Category: Maps (page 2 of 4)

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.

Ulysses S. Grant Begins Western Campaign 2 February 1862

Map by Hal Jespersen, www.cwmaps.com [CC BY 3.0 or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

On 2 February 1862, the Commander of the Union’s Army of the Tennessee, U.S. Grant, began the action that would lead to his being recognized by President Abraham Lincoln as a General with a bias for action. Grant launched his forces from Cairo, Illinois, through far western Kentucky towards Forts Heiman, Henry (on the Tennessee River) and Donelson (on the Cumberland River).

Grant Begins Western Campaign

Grant had a sizable force consisting of three infantry divisions, led by John A. McClernand, Charles F. Smith and Lew Wallace. There were also two regiments of cavalry and eight batteries of artillery. Grant also had Captain Andrew Foote’s squadron of seven gunboats. (troop numbers are from the excellent military history of the USA Civil War, The Longest Night by David J. Eicher)

The force, although reasonable, was not huge, so Grant had to make a decision to attack or wait for the initiative to be sent to him from his superiors. However, the western theatre (generally in Kentucky and south of the Ohio River and west of the Appalachian Mountains, but also in Kansas and Missouri) was split into three commands. Those commands were frozen by indecision on how to attack the south, so Grant might have waited forever to get his chance to attack. The known forces were unclear to both sides, as proven by the still debatable troop numbers present at Fort Donelson to weeks later. Grant chose the warrior’s path of seizing the initiative whilst others debated strategy. He proposed to his Commander, General Henry Halleck, that he proceed to take Fort Henry and open up Tennessee via the Tennessee River. The rest as they say is history. Grant’s star was on the rise.

Grant Begins Western Campaign Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

Leaving Cairo, Illinois, cross the Ohio River near its confluence with the Mississippi River on U.S. Highway 51 towards Paducah, Kentucky. Take US-62 out of Paducah and US-68 down to KenLake State Resort Park on the Cumberland River (now Kentucky Lake) pretty much following the path that Grant followed to get to the Fort Henry area. Continue on KY-SR-94 down to Paris Landing State Park in Tennessee and then into the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. In the southwest corner of LBL, near the Piney Bay Campground, you can find the remains of Fort Henry. A map of the ride is here.

Unconditional Surrender Grant Takes Fort Donelson 12-16 Feb 1862

On 13 February 1862, Union commanding General U.S. Grant’s positioning was complete and the time had come to attack Fort Donelson. The Union forces had spent the 12th of February closing in from Fort Henry and exchanging picket fire with the Confederates manning the earthen works of Fort Donelson. The gunboats had also spent the 12th testing the river batteries and found them tough, but assumed they could be taken as Fort Henry’s had been.

A False Start

On the morning of 13 February 1862, Grant meant to have a simultaneous push along the right and left, but General John A. McClernand had jumped the gun and got manhandled by the Confederates, led by General Gideon Pillow. A push on the other side by General C.F. Smith was more disciplined and originally successful, but met with the same fate at the hands of General Simon Bolivar Buckner’s troops. Overnight, a snow and ice storm befell the area and the lines woke on the 14th to a white landscape, ice laden trees and wounded who had died from exposure overnight.

Commodore Foote’s Gunboats

On 14 February 1862, Commodore Andrew Foote was to unleash his gunboats on the Fort Donelson river batteries just like he had at Fort Henry. However, Donelson was not Henry. Fort Donelson’s batteries were on tiered bluffs overlooking the Cumberland River, which gave them great range and an enviable angle of fire up close. This was to prove decisive. Foote was to preclude the ground assault with a show of force and hopefully take out the batteries. Foote came on and made considerable progress, until the flotilla got close enough for the Confederate gunners to zero in. When very close, the Donelson guns were firing right down on the Yankee ships, delivering devastating blows. Virtually the entire flotilla lost navigation capabilities due to direct hits and were floating helplessly down stream. Foote was seriously injured and many were dead. Donelson would not be another Henry. The overall Rebel commander, General John B. Floyd, was ecstatic, because his original mission was to slow down the Yankee advance long enough to let Rebel troops in Bowling Green, Kentucky retreat to Nashville unhindered and this he had accomplished. His follow-on mission would drive the course of the battle, though.

