Monday, January 15, 2018

Things: Who Let the Dogs Out?

I apologize for the  title but I could not help myself. The eighteenth century - the age of enlightenment - gave birth to more than the world's first modern republic. It gave birth to a more modern view of dogs. Scientists generally agree that there is good evidence that dogs were domesticated around 15,000 years ago. By 14,000 years ago, people were burying dogs, sometimes along with humans. The relationship between man and dogs has developed over thousands of years.

Wolf-Dog Companion

Working Dogs

Dogs are considered the first domesticated animals. The first domesticated dogs were used for hunting, but later became sheepdogs, war dogs and watchdogs of all types. We are all aware of the uses of dogs in guarding sheep and home. But dogs were given other jobs as well. Turnspit dogs were used as a source of power, they turned a treadmill connected to a roasting spit. Similar arrangements were used for household duties such as churning butter. Dogs were trained to herd cattle. They were used as draft animals to pull small carts or sleds for farms, peddlers, or travelers, to deliver mail, and to pull carts carrying people for transportation or entertainment. In the case of the latter, dogs were trained to fight and race, with wages being placed on the results. This was very popular by the eighteenth century.

Dogs Returned from the Chase in  colonial time

Man’s Best Friend 

Over centuries of cohabitation the dog became “man’s best friend.” Yet there continued a negative context in the relationship in history. The Roman proverb, cave canem—beware of the dog, indicated a negative side to the esteemed creature. The playwright and poet William Shakespeare used the terms "dog" and "cur" to describe despicable people. But overall, the feeling of man toward dogs was very positive. Benjamin Franklin once wrote that, "There are three faithful friends—an old wife, an old dog, and ready money."

Hunting dogs were companions and workers in the 18th century

Dogs of War

Frederick the Great &
His Beloved
War dogs came into use in ancient times. They were trained in combat as well as use as scouts, sentries and trackers. The earliest use of war dogs in a battle recorded in classical sources was by Alyattes of Lydia against the Cimmerians around 600 BC. The Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, Sarmatians, Baganda, Alans, Slavs, Britons, and the Romans all used dogs in war. During the Middle Ages, the nobility made gifts of war dog breeding stock. The Spanish conquistadors brought war dogs to America. They used armored dogs specifically trained to kill natives. These dogs were a mixed breed of deerhound and mastiff with padded armor and spiked collars. These animals were large and fearsome. Aztec and Inca warriors were terrified of them (who wouldn’t be?). The conquistadors usually unleashed the dogs just as the enemy was just about to break. This led to a route that often proved more lethal than the battle. Ponce De Leon reportedly used a brace these large war dogs of them to put down a slave rebellion in Puerto Rico. In the eighteenth century, the famed Prussian king and warlord Frederick the Great used dogs as battlefield messengers. A celebrated dog lover, he famously is quoted: “The more I see of men, the better I like my dog."

War dogs were used in ancient times

Yankee Doodle Dogs

Soldiers always had affection
for dogs

By the start of the Revolutionary War in 1775, dogs were well established and part of the culture of the thirteen colonies. However, they were not always welcome. In 1772, the city leaders of Williamsburg passed legislation called the Act to Prevent Mischief from Dogs that forbade anyone to own a female dog in the city. Residents could keep two male dogs as long as they wore marked collars. Strays would be put down. The time of the Yankee Doodle Spies ushered the beginning of
advocacy for animals. In 1776, an Anglican clergyman named Humphrey Primatt published a seminal work entitled: “A Dissertation on the Duty of Mercy and Sin of Cruelty to Brute Animals.” Sort of a Declaration of Independence for animals. The growing popularity of fox hunting in both England and the colonies created a need for hunting dogs. Although dogs traditionally herded livestock, carried messages, guarded their owners, and carried packs for their owners in addition to retrieving game. But they also became more popular as pets.  During the Revolutionary War, they provided also comfort for their owners who were far from home. Dogs were both working dogs and pets in colonial America. And of course there were sporting dogs as well. While fighting, both British and American soldiers adopted stray dogs and other animals as they traveled. Many units in both armies kept dogs as pets and mascots. Let’s profile a few notables of the war who have a connection to the beloved canine.

Many British Regiments had dogs as

His Excellency

The premier figure of the Glorious Cause, George Washington loved dogs. As a Virginia planter, he was an avid hunter, and most of his dogs would have been used for hunting. Washington also owned Black and Tan Coonhounds.  Curiously, he named them:  Drunkard, Taster, Tippler, and Tipsy.  Just as Washington experimented in farming, he is reputed to have done so with his dogs, breeding coonhounds with staghounds. The Marquis de Lafayette, a close and long term friend of Washington, sent him seven staghounds to George as a gift. During the time of the Yankee Doodle Spies these dogs were great hunters, bred to hunt using speed and sight. Three of Washington’s staghounds he named: Sweet Lips, Scentwell, and Vulcan. More names to amuse.

