While many people today view their pets as close members of their family, even with human-like thoughts and feelings, this phenomenon was not as common in the eighteenth century. By 1775 at the start of the American Revolutionary War, dogs were well established and part of the culture, although they were not always welcome and ownership was restricted. Horses have been useful animals since the dawn of history, whether they’re used for a sport, work, or war. This attachment endured and directly contributed to the well-being, success and sometimes distress of many people whether they were American, British, French, or German.
Continental Army Major General Charles Lee, a native of England, fought for the British army in the French and Indian War. When the war was over, he returned home and became a soldier of fortune. When he moved to North America in 1773, the Patriots hailed him as a military expert. Lee was slovenly, used foul language, sarcasm, and insults, and criticized his superiors. On the other hand, he was a composed, brilliant and courageous leader in battle.
Charles Lee was often accompanied by at least one or two of his canine companions that only added to his eccentric perception for he proclaimed, “If you love me, you must love my dogs.” His favorite was Spado, which a guest at a dinner party described as “a native of Pomerania, which I should have taken for a bear had I seen him in the woods.” On another occasion in late 1775, Lee had Abigail Adams shake Spado’s paw. Comparing their trustworthiness with his fellow humans, Lee wrote to Abigail’s husband, John Adams, “Once I can be convinced that men are as worth objects as dogs, I shall transfer my benevolence.”
Lee’s dogs provided him with a sense of comfort. About a year later, Lee was captured in New Jersey. Either Spado wasn’t with the general or if he was, the British raiders didn’t bring Spado along. Lee wrote to George Washington from British-held New York asking that his dogs be brought to him as “I never stood in greater need of their Company than at present.”
Evidently Lee’s friends undertook to send Spado to the estate that the general had purchased in Virginia, but the dog was lost and an advertisement appeared Dunlap’s Maryland Gazette, published in Baltimore with a reward. Some of those Maryland newspapers made their way north because on March 9, 1777 Abigail Adams wrote to her husband, “I see by the news papers you sent me that Spado is lost. I mourn for him. If you know any thing of His Master pray Let me hear, what treatment he meets with, where he is confined &c.”
But evidently Spado was gone for good. When General Lee was finally released from captivity in the spring of 1778, his best companion was not there to greet him. He was never as cheerful afterward.
George Washington was an avid dog lover and fox hunter, Greyhounds, spaniels, terriers, newfoundlands, briards, and many toy breeds could be found in Washington’s extensive Mount Vernon kennel. Before and after the war, he visited his kennels daily and provided his pups with creative names, such as Madame Moose, Drunkard, Vulcan, Taster, Duchess, and Truelove.
Washington’s love for his four-legged friends carried over to the Revolutionary War. At the Battle of Germantown on October 4, 1777, fog blanketed the fighting troops, causing mass confusion and many accidental misfires. British General William Howe’s pet fox terrier, Lila, was one of the many lost in the confusion. Disoriented, Lila followed Washington and the Continental Army home from the battle. After Washington identified Howe as Lila’s owner from her collar he felt it was his duty to return her, opposed to keeping her as a trophy of war.
He delivered the dog back to Howe along with the following note, likely written by aide-de-camp, Alexander Hamilton, “General Washington’s compliments to General Howe. He does himself the pleasure to return him a dog, which accidentally fell into his hands, and by the inscription on the Collar appears to belong to General Howe.”
Baron Von Steuben of Prussia landed at Portsmouth, New Hampshire on December 1, 1777 with French aides and a large dog. Throughout the entire Revolutionary War, Steuben was accompanied by his beloved and much indulged Italian Greyhound, Azor. Even before Steuben’s party landed on American soil, Azor’s “discerning ear for music” put him in good stead with the crew of the ship which took them to New Hampshire. Azor howled pitifully every time the captain of the ship attempted to sing.
Steuben’s aide, Pierre-Étienne du Ponceau, wrote: “We travelled on horseback. I must not forget the Baron’s dog Azor, the only pedestrian among us. He was a beautiful Italian grey hound who had an excellent ear for music.”
Baron von Steuben was promoted to major general and inspector general of the Continental Army. He proved to be a godsend to the fledging American army encamped for the winter at Valley Forge. He had a few idiosyncrasies that endeared him to the American troops: He wore enormous pistols in his uniform sash; he cursed in a multitude of foreign languages, and he was constantly followed by Azor. Ultimately, Steuben went down in history for the bravery, discipline, and grit he brought to the American troops and a dog that was there to provide him companionship and comfort. I found no record of what happened to Azor, but the dog was still with Steuben as late as 1786.
The American Revolution’s armies got their horsepower from horses. These animals carried cavalrymen into battle, pulled cannons, carts and wagons of all description, hauled baggage on their backs, moved messengers swiftly over countless miles, and brought officers and gentlemen to wherever they needed to be. The rebel colonists used their own horses in the war, but the British and Hessians often had to take theirs since it was difficult to ship horses across the Atlantic from England. Taking horses was not unknown among the Patriots, especially cavalry units who wore out their horses and horse furniture quickly, however they were supposed to pay the owner or provide a promissory note for the animal.
Without the cavalry troops used in the American Revolution, the Americans would not have stood a chance against the massive British Army. These horses provided them with faster feet to travel farther in a shorter time.
The Continental mounted forces rendered valuable service during the latter stages of the war, specifically in the Southern Theater of the American Revolution. William Washington’s 3rd Continental Light Dragoons played an instrumental role in the in the battles of Cowpens and Guilford Court House. Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee’s Legion, as well as militia units led by generals Andrew Pickens, Thomas Sumter and Francis Marion, saw extensive action in American Major General Nathanael Greene’s operations in the southern colonies.
The hated and feared British cavalry officer, Colonel Banastre Tarleton often clashed with these legions and dragoon companies, one of the most famous being the Battle of Cowpens on January 17, 1781 when Tarleton and Washington dueled for a moment at the end of the battle.
The British Army sent two regiments of light dragoons to serve in North America during the Revolutionary War. The first to arrive was the 17th Light Dragoons, who landed in Boston in 1775, while the city was still under siege by the Continental Army. They remained in America for the next eight years, serving in nearly every major campaign up through the end of hostilities.
Nelson and Blueskin
During the American Revolution, Washington was gifted two horses, Nelson and Blueskin who returned with Washington to Mount Vernon after the war.
Blueskin was a half-Arabian blue roan – meaning that he had darker skin and lighter colored hair, so during the summer months when his hair was short, he looked bluish in color. When the weather turned colder and his coat thickened, he appeared to be white. Washington rode Blueskin in some battles during the war. However, Blueskin didn’t tolerate the sounds, smells and sights of battle as steadily as Washington would have liked. Many portraits of Washington depict him atop Blueskin, possibly due to the horse’s greyish-white color.
In fact Washington often rode his other favorite horse, Nelson, to battle instead. Washington did use Blueskin for ceremonial events, which may also have contributed to Blueskin getting more “portrait time” than Nelson. Nelson was said to have “carried the General almost always during the war.” Described as a “splendid charger,” the animal was chestnut, with white face and legs. Nelson was less skittish during cannon fire and the startling sounds of battle. Washington chose to ride Nelson on the day the British army under the direction of Lord Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia in 1781.
Nelson died at Mount Vernon “many years after the Revolution, at a very advanced age.” His death was reported to George Washington during the Christmas season of 1790, when the old horse would have been twenty-seven years old.
Britain was the name of the horse that Major General Nathanael Greene owned before the American Revolutionary War ignited on April 19, 1775. Nathanael often rode Britain into Boston and to visit friends and family in Rhode Island. The horse’s name could lead us to understand that before the first shots of the war were fired even men who became officers in the Continental Army still had a mental connection to the American Colonies’ mother country, Britain. There is no depiction of Britain so instead I present the equestrian statue of Nathanael Greene at Guildford Courthouse.
When General Benedict Arnold stormed Breymann’s Redoubt during the Battle of Bemis Heights near Saratoga, New York on October 7, 1777, he was riding a horse that he borrowed from a friend. “On he rushed through deepening twilight on a horse named for the dead hero [Joseph Warren] who had given him the commission with which his military career had begun.”  Arnold was shot in the thigh. The horse was shot in the heart and fell on Arnold pinning him beneath it, but it was this heroic action that won the pivotal battle that brought on an American alliance with France that aided in the Siege of Yorktown and the final British surrender in October 1781.
Paul Revere’s Horse
On the night of April 18, 1775, Dr. Joseph Warren sent Paul Revere and William Dawes to alert the countryside from Boston to Concord that the British regulars were out of Boston and on the march.
What was the name of the horse Revere rode? There is no evidence that Revere owned a horse at the time he made his famous ride. He likely owned a horse or he certainly had ready access to horses at some point in order to become the experienced rider that he was. If he had owned a horse in April 1775, it is unlikely he would have tried to bring it with him when he was rowed across the Charles River to Charlestown.
Revere left several accounts of his “Midnight Ride,” and although he states that he borrowed the horse from John Larkin, neither he nor anyone else takes much notice of the horse, or refers to it by name. Revere calls it simply “a very good horse.” In the years since 1775 many names have been attached to the animal, the most exotic probably being Scheherazade. The only name for which there is any evidence, however, is Brown Beauty. The following excerpt is taken from a genealogy of the Larkin family, published in 1930.
Samuel (Larkin) … born Oct. 22, 1701; died Oct. 8, 1784, aged 83; he was a chairmaker, then a fisherman and had horses and a stable. He was the owner of “Brown Beauty,” the mare of Paul Revere’s Ride made famous by the Longfellow poem. The mare was loaned at the request of Samuel’s son, deacon John Larkin, and was never returned to Larkin.
After the Battle of Monmouth on June 28, 1778, the American Revolutionary War lulled in the north where British General Sir Henry Clinton was stationed with a large part of his army in New York. King George III and the British Parliament turned their eyes on the American South and sent their armies where a civil war raged between American Loyalists and Patriots.
In response, the Continental Congress, the Patriot civilian governing body sent Generals Robert Howe, Benjamin Lincoln, and Horatio Gates respectively who from 1778 – 1780 lost Savannah, Georgia; Charleston, South Carolina; and Camden, South Carolina to the British.
Congress’ previous choices to command the Southern Army failed. Now, they left the choice to General George Washington. He chose his ablest major general: Nathanael Greene. Nathanael’s brilliant strategy, wore down the British army in the South commanded by General Lord Charles Cornwallis. After months of chasing Greene’s army, which lost every engagement except the battle at Cowpens, South Carolina, Cornwallis abandoned Georgia and the Carolinas and retreated with his exhausted and starving army into Virginia. Then, Nathanael systematically destroyed the British outposts, supply lines, and communication lines between the British holding Savannah and Charleston, and the rest of South Carolina.
In late August 1781, Nathanael learned that British Colonel Alexander Stewart was moving through central South Carolina and he intended to put a stop to it. On August 23, he marched his army out of the High Hills of Santee looking for a fight.
