Sunday, August 29, 2010

Is a Hessian Major’s Journal a Key Source on Cowpens?

Hessian Major Carl Leopold Baurmeister was in New York when the battle of Cowpens was fought in South Carolina (January 17, 1781). Nevertheless, his journal provides one of the earliest, detailed descriptions of the battle. Baurmeister received his information third-hand; nevertheless his account aligns well in many respects with most first-hand accounts of the battle. For this reason, Baurmeister’s account may help resolve the question of how the British deployed for battle at Cowpens [cf. New Research on Cowpens], and, as described below, how the British force met with defeat.

A traditional view of Cowpens is that the Americans defeated the British by launching a double envelopment: a simultaneous attack on both flanks of the British line. However, as I noted in previous posts, there is considerable evidence that both either British flank was attacked, the British line was first broken in front. Specifically, the American Continentals first overran the center of the British line, and then turned left and right to attack the troops that remained.

How I represented this sequence originally (Spring, 2009):

The American Continentals are attacked in front by three British regiments.

The 71st Foot threatens the right flank of the Continentals; the Continentals make an unintended retreat.

The Continentals then make a surprise counterattack, inflicting devastating casualties on much of the British line.

The ensuing counterattack shatters the British center. The Continentals then divide left and right and attack the remaining regulars (with assistance from American militia and cavalry).

Now let’s take a fresh look at the evidence, beginning with Baurmeister’s treatment of this critical point in the battle:

“The British attack was too furious for the enemy's right wing—nothing withstood the 1st Battalion of the 71st Regiment. General Morgan withdrew and took another position. Since the Legion did not pursue, Lieutenant Colonel Washington with 240 horse and the Virginia militia under Major Triplett experienced no difficulty in falling between the dispirited Legion and the two British regiments, thus putting the Georgia volunteers in a position to capture the two fieldpieces and charge the rear of the 7th Regiment. Those not killed were captured.”

Some explanation is in order:

  • Baurmeister claimed that the British were deployed, from left-to-right, as the 71st Foot (Highlanders), the British Legion infantry, and the 7th Foot.
  • Baurmeister’s description of the American units involved in this action is in error, but that is of little consequence to the point under consideration. It was American regulars (chiefly from Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia) that made the counterattack.
  • According to Baurmeister, the Americans did not, in fact, overrun the British center before turning left and right: The British Legion failed to attack, leaving the 71st unsupported.
    A comparison of this description with two other sources suggests that Baurmeister’s version may be essentially correct.

A comparison of this description with two other sources suggests that Baurmeister’s version may be essentially correct.

First, here is an excerpt from the journal of Sergeant-Major William Seymour of the 1st Delaware Regiment (who was with the Continentals):

“By this time the enemy advanced and attacked our light infantry [i.e., the Continentals] with both cannon and small arms, where meeting with a very warm reception they then thought to surround our right flank, to prevent which Captain Kirkwood with his company [i.e., the Delaware Continentals] wheeled to the right and attacked their left flank so vigorously that they were soon repulsed, our men advancing on them so very rapidly that they soon gave way. Our left flank advanced at the same time and repulsed their right flank, upon which they retreated off, leaving us entire masters of the field, our men pursuing them for the distance of twelve miles, insomuch that all their infantry was killed, wounded, and taken prisoners.”

  • Seymour’s account jumps from what is happening in the first image in the sequence above, to what is happening in the fourth and final image. He did not mention the intervening accidental retreat described by a number of others.
  • Seymour notably didn’t refer to the Americans attacking and defeating British troops to their immediate front [as is shown in the third image]. Instead, as in Baurmeister’s account, the primary threat is stemming only from the right.
  • In Seymour’s account the Continentals were free to divide into two parts and attack either flank of the British line. Seymour explicitly described one part of the Continentals wheeling to their right and attacking the British “left flank” [i.e., the 71st]. In this respect, Seymour’s account matches Baurmeister’s.

Second, here is an excerpt from David Stewart’s (1825) Sketches… of the Highlanders of Scotland.