Dogs played no small part in a planter's life - especially the first planter

Charles Lee

Gen Charles Lee loved his dogs more
than people
One of the most controversial, eccentric and distasteful characters was Major General Charles Lee. The former British officer, mercenary and Virginia planter was a rival to Washington and second only to Washington in the Continental Army. Lee seemed to always be accompanied by a pack of hounds. He doted on them and treated them better than most of the people about him.  Once during a social event, he had his favorite dog, Spada, mount a chair and present his paw to Abigail Adams, also a dog lover. In December 1776, Lee was captured under mysterious circumstances while separated from his troops for a visit to White’s Tavern in Basking Ridge New Jersey. A British raiding party led by the equally notorious Banastre Tarleton captured Lee in the early morning hours and whisked him off to captivity. After his capture, Lee wrote Washington requesting that a servant and an aide-de-camp be sent to him along with “my dogs…as I never stood in greater need of their company than at present." I adapted Lee’s dogs into one of the plots of my novel, The Cavalier Spy (2012, Twilight Times Books). Lee’s relationship to the dogs plays a role in his search for Lee. And the dogs nearly frustrate his efforts, although they do not frustrate the efforts of Tarleton and the British.


Baron von Steuben

Italian Greyhound
“Baron” von Steuben, a  German officer who offered his services to America, served as inspector general and major general of the Continental Army.  Steuben played a critical role in retraining the Continental Army at Valley Forge. His “Blue Book” of drills served as the Army’s manual for years after the war. Less known is that Von Steuben loved dogs. His favorite was said to be an Italian greyhound named Azor. Azor went everywhere with Steuben. In that sense he was much like his erstwhile master, Frederick the Great.

Von Steuben

William Howe

Gen Howe
British commander in chief in North America, General Sir William Howe also had a fondness for canines.  During the Philadelphia campaign in 1777, Howe’s army barely fended off a surprise attack by Washington’s Continental Army. The battle was fought in the fog and more chaotic than most 18th century affairs. Washington’s divisions could not coordinate their movements because they could not see what was happening on the battlefield.  After some hard fighting, the Americans withdrew,
abandoning their capital to the British occupation. Somehow during the fog enshrouded combat, a small dog was found by the Americans.  After the battle, they saw from his collar that he belonged to General Howe.  Many around Washington urged him to hold the dog as a form of revenge for the loss and defiance to the British commander. But ever the gentleman, Washington saw the situation differently.

He ordered the dog returned to Howe with this two-line message:

“General Washington’s compliments to General Howe, 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.”

A fully documented as a draft of the note still exists in the archives, written in the handwriting of Washington’s aide-de-camp - Alexander Hamilton

Yankee Doodle Dog 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

People: The Mad Man

Who was that Mad Man?

As a boy learning about the American Revolution, I was thoroughly amused that a general would have the name "Mad"  Anthony Wayne.  I wondered who was that mad man? I wondered what he was so mad about. Any study of the American War for Independence should address this colorful Pennsylvanian who captured the imagination of his times and down through the ages.

Scion of a Scots-Irish Military Family

Anthony Wayne was born on 1 January 1745 to  Isaac Wayne and Elizabeth Iddings Wayne in Easttown Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania. Isaac Wayne was born in Ireland, the son of a military officer, Captain Anthony Wayne, who immigrated to America with his Dutch wife, Hannah. Their son Isaac became a tanner, establishing one of the most prominent businesses in Pennsylvania, and eventually took over the family estate, Waynesboro, from the aging captain. Young Anthony Wayne was well schooled, attending the Philadelphia Academy and the College of Philadelphia.. Like George Washington, Wayne did a stint as a surveyor. In his case up in Nova Scotia. He returned to Pennsylvania in 1766, where he continued surveying and worked in Isaac's tannery. He also married Mary Penrose who would bear him two children, Margretta and Isaac. Just as the politics of friction with Great Britain were heating up, young Anthony got involved in the American cause. Like many up and coming men of means he turned to public service. Wayne served in the Pennsylvania legislature in 1774 and the following year he raised a militia regiment in Chester County. In January 1776,  he received a commission as colonel of the 4th Pennsylvania Continental Line. Things were about to get interesting for Anthony and for the war.