On September 7, after weeks of mucking through swamps and heavy rains, the Southern Army arrived at Burdell’s Plantation seven miles from Eutaw Springs, South Carolina where Stewart was camped with 1,500 men. During their march, Nathanael’s army picked up militia under Francis Marion, Andrew Pickens and Francois de Malmedy. Cavalry Colonel William Washington also reunited with them swelling the army to nearly 2,400 men. Nathanael ordered his troops to cook one day’s provisions and allowed them a gill of rum. They would attack in the morning.
On September 8, just before dawn, Nathanael’s army marched toward the enemy. At 7:00 a.m., they saw white tents near a brick mansion. Behind the mansion, springs drained into Eutaw Creek which flowed into the Santee River. A British foraging party was rooting for sweet potatoes when the American vanguard spotted them. Stewart sent cavalry Major John Coffin with a forward detachment. They skirmished with Colonel “Light-Horse” Harry Lee’s legion. Colonel Otho Holland Williams ordered “Move in the order of battle and halt.”
The order of battle was familiar: militia up front, with orders to fire and fall back. This placed the militiamen from North Carolina and South Carolina in front with Colonel Harry Lee’s legion and reinforcements from Francis Marion and Andrew Pickens. Behind the militia, Continentals, men from Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina formed the line. Nathanael held Washington’s cavalry and Colonel Robert Kirkwood’s Delaware company in reserve. Stewart posted a single main line of defense to the west. His 63rd and 64th Regiments of Foot looked directly across at Francis Marion.
Stewart’s 3rd Regiment of Foot held the right of his line. His center was anchored with Loyalist brigades from New York and New Jersey. Musket fire exploded from both sides of the line. Continental 2lb grasshoppers boomed. The Virginia and Maryland regiments drove toward the brick mansion in a race to get inside before the British. The British won shouldering the door closed against the Americans pushing from the other side. American troops surged through the British camp and tripped over tent ropes and stakes. British marksmen opened fire. The Americans tried to dislodge the British with unsuccessful cannon fire.
Major John Marjoribanks tried to hold the British right flank. Nathanael ordered Colonel William Washington to push against Marjoribanks. The British in the mansion raked Washington and his men. Washington’s horse was shot out from underneath him. He was bayonetted and taken prisoner. Colonel John Eager Howard of Maryland was shot in the collar bone. Colonel Richard Campbell of Virginia was mortally shot in the chest. Harry Lee’s deputy executed an unsuccessful charge. Nathanael’s army was suffering debilitating losses and his men were scattered across the field.
After four hours of fighting he called a retreat and rallied his bloodied exhausted forces in the woods. Losses that day totaled 1,400. Both sides claimed victory. After destroying their firearms, Stewart retreated toward Charleston. Nathanael’s army returned to the High Hills of Santee. Nathanael praised his soldiers and the militia to Congress. He was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal of Honor bearing his likeness. Otho Holland Williams was awarded a sword. The Battle of Eutaw Springs was the last significant land battle of the Revolutionary War.
A month after the battle, due to General Nathanael Greene and his army’s perseverance and sacrifice, the British general he had chased out of the Carolinas, Lord Charles Cornwallis, surrendered to Franco/American forces under General George Washington at Yorktown, Virginia on October 19, 1781.
Eutaw Springs a poem by Philip Freneau (1752–1832) First published in the Freeman’s Journal, November 21, 1781
AT Eutaw Springs the valiant died:
Their limbs with dust are covered o’er—
Weep on, ye springs, your tearful tide;
How many heroes are no more!
I’m currently writing a novel about General Nathanael Greene titled “The Line of Splendor, A Novel of Nathanael Greene and the American Revolution”
If you’re interested in receiving updates on the novel’s progress and publication, please send me your name and email address through my contacts page on this blog post. Thank you and Huzzah!
Beakes, John H. Jr. Otho Holland Williams in The American Revolution. Charleston, South Carolina: The Nautical and Aviation Publishing Co. of American, 2015
Beakes, John H. Jr. and Piecuch, Jim. Cool Deliberate Courage: John Eager Howard in the American Revolution. Heritage Books, 2009
Buchannan, John. The Road to Charleston. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2019
Carbone, Gerald M. Nathanael Greene A Biography of the American Revolution, 2008.
Golway, Terry. Washington’s General Nathanael Greene and the Triumph of the American Revolution. New York: Henry Holt and Company
Greene, George Washington. The Life of Nathanael Greene, Major General in the Army of the Revolution.3 Volumes. New York: Hurd and Houghton. Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1871
Thayer, Theodore. Nathanael Greene Strategist of the American Revolution. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1960
“My Father was a man of great Piety, had an excellent understanding; and was govern’d in his conduct by humanity and kind Benevolence.”~Nathanael Greene reflecting on his youth.
Nathanael was born in Potowomut, Rhode Island on August 7, 1742; the fourth son of a Quaker preacher and prosperous business man. The brothers’ education was limited to math, reading, and writing. Their father thought book learning beyond that would lead to temptation and sin. Nathanael challenged his father’s “prejudices against Literary Accomplishments.” He later broke with the doctrines of the formal Quaker religion which didn’t condone armed conflict.
He had physical challenges: a limp, asthma, and a small pox scar on his right eyeball that was often infected a result of his 1770 inoculation.
Nathanael was sent to manage and operate the family iron forge in Coventry, Rhode Island. He worked with the men who pounded smelt into anchors sold in Newport. In the house he dubbed Spell Hall he collected and studied works about human theory, civil society, military law and strategy, and poems.
He spent time in East Greenwich with his distant relative, William Greene. Discussions were held about the state of rebellion in America over Parliamentary taxes and control of colonial autonomy. William’s wife was raising her niece, Catharine Littlefield. Caty trapped Nathanael’s heart. They married on July 20, 1774. Caty was 19. Nathanael was nearly 32.
The Birth of a General
Nathanael joined the East Greenwich militia company, the Kentish Guards, as a private. He was mortified when he applied for lieutenant and was denied because of his limp. When the first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired on April 19, 1775 in Massachusetts, the Rhode Island General Assembly formed an Army of Observation. Nathanael was plucked from the ranks and promoted to general. On May 8, 1775, he kissed his pregnant wife goodbye and led his new army toward Boston.
The Siege of Boston
“I am determined to defend my rights and maintain my freedom, or sell my life in the attempt.”~Nathanael to Caty, June 1775
Militia from all over New England responded. Nathanael laid out camp with his army of 1,000 recruits on a hill in Roxbury facing the British army under siege in Boston. He reported to General Artemas Ward. On June 17, while Nathanael was on a recruiting trip in Rhode Island, 1,000 provincial soldiers were defeated by 2,000 British soldiers on the Charlestown peninsula north of Boston on Breed’s Hill.
The Arrival of General George Washington
Two weeks later, the new commander in chief of the recently formed Continental Army arrived—General George Washington. The civilian governing body, the Continental Congress, appointed four major generals and eight brigadier generals. Nathanael was the last brigadier, who at age 32, was the army’s youngest general.
Jaundice and the British Evacuation of Boston
In January 1776, he contracted jaundice. During his illness, Henry Knox, a Boston bookseller, hauled 5o tons of artillery to Framingham, Massachusetts from Fort Ticonderoga in New York. The artillery was mounted on Dorchester Heights overlooking Boston on the night of March 5. General William Howe, the British commander in chief, ordered the city evacuated. Washington placed Boston under Nathanael’s command during which he enforced martial law.
The Battle for New York
“I am confident the force of America, if properly exerted, will prove superior to all her enemies.”~ Nathanael to John Adams, July 2, 1776
The Continental army moved to New York. Nathanael had command of a string of five strategic forts built on Brooklyn Heights across the East River on Long Island. A British armada began dropping anchor in New York Harbor on June 29, 1776. Over the next few weeks, some 32,000 troops arrived on board 270 ships. With the enemy looming, he was one of four brigadiers promoted to major general in August.
That month, he succumbed to a critical fever, possibly typhoid. General Israel Putnam assumed his command. On August 22, William Howe invaded Long Island and defeated the Continental Army stationed there. John Adams wrote that Nathanael’s sickness was the cause of the enemy “stealing a march on us.”
The Fall of Fort Washington and Fort Lee
The army began withdrawing northward from the city as the British invaded New York Island. On September 16, Nathanael experienced his first battle when it erupted at Harlem Heights. Two month later, Forts Lee and Washington perched on the Hudson River across from one another fell to the British under Nathanael’s command. He was devastated. The ragged Continental Army retreated through New Jersey with British General Charles Cornwallis in pursuit. On December 8, they crossed the Delaware River into Pennsylvania.
The Attack on Trenton
Washington recrossed the icy Delaware on Christmas night 1776 and launched a successful surprise attack on the garrison at Trenton, New Jersey manned by 1,400 Hessian (German) soldiers. On January 3, the patriots achieved a victory at Princeton.
The Philadelphia Campaign
“O my sweet angel how I wish—how I long to return to our soft embrace. The endearing prospect is my greatest comfort amidst all the fatigues of the campaign.”~Nathanael to Caty after the British defeated the American army at Brandywine, autumn 1777
In 1777, the Continental Army wintered in Morristown, New Jersey. Late in July, William Howe loaded the bulk of his army on his brother’s ships leaving the Continental Army and Congress baffled over his destination.
Battle of Brandywine
Howe’s armada sailed up the Chesapeake Bay and disembarked at Head of Elk, Maryland. His target was Philadelphia. In response, Washington positioned his army on Brandywine Creek. On the afternoon of September 11, General Cornwallis turned Washington’s right flank on Birmingham Hill. Nathanael and his 1,200 Virginians marched toward Sandy Hollow where they formed a line that surprised and stopped Cornwallis. The Americans fell back to Chester, Pennsylvania. Two weeks later, the British took Philadelphia.
Victory at Saratoga and a Cabal
On October 17, British General John Burgoyne surrendered to General Horatio Gates in Saratoga, New York where Gates was sent to stop Burgoyne’s march to Albany. Spawned from this victory, a loose plot to overthrow Washington was executed. Some in Congress believed that Washington was failing and that the victorious Gates was the answer.
General Mifflin, who resigned as Quartermaster General of the Continental Army proclaimed, “The ear of the Commander-in-chief was exclusively possessed by Greene.” General Conway wrote that Washington was a “weak General and Bad Counsellors would have ruined it [the country],” The cabal collapsed in early 1778.
“They have taken me from the line of splendor.”~Nathanael to Pennsylvania politician Joseph Reed after he accepted the position of Quartermaster General of the Continental Army, March 1778
The Continental Army wintered at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania in 1778. A committee from Congress arrived to discuss the state of the army and a new quartermaster general. The duties of the quartermaster general encompassed obtaining and transporting supplies, and scouting for new camp sites.
