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DAY 14 – FINAL REFLECTIONS

On this journey to explore our nation’s Revolutionary and colonial past, I have made a few observations along the way:

First a few nerdy stats:

  • I have been traveling for the past 15 days through the following states: Massachusetts, Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

  • I have visited 8 battlefields and military parks, 2 living history museums, and participated in 3 history walking tours.

  • I have accumulated the following miles: 5,047 miles in the air; 1,500 miles driven by car, and 125 miles by train and subway.

Walking the Battlefields

This is my third trip where I tramped about on the fields, trails, and roads of a battlefield. But no matter how many times I do this I am always surprised at what I discover.  The tactical and strategic positioning and maneuvering of an army becomes so much clearer when seen from the perspective of those that were there. Sometimes when I have read an account of a particular tactical movement in a battle it is hard for me to visualize and appreciate its significance, even with handy-dandy maps. But when I’m standing at a pivotal point on a battlefield with map in hand, I can suddenly see how that gentle rise in the distance or that marshy area to my left could influence the course of the battle. Even with 250 years of changes in the landscape, it doesn’t take too much imagination to place oneself in the middle of the battle.

On the Road with Google Maps

My good friend, Google Maps, guided me faithfully over the past two weeks, often through some very confusing roadways and streets. Ironically, even though I love pouring over maps, I have a terrible sense of direction and I get easily turned around. Thanks to Google Maps and its soothing electronic voice gently reminding me to turn left at the next intersection or to continue straight on the 64W, I was able to travel about with confidence. One additional advantage to navigating with Google Maps is that it often sent me on backroads and byways to get to my destination. This experience allowed me the pleasures of experiencing rural America and some amazing beautiful backroad country.

Preservation and conservation

The places that I visited, from battlefields to historically significant buildings, all exist for the pleasures of discovery, exploration, and understanding for everyone. We live in an age where the only significant events that should concern us occurred yesterday on someone’s Twitter feed. This type of inane thinking is prevalent in our culture. My exploration of historic sites and individuals who shaped our present world convinces me that the study and preservation of the historic past is vital to our understanding of who we are today. Many thanks, indeed, need to be bestowed upon the countless volunteers and paid professionals who helped preserve and conserve those places that tell the unique American story.

Sacrifice and Patriotism

I have read many accounts of the Revolutionary War and biographies of those individuals that were significant during this early period in American history. I always have admired these individuals, but it wasn’t until this trip that I came to truly appreciate their brilliance, self-sacrifice, and patriotism. These men and women held to high ideals and were able to communicate the concepts of freedom and liberty in ways everyone could understand. They often sacrificed their livelihood, friendships, and comforts of a privileged life to further the cause of liberty.  The road to liberty that they began is still a work in progress but these individuals, from the common soldier to the wealthiest plantation owner, deserves our gratitude for the freedoms we enjoy today.   

I have thoroughly enjoyed sharing with you my experiences and thoughts of this trip that seemed to last as long as the American Revolution. I hope you have enjoyed following me on my journey. Huzzah!

 

DAY 13 – BATTLE OF YORKTOWN

A Bit of History

In the summer of 1780, 5,500 French troops, with Comte de Rochambeau at the helm, landed in Newport, Rhode Island to aid the Americans. At the time, British forces were fighting two fronts, with General Henry Clinton occupying New York City, and Cornwallis, who had already captured Charleston and Savannah, South Carolina, heading up operations in the south. The Americans needed a big victory if they were to convince the peace conference in Europe that they had a right to demand independence for all thirteen colonies.

With the Continental Army positioned in New York, Washington and Rochambeau teamed to plan a timed attack on Clinton with the arrival of more French forces. When they found the French fleet was instead sailing to the Chesapeake Bay, Washington concocted a new plan. He would fool Clinton into thinking the Continentals were planning to attack New York while instead sneaking away to the south to attack Cornwallis. Washington ordered the construction of large camps with huge brick bread ovens where Clinton could see them to create the illusion that the Continental Army was preparing for a long stay. Washington also prepared false papers discussing attack plans on Clinton, and let these papers fall into British hands.

By mid-September 1781, Washington and Rochambeau arrived in Williamsburg, Virginia, 13 miles from the tobacco port of Yorktown, where Cornwallis’s men had built a defense of 10 small forts (a.k.a. redoubts) with artillery batteries and connecting trenches. In response, Cornwallis asked Clinton for aid, and the general promised him a fleet of 5,000 British soldiers would set sail from New York to Yorktown. 

 

With a small force left in New York, about 2,500 Americans and 4,000 French soldiers—facing some 8,000 British troops—began digging their own trenches 800 yards from the Brits and started a nearly week-long artillery assault on the enemy on October 9.  The heavy cannons pounded the British mercilessly, and by October 11 had knocked out most of the British guns. Cornwallis received the unfortunate (for him) news that Clinton’s departure from New York had been delayed.  A new parallel trench, 400 yards closer to the British lines, was ordered by Washington on October 11, but completing it would entail taking out the British redoubts No. 9 and No. 10. 

 

 

The attack on redoubt No. 9 would be undertaken by French troops, while the No. 10 siege would be led by Colonel Alexander Hamilton. The Founding Father wasn’t the top pick of Major General Marquis de Lafayette for the job, but Hamilton, who wanted to improve his reputation by proving himself on the battlefield, talked Washington into it. To speed up the siege of the two redoubts—French troops were to take redoubt No. 9, while Hamilton’s men were assigned No. 10—Washington ordered the use of bayonets, rather than pounding them slowly into submission with cannon. 

After nightfall on October 14, the allies fired several consecutive shells in the air that brilliantly illuminated the sky. At that point, Hamilton and his men rallied from their trenches and sprinted across a quarter-mile of field with fixed bayonets. For the sake of silence, surprise, and soldierly pride, they had unloaded their guns to take the position with bayonets alone. Dodging heavy fire, they let out war whoops that startled their enemies. … The whole operation had consumed fewer than ten minutes. 

