The Battle of Brandywine

British General William Howe and his brother, Admiral Richard Howe spent thirty-three days at sea from the day their armada embarked from Staten Island, New York on July 23, 1777. During that time, General George Washington, who had no reliable intelligence, desperately tried to anticipate where the Howes were going. The Hudson Highlands? To Albany to assist British General John Burgoyne’s army? To take the American’s supply depots in Pennsylvania?

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George Washington

Finally, he received intelligence that the British armada was sailing up the Chesapeake Bay. Howe’s exhausted army disembarked at Head of Elk, Maryland on August 25, 1777. The army rested, foraged, and scouted. On September 9, they began their slow march north and to the west of the Brandywine River in Pennsylvania.

Washington gathered his army at Chadd’s Ford on the steep thickly wooded east bank of the Brandywine to defend what he perceived as an attempt to take Philadelphia. Howe’s objective was just that. There were numerous fords at one mile intervals northward along the Brandywine: Brinton’s Ford, Wistar’s Ford, Jone’s Ford and Buffington’s Ford. These names were not thoroughly familiar to Washington and his generals. They had not taken the precaution of having at hand someone who knew the countryside.

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William Howe

By September 10, the British army was encamped at Kennett Square, six miles west of Chadd’s Ford and twenty-six miles from Philadelphia. Here Howe and his major generals Lord Charles Cornwallis and German Wilhelm von Knyphausen laid out their strategy and employed local scouts. Knyphausen would keep Washington’s army occupied in the center over Chadd’s Ford while Howe and Cornwallis marched north along the Great Valley Road to unguarded fords at the fork of the Brandywine and perform a right flanking maneuver on Washington’s army just as they had at the Battle of Long Island.

Washington formed his army into three wings. Nathanael Greene with his division and Anthony Wayne’s Pennsylvanians were in the center while John Sullivan’s division anchored the American right to guard Brinton’s Ford. Lord Alexander Stirling’s and Adam Stephen’s division formed a second line behind Sullivan’s men. Colonel Moses Hazen, guarding Jone’s Ford on Sullivan’s right, was ordered to scout to the north and west. Henry Knox set up an artillery park at Chadd’s Ford.

Washington and his staff settled in the Ring House and setup headquarters. Unless something completely unforeseen intervened, the stage was set for one of the largest battles of the American Revolution. Nearly 30,000 troops were within a few miles of one another and prepared for action.

September 11 dawned cool, gray, and dreary. In the pre-dawn hours William Howe’s army moved out. Knyphausen’s division left at the same time and marched directly eastward toward the Brandywine. British and Hessian brigades, Royal Artillery, dragoons, and two battalions of Highlanders rumbled toward Chadd’s Ford. About a mile beyond where Howe and Cornwallis filed off, Knyphausen’s van came upon Welch’s Tavern.

Washington sent General William Maxwell’s regiment across the Brandywine to harass the enemy’s vanguard. Maxwell opened fire on Major Patrick Ferguson’s rifles and Captain James Wemy’s Queen’s Rangers as they approached the tavern. The British van was brought to halt. British field guns began a cannonade. Knox’s gunners returned fire. For two hours the cannons kept up a deafening roar.

After having been ambushed three times, the troops marching at the head of Knyphausen’s column were more cautious. British General James Grant moved up with his Regiments of Foot. The Queen’s Rangers attacked the rebels with bayonets. Maxwell’s flank was turned by the Hessians. His left collapsed and retreated.

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Captain Patrick Ferguson had only 10 casualties. He credit the small number to his new rifle, a rifle that could be loaded lying on the ground by way of a screw plug that passed vertically through the barrel instead of having to stand to muzzle load the weapon. A well-trained rifleman could fire up to six times a minute. Maxwell, on the other hand lost close to fifty men.

The Battle of Brandywine had begun.

Near Wayne’s division, Colonel Thomas Proctor’s Pennsylvania artillery unit slid into place and lobbed balls across the creek at the enemy. While the artillery exchanged rounds Knyphausen did his best to convince Washington that he was opposing Howe’s entire army. To accomplish this, Knyphausen marched his units one way and then back again, using the hills and swales to show them or hide them as he saw fit.

On the east side of the river, Washington sorted through verbal reports in an effort to determine who Maxwell had spent the morning fighting. Did his light infantry harass and fall back in the face of Howe’s entire army? If not, then a large portion of Howe’s command was no longer in his front. Exactly what was happening? Around 9:30 a.m., Sullivan’s aide, Major Lewis Morris arrived at the Ring House with a message from Sullivan.

Maj. Jamison came to me at nine o’clock and said that he had come from the right of the army, and I might depend there was no enemy there.

Washington sent scouts north of Colonel Hazen’s position to reconnoiter. However, the first warning arrived shortly afterward around 10:00 a.m. from Colonel Hazen near  Buffington’s Ford.

The British are making a flanking movement. A strong British column is to the west headed toward the forks of the Brandywine near Trimble’s Ford.

By 11:00, the conflict had lulled and there was no movement from Knyphausen. Washington began to worry that they were facing a repeat of Long Island. Indeed, Howe and Cornwallis had reached Trimble’s Ford on the west branch of the Brandywine about five miles from where they began their march at Kennett Square. The British column picked up its pace and marched toward Jeffries’s Ford on the east branch of the Brandywine.

Washington ordered Stirling’s and Stephen’s divisions to shift north to protect the army’s right flank. Greene and Maxwell were to reinforce their position behind the morass near the river in preparation to assist Stephen and Stirling. At noon a report came in from Colonel James Ross.

A large body of the enemy from every account 5000, with 16 or 18 field pieces, marched along this road just now. This road leads to Trimble’s and Jeffrie’s ferries on the Brandywine. We are close on the enemy’s rear and skirmishing with some of their elements.

While Washington’s generals executed his orders, another message arrived from John Sullivan at 12:30.

