Sunday, October 31, 2010

On Lexington Green (2)

One of the best known images of the opening of the Revolutionary War at Lexington, Massachusetts, is the iconic engraving, below, created by Amos Doolittle. At left, the Lexington militia walks off the village green. At center, a company of British regulars fire into the backs of the militia, bringing down a handful of men. An officer on horseback, identified as Major Pitcairn, waves his sword in apparent exhortation of the rank and file.

Battle of Lexington, by Amos Doolittle (click to enlarge). The image has been slightly cropped to improve ease of view.

In some respects, the representation is quite consistent with eyewitness statements. Depositions by members of the Lexington militia, for example, clearly indicate that they were walking away from the British at the time that the firing began. More controversially, Doolittle depicted a British officer seemingly ordering his men to open fire. British sources (to be reviewed in an upcoming post) provide a very different version of events, and the Lexington militia (with 1 exception among the 50 men that gave statements) did not claim to have heard a verbal order to fire.

One place where evidence can be found for Doolittle's depiction is in the depositions made by civilians and militiamen that either were on the edge of the village green, or observing from neighboring houses. However, these statements also lend themselves to other interpretations.

Depositions by Spectators

  • William Draper: Claimed that the British fired first: “...the commanding officer of said Troops (as I took him) gave the command to the said Troops, "Fire! fire! damn you, fire!"...’”
  • Thomas Fessenden: “I saw three officers on horseback advance to the front of said Regulars, when one of them being within six rods of the said Militia, cried out "Disperse, you rebels, immediately;" on which he brandished his sword over his head three times; meanwhile the second officer, who was about two rods behind him, fired a pistol pointed at said Militia, and the Regulars kept huzzaing till he had finished brandishing his sword, and when he had thus finished brandishing his sword, he pointed it down towards said Militia, and immediately on which the said Regulars fired a volley at the Militia…”
  • Levi Harrington and Levi Mead: “...some of the Regulars on horses, whom we took to be officers, fired a pistol or two on the Lexington Company, which was then dispersing. These were the first guns that were fired, and they were immediately followed by several volleys from the Regulars…”
  • Elijah Sanderson: “...the Regulars shouted aloud, run, and fired on the Lexington Company, which did not fire a gun before the Regulars discharged on them.”
  • Timothy Smith: “...[I] saw the Regular Troops fire on the Lexington Company, before the latter fired a gun.”
  • Benjamin Tidd and Joseph Abbot: “...the Regulars fired first a few guns, which we took to be pistols from some of the Regulars who were mounted on horses, and then the said Regulars fired a volley or two before any guns were fired by the Lexington Company.”
  • Thomas Price Willard: “ officer rode before the Regulars to the other side of the body, and hallooed after the Militia of said Lexington, and said, "Lay down your arms, damn you; why don' t you lay down your arms?" and that there was not a gun fired till the Militia of Lexington were dispersed.”


Four of the nine men said that one or more mounted officers, firing pistols, started the shooting. Two claimed that the British fired first, but did not elaborate. One man claimed that a British officer, waving his sword, silently ordered the troops to fire. Another claimed that a British officer verbally ordered the troops to fire. The final deponent did not say who fired first.

The possibility that a British officer triggered the start of the war (either intentionally or accidentally) by firing a pistol is not easily dismissed. The other two possibilities, although consistent with Doolittle's representation, are probably incorrect.

British accounts confirm the statements by Fessenden, Harrington and Mead, and Tidd and Abbot, that there were several mounted officers on Lexington green when the firing began. They also indicate that Major John Pitcairn, who commanded the detachment, led this group.

Fessenden’s version of events is unlikely to be correct as the officer silently waving his sword would not have been Pitcairn, but instead someone like Lieutenant William Sutherland of the 38th Foot, an officer that accompanied the expedition, but held no command in it. It’s also dubious that the sword motions described by Fessenden would be taken as a signal to open fire. More believable is that an officer was waving his sword about, but stopped when (much to his surprise) the troops behind him began firing.