Washington and the committee pressed Nathanael to take the job that he thought would confine him “to a series of drudgery.” Congress admitted that the next quartermaster general would “face Confusion of the Department.” With a sense of duty he accepted the position, but complained, “No one has ever heard of a quarter Master in History.”
A French Alliance and a Return to Field Command
In February 1778, the French entered into an alliance with the United States. General Henry Clinton replaced William Howe as commander in chief of the British army in America. Clinton evacuated Philadelphia to move his 10,000 troops to New York.
During that summer, Nathanael played a dual role when Washington deemed his council and command on the battlefield valuable in the days leading up to and during the Battle of Monmouth, a draw, fought against Clinton’s retreating army at Monmouth Courthouse, New Jersey. Thanks to Nathanael and his deputies’ excellent quartermaster and commissary planning, essential supplies were adequate.
The war ground to a stalemate in the north. The value of the Continental dollar plunged. Nathanael made several trips to Philadelphia during the spring of 1779. Congress was questioning the large receipts he and his deputies were receiving from commissions. Compounded by their refusal to provide more money and support, he tendered his resignation in a less than a diplomatic tone to match the insulting letters he received from the Board of Treasury. Congress ignored it.
Bleak Prospects and a Fine Son
The Continental Army returned to Morristown, New Jersey in the winter of 1780. Nathanael lamented, “Provisions are scarce indeed…from the want of money to purchase it.” A snowstorm blocked the roads and cut supply lines. When the storm passed, Nathanael relieved the starving soldiers by ordering the roads cleared and pressing farmers to load wagons with provisions.
Caty arrived in camp eight months pregnant. On January 30, she gave birth to their fourth child a son they named Nathanael Ray. Baby Nathanael joined the Greene’s growing family: George 4, Martha 3, and Cornelia 16 months. He and the two youngest were conceived during Caty’s visits to camp.
That spring, the American garrison in Charleston, South Carolina under General Benjamin Lincoln surrendered to Henry Clinton in the worst loss of the Revolutionary War.
I am to request Congress will appoint another Quartermaster General
Congress adopted its new system for the Quartermaster Department. With the states now responsible for supplies, a decrease in salaries, and the principal men on whom he depended removed, Nathanael believed it was impossible to conduct business. He wrote to Washington outlining his grievances and seeking approval of his intention to quit. But the wording and tone of his resignation letter to Congress dated July 26, 1780 so infuriated members that they threatened to remove him from the army. Washington supported him and put a stop to the threats.
While Nathanael resigned, General Horatio Gates rode into camp in North Carolina and took command of the remnants of the Southern army. On August 16, General Charles Cornwallis, now in command of the British army in the south, defeated Gates near Camden, South Carolina. Gates abandoned his vanquished army and rode 180 miles to Hillsboro, North Carolina. What Washington needed was a good general in the South. Congress’ previous choices had failed. This time they left the choice to him. He chose Nathanael Greene.
The Southern Army
“My Dear Angel, What I have been dreading has come to pass. His Excellency General George Washington by order of Congress has appointed me to command of the Southern Army. God bless you my love and support your spirits. I am yours.” ~Nathanael to Caty, October 1780
Nathanael and his second in command General Baron von Steuben rode to Virginia and stopped along the way to gather troops and supplies from various states. Their efforts were largely futile. Leaving Steuben in Virginia to continue recruiting efforts with Governor Thomas Jefferson, Nathanael went in search of his army, and on December 2, 1780 in Charlotte, North Carolina, he “found nothing but a few, half-starved soldiers who are remarkable for nothing but poverty and distress.”
He adapted quickly to the breakdown of civil authority in the south. A large part of the population was poor. A civil war raged between loyalists and Patriots. Malaria was rampant. Before taking command from Gates, he studied maps and ordered a survey of the nearby rivers so he could understand the geography.
The circumstances forced him to embrace partisan strategy. He reached out to militia generals Francis Marion, Thomas Sumter and Andrew Pickens operating in South Carolina. Cornwallis’ principal force of 4,000 was posted at Winnsborough, South Carolina 70 miles south. What was a general with a new independent command, to do? Ignore every military doctrine that warned of the dangers of dividing an army in the face of a superior foe.
He detached General Daniel Morgan to march to northwest South Carolina. Nathanael led the remainder of his little army to Cheraw. Cornwallis ordered cavalry Colonel Banastre Tarleton to rid the countryside of Morgan. Morgan prepared for the inevitable battle at a place called the Cowpens. On the pastures, he formed his men into three lines. On the morning of January 17, 1781, Morgan shouted “Boys get up, Banny is coming.” They deployed, fired one shot, and then retired so the next line could step up. The British infantry and cavalry broke. Tarleton fled.
To The End of the World
“In this situation, without baggage, necessaries, or Provisions of any sort for Officer or Soldier, in the most barren inhospitable unhealthy part of North America, opposed to the most savage, inveterate perfidious cruel enemy… it was resolved to follow Green[e]’s Army to the end of the World.” ~British General Charles O’Hara referring to Cornwallis’ decision to burn the army’s baggage train.
Cornwallis lost 1,000 men at Cowpens. Furious, he went after Morgan. Nathanael ordered his wing to march to Salisbury, North Carolina. With a small contingent of guard, he set out through 300 miles of perilous loyalist country to support Morgan where they began a retreat toward Salisbury.
Cornwallis burned his baggage train to lighten his army’s pursuit. The further Cornwallis marched, the more his army succumbed to exhaustion and starvation. Nathanael, also exhausted, shifted his army’s junction to Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina. When the army linked up, he held a rare war council.
Nathanael laid it out. They had 2400 men, many of whom were badly armed and clothed. Cornwallis was less than twenty miles away. It was agreed that a retreat to the Dan River on the border of North Carolina and Virginia was the only option to avoid annihilation.
The Race to the Dan
Nathanael detached 700 men and formed a light corps, to screen his main army from the British and detract them from the lower fords of the Dan River where he intended to cross. The ailing Daniel Morgan went home to Virginia. Colonel Otho Holland Williams was selected to command and with Colonel “Light-Horse” Harry Lee’s cavalry legion, they kept Cornwallis at bay while Nathanael led the army toward the Dan River at a frantic pace.
On February 15, Cornwallis’ troops marched up to the banks of the Dan where the campfires of the American army burned on the other side. Nathanael had taken every boat in the Roanoke Valley across the river and there was nothing Cornwallis could do but stare.
With thousands of new militia and some Continentals, the Southern Army swelled to 4,500 men. Nathanael moved back to Guilford Courthouse. Cornwallis led his 1,900 men toward a long awaited battle with Nathanael Greene.
Nathanael’s order of battle was a model of Daniel Morgan’s at Cowpens, but the wooded terrain at Guilford Courthouse prevented his three lines from seeing or supporting one another. He rode among the troops to encourage them. Artillery opened up. His lines began to fall apart under advancing British fire. The enemy turned his left flank. After two hours, he prudently called a retreat to preserve his army.
It was a pyrrhic British victory that cost Cornwallis more than 500 men. He retreated to Wilmington, North Carolina, a coastal port 200 miles away. Nathanael moved to Troublesome Creek. In a letter to Caty, he expressed his desire to be “on a farm with my little family about me.” In return, he received a letter from her that contained a locket with her picture in it.
War of the Posts
Nathanael turned his attention to the British outposts in the interior of South Carolina. With his usual preachy admonishments, he ordered Baron von Steuben and Thomas Jefferson to send militia. The Virginia Assembly blocked his request because Henry Clinton had sent British troops and reinforcements to that state.
Infuriated with Jefferson and frustrated with a lack of support from Washington in New York, he turned his army southward toward the primary outpost at Camden. They arrived at the stockade walls on April 20 where Lord Francis Rawdon had 900 loyalist and British troops garrisoned. Aware that it was too strong to attack, Nathanael pulled his army back to Hobkirk’s Hill, a ridge two miles north.
On the morning of April 25, Lord Rawdon approached. Nathanael’s infantry rolled forward but then the Maryland line bowed causing the Virginia regiments to fall back. Nathanael called a retreat. The loss angered him and wounded his pride. He directed his anger at Maryland Colonel John Gunby saying his actions were the cause for the loss and had Gunby court-martialed. As one of his biographers said, “This was Greene at his worst: petulant, filled with self-pity, and desperately trying to protect his reputation from those confounded critics.”
Persevere and Fortitude
At this time, he wrote to the exiled governor of South Carolina, John Rutledge, stressing the importance of reestablishing government. His concern extended to his command in Virginia where the Marquis de Lafayette arrived to stop the British path of destruction there. By April 24, Cornwallis had had enough of Nathanael Greene. He abandoned the Carolinas and marched to Virginia.
Nathanael’s strategy began to strangle the British. He cut off Lord Rawdon’s supply line and forced him to evacuate Camden on May 9. Over that month under Nathanael’s orders, the British outposts fell at the hands of “Light-Horse” Harry Lee and militia generals Francis Marion and Andrew Pickens. Nathanael laid siege to the last remaining outpost at the fortified town of Ninety-Six on May 22. The siege ended in bloody, hand to hand combat. Nathanael called off the assault and retreated on June 18. Lord Rawdon marched into Ninety-Six two days later and burned the outpost.
The High Hills of Santee
Nathanael moved his army to the High Hills of Santee where the air was cooler and the mosquitos were less relentless. Although it was a camp of repose, there was not a moment that allowed him to let his guard down or cease his endless letters of instruction, exhortation, and solicitation regarding the condition of his ragged, malaria-ridden army and their needs. Still, Nathanael’s sense of humor didn’t completely escape him. He wrote to Henry Knox that no general had run as often or “more lustily” as he had and likened his flight to that of “a Crab, that could run either way.”
The Valiant Died at Eutaw Springs
The Southern Army rested for six weeks in the High Hills of Santee. Lord Rawdon fell ill and Colonel Alexander Stewart replaced him. Stewart pressed his 1,500 men toward Orangeburg, South Carolina. Nathanael called in the militia under Francis Marion and Andrew Pickens. On August 23, his army marched out of the High Hills looking for a fight.
On September 8, at 4:00 a.m., after weeks of mucking through swamps and heavy rain, Nathanael’s army marched toward the enemy at a place called Eutaw Springs. Musket fire and artillery exploded from both sides of the line as they clashed on wooded grounds near a three-story mansion. Some of the British locked themselves in the mansion. Artillery fire proved useless in dislodging them. Nathanael’s cavalry tangled in the bushes near the creek and their commander, Colonel William Washington was bayonetted and captured. After 4 hours of fighting, Nathanael ordered a retreat. Losses that day totaled a staggering 1,400. Both sides claimed victory.
Laurels of a Hero
The Battle of Eutaw Springs was the last significant land battle of the Revolutionary War. The months of sacrifice and perseverance led to the recognition and laurels Nathanael so desperately wanted. He was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor bearing his likeness.