Since I sent you the message by Major Lewis Morris, I saw Major Joseph Spears of the Militia who came this morning from a tavern called Martins in the Forks of the Brandywine—he came from thence to Welches Tavern and heard nothing of the enemy about the Forks of the Brandywine and is confident they are not in that Quarter. So Colonel Hazen’s information must be wrong. I have sent to that Quarter to know whether there is any foundation for the Report and shall give Yr. Excy the earliest information.

At 1:00 p.m., the vanguard of Cornwallis’ column arrived at Jeffries’s Ford. Just east of Jefferies’s Ford, the road to Birmingham intersected with the road coming from Jeffries’s Ford at right angles, cutting through a sharp defile. It was the perfect avenue to march troops behind. Hessian Captain Johann Ewald, leading Cornwallis’ van, filed his Hessians into the defile. Cornwallis followed. Ewald rode back to Cornwallis and said, “I do not understand why the pass has been left wide open for us where a hundred men could have held up either army the whole day. Washington should have defended this spot.”

At 2:00 p.m., a message arrived from Colonel Bland forwarded by Sullivan.

Colonel Bland has at this moment sent me word, that the enemy are in the rear of my right, about two miles, coming down. There, he says, about two brigades of them. He also saw a dust back in the country for above an hour.

While Washington was digesting Bland’s report, Cornwallis’ main flanking column was pressing through the defile and Sconneltown. The local Quakers watched as the British poured across the Brandywine. Young Quaker, Joseph Townsend wrote:

Our eyes were caught on a sudden by the appearance of the army coming out of the woods into the fields belonging to Emmor Jerfferis, on the west side of the creek above the fording placed. In a few minutes the fields were literally covered with them, and they were hastening towards us. Their arms and bayonets being raised shone as bright as silver, there being a clear sky and the day exceedingly warm.

Cornwallis divided his army into three columns before continuing the advance. Washington concluded that Stirling’s and Stephen’s division would not be sufficient to check the flanking column. He ordered Sullivan to pull his infantry out of line and shift his division north. After an hour of traversing difficult terrain consisting of hills, woods, thickets, marshy streams, and farm fields, Sullivan and his 1,400 men mostly from Maryland and Delaware were still trying to get into position. He finally rendezvoused with Stirling and Stephen on Birmingham Hill. Colonel Moses Hazen added his regiment to the forces.

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Cornwallis fanned part of his force out on Osborn’s Hill two miles north of Birmingham Hill. Now halted, the solders dropped where they stood. “The troops were both sultry and dusty and rather fatigued, many remaining along the road on that account,” Captain John Montresor wrote in his journal. Generals Howe and Cornwallis had a commanding view from their position on Osborn’s Hill including the distant views of the Americans’ changing front to meet their advance.

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Cornwallis ordered Ewald to form the advanced guard. It was 4:00 p.m. As Cornwallis’ front lines began to move, the Americans opened fire with solid cannon shot. Finally, the Americans switched to grapeshot and canister rounds. The Royal Artillery responded. Grapeshot ripped through the American ranks of both Stirling’s and Stephen’s divisions. Hot chunks of iron dismembered some, and crushed and killed others.

Sullivan was trying to get into a line of battle. He left his division under a French officer temporarily in charge of the Marylanders, to establish his overall command of Stirling’s and Stephen’s divisions and confer with them. The French officer, General Philippe de Borre, spoke no English and promptly led the Marylanders in circles. The sound of beating drums and fifes and boots thudding alerted them to the approach of the British Brigade of Guards. Instead of sliding to the right to align with Stirling’s left, de Borre attempted a complicated wheeling maneuver. A strong line of the enemy troops appeared directly in front of them and fired into their faces at pointblank range.

Twenty-six Marylanders were killed. The 1st Maryland Brigade was thrown into confusion. They poured down the southern slope of Birmingham Hill. With the 1st Maryland Brigade in full retreat, the 2nd Maryland Brigade assumed a retreat had been ordered. Colonel Samuel Smith’s Maryland men took to the cornfields. Except for Hazen, Sullivan’s division had been routed.

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British grenadiers suddenly appeared within forty paces of Stirling’s line and a hot volley ensued. Confusion erupted in both armies when heavy black powder smoke billowed along the lines. The grenadiers fired another volley and then ran at the rebels with fixed bayonets. The momentum of the advancing Light Infantry Battalion, together with the Grenadier Battalion, carried them up the slope and into General Thomas Conway’s Pennsylvania brigade of Stirling’s division.

Stirling’s men fell down the southern slope. They were unable to survive the rout of Sullivan’s division on the left, withstand the heavy firing in front, and repulse the grenadier’s’ bayonet charge. All of them were retreating into Sandy Hollow. Despite Stirling’s retreat, Stephen and his men tried desperately to defend their position on Birmingham Hill, but their left flank was exposed. General Lafayette and his men were trying to mount bayonets on the muskets of Stirling’s men when Lafayette took a ball in his leg.

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The Marquis de Lafayette Wounded

The thunder of cannon rolling to the north was the signal for Knyphausen to form his column to attack the sparsely manned American defense across the Brandywine which formed Washington’s center. Colonel Thomas Proctor’s gunners fired at the British as they waded across the river. From in front, Wayne’s divisional artillery fired at their right flank.

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Wilhelm von Knyphausen

While Knyphausen’s men lead by General James Grant were crossing the river, Greene, under orders from Washington, with his brigade of Virginians and generals George Weedon and John Muhlenberg were marching north to stop the advancing British and Hessian troops and protect the fleeing survivors of the Birmingham Hill rout.

Night was falling over Pennsylvania when Washington and his staff arrived at the Brinton House north east of Birmingham Hill as the remnants of Sullivan’s three divisional commands were fleeing in disorder southeast. Henry Knox mounted his artillery on a small hill. When Greene came to the rescue, Sullivan was making an attempt to realign his disordered troops. Greene’s division moved to both sides of Wilmington Road a mile south of Dilworth

At Chadd’s Ford, the British succeeded in crossing the river under fire from Colonel Thomas Proctor’s artillery redoubt. They attacked the American artillery redoubt and poured in. British howitzers killed many American gunners. The surviving gunners fled abandoning their pieces and ammunition. The Queen’s Rangers and the 71st Highlanders marched northward to attack the American artillery park at Brinton’s Ford. The gunners fled toward a nearby buckwheat field, where they were pinned against a fence line and bayoneted.

