We will most likely never know for certain if Betsy Ross created the first American flag, but one thing is for sure, she will remain a part of American folklore for many years to come.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

President General

2019 – 2021

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

“Liberty must at all hazards be supposed. We have a right to it, derived from our Maker. But if we had not, our fathers have earned and bought it for us, at the expense of their ease, their estates, their pleasure and their blood.”
John Adams