Wayne's Home in Waynesboro

A Mad Campaigner in a Mad Campaign

It was in the capacity of colonel of the 4th Pennsylvania that Wayne headed north to join General John Sullivan's division in the quixotic and  ill-fated invasion of Canada. In his first action, Wayne fought bravely but unsuccessfully against superior forces  at the battle of Trois Rivieres in June 1776. The campaign soon collapsed but Wayne distinguished himself with his leadership in covering the army's retreat into New York. He then took command of Fort Ticonderoga, the key defense point on the New York northern frontier. An approving Congress promoted him to Brigadier General in February 1777. Not long after, he was summoned south to join General George Washington and  the main Continental Army where he received command of a brigade of Pennsylvanians.

Anthony Wayne

A Colorful Character

Wayne was a colorful and irreverent leader that seemed to set the stage for  such later military notables as George Custer and George Patton.  He used profanities to great effect, often to the amusement of his troops.  Like Patton, he understood that troops should look good and that military pride followed a good appearance.  As with Custer and Patton, he was a sharp dresser and always turned out immaculately.  His braggadocio added to the legend, making him the talk of not just the troops but his fellow officers. And like Custer and Patton, Wayne backed all of this up with stirring performances in combat.

His actions at the Battle of Brandywine on 11 September 1777 provide an example. His division was positioned to cover Chadd's Ford, where the British commander Lord Howe decided to send a powerful force of Hessians to launch a frontal assault on the Americans. Wayne's  command withstood fierce attacks by the Hessians under General von Knyphausen until his division, along with Nathanael Greene's, was forced to withdraw.

Holding the line at Brandywine

Although Washington was beaten, he managed to extricate his army and maintain it as a threat to the slowly advancing British. When the Americans abandoned Philadelphia, Washington sent Wayne to shadow the British army and threaten their lines of communication. Unfortunately, the British received intelligence that exposed Wayne's command.  Wayne's encampment near the Paoli Tavern was overrun in a stealthy night attack by Major General Charles Grey on the evening of September 20th. Grey received the nickname "No Flint" because he ordered his men to remove them to avoid the accidental discharge that could spoil his surprise: cold steel for the rebels. Later, claims were made that the British took no prisoners and granted no quarter, and the engagement became known as the "Paoli Massacre." The massacre sullied Wayne's name somewhat. Undaunted, he led his men  in the fog shrouded fields near Germantown, Pennsylvania on October 4, 1777.  With  typical audacity, Wayne's command moved ahead of other Continental brigades and drove on the retreating British with the bayonet. But Wayne and his old commander, General John Sullivan (also known to be headstrong and impetuous) advanced too quickly. Both were cut off some two miles ahead of other Continental regiments. When the British recovered from their initial surprise their defenses stiffened. When Washington finally ordered a retreat he once more  tapped Wayne to provide the rear guard. Not long after, the Continental Army went into winter quarters at Valley Forge.

Despite  the Paoli Massacre Wayne held in high regard

The harsh winter at Valley Forge had a plus side. A new American army was born, trained and drilled  to fight European style by the German General Von Steuben. The new army would get its chance to prove itself the following summer and Wayne would be once again in the mix. The British relieved Lord Howe from command and replaced him with Sir Henry Clinton, who decided to abandon Philadelphia and concentrate force once more around New York City. In June 1778, Clinton ordered half  his force to sail north. But a sizable column marched across the Jerseys towards their new base of operations. Wayne was called upon to lead the advance guard at Monmouth Court House, New Jersey. Once more thrust into a controversial engagement, Wayne's forces were abandoned by Major General Charles Lee.  His men were soon pinned down by superior British forces, the rear guard that struck back at the pursuing Americans. Showing determination and resourcefulness  under fire,Wayne held his ground until reinforcements sent by Washington arrived. Wayne reformed his troops and continued to fight.

American attack at Monmouth

Light Anthony

By the spring of 1779, Washington's Army was oriented on the main British garrison in New York. The British attempted to draw Washington into a decisive battle. Awaiting the long expected French support, Washington entered into  cat and mouse game.  In May 1779, Sir Henry Clinton, the British Commander in Chief launched the first phase of a complex strategic plan to destroy Washington's army. Using their superior naval forces the British made an incursion up the North (Hudson) River and seized the critical position at Stony Point, some 10 miles south of West Point and 35 miles north of the city. This was the opening gambit to lure Washington out of the Hudson Highlands. Clinton then dispatched an expedition to Connecticut, leaving a reinforced regiment with fifteen guns to defend the earthworks around Stony Point. Washington observed the British defenses and decided to take them by force. To storm the position, the Corps of Light Infantry was formed on June 12, 1779. There was never a question as to who to assign command of the unit or the mission: Anthony Wayne.  The Corps of Light Infantry was an elite unit, put together for each campaign between  1777 and 1781. Its men were drawn from the light infantry companies of each regiment in Washington's army. In 1779 the Corps consisted of a brigade of four regiments, each composed of two battalions of four companies. At midnight on 16 July the attack commenced in three columns with Wayne personally leading one. In a tactic that was used successfully against him at Paoli, Wayne had his men move with unloaded muskets - they would storm the defenses with the bayonet. Wayne's column came under musket fire and he fell wounded. Wayne's men continued the attack and quickly overran the British defenders. They took over 500 prisoners and suffered only 100 casualties. The victory was critical for the morale of the American Army and the cause, which had suffered a series of reverses. For his personal heroics and tactical success, Congress awarded Wayne a rare medal for the victory.