Wayne’s division positioned on the Great Post Road on a rise with General William Maxwell’s regiment on their right flank offered some long distance enfilade. However, Knyphausen’s advancing lines opened fire. As the last remnants of light hung in the sky, most of Wayne’s men were running for their lives under heavy fire. With Cornwallis’ Brigade of Guards bearing down on him from the north and Knyphausen’s troops pushing the in front Wayne ordered a retreat.

To the north, Greene’s formed division draped across Wilmington Road on a hill outside of Dilworth to face British General James Agnew’s 4th Brigade, British Battalion of Grenadiers and Regiments of Foot, which included Ewald’s surviving Hessian jaegers who had attached themselves to the grenadiers.

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Johann Ewald

Agnew and Ewald crossed Wilmington Road and marched up the slope in their front. The exhausted British and Hessians were surprised by Greene’s expansive front. On Greene’s right, Weedon’s men held their fire until Agnew’s flanking line was directly in front. They caught part of Agnew’s regiments in an open field. Agnew returned fire. Weedon’s men opened a sustained fire while Knox’s cannon crews did the same from the knoll near the Brinton House. The British officer corps was decimated in the firing. Both sides volleyed until dark. With ammunition almost spent, firing ceased on both sides. Greene and the others pulled back southeastward.

William Howe halted pursuit and the exhausted British and Hessian troops dropped where they stood. One of Howe’s Royal Engineers, Captain Archibald Robertson advised, “It being almost dark, unacquainted with the ground and the troops very much fatigued, it shall be impossible to pursue further the advantage we have gained.”

Washington’s army was in full retreat south toward Chester. The battle had scattered the army, flooding the roads and fields with exhausted troops from various commands whom stumbled on without the guidance of officers. The dead and wounded lay scattered across the countryside, British, German, and American alike, many of the survivors crying and begging for medical help, food and water.

The Battle of Brandywine had come to an end. Washington’s army was routed again because they could not hold the field.

Resources:

Pancake, John S. 1777 The University of Alabama Press, 1997. Print.

Auricchio, Laura. The Marquis Lafayette Reconsidered New York: Penguin Random House, 2014. Print.

O’Shaughnessy, Andrew Jackson. The Men Who Lost America New Haven & London Yale University Press, 2013. Print.

Puls, Mark. Henry Knox Visionary General of the American Revolution Palgrave McMillian New York, 2008. Print.

Harris, Michael C. Brandywine Savas Beatie LLC El Dorado Hills, California 2017. Print.

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Valiant Ambition Penguin Books New York, 2016. Print.

 

My award-winning historical fantasy book series:

Angels & Patriots Book One. Sons of Liberty, Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill is available on Amazon in paperback, Kindle eBook, or read for free on Kindle Unlimited. Angels & Patriots Book One

Angels & Patriots Book Two. The Cause of 1776 is available on Amazon in paperback, Kindle eBook, or read for free on Kindle Unlimited. Angels & Patriots Book Two

The Battle of White Plains

On October 19, 1776, after being delayed by a clash with Massachusetts Colonel John Glover and his men at Pelham Bay, British General William Howe and his army camped at New Rochelle, New York. Howe was waiting for supplies and 8,000 Hessian reinforcements under the command of General Wilhelm von Knyphausen.  The British intended to launch a maneuver that would encircle and defeat General George Washington’s army at Harlem Heights.

Washington was aware of the British advance. He sent General Charles Lee on a scouting mission north. Lee returned with the advice that the army move to White Plains because it was more defensible and contained a supply depot.

Rufus Putnam
Rufus Putnam

Colonel Rufus Putnam (General Israel Putnam’s cousin) was sent on a reconnaissance mission to discover the British position and determine how soon they might reach White Plains.

Putnam returned with disturbing intelligence of Howe’s proximity to White Plains. In response, Washington hasten the American army’s lugubrious retreat north along the west bank of the Bronx River. He dispatched Putnam with orders to Lord Alexander Stirling, whose troops were furthest north, to immediately march to White Plains.

The Continental Army arrived at White Plains ahead of Howe’s army. It provided time for Washington’s men to construct their defenses. Washington established his headquarters at the Elijah Miller House on October 23, and chose a defensive position that he fortified with two lines of entrenchments. The trenches were situated on raised terrain, protected on the right by the swampy ground near the Bronx River, with steeper hills further back as a place of retreat. The American defenses were 3 miles long. Beyond that, across the Bronx River on the right, was Chatterton’s Hill, which commanded the plain over which the British would have to advance.

Washington sent the Maryland and Delaware forces, as well as some Connecticut regimentals and some militia to Chatterton’s Hill to join an isolated outpost held by Colonel Alexander McDougall. There approximately 2,000 men began constructing fortifications.

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Chatterton’s Hill

During this time, General Howe’s army proceeded north to Mamaroneck where they paused for another four days to reconnoiter the roads and terrain around White Plains. On the morning of October 28, Howe ordered his entire force, 13,000 strong, forward to White Plains to attack the American lines. Howe took General Henry Clinton’s advice (which was a rare occurrence) and proceeded in several columns, with Clinton leading the one farthest right whose task would be to outflank the Americans while they fought the British on the left.

When Washington heard the British were advancing he said to his officers, “Gentlemen, you will repair to your respective posts and do the best you can.” His officers holding the lines included generals William Heath, John Sullivan, and Charles Lee. Then, Washington called for a detachment of 1,500 men under General Joseph Spencer to confront the British vanguard. Joseph Plumb Martin and Benjamin Tallmadge were among them.

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Benjamin Tallmadge

The detachment crossed the Bronx River and waited behind stone walls for the enemy. They became engaged with the Hessians pouring a destructive fire into the Hessian ranks until they found that they were about to be flanked. The Americans retreated across the river and ascended the hill.

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The British advanced and began firing field pieces across the river at the American lines.  the Americans returned fire. Smoke from artillery and shot filled the air.