“…the Highlanders, "who ran in, with characteristic eagerness, desirous to take advantage of the confusion which appeared among the enemy."… [But then the Continentals] threw in a fire upon the 71st when within forty yards of the hostile force. The fire was destructive; nearly one-half of their number fell; and those who remained were so scattered, having run over a space of five hundred yards at full speed, that they could not be united to form a charge with the bayonet, "the mode of attack in which their superiority lay." They were checked; but they did not fall back immediately, probably expecting that the first line and cavalry would push forward to their support. This did not happen; and, after some irregular firing between them and Colonel Howard’s Reserve, the front line of the latter rallied, returned to the field, and pushed forward to the right flank of the Highlanders, who now saw no prospect of support, while their own numbers were diminishing, and the enemy increasing. They began to retire, and at length to run, the first instance of a Highland regiment running from an enemy!!! This retreat struck a panic into those whom they left in the rear, who fled in the greatest confusion: order and command were lost; the rout became general; few of the infantry escaped; and of the cavalry, who put their horses to full speed, not a man was taken.”

  • As described by Baurmeister and implied by Seymour, the critical British attack was made solely by the 71st. According to Stewart, it was precisely because this regiment was not supported by the others that the British met with defeat.

A Reinterpretation:

Baurmeister’s account, taken in combination with that of others, suggests that the sequence by which the British met with defeat was different than how I originally described it. A more likely sequence was that when the Americans made their unintended retreat, only the 71st Foot made a serious pursuit. The British Legion infantry advanced either not at all, or only in the most halting manner. Therefore, when the Continentals made their counterattack, the field of action would have looked something like this:

The 71st Foot would have taken the full brunt of the Continentals’ close-range volley, and the Americans would have been free to pivot both to their right (taking the 71st in the flank) and to their left (taking the British artillery and 7th Foot in the flank). According to Stewart, once the 71st fell back, the Legion retreated also. This would have ceded the center of the battlefield to the Americans. (Note that in this image, unlike those above, I don’t show casualties or smoke bursts, and there are changes to the British figurines).

Saturday, August 28, 2010

An Evening at the Workbench

My free time this summer has been spent chiefly reading and researching the American invasion of Canada; only recently have I picked up a paintbrush again. Because of other commitments, most evenings I don't get to paint, and when I do it is rarely for more than 1 hour. For a change of pace I thought I would document an evening at the workbench.

10:31 pm. I'm ready to go. I keep my works-in-progress on a tray and settle in at a spot where there is a radio and good light. The radio is tuned to Minnesota Public Radio; at this time of night they are running a Canadian program called As It Happens. An interminable and fairly pointless interview is airing with a long-time resident of New York's Carnegie Hall (gah!).

I have a bunch of figures on my work tray at any one time. Close to completion are 2 Essex blue-coat Continentals, 2 Peter Pig militia, 1 Musket Miniatures artilleryman, and 4 Freikorps Miniatures naval artillerymen (1 of which is painted to represent a Canadian artillerist, and another an armed merchant). There are also some Minifigs Canadian militia, some Musket Miniatures Continentals, and some Stone Mountain Continentals and British light infantry. Not pictured are a bunch of Minifigs that have been languishing on the tray since March, and that one of these days (or weeks or months) will be completed so as to represent the British 33rd Foot.

My goal for this evening is to finish off a few of the minis that are close to completion. I start with white (all the paints I am using this evening are Vallejo Game Colors), and paint some details on the Freikorps and Essex figures.

10:44 pm. I enjoy mixing colors, and at this point I add a small amount of "filthy brown" to the white and paint the backpack straps on the Essex figures.

10:52 pm. OK, that didn't turn out so well. I break out the Prussian blue and do some touch up where the off-white strayed.

10:56 pm. I normally like to use metallic paints last, but to ensure that I can complete several of the figures tonight, I begin applying silver to various gun barrels and shoe buckles.

11:00 pm. The BBC comes on the air, which provides some of my favorite late-night listening (especially the interviews).

11:08 pm. I switch to black and add the hole to the end of the musket barrels on the Peter Pig figures. They are now complete, unless I should suddenly notice some small flaw (as happens all too often). Shoes, hats, and hair ties are attended to with a handful of figures.

11:20-11:31 pm. I alternate in a short time between blue, white, red, and black, and finish up three of the Freikorps figures. Several others are now also very close to completion, but they will have to wait for another night.

At the end of the night, the work tray looks little changed from when I started. The final detail work, at least, is complete on 5 figures. Two Royal Navy men, 1 armed merchant, and 2 American militiamen are now ready to be varnished, based, and flocked.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Shooting Cannonballs at Waterspouts

The French fleet commanded by François-Joseph-Paul de Grasse repeatedly came into mortal danger. Perhaps the most unusual danger was a waterspout encountered while the fleet was traveling from Virginia to Martinique. The "Chevalier de Goussencourt" described in his journal the novel manner in which they attempted to protect themselves:

"On the 15th [of November, 1781] we saw a water-spout, a very considerable mass of air and water in the form of a truncated cone, which pumps up the sea till the volume of water outweighs that of air, when it bursts. The volume of a spout, as I was assured by several intelligent seamen, is enough to swamp the largest vessels. We fired two cannon balls at it to break it, but did not succeed, as we were too far off."