Draper’s version of events is also unlikely as a verbal command to fire should have been heard by many of those present, yet almost none reported hearing such an order. Fessenden’s statement and that of some others indicate that at least one British officer was shouting for the militiamen to lay down their arms and disperse. Perhaps Draper wrongly inferred that the shouting was a command to open fire when the shouts were quickly followed by gunshots.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Combat on Kitts

One of the most remarkable images of Revolutionary War combat is a naïve-art painting of a skirmish on the island of St. Kitts on January 28, 1782. This is a very rare instance of a combat painting by a Revolutionary War soldier, created during the war. The artist was one François Lescalet, who served on the French warship Le Sceptre. The painting shows French infantry defending a hill against disembarking British infantry.

Two sections of this painting are shown below. A zoomable version of the painting can be found here.

British troops disembark on the island of St. Kitts (click to enlarge). Possibly (see analysis below) the column at left is comprised of troops from the 13th Foot, while the column at right is comprised of troops from the 69th Foot.

Comte de Flechin leads the defense (click to enlarge). Comte Charles-François-Joseph de Flechin, on horseback, is either rallying his troops, or sending men into action. At left, smoke-enshrouded regulars skirmish with the enemy.

Overall, the painting shows chiefly land and sky. The figures are small and vague, and the heavy smoke obscures the action. Nevertheless, a number of features stand out.

British Troops

The British form on the beach directly into columns, and the new arrivals take their place at the end of the column. The columns are formed two abreast, either because of the narrowness of the roads or to facilitate quick deployment into line. Three columns are shown, which seemingly correspond with the three infantry units known to have participated in this action: the flank companies of the 13th foot, the battalion companies of the 28th foot, and the 69th regiment. The first two of these wore yellow facings, the third wore dull green facings. Drummers in yellow can be seen alongside the left two columns. The visible facing colors, numbers of drummers, and length of each column suggest that the troops are, from left to right, those of the 28th, the 13th, and the 69th regiments. However, Lescalet may have chosen yellow as the facing color simply because it was common in the British army, and he may have varied the column length for other reasons.

French Troops

Flechin’s command included the chasseurs and grenadiers of regiments Agénois and Touraine, among others. It is not possible to discern which men belong to which regiment as the figures have not been given facing colors. The French troops are shown meeting the British near the base of the hill, suggesting that Flechin intended to fight a delaying action, slowly giving way, while still retaining the high ground. The French troops are not shown deployed as a single line, but rather as a cluster of small parties. This deployment makes sense in view of the difficult terrain.


The action appears to be taking place on St. Timothy’s Hill, which is in the southeastern quarter of St. Kitts, on the edge of Frigate Bay. A comparison with modern photographs suggests that Lescalet painted a location that he had visited and remembered.

Section of the Lescalet painting.

Google Maps screenshot with the Panoramio images feature enabled (the image has been cropped). The photo was taken from St. Timothy’s Hill, looking south, and shows much of the same terrain visible that is visible in the Lescalet painting.


The outcome of this skirmish on St. Kitts is in dispute. Francophile and Anglophile writers have claimed this as a decisive victory for the French and British, respectively. Two examples appear below:

John William Fortescue in A History of the British Army, Vol. 3 (1902):

"... Prescott [the British infantry commander] and his troops were able to land on the 28th. He was at once attacked by the French, who, however, were repulsed without difficulty."

René Chartrand in American War of Independence Commanders (2003):

"... on January 28, 1782, the British landed a relief force. Flechin, with a party of 300 men, charged the head of the British column. The stunned British re-embarked. Brimstone Hill [i.e., the British garrison on St. Kitts] surrendered on February 12 and Nevis also capitulated largely because of Flechin's outstanding action."