 

Of his 400 infantrymen, Hamilton lost just nine in the attack, with some 30 wounded, while the 400 French-led troops lost 27 men, with 109 wounded. Surrounded by enemy fire, and blocked from receiving aid by the French fleet that had arrived in Chesapeake Bay, Cornwallis was trapped.  The successful siege allowed the allies to complete the second parallel trench and snuffed out the last remains of resistance among the British. In a final effort on October 16, Cornwallis attempted a nighttime sea evacuation, but he was stopped by a storm. 

On the morning of October 17, the British sent forward a red-coated drummer boy, followed by an officer waving a white handkerchief to the parapet. All guns fell silent—Cornwallis had surrendered. 

 

 

Following the Battle at Yorktown and Cornwallis’s surrender—and the British down one-third of its force—the British Parliament, in March 1782, passed a resolution calling for the nation to end the war. The British still had 30,000 men in North America, occupying the seaports of New York, Charles Town and Savannah. But the demoralizing loss at Yorktown diminished the British will to continue to fight the rebels. On September 3, 1783, the Revolutionary War came to an official end with the signing of the Treaty of Paris. 

Yorktown Battlefield

Nothing gets my nerd heart racing faster than 3-D maps. This is an overview of the Yorktown battlefield complete with little trees and waterways. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you really want to dig deep (pun intended) into this subject, below is a brief 2-minute video describing the action at the First Parallel where the above video was made. 

There was really only one major battle during the siege of Yorktown – the allied attacks on redoubts 9 & 10 – but it was a significant one in that it turned the tide against the British, initiating the eventual surrender of British forces five days later.

I gotta say, my arm in this thumbnail image looks unnaturally long and alien-like.

 

 

American Revolutionary War Museum at Yorktown

Just down the road from the Yorktown battlefield is the American Revolutionary War Museum. Now, you may be thinking, “Wait, didn’t he already visit a similar museum in Boston? Why would he want to go to another museum consisting of the same information and material? Is he nuts? I leave the last question to debate, but I too wondered about the value of ending my tour with another visit to a Revolutionary War museum. In a two week period, I should have absorbed enough information about the war and the colonial period to satisfy even my own insatiably curious mind. How wrong I was.

This was a wonderful place to end my tour because of all the fabulous places I visited on this tour, I would have to rank this as the most enriching and rewarding. This is due primarily to the museum’s creative and richly produced displays, programs and media presentations of every aspect of the war and the people of that era. The outdoor area is an extension of the indoor museum and is comprised of a recreated Continental army encampment and a Revolution-era farm complete with historical interpreters eager to share their knowledge. It was all quite so very impressive.

The museum offers two films, each about 15-20 minutes, that each tell the story of the Revolutionary War in different ways. I have never seen a more effective use of the film media to convey information about the war and its meaning.

The first film called, “Liberty Fever” is narrated by an early 19th-century storyteller who has traveled the country gathering stories about the American Revolution and shares his accounts using a panorama presentation of the time period.  The film’s production values were incredible (and I should know because I’m also a movie nerd) and the story-line was authentically and movingly presented. At the end of the film, a woman in front of me was wiping away tears. Not me, of course.

The second film I watched was called, “Revolution”. It traces the war from the battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775 to victory at Yorktown in 1781 and the aftermath.  This was a “4-D” theater in that we were transported to the Yorktown battlefield with wind, smoke and the thunder of cannon fire shown in a wrap-around screen. The room shook during cannon fire and wisps of smoke drifted beneath the seats. The battle scenes were provided a backdrop for the stories of various stories of individuals – patriots, loyalists, slaves – that were incorporated in the film.

 

 

Below are just a few of the pictures I took from the outdoor living history area. 

A private’s shared tent. 

 

 

The regimental colonel’s tent. A bit more spacious.

 

 

 

An army doctor discussing the varied aspects of 18th-century medical care. Wounded soldiers were terrified of going to the hospital because of the high mortality rate once you entered it. Of the 26,000 American soldiers that were killed during the Revolutionary War, 19,000 died from infections, diseases and other non-combat sources. Medical practices and mortality rates remained nearly the same 80 years later during the Civil War. I learned from this doctor everything I would want to know about scabies, its treatment, and all the details involved in bloodletting. Fascinating. I can’t wait to try it out on someone.

A typical food garden that would be grown on a farm in Virginia. I asked about the absence of Tomato plants and was informed that white colonists just didn’t eat them.  No wonder they were often so uptight. 

 

 

A musket demonstration. There are two observations from this demonstration. First, the musket takes a long time to load between shots as is evidenced in the video. The other is that, although you can’t tell from the video, the firing of a musket is loud. Imagine hundreds of muskets going off along with the din of cannon fire and the shouting of officers. This is why training and discipline were such key elements to winning a battle. 

 

There were many more areas of interest that I could have showed you, but I was called over by General Washington to confer upon some battle plans. Afterwards, he presented me with papers for an honorable discharge from the American Revolutionary War Battlefield Tour. I am proud to have served under such a great man.

 

Tomorrow…Home!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DAY 12 – COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG

Colonial Williamsburg

Just give me a powdered wig and tools for my trade or craft and I would fit right in with colonial Williamsburg. Below are just a few of my experiences as I was tranported to 18th-century colonial times.

The governor’s Palace as seen from a distance… 

 

…and as seen from the back garden.

 

The tour inside the Palace made me appreciate how much the American colonies owned to England with regards to tradition and culture. This is why during the war there was much ambivalence, especially in the southern colonies, toward the idea of independence from England. John Adams once wrote, “We were about one third Tories, one third timid and one third true Blue.”

A groovy hedge maze in back of the Palace. I never did find the center of the maze but I did keep hearing Jack Nicholson shouting, “Danny!” in the distance. Sorry, just an obscure reference to “The Shining”. 