John Gilmary Shea (1864). The Operations of the French Fleet Under the Count de Grasse in 1781-2 as Described in Two Contemporary Journals.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Why Washington?

The Second Continental Congress convened on May 10, 1775, and by June 3 there appears to have been some general agreement among the delegates that the Continental Congress would have to undertake the creation of a Continental Army. However, it's was not until June 14 that the Congress' plans became public [cf. Towards a Continental Army]. Why was Congress slow to act on so important a measure?

Delegate John Adams recalled, in his memoirs, that “Every post brought me letters from my friends, Dr. Winthrop, Dr. Cooper, General James Warren, and sometimes from General Ward and his aids, and General Heath and many others, urging in pathetic terms the impossibility of keeping their men together without the assistance of Congress.”

The chief difficulty, it seems, was on deciding who should lead this new army. The Congress was determined to act only when a unanimous decision had been reached, and on weighty issues this occurred only after a good deal of discussion had taken place. According to Delegate Silas Deane, “ motion or resolution can be started or proposed but what must be subject to much canvassing...”

Three of the leading contenders for the position were Artemas Ward, Charles Lee, and George Washington.

In brief, Artemas Ward had served in the Massachusetts militia during the French and Indian War and now commanded the New England troops around Boston.

Charles Lee had the most military experience of any of the contenders. A recent immigrant to Virginia, he was a former British officer who fought in the French and Indian War, and then travelled to Europe and participated in the Russo-Turkish War, and the Spanish-Portuguese War.

George Washington served with distinction during the French and Indian War and rose to command a brigade of Virginia troops before the war's end. He had led more troops than the other contenders and was an important figure in a politically important colony.

John Adams went on to relate that there “was among the delegates, a Southern party against a Northern, and a jealousy against a New England army under the command of a New England General. Whether this jealousy was sincere, or whether it was mere pride and a haughty ambition of furnishing a southern General to command the northern army, (I cannot say); but the intention was very visible to me that Colonel Washington was their object, and so many of our staunchest men were in the plan, that we could carry nothing without conceding to it.”

In other words, Adams believed that it was necessary to support Washington in order to achieve a consensus. Nevertheless, it still took some time for a consensus to emerge. According to Adams:

“...the Massachusetts and other New England delegates were divided. Mr. Hancock and Mr. [Thomas] Cushing hung back; Mr. [Robert Treat] Paine did not come forward, and even Mr. Samuel Adams was irresolute. Mr. [John] Hancock himself had an ambition to be appointed commander-in-chief... In canvassing this subject, out of doors, I found too that even among the delegates of Virginia there were difficulties... In several conversations, I found more than one very cool about the appointment of Washington, and particularly Mr. [Edmund] Pendleton was very clear and full against it.”

Adams then sought to bring the matter to a resolution.

“I walked with Mr. Samuel Adams in the State House yard, for a little exercise and fresh air, before the hour of Congress, and there represented to him the various dangers that surrounded us. He agreed to them all, but said, "What shall we do?" I answered him, that... I was determined to take a step which should compel them and all the other members of Congress to declare themselves for or against something. "I am determined this morning to make a direct motion that Congress should adopt the army before Boston, and appoint Colonel Washington commander of it." Mr. Adams seemed to think very seriously of it, but said nothing.”

Adams then spoke in Congress and motioned “...that Congress would adopt the army at Cambridge [headquarters of the American army outside Boston], and appoint a General; that though this was not the proper time to nominate a General, yet, as I had reason to believe this was a point of the greatest difficulty, I had no hesitation to declare that I had but one gentleman in my mind for that important command, and that was a gentleman from Virginia who was among us and very well known to all of us... Mr. Washington, who happened to sit near the door, as soon as he heard me allude to him, from his usual modesty, darted into the library-room. Mr. Hancock, — who was our President, which gave me an opportunity to observe his countenance while I was speaking on the state of the Colonies, the army at Cambridge, and the enemy,—heard me with visible pleasure; but when I came to describe Washington for the commander, I never remarked a more sudden and striking change of countenance. Mortification and resentment were expressed as forcibly as his face could exhibit them. Mr. Samuel Adams seconded the motion, and that did not soften the President's physiognomy at all. The subject came under debate, and several gentlemen declared themselves against the appointment of Mr. Washington, not on account of any personal objection against him, but because the army were all from New England, had a General of their own, appeared to be satisfied with him, and had proved themselves able to imprison the British army in Boston, which was all they expected or desired at that time... Mr. Paine expressed a great opinion of General Ward and a strong friendship for him, having been his classmate at college, or at least his contemporary; but gave no opinion upon the question. The subject was postponed to a future day. In the mean time, pains were taken out of doors to obtain a unanimity, and the voices were generally so clearly in favor of Washington, that the dissentient members were persuaded to withdraw their opposition, and Mr. Washington was nominated, I believe by Mr. Thomas Johnson of Maryland, unanimously elected, and the army adopted.”