A few days after the battle, he learned that Cornwallis was entrenched in the village of Yorktown, Virginia. There on October 19, 1781, Lord Charles Cornwallis surrendered following a three-week Franco/American siege under Washington. Nathanael wrote to Washington, “Nothing can equal the joy it gives this country.”
Nathanael’s army returned to the High Hills of Santee. He lobbied military and government authorities to provision his army and send reinforcements, but he received almost no help. Beginning in the first week of December, he moved his army to positions between Charleston and Savannah. He was given a boost when General Anthony Wayne arrived from Yorktown.
In early April 1782, after nearly two years of separation, Nathanael and Caty were enveloped in each other’s arms. He was sunburned and thin. He told her about the tracts of land South Carolina and Georgia gifted him for his service in the south. In addition, he invested in 7,000 acres on Cumberland Island off the coast of Georgia. With the military and government coffers empty, he was forced to buy uniforms for his troops on credit through a Charleston speculator named John Banks.
The Evacuation of Charleston
The British evacuated Charleston on December 14, 1782. There was a peaceful transfer of power between Nathanael and British General Alexander Leslie. The Greenes moved into the residence of former governor John Rutledge. The mansion became army headquarters. Nathanael was hailed as the conquering hero. Caty was referred to as “Lady Greene.”
Nathanael was still faced with clothing and providing for his army. His own financial affairs fell apart. A business he formed in 1779 came to its conclusion and Nathanael garnered only 10% of his original 10,000 pound investment. His clothing supplier, John Banks, entered a moneymaking scheme that went bad. Congress delayed paying Banks’ creditors. Banks in turn refused to deliver the provisions without a guarantee. Nathanael signed what amounted to a personal loan for 30,000 pounds.
On April 16, 1783, preliminary articles of peace were signed between the United States and Great Britain. He dismissed his soldiers on June 21 saying “We have trod the paths of adversity together, and have felt the sunshine of better fortune.”
He left Charleston on August 11. On his journey he was greeted with fanfare. He briefly reunited with Washington. On October 7, he formally requested that Congress accept his resignation as major general and asked that he be allowed to go home to Rhode Island. He didn’t attend Washington’s farewell address delivered on December 4. Nathanael was already home.
“My family is in distress and I am overwhelmed with difficulties and God knows when or where they will end. I work hard and live poor but I fear all this will not extricate me.” ~ Nathanael to Henry Knox, March 12, 1786
Pressures and Perplexities
He arrived at the docks of war torn Newport, Rhode Island in late November 1783. He had written to Caty that he trembled to think of the enormous sums of money he owed and that he was doomed to a life of hardship. The Greenes had no home of their own. In the coming year, they decided that Mulberry Grove on the Savannah River in Georgia held fruitful possibilities.
He reunited with his four children, George 7, Martha 6, Cornelia 5, and Nat 3 who looked upon him at first as a stranger, but he was soon their “companion and playfellow.” On April 17, 1784, the Greenes welcomed the arrival of their seventh family member, a baby girl they named Louisa.
He made business plans with his brother, Jacob. On December 17, he was elected the president of the Rhode Island Society of the Cincinnati. But his despondency grew. He received a letter from a firm demanding money for the army clothes they had sold John Banks. On August 1, he sailed to Charleston to look for Banks. He found him dead and buried. He asked his lawyer to file a claim against Bank’s estate.
He returned to Newport, but was soon back on his way south to tend to legal matters and prepare to move his family to Mulberry Grove. His business kept him away until mid-August 1785. When he returned home, Caty had just given birth to their sixth child, a girl named Catharine. The children came down with whooping cough. The older children recovered, but baby Catharine died. Caty was despondent. She missed her monthly “complaint” and chalked it up to her nervous state.
The Greenes boarded a ship bound for Savannah, Georgia on October 14, 1785. Nathanael would never see Rhode Island again.
Legacy of a Fond Father
In April 1786, he described his new life at Mulberry Grove as “a busy time” surrounded by gardens and fruit trees. His library was well-stocked with his beloved books. General Anthony Wayne was also awarded land by the State of Georgia and was a close neighbor. Years later Nathanael’s son, Nat, recalled his father holding him on his knee and teaching him “funny songs.” Little George often walked the fields with his father.
In late April, a very pregnant Caty fell. The accident brought on premature labor and the baby died soon after. One day, seeking the comfort of Nathanael’s arms, she found him by the river weeping. When he looked up at her, she saw the haggard face of a man who had sworn to give everything including his life and his future to the cause of freedom, and had done just that. She, too, had sacrificed. Only as one, could they survive and thrive.
I Have Seen a Great and Good Man Die
“Pardon this scrawl, my feelings are but too much affected, because I have seen a great and good man die.” ~ General Anthony Wayne to Colonel James Jackson, June 19, 1786
Caty and Nathanael drove to Savannah on Monday June 11, 1786 and spent the night with a friend. The next day they stopped at a neighbor’s home. Under the hot sun and without a hat, Nathanael walked the fields with his neighbor. On the way home, he complained of a headache. By Thursday, the pain had intensified over his eyes and his forehead swelled. He became unresponsive. He was suffering from sunstroke and the standard treatments of the day, bleeding and blistering, were useless. The children were sent to a neighbor. Anthony Wayne arrived and for two days he and Caty held vigil. At six o’clock in the morning on June 19, 1786, Nathanael Greene stopped breathing. He was 43.
His body was dressed in the uniform he had worn on formal occasions as a major general of the Continental Army. White silk gloves, a gift from the Marquis de Lafayette, were slipped on his hands. His body was floated down the river to Savannah and carried ashore where Caty and the children waited among silent citizens. A military corps escorted his coffin to Colonial Cemetery. A service was read and then Nathanael’s body was placed in a vault and a 13 gun salute was fired. No one thought to erect a marker.
Congress passed a resolution to erect a monument to General Nathanael Greene. The statue by Henry Kirke Brown and a gift from Rhode Island was erected in 1877 in Stanton Park, Washington D.C.
Sacred To The Memory of Nathanael Greene, Esquire
A Native Of The State Of Rhode Island
Who Died On The 19th Of June 1786
Late Major General In The Service Of The U.S.
And Commander Of Their Army In The Southern Department
“I found the South in confusion and distress and restored it to freedom and tranquility.” ~Major General Nathanael Greene
I’m currently writing a novel about General Greene titled “The Line of Splendor, A Novel of Nathanael Greene and the American Revolution”
If you’re interested in receiving updates on the novel’s progress and publication, please send me your name and email address through my contacts page on this blog post. Thank you and Huzzah!
Barnwell, Joseph W. “The Evacuation of Charleston by the British in 1782.” The South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine 11, no. 1 (1910): 1–26. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27575255.
Beakes, John H. Jr. Otho Holland Williams in The American Revolution. Charleston, South Carolina: The Nautical and Aviation Publishing Co. of American, 2015
Buchannan, John. The Road to Charleston. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2019
Carbone, Gerald M. Nathanael Greene A Biography of the American Revolution, 2008.
Gardiner, Asa Bird. The Discovery of the Remains of Major-General Nathanael Greene, First President of the Rhode Island Cincinnati. New York: The Blumberg Press, 1901
Golway, Terry. Washington’s General Nathanael Greene and the Triumph of the American Revolution. New York: Henry Holt and Company
Greene, George Washington. The Life of Nathanael Greene, Major General in the Army of the Revolution.3 Volumes. New York: Hurd and Houghton. Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1871
Greene, Nathanael. “Letter of General Nath’l. Greene to Gen’l. Washington, 1781.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 30, no. 3 (1906): 359–65. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20085346.
Johnson, William. Sketches of the Life and Correspondence of Nathanael Greene Volume 1 and II. Charleston, South Carolina 1822
Reed, William B. Life and Correspondence of Joseph Reed. Philadelphia: Lindsay and Blakiston, 1847
Schecter, Barnet. The Battle for New York. New York: Walker and Company, 2002
Showman, Richard K. Editor. The Papers of Nathanael Greene: Volume V and VII and pages 612-613. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press. 1989.
Stegeman, John F. and Janet A. Caty A Biography of Catharine Littlefield Greene Athens, Georgia University of Georgia Press, 1977.
Thayer, Theodore. Nathanael Greene Strategist Of The American Revolution. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1960.
Upham, Charles Wentworth. The Life of General Washington: First President of the United States, Volume I. London: Officer of the National Illustrated Library, 1852
Waters, Andrew. To The End of World. Yardley, PA: Westholme Publishing, LLC, 2020
1776, the first full year of the American Revolutionary War, began with General George Washington and the Continental Army breaking the ten month Siege of Boston and driving the British out. In April, suspecting that General William Howe, commander-in-chief of all British forces in America was headed for New York, Washington marched his somewhat undisciplined, fledgling army from Cambridge, Massachusetts to New York City. They occupied the largely loyalist city. In anticipation of an attack, the army set up batteries on the waterfront and a string of fortresses across the harbor at Brooklyn Heights on Long Island.
In July, an armada commanded by Admiral Lord Richard Howe arrived with 13,000 British and Hessians on board and dropped anchor off Staten Island. Born as illegitimate relations to King George III, the powerful Howe brothers let their troops recover from their long sea voyage before attacking the Continental position on Long Island late in August. After being badly outflanked, Washington’s army was able to escape to Manhattan under cover of fog at the oars of Colonel John Glover and his Marblehead Massachusetts mariners.
With the British in control of the East and Hudson Rivers, New York harbor and Long Island, Washington abandoned the city leaving behind a small force under General Israel Putnam and a regiment of artillery corps commanded by Henry Knox. Howe landed 10,000 troops on the eastern shore of New York Island and divided his army—some marched south to take the city (Putnam and Knox managed to escape). The rest of Howe’s army pursued the retreating Continental Army and defeated them at White Plains, New York.
Washington’s ragged, sick, and hungry army crossed the Hudson into New Jersey. Their last hope lay in the American forts that faced each other across the Hudson. Garrisoned with 2,500 troops, Fort Washington stood on a summit on the New York shore. Fort Lee, manned with 3,500 soldiers, rose on the palisades on the New Jersey shore. The forts fell to the British in mid-November, after which, General Howe set up a line of seven garrisons to hold the southern half of New Jersey. The smallest of these was at Trenton manned by fourteen hundred Hessians under Colonel Johann Rall.
Pursued by one of Howe’s best generals, the aggressive Lord Charles Cornwallis, the Continental Army retreated south through New Jersey headed for Trenton. The dispirited Patriots, many whose enlistments were to expire on December 1 and December 31 and had refused to re-sign, deserted by the hundreds reducing Washington’s army to a force of about 2,400 men.
General Nathanael Greene of Rhode Island reported to Washington, “Two brigades left us at Brunswick. It made no difference that the enemy is within two hours march and coming on.”
On December 1, despite being slowed by trees blocking the roads, destroyed bridges, and enemy sniper fire, Cornwallis’s exhausted army almost caught up with the Continental Army on the banks of the Raritan River at New Brunswick. He stopped in obedience to orders from General Howe to go no further.