 

 

Another fabulous trade shop, this one being the foundry on-site shop at the Getty home. Here founders cast and finish buckles, knobs, bells, spoons, and other objects in bronze, brass, pewter, and silver. 

Some molds and a few of the domestic objects created in the foundry. The mold cases were packed imported sand from England.  

 

A very amusing play about an actual 18th-century woman named Hannah Snell who dressed as man in order to join the British naval and was involved in several battles and adventurous exploits. 

 

More trades shops. This one is a public leather works. This particular shop, because it was supported by public funds, only produced leather products necessary for Virginia’s fighting men. 

 

This gentleman patiently answered my many nerdy questions about leather. 

 

 

The Printing Office. This printer described the arduous process of creating colonial newspapers, political notices, pamphlets and books, Quite fascinating. The handle in the picture was used to press down on the paper laid on the type. Thus, this is how we aquired the term for news agencies as “The Press”. Or more likely it’s derived from the word depressing.

 

One last tradesman – The Wigmaker. The process for customizing a wig for each client was quite the process involving multiple steps. In addition, wigs were not cheap as one wig cost about one month’s salary for the average tradesman. 

 

This actor gave an amazing 30-minute one-man stage play in the guise of Patrick Henry. I really didn’t know that much about Henry before I saw this. Now I do. Another fascinating personality from the revolutionary era.

The exterior of the Capital Building…  

 

…and the interior. Prisoners were brought here specifically to be tried for serious crimes. Since they only met 4 times a year, a prisoner might have to wait a very long time before his or her case was brought to trial. A prisoner was brought to the capital for adjudication; thus this is how we get our term, “capital crime”. 

 

 

The House of Burgesses. This is where Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson and other Revolutionary luminaries debated, argued, and compromised over fundamental concepts of freedom and liberty. Our guide through the capital building gave a wonderfully impassioned speech while we were in this room about the blessings and privilege of living in America and the need to practice civility to those who hold opposing views with our own. We all clapped afterwards.

There was much more that I experienced while at Williamsburg, but now I must turn my attention to my last visit to a battlefield on the last day of my journey…

Tomorrow…Yorktown Battlefield!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DAY 11 – COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG

A Bit of History

Today, Williamsburg, Virginia, is recognized as the “world’s largest living history museum,” but during the 18th century, the meticulously restored colonial capital was Britain’s largest settlement in the New World.

The city was founded as the capital of the Virginia Colony in 1699, and it was here that the basic concepts of the United States of America were formed under the leadership of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, and many others.  Named Williamsburg in honor of England’s reigning monarch at the time, King William III, the colonial mecca also became a center of learning. The College of William and Mary, founded in 1693, counts political leaders such as Presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and John Tyler as graduates.

During its time as the capital of Virginia, Williamsburg flourished as the hub of religious, economic and social life in the state. A palatial Governor’s Palace was built as were markets, taverns, a theatre, a church (those living in the New World were required by law to worship in the Church of England), and countless homes. Market Sqaure was the site of celebrations, festivals, fairs, contests, and even puppet shows; tradesmen, such as wig makers, tailors, blacksmiths, and cabinetmakers, practiced their craft along Duke of Gloucester Street. Restaurants and taverns offered onion soup, ham, carrot and chicken dishes, pudding, and pie. Following the Desclaration of Independence from Britain, however, the American Revolutionary War broke out, and the capital of Virginia was moved 50 miles (80.4 kilometers) north to Richmond. It was feared that Williamsburg’s location allowed easy access for the British to attack.

The United States of America’s independence from Great Britain was a turning point in world history. Key players from Williamsburg helped lay the foundation of America, and the preservation of the colonial town has allowed present-day visitors to experience what life was like back then.

Colonial Williamsburg

When I was in Boston and Philadelphia, I had the fabulous opportunity of exploring those historic buildings and structures from the 18th century that are still standing today. But no matter how amazing it was to stand before The Old State House in Boston or Independence Hall in Philadelphia, you are always aware that these structures are completely surrounded by 40-story buildings, rushing traffic, and the noise of a bustling urban city. The modern has intruded upon the past. This is why is was looking forward to spending a day and a half at Colonial Williamsburg, where it proudly proclaims presides, “the world’s largest living museum”. It’s a place where time has stood still and the modern has not intruded upon the past – the past being 18th century colonial America.

I had a very long drive today from South Carolina and only had a few hours at the site, but what I did experience in that short time sent me into nerd nirvana. Below are just a few of those experiences. More will follow tomorrow.

A woodworker (or joiner) explaining the secrets of the trade. Everything made in the joinery (including the wooden window frame shown) was fashioned using 18th-century tools and techniques. I spent 15 minutes listening to this guy and his expertise, peppering him with nerdy questions. 

Blacksmith shop. I watched this blacksmith, working under very warm conditions, work a piece of red-hot iron to form a chisel. Quite impressive. 

 

 

 

 

The Courthouse.  Everything you would want to know about the justice system in 18th-century America in this original building. Interesting trivia: When a lawyer would go from the spectator space (where I was), pass the wooden bar (in front of the woman), and stand where the woman is talking – this was called passing the bar. 

 

This is just for Carol. Colorful dyed yarn from wool obtained from local sheep at Williamsburg. She was working on untangling the woolen mass into something orderly using some very groovy tools. 

 

The Engraving Shop. I had no idea all that went into engraving designs, utilizing all  different types of metals from silver, gold, copper, pewter, brass, and bronze. This craftsman deserves a gold medal.