Scene from the HBO Miniseries John Adams: John Adams is introduced to George Washington. Adams first met Washington at the First Continental Congress (September, 1774).

Friday, August 20, 2010

Joseph Graham Describes Ramsour’s Mill (4)

This is the final of several posts that describes, verbatim, Joseph Graham's account of the battle of Ramsour’s Mill. The account is illustrated with military miniatures and a miniature version of the battlefield. For background information on the battlefield, see Joseph Graham's description. For the earlier posts, click here, and here.


“The Tories finding the left of their position in possession of the Whigs and their centre being closely pressed, retreated down the ridge towards the mill exposed to the fire of the centre and of Captain Hardin's company behind the fence.

Retreat. Under pressure from in front and on both flanks, the Tory line collapses.

“The Whigs pursued until they got entire possession of the ridge, when they perceived to their astonishment that the Tories had collected in force on the other side of the creek beyond the mill. They expected the fight would be renewed, and attempted to form a line; but only eighty-six men could be paraded. Some were scattered during the action, others were attending to their wounded friends, and after repeated efforts not more than a hundred and ten could be collected.


“In this perilous situation of things it was resolved that Major Wilson and Capt William Alexander, of Rowan, should hasten to General Rutherford and urge him to press forward to their assistance. Rutherford had marched early in the morning, and, at the distance of six or seven miles from Ramsour's, was met by Wilson and Alexander. Major Davie's cavalry was started at full gallop, and Colonel Davidson's infantry were ordered to hasten on with all possible speed [these units are briefly described in Joseph Graham's Timeline]. At the end of two miles they were met by others from the battle, who informed them that the Tories had retreated. The march was continued, and the troops arrived on the ground two hours after the battle had closed. The dead and most of the wounded were still lying where they fell.


“As there was no organization of either party, nor regular returns made after the action, the loss could not be ascertained with correctness. Fifty-six lay dead on the side of the ridge where the heat of the action prevailed; many lay scattered on the flanks and over the ridge towards the mill. It is believed that seventy were killed, and that the loss on each side was nearly equal. About an hundred men on each side were wounded, and fifty Tories were taken prisoners. The men had no uniform, and it could not be told to which party many of the dead belonged. Most of the Whigs wore a piece of white paper on their hats in front, and many of the men on each side being excellent riflemen, this paper was a mark at which the Tories often fired, and several of the Whigs were shot in the head. The trees behind which both Whigs and Tories occasionally took shelter were grazed by the balls; and one tree in particular, on the left of the Tories’ line, at the root of which two brothers lay dead, was grazed by three balls on one side and by two on the other.

“In this battle neighbors, near relations and personal friends fought each other; and as the smoke would from time to time blow off they could recognize each other. In the evening and on the next day the relations and friends of the dead and wounded came in, and a scene was witnessed truly afflicting to the feelings of humanity.”

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Towards a Continental Army

The American people were gradually moving into armed conflict with Great Britain during the early 1770s. In the Spring of 1775, two events turned what had been a slow-burning fuse into an open conflagration. One was the British raid on colonial stores that resulted in the battle of Lexington and Concord. The other was the capture of Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point. A crisis was at hand because the American colonies were ill-prepared for open warfare with Great Britain. The American army that formed in Massachusetts after Lexington and Concord was bereft of the instruments of war, and the garrisons for the newly-captured British forts in New York were grossly lacking in men and provisions.

Neither Massachusetts nor New York was able to solve these crises are their own. Both colonies looked to the Continental Congress to provide direction and support. However, the Congress could not quickly act. No system of government existed beyond those for the individual colonies. Congress, therefore, effectively needed a unanimous consent in order to act on any major issue.