When the Continental Army arrived near Trenton, they were faced with crossing the icy Delaware River into Pennsylvania. Washington dispatched Colonel John Glover, to bring over every small boat he could find. The army safely gathered on the Pennsylvania shore.
Washington realized that the Patriots needed a victory to instill new hope after the failed effort to keep the British from occupying New York. He knew he must strike a military blow to the enemy before his army melted away and he was determined to hit the Hessian garrison at Trenton. He and his general officers also understood that the element of surprise was the only way that the army stood a chance of defeating the highly trained Hessian mercenaries. They would attack on Christmas night.
On Christmas Day, the weather turned ominous. Glover was in charge of the boats: big, flat-bottomed, high-sided Durham boats normally used to transport pig iron on the Delaware from the Durham Iron Works near Philadelphia. Colonel Henry Knox (who would later become the army’s artillery general) organized and directed the crossing. A demanding part of the task would be transporting the eighteen field cannon and fifty horses.
General John Cadwalader and Washington’s adjutant, Colonel Joseph Reed, were to lead a force of Pennsylvania militia and Rhode Island troops and cross downriver at Bristol. General James Ewing was directed to take Pennsylvania militiamen, attack directly across the river at Trenton, and hold the wooden bridge over Assunpink Creek at the foot of Queen Street, which the enemy might use as an escape route.
Drums rolled in camp, and starting at two in the afternoon the army began moving out for the river, each man carrying sixty rounds of ammunition and food enough for three days. The password was “Victory.” The answer was “Or Death.” It was nearly dark and raining when the troops reached McConkey’s Ferry where the boats waited. Glover’s men used oars and poles to get the big boats across.
At 11:00 p.m., a full-blown northeaster struck, slowing the crossing as sheets of ice formed that grew thicker as they bounced on the windblown waves in the Delaware River. The ice was hindering the sweep oars and scraping against the sides of the boats.
It was 3:00 a.m., three hours behind schedule, when the last of the troops, horses, and cannon were across. The march south from McConkey’s Ferry turned into a march of misery. The storm worsened with cold, driving rain, sleet, snow, and violent hail. The troops trudged on in the most profound silence. Many wearing worn-out shoes or cloth tied around their feet left a trail of blood. Knox’s artillery led the way. There was little light to see by. A few men carried lanterns, and torches were mounted on some of the cannon so the army wouldn’t be seen moving through the forested terrain. Men and horses kept slipping and skidding in the dark.
Washington rode out into the lines and said, “For God’s sake, keep with your officers.”
The entire twenty-four hundred on the march kept together for five miles until they reached the crossroads at Birmingham where the army divided. General John Sullivan’s column, which included Glover’s brigade, kept to the right on the River Road. Generals Lord Alexander Stirling and Hugh Mercer, commanded by Nathanael Greene, veered off to the left with Washington along the Pennington Road. The distance to Trenton was four miles either way.
Sullivan sent a courier to tell Washington that the weather was wetting his men’s gunpowder.
“Tell General Sullivan to use the bayonet,” Washington responded. “I am resolved to take Trenton.”
Yet some of the plan stalled. General Ewing called off his attack on Trenton because of ice in the river. General Cadwalader’s and Joseph Reed’s diversionary landing to the south had been aborted due to ice.
The Patriot columns reached their position outside Trenton at about the same time: an hour after daylight. Most of the residents had fled the village. The Hessians were quartered in the abandoned houses and the stone barracks. Harassed by rebel patrols that kept coming over the Delaware, Colonel Johann Rall established outposts on Pennington Road outside of town. The Patriots attacked the outposts just after eight o’clock in the morning.
Hessian Major Jacob von Braam heard the sudden sound of a musket volley. He and his disoriented company ran out into the blinding snow and tried to get into formation. The Americans surged forward in a confusion of musket fire and smoke.
Major von Braam saw his men were still unable to get into formation. “Retreat!” he ordered.
The Hessians fell back into town, as they had been trained to do when retreat was the only choice. They shouted in warning, “Der Fiend! Heraus! Heraus!” (“The enemy! Turn out! Turn out!”) In town, Hessians rushed out of their houses and barracks into the streets. Drums beat and officers shouted orders.
Henry Knox’s artillery was positioned at the head of King and Queen Streets. General Mercer and his troops moved down a hill on the west side of town and swept into the village through alleys and house lots. The Hessians retreated into the side streets as generals Sullivan’s, Stirling’s, and Greene’s men came at them with fixed bayonets.
When the Hessians rolled out a field gun midway on King Street, American artillery Lieutenant James Monroe rushed forward, seized it, and turned it on them. James lit the touchhole. The cannon belched a tongue of fire and black smoke when the ball exploded from the muzzle, killing two Hessians. Colonel Rall, who was rousted out of bed, was on horseback and in command in the midst of the battle. He ordered a charge, “All who are my grenadiers, forward!” A musket ball hit Rall in the chest and he fell from his horse.
Some of Rall’s confused men retreated to the cover of an orchard. The Patriots steadily advanced on the Hessians. Knox shouted orders to move the artillery units toward the orchards. Mortally wounded, Rall’s men picked him up and carried him to safety where he would die later that day. The Hessians in the orchard, finding themselves surrounded, lay down their arms and surrendered. Within forty-five minutes, twenty-one Hessians were killed, ninety were wounded, and nine hundred were taken prisoner. Five hundred managed to escape across Assunpink Creek at the foot of Queen Street.
Four Americans were wounded. Only two Americans died on the march. Washington exclaimed to his officers, “This is a glorious day for our country!”
The Continental Army was faced with the arduous journey from Trenton back to the Delaware River through snow and ice with the Hessian prisoners. The troops were uplifted, however, because they had done something glorious at last.
From Baltimore, addressing Washington on behalf of the Continental Congress, John Hancock wrote, “It is all the more extraordinary given it had been achieved by men broken by fatigue and ill fortune.”
The British naturally did not see it that way. William Howe cancelled Lord Cornwallis’s furlough request and ordered him to return to Trenton. To General James Grant, overall commander of the New Jersey outposts, Howe wrote:
Trenton was an unlucky cursed affair quite beyond comprehension. I have dispatched General Cornwallis to New Jersey with an army of 8,000 men to smash the remnants of the filthy rebel army and retake Trenton.
The Americans crossed the Delaware River back into Pennsylvania. On December 30, Washington took a force of five thousand men back to Trenton and encamped at Assunpink Creek Bridge. General John Cadwalader had finally crossed the Delaware River at Bristol leaving Washington’s army divided and vulnerable.
Washington rode among his ranks, who had not been paid in months and whose enlistments were up, and issued a plea for them to stay. “My brave fellows, you have done all that I have asked you to do and more than could be reasonably expected. But your country is at stake, your wives, your houses, and all that you hold dear.”
At Assunpink Creek Bridge, Knox’s artillery crews trundled cannon in place to defend the bridge as Cornwallis’s army attacked. The two sides exchanged heavy cannon fire. The Americans volleyed furiously at Cornwallis’s advancing troops. The bridge over Assunpink Creek was soon drenched in blood and the creek began to run thick with it as the bodies of the dead splashed into the water. Surrounded by the fog of smoke and confusion, Cornwallis called for his troops to fall back three times.
When night fell, Charles Cornwallis declared, “We’ve got the old fox safe now. We’ll go over and bag him in the morning.”
But in the morning, to Cornwallis’s mortification, Washington and his army had stolen away in the dark. Nathanael Greene’s army veered off to the left and John Sullivan’s army veered off to the right of Washington’s main army. On January 3, Greene’s vanguard clashed with Cornwallis’s army outside of Princeton. The British were taken totally unaware. Although General Hugh Mercer was unmercifully bayoneted and died nine days later, the Americans prevailed at Princeton, taking three hundred and fifty prisoners. Cornwallis’s rear guard retreated rather than risk anymore of their numbers.
The British viewed Trenton and Princeton as minor American victories, but with these victories, now known as “The Ten Crucial Days”, the Americans believed that they could win the war. A century later, British historian Sir George Otto Trevelyan wrote in a study of the American Revolution, when talking about the impact of the victories at Trenton and Princeton, that “It may be doubted whether so small a number of men ever employed so short a space of time with greater and more lasting effects upon the history of the world.”
As General Nathanael Greene wrote to Thomas Paine, his aide and author of the popular Patriot pamphlet Common Sense, “The two late actions at Trenton and Princeton have put a very different face upon affairs.”
This post is a part of the Historical Writers Forum 2021 Holidays blog hop!
The Crossing of the Delaware is an event in the second novel in my award-winning historical fantasy series of the American Revolution: Angels and Patriots Book Two, The Cause of 1776. Click the cover to see more information on this book and all the books in the series.
O’Shaughnessy, Andrew Jackson. The Men Who Lost American New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2013. Print.
Puls, Mark. Henry Knox Visionary General of the American Revolution New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. Print.
McCullough, David. 1776 New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. Print.
Schecter, Barnet. The Battle For New York New York: Walker & Company, 2002. Print.
Thayer, Theodore. Nathanael Greene Strategist Of The American Revolution New York: Twayne Publishers, 1960. Print.
Featured Image: Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Saratoga, New York, October 17, 1777. British General John Burgoyne capitulated to American General Horatio Gates after the armies clashed in two battles at Freeman’s Farm and Bemis Heights. The surrender was the tipping point of the American Revolutionary War, which led the French to sign an alliance with America in her fight for independence.
Three years later, the Comte de Rochambeau arrived in Newport, Rhode Island with a French army intent on supporting General George Washington’s Continental Army effort to defeat the British in a war that had endured many Patriot losses.
When Rochambeau arrived on July 11, 1780, Washington’s sights were myopically focused on attacking New York in a move that might defeat General Sir Henry Clinton, commander of all British forces in America. Rochambeau and Washington met twice in the coming year. The last meeting was held in Wethersfield, Connecticut on May 20, 1781. Rochambeau argued that the Southern theater where British General Lord Charles Cornwallis was chasing American General Nathanael Greene through the Carolinas was a better choice; specifically Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay.
On the same day as the conference, Cornwallis arrived at Petersburg, Virginia after suffering heavy casualties at the Battle of Guilford Court House at the hands of Nathanael Greene. Cornwallis had not received permission from Clinton to abandon the Carolinas, but he believed that Virginia would be easier to capture because General Lafayette, who Washington had sent to Virginia with 1200 light infantry to act against the corps of the enemy (specifically the traitor General Benedict Arnold which is another story) had moved north leaving the south and west of the state open.
Washington’s hope hinged on the arrival of French Admiral de Grasse’s fleet in New York harbor to block up any British fleet which might be in the harbor and as a sufficient means of conveyance transport for Continental and French troops. Although he agreed to rendezvous with Washington’s army in White Plains, New York to attack Clinton, Rochambeau had a secret agenda. He wrote to de Grasse:
I must not conceal from you, Monsieur that the Americans are at the end of their resources, that Washington will not have half of the troops he is reckoned to have. It is therefore of the greatest consequence that you will take on board as many troops as possible; that 4,000 or 5,000 men will not be too many, whether you aid us to destroy the works at Portsmouth, Virginia or to force Sandy Hook in seizing New York. There, Monsieur, are the actual and sad pictures of the affairs of this country.