Fight in the Snow and Ice

Grant now had to face the very real possibility that his confidence in taking Donelson was misplaced. The next day would be critical, but not in the way Grant expected. On 15 December 1862, Grant had to go meet Foote as the Navy man was too injured to travel to Grant. As Grant left, he left explicit instructions not to engage with the Confederates in the belief that the Confederates would not dream of attacking. Grant met with Foote and asked for whatever force Foote could give the following day to keep the batteries busy, whilst he attacked on land. As Grant rode back on the icy roads, he got news that McClernand was under pressure on the right. The fight was on, but not at Grant’s bidding.

Bickering Confederates

The Confederate leadership of Floyd, Buckner and Pillow had querulously decided to attempt a breakout around Dover. Buckner was to provide a rear guard, Pillow, with the help of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Cavalry, would push McClernand out of the way, then Floyd would lead the vanguard to Nashville. Pillow and Buckner would then retreat under fire and provide cover for Floyd.
Pillow’s and Forrest’s push on McClernand was what the reports Grant was receiving were all about. Grant made his way forward and heard that the Rebels were carrying 3 days of rations on them. This told him that they were trying to breakout. Grant immediately ordered re-enforcements to McClernand and also told Smith to attack Buckner’s rear guard with force. Smith put such pressure on Buckner that Pillow had to send some help to stave off a collapse of the rear. Pillow thought this was OK, because he and Forrest had opend the road near Dover for a retreat. However, as the Rebels settled back into their positions after opening the road, a stasis developed. As the intitative ebbed away, Floyd, Pillow and Buckner traded turns in being optimistic, pessimistic and openly hostile to each other.

Unconditional Surrender Grant Takes Fort Donelson

Floyd was a deer in the headlights now. Finally, Pillow wanted to hold the position and Buckner wanted to ram the forces through the hole created during the day. Floyd lost nerve and decided to hold the position. The day ended in much the same position as it had began with the notable exception of some of Smith’s unit occupying some of the ridge line near the fort, putting artillery in range of the main fort. It might have continued that way had Pillow and Floyd stuck around, but both were former Federal officials and feared being tried for treason if caught. So, under the cover of darkness, they caught the first thing steaming to Nashville. A small number of Confederate troops also got up river that night. Forrest, who was disgusted by the trio of Generals, stomped out and took his cavalry command across a swollen stream and into the Tennessee darkness. Buckner was left in charge and immediately drafted a request for terms to send to his old friend, Grant. Buckner was probably hoping for some leniency based on his previous relationship with Grant. The request reached Grant in the early morning and he responded with what was to make him famous, “No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.” Buckner called him “unchivalrous,” but accepted the terms anyway.

Grant Takes Fort Donelson Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

This is my home ride and I recommend it as one of the most beautiful rides anywhere. It splits the the Land Between the Lakes from North to South. Along the way, you will pass the Homeplace 1850s Working Farm and Living History Museum which gives you a good feel for how the people lived in that area in that era. Finish off the ride with a visit to Fort Campbell, KY, home of the 101st Airborne Division’s Don F. Pratt Museum and a little WWII to modern era military history.

Battle of Kasserine Pass, Tunisia, 14 – 22 February 1943

A bloody introduction to modern armored warfare

The US Army got its first taste of the German Army in the Atlas Mountains of Tunisia in mid February 1943. It was not a glorious time for the untried American II Corps. Poor leadership by II Corps commander Floyd Fredendall led the Americans to a humiliating defeat in a series of defensives positions and ill-conceived counter-attacks. Almost 6,000 were killed or wounded and hundreds more were captured in the battles around Sidi Bou Zid (14th/15th), Sbeitla(16th) and the Kasserine Pass(19th). The whole action is often referred to in the aggregate as the Battle of Kasserine Pass.