A brief timeline appears below:

May 10: The Second Continental Congress convenes. Also on this date: Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold seize Fort Ticonderoga in New York; news of Lexington and Concord reaches Georgia.

May 15: Congress forms “a committee to consider what posts are necessary to be occupied in the Colony of New-York, and that they be desired to report as speedily as possible.” The members are Virginia’s George Washington, Massachusetts’ Samuel Adams, Thomas Lynch of South Carolina, and the full New York delegation. Adams is one of the conspirators behind the expedition against Fort Ticonderoga [see past blog posts concerning April 25 and April 29, 1775], and he likely briefs the committee on what is afoot.

May 18: Congress receives word that Ticonderoga has fallen and it hears allegations that the British are planning to form an invasion army in Canada. [see past blog post concerning May 18, 1775].

May 26: Congress passes a resolution that reads, in part:

“Hostilities being actually commenced in the Massachusett’s-Bay, by the British troops under the command of General Gage, and the lives of a number of the inhabitants of that Colony destroyed, the town of Boston having not only been long occupied as a garrisoned town in an enemy’s country, but the inhabitants thereof treated with a severity and cruelty not to be justified even towards declared enemies; large re-inforcements too being ordered and soon expected, for the declared purpose of compelling these Colonies to submit to the operation of the said acts; that therefore, for the express purpose of securing and defending these Colonies, and preserving them in safety against all attempts to carry the said acts into execution by force of arms, these Colonies be immediately put into a state of defence.”

May 27: Congress forms “a Committee to consider on ways and means to supply these Colonies with ammunition and military stores,” that consists of George Washington, Samuel Adams, New York’s Philip Schuyler, Connecticut’s Silas Deane, and Pennsylvania’s Thomas Mifflin and Robert Morris.

May 30: Congress receives a letter from Benedict Arnold, who is at Crown Point. He warns that 400 British regulars have assembled at Fort Saint-Jean in southern Canada, and he expects that these men, with the help of Indian forces, will attempt to retake Ticonderoga and Crown Point. Arnold asks for reinforcement and supplies.

Congress begins to provide direction to the war effort. They pass a resolution calling for Connecticut to provide men and New York to provide supplies for the defense of Ticonderoga and Crown Point.

June 3: There is a tacit acceptance of the need for a Continental Army under Congressional supervision and direction, as evidenced by two sources:

1. The secret journal of the Continental Congress records the passing of a resolution “That a committee be appointed for the purpose of borrowing the sum of six thousand pounds… [for] the purchase of gunpowder for the use of the continental army.” [emphasis added].

2. The New York delegates to the Continental Congress send a letter to the New York Provincial Congress, in which they state: “We think it an object of great consequence to know in whom you would wish to vest the command of the Continental Army [emphasis added] in our Province… As General Officers will, in all probability, be shortly appointed by this Congress...”

The reason why discussions about the army are prolonged is revealed in a letter of this date by Silas Deane to his wife: “The Congress, tho' not numerous, are yet a very unwieldly Body, in their very nature, as no motion or resolution can be started or proposed but what must be subject to much canvassing before it will pass with the unanimous approbation of Thirteen Colonies whose situation and circumstances are various. And Unanimity is the basis on which we mean to rise...”

June 9: The secret journal of the Continental Congress records the passing of a resolution calling for New York to convey 5,000 barrels of flour to “the continental army” [emphasis added] in Massachusetts. There is still no consensus on the more difficult questions, including who will lead the army.

June 14: This date will come to be regarded as the birth date of the Continental Army. A committee is formed “to prepare Rules and Regulations for the government of the army.” The committee consists of Washington, Schuyler, Deane, Massachusetts’ Thomas Cushing, and North Carolina’s Joesph Hewes.

Congress also undertakes the raising of troops with the following resolution:

Resolved, That six companies of expert riflemen be immediately raised in Pennsylvania, two in Maryland, and two in Virginia… That each company, as soon as completed, march and join the army near Boston…

“That the form of the inlistment be in the following words:

“I [blank] have this day voluntarily inlisted myself as a soldier in the American Continental Army [emphasis added] for one year, unless sooner discharged: And I do bind myself to conform in all instances to such rules and regulations, as are or shall be established for the government of the said army.”

One of the Virginia delegates writes, “Col. Washington has been pressed to take the supreme command of the American Troops... and I believe will accept the appointment, though with much reluctance...”

June 15: Congress appoints George Washington “to command all the Continental Forces, raised or to be raised for the defence of American liberty.” He formally accepts this appointment on the 16th.