 

Tomorrow…Williamsburg!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DAY 10 – BATTLE OF KING’S MOUNTAIN and BATTLE OF COWPENS

Battle of King’s Mountain

A Bit of History

After his victory at the Battle of Camden in August, 1780, British General Charles Cornwallis marched into North Carolina. To protect his left flank, he dispatched his Inspector of Militia, Ferguson into the South Carolina backcountry. Apprised of the threat, various Whig militias led by William Campbell, Benjamin Cleveland, Joseph McDowell,  John Sevier, and Isaac Shelby rallied to confront Ferguson. Since many of the Patriots came from the western part of the Carolinas and the present state of Tennessee they were known as “Overmountain Men.”

Learning of their plans, Ferguson opts to retreat from his forward position and pulls back closer to the main body of the British Army. He digs in and fortifies a small 60-foot hill two miles inside the South Carolina border. An American scouting party learns of Ferguson’s position, giving militia commanders the intelligence they need to launch an attack. Sensing an impending battle, the American commanders tell their men, “Don’t wait for the word of command. Let each one of you be your own officer and do the very best you can.” The American plan was simple—to assault the hill from all sides. Campbell tells his men to “shout like Hell and fight like devils.

 

 In the early afternoon, the Overmountain men creep quietly toward Ferguson’s position. When the first shot rings out the Americans attack en masse from all sides.  Ferguson deploys his Loyalist militia in the center of the hilltop. He remains mounted and personally leads the counterattack against the patriots surging from the southwest. After firing a volley and fixing bayonets, Ferguson’s men blunt the Overmountain men’s advance. But it is only on one side of the hill and the Overmountain men continue unabated to attack from the other sides using the undergrowth and woods to their advantage.  One Loyalist later recalled that the Overmountain men looked “like devils from the infernal regions… tall, raw-boned, sinewy with long matted hair.” Ferguson and his men are surrounded, and their additional counterattacks fail to stop the Americans. The Overmountain men continue their yelling and whooping as they gain ground. 

With his defensive perimeter shrinking, Ferguson tries to lead his men past the onslaught. Mounted on his horse, he proves the perfect target for his crack shot opponents. He is hit multiple times, his body hanging from his horse as his mount flees down the hill. Shortly after Ferguson’s death, the Loyalists surrender.

The loss of Ferguson’s force prompted Cornwallis to temporarily abandon his offensive in North Carolina and permanently shifted the initiative to the Americans in the South. British Commander-in-Chief Sir Henry Clinton lamented the battle was “the first link in a chain of evils that followed each other in regular succession until they at last ended in the total loss of America.” 

Battle of King’s Mountain

 

King’s Mountain National Military Park

Park Map

Of all the battlefields I have visited on this tour, the battle of King’s Mountain was the easiest to imagine and interpret. The primary reason for this is that the battle lines and the battle itself was relatively simple. The loyalists were arrayed at the top of the peak with the Overmountain men completely surrounding them.  The 1 1/2-mile walking trail follows very closely the battle lines of both the American militia below the peak and the loyalist troops at the top.

I learned that Kings Mountain is a unique battle for several reasons. It was one of the few major battles of the war fought entirely between Americans: no British troops served here (I may have invertedly referred to the loyalist troops as Redcoats in the videos). In the South, many people were divided. When the war started, some fought for independence, others for loyalty to England.

Kings Mountain is also unique in that large numbers of riflemen fought here. Rifles were not used much by the armies. A rifle was a hunting weapon, used by families on the frontier. The American militia that fought here mainly used rifles; the Loyalist troops had mostly muskets.


 

Above is a scene that one can imagine faced by the 16-year old South Carolina patriot as described below. 

 

 

 

 

One last look at those rugged and determined Overmountain men.

 

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Battle of Cowpens

A Bit of History

Three months after the battle of Kings Mountain, in December 1780, Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene dispatched Brig. Gen. Daniel Morgan and his “flying army” west from Charlotte, North Carolina. Morgan’s command consisted of dragoons, militia, and Continental regulars. Greene directed Morgan to gather forage, support local American militia and threaten British outposts in the South Carolina backcountry. 

Alarmed by Morgan’s movement and the threat to his left flank at Winnsboro, Lord Charles Cornwallis ordered one of his top subordinates, Lieutenant Colonel  Banastre Tarleton to pursue and destroy Morgan. Tarleton took with him his feared British Legion, the 7th Regiment of Foot, the first battalion of the 71st Regiment (Fraser’s Highlanders), 17th Light Dragoons and a contingent of light infantry. Tarleton aggressively pursued Morgan and caught up with his quarry on the morning of January 17, 1781 south of the Broad River.

Morgan formed his men and awaited Tarleton in an open, rolling meadow known as the Cowpens. The terrain perfectly suited Morgan’s battle plan. He decided to position his men in three successive lines. The first consisted of riflemen from Georgia and the Carolinas. Morgan placed his men, under Andrew Pickens, in the second line. Continental Regulars from Maryland and Delaware led by Lt. Col. John Eager Howard were in the rear of the militia. Later known as a defense in depth, Morgan hoped his first two lines would slow and deplete Tarleton’s advance before his Continentals struck the decisive blow. 

Shortly after sunrise, the American rifleman encountered the lead elements of Tarleton’s force. The Georgians and Carolinians held up the British vanguard enough to prompt Tarleton to form a battle line. From right to left Tarleton placed the 17th Light Dragoons, the light infantry companies, British Legion infantry, the 7th Regiment, and the British Legion Dragoons. He kept the 71st Regiment in reserve. As the British advanced, the riflemen fell back to the militia line. 

 

 

After firing a few volleys, the militia withdrew. In the hopes of seizing the day, Tarleton sent forward the 17th Dragoons in a mounted charge. Watching the cavalry advance, Morgan ordered his own dragoons, under Lt. Col. William Washington to meet the attack. Washington skillfully led his men forward and repulsed the British cavalry.