In early February 1943, General Erwin Rommel and his German Africa Corps were in danger of being cut off from its provisions in Tunisia. The American Army’s II Corps had taken up positions in the passes of the Grand Dorsal section of the Aurès Mountains at the eastern end of the Atlas Mountain chain which were blocking Rommel’s way to his northern Tunisian supply ports. Rommel sent two Panzer Divisions to take the passes. They surprised The American 1st Armored Division, led by General Orlando Ward, on the morning of 14 February 1943 with a well choreographed air and land maneuver. The disarrayed Americans were ordered by Fredendall to regroup, with minimal re-enforcements, and counter-attack. Ward thought this was ill-advised, but did not object vigorously. Rommel was prepared and unleashed hell on the unsuspecting Americans with a classic ambush near Sidi Bou Zid. The 1st Armoured was mauled again.

The Battle of Kasserine Pass

Finally, the Americans were allowed to fall back and re-group. The next point of defense would be the Kasserine pass, which was an opening in the range where a road, a river and a railroad track went through…an obvious point to hold. Rommel knew this as well. After probing the line sufficiently, Rommel launched. Already learning the very hard lessons that Rommel was teaching them, the Americans held at first and Rommel had to try again. The Desert Fox’s second attempt was to prove successful and the way was open for his panzers to rush through the gap.

Rommel was in open conflict with the Italians and many of his German colleagues and superiors, so he did not hold the area for long. However, in conducting the actions around the Kasserine Pass, he had taught the Americans a great lesson and it was taken to heart fully.

The Battle of Kasserine Pass Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

I have not ridden this, but would love to some day. II Corps landed around Oran, Algeria in early November 1942 as part of Operation Torch. They traversed northern Algeria to enter Tunisia in late 1942 through early 1943. The ride I describe follows the Tell Atlas range running parallel to the Mediterranean coast. It is mostly on the new A1 highway from Oran to the Battle of Kasserine Pass battlefields in northern Tunisia.

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.

The Kilpatrick Dahlgren Raid 28 February to 1 March 1864

By early 1864, Lincoln was despairing that he could find no General to prosecute the Union’s war against the South in the eastern theatre. All of his leaders around the Potomac seemed to be frozen with indecision and a fear of failure. Much to his delight, a plan from a junior Cavalry General, H. Judson Kilpatrick, came into his view through Secretary of War Stanton. Kilpatrick knew that his immediate superiors would either poo-poo the idea or steal it as their own, so he approached Lincoln’s administration directly through back channels. Such was the state of the Union military leadership in the east. Kilpatrick was proposing a daring raid into the mouth of the lion to snatch Federal prisoners held in deplorable conditions in Confederate held Richmond. Kilpatrick’s plan suggested more as well. Stanton and Lincoln were attracted by the idea that a raid into Richmond, apart from freeing prisoners, would also serve as a huge propaganda victory. Kilpatrick was summoned to Washington for a private meeting with Stanton and given the go ahead. Kilpatrick’s superior’s were not amused, although they had no choice but to support him as he had the direct support of Lincoln.

Kilpatrick, like many Cavalry officers from the North and South, had dreams of great daring-do, but was known to some peers and subordinates as “KillCavalry” for his reckless behavior. However, many, including Lincoln, believed that more of this type of risk taking was necessary to dislodge a stubborn foe in Virginia. Kilpatrick had no problem attracting another officer of similar ideals, named Colonel Ulric Dahlgren. Dahlgren, the son of a Union Admiral, had made his name in previous engagements, including chasing Lee’s forces out of Maryland after Gettysburg, and lost a leg for his work. Having recovered and sporting a prosthetic leg, Dahlgren was ready for more grandiose riding.