Journal of the proceedings of the congress: held at Philadelphia, May 10, 1775.

Secret journals of the acts and proceedings of Congress, from the first meeting thereof to the dissolution of the Confederation, Vol 1.

Letters of members of the Continental Congress, Vol. 1.

Peter Force's American Archives.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Joseph Graham Describes Ramsour’s Mill (3)

This is the second of several posts that describes, verbatim, Joseph Graham's account of the battle of Ramsour’s Mill. The account is illustrated with military miniatures and a miniature version of the battlefield. For background information on the battlefield, see Joseph Graham's description.

Previously, the American (Whig) horsemen surprised the Loyalist (Tory) encampment at Ramsour's Mill, but were driven off by superior numbers. When the Tories began to pursue, they ran into the Whig infantry and the fighting dramatically escalated.


“In a few minutes the Tories began to retire to their position on the top of the ridge and soon fell back a little behind the ridge to shelter part of their bodies from the fire of the Whigs, who were fairly exposed to their fire.”

The Whig Infantry Advance Up the Ridge. After driving back the Tories, the Whig infantry advances up the deadly, exposed slope of the ridge.

“In this situation their fire became so destructive that the Whigs fell back to the bushes near the glade, and the Tories leaving their safe position pursued them half way down the ridge. At this moment Captain Hardin led a party of Whigs into the field, and under cover of the fence kept up a galling fire on the right flank of the Tories;...”

“A Galling Fire on the Right Flank.”

“...and some of the Whigs discovering that the ground on their right was more favorable to protect them from that of the Tories, obliqued in that direction towards the east end of the glade. This movement gave their line the proper extension. They continued to oblique until they turned the left flank of the Tories; and the contest being well maintained in the centre, the Tories began to retreat up the ridge.”

Turning the Left Flank. The Whigs continue to advance along the edge of the glade towards the Tories left flank.

“They [the Tories] found part of their position [on the ridge] occupied by the Whigs. In that quarter the action became close, and the parties mixed together in two instances; and having no bayonets, they struck at each other with the butts of their guns. In this strange contest several of the Tories were taken prisoners, and others of them, divesting themselves of their mark of distinction (which was a twig of green pine top stuck in their hats), intermixed with the Whigs, and all being in their common dress, escaped unnoticed.”

“The Action Became Close.” Hand-to-hand combat occurs near the crest of the ridge when the Whigs gain the Tories' left flank.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Joseph Graham Describes Ramsour’s Mill (2)

This is the first of several posts that describes, verbatim, Joseph Graham's account of the battle of Ramsour’s Mill. The account is illustrated with military miniatures and a miniature version of the battlefield. For background information on the battlefield, see Joseph Graham's description.

In brief, according to Graham, a large body of Loyalists (or "Tories") had organized at Ramsour's Mill and were attacked on the morning of June 20, 1780 by American (or "Whig") militia. The Americans were outnumbered, but they expected to take the Loyalists by surprise. Graham's account of the fighting (below), begins with the Americans advancing along the Tuckaseegee Ford Road towards the Loyalist pickets.


“The companies of Captains Falls, M’Dowell and Brandon being mounted, the other troops, under Colonel Locke, were arranged in the road two deep behind them; and without any other organization or orders they were marched to battle. When the horsemen came within sight of the picquet they plainly perceived that their approach had not been anticipated. The picquet fired and fled towards their camp. The horsemen pursued, and turning to the right out of the road they rode up within thirty steps of the line and fired at the Tories…”

The Whig horsemen Pursue the Picket Towards the Tory Encampment. The Tories are shown above in a line of battle for reasons of convenience; they were in fact ill prepared to receive an attack.

“…, who, being in confusion, had not completely formed their line; but seeing only a few men assailing them, they quickly recovered from their panic and poured in a destructive fire which obliged the horsemen to retreat.”

The Whig Horsemen Are Repulsed.

“They retreated in disorder, passing through the infantry who were advancing; several of the infantry joined them and never came into action. At a convenient distance the greater part of the horsemen rallied, and returning to the fight exerted themselves with spirit during its continuance. The infantry hurried to keep near the horsemen in their pursuit of the picquet, and their movements being very irregular, their files were open six or eight steps, and when the front approached the Tories the rear was an hundred and sixty yards back. The Tories, seeing the effect of their fire, came down the hill a little distance and were in fair view. The infantry of the Whigs kept the road to the point between the glade and the corner of the fence opposite the centre of the Tories. Here the action was renewed.”