The truth, as far as I’ve been able to discern, lies somewhere between these statements. The British drove de Flechin’s small force off the hill, but the aggressive defense prevented the British from achieving any strategic advantage. The campaign for St. Kitts has been the subject of some recent reading on my part, and possibly it will serve as the topic for a future series of posts.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Skirmish at Rivière Saint-Jean (2)

In early September, 1775, Major-General Philip Schuyler led an American army into southern Canada. It was the first American offensive of the war and the first major test of the new Continental army. The first advances against British-held Fort Saint-Jean met with disappointment (see here and here). On September 17-18, however, the Americans were successful in laying siege to the fort. I describe these events in this post and in another that will follow. For an earlier treatment of this subject, see here.

On September 11, 1775, the Americans were encamped south of Fort Saint-Jean. Their supply line consisted of a flotilla of small vessels operating on the Richelieu River. When a British schooner, the Royal Savage, threatened to disrupt this supply line, the Americans retreated to a more secure base on L'Île-aux-Noix.

On September 14, Schuyler learned that a force of Canadian Volunteers had taken the field under the command of James Livingston. Schuyler dispatched Major John Brown of Massachusetts to support Livingston with about 100 Americans and 34 Canadians. These men circled around Fort Saint-Jean and established a base between the American army and the friendly Canadians.

Meanwhile, hundreds of men had fallen ill in the American camp and were either discharged or sent south to recuperate. Fortunately, reinforcements started arriving at L’Île-aux-Noix, which partially offset the loss in strength. The new troops included a company of the 4th New York Regiment, 100 of Bedel’s Rangers, and 170 Green Mountain Boys.

Schuyler was also ill, and he soon turned over command of the army to Brigadier-General Richard Montgomery. Before he left, the two generals made plans for a new attack on Fort Saint-Jean.

The American plan was to divide into three parts: a) 500 men would circle around the fort, and cut the British supply lines, b) 200 men would establish a base south of the fort, and c) 350 men would defend the Americans’ own supply lines against the Royal Savage.

None of the American vessels was strong enough to confront the Royal Savage directly. Instead, the Schuyler and Montgomery planned on using the row galleys Hancock and Schuyler to fire on the vessel, while “picked men” aboard Liberty, Enterprise, and 10 bateaux would board it. [1]

American Invasion of Canada: September 16, 1775 (click to enlarge). The blue circles in the Richelieu River Valley show the positions of the main American army under Mongtomery at L'Île-aux-Noix, Brown's detachment near Fort Saint-Jean, and Livingston's Canadian forces near Chambly.

Schuyler left the army on September 16, and Montgomery led the attack against Saint-Jean on the following day. The operation faced minimal opposition. [2]

To the northwest, John Brown’s men captured eight wagons bringing supplies to the fort. Brown then threw down the bridge over Rivière Saint-Jean and erected a crude fortification from the wooden beams. Fort Saint-Jean was now in a state of siege, although the garrison did not know it.

Interception. Brown's Americans and Canadians seize a British waggon train and hide the supplies in the nearby woods.

To the south, the American flotilla advanced downstream and found that the Royal Savage was stationed near the fort and out of effective fire range. Hancock and Schuyler advanced a short ways further and fired on the fort and on British bateaux in the river. The British in Fort Saint-Jean replied with howitzer shells, but made no other movement.

Montgomery’s land forces disembarked without incident and reoccupied the abandoned breastworks south of the fort. In the words of Lieutenant John Fassett of the Green Mountain Boys, “We arrived at the breast work before night and found no Molestation, tho’ we expected a battle as much as we expected to get there. The whole army soon came up where we all staid that night and had nothing to cover us but the heavens and it was very cold and they flung Bom[b]s among us [i.e., howitzer shells] and we had a very tedious night of it indeed.”


1. Hancock and Schuyler each carried a double-fortified 12-pounder and 12 swivel guns. Enterprise was armed with two 6-pounders, four 3-pounders, and 11 swivel guns. Liberty was armed with two 2-pounders and 10 swivel guns.