The Kilpatrick Dahlgren Raid

The operation started just before midnight on the night of the 28th of February 1864. They were aided by a diversionary attack further west by General Sedgewick and a Cavalry Brigade commander who probably would have longed to have been involved in the raid. His name was George Armstrong Custer. The diversion drew the Rebels west and cleared a path for Kilpatrick and Dahlgren. Custer was especially effective in drawing the Confederates on a wild goose chase as far away as Charlottesville. Leaving Elys Ford at the Rapidan River, north of Chancellorsville, the The Kilpatrick Dahlgren raid set out at a good cavalry pace and reached Spotsylvania courthouse by leap day, 1864. Here, they split forces with Kilpatrick heading straight into Richmond from the north with 7/8ths of the force. Dahlgren took a wide, westerly path to enter Richmond from the southwest with a force of approximately 500. The idea was to give the impression that the city was being attacked from multiple sides and cause panic long enough to get the prisoners out. If they could destroy a few things in Richmond, all the better.

Kilpatrick continued well through appalling weather of sleet and high winds. Dahlgren met a slave boy to guide him over a ford-able point on the James River and was on time, so was feeling pretty high at this point. Kilpatrick fired flares to see if Dahlgen would respond, but the weather was so bad that the flares could only be seen locally. Both drove on, but Dahlgren soon came to grief as the guide led him to a point at the rain swollen James that they could not ford. Dahlgren was thrown off track and was furious. The boy probably just did not know that the river was that high, but this did not appease Dahlgren. In a fit of rage, Dahlgren hung the boy for treachery. Unable to find a fording point, Dahlgren was stuck and could not complete his mission. Kilpatrick had entered north Richmond by now and encountered a force of old men and clerks, but misread the situation as regular troops. In an uncharacteristic delay, Kilpatrick hesitated whilst he waited for the signal from Dahlgren that the southwest attack was on. The “Dad’s Army” force held on well and long enough for re-enforcements to arrive and drive Kilpatrick off. Kilpatrick now decided to avoid the fate of the prisoners he had come to save, but left Dahlgren in a bind by pulling back. Kilpatrick was harried all the way back to Union lines, but Dahlgren and many of his 500 were to die trying to elude the Confederates.

The The Kilpatrick Dahlgren raid was a failure on the tactical as well as strategic front, but it was to get worse. The Rebels searched Dahlgren’s body and allegedly found orders to destroy Richmond and kill Jefferson Davis and his cabinet. The Union denied the existence of such orders, but the outrage in the South had the opposite effect of the propaganda coup Lincoln had hoped for.

Kilpatrick Dahlgren Raid Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

I call this ride the “Rapidan Return.” It covers the path Kilpatrick took to Richmond and then passes over the James River near Goochland where Dalgren had hoped to cross. It continues on the beautiful VA state routes 6 and 20 to Charlottesville where Custer worked the area. the ride finishes near the battlefield parks of WildernessChancellorsville and Spotsylvania.

Blucher Defeats Napoleon at Battle of Laon 9-10 March 1814

Map Credit:By Gregory Fremont-Barnes (main editor) [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons

Napoleon on the run

After defeat in Russia in 1812, Napoleon was being chased by the European Allies across central Europe and into France by early 1814. The Prussian and Russian forces were led by the Prussian Marshal Blucher and were threatening Paris by early 1814. Napoleon was fighting for his very survival.

After several battles on the trot, some won, some lost, Blucher occupied the town of Laon. Laon was strategically important because it was a major communications crossroads near Paris. Holding Laon would give Blucher the logistical base to attack into Paris. Napoleon obviously felt it could not remain held by the enemy. Laon was also a tactical stronghold due to its placement on a plateau with steep slopes for defense.

The Battle of Laon

On the first day of the battle (9th), both sides fought skirmishes for the small towns around Laon. Both sides missed opportunities for exploitation, but the sun set on the Allies holding the town. On the second day (10th), Napoleon decided to try the ploy that had worked at Craonne a few days earlier. Napoleon sent Marshal Auguste Marmont to deliver the flank attack. Blucher saw what was happening and threw a decisive counter-attack at Marmont and nearly annihilated his forces were it not for an exceptional defense by a small number of the Old Guard. The battle continued, but Napoleon could not dislodge Blucher from Laon and decided to retire.

The loss at the Battle of Laon was not the end of Napoleon in France, but Blucher and the Allies were tightening the ring around Paris and the Battle of Laon would provide an important link.