“The Action Was Renewed.” The Tories, coming down the hill, encounter the front rank of the Whig infantry. The rear rank is approaching at lower right.

“The front fired several times before the rear came up. The Tories being on their left, they deployed to the right in front of the glade, and came into action without order or system. In some places they were crowded together in each other's way; in other places there were none. As the rear came up they occupied those places, and the line gradually extending, the action became general and obstinate on both sides.”

The Whig infantry Advance Along the Edge of the Glade.

“The Action Became General and Obstinate”

Friday, August 6, 2010

Joseph Graham Describes Ramsour’s Mill (1)

Graham’s Description of the Battlefield

Joseph Graham began his account of the battle of Ramsour’s Mill by describing the disposition of the Loyalist militia (or “Tories”). He wrote:

“The Tories were encamped on a hill, three hundred yards east of Ramsour's Mill, and half a mile north of the present flourishing village of Lincolnton. The ridge stretches nearly to the east on the south side of the mill-pond and the road leading from the Tuckasege Ford by the mill, crosses the point of the ridge in a northwestern direction. The Tories occupied an excellent position on the summit of the ridge; their right on the road fronting to the south. The ridge has a very gentle slope, and was then interspersed with only a few trees, and the fire of the Tories had full rake in front for more than two hundred yards. The foot of the ridge was bounded by a glade, the side of which was covered with bushes. The road passed the western end of the glade at right angles, opposite the centre of the line, and on this road a fence extended from the glade to a point opposite the right of the line. The picket guard, twelve in number, were stationed on the road, two hundred and fifty yards south of the glade, and six hundred yards from the encampment.”

Terrain Features at Ramsour's Mill According to Joseph Graham (click to enlarge).

The miniature battlefield I created was based on the Reep/Reinhardt map, but Graham’s description mostly works with it, as shown above. Each of the terrain features mentioned by Graham are labeled, and there are, as he indicated, 300 scale-yards between the mill and the Tory line, 200 scale-yards of open space in front of the Tory Line, and 600 scale-yards between the Tories and their picket guard and 250 scale-yards between the southern end of the glade and the picket guard.

The Tory encampment is not shown in the image above (I imagine this would have included many brush huts, a number of wagons, and a few tents). Also, to facilitate view of the miniatures, I’ve included fewer trees and less undergrowth than historically would have been present.

There are two minor discrepancies between Graham’s description and the Reep/Reinhardt map. Graham mentioned a fence bordering on the right of the Tories; the Reep/Reinhardt map does not show this. The Reep/Reinhardt map shows a line of felled trees on the edge of the glade; Graham did not mention this. I included both the fence and the line of felled trees on the miniature battlefield.

Support From Others

Added evidence in favor of the above account can be found in the observations made by two of Graham’s contemporaries: Richard Winn and William Davie. Like Graham, these officers were with Griffith Rutherford’s force, which arrived after the fighting had ended (cf. Joseph Graham's timeline).

Winn commented that there were 1,000 Tories at the battle, that on the right of their position there was an open plantation with a high fence, that on the left there was a steep hill full of trees, and that in the rear there was a river and mills. Davie commented that there were 1,100 Tories, that there were formed on a high ridge with oaks, that on their right flank there was a fence, and that in their rear there was a mill pond.

How Many Loyalists?

Graham claimed that there were "nearly" 1,300 Loyalists at Ramsour’s Mill, but he did not claim that all of these men took place in the fighting. Graham indicated that ¼ of the Loyalists were without arms and that they fled to the mill before the battle was joined; he also indicated that some men with arms also did not fight, either because they also fled before the battle was joined, or because they were away from the Loyalist encampment at the beginning of the battle [see footnote]. These deductions leave the Loyalists with perhaps 950 men.

If one applies the deductions suggested by Graham's account to Davie’s total of 1,100 men, or Winn’s total of 1,000 men, then it’s possible to come up with an even smaller total. Alternatively, one might suspect that the Americans overstated enemy strength, as commonly occurred (by both sides) throughout the war, allowing one to reasonably propose an even smaller total.

In any event, a total considerably less than 1,000 seems warranted by the dimensions of the battlefield. The approximate location of each flank of the Loyalists' battle line is known from incidents described by Joseph Graham and others. Again, relying on a modern analysis of the Reep/Reinhardt map, it appears that the Loyalist line was around 800 feet in length (give or take a couple hundred feet). If the Loyalists were deployed in 2 ranks in close order, then only about 600 men could have fit in this space. If the Loyalists were deployed in 2 ranks in open order (as seems more likely), then fewer than 500 men could have fit in this space.