 

Undeterred, Tarleton continued on to the third line and met stiff resistance from the Continentals. Tarleton then elected to commit his reserves and the 71st Regiment came upon Morgan’s right. As the Americans redeployed to meet this threat, Morgan ordered them to reform on a nearby knoll. Watching their enemy seemingly withdraw, the British line broke into a bayonet charge. When the Americans reached their designated spot, Morgan yelled “Face about boys! Give them one good fire and the victory is ours!” The ensuing volley devastated the British ranks and Morgan launched a counterattack. In a double envelopment, the Continentals slammed in Tarleton’s center while Pickens and Washington struck the British flanks simultaneously. Tarleton’s line crumbled and what was left of his command fled from the field.

 

Continental Flanking Attack on the British Lines

 

 

Cowpens was the most decisive American victory of the War for Independence. It gave a major boost to Patriot morale, inflicted casualties that the British could not replace and ultimately led to Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown that fall. 

 

Cowpens National Battlefield

Park Map

 

Cowpens was another fabulous battlefield to explore because, just like Kings Mountain battlefield, it was fairly simple to navigate and interpret. A 1-mile walking trail followed the Green River Road where the battle was fought and a 3-mile car went around the perimeter of the battleground. It was easy to see why Morgan choose this area to do battle by discerning the lay of the terrain. It was ideal for the double envelopment of Tarleton’s forces (the only double envelopment accomplished in the entire war).

Unfortunately (or not depending how you look at it), I had some technical issues and only recorded one video of my discoveries. Fans of seeing my hand pointing at things will have to wait until tomorrow’s blog.

Tomorrow…Day 11 – Colonial Williamsburg!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DAY 9 – BATTLE OF GUILFORD COURTHOUSE

A Bit of History

The battles fought in the northern colonies of Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania are familiar to most people. However, the majority of people are unaware that the British, beginning in 1778, began a campaign to subdue and conquer the Americans in the southern colonies. Several battles were fought in these southern regions which had major implications for the outcome of the war. I have included an excellent 14-minute video below that explains the strategic objectives of this campaign and the conflicts that emerged from this campaign.

On March 15, 1781, British General Cornwallis’ army of 2,100 men engaged a Continental army under Major General Nathaniel Green at Guilford Court House, near present day Greensboro, North Carolina.

Adopting a tactic utitlized by Daniel Mogran at the Battle of Cowpens (more on that in tomorrow’s blog post) Greene formed his roughly 4,500 men into three lines. The first line was held by North Carolina militia. In the second line Greene positioned militia from Virginia. Continental Regulars composed Greene’s third and most formidable line. The concept, known as a defense in depth, was for the first two lines to exhaust the enemy’s advance and inflict as many casualties as possible in the hopes of delivering a decisive blow at the third line.

Forming his men on both sides of the Great Salisbury Road, Cornwallis sent his men forward at 1:30 p.m.  When the British got within 150 yards of Greene’s men, the Americans opened fire. The British pressed on, returning fire only when they got within range. On command, the British surged forward. The North Carolinians fired one more time and then retreated into the woods to their rear, abandoning their equipment as they fled.

General Greene at Guilford Courthouse

Cornwallis then encountered stiff resistance from the Virginians, positioned about 400 yards behind the first line. North of the road, the 23rd Regiment of Foot, the 2nd Guards Battalion and the Guards Grenadiers engaged militia under Robert Lawson. Below the thoroughfare, the 2nd Battalion, 71st Regiment and elements from the 2nd Guards engaged Edward Stevens. The Virginians put up a stiff fight but with British infantry engaging their left, center and right, they were forced to retreat. Although Cornwallis had punched through two lines of American infantry, the British ranks had lost cohesion. A disjointed advance now approached some of Greene’s best units.

The first British unit to reach the third line was the 33rd Regiment. There, the regiment engaged Continentals from Virginia and Maryland and were driven back. The 2nd Guards, however, managed to turn the 2nd Maryland’s right but were stopped in a counterattack by Lt. Colonel William Washington’s Light Dragoons and the 1st Maryland. With additional British infantry finally arriving on the scene from their fight on the second line, Greene prudently disengaged and withdrew.

Battle of Guilford CourthouseGuilford Court House Battle Facts and Summary | American Battlefield Trust

Guildford Courthouse was a pyrrhic victory for Cornwallis. Despite besting the American army, he had lost 25% of his men and was in no position to pursue Greene. Cornwallis decided to withdraw to his supply base at Wilmington to rest and refit. With his army still not in condition to engage Greene by the middle of April, Cornwallis decided to shift his operations to Virginia, a decision that would contribute to the independence of the United States.


Guilford Courthouse National Military Park

Park Map

Up until now, my battlefield tour has generally followed a chronological order of events. The date of the battle of Guildford Courthouse is a bit later than the two I will be visiting tomorrow. For those of you who care about these sorts of things (I know I do), here are the dates of the following battles:

KIng’s Mountain – October 7, 1780

Cowpens – January 17, 1781

Guilford Courthouse – March 15, 1781

The thing to keep in mind is that the British had already suffered two defeats at the hands of (in their view) ragtag militia when they engaged the militia here at Guilford Courthouse.  By the time of this particular battle, the strength of the British army was already sapped and moral was low.

 

 

 

 

Some cannon ball and other artillery shells from the battle. These are always so interesting, especially because historians are able to interpret the battlefield based upon where artillery shells and other fragments are discovered amass in a particular area. 

 

Powder horns recovered from the battlefield. Every visitor center display has a collection of these. What is so admirable about them is the craftsmanship and individuality of each one. These don’t show it, but many have intricate details carved into the wood that convey something about the owner of the horn.

 

A statue dedicated to General Nathanael Greene, one of the most skilled and celebrated generals of the revolution. There are certain individuals in history who appear unpromising but then rise to the top when leadership decisions demand it. Greene is in that group.  

 

Here is what Cornwallis, his opposing enemy, had to say about Greene:

 

Some deer gazing peacefully in the battlefield, unaware of the dramatic events that occurred here 240 years ago.