2. The British commander, Major Charles Preston, had been abandoned by most of his Indian allies over the past week. Without these men, it was difficult to track (much less stop) American movements in the wilderness surrounding the fort. The Indians left for several reasons, including earlier diplomatic efforts by the Americans and the fact that their Canadian neighbors generally favored the American cause.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Régiment d'Agénois


Like other French infantry regiments, Agénois consisted of two battalions (both of which served in America). Each battalion consisted of 1 grenadier company, 1 chasseur company (their equivalents in the British and American armies was light infantry), and 4 fusilier companies.


One battalion of Régiment Agénois was dispatched from France to the West Indies in October, 1777. There, the battalion helped garrison the island of Guadeloupe. In 1779, a portion of the troops was placed aboard Comte d’Estaing’s fleet and participated in the siege of Savannah. There, the detachment participated in the bloody assault on the Spring Hill redoubt (October 9, 1779). Afterwards, the men from Agénois were disembarked on the isle of Grenada in the West Indies. In 1781, the battalion was reunited on Martinique, and later, sent to Virginia where it participated in the siege of Yorktown. After the British surrender, the battalion was returned to Martinique, and in January, 1782, Agénois contributed to the siege of Brimstone Hill on St. Kitts. There, on January 18, the grenadiers and chasseurs of Agénois, along with those of Touraine, were attacked at Basse-Terre by a large relief force disembarked from a British fleet. The French companies were able to contain the British landing until reinforcements arrived, and this helped bring about the eventual surrender of the British garrison on Brimstone Hill. The troops from Agénois then served aboard the French fleet that was defeated at the battle of The Saintes (April 9 and 12, 1782). Most of the fusiliers were lost: those aboard L’Hector were captured by the British navy, and those aboard Le César perished when the ship exploded.


At the time France entered the war, Agénois wore a uniform white coat with pink cuffs and lapels, and a green collar. A new set of uniform regulations was issued in 1779, although the older uniforms were not immediately discontinued. Under the new regulations, the regiment wore a white coat with violet cuffs. Violet also trimmed the collar, lapels, and pocket flaps, which were white. The new regulations replaced the tall bearskin caps the grenadiers traditionally wore with a three-cornered hat decorated with a red pompom.

The contemporary drawing below shows an Agénois fusilier in the 1779-regulation uniform (excepting the plume, which was a feature of the older uniform).

There is reason to doubt that Agénois strictly adhered to the new regulations. The grenadiers, for example, appear to have retained the bearskin caps. Baron de Montlezun, in his Souvenirs des Antilles (1818) compared a conical-shaped plant found in the West Indies to the caps worn by the Agénois grenadiers (among others) during the American Revolution:

“Je voudrais pouvoir détailler au botaniste la variété des plantes que je foulais aux pieds; celle qui me frappa davantage, que je ne me rappelais point d'avoir vue, et que j'ai baptisée bonnet de grenadier, est une espèce de raquette, en masse demi-ovale, ou cône arrondi au sommet, façonnée dans son contour en côtes hérissées de piquans. L'ensemble a la dimension et la forme exacte d'un bonnet de grenadier surmonté d’un panaché si minutieusement ressemblant par ses proportions, sa teinte rouge-vif, et la place qu'il occupe sur cette plante, à ceux dont se décorent nos premiers soldats d'élite, que je fus saisi d'étonnement à un point que je n'ai jamais éprouvé, et que je ne pus m'empêcher de songer tout de suite aux braves grenadiers d'Agénois et aux nôtres, qui en portaient de pareils sur leurs têtes. Quelques-unes de ces plantes ont plusieurs pompons, mais le plus souvent elles n'en ont qu'un seul d'un beau rouge et de superbe effet!”

Another discrepancy is that the supposedly violet color of the cuffs may have been closer to blue in practice. Bluish cuffs can be seen in the paintings below by Blérancourt and van Blarenberghe. Of course, this could also reflect an error on the part of the painters, or a change in the color of the paint over time. However, René Chartrand, in The French Army in the American War of Independence (1991), refers to one source at Yorktown describing a French regiment wearing “white coats turned up with blue,” which could only be the supposedly violet-clad troops from Agénois or Gâtinais.

