Tag: American Revolutionary War (page 1 of 2)

Battle of Cowan’s Ford, North Carolina 1 February 1781

After Daniel Morgan’s devastating victory over the British commander Banastre Tarleton at the Battle of Cowpens on 17 January 1781, the American commander of the southern theatre, Nathaniel Greene, was leading a confident force. However, they were still far outnumbered by British Lord Cornwallis’ forces. Greene needed to recruit more before he turned to face the British. To this end, Greene ordered William Lee Davidson to take a small force and provide rear cover to Greene’s evasion.

Background to the Battle of Cowan’s Ford

Davidson was a member of a family that had immigrated from Ulster to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania before the Revolution. They had moved to North Carolina shortly after William’s birth. Davidson became a respected member of the colonial establishment in the area. He served as an envoy to the Cherokee to set boundaries and later served as a constable. By the time of the Revolution, Davidson was a prominent patriot leader in the area of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina and knew the area well. He was responsible for a highly successful recruitment effort. The Mecklenburg County area had become known to Cornwallis as a “hornet’s nest” of Revolutionary activity. The victory at the Battle of Cowpens had re-energized the recruitment. He was to become one of the founding members of Jim Webb’s Born Fighting breed of Scots-Irish American fighting men.

The Battle of Cowan’s Ford

On 31 January 1781, Davidson had sent pickets out to the east of the fording areas of the Catawba River that he felt were likely to be used by Cornwallis in his pursuit of Greene’s army. There were two suspected, Beatties Ford to the north (now part of Lake Norman formed by Cowan’s Ford dam) and Cowan’s Ford to the south (now the point of the dam on the Catawba River). Therefore, Davidson had to spread himself thin with his cavalry and infantry contingents. Cornwallis had sent a show force to Beatties Ford to make a racket in an attempt to fool the patriots into thinking he was crossing there. However, Cowan’s Ford was always the more likely with high water from recent rains, because Cowan’s had both a deep, but straight wagon crossing and a shallower, but oblique horse crossing. Davidson had situated himself near, but to the rear of Cowan’s Ford, wanting to ward off a suspected attempt by Tarleton to flank him.

In the early morning of the 1st of Febuary 1781, the pickets near Cowan’s Ford fired to alert Davidson. Davidson’s force began firing on the British near daybreak as they crossed the rain swollen river at the deeper wagon crossing point. Many British horses were going under and the Americans were able to take quite a toll on the British as they floundered in the Catawba. Davidson moved to the sound of the guns and arrived at the river’s edge not long after the skirmishing began. Unfortunately, Davidson was almost immediately hit in the chest. The loss of Davidson made the patriots in the immediate area retreat and soon the retreat was general. The patriots hadn’t lost many in number, but in Davidson, they had lost their charismatic leader.
Cornwallis completed the crossing and was not slowed much, but the British morale must have slumped even further with the significant casualties. These rebels were proving hard to root out. Davidson’s death was taken hard by the local community. Davidson College would later be named after him when his son provided ground for the college.

Battle of Cowan’s Ford Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

Check out the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission’s tour of the area. Here is my imperfect attempt to recreate their route using Google Maps.

The Battle of Kettle Creek , Georgia 14 February 1779

Map Credit: By Otis Ashmore and Charles Olmstead [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Loyalists

An enduring idea the British had about the American colonists during the Revolutionary War was that many of them were actually loyal to the Crown. The British had spent considerable effort trying to round up these Loyalists and get them in the fight. After several years of being disappointed by the lack of Loyalist fervor in the North, the British became sure that there were more Loyalists to be found in the backwoods of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. In early 1779, a Loyalist named James Boyd was dispatched by the British with a open Colonel commission from Savannah to recruit more Loyalists in the Georgia interior. He had done this and even fought a few skirmishes with Patriots when he arrived at the Battle of Kettle Creek, in Wilkes County, Georgia on 14 February 1779. His 600 men set up camp on the creek and many of them set off to forage for food.