Tomorrow…Day 10 – Cowpens National Battlefield and King’s Mountain National Military Park!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DAY 8 – VALLEY FORGE

A Bit of History

Valley Forge is the location of the 1777-1778 winter encampment of the Continental Army under General George Washington. Here the Continental Army, a collection of disparate colonial militias, emerged under Washington’s leadership as a cohesive and disciplined fighting force. In late 1777 while the British occupied the patriot capital of Philadelphia, Washington decided to have his troops winter at Valley Forge, a day’s march from Philadelphia. Valley Forge was a naturally defensible plateau where they could train and recoup from the year’s battles while winter weather, impassable roads, and scant supplies stopped the fighting.

On December 19th, 1777, 12,000 soldiers and 400 women and children marched into Valley Forge and began to build what was essentially the fourth largest city in the United States, with 1,500 log huts and two miles of fortifications.

General Washington at Valley Forge

Lasting six months, from December until June, the encampment was as diverse as any city, with people who were free and enslaved, wealthy and impoverished, speakers of several languages, and adherents of multiple religions. Concentrating the soldiers in one vast camp allowed the army to protect the countryside and be better able to resist a British attack, but it became costly when lack of supplies and hunger afflicted the inhabitants, and diseases like influenza and typhoid spread through the camp. While there was never a battle at Valley Forge, disease killed nearly 2,000 people during the encampment.

Through the duration the encampment, Washington inspired the soldiers through his own resilience and sense of duty. He persuaded Congress to reform the supply system and end the crippling shortages, and attracted experienced officers to the cause, including former Prussian officer Baron von Steuben, who was assigned the task of training the troops. Von Steuben taught the soldiers new military skills and to fight as a unified army.

General Steuben Drilling the Troops at Valley Forge

These reforms in supply systems and fighting tactics, along with reforms in military hygiene and army organization, became the foundation of the modern United States Army. The Continental Army’s transformative experiences at Valley Forge reshaped it into a more unified force capable of defeating the British and winning American independence during the remaining five years of the war.

Valley Forge National Historic Park

Park Map

Everything I read or heard about Valley Forge indicates that, although the Continental Army suffered greatly during that bleak winter of 1777, under Washington’s leadership they emerged as a cohesive and disciplined fighting force.  It is unlikely that the battle they fought at Monmouth Courthouse (see Day 5 if you’ve forgotten) shortly afterwards would have been a success without their difficult experiences at Valley Forge.

The majority of my time at the park was spent following the Encampment Tour, a 10-mile route that includes important historic sites and monuments. The scenery was strikingly beautiful as I cruised along in my air-conditioned car. Thus, it was hard to imagine the harsh wintery conditions and the grueling living conditions these men endured. But I found myself being easily transported back to that time because of the exceptional historical interpretation organization of the park.  The reconstructed structures, informative placards, and tour layout were all helpful in capturing a sense of the conditions at Valley Forge in that difficult winter of 1777-1778.

Reconstructed barracks

National Memorial Arch erected in 1910.

This is one impressive monument and I have seen a lot of striking monuments, especially at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. But this one was unique in that it was erected not to honor an individual or a regiment that won a battle. No, it was erected to honor the ordinary soldier that endured. At the top of the monument is etched these stirring words from Washington:

Washington’s headquarters. I was disappointed that the house was not open for touring, but there happened to be a ranger outside that I chatted with for a bit about the house and General Stueben

A beehive oven. The ranger explained how it works and the benefits of its design. Fascinating.

A statue of the indispensable General Baron von Steuben. Washington depended heavily on this ex-Prussian officer, who spoke in broken English, to whip his men into fighting shape. And it worked. I read a bio of the General and he is just as larger-than-life as his statue indicates.

Tomorrow…Day 9 – Guilford Courthouse National Military Park!

DAY 7 – PHILADELPHIA

Museum of the American Revolution

This was a very impressive museum. I should know because in my capacity as a certified museum nerd, I can attest to its excellence. The museum provides a fantastic overview of the war, its causes, and how it changed the world forever. The most striking part of the museum was its visual presentations of almost every aspect of the war.  The museum presented a chronological journey from the war’s origins until its end and it was enhanced by the over 500 revolutionary period artifacts and relics throughout the museum. I have just included below a few items from my visit. 

This is a close-up I took of this huge mural map of Boston and vicinity that was drawn by a contemporary of the time. This inset of Boston was especially interesting to me as it really emphasized the vulnerability of the city to attack when it was occupied by the British army in the early part of the war. The continental army completely surrounded the city on three sides, making life absolutely miserable for the soldiers trapped there.

 

An actual canon from the 1770s. Fire!

 

 

An intimidating-looking British soldier. There were many of these life-size figures scattered throughout the museum.  Sometimes, these can look cheesy and can be distracting, but these were very well done and they added a realistic and sensory quality to the surroundings.

 

This is a video of a large wall mural depicting the countless warships and transport ships that Washington and the soldiers of the Continental army observed amassing in New York harbor before the battle for New York in July of 1776. It must have been an overwhelming experience for these soldiers.

Of course, I had to include this – George Washington’s sword that he wore at the beginning of the war. Huzzah!

 

 

Philadelphia Museum of Art

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is always listed in the top 5 art museums in the U.S. Now that I have been there, I can see why. It has a wide collection of art covering many different periods and cultures and is extremely well-curated. I have included just a few items that I found particularly interesting and impressive.

A medieval-era painting depicting a domestic scene with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as they gather for a meal. This was an unusual portrayal of the holy family as just a ordinary family chowing down and chatting about the day. I liked the touch with the mischievous cat in the foreground. That halo could get a bit distracting after a while though. 

 

Another unusual medieval painting. Almost all crucifixion portraits are very busy, with various groups of people gathering at the foot of the cross. This simple and yet poignant   portrait presents a sorrowful Mary with Jesus before he is crucified.