Stony Point was Wayne's most celebrated exploit

Why so Mad?

I always had assumed Wayne was nicknamed "Mad" due to his heroics in combat, particularly for his exploits at Stony Point. But ironically, he did not receive his nickname for his reckless style of combat  but from incident at  Morristown, New Jersey during winter quarters in 1781. The story goes that New Jersey law officers arrested an eccentric soldier known as “the Commodore” or “Jimmy the Drover,” for a local civil infraction.  The soldier demanded Wayne’s intervention.  But Wayne threatened to have the miscreant flogged instead.  “Jimmy the Drover” reportedly responded “Anthony is mad!  Farewell to you; clear the coast for the Commodore, ‘Mad Anthony’s’ friend.”  Wayne’s Pennsylvanians really got a kick out of the story and decided that “Mad Anthony” described their commander pretty well.  You have to admit that it’s not bad, as nicknames go.

 Winning the War

In the spring of 1781, Wayne took his Pennsylvanians to Virginia and served under Lafayette in trying to thwart the British. On 6 July 1781, he fought with Lafayette at the Battle of Green Spring. His aggressive charge shocked the superior British forces, probably saving the Americans from destruction. Wayne then joined Washington to help defeat Cornwallis at Yorktown. The war did not end with Yorktown, however. So in 1782, Wayne was sent to Georgia to help dislodge the British forces there. Wayne broke the long standing British alliance with the Indian tribes in Georgia. With the waning of British power he was able to negotiate treaties with the two most powerful tribes, the Creek and the Cherokee.  In a final tribute, Congress promoted him to major general on October 10, 1783. After the war Wayne returned to Pennsylvania. The noted war hero served in the Pennsylvania Assembly and became a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. But his post-war life would long be one of peace and tranquility as it was with so many of his peers.

Commander of the US Army

Wayne as Commander of the
Legionof the United States
In 1792, it was time for Anthony Wayne to answer the bugle call once more.  President George Washington named Wayne to serve as commander in chief of the modest U.S. Army, dubbed the Legion of the United States. The Legion had suffered several defeats at the hands of the inter tribal Indian Confederation formed to resist the white man’s incursions into the Ohio Territory - the mid west. The Indian Confederacy decisively defeated U.S. forces in 1790 and 1791 under the leadership of  a Shawnee chieftain called Blue Jacket and the Miami chieftain called Little Turtle . The Indians had been encouraged and supplied by the British, who had refused to evacuate British fortifications in the region as called for in the Treaty of Paris.

Wayne's victory at Fallen Timbers was the new army's first post in #RevWar

Upon his arrival Mad Anthony energized the beaten Legion with his own brand of zealous leadership. At the Battle of Fallen Timbers, Wayne effectively ended Indian resistance when his seasoned force of 1,000 men routed the 2,000 warriors gathered for a final confrontation near Fort Miami on the Maumee River. This victory enabled Wayne to negotiate the Treaty of Greenville in August 1795. Under its terms the Indians ceded most of Ohio and large sections of Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan. This was not inevitable for many reasons (British machinations tried to keep the 13 states pinned along the Atlantic coast). Wayne's victory secured thousands of square miles of disputed land for the United States, and had signed peace treaties with the Indian tribes. Mad Anthony Wayne successfully accomplished the mission for which President George Washington had called him back to active duty.

Treaty of Fort Greenville secured peace in the Northwest Territory
paving the way for American expansion

Untimely Death

His work in the northwest done, Wayne began the long journey home. He sailed from the region that is now Detroit on a sloop. After five days he made port at the site of the former French outpost at  Fort Presqu'Isle, today's Erie, Pennsylvania.  But while the weather was pleasant, his thoughts turned grim and he wrote a number of letters listing his final wishes. At Presque Isle, Wayne suffered a serious gout attack. Now anyone who has suffered gout knows that is reason enough to be mad. This was clearly a severe case with complications. Calls for doctors were rushed to Pittsburgh and the Army hospitals. Wayne's health worsened.  He developed intense stomach pains. The doctors from the east arrived, but on the same day, 15 December, 1796,  "Mad"Anthony Wayne died. They buried him in a plain coffin, his initials and date of death driven into the wood using round-headed brass tacks, at the foot of the blockhouse flagstaff on garrison hill.