Howe detached several thousand of his men and twelve pieces of artillery to attack Chatterton’s Hill. The British attack was organized with Hessian regiments leading the assault. Colonel Johann Rall was to charge the American right, while a Hessian battalion under Colonel Carl von Donop was to attack the center. When they reached the river, British grenadiers charged across and pressed on up the steep and heavily wooded hill. They became targets of their own artillery which had ignited the dry autumn leaves and branches. The Hessians followed charging through the burning fields. They held their cartridge boxes above their heads to keep them from exploding.

battle-white-plains The Americans fired canister and grape into the oncoming enemy. The Royal Artillery responded with solid shot. The Americans repelled the first wave of attack as they poured musket fire into the approaching enemy. Rall’s Hessians rallied and taking heavy casualties, fought up the southern side of the hill. Rall’s charge scattered the militia and they “fled in confusion,” Colonel John Haslet of the Delaware troops reported. This exposed the American right flank.

The British pelted the Marylanders and the Delaware Regiment with a “very heavy fire of their artillery and musquetry for about half an hour.” Reinforcements arrived, but the Marylanders and Delaware men were forced to withdraw. “The Americans overpowered by their numbers, were compelled to save themselves, as best they could,” recalled Marylander Captain Samuel Smith.

Washington ordered a fighting withdrawal with the 1st Delaware Regiment guarding the rear. The Continental Army continued their retreat to North Castle, New York. Both sides suffered significant casualties. The high  price (in casualties) the British army paid for the hill was enough to discourage further aggression on General Howe’s part.

Resources:

O’Donnell, Patrick K. Washington’s Immortals New York: Grove Press, 2016. Print.

Schecter, Barnet. The Battle For New York New York: Walker & Company, 2002. Print.

McCullough, David. 1776 New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. Print.

Heath, William. Edited by William Abbatt. Memoirs of Major General William Heath New York: William Abbatt, 1901. Print.

My award-winning historical fantasy book series:

Angels & Patriots Book One. Sons of Liberty, Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill is available on Amazon in paperback, Kindle eBook, or read for free on Kindle Unlimited. Angels & Patriots Book One

Angels & Patriots Book Two. The Cause of 1776 is available on Amazon in paperback, Kindle eBook, or read for free on Kindle Unlimited. Angels & Patriots Book Two

The Battle of Long Island

On the morning of August 22, 1776, the British frigates Phoenix, Rose, and Greyhound with their sails spread open in the hot sun weighed anchor off Staten Island in New York harbor and fell down The Narrows accompanied by two bomb ketches, the Carcass and the Thunder. British Generals Henry Clinton and Charles Cornwallis with an advance corps of 4,000 of the King’s elite troops pushed off in flatboats and proceeded across the three miles of water to the long beach at Gravesend Bay on the southwest tip of Long Island.

The warships pointed their cannon at the beach. By eight in the morning, the whole coast swarmed with boats. Then, a signal gun fired from British Admiral Richard Howe’s flagship, Phoenix.

The English and Scottish artillerists disembarked first. A battalion of Hessian grenadiers with muskets in hand disembarked in order of battle ranks. The Scottish dressed in kilts and wielding muskets, pistols, bayonets, and broadswords arrived. More troops followed, including women and children whose husbands and fathers were with the army. By noon, a fully equipped army of 15,000 men and forty pieces of artillery had landed and assembled in formation.

At Kennedy House in Manhattan, General George Washington initially received erroneous information about the number of the enemy force. He was told there were 6,000. In response, on August 25, he sent General Israel Putnam across the East River with six brigades to the American fortifications on Brooklyn Heights. Putnam was to assume command from General John Sullivan and reassign him to the center at Flatbush Road with 1,000 troops. General Alexander Stirling was responsible for the Gowanus Road on the right with the elite First Maryland Regiment, a Pennsylvania battalion, and Delaware regiments. Colonel Samuel Miles was to provide protection for the left  flank of the Continental Army at Bedford Road with 800 men.

They had failed to cover a fourth pass known as the Jamaica Pass, that lay three miles north of the American left flank on the Bedford Road. It was a blind spot in the American defenses patrolled by only five young militiamen.

The Continental Army had no cavalry and no spies, and the troops were unfamiliar of the lay of the land on Long Island. A force of fewer than 3,000 inexperienced American soldiers was expected to hold a ridge four miles long, while the rest, another 6,000 remained within the Brooklyn Heights forts: Greene, Putnam, Box, and Cobble Hill.

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The white tents of the British army, spread across the Flatlands, could be seen from the heights near Gowanus Road. The sight was alarming enough to cause some of the Americans to desert.

From his headquarters in the British encampment, General William Howe laid out plans to distract the rebels and keep them stationary while the main body of the British forces executed a sweeping flanking maneuver through Jamaica Pass. Howe assigned General James Grant two brigades which would cause a diversion close to The Narrows on the enemy’s right on the coast of the Upper Bay. Hessian General Leopold von Heister’s 4,000 Hessians would occupy the Americans’ center. General Charles Cornwallis was to back up Grant on the enemy’s right with grenadiers and the Scottish. General Henry Clinton was to command the advanced guard while Howe followed with the rest of the main force of 10,000 men.

On August 26 at 9:00 p.m, the British generals moved out to their assigned positions. No one except the commanders knew of the plan.

General James Grant led 5,000 redcoats toward the Red Lyon Inn on the coast of the Upper Bay near Gowanus Road where Pennsylvania riflemen were patrolling. The riflemen were relieved around two o’clock in the morning by green militiamen. Grant sent 300 men to attack the terrified men, who fled.

General Israel Putnam was alerted to this British movement. Alarm guns sounded and drums rolled as the men in the forts fell out in response to the alarm. Putnam believed it was the frontal assault and rushed to alert General Alexander Stirling whose troops were at Gowanus Road.

The men under Stirling’s overall command marched toward the enemy. A little before day light, they saw Grant’s regiments advancing along Gowanus Road with colors flying and field artillery out front. Before they could form lines, Grant’s artillery fired on Stirling’s vanguard in a thunderous profusion of smoke and shot.