For the miniature representation of the battle, I ended up using a battle line consisting of 500 Loyalists (or more precisely, 25 figures using a 1:20 ratio). That total is shown below.

The "Tory" Battle Line at Ramsour's Mill (click to enlarge).


For Joseph Graham's account, see William A. Graham (1904). General Joseph Graham and His Papers on North Carolina Revolutionary History. Below are statements by Graham that shed light on the number of Loyalists that participated in the fighting.

"By the 20th nearly thirteen hundred men had assembled at Ramsour's, one-fourth of whom were without arms."


"As soon as the action began those of the Tories who had no arms and several who had, retreated across the creek.

"These were joined by others when they were first beaten back up the ridge, and by the two hundred that were well armed, who had arrived two days before from Lower Creek, in Burke County, under Captains Whitson and Murray. Colonel Moore and Major Welsh soon joined them, and those of the Tories who continued to fight to the last crossed the creek and joined them as soon as the Whigs got possession of the ridge."


"[Whig] Captain M'Kissick was wounded early in the action, being shot through the top of the shoulder; and finding himself disabled, went from the battleground about 80 poles to the west. About the the time the firing ceased he met ten of the Tories coming from a neighboring farm, where they had been until the sound of the firing started them."

Monday, August 2, 2010

What Are the Most Discussed Battles of the American Revolution?

Although I blog principally about obscure engagements of the American Revolution, I certainly have an interest in the well-known battles. Out of curiosity, I did a web search to determine which battles are most discussed. The search was conducted as follows:

  • I chose 25 different battles to search, including several fought outside the 13 colonies.
  • I conducted the search using a Google web search, a Google books search, a Google scholar search, and a Google blogs search.
  • I used quotation marks when the name of the battle consisted of two common nouns (e.g., "Long Island," "King's Mountain."
  • I used both "siege" and "battle" in conjunction with Savannah, Charleston, and Yorktown.

I predicted that the following searches would yield the largest number of "hits":

  • Battle lexington concord 1775
  • Siege yorktown 1781
  • Battle trenton 1776
  • Battle saratoga 1777
  • Battle bunker hill 1775
The results included some surprises, including that the battle yielding the most "hits" was different for each search. The top 10 for each search is listed below.

Google Web
search terms (hits)

1. Battle quebec 1775 (1,840,000)
2. Battle charleston 1780 (1,080,000)
3. Battle savannah 1779 (1,060,000)
4. Battle lexington concord 1775 (429,000)
5. Siege yorktown 1781 (406,000)
6. Battle germantown 1777 (386,000)
7. Battle princeton 1777 (251,000)
8. Battle saratoga 1777 (206,000)
9. Battle bunker hill 1775 (193,000)
10. Battle “long island” 1776 (156,000)

(This search seemed especially likely to yield false positives).

Google Books
search terms (hits)

1. Battle lexington concord 1775 (75,300)
2. Battle bunker hill 1775 (52,500)
3. Battle “long island” 1776 (43,400)
4. Battle saratoga 1777 (36,000)
5. Battle yorktown 1781 (33,400)
6. Battle trenton 1776 (32,700)
7. Battle quebec 1775 (30,200)
8. Battle princeton 1777 (29,300)
9. Battle charleston 1780 (29,100)
10. Battle monmouth 1778 (27,900)

Google Scholar
search terms (hits)

1. Battle princeton 1777 (11,300)
2. Battle quebec 1775 (11,200)
3. Battle charleston 1780 (10,800)
4. Battle “long island” 1776 (9,840)
5. Battle bunker hill 1775 (9,390)
6. Battle camden 1780 (7,390)
7. Battle lexington concord 1775 (7,130)
8. Battle trenton 1776 (7,060)
9. Battle yorktown 1781 (6,540)
10. Battle saratoga 1777 (5,930)

Google Blogs
search terms (hits)

1. Battle bunker hill 1775 (4,079)
2. Battle trenton 1776 (2,862)
3. Battle “long island” 1776 (2,866)
4. Battle quebec 1775 (2,630)
5. Battle saratoga 1777 (2,526)
6. Battle lexington concord 1775 (2,017)
7. Battle yorktown 1781 (1,942)
8. Battle princeton 1777 (1,787)
9. Battle charleston 1780 (1,484)
10. Battle brandywine 1777 (1,082)