Colonel Andrew Pickens was a patriot commander in the area and he had heard of Boyd’s expedition. Pickens decided to tail Boyd and put a Georgia whupping on him for stirring up the area. Pickens had with him Colonel John Dooly, Lieutenant Colonel Elijah Clarke and 340 Patriots.

The Battle of Kettle Creek

Pickens caught up with Boyd at Kettle Creek and planned to surprise the camp. Pickens took a little over half the force and went straight at the camp. Dooly and Clarke each took half of the rest and went around the swampy ground on either side of the camp. Pickens’s men, however, were spotted by Boyd’s pickets. Boyd was able to get his men behind rocks and trees and fend off Pickens for several hours. Things were looking pretty grim for Pickens, because Dooly and Clarke were delayed in the swamps. Boyd must have been feeling confident that he could see off this group of traitors. He was confident right up to the point that a musket ball got him. Seeing their leader fall put the panic in the Loyalists and they all ran for their camp. About this time, Dooly and Clarke emerged from the swamps and converged on the camp from opposite sides. The rout was now on and the battle swung wildly in favor of the Patriots.

Although a small battle of volunteers in the backwoods of Georgia, the battle of Kettle Creek was important. It disabused the British of the notion that the backwoods of Georgia could be held for the Crown. It effectively ended the Loyalist cause in Georgia.

Battle of Kettle Creek Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

Try this ride through some of East Georgia’s best country and end up at the Kettle Creek Battleground Memorial.

Patriots Take Dorchester Heights Over Boston 4-5 March 1776

British Boston in the Revolutionary War

In early 1776, the American colonists were trying hard to limit the area in which British forces, based in Boston, could operate. As long as the British could retreat to the safety of Boston and its harbor, General George Washington would not be able to control the eastern end of Massachusetts. From Boston, British General Howe could re-supply from the sea and conduct operations with Boston as a base. In fact, Howe had taken nearby Bunker Hill (albeit with heavy losses) and was planning more of these types of operations in early March 1776.

Henry Knox and the Guns of Fort Ticonderoga

Washington knew bold, unexpected and decisive action was needed to disrupt Howe’s plans. In Late 1775, Washington had dispatched Artillery Colonel Henry Knox to Fort Ticonderoga, a British garrison captured by the Green Mountain Boys with Benedict Arnold tagging along, to bring the impressive array of artillery to Boston as soon as possible. Washington had probably expected it in late Spring, but the big man Knox drove his oxen and men hard over the lakes, rivers and frozen terrain of New England to get the 44 guns, 14 mortars and one howitzer to the outskirts of Boston by early February 1776. Knowing good fortune when he saw it, Washington wanted to take aggressive action immediately. Washington wanted to conduct a daring cross Charles River attack from Cambridge, but his council of war thought it too risky. Washington’s leaders agreed on the decisive action, but wanted to do it without significant risks to their small and largely untested militias. The compromise was to take aggressive action on Dorchester Heights which overlook Boston from the southeast.

Taking Dorchester Heights

On the 2nd and 3rd of March 1776, the Patriots fired the Knox artillery on the British in Boston and the Brits returned the favor. Washington had prepared a river crossing unit to the west of Boston to provide relief, if Howe tried to break out and disrupt the Dorchester Heights plan, although it seemed as if he had no idea what was going on. Whilst the artillery dueled, heavy, but transportable, fortifications were being fabricated down the hill. On the night of 4 March 1776, General Artemas Ward’s forces used an old ploy of Washington’s and put straw on the wheels of his wagons’ wheels to move quietly and began occupying Dorchester Heights from neighboring Roxbury. With a mammoth effort and 300 ox carts of material moved up the hill, the rebels had constructed 4 works on the heights and the flanks. By daylight on the 5 March, General Howe awoke to incomplete, but substantial works on the southeastern hills overlooking the harbor and the city. Howe was reported as saying, “The rebels have done more in one night than my whole army would have done in a month.”