Battle of Laon Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

Check out the wooded circular route on the “D” roads south of Laon. If you are looking for more rides in the area, try the Battle of Neuve Chapelle ride to the north of the Battle of Laon.

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.

Benedict Arnold Fort Ticonderoga 10 May 1775

Fort Ticonderoga

In the early morning hours of May 10th, 1775, a guerrilla force from the New Hampshire Grants area (present day Vermont) with a vainglorious co-leader crossed Lake Champlain into New York and took the British garrison at Fort Ticonderoga whilst they slept.

Three weeks after Lexington and Concord and on the very day that the Second Continental Congress was to meet in Philadelphia, Ethan Allen (with his brother, Ira, and his cousin, Seth Warner) led the “Green Mountain Boys” from Hands Cove on the eastern side of Lake Champlain to a landing point near Fort Ticonderoga. They had a fellow traveller who tried to assert his control over the party, but seeing him commanding only his own person at the time, the rough Green Mountain Boys decided to only allow the poppinjay to travel as co-leader. His name was Benedict Arnold.

At the time, Ethan Allen was wanted by the New York authorities for offenses committed in the New Hampshire Grants (Vermont) against New York settlers. The NH Grants area was claimed by three colonies (New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York) and would soon become an independent Republic in 1777 before joining the United States as the fourteenth. Allen and his Boys had responded to an approach from concerned citizens about the safety of the Lake Champlain corridor from British penetration. The fort at Ticonderoga, on the western shore of Lake Champlain, was the obvious place to secure against this type of incursion, so the band of mountaineers set sights on Hands Cove as a jumping off point. Benedict Arnold was from Rhode Island, late of Connecticut, but applied to the Massachusetts Committee of Safety to secure the fort as well. Given permission, but no men, the ever confident Arnold set out for Hands Cove as well.

Benedict Arnold Fort Ticonderoga

After meeting in Hands Cove, Arnold (Mass. Committee of Safety papers in hand) presented himself as the new leader of the New Hampshire grantsmen. One can imagine the chuckles the mountain men suppressed as they listened to the city boy make his claim. Whether Arnold convinced them to let him become co-leader or if they tolerated him like the village idiot who claims to be Napoleon, no one will know (yes, I know Napoleoon was 5 at the time, but the analogy still works). Either way, the future traitor was on the boat to Ticonderoga that morning.

After landing, the force quietly made their way up to the fort and overtook the only sentry. They then proceeded to enter the fort which was really nothing more than a fortified hamlet of 2 officers, 48 men and 24 women and children. Finding all of the fort asleep, Allen announced his presence and his authority and demanded surrender which was quickly forthcoming. Allen sent Warner further north up the lake to take the fort at Crown Point as well. Arnold, not to be outdone, went all the way to Canada to occupy Fort Saint Johns at the intersection of Lake Champlain and the Richelieu River. Perhaps, realising his invitation of a rout by British forces, Arnold thought twice and left the area. Allen took it anyway, but was run off soon thereafter.

As one can easily read, the action on 10 May 1775 was not really all that important tactically and its strategic importance geographically at the time was questionable. However, I have left out one important detail of strategic importance. Fort Ticonderoga, as frail as it was, housed a large cache of reasonably modern artillery consisting of 44 guns, 14 mortars and one howitzer. The infant Continental Army was woefully short of artillery and these pieces would begin to play a decisive role less than a year later at the Dorchester Heights above Boston when used to lay siege to the cooped up British Army and Navy.

As for the main players, Allen was later captured by the British in Quebec and sent to a Cornish prison. The British army were to run into Seth Warner and the Green Mountain Boys again near Bennington, Vermont in 1777 and lose again. Fort Ticonderoga was still to play a major role in the war as British General Burgoyne took it back in 1777 and used it as a base to attack further south in his disastrous New York campaign. As for Benedict Arnold… after a vain, but generally well-regarded stint as an American commander, he became the one name that all American school children learn when being taught about loyalty to the nation.