Sunflowers by Van Gogh. You really cannot appreciate the full affect of this painting until you are 18 inches away from it. Brilliant. 

 

What are these thick globs of paint? 

 

Ahhh…standing back it becomes clear that those are people at A Fair on a Sunny Afternoon, by Pissarro. Amazing. 

 

I was so impressed of the medieval intricate reliefs and massive doorway arches between display rooms. I only included this one from Verona because of the Latin inscription at the top – “Enter and you will be happy”. What a fantastic message to have etched atop your door!

 

I have to include some artwork that I found either amusing or just plain inexplicable.

Alien baby Jesus.

The archangel Michael…

 

Stepping on the heads of some poor cherubs. However, they do seem to be taking it well.

Knight butt implants? 

Ummm…no comment.

As I leave Philadelphia, I take this pic at the top of the stairs at the entrance to the museum It is the same view Rocky Balboa had when he reached the top of these same stairs. In fact, there is a statue of Rocky at the bottom of the stairs with his arms raised in triumph. Art and Sylvester Stallone – who could have predicted that?

 

Tomorrow…Day 8 – Valley Forge National Historic Park!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DAY 6 – PHILADELPHIA

A Bit of History

The city of Philadelphia was, in addition to being the largest city North America at the time, the spiritual heart of Revolutionary America. Philadelphia’s Independence Hall played host to the Continental Congress. It too was where the Declaration of Independence was signed. Philadelphia was the home to some of the rebellion’s most recognized proponents such as inventor turned patriot Benjamin Franklin. It is no surprise then that when war finally began, Continental officials worried that the British would immediately target the city while General George Washington was still consolidating his army. 

Though the dreaded invasion would not occur for the next few months, eventually Sir William Howe, the overall commander of British forces in North America, did strike out at Philadelphia in August of 1777 from his base in New Jersey in the hopes of drawing out Washington and defeating him on the open field. After a series of small skirmishes, the British finally did just that at the Battle of Brandywine that September, but though Howe inflicted heavy casualties on the American troops, he failed to destroy the Washington’s Army, which relocated to Lancaster along with the Continental Congress. Howe proceeded into Philadelphia unopposed, but though he successfully repulsed an American incursion on Germantown, he chose to remain there for the next few months.

Although he had taken the city, Howe’s forces ended up failing to take control of the surrounding area, as many of his incursions were repulsed by skirmishes with Continental troops. The situation eventually became untenable for Howe and his troops, and the British finally abandoned the city in June of 1778 and returned to New York, having failed his objective of decisively defeating Washington and crushing Continental morale. Though fighting in Pennsylvania and the surrounding colonies would continue until 1780, any plans to recapture Philadelphia were abandoned and the city would remain an important location for governing the independent colonies until the founding of Washington D.C.

Philly by Foot

Just like as I did when I was in Boston, I have taken advantage of the historic tours offered by Tours by Foot. I was looking foward to exploring Philly’s rich revolutionary roots and colonial features, especially as the tour would be guided by an experienced  and entertaining historian.  This was certainly true of our guide, Tori, a Philly native and 20-year veteran of Philly by Foot.  Her knowledge of all things Philadelphia was quite remarkable, delivering her insights with an extremely dry and fiesty manner. I’ll be sharing just some of the sites we visited and their connection to either the revolutionary war or the colonial period.

President’s House Site

The President’s House Site at marks the location of America’s first “White House.” This was the home of presidents George Washington and John Adams between 1790 and 1800 when Philadelphia was the nation’s capital.

President’s House Site

 

Congress Hall

Constructed between 1787 and 1789 as the Philadelphia County Court House, this building served as the meeting place of the U. S. Congress from 1790 -1800. The House of Representatives met on the main floor, while the Senate assembled upstairs. Among the historic events that took place here were the presidential inaugurations of George Washington (his second) and John Adams; the establishment of the First Bank of the United States, the Federal Mint, and the Department of the Navy; and the ratification of Jay’s Treaty with England.

Congress Hall

 

Christ Church

Christ Church, the birthplace of the American Episcopal Church, was founded in 1695 as a condition of William Penn’s Charter. Known as “The Nation’s Church,” it hosted members of the Continental Congress during the American Revolution and Presidents George Washington and John Adams in the first decade of the newly established Republic. Among early members were Benjamin and Deborah Franklin, Betsy Ross, John Penn (William Penn’s grandson), and signers of the Constitution and of the Declaration of Independence, including Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, and Francis Hopkinson

Christ Church

 

Most of the historic sites in the historic district, like Christ Church, were not open to explore due to Covid restrictions that have not yet been lifted. That is really unfortunate because Toni’s description of the interior of the building would have been most fascinating to experience. Someone in our group asked about the rough stones that ran along the outside of the church and beside other historic sites as well. 

 

She explained that these were ballast stones that these were river stones that were stored in a ship’s hold to enhance stability. When sailing vessels arrived in Philadelphia to unload their cargo they also dumped these stones as well. The wagon trails that led from places like Christ Church to the docks along the Delaware River were paved with these stones. She indicated that public works bigwigs are always trying to get these stones removed but are stymied by vocal preservationists and historians.

She also noted that William Penn (the founder of Philadelphia) mandated that all public buildings be contructed with bricks. This was due to his encountering devastating fires that swept through and destroyed cities when he lived in Europe. To this day, Philadelphia is the only major U.S. city that has not experienced a major fire within its confines.

Carpenter’s Hall

Carpenters’ Hall was built in 1770 by the Carpenter Company, the oldest extant craft guild in the United States, founded in 1724.  In 1774 Carpenters’ Hall would provide the meeting place for the First Continental Congress of America.  Led by Peyton Randolph of Virginia, this historic congress represented the first time a large majority of the American Colonies had sent delegates to meet together.