Stirling shouted for his men to deploy. “Stretch out and form a V so we may have a chance to face these rascals in their own formations!”

The rebels volleyed and then fired on the British with two cannons. Grant pulled his troops back and switched to a steady artillery barrage.

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Mordecai Gist

Major Mordecai Gist, who was in command of the Marylanders, moved them to the right flank on top of a hill.  The Marylanders successfully withstood the British cannonade which was what Grant hoped. His diversion was working.

The Marylanders, believing that they were engaged with the enemy’s main assault, valiantly stood their ground without realizing that Grant sent a detachment eastward to link up with the Hessians and General von Heister in the center to surround them.

Colonel John Chester, of Connecticut, was entrenched with the Continentals at Bedford Pass with his adjutant Lieutenant Benjamin Tallmadge. Chester’s men could not maintain their ground at the pass and were forced to retreat to Brooklyn Heights.

William Howe and Henry Clinton’s flanking maneuver was unfolding as planned. They moved their 10,000 troops from the camp at Flatbush and advanced toward Jamaica Pass along the Jamaica Road. At 9:00 a.m., Howe fired two cannons, announcing his arrival in the village of Bedford north of Jamaica Pass.

General von Heister and three Hessian brigades, that formed a line nearly a mile long, approached the center of the American lines where General John Sullivan’s troops were positioned. Sullivan’s troops panicked when they saw the Hessians with colors flying and drums beating. Without firing a shot, the Hessians pressed forward until they could employ their bayonets. They broke through Sullivan’s line on the right and ruthlessly butchered the rebels.

Sullivan struggled to keep his men from panicking. He called for a retreat and led them from the center at Flatbush Pass in the direction of the Brooklyn Heights fortifications. The Hessians kept up their bayonet assault. Hundreds of rebel troops raced through the woods and fields to reach the forts. A detachment of British General Charles Cornwallis’ grenadiers chased them right up to the walls. Sullivan and some of his troops were taken prisoner.

Less than a mile west of Sullivan’s position and with the enemy converging on all sides, Gist and five companies of Marylanders pushed through their original bivouac area. Flanking fire pelted them from both sides until they came to a marsh and a stone farmhouse where Cornwallis’ forces were positioned at the Vechte farm.

To buy time for his troops to escape, Stirling took the Marylanders on a suicidal preemptive strike against Cornwallis’ position in and around the farmhouse and the orchards.

Cornwallis’ men aimed their muskets and light cannon on the advancing Marylanders. The fusillade dropped many of the men in their tracks, severing limbs and heads, killing several instantly. The Marylanders formed into lines and charged into the hail of fire coming from the British soldiers in the Vechte house.

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Then, the Hessians attacked the Marylanders. They linked up with Cornwallis’s Scottish Highlanders and assaulted the Marylanders from the rear, while Grant’s forces pushed in the front.

Major Mordecai Gist noticed a fateful pause. The Marylanders realized to their horror that they were flanked. They heard fire on their left, and in a short time discovered part of the enemy in their rear. Surrounded on all sides by at least 10,000 men, the Americans were driven with precipitation and confusion. Maryland’s finest lay dead and dying all around.

General Alexander Stirling found himself surrounded with no hope for escape. He surrendered his sword to the Hessian general von Heister.

The Hessians and Highlanders gave no quarter and dispatched the rebels with their bayonets, pinning some to trees, after they had surrounded them. The Maryland officers were the first to be killed or captured. Sixty men were taken prisoner. The rebels were cut off from the retreat by Cornwallis, and Gowanus Creek remained the only avenue of escape for any not crushed between the British and Hessian forces.

The waters of the bay were at high tide, making Gowanus Creek and the adjoining marshes nearly impassable. The men had to wade and swim through waist-and often neck-deep water, while trying to evade the British fire. Many suffocated in the mud or drown.

The Delaware regiment scattered. They were unable to defend themselves against the ruthless men pursing them. They fled through the woods carrying their torn regimental colors.

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Samuel Parsons

General Samuel Parsons’ men, who had been holding the hill on Stirling’s left flank before he retreated, turned to see that the line they were defending was gone. With Grant pressing them, they too tried to escape but found Cornwallis blocking the road. Unable to get to the creek, Parsons’ men dispersed into the woods under pursuit and most were killed.

All night, after the guns grew silent, the Americans inside the Brooklyn defenses, expecting the British to attack, waited tensely hour after hour as nothing happened.  Stragglers who had escaped capture kept coming into the lines, bedraggled single soldiers, many badly wounded. The morning after, Mordecai Gist and nine others Marylanders returned to the fortifications. They were the only ones of the valiant Marylanders to have made it back.

General William Howe’s army had crushed Washington’s forward defense, but Howe ordered his men to halt instead of storming the American fortifications on Brooklyn Heights.

George Washington and his staff left Kennedy House in Manhattan for Brooklyn Heights after receiving a message that General John Sullivan and General Alexander Stirling were taken prisoner. General Thomas Mifflin’s brigade of Pennsylvanians, and two regiments of mariners from Marblehead, Salem, and Danvers, Massachusetts under the command of Colonels John Glover and Israel Hutchinson arrived.

Then, a storm blew in from the northeast, preventing the British ships from sailing into the East River from the harbor.

On the evening of August 28, General Howe’s engineers began digging a system of trenches called approach by advances that would shield the army as it approached and besieged the American position. They worked all night with picks and shovels, and by the morning of August 29, the British had dug a 300-yard trench parallel to the American lines and a mere 600 yards away. At the rate they were digging, the British would have been within musket shot of the rebels in less than twenty-four hours, and it would have been nearly impossible to dislodge them from their advancing trench.

Joseph Reed and Thomas Mifflin convinced Washington to make a full scale retreat from Long Island. Mifflin requisitioned every boat fit for transporting troops. With the mariners manning the boats and under cover of fog, the Americans evacuated 9,500 soldiers in a single night with all of their baggage, tents, equipment, and horses.