The British Admiral Molyneaux Shulddown informed Howe that he could not maintain his ships in the harbor with such a threat. In the following days, Howe planned a quick counter-attack, but bad weather or a bout of under confidence or both made him quit Boston. By 17 March, in agreement with Washington not to destroy Boston if allowed to leave unmolested, the British had left Boston on ships for Halifax, Nova Scotia. They would be back, but for now Boston was in the Patriots hands and the radicals of the American colonies had a lot to crow about.

Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

Try Massachusetts state route 3A (MA-SR-3A) from Dorchester Heights down to Plymouth where the colony began.

Battle of Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina 15 March 1781

The early part of the American Revolutionary War was fought mostly in the North of the colonies, but after a series of defeats, the British decided to focus on the southern colonies in their persistent belief that Loyalist sympathies ran deeper there than the North. The British had built up a string of victories in the south by early 1781 by chasing down southern militias and defeating them one by one. General Washington sent one of his best Generals, Nathaniel Greene south to revive the Patriot effort. Greene had tried to separate his forces and hoped to catch the British off guard by making them attack him piecemeal. This had had some success, namely at Cowpens two months earlier, but it was getting harder and harder to avoid a major showdown with the British main force. After strategically retreating across South and North Carolina and preserving his force, Greene decided to turn and face his pursuer, Redcoat General Lord Cornwallis. Cornwallis was sure that if he could corner Greene’s force and inflict a decisive defeat on the Rebels, he could soon claim the American south for the British cause. The field for this critical battle was in the small hamlet of Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina.

Battle of Guildford Courthouse

On the cold morning of 15 March 1781, Greene deployed his mixed militia and Continental Army force of approximately 4,500 in three lines in depth. The first line was North Carolina militia, the second Virginia militia and the final line was mainly Continentals. Cornwallis took his 1,900 British and German professional soldiers and attacked head on, breaking through the first line quickly, but with serious losses that he could ill afford. The second line held longer and bled the British further. However, the British broke through and finally reached the Continentals where a fierce give and take erupted with attacks and counter-attacks. The resulting mass of fighting men confused the situation to the point that Cornwallis felt that he needed to break up the two armies with grape shot fired into the middle of it. The artillery killed indiscriminately, but had the intended effect of separating the armies. At this point, Greene decided to pull away and save his force. Cornwallis stood victorious on the field, but strategically hamstrung.

From this victory, Cornwallis headed for the coast for re-supply for his depleted force. The condition of his army led him to begin his doomed Virginia campaign which would end later in the year with his surrender at Yorktown.

Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

Check out this ride that leads to the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park through the Colonial Heritage Byway.

North Carolina and the American Revolution

Besides being a great place to ride with mountains, country roads, and seaside, North Carolina holds some of the coolest battlefield riding in such a compact area. Check out A Student of History’s dissertaion summary on North Carolina and the Revolutionary War.
Battlefield Biker rides; Moore’s Creek Bridge, Guilford Courthouse and nearby in South Carolina, Cowpens.
And for those of you who only think of the Civil War, Fort Fisher landings and assault.

Battle of Cowpens, South Carolina 17 January 1781

On 17 January 1781, the outlook for the British Army in America changed forever. A British Legion (combined infantry and cavalry) led by one of the British star, young officers, Banastre Tarleton, met its match on this day with a mixed force of one-third Continentals and two-thirds militiamen, led by what can only be called a “Good Old Boy,” Daniel Morgan.

American General Nathaniel Greene commanded the southern army and knew he couldn’t withstand a full encounter with the British, so he instructed his forces to split up and conduct operations against isolated British outposts. General Daniel Morgan commanded one of these smaller units. Tarleton was well known to the American forces for “Tarleton’s quarter.” Tarleton had a reputation, at least partly earned, for total war. He did not mind burning provisions and communities who supported the patriot cause. He also was reputed to have refused quarter to Americans at Waxhaws (Buford’s Massacre) by refusing surrender and continuing to assault.