Benedict Arnold Fort Ticonderoga Ride Recommendation

Lake Champlain is really quite striking and it is easy to travel its length largely in eye-shot of it. Its importance to the founding wars of the USA cannot be understated.
Start at the Hands Cove Road in Vermont to see the launch area and go to the Larrabees Point ferry for a short ride across the lake with Fort Ticonderoga in view. Visit the Fort, then head north on NY Route 9N to Crown Point Historical Park and across the bridge into Vermont and the Chimney Point Historical Park. From there head north following Lake Champlain from the Vermont side and through the Grand Isle and Hero Islands, across the Canadian border into Quebec to Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu (site of the former Fort St Johns). Don’t forget the passport! Google Map of the route.

Second Battle of Winchester 13-15 June 1863

The Second Battle of Winchester

Before Gettysburg came the preparation of the route north. After the victory at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Robert E. Lee decided to move north to secure provisions for his increasingly ragged troops. As well as this practical matter, Lee hoped the move would encourage the peace activists of the north by threatening Washington, Baltimore, and Philadelphia from the west. Whilst encamped in Culpeper, Virginia with his infantry (LG Richard Ewell’s and Longstreet’s two Corps), Lee’s cavalry under J.E.B. Stuart met a large Federal Cavalry force led by Alfred Pleasanton near Brandy Station on 9 June 1863. This ended up being the largest cavalry battle of the entire war. It ended in a tactical draw, but had two significant outcomes. First, Stuart was successful in screening Lee’s force in Culpeper and the Union left the field not knowing where Lee was, but suspected he was amassing a large army on its doorstep. Second, the aggressive fighting of the Federal cavalry marked the end of Stuart’s domination of the cavalry field in the eastern theatre. The legend of the southern cavalry had been broken by excellent cavalry leaders, such as John Buford. Regardless of who won at Brandy Station, Lee’s army was still in Northern Virginia and on the move northward with determination to cause havoc.

Lee sent Ewell’s II Corps to clear the Winchester area of the Shenandoah Valley of known Union emplacements there. This was to be the route north and Lee wanted nothing slowing him down when he began his big gamble. The Union forces at Winchester were commanded by BG Robert Milroy and were significantly smaller than Ewell’s numbers. The emplacements were made up of the the “Star” fort to the west of Winchester and the main fort in the town itself. Because of the general havoc created by the advancing Confederates and the Union’s shallow numbers, Milroy had been ordered to withdrawal from Winchester to Harpers Ferry. However, after skirmishing all around Winchester on the 13th, Milroy decided to try to hold the town. This decision would later get him relieved of command, but the Confederates would relieve him of many of this troops before then.

On the 14th of June, Ewell began in earnest by sending Jubal Early’s Division to take the Star Fort during the day and increasing pressure on the main fort into the evening. As the Confederates closed on Winchester, Milroy was starting to think better of his option of withdrawal. After a quick counsel of war, he decided to retreat to the north. However, Ewell had anticipated this and sent Edward “Allegheny” Johnson’s division to cut him off. Johnson’s forces met Milroy’s retreat in the early morning hours of the 15th at Stephenson’s Depot on the Harpers Ferry road to the north of Winchester. Johnson created chaos around the Federals and Milroy’s command collapsed in panic. Milroy and some of his cavalry got away, but virtually all of the remaining infantry were killed or captured along with a great number of artillery, horses and supplies. By the morning of the 15th, all that was left was to mop up the stragglers.

The road was now clear for Lee to march northward with the mountains and Stuart’s cavalry as a screen. Gettysburg and destiny awaited.

Second Battle of Winchester Ride Recommendation

I’m writing about the Second Battle of Winchester, because I never miss a chance to recommend a ride in the Shenandoah Valley, especially any part of the Skyline Drive. I’ve also included some lesser known roads in West Virginia that are worth the ride. The Skyline Drive ends near Front Royal which is where Ewell staged from before the Second Battle of Winchester.

Map Credit:By U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1880–1901. (U.S. War Department,) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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