Resources:

O’Donnell, Patrick K. Washington’s Immortals New York: Grove Press, 2016. Print.

Schecter, Barnet. The Battle For New York New York: Walker & Company, 2002. Print.

McCullough, David. 1776 New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. Print.

My award-winning historical fantasy book series:

Angels & Patriots Book One. Sons of Liberty, Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill is available on Amazon in paperback, Kindle eBook, or read for free on Kindle Unlimited. Angels & Patriots Book One

Angels & Patriots Book Two. The Cause of 1776 is available on Amazon in paperback, Kindle eBook, or read for free on Kindle Unlimited. Angels & Patriots Book Two

Evacuation Day: The End of the Siege of Boston

On March 5, 1776, as the sun rose over Boston, the British were shocked to see two American redoubts atop the hills of Dorchester—one facing east toward Castle Island and the other facing north toward Boston, with two smaller works on their flanks and heavy artillery staring down on the town.

Siege_of_Boston_1776

British General William Howe was said to have exclaimed, “My God, these fellows have done more work in one night than I could make my army do in three months!”

Howe had been confident that the rebels would never make a move on Boston, and had promised to sally forth if they did so. As a matter of pride, he would have to attack as he vowed. His council of war believed an attack would be a terrible mistake. Despite their objections, Howe ordered 3000 troops to embark down the harbor to Castle Island from where an assault on the Heights would be launched at nightfall.

Among General Howe’s council, Captain Archibald Robertson, Captain John Montresor, and Lord Hugh Percy contended that they “ought to immediately embark” Boston all together.  By nightfall, a storm that some judged to be a hurricane, raged. Howe was glad to accept this interruption as an excuse for not undertaking an attack that would have cost the lives of many of his regulars. The following morning, he called back the detachment and informed his war council of his intentions of evacuating Boston and going to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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General William Howe

After Howe made his announcement ordering the army and fleet to prepare to evacuate, Boston became a scene of utmost frenzy. Howe had received no orders or word of any kind from the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Germain, since October. He had no long-standing plan for a withdrawal of such magnitude, or any comparable past experience to draw upon.

It was not just the thousands of troops and military stores to transport. Howe intended to take every loyalist who chose to go. The necessary care of women and children, and the sick and wounded required every assistance that could be given. There were a sufficient number of ships at hand, but these all needed sailors and had to be supplied with provisions and water; which were scarce.

High winds continued to blow and churn the waters of Boston Harbor. The rebel guns (Henry Knox captured from Fort Ticonderoga) remained silent while they strengthened their position on Dorchester Heights.

On March 8, American selectman Deacon Timothy Newell and other intermediaries crossed through the lines at Boston Neck carrying a white flag, and delivered a message informing Washington that the city would not be burned to the ground if the British were allowed to leave unmolested.

The alarm and anxiety among the loyalists was extreme. “The Tories…carried death in their faces…some run distracted.” They had no idea where they were heading, nor did they know if there was room for all who wanted to go. Most of them had never lived anywhere else. They were disillusioned and disoriented. They saw themselves as the true American patriots; loyal to their King and to the rule of law. Britain had failed to protect them from what, in their opinion, had become mob rule.

These fourth and fifth generation Americans began boarding ships on March 10. Accommodations on the overcrowded ships were wretched. There were no berths in which to sleep. Families, some as large as seventeen members, were forced to sleep on the crowded floor like “pigs“. There was little food and water. All wondered, what miseries lay at sea?

In the next days, the ships began falling down the harbor with the tide as far as the Nantasket Roads, below Castle Island, to anchor out of range of the rebel cannon and to provide space for other vessels to tie up at the wharves. There the exiles sat on the rocking waves, day after day. Not until Sunday, March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, did the wind turn fair and favorable.

British Captain Archibald Robertson exuberated in his journal: “It was the finest day in the world.”

Image from the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society.
General Artemas Ward

Led by General Artemas Ward, on horseback, the Americans entered the town with drums beating and flags flying. By all rights, it should have been Washington leading the troops, but in a gracious gesture he gave the honor to Ward, his predecessor as commander of the Provincial Army.

American General William Heath wrote in his memoirs:

“In the morning [of the 17th] the British evacuated Boston; their rear guard with some marks of precipitation. A number of cannon were left spiked, and two large marine mortars, which they in vain attempted to burst. The garrison at Bunker’s Hill practised some deception to cover their retreat. They fixed some images, representing men, in the places of their centinels, with muskets placed on their shoulders, &c. Their immovable position led to the discovery of the deception, and a detachment of the Americans marched in and took possession.

The troops on the Roxbury side, moved over the Neck and took possession of Boston; as did others from Cambridge, in boats. On the Americans entering the town, the inhabitants discovered joy inexpressible. The town had been much injured in its buildings, and some individuals had been plundered. Some British stores were left. The British army went on board their transports below the Castle. A number of American adherents to them, and the British cause, went away with the army.”

More than twenty-five British brigs, schooners, sloops, and ships had been abandoned, some loaded with stores and all of them scuttled. The dragoons had left horses in the stables along with tons of hay. Broken carriages and chaises littered Long Wharf.

After entering Boston, Dr. John Warren, General Joseph Warren’s youngest brother noted:

“The houses, I found to be considerably abused inside, where they had been inhabited by the common soldiery but the external parts of the houses made a tolerable appearance. the streets were clean. . .The inhabitants, in general, appeared to rejoice at our success, but a considerable number of Tories have tarried in the town to throw themselves on the mercy of the people.”

But William Howe had no intention of leaving Boston without a parting demonstration. His fleet came to anchor at King’s Road, and with the arrival of his flagship, Chatham, every warship fired a roaring 21-gun salute. The full guns of Chatham answered in kind—a reminder of King George III’s royal might.

On March 19, the last of the British might in Boston Harbor blew up Castle William and burnt some of the barracks. There was a lazy attempt to cannonade Dorchester Neck. Then, on March 27, they headed for open sea.