Morgan had decided to attack Fort 96. Lieutenant Colonel Tarleton had set off to catch Morgan and prevent Morgan from disrupting the British / Loyalist forts and communities, like Fort 96. Tarleton had Morgan on the run and Morgan was attempting a ragged retreat when he decided to turn and face up to Tarleton in an area known a Cowpens (an open area of upland pasture) in northwestern South Carolina, near Gaffney. Tarleton had pushed his Legion hard through the night and they arrived at Cowpens ready to fight but tired.

Morgan had a plan to feign retreat after the intial exchange of rifle fire, knowing that Tarleton liked to take the initiative as fast as possible. When Morgan’s skirmishers fired and pulled back, Tarleton ordered his Legion forward to press the attack in hopes of a rout. Morgan had his skirmishers join his infantry line in fall back positions. What was planned and what just happened next is open to debate, but what is clear is that Morgan managed to envelope Tarleton’s Legion with infantry and cavalry and deliver withering fire into the British ranks whilst they were totally committed to a headlong rush. This may seem unusual, but much of the killing by the British Legions was by bayonet, so when they pressed the attack, they would have been mentally and physically committed to a bayonet charge. Taking heavy fire from an infantry line that was thought to have fled, whilst simultaneously having your flank rolled by cavalry might just make you want to drop your bayonet and run. That’s what Tarleton did with a handful of his command. Most of his force did not do so well with the majority being killed, wounded or captured.

Tarleton, 26 years old at the time, was rebuked and many older British officers felt it had been just a matter of time before the young rake’s risk taking had cost the British Army dear.

Motorcycle Ride

This is truly one of those perfect marriages of a great battlefield and a great ride. Here’s a beauty of a ride along the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway. It starts very near The Cowpens National Battlefield and makes it way through several state parks, lakes and geological sites.

Battle of Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina 15 March 1781

The early part of the American Revolutionary War was fought mostly in the North of the colonies, but after a series of defeats, the British decided to focus on the southern colonies in their persistent belief that Loyalist sympathies ran deeper there than the North. The British had built up a string of victories in the south by early 1781 by chasing down southern militias and defeating them one by one. General Washington sent one of his best Generals, Nathaniel Greene south to revive the Patriot effort. Greene had tried to separate his forces and hoped to catch the British off guard by making them attack him piecemeal. This had had some success, namely at Cowpens two months earlier, but it was getting harder and harder to avoid a major showdown with the British main force. After strategically retreating across South and North Carolina and preserving his force, Greene decided to turn and face his pursuer, Redcoat General Lord Cornwallis. Cornwallis was sure that if he could corner Greene’s force and inflict a decisive defeat on the Rebels, he could soon claim the American south for the British cause. The field for this critical battle was in the small hamlet of Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina.

On the cold morning of 15 March 1781, Greene deployed his mixed militia and Continental Army force of approximately 4,500 in three lines in depth. The first line was North Carolina militia, the second Virginia militia and the final line was mainly Continentals. Cornwallis took his 1,900 British and German professional soldiers and attacked head on, breaking through the first line quickly, but with serious losses that he could ill afford. The second line held longer and bled the British further. However, the British broke through and finally reached the Continentals where a fierce give and take erupted with attacks and counter-attacks. The resulting mass of fighting men confused the situation to the point that Cornwallis felt that he needed to break up the two armies with grape shot fired into the middle of it. The artillery killed indiscriminately, but had the intended effect of separating the armies. At this point, Greene decided to pull away and save his force. Cornwallis stood victorious on the field, but strategically hamstrung.

From this victory, Cornwallis headed for the coast for re-supply for his depleted force. The condition of his army led him to begin his doomed Virginia campaign which would end later in the year with his surrender at Yorktown.

Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

Check out this ride that leads to the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park through the Colonial Heritage Byway.

Battle of Moores Creek Bridge, North Carolina 27 February 1776

On 27 February 1776, British Loyalists, made up predominantly of Scottish Highlanders, decided to take on a known Patriot force near Currie, North Carolina. The Loyalists were handed their hats at the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge in an action that destined North Carolina to be one of the first colonies to push for a declaration of independence from the Crown.