Rebuilt blockhouse on Presque Isle

Presque Isle

A Strangely Eerie Homecoming

In 1808, Wayne's son Isaac returned to Presque Isle to take his father's remains back home. Unfortunately he did not have room for all the remains in his wagon, a small sulky. The doctor assisting him boiled the late hero's corpse. He threw the flesh and clothing back into the coffin an re interred it. He then packed the bones for transport to the east. "Mad" Anthony Wayne's bones were interred in the family plot in St. David's Episcopal Church cemetery in Radnor, Pennsylvania. The bizarre end to the great warrior's earthly remains gave rise to legends of hauntings. One might say that while Anthony Wayne may have become enraged for little cause in life, he certainly reason for rage in death.

Wayne's 2d Grave site Radnor, Penna.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Yankee Doodle Thanksgiving

Origins of the the Thanksgiving Celebration

Although the origins of Thanksgiving in America pre-date the 18th century, it was His Excellency, President George Washington, who issued the first United States proclamation calling on all Americans to give thanks to God on a specific date. Americans traditionally hold that Thanksgiving first took place at Plymouth colony in 1621. The Puritan settlers of Plymouth, also called Pilgrims, held the feast after their first successful harvest as a way of thanking God for their blessings. Nearby Indians were invited to share in the feast. This did not become an annual event. Instead the settlers of the colonies held days of thanksgiving at different times of year and without a consistent theme.

Plymouth Thanksgiving

By the time of the American Revolution, days of fasting and thanksgiving became political. Most Americans viewed liberty as a gift from God. Days of fasting or thanksgiving proclaimed by the states promoted unity by, and helped instill commitment to, the Glorious Cause. During the American war for independence, state assemblies set aside days of prayer to recognize specific military victories. In  1777, the  stunning victory over the British at Saratoga, New York was a game changer. Instead of state legislatures marking it with celebrations, the Continental Congress suggested that a national day be set aside to recognize that decisive victory.  The Commander-in Chief, General George Washington agreed. He proclaimed December 18, 1777 as the first national thanksgiving day. The Continental Congress supported various similar proclamations until 1784.

British surrender at Saratoga spurred a
December 1777 Thanksgiving proclamation

Boudinot's Resolution

On 25 September 1789 New Jersey's Elias Boudinot (a devout Presbyterian) made a motion in the United States House of Representatives for a resolution that stated “That a joint committee of both Houses be directed to wait upon the President of the United States, to request that he would recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging, with grateful hearts, the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a Constitution of government for their safety and happiness.”  The purpose this time was to thank the Almighty for the new constitution and the new form of government - created with about as much sweat and tears as independence itself. The founders and the members of the new government made no distinction between the blessings of independence and the new republic and God's grace. To them, the former stemmed from the latter. This we should remember each Thanksgiving.

Elias Boudinot

President Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation

New York, 3 October 1789

By the President of the United States of America. a Proclamation.
Washington issued the nation's first
Proclamation of Thanksgiving
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor—and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be—That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks—for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation—for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war—for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed—for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted—for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions—to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually—to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed—to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord—To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us—and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New-York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go: Washington

Saturday, November 11, 2017

First Patriots... First Veterans

Issues regarding veterans and their fair treatment pre-date the founding of our nation. The colonists fought a series of wars against the natives and the French in the run up to the break with Britain. The English colonies in North America provided pensions for disabled veterans. The first law in the colonies on pensions, enacted in 1636 by Plymouth, provided money to those disabled in the colony’s defense against Indians. Other colonies eventually followed Plymouth’s example.

Revolutionary War

But the American Revolution brought treatment of veterans to the forefront of the earliest politics in America. In 1776 the Continental Congress tried to encourage enlistments and reduce
desertions by passing the nation’s first pension law. It granted half pay for life in cases of loss of limb or other serious disability. But because the Continental Congress did not have the authority or the money to make pension payments, the actual payments were left to the individual states. This obligation was carried out in varying degrees by different states. At most, only 3,000 Revolutionary War veterans ever drew any pension. Later, grants of public land were made to those who served to the end of the war.

Continental Army Soldiers

A Veterans Rebellion?

But again the money was not appropriated and many veterans or their families sold off what pension rights they had for pennies on the dollar. The political fall out of all this was tremendous. The boiling point came with Shays' Rebellion in 1786 when western Massachusetts farmers, mostly veterans of the War for Independence, could not get credit for their farming despite the government reneging on their wartime and veterans compensation. Shays himself, was a captain who served at Lexington & Concord, was a wounded veteran.

Shays' Rebellion: A Veterans' rebellion?