1789_CastleWilliam_BostonHarbor_MassachusettsMagazine

George Washington was convinced that their destination was New York. Howe’s fleet disappeared over the horizon, bound not for New York, but Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The siege, which had begun on April 19, 1775, had been a success, and George Washington’s performance had been exceptional. He had indeed bested Howe and his regulars, despite the Continental Army’s insufficient arms, ammunition, shelter, illness, inexperience, lack of discipline, clothing and funds.

By purging itself of loyalists, Boston had reaffirmed its origins and was, once again, its own “city on a hill.”

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Lithograph: Boston From Dorchester Heights

Resources:

Flexner, James Thomas. Washington The Indispensable Man. 1974: Back Bay Books/Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY.

Memoirs of Major-General Heath. Containing Anecdotes, Details of Skirmishes, Battles, and other Military Events, During The American War. Written Br Himself. publithtrt accorying to 3ft of Congrefa. Printed at Boston, Bt I. THOMAS and E. T. ANDREWS, Faust’s Statue, No. 45, Newburt-Street. Sold by them; by I. Thomas, Worcefter; by Thomas, Andrew! Is” Pen- himam, Albany j by Thomas, Andrews (9* Butler, Baltimore; and by the Bookfellers throughout the Continent. MUG. I798.

McCullough, David. 1776. 2005: Simon & Schuster, New York, NY.

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Bunker Hill A City, A Siege, A Revolution. 2013Penguin Books, New York, NY.

Warren, M.D., Edward. The Life of John Warren, M.D. Surgeon-General During The War Of The Revolution; First Professor Of Anatomy And Surgery In Harvard College; President of the Massachusetts Medical Society, Etc. 1874: Noyles, Holmes, and Company, Boston

Lithograph. Title: Boston from Dorchester Heights Creator/Contributor: Coke, E. T. (Edward Thomas), 1807-1888 (artist) Date created: 1830 – 1839 (approximate) Provenance: Statement of responsibility: Drawn on stone by Punser from a sketch by E. T. Coke Location: Boston Public Library, Print Department

My award-winning historical fantasy book series:

Angels & Patriots Book One. Sons of Liberty, Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill is available on Amazon in paperback, Kindle eBook, or read for free on Kindle Unlimited. Angels & Patriots Book One

Angels & Patriots Book Two. The Cause of 1776 is available on Amazon in paperback, Kindle eBook, or read for free on Kindle Unlimited. Angels & Patriots Book Two

The Taking of Dorchester Heights

General George Washington, the newly appointed commander-in-chief of the fledgling Continental Army, arrived at army headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts on July 2, 1775. The amateur general desired to prove himself with an assault on besieged Boston that would end the war in one fell swoop. The Continental Congress and Washington’s war council refused to allow it. Without consent, and a lack of gunpowder, heavy weaponry, and congressional funding, offensive operations were virtually impossible.

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General Henry Knox

But he would have his artillery. By the end of January 1776, Colonel Henry Knox had returned to Cambridge with “a noble train of artillery”. The expedition to retrieve the guns from Fort Ticonderoga, at the southern tip of Lake Champlain, had been an astounding feat of fortitude.

In a meeting of his war council, on February 16, 1776, Washington argued for attacking Boston. “A stroke well aimed at this critical juncture might put a final end to the war.”

General Nathanael Greene was concerned that an assault on a town garrisoned with British regulars could have horrible consequences, “horrible if it succeeded, and still more horrible if it failed.”

“Our defeat may risk the entire loss of liberties of American forever,” General Horatio Gates stated.

General Artemas Ward, the commanding officer of the army prior to Washington’s arrival, maintained, “The attack must be made with a view of bringing on an engagement, or of driving the enemy out of Boston and either end will be answered much better by possessing Dorchester Heights.”

Image from the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society.
General Artemas Ward

Washington’s previous plan had been to attack across the frozen waters of Back Bay. Holding on to part of that plan, he proposed a backdoor amphibious assault launched from Cambridge. The Americans would cross Back Bay to Boston’s western shores. They could possibly take the city before the British troops had a chance to return from Dorchester Heights.

General William Heath pointed out that if the enemy did “make a sally” from Boston, British General William Howe would provide for defense of the town. Washington’s plan to expect his soldiers to cross a mile and a half of open water in the face of British artillery “was madness”.

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General William Heath

It was finally agreed to build fortifications on Dorchester Heights on a single night before the British knew what was happening, just as had been done at Bunker Hill. The operation would require the procurement, supply, and maintenance of equipment, as well as, movement of troops and hospitalization of the wounded. Those things would prove to be as challenging as the military engagement.

Freezing temperatures meant that building a redoubt atop the bare, rock-hard, wind-swept hills of Dorchester was going to be difficult. The solution came from an unexpected source—Lieutenant Colonel Rufus Putnam, a cousin of Israel Putnam. Rufus had worked beside a few British engineers during the French and Indian War. Washington asked him to devise a way to quickly build a fortification on the Heights.

Rufus borrowed a book from General William Heath titled Attack and Defense of Fortified Places by the British engineer John Muller. On page 4, he discovered an engineering term he had never heard before: chandelier.

A chandelier was a double-ended wooden scaffold that sat on the ground: when it was placed beside another chandelier, the open space between the two frames was filled with fascines; bundles of tree branches that when covered with dirt formed the basis of a cannon-proof bulwark. With dozens of precut chandeliers and fascines, the Americans could create the beginnings of a redoubt atop Dorchester Heights.

Chandeliers-and-fascines
Two chandeliers, stacked with fascines.

Putnam took his plan to construct chandeliers to colonels Richard Gridley and Henry Knox. In turn, the three went to see George Washington. The solution was a scheme whereby the fortifications would be fabricated elsewhere out of sight, then, with massed manpower and oxen, hauled, along with the heavy cannon, to Dorchester Heights, where all would have to be in place and ready for action before daylight on March 5; the sixth anniversary of the Boston Massacre.

As a diversion, a cannonade and bombardment would begin against the British works on Boston Neck and Bunker Hill from the American works on Cobble Hill and Lechmere’s Point in Cambridge and from Lamb’s Dam on the Roxbury side. This required the placement of some of the heavy cannons from Ticonderoga. The causeway from Roxbury to Dorchester would be lined with a long barrier of hay bales to block the enemy’s view of the Americans moving to the Heights.