By July 7, the allied forces were gathered at White Plains. Together they totaled some 5,000 troops. But on August 1, 1781, Washington received a letter from Lafayette that caused him to reconsider his desire to attack New York.
Cornwallis is taking up a strong position at Yorktown and Gloucester, sealing himself off if the British fleet should not be on hand to rescue him. Yorktown is surrounded by a river and a morass. Gloucester is a neck of land projecting into the river and opposite Yorktown.
That decision was made for him when Washington received a dispatch on Tuesday August 14 that de Grasse declined to sail to New York because he did not want to risk his ships navigating the difficult waters of the harbor and the Hudson River. Instead, he proposed to sail up the Chesapeake with twenty-nine ships and 3,000 troops. Admiral de Barras anchored in Newport, Rhode Island would rendezvous with de Grasse.
The allied armies marched south to Virginia. The logistical details of moving two armies plus hundreds of camp followers along with munitions and equipment was slow when speed was of the utmost importance before the French fleet decided to sail out of the Chesapeake.
When the news arrived at British headquarters in Manhattan that de Barras had left Newport, the British fleet embarked under the command of Admiral Thomas Graves. On September 5, the fleets encountered one another near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay near Yorktown. A battle ensued, that wound down at sunset, with the British fleet drifting eastward and away from the bay. The next day, Admiral Graves determined that his fleet had suffered too much damage to engage the French again, and sailed back to New York.
The snare had been sprung trapping Cornwallis’ army in Yorktown, Virginia, situated between the James and York Rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. The little town was on a high stony bluff that ran parallel to the York River. It occupied a strategic location controlling upstream portions of the river and its tributaries and their access to the Chesapeake Bay.
When the allied armies arrived in mid-September, they set up below the town, pinning Cornwallis against the river. Washington set up camp in forested land about a mile from the enemy’s left. Rochambeau’s tents were pitched five hundred yards to the north. Washington’s principle officers, including his second in command, General Benjamin Lincoln, as well as General Lafayette, General Baron von Steuben, and artillerist General Henry Knox were camped along the perimeter of the encampment.
Cornwallis and his staff were quartered in the governor of Virginia’s house: General Thomas Nelson. Cornwallis received a letter from Sir Clinton that assured him, “I shall endeavor to reinforce your command by all means within the compass of my power.”
Cornwallis had never contemplated the possibility of a siege. Yet here it was, the reality of it staring at him like so many horrible eyes from Hell. He declared to his officers, “Nothing but the hope of relief will induce me to attempt this defense.” Still the British quietly abandoned their advanced posts and sneaked back to the defensive lines around Yorktown.
“Their movement is not only unmilitary,” Pennsylvania General Anthony Wayne proclaimed, “but an indication of confused precipitation and I do not understand why Cornwallis has done it.”
By the night of October 5, the allies began laying out a trench called a parallel. A steady rain masked the sounds of the sappers and miners (the men digging and clearing the trench) making their way across a broad, undulant field plowed into deep furrows by the enemy’s cannonballs. Sharpshooters protected the men digging the trenches in case of an enemy sally as Cornwallis sent infantrymen to clear the trench, but the sharpshooters repulsed them.
With the British cleared from the trench, a tradition associated with a siege was the Opening of the Trenches, a ceremony in which the troops of the day marched to their appointed places with drums beating and banners flying before planting their flags in the rampart ahead of them. Colonel Alexander Hamilton, an aide to George Washington, had threatened earlier to resign from the army if he wasn’t given a field command. Washington pacified him and Hamilton led some of his new infantry unit in the ceremony. Washington had the honor of igniting the bore hole of one of General Knox’s heavy siege guns and ceremoniously discharging the first shot from the American battery.
At daybreak, the Continentals commenced an uninterrupted stream of fire that produced a relentless, unnerving, and deafening roar. The French Grand Battery opened and their 18- and 24- pound siege cannon were pounding Yorktown. Residents fled to the waterfront and hid in hastily built shelters on the sand cliffs. Dozens were killed and wounded—many with arms or legs severed—while their houses were destroyed. Cannonballs plunged into the York River and sent up streams of cascading water. British boats went up in flames under the bombardment. The Nelson house where Cornwallis was quartered was partially destroyed forcing the general and his staff to find shelter in a grotto.
On the night of October 11, the allied armies’ sappers and miners began work on the second parallel, just three hundred yards from the British fortifications of redoubts 9 and 10 near the York River. Rochambeau came to inspect the trenches proclaiming “We shall see if the pear is ripe.”
Washington held a secret war council on the night of October 13. It was determined that the allied forces would take redoubts 9 and 10 the following night. General Lafayette would command the charge against redoubt 10 on the right with a second of his choosing— Colonel de Gimat. The French under General Baron De Viomenil would assault redoubt 9 on the left. Lafayette’s choice of second infuriated Alexander Hamilton. He went to Washington to complain that he had seniority over Gimat and that he should be second. Washington pacified Hamilton. Colonel John Laurens, another young aide to Washington, would also lead a battalion.
The bayonet assault would be conducted with the sappers and miners leading the way to cut through the abatis (sharpened tree trunks) arming the enemy redoubts. The sappers and miners were told:
You will advance beyond the trenches and lay down on the ground to await the signal to advance which will be three shells fired from the battery near your position. Your watch word is ‘Rochambeau’. This signal will also deploy the French waiting to assault redoubt 9.
They determined Rochambeau a good watch word because if it was said fast, it sounded like “rush on boys.” The sappers and miners crept into position. Then, three shells with their fiery trails mounted the air in quick succession and lit the sky over Yorktown. “Up! Up!” was reiterated through the detachment of waiting men. They sprinted across a quarter mile landscape pocked and rutted from exploding shells toward the redoubt with British musket fire raking them as they ran, but the men cried “the fort’s our own” and “rush on boys!” They reached the redoubt. Snapping off the edges of the abatis, they cleared a passage for the infantry. The miners, who were told not to enter the fort, surged past their officers declaring, “We will go!”
Behind the sappers, Lafayette, Alexander Hamilton, John Laurens and their infantry battalions leaped out of the trenches and ran toward redoubt 10. To their left, the French regiments under Comte Deux-Ponts were hacking at the abatis surrounding redoubt 9 while Hessian sentries shouted “Who’s there?” and opened fire. Hand to hand combat commenced, but in ten minutes it was over and the Americans and French took possession of the redoubts.
Cornwallis wrote to Clinton:
My situation now becomes very critical. We dare not show a gun to their old batteries, and I expect that their new ones will open tomorrow morning. Experience has shown that our fresh earthen works do not resist their powerful artillery, so that we shall soon be exposed to an assault in ruined works, in a bad position, and with weakened numbers. The safety of the place is, therefore, so precarious that I cannot recommend that the fleet and army should run the great risk in endeavoring to save us.
Then the British tried to retreat to Gloucester across the York River on the night of October 16 only to be deterred by a terrible thunderstorm. The following morning, a British drummer beating a parley appeared on the enemy’s parapet. A British officer stood beside him with a white handkerchief in his hand. Cornwallis had surrendered.
Now, the terms of the surrender were to be negotiated. Colonel John Laurens was one of the commissioners. He was by General Benjamin Lincoln’s side when the garrison at Charleston manned with 5000 troops fell on May 12, 1780. Lincoln surrendered to General Sir Henry Clinton and Clinton had denied Lincoln’s army the honors of war.
When an army fought bravely and well before surrendering, the vanquished soldiers were accorded the honors of war, which meant that they marched from their works with flags flying, drums beating, and their band playing a tune of the conqueror.
The humiliation was reciprocated as part of the terms. When the British commissioners protested that Cornwallis wasn’t present at Charleston, Laurens stated, “It is not the individual that is here considered. It is the nation. This remains an article, or I refuse to be a commissioner.” The terms of the surrender were accepted by both parties.
At noon on Friday, October 19, 1781, a glorious, warm autumn day, sunny and bright with the leaves on the trees just beginning to turn, a portion of the trenches and fortifications surrounding Yorktown were leveled so that the British and Hessians could march out of their works onto Hampton Roads where the allied armies were lined up two ranks deep in a line that stretched for more than a mile with the French on the left and the Americans on the right.
At two o’clock, the mournful distant sound of fifes and drums were heard coming from Yorktown. The waiting armies silenced. The British army which had been reduced from 8,000 to 5,000, with 550 killed or wounded, 2,000 sick and 200 deserters, marched out of Yorktown led not by Cornwallis but by his second in command, General Charles O’Hara, to the slow beat of the drum, their twenty-two regimental flags ignominiously furled and stored in their cases.
O’Hara gave apologies for Cornwallis’ absence and then tried to surrender his sword to Rochambeau. Rochambeau indicated Washington. Washington indicated his second in command, General Benjamin Lincoln. Lincoln accepted the sword and his humiliation had been repaid.
The American Revolutionary War lasted two more years until the Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3, 1783. The surrender also had an effect on Great Britain’s other global endeavors such as the Siege of Gibraltar. And now America would face her biggest challenge of all—how to govern herself.
The Siege of Yorktown is part of my four book historical fantasy series on the American Revolution—Angels and Patriots. I used a lot of references including biographies so I could see the siege from the different points of view from those who were there.
To name a few, some of Connecticut Private Joseph Plumb Martin’s points of view as a sapper were delightful. There was the amusing story of Colonel Alexander Hamilton and General Henry Knox working in their captured redoubt and arguing over whether or not it was manly to jump behind a blind when the British fired shells into the redoubt. I suppose a shout out should go to the French. Viva la France!
October 28, 1776. General George Washington’s Continental Army lost the battle at White Plains, New York. The army had spent the past nine months battling British General William Howe and losing every engagement including New York City. Now, the Continentals were forced to retreat again, to North Castle Heights north of White Plains.
Washington moved his army across the Hudson River to New Jersey and left his second-in-command, General Charles Lee in North Castle Heights with a brigade. A month later, two American forts on the shores of the Hudson fell to the British. With British General Charles Cornwallis following his troops, Washington requested Lee cross the Hudson and join forces with him. Lee declined the request.
On November 28, after informing the Continental Congress that he would remain to “annoy, distract, and consequently weaken [the enemy] in a desultory war”, Lee responded to Washington’s repeated requests. Then, he made a mistake. On December 12, with his bodyguards, servant, and pack of little dogs, Lee left his encampment and stopped at a tavern three miles away at Basking Ridge, New Jersey. The following morning a party of British dragoons, galloped toward the tavern. They shot out all the windows and forced Lee to surrender. Lee’s capture spread like wildfire.