A New Government

Ironically, Shays' rebellion showed the need (among other things) for a stronger central government, which led  to the Continental Congress and the US Constitution adopted and ratified in 1789, with the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. The first United States Congress assumed the burden of paying veterans benefits. The first federal pension legislation was passed in 1789. It continued the pension law passed by the Continental Congress. The Secretary of War administered pensions in the early years of the republic. Yet fair payment and treatment for veterans continued to impact America's political landscape. Those who answered the colors had to fight to maintain their rights even as they sacrificed for others to retain theirs.

Constitutional Convention

A Second "War for Independence"

The War of 1812 brought the plight of Revolutionary War pensioners back in the public eye. Veterans of that conflict were provided a reasonable pension, to include widows and orphans. As the economy began to thrive Congress looked to new ways to support veterans, especially the remaining Revolutionary War veterans.  A new principle for veterans benefits, providing pensions on the basis of need, was introduced in the 1818 Service Pension Law. The law provided that every person who had served in the War for Independence and was in need of assistance would receive a fixed pension for life. The rate was $20 a month for officers and $8 a month for enlisted men. Prior to this legislation, pensions were granted only to disabled veterans.  The result of the new law was an immediate increase in pensioners. From 1816 to 1820, the number of pensioners increased from 2,200 to 17,730, and the cost of pensions rose from $120,000 to $1.4 million.

War of 1812 brought more veterans to consider

Congress Takes Action

When Congress authorized the establishment of the Bureau of Pensions in 1833, it was
the first administrative unit dedicated solely to the assistance of veterans. Under the 1832 Act that established the Bureau,   Revolutionary War pensions, which until then were given only to regular Army veterans—the Continentals—or disabled veterans, were authorized for all who had served at least six months in any of the military forces during the war. For the most part this meant those who had served in the various state militias, though it also included naval personnel, state line troops, and certain contract civilians such as teamsters. The depositions taken to substantiate the required service are a remarkable record in themselves, providing eyewitness accounts of the Revolution drawn from them reveals.The depositions, however, are more than a collection of personal accounts of service—as fascinating as these can be. They are rich with data concerning Revolutionary War veterans and their families and a unique record of the life and time of this generation.

Certification that one John Bacon
 was eligible to receive a pension
for Revolutionary War service.

 Veterans enrich our History

It is no small final irony also that our knowledge of the American Revolution is filled out by the accounts of the war time experiences of the Revolutionary War soldiers. Because records of that war were sparse and fragmented, it was incumbent on veterans or their families to justify pension applications. These accounts, although often spotty or sometimes spurious, provided a unique insight into the conflict as seen by those who fought it. In a sense, the veterans helped portray the war they fought to posterity. And for that, as well as their service, we should thank them.

Honor All those Who Served - especially our First Patriots

Honor Our Veterans

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Things: Shallow Ford

A Humble Crossing

The Shallow Ford, located some 15 miles west of Winston-Salem, North Carolina,  is,a shallow section of the Yadkin River which, in colonial times, afforded a safe place for travelers to cross. The ford is formed by a sand and gravel bar. Upstream from the ford, a stretch of hard rock crosses the river and below the stretch of rock the gradient decreases, reducing the strength of the current and depositing sediment creating the bar that forms the crossing. It provided a natural game crossing and fish trap, which was used by the Indians. By 1748, six families had settled near the ford. Within two years a ferry and tavern operated there. Soon Moravians settled nearby and cut the first road to the ford and over the years several others were cut, making it a transportation hub of sorts. By the time of the American Revolution, the Shallow Ford was a focal point for travelers. While the Yadkin River could be crossed at other fords and ferries, heavier wagons could cross at only two places: the Trading Ford, near Salisbury (Rowan county), and the Shallow Ford (Surry county). Several roads converged on both sides of the river.That humble crossing would be the instrument of a little heeded but important event in shaping the outcome of the war.

Shallow Ford

A Southern Strategy

Gen Cornwallis

The year 1780 was to be the comeback year for the British in North America with their pivot to a "southern strategy." And a grand and effective strategy it first proved to be. By the fall of 1780, the British commander in the south, General Charles Cornwallis, moved north into North Carolina after subduing most of Georgia and South Carolina. The final phase of the grand strategy of subduing all of the south before moving north into Virginia. He had set up his headquarters in Charlotte where bands of Loyalists rallied to the crown.

Loyalist Militia gathered with the arrival of Cornwallis

The absence of local patriot militia groups who had gone to King's Mountain left a vacuum for Loyalists to rise up and wreak havoc in their prospective counties. In Surry County, local Loyalist brothers Gideon and Hezekiah Wright rallied hundreds of Tories who began exacting revenge on the properties of absent patriots and killing those who opposed them. On October 3rd and 8th, they attacked patriots in  Richmond, the county seat, where they killed the county sheriff.