Men were dispatched to round up wagons, carts, and 800 oxen. The army’s hospital in Cambridge was readied. Notices in the Boston Gazette, published out of Watertown, called for volunteer nurses. 2000 Massachusetts militia were called out.

Work details, in Roxbury, cut down trees to make chandeliers, barrels, abatis, fascines, and gabions. The barrels would be set in rows in front of the parapets to present the appearance of strengthening the works; but the real design was, in case the British made an attack, to roll them down the hill toward the approaching enemy. Carpenters in Cambridge built 45 flat-bottomed bateaux, each capable of carrying 80 men, along with two floating batteries.

For miles around, everyone was expecting something. Bets were wagered on what would happen and when. Abigail Adams wrote to her husband, John, in Philadelphia:

The preparations increase and something is daily expected, something terrible it will be. I have been in a continual state of anxiety and expectation . . . it has been said ‘tomorrow’ and ‘tomorrow’ for this past month, but when the dreadful tomorrow will be I know not.”

Washington’s fear that the American operation would be discovered was fueled when a Virginia rifleman deserted to the British. Generals William Heath and John Sullivan personally inspected the lines to ensure that the guards on duty were vigilant on the chance that British got wind of what was happening and moved first to occupy the Heights.

On the night of February 27, Colonel Henry Knox led a group of his artillerymen to install cannon and mortars on Lechmere Point. The cannonade began from there on the night of March 2. Cannons began lobbing shot and shells into Boston to divert the enemy and drown out the noise of the work parties. The British responded with a furious cannonade of their own.

Siege_of_Boston_1776

On the night of March 4, at 7:00 p.m. Henry Knox’s regiments began firing from Roxbury, Lechmere Point, and Cobble Hill at a ferocious rate. The roar of British guns answered.

British captain Charles Stuart described sheets of fire filling the sky, and that “the inhabitants [of Boston] were in a horrid situation, particularly the women…drove from their houses by shot, and, crying for protection.”

When the cannonading began, General John Thomas, with 2000 men, started across the Dorchester causeway, moving rapidly and silently, shielded from view by the long barrier of hay bales. An advanced guard of 800 men made up largely of riflemen, went first, to fan out along the Dorchester shores. A work party of 1,200 men followed the riflemen. Then came the hundreds of heavy wagons loaded with chandeliers, fascines, hay bales, barrels, and the guns from Ticonderoga. Progress up the steep smooth slopes was extremely difficult, yet some of the ox teams and wagons made several trips.

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At Cambridge, generals Nathanael Greene and John Sullivan readied 4000 troops for an amphibious assault in the event of a signal from the Roxbury meetinghouse.

The night proved to be perfect for the work operation to come. The weather was unseasonably mild. A low-lying haze prevented the British from seeing much of anything beyond Boston, and a full moon provided the Americans with the light they needed to see their way. On the Heights, the troops went to work with picks and shovels to arrange the chandeliers and fascines, and dig ditches and build breastworks. By 10:00 pm, the fortifications were sufficiently ready to defend against small arms and grapeshot.

A British lieutenant colonel, Sir John Campbell, reported to British General Francis Smith that the rebels were at work on Dorchester Heights. Smith chose to ignore it. From that point on, the work proceeded unnoticed.

General William Heath wrote, “Perhaps there never was so much work done in so short a space of time.”

At first light, the British were shocked to see two redoubts atop the hills of Dorchester—one facing east toward Castle Island and the other facing north toward Boston, with two smaller works on their flanks and heavy artillery staring down on the town.

WilliamHowe1777ColorMezzotint_(crop)
General William Howe

General William Howe was said to have exclaimed, “My God, these fellows have done more work in one night than I could make my army do in three months!”

Howe had been confident that the rebels would never make a move on Boston, and had promised to sally forth if they did so. As a matter of pride, he would have to attack as he vowed. His council of war believed an attack would be a terrible mistake however, despite their objections, Howe ordered 3000 troops to embark down the harbor to Castle Island from where an assault on the Heights would be launched at nightfall.

Among General Howe’s council, Captain Archibald Robertson, Captain John Montresor, and Lord Hugh Percy contended that they “ought to immediately embark” Boston altogether. By nightfall, a storm that some judged to be a hurricane, raged. Howe was glad to accept this interruption as an excuse for not undertaking an attack that would have cost the lives of many of his regulars. The following morning, he called back the detachment and informed his war council of his intentions of evacuating Boston and going to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

On March 17, 1776, General Howe and his army evacuated Boston ending the eleven month long siege. On March 19, the last of the British might in Boston harbor Blew up Castle William and burnt some of the barracks. There was a lazy attempt to cannonade Dorchester Neck. Then, on March 27, they headed for open sea.

Resources:

http://www.processhistory.org/gw-cambridge/

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/chandelier

Memoirs of Major-General Heath. Containing Anecdotes, Details of Skirmishes, Battles, and other Military Events, During The American War. Written Br Himself. publithtrt accorying to 3ft of Congrefa. Printed at Boston, Bt I. THOMAS and E. T. ANDREWS, Faust’s Statue, No. 45, Newburt-Street. Sold by them; by I. Thomas, Worcefter; by Thomas, Andrew! Is” Pen- himam, Albany j by Thomas, Andrews (9* Butler, Baltimore; and by the Bookfellers throughout the Continent. MUG. I798.

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Bunker Hill A City, A Siege, A Revolution. 2013Penguin Books, New York, NY.

McCullough, David. 1776. 2005: Simon & Schuster, New York, NY.

My award-winning historical fantasy book series:

Angels & Patriots Book One. Sons of Liberty, Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill is available on Amazon in paperback, Kindle eBook, or read for free on Kindle Unlimited. Angels & Patriots Book One

Angels & Patriots Book Two. The Cause of 1776 is available on Amazon in paperback, Kindle eBook, or read for free on Kindle Unlimited. Angels & Patriots Book Two