Detail from a Blérancourt painting showing a fusilier of Régiment Forez (left) and grenadier of Régiment Agénois (center). Both regiments purportedly had violet facings. The grenadier is wearing the regulation hat with pompom.

Details from the van Blarenberghe paintings of the siege of Yorktown. The marked grouping in the left panel shows officers (from left to right) from 104e Deux-Ponts, 18e Gâtinais, and 16e Agénois. The facings of the latter two appear to be bluish. The soldiers in the right panel are from 13e Bourbonnais, 18e Gâtinais, and 16e Agénois. Again, the facings of the latter two appear bluish. Note the bearskin cap on the grenadier.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

On Lexington Green (1)

The American Revolutionary War began on April 19, 1775, when a British force based in Boston, Massachusetts, tried to seize the stores of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress housed in the town of Concord. En route to Concord, the British “red coats” met, and exchanged fire, with local militia on Lexington green. Neither side sought to engage the other, and the exact causes of the shooting remain in doubt. Interestingly, this is the case where a historical mystery persists not because of a dearth of evidence (as is true for many of the topics I’ve written about), but in spite of an abundance of it. Numerous Americans gave written depositions describing what they saw and heard on that bloody April morning. A number of British officers likewise recorded their experiences. Fascinatingly, both the pool of American sources and the pool of British sources show a large degree of internal consistency, but there are stark differences between them. On one point in particular, there is insistent disagreement: each pool of sources claims that it was the other side that fired first.

Ultimately, the question of “who fired first?” cannot be answered with certainty. Nevertheless, the abundance of source material still makes this incident interesting to consider from a number of angles. In this post (and I intend to write more about Lexington in the future), I briefly comment on depositions about this battle made by men that were on Lexington green with the town's militia company. These depositions were given to Provincial authorities on April 24-25, 1775.

Sketch of British and American Movements at Lexington. Using a Google Maps screenshot, I've very roughly indicated the direction of the British advance (in red) and the subsequent American retreat (in blue). Major John Pitcairn led six companies of British light infantry into Lexington at around 5AM on April 19. At least the lead two companies (those of the 10th and 4th regiments of Foot) advanced onto the green. At the time, the Lexington militia company, commanded by Captain John Parker, was partially formed on the north end of the triangular-shaped village green. Parker ordered his men to disperse as the British advanced towards his men. It was during this dispersal that fighting began.

The Depositions of Men with the Lexington Militia

  • Captain John Parker: “upon [the British Troops'] sudden approach, I immediately ordered our Militia to disperse and not to fire. Immediately said Troops made their appearance, and rushed furiously, fired upon and killed eight of our party, without receiving any provocation therefor from us.”
  • Nathaniel Mullikin and 33 others: “…about five o' clock in the morning, hearing our drum beat, we proceeded towards the parade, and soon found that a large body of Troops were marching towards us. Some of our Company were coming up to the parade, and others had reached it; at which time the Company began to disperse. Whilst our backs were turned on the Troops we were fired on by them, and a number of our men were instantly killed and wounded. Not a gun was fired by any person in our Company on the Regulars, to our knowledge, before they fired on us, and they continued firing until we had all made our escape.”
  • Nathanael Parkhurst and 13 others: “…about five o' clock in the morning, we attended the beat of our drum, and were formed on the parade. We were faced towards the Regulars, then marching up to us, and some of our Company were coming to the parade with their backs towards the Troops, and others on the parade began to disperse, when the Regulars fired on the Company before a gun was fired by any of our Company on them; they killed eight of our Company, and wounded several, and continued their fire until we had all made our escape.”
  • John Robbins: “…the Company under the command of Captain John Parker being drawn up (sometime before sunrise) on the green or common, and I being in the front rank, there suddenly appeared a number of the King' s Troops, about a thousand, as I thought, at the distance of about sixty or seventy yards from us, huzzaing and on a quick pace towards us, with three officers in their front on horseback, and on full gallop towards us; the foremost of which cried, "Throw down your arms, ye villains, ye rebels;" upon which said Company dispersing, the foremost of the three officers ordered their men, saying, "Fire, by God, fire; at which moment we received a very heavy and close fire from them; at which instant, being wounded, I fell, and several of our men were shot dead by one volley. Captain Parker' s men, I believe, had not then fired a gun.”