Western NC and Surrey Co in 1780

When news spread of the Loyalist uprising, patriots from nearby areas began to mobilize to stop them. The news of the surprise defeat of the renowned Major Patrick Ferguson at King's Mountain helped electrify the patriots, who had been subdued by Cornwallis's maneuver north. Now things were changing. Patriot militia General William Lee Davidson now believed that the local Tories intended to join Lord Cornwallis' forces in Charlotte.  He sent fifty men from Charlotte, along with two companies of patriot militia from Salisbury. They were joined by 160 men from Montgomery County, Virginia, under Major Joseph Cloyd. (who had come to the Carolinas to fight the now dead Ferguson).  All of the converging patriots came under the leadership of  Cloyd.

A Place of Battle

Competing militias would clash in a small but pivotal battle
along the Yadkin River at Shallow Ford

All this activity came to head on 14 October when a band of 600 Loyalists under Colonel Gideon Wright crossed the Yadkin River on their way to join General Cornwallis in Charlotte. On Saturday morning, 14 October, Cloyd's force of 350 men waited on the west side of a small stream near the Shallow Ford crossing of the Yadkin River. About 9:30 they spotted the Loyalist force that terrorized the county for the past weeks. The force numbering between 400 and 900 crossed the Yadkin and were moving westward on the Mulberry Fields Road. A cry of "Tory! Tory!"  went out among the patriots. From across the creek they heard similar cries of "Rebel! Rebel!"

NC patriot militia

The patriots deployed and battle lines soon formed. Volleys were exchanged.  One Captain James Bryan, of the notorious Tory Bryan clan, who led the advance element of Loyalist forces, was quickly killed. Five rifle balls passed through him and his horse. The patriots advanced towards the ford as the Loyalists fell back and formed again. Captain Henry Francis of the Virginia militia was shot through the head and fell dead on the ground a few steps from his son, Henry. His other son, John, took careful aim and fired at the Loyalist who had killed his father. Though outnumbered, the patriots soon had the advantage and several more Loyalists fell. After another quick exchange of fire, the Loyalists retreated in disorder across the Yadkin, shouting "we are whipped, we are whipped." Enraged patriots beat the wounded Loyalists to death after their comrades had fled. A black Loyalist named Ball Turner continued to fire at the patriots.  An angry party of patriots found his location and riddled him with musket balls. The Loyalists soon made good their escape. Captain Henry Francis of the Whigs lost his life, and four others were wounded. The Loyalists lost some fifteen killed. The engagement took less than an hour.

Shallow Ford Battle Marker


As the engagement ended, a relief party of three hundred militia under Colonel  John Peasley arrived, along with Colonel Joseph Williams of Surrey county. Williams  had  heard the musket fire from his nearby home. The next day, Major General William Smallwood arrived at Salem with about 150 horsemen, thirty infantry, and three wagons. Smallwood, a Marylander, had been put in command of all North Carolina militia. As a colonel in 1776, Smallwood had commanded the famed Maryland Line on Long Island and is featured in my novel of that campaign, The Patriot Spy.  Smallwood had left Guilford Courthouse the previous day. Seeing the local force had defeated the Loyalists, he launched his men in pursuit of those who had fled.  As a result of Shallow Ford, the Wright brothers' Loyalist forces in Surry County were essentially nullified for the duration of the war. Hezekiah Wright himself was later shot and wounded in his own home. His brother Gideon fled to the safety of Charlestown, where he died on August 9, 1782.

General William Smallwood

The results of the double defeats at King's Mountain and Shallow Ford were a major blow to Cornwallis:  patriot morale  increased dramatically along with their numbers, while demoralized North Carolina Loyalists were never able to gather such a force again. Cornwallis had to withdraw into South Carolina for the winter. His grand strategy was set back by a year, with even graver implications for any hope of a British victory.

Fittingly, the Shallow Ford played a minor role the following year when on 7 & 8 February Cornwallis's army crossed it in the legendary pursuit of General Nathanael Greene in the maneuvers that led to the Battle of Guilford Court House on 15 March, 1781.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Places: Blackstock

A Savage War of Posts

Gen Thomas Sumter
The William Blackstock farm became the site of one of those "small" but violent clashes that made up the complex mosaic of the American Revolution in the South. The farm (several tobacco barns) sits just off the Tyger River, at the western edge of Union County, South Carolina. This backwater farm formed the backdrop to one of American General Thomas Sumter's most important battles. In November 1780, Georgia militia under Elijah Clark and John Twiggs reinforced Sumter, whose forces threatened Loyalist outposts north of the famed bastion  at Ninety-Six. Sensing  a threat to Ninety-Six could become untenable, the British commander in the south, Lord Cornwallis, ordered famed cavalry commander, Banastre Tarleton to break off contact with Francis (Swamp Fox) Marion's militia along the Pee Dee River. Tarleton rushed to his new assignment hoping to pin Sumter's force between him and the British at Ninety-Six. Fortunately, a British deserter gave warning to Sumter, who beat a hasty retreat out of the impending trap. Not to be outdone, the ever aggressive Tarleton pursued hell bent to get the rebel force before it could elude him. To do  this, he led his cavalry, leaving infantry and guns to follow.