A Hessian captain wrote: We have captured General Lee, the only rebel general whom we had cause to fear.
Charles Lee was born in Cheshire, England in 1731 or 1732 into a genteel family and received an excellent education. He came to North America and fought for the British army in the French and Indian War. When the war was over, he returned home and became a soldier of fortune. He moved to North America in 1773. The Patriots hailed him as a military expert. Because he was better educated and had more military experience than other officers, Lee hoped he would be named commander in chief of the Continental Army. Instead, Congress chose George Washington. Lee was selected as a major general and resigned his commission with the British army.
Lee had a dark side. He was slovenly, used foul language, sarcasm, and insults, and criticized his superiors. On the other hand, he was a composed, brilliant and courageous leader in battle.
After his arrest at Basking Ridge, Lee was held in captivity in New York City. In February 1777, feeling that Congress had abandoned him and that the Americans had no chance to win the war, he submitted a secret military plan to General William Howe, commander of all British forces in America. There is no evidence that Howe read the plan. Lee also offered to mediate the return of America to the British Crown by requesting that Congress send a delegation to meet him. These acts could have been interpreted as treason.
Charles signed a parole in April 1778 preventing him from reentering American military service until a formal prisoner exchange was finalized. He rode to York, Pennsylvania, where Congress sat, to promote a new military plan. He objected to the Continental Army’s training to face British regular soldiers on the field of battle, which Lee called the “European Plan.” He claimed “only a plan of defense, harassing and impeding can alone succeed.”
When he arrived at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, Washington enthusiastically greeted him. But Lee was critical of Baron von Steuben, a Prussian officer who had arrived in America to train the troops. Furthermore, Lee was unfamiliar with many officers and out of touch with the much improved Continental Army.
On June 18, the Continental Army left Valley Forge, to follow the British army evacuating Philadelphia. General Sir William Howe had resigned and returned to England. General Sir Henry Clinton was given command of all British forces in America. His army marched across New Jersey toward New York with a twelve mile long baggage train.
Washington sent detachments to harass Clinton’s rearguard including Generals William Maxwell, Charles Scott, and Colonel Daniel Morgan. These men formed the vanguard of the Continental Army under the young Marquis de Lafayette. Washington offered the command to Lee, but Lee thought the small size of the detachment was beneath his experience. When the detachment grew to 3,700 with the addition of General Anthony Wayne’s men, Lee changed his mind.
By June 26, Clinton’s army was halted at Monmouth Court House. At a June 27 council of war, Washington failed to give Lee clear orders. The commander in chief ordered an attack without specifying a general engagement, but said the rest of the army would come up in supporting distance of Lee. Lafayette asked Lee if he had a plan of attack. Lee replied he had none and thought it would be “better for the service to act according to circumstances.”
Lee’s troops marched on the morning of June 28 in increasingly intense heat through a landscape dotted with farms, orchards and crossed with fields and morasses. Lee received conflicting intelligence about Clinton’s movements: the army was retreating; they were threatening Lee’s flanks; the main body of the British army that constituted Clinton’s first division was still at Monmouth. In actuality, the baggage train and Clinton’s division had marched off to the east and left General Lord Charles Cornwallis’ rear guard near Monmouth.
At 10:00 a.m., Lee’s forces crossed the Middle Morass and began to skirmish with the enemy’s rear guard. Suddenly, Clinton’s first division reversed course and turned to attack the Patriots. Clinton ordered Cornwallis to turn Lee’s right flank. At the sight of this, American Generals Charles Scott and William Maxwell and some artillery pulled back without Lee’s orders.
As Washington came up with the main army, he was informed there was “some confusion” in Lee’s ranks. A fifer walking the road was asked whether he served in the Continental Army. He responded yes and said that the Continental troops that had been advancing were now retreating. The first columns of retreating troops straggled past. When they were asked the reason for the retreat, none had an answer. An aide to Maxwell said Washington “was exceedingly alarmed, finding the advance corps falling back upon the main body, without the least notice given to him.”
Washington fumed with anger. He spotted Lee and the two rode to meet one another. Washington demanded, “I desire to know, sir, what is the reason for this disorder and confusion?”
Lee stammered, “Sir? Sir?” expecting “congratulation and applause” for avoiding a crushing defeat. He said that he had never supported the attack on Clinton’s rear guard in the first place.
Washington eventually calmed down and returned Lee to the battle. At dusk, hostilities ceased. Clinton’s army moved away early the next morning. The most confusing battle of the American Revolution was a draw.
Lee was furious over Washington’s treatment of him. In the post-battle discussions, Washington was praised although it can be argued that his performance at Monmouth was lacking (that is another discussion for another time). Lee believed he was not being credited for his decision to retreat, which in his view saved his detachment from annihilation. He sent Washington a strong letter of complaint, with threats and insults knowing it would likely be made public. He insulted and blamed others calling them “wicked persons” and “dirty earwigs.” Washington found his language “highly improper” and declared Lee would have his forum. In a second letter, Lee demanded a court-martial so he could clear his name. Washington obliged.
The court-martial began on July 4, 1778 in New Brunswick, New Jersey presided over by General Lord Alexander Stirling. The charges pending were:
First, for disobedience of orders in not attacking the enemy on the 28th of June, agreeable to repeated instructions.
Second, for misbehavior before the enemy on the same day, by making an unnecessary, disorderly and shameful retreat.
Third, for disrespect to the commander in chief in two letters dated the 1st of July and the 28th of June.
Lee served as his own defense council. He called thirteen witnesses. The prosecution, Judge Advocate General Colonel John Laurance called twenty-eight. The witnesses included Washington’s aide, Colonel Alexander Hamilton, Lee’s aide, Captain John Mercer, generals Scott, Maxwell, Wayne, Lafayette, and Knox. At the court-martial, Lee offered as his defense: he had been unreasonably provoked.
The court found Lee guilty on all counts except a shameful retreat. He was sentenced to one year suspension from the Continental Army. The verdict was passed to the Continental Congress for a final decision. Although Lee had supporters in Congress such as Dr. Benjamin Rush and Richard Henry Lee, the verdict was upheld. After Lee’s sentence expired, the Congress permanently dismissed him from the Continental Army.
Charles Lee died destitute on the evening of October 2, 1782 at the Sign of the Conestoga Wagon tavern in Philadelphia accompanied by his two little dogs and his faithful Italian servant, Giuseppe Minghini.
American Revolution enthusiasts usually rank General Charles Lee’s conduct near the top of the list with the despised, traitorous General Benedict Arnold. However, Lee has his apologists just as Arnold does. Had Charles Lee been unjustly and unfairly treated? Historians and Revolutionary War lovers have and will continue to argue the question.
How do I feel about General Charles Lee? He is a character in my historical fantasy series of the American Revolution, Angels and Patriots, just as Benedict Arnold is. I see neither man as a pure villain, but both men let their vanity lead them to bad decisions, something many, many people have done since the dawn of man.
Engraved caricature of Lee from vol. 3 of The Diaries of George Washington (Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1978. p.299).
McCullough, David. 1776 New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. Print.
Lender, Mark Edward and Stone, Garry Wheeler. Fatal Sunday University of Oklahoma Press, 2016. Print.
McBurney, Christian. George Washington’s Nemesis: The Outrageous Treason and Unfair Court-Martial of Major General Charles Lee in the Revolutionary War Savas Beatie, 2020. Print
What did the American Revolution’s first martyr and the American Revolution’s most infamous traitor have in common that was so important?
Dr. Joseph Warren was an influential and ubiquitous Boston physician, son of a Roxbury farmer, husband, father, Son of Liberty, masonic grand master, and in the absence of John Hancock, pro tempore president (Joseph would be voted president on May 2, 1775) of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and member of its sub-committees when he and Benedict Arnold met in Cambridge, Massachusetts in late April 1775.
Joseph, who sent Paul Revere and William Dawes on their famous midnight ride to warn the countryside that General Thomas Gage’s British regulars were on the move to seize patriot arms in Concord and possibly to arrest John Hancock and Samuel Adams hiding in Lexington, was holding the American rebellion in Massachusetts and the provincial army together.
Benedict Arnold was from an influential Connecticut family. His great-grandfather was an early governor of Rhode Island. The family prospered until some poor business deals caused financial problems. Arnold’s father turned to the local taverns for solace. Prior to the Revolution, Benedict was an apothecary and a successful seagoing merchant captain. Some of his business dealings drifted into smuggling . . . in contempt of the customs laws of the Crown.
Both Joseph and Benedict were born in 1741. They were handsome, charismatic, energetic, ambitious, and both had an indifference to personal safety. Future actions by Benedict with respect to Joseph’s children suggest that the two seemed to have struck up an almost instant friendship, but no details of their personal interactions survive.
In April 1775, Captain Benedict Arnold marched his well-appointed militia unit from New Haven, Connecticut to Cambridge. Benedict approached Joseph and the Committee of Safety with a scheme to take the poorly defended British stronghold of Fort Ticonderoga at the southern end of Lake Champlain where there were “80 pieces of heavy cannon, 20 brass and 4 18-pounders and 10-12 mortars.” This is exactly what the Committee of Safety needed to hear. The provincial army had two experienced artillery officers, but it still did not have a sufficient number of cannons.
Joseph championed the project and shepherded it through the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. Benedict was appointed a Massachusetts militia colonel, issued 100 pounds, 200 lbs of gunpowder (a decision that would prove portentous 6 weeks later at Bunker Hill), 200 lbs of lead musket balls, and bayonets.
Joseph proceeded in relative secrecy so British General Thomas Gage might be kept in the dark. Unknown to Joseph and Benedict, the Connecticut governor, John Trumbull, was simultaneously pursuing the same scheme with Ethan Allen.
Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys were equally eager to capture such a prize and the two groups met up with each other at Bennington. Arnold was surprised and angered because Ethan Allen did not care if Arnold had permission from the Committee of Safety and Arnold couldn’t talk Allen out of relinquishing command. Nevertheless, on May 10, 1775, they surprised the British garrison at Ticonderoga and took the fort.
Joseph was one of the first leaders to hear of the expedition’s success. He sent news of Benedict’s success to Governor Trumbull. Joseph glossed over the murky inter-colonial jurisdictional issues and sought to calm ruffle feathers when Benedict’s querulous personality began to reveal itself. Joseph wrote:
Gentlemen, We have the happiness of presenting our congratulations to you on the reduction of that important Fortress Ticonderoga… [We] should be extremely glad if all the battering cannon, especially brass cannon, which can be spared from that place…may be forwarded this way with all possible expedition, as we have here to contend with an army furnished with as fine a train of artillery as ever seen in America; and we are of extreme want of a sufficient number of cannon to fortify those important passes without which we can neither annoy General Gage, if it should become necessary, nor defend ourselves against him….