  • The depositions given by these men are fairly circumspect, with the notable exception of the separate deposition by John Robbins. What these men indicate (Robbins aside) is that they marched off the green as the British advanced, and while their backs were facing the British, they were fired upon by the British regulars. They did not claim that the British troops were ordered to fire, nor did they claim to have seen who fired the first shot. They state only that the first shot did not come from their ranks.
  • The generally circumspect tone of these depositions is understandable: as the Lexington militia had their backs facing the British, they naturally were less-than-ideal witnesses. When I next write about Lexington, I will discuss the depositions made by other eyewitnesses on Lexington green. These descriptions tend to be more explicit as to how the firing began, but they are also more inconsistent in their description of key details.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Skirmish at Rivière Saint-Jean (1)

The first two American movements against Fort Saint-Jean ended in disappointment (cf. here and here. On the third attempt, however, the Americans were able to cut the roads leading to the fort, placing the garrison in a state of siege. This attempt, like those that preceded it, produced a sharp skirmish between the two opponents.

The Americans advanced close to the Fort Saint-Jean on September 17, 1775. That same day, a small force of Canadians and Americans, led by Major John Brown of Massachusetts, skirted Fort Saint-Jean, and cut the roads to the fort. These men first took down the bridge over Rivière Saint-Jean, and then built a crude fortification from the bridge pieces. Brown's men also captured a supply train that was headed to the fort.

On September 18, the British in Fort Saint-Jean learned of Brown’s presence, and drove him from his post. However, a second American force then appeared, led by Colonel Timothy Bedel. This force compelled the British to retreat and reestablished the siege of Saint-Jean. A map of these movements appears below.

Skirmish at Rivière Saint-Jean (click to enlarge). The British attack is shown in red. The advance of the American relief force is shown in blue.

In this post I share how the events of this day were described in the journals of 7 different men that were present at Fort Saint-Jean (5 Americans, 1 Briton, and 1 Canadian). A more detailed description of the skirmish will appear in a future post.

Journal Entries

John André was a lieutenant in the 7th Regiment of Foot. He is thought to have been the author of a journal kept by a British officer during the siege of Fort Saint-Jean. The following extract from that journal describes the events of September 18.

“18th—This morning we were inform’d that the rebels intended to take Post about 2 miles lower than St John’s, at a Rivulet near which we had had a redoubt ‘till within a fortnight, when the Enemy made their first Appearance at the Isle aux Noix. Lieutt Duff with 30 Men was sent for intelligence, with order to bring in the cattle belonging to the neighbouring farms. At his return he reported that there appear’d to him to be about 200 Men on the other Side of the rivulet entrench’d with the logs of a Bridge which they had broken. Captn Strong was then sent with a detachment of 100 Men, an Officer of Artillery with a field piece and the Volunteers. The Rebels on their Appearing fir’d a few Shot and ran off into the wood.

“Our people took two wounded prisoners, and lost one man. (Monsr Beaubien a Volunteer.) We had two or three wounded.

“After this little Skirmish whilst the breastwork was destroying more Ammunition was sent for from the Fort which an Officer and 20 Men brought up. The Bridge was scarce repair’d when some noise was heard an Indian who appear’d at the Edge of the wood was seiz’d by two or three who were with us. A good many Shot were fir’d from behind the Trees and Bushes upon our returning the fire very briskly nothing more was heard of the Enemy. A Soldier of the 26th Regiment was kill’d in this last fray.

“Captn Dundee, on the second firing being heard at the Fort, was order’d out with a reinforcement of 40 Men and met the first detachmt on their return to the Fort.