In early 1776, the British were preparing to put down a full scale rebellion in the north of the North American colonies. At the urging of the North Carolina governor, they saw an opportunity to put the fledgling rebellion in the south to rest early and secure a good base for northern operations. A Scottish clan leader, named Donald MacDonald was appointed Brigadier General and raised a Scottish Highlander militia of 1,600 from the interior of North Carolina to fight for the Loyalist cause. They marched to the North Carolina port town of Brunswick, south of present day Wilmington, to meet the British forces of Cornwallis and Clinton in late February 1776. On route, they received word that local Patriot forces were gathering around Moores Creek, but the Highlanders figured they could take them and proceeded to battle.

The Patriots in three separate forces, led by Colonels Alexander Lillington, Richard Caswell and James Moore, arrived from 25 February 1776 and began earthen works on the east and west sides of the bridge. By the morning of the 27th, they had consolidated behind the eastern works with two cannons known as “Old Mother Covington and her Daughter.”

MacDonald led his force from the west and decided to charge headlong across the bridge with a lead element of Highlanders, screaming “King George and broad swords.” Behind the works, the Patriots waited until the lead Scots crossed the deliberately slippery and rickety bridge, then let loose with a volley of musket, followed by the limbering up of the elderly mum and her hot progeny. One could imagine the Patriot reply of “General George and redneck hordes.” The Patriot rifles and gunners put such a world of hurt on the bagpipe serenaded Loyalists that the whole offensive failed immediately. The losses to the lead element were horrendous, but the longer term damage was from the rounding up of 850 prisoners that had been dispersed by the action.

The British plans to subdue the south and then on the north were superceded by one determined force of North Carolina militia. The Brits were not to focus on the south again until 1780.

Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

Here’s a ride to show you part of North Carolina, much like it was in colonial times. Start in Wilmington, North Carolina and head down to the Orton Plantation, which is near the historical site of Brunswick, to which the Loyalists were heading to meet with British Regulars and more Loyalists on that fateful day. Then cut up through the Green Swamp and finally down to the Moores Creek National Battlefield.

Photo Credit: By NPS Photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Battle of Harlem Heights 16 September 1776

With American forces’ morale low and falling as they were reeling from the British landing at Kip’s Bay on Manhattan Island, General George Washington tried to hold a line, any line, against the British. Washington sent out rangers under Captain Thomas Knowlton to find and harass the advancing British forces. Knowlton did so and led the British into a fight. Washington sent another force to strike the British flank. For a few hours, the Americans were back on the attack and the British had to retreat a short way.

The engagement was not decisive and it did not much delay the British from taking most of New York in short order, but it was a much needed boost to morale for the American forces.

From the plinth in Riverside Park in New York, 121st Street and Riverside Drive; in grassy triangle south of Grant’s Tomb,

BATTLE OF HARLEM HEIGHTS / SEPTEMBER 16 – 1776 / IN GRATEFUL REMEMBRANCE OF / THE BRAVE SOLDIERS / OF NEW YORK, NEW JERSEY, / CONNECTICUT, MASSACHUSETTS, / RHODE ISLAND, PENNSYLVANIA,/ MARYLAND AND VIRGINIA / WHO UNDER / GENERAL GEORGE WASHINGTON / FOUGHT AND DIED ON THIS SITE / FOR LIBERTY / IN THEIR COUNTRY’S STRUGGLE / AGAINST BRITISH TYRANNY.n.

Map Credit – Public Domain, courtesy of the History Department, United States Military Academy

7 July 1777 – Battle of Hubbardton – American Revolutionary War

Before the transformational battles at Saratoga, things were not going so well for the Americans.

Try Vermont routes 100 and 30 and US highways 4 and 7 to get a feel for the area around Hubbardton, Vermont and the Green Mountain range. Try the Killington Ski Resort for some fun summer activities. Finally, try the Long Tail Brewery on the Ottauquechee River off U.S. Highway 4 near the intersection with Vermont Route 100A.

Image credit: By P. Gerlach, engraved by William Faden [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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