History has given well-deserved laurels to Henry Knox for leading the epic hauling of Ticonderoga’s artillery across the New England winter landscape of 1775-76 and delivering it to General George Washington in Cambridge, Massachusetts where it was used on Dorchester Heights to break the Siege of Boston. Ignored are Joseph Warren’s, Benedict Arnold’s, Ethan Allen’s, and Governor Trumbull’s conceptualization and early actions that initiated Knox’s campaign and stunning success.
With the new rank of major general, Joseph Warren was killed five weeks later at the Battle of Bunker Hill (Breed’s Hill) on June 17, 1775. His was a widower who left four destitute orphaned children behind. Benedict Arnold went on to become a major general in the Continental Army, led an expedition to Quebec City, commanded at Valcour Island, and fought at the Battle of Bemis Heights (the 2nd Battle of Saratoga) where on a borrowed horse named Warren, he stormed the enemy’s Breymann Redoubt and took a shot to the thigh which killed his mount.
By 1780, Benedict had become disgruntled with the Continental Army over back pay among other things. He donated $500 of his own money toward the care of Joseph’s children. It was a move that shamed the delegates of Congress, such as Samuel Adams, who had once been Joseph’s close compatriots and had refused measures to pay for the support of Joseph’s children.
In September of that same year, Benedict Arnold passed off the plans for West Point to British Major John Andre in exchange for an excess of 10,000 pounds and a general’s commission in the British army. The Americans discovered the plot. Benedict successfully escaped and turned. Andre was hanged as a spy.
Benedict Arnold became the vilest traitor of the American Revolution. Perhaps it was a mercy that Joseph Warren never knew.
Forman, Samuel A. Dr. Joseph Warren, The Boston Tea Party, Bunker Hill, and the Birth of American Liberty. 2012: Pelican Publishing Company, Gretna, Louisiana.
Philbrick, Nathaniel. Bunker Hill A City, A Siege, A Revolution. 2013: Penguin Books, New York, NY.
Philbrick, Nathaniel. Valiant Ambition Penguin Books New York, 2016. Print.
Dr. Joseph Warren is an important character in my award-winning historical fantasy novel Angels & Patriots Book One, Sons of Liberty, Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill Available on Amazon in paperback or KU or eBook.
In October 1777, after two years of service in America, General Sir William Howe, the commander-in-chief of all British forces in America penned his resignation to Lord George Germain the English Secretary of State to the American Colonies.
In Philadelphia, on May 11, 1778, by acquiescence of Lord Germain, William relinquished his position to his second in command and often rival, General Sir Henry Clinton. There was no change of command ceremony. William just wanted to be gone. But William was a popular commander who frequently charmed even his critics. He was an affable man and no martinet, who socialized easily and was always decorated with his mistress, the beautiful Mrs. Elizabeth Lloyd Loring, draped on his arm. His eminent departure for London deserved recognition.
A group of British army officers led by the young and handsome, Captain John Andre, financed and arranged a brilliant spectacle on the banks of the Delaware River to honor William Howe. The event was called the Mischianza, Italian for “medley” or “mixture.” It was a form of entertainment that had become popular in London that combined regattas, parades, costumes, and touches of medieval knights.
The guests received an elaborate invitation with an engraving of a shield, a view of the sea and the setting sun, and a Latin inscription on a wreath that said “I shine as I set, I shall rise up again in increased splendor.” The shield was emblazoned with cannons and cannonballs, swords, pikes, and kegs of gunpowder. General Howe’s crest was above the shield with the words Viva Vale! (Live and be strong!)
At 3:30 p.m. on May 18, the entertainment began with a grand regatta at Knight’s Wharf. There were huge crowds of spectators aboard the ships and along the moorings. The 400 guests who included General Howe and his brother, Admiral Lord Richard Howe, the army’s principal officers, and a careful selection of the most beautiful women in the city including Elizabeth Loring boarded galleys and flat boats lined with green cloth. Generals Sir Henry Clinton and Wilhelm von Knyphausen with their staff officers and ladies were among the procession of galleys. Magnificently decorated British warships added to the spectacle.
The passengers disembarked at Walnut Grove, the British confiscated mansion of the Wharton family. On the arrival of Sir William Howe, a seventeen gun salute was fired from his brother’s flagship the Roebuck. The guests promenaded through an avenue formed by files of grenadiers and cavalry. Then, they passed through two triumphal Doric arches.
The first arch, in honor of Sir William, was guarded by two grenadiers and painted with military motifs. At the top was the inscription, “Go, good man, whither your virtue calls you, go with an auspicious step!” The second arch, in honor of Lord Richard, was guarded by two sailors and had naval motifs. At the top was the inscription, “He is due praise and greater thanks from me”
The company proceeded to a lawn with pavilions on both sides. There, colorful medieval-style tents stood in front of rows of risers, before which sat two groups of seven women in gauzy Turkish dress to give the flavor of the crusades.
Here history diverges. According to John Andre’s written account, seventeen-year-old Peggy Shippen, the future wife of Benedict Arnold was among the women. However, the aristocratic loyalist-leaning Shippen family said her father prohibited her from attending because he thought the costumes too scandalous.
Nevertheless, in accordance with the customs of ancient chivalry, the sound of trumpets announced the beginning of a joust. The tournament was between two teams of mounted army officers: The Knights of the Blended Rose dressed in red and white silk and The Knights of the Burning Mountain clad in black and orange.
Each jouster fought in honor of one of the ladies chosen for their youth, beauty, and fashion. Clanging lances and clattering swords shattered the air through four rounds of the tournament; culminating in a match between the knights’ two leaders. Then, the Marshall of the Field appeared declaring the tournament a tie and the beauty of the ladies a draw.
The knights, ladies, and guests retired to the Wharton mansion embellished with artificial flowers that glowed in the reflected light from eighty-five tall mirrors and countless candles. A dance continued until 10 p.m. After fireworks and a supper, a ball recommenced.
In the midst of the midnight supper, the Continental Army sneered at the festivities. The British fortifications near Germantown exploded into flames. Under cover of night, the Marquis de Lafayette and his men poured kettles of whale oil onto the British barriers, ignited them, and then slipped away. The startled guards responded with a drum roll signaling an attack. When nothing else happened, the soldiers told the civilians the noise was just part of the fireworks.
The Mischianza was more like a victory celebration than a farewell to a general who was leaving under a cloud, with Washington’s army undefeated at Valley Forge, and William’s miscalculation in taking Philadelphia rather than relieving British General John Burgoyne who was forced to capitulate at Saratoga.
The sheer extravagance of the event elicited disgust in London where one of the newspapers called the spectacle “nauseous.” Even Admiral Lord Richard Howe’s secretary, Ambrose Serle, was among the critics. “Every man of sense, among ourselves, tho not unwilling to pay a due respect, was ashamed of this mode of doing it.” With or without the Mischianza, Sir William Howe must have known his hope for vindication was a long shot.
Fleming, Thomas. Washington’s Secret War The Hidden History of Valley Forge New Word City, Inc. 2016. Print.
O’Shaughnessy, Andrew Jackson. The Men Who Lost America New Haven & London Yale University Press, 2013. Print.
Lender, Mark Edward and Stone, Gary Wheeler. Fatal Sunday University of Oklahoma Press Norman, 2016. Print.
Rebels, Heroes, Patriots, and Legends. My multiple award winning Angels and Patriots historical fantasy saga is the mutual pursuit of liberty, the meaning of loyalty, and the virtue of the ultimate sacrifice during the American Revolution.
“Through much fatigue and many dangers past, The Warworn soldier’s braved his way at last.” ~~ Joseph Plumb Martin
I could think of no better way to express my love for this narrative except to offer a review. I’ve read countless quotes from Joseph’s memoir in books about the Revolutionary War and have written about him in my own novels. But to read his memoir in it’s entirety plunged me into his world during his nearly eight years of service with the Continental Army.
Joseph wrote and published his memoirs in 1830 at the age of 70. The book was lost to history, rediscover in the 1950’s, and published again in 1962. Like many memoirs, he may have embellished it, but it’s rooted in the experiences endured by the common soldier instead of the heroic accounts of men like Washington, Greene, and Knox. Nevertheless, this is an eye opening tale of suffering, endurance, and patriotism.
Joseph was born in Massachusetts on November 21, 1760, therefore he was just a teenager when he joined the army in 1776. At the time, he lived with his grandparents in Connecticut and had difficulty gaining their permission to enlist. He and his company were soon sent to New York where they saw action at Long Island, Kipp’s Bay, Harlem Heights, and White Plains.
Later in the war, he was at Germantown, the siege of Fort Mifflin, and the Battle of Monmouth. His company was shipped off to the Hudson Highlands and West Point. He spoke of Benedict Arnold’s treason and John Andre’s execution. He was with the unit of sappers at Yorktown who dug the parallel entrenchments used to besiege Cornwallis’ army.
In his memoir, Joseph paints a picture of camaraderie between he and his “messmates.” Their shared struggles with constant starvation, nakedness, lack of shelter, sickness, fatigue, and hard duty is a theme throughout.
“To have to lie, as I did, almost every other night on the cold and often wet ground… without a blanket, and with nothing but thin summer clothing, was tedious.”
“The army was now (Valley Forge) not only starved but naked; the greatest part were not only shirtless and barefoot, but destitute of all other clothing, especially blankets.”
“…I have often been so beat out with long and tedious marching, that I have fallen asleep while walking the road, and not been sensible of it till I have jostled against some one in the same situation;…”
He candidly wrote about the officers who made bad decisions, quartered in homes and ate well — “for they must have victuals, let the poor men fare as they would.” His detailed descriptions of the army’s failure to provide pay and provisions, his food foraging expeditions, and food sometimes provided to the soldiers by civilians underlies the desperation he experienced enduring starvation.
Yet amid all these descriptions of misery, Joseph demonstrates a sense of humor, compassion, courage, mischief, and admiration for “handsome ladies.” He refers to those who are killed or dies as “Poor young man!” or “Poor fellow!” When his regiment returns to White Plains, he sees that the Hessians who died at the battle there the year before are ill-buried and he feels sorry for them. “Here the Hessian sculls as thick as a bomb shells; — poor fellows! they were left unburied in a foreign land…”
When the war ended in 1783, he wrote that the happiness he had anticipated was not realized. “….there was as much sorrow as joy transfused on the occasion. We lived together as a family of brothers for several years (setting aside some little family squabbles, like most other families,) had shared with each other the hardships, dangers and sufferings incident to a soldier’s life…”
He concludes with after the war the soldiers were never given the land they were promised nor their yearly clothing allowance. But the heart rending message was how the country vilified them — the army was idle during the war or the militia could have done the job. The soldiers’ hardships were debased and underrated.
“President Monroe was the first of all our Presidents, except President Washington, who ever uttered a syllable in the ‘old soldiers’ favor.”
Of the voices of slander, he wrote:
“It was very easy for them to build castles in the air, but they had not felt the difficulty of making them stand there.”
“And now, kind Reader, I bid you a cordial and long farewell.” ~~ Joseph Plumb Martin