Carpenter’s Hall

Union groups and craft guilds still use this building today to hold meetings, the oldest continuous use of a building in Philadelphia.

 

Independence Hall

Construction of the Hall began in 1732; when it was completed in 1756, it served as the Pennsylvania State House. The Founding Fathers and colonial leaders met here to plan and shape the future of the new Nation. 

Some of the most important events in United States history took place here. The Declaration of Independence was debated and ratified here on July 4, 1776, which is now celebrated as Independence Day. In 1781, the Articles of Confederation were ratified here as well.

From May to September of 1787, the Constitutional Convention was held in Independence Hall; the Convention, or series of meetings and debates, was held to revise the Articles of Confederation. During that summer, the delegates to the Convention eventually drafted the United States Constitution. Within Independence Hall’s Assembly Room, the Constitution was debated, ratified, and signed on September 17, 1787; the date is now celebrated as Constitution Day. 

Independence Hall

Of course, I just had to snap a pic of my good friend George, standing watch on all the tourists before the Hall.

 

 

 

Tomorrow…Day 7 – Philadelphia!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DAY 5 – BATTLE OF MONMOUTH COURTHOUSE

A Bit of History

Word came in May 1777 to General Washington at Valley Forge that the long-sought alliance with France was secured. The British soon evacuated Philadelphia and headed north to defend their stronghold in New York City, and on June 19, 1778, Washington’s troops marched out of Valley Forge in pursuit. The British left Philadelphia on June 18 and marched through Mount Holly and Bordentown. They reached Monmouth Court House on June 27 and stopped for a day to rest. The next morning, Washington and his subordinate, General Charles Lee, attacked rearguard elements of General Sir Henry Clinton’s British Army.

Although the American army outnumbered its foe two-to-one and had undergone extensive training in the art of war during its winter encampment at Valley Forge, Lee, who launched the initial attack, lacked confidence in the ability of the Continental soldiers under his command. In failing to press his advantage, Lee ceded the initiative to his British counterpart, General Charles Lord Cornwallis, who commanded the rear elements of Clinton’s army.

What began as a promising opportunity devolved into a potential disaster. As Washington approached the fighting, he encountered panic stricken troops fleeing the enemy. Enraged, he galloped ahead of his wing, In an angry confrontation on the field of battle, Washington removed Lee from command. Rallying what troops he had, Washington continued the assault on the British. The commanding general’s delaying action gave time for the rest of the Continental Army to come up and join the battle.

General Washington Stemming the Retreat at Monmouth Courthouse

Washington placed General Nathaniel Green’s division on the right and the division of General William Alexander, “Lord” Stirling, on the left. Lee’s men were turned over to the Marquis de Lafayette, who kept those troops in reserve. General “Mad” Anthony Wayne assumed command over other elements of Lee’s force and manned Lafayette’s front. Artillery was placed on both flanks, with the guns on the right positioned to rain enfilading fire on the British.

An American counterattack on the British right forced the Redcoats to fall back and reorganize. Cornwallis then led his men in attack on Greene’s division. Supported by artillery, Greene’s men stiffened their line and repulsed Cornwallis and his troops.

The fighting see-sawed back and forth under the brutal June sun for several hours. By 6:00 P.M., however, the British had had enough. While Wayne wanted to press the attack, Washington demurred, believing that his men were “beat out and with heat and fatigue.” The British did not give Washington a chance to renew the fight in the morning, slipping away under the cover of darkness and resuming their withdrawal to New York City.

Monmouth was the biggest and longest one day battle of the war. The two sides did not engage in any large battles in the north after Monmouth. The Americans were encouraged that the new drill and discipline they learned from General von Steuben enabled them to hold their own against veteran British troops in open battle.

Monmouth Battlefield State Park

Park Map

I had a fantastic day tramping around this battlefield. Although the day was hot and humid, I little noticed it as I was so focused on reconstructing the various battlefield elements of infantry maneuvering, artillery placement, and the order of the battle. Much of my time was spent studying battlefield maps and attempting to match them with the landscape before me. There was much that happened here on this very long day of battle and so I will do my best to make it comprehensible.

As I indicated in the opening video, Washington was just itching for a fight as he believed that not only was his army better trained and prepared than ever before (more on that when I visit Valley Forge), but he saw this as a rare opportunity when he could fight a battle with the odds in his favor.  Against the wishes of many of his subordinates, Washington chose to send a force under General Charles Lee and the Marquis de Lafayette to bring on a battle with the withdrawing British troops under General Henry Clinton.

Below is a map depicting the action that I described above.  Near the bottom of the map where it shows Lee’s last line behind the hedgerow – this is where I was standing.

As General Lee led a retreat back to Washington’s position to the north, Washington intercepted him and gave orders to begin a delaying action while the main Continental army regrouped.  You can read about Washington’s confrontation with Lee in the A Bit of History section. There was a trail that led to this famous (or infamous, depending how you look at it) confrontation, but after wondering around for a while scrutinizing my map against landmarks, I had to give up the search.

Just a brief note on Lee. General Lee (no relation to Robert E.) was one of Washington’s most trusted and experienced generals. He also happened be an eccentric oddball, one of the most unusual military figures in American history. After his confrontration with Washington, he was subsequently court-marshalled and ended leaving the Continental Army for good.

Lee with one of the dozen dogs that continually surrounded him.

After stemming his retreating soldiers, Washington rallied them to hold off the British advance, organized a defensive position, and summoned American reinforcements.

In this video, I am standing along the British lines during the artillery battle just opposite of my location in the previous video.

I had to end my tour today with a video tribute to my personal hero, General George Washington.

If that eloquent tribute inspired you to learn more about Washington, then check out the link below when I visited Mount Vernon in 2015 on my first Civil War battlefield tour.

https://https://cliffscivilwartour.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/day-4-mount-vernon/

Tomorrow…Day 6 – Philadelphia!