A Defense Well Prepared

Elijah Clarke
Sumter's force reached the Tyger River at dusk on the 20th of November. The canny Sumter realized he had "good ground" and decided to establish defensive positions and frustrate his pursuers with a stout defense of the farm. The famed "Gamecock" distributed his 1,000 men in defensive positions. They did not have long to wait before Tarleton's Legion - 190 dragoons and 80 mounted infantry of
the British 63rd Regiment were observed moving at them. Realizing the rest of Tarleton's force was far behind, Sumter decided to surprise the lead forces with an attack. Sumter left his center to defend the high ground using protection of the five log cabins and a rail fence. He sent Elijah Clark with his 80 Georgians around the advancing Tarleton's right flank to  block the British troops coming up. Sumter led the main thrust with 400 militia against 80 regulars of the 63rd who had dismounted and taken up positions to the right of the British advance.

Sketch of the battlefield

A Back and Forth Struggle

Banastre Tarleton
Sumter's plans turned to dust when the British 63rd repulsed his militia who retreated back through the houses anchoring the center. Not to be undone, Sumter dispatched a force of mounted infantry under Colonel Lacey with orders to strike the British dragoons on the left. Lacey's men surprised the dragoons (who were admiring the work of the 63rd). Lacey's first volley inflicted 20 casualties on the troopers. But they quickly recovered and drove off Lacey's men.  Itching to dispatch the rebels, the 80 men of the 63rd attacked the center. A bayonet charge led by Major John Money sought to drive back the rebels but the 63d advanced too close to the farm buildings and came under fire from Colonel Henry Hampton's men inside, as usual aiming "at the epaulets and stripes." Money and two of his lieutenants were killed, and according to an officer of Fraser's Highlanders, a third of the privates as well. Meanwhile, other partisans worked their way around their right flank and attacked Tarleton's dragoons who were in their saddles but only watching the action. Now that  Hampton's South Carolina riflemen and some of the Georgia sharpshooters held the  line and checked the British, Sumter's men began to rally around them. The British infantry were trapped under the muskets and rifles of an enraged patriot force. Seeing their distress, Tarleton led a desperate charge at the American center. The reckless uphill cavalry charge against riflemen firing from cover did not go well. One report recorded so many dragoons  knocked from their horses that the road to the ford was blocked by the bodies of men and fallen chargers, the wounded, still targets, struggling back over their stricken comrades and kicking, screaming horses. Still, the British forces fell back in good order.

Tarleton's cavalry attack repulsed by intense American fire

Change of Command

John Twiggs
Not without his own bravado, Sumter rode to the center of his line as the British dragoons were repulsed.  As they made their withdrawal, members of the 63d fired a volley at him and his officers. Sumter was severely wounded, taking rounds in the arm and the back, and had to relinquish command to John Twiggs. Realizing he would have no more success that day, Tarleton pulled back and awaited  reinforcements hoping to launch another attack the next day. Fearing that troops from Ninety-Six would  join with Tarleton to overwhelm them, the Americans retreated. To deceive the British scouts, Twiggs left camp fires burning and withdrew under the cover of night. Tarleton claimed the battlefield, and the battle, the following day. But can sense his frustration as he was forced to bury the dead of both sides. The butcher's bill was lopsided: British casualties: 92 killed and 75-100 wounded.American casualties: 3 killed, 4 wounded, and 50 captured.

View of American defenses

After the Battle

The engagement at the Blackstock farm is little known, and for many years nearly forgotten. Tarleton boasted of his victory and the dispatching of the hated Sumter. Yet his regulars had failed to eject the rebel militia from the field and had suffered an unacceptable loss ratio. Moreover, Sumter would be back in action in a few months. Meanwhile, his wounding enabled General George Washington to appoint the New England fighting quaker Nathanael Greene as overall commander of the Southern Department.

Nathanael Greene

The Battlefield Today

The Blackstock Plantation, once a series of tobacco barns, lies in  in a hilly, wooded region. In the eighteenth century much of the land of the battlefield was cleared, but has since overgrown with
small pines and brush. No above-the-surface evidence remains of Blackstock’s barn or house, which were located in the area of the historical marker that designates the battle site, and there are no modern buildings in the area of the battlefield. The site has 54 acres preserved with walking trails just south of the Tyger River.