“During this time, the Enemys Gondola’s had been insulting the redouts with a few Shot which had no Effect.

“The Indian who was taken was buffeted by our Indians and sent back. Mr Hazen and Mr Tucker who were found with the Rebels (tho’ indeed without Arms) were kept prisoners in the Forts. In this Affair, as there have since been throughout the Campaign in Canada There were Englishmen fighting Englishmen, French against French, and Indians of the same Tribe against each other.

“Both the last night and this the Rebels were heard at work entrenchg themselves.—”

Aaron Barlow was a sergeant in the 5th Connecticut Regiment. He was south of the fort (in the American main camp) at the time of the skirmish. The "Shambalee" (or Chambly) party refers to John Brown's men.

“They cut a road toward the Fort in order to draw their cannon. The Shambalee party took this day 12 waggon loads of Provision, Rum, Wine, & Ammunition, from the Regulars and received no damage from them. Towards night the Regulars came out upon the Shambalee party. They wounded 3 of our men and took 2 prisoners. Our men took some provisions and drove them to the Fort.”

John Fassett was a lieutenant in the Green Mountain Boys. The Green Mountain Boys was one of three regiments in Bedel's relief force.

“18 Sept. In the morning our army fired their cannon and they fired from the fort. There was a hot fire from both sides sometime, but in the midst of it Col. Warner’s Regiment was ordered to march about three miles thro’ the wood around St. Johns. We had to travel knee deep in water expecting every minute to meet with the enemy. We at length came very near to Major Brown’s encampment, where the Regulars were. They gave us a hot fire. The grape shot and Musket balls flew very thick, but our pilots, not knowing the ground, we had not an equal chance for they all fled to St. Johns. They wounded Capt. Watson, but killed none of our men. We took the ground and staid there all night and had a very tedious night with our feet wet and cold, no houses nor tents to lie in.”

Foucher was an officer serving with the pro-British Canadian Volunteers. Although the Canadian volunteers participated in this engagement, Foucher, who was ill, did not. The following extract is a translation of the original French.

“Sept. 18th.—The Bostonians arrived at St. Johns in two sloops and barges, numbering about one thousand men. Major Preston, who commanded this fort, sent on the same day about thirty men of the Canadian troops to bring in the cattle which was in the bush near St. Johns. Soon after he was informed by a Canadian that there were two or three hundred Bostonians on the other side of a bridge about half a league from St. Johns, who were raising fortifications and who had taken four cart loads of provisions which were on their way to St. Johns, and also the cattle he had sent for; and that the bridge was already demolished, so that communication between St. Johns and La Prairie de la Magdeleine was cut off by the enemy. Immediately Major Preston ordered out one hundred men under command of Captain Strong, together with one hundred Canadian volunteers and a piece of artillery to feel the enemy. This detachment advanced and the Bostonians fired upon them. The fire was brisk on both sides and lasted about half an hour. The enemy left the battle field and was pursued for some distance. The Srs. Moses Hazen and Toker, and also Hazen's servant, who were within the enemy's line, were made prisoners and brought to the fort. Beaubien Desauniers, a Canadian volunteer, and a soldier of the 26th regiment were shot; another soldier was dangerously wounded. During this action the artillery of the fort and of the gun boat, continued to fire for three hours; the enemy kept up the fire in return; but the above mentioned were the only casualties on our side.”

Rudolphus Ritzema was lieutenant-colonel of the 1st New York Regiment. He was south of the fort (in the American main camp) at the time of the skirmish. The following journal entry spans the events of September 17th and 18th.

“The whole Army amounting to about 1500 Men under General Montgomery [General Schuyler from his ill state of Health being gone to Ticonderoga] embarked again for St Johns—About Noon we landed at the Breast Work nearest the Enemy. The General detached Col Bedel with his Corps to occupy the Road, leading from St Johns to Chamblee, in order to cut off the Enemy’s Communication with the Country, which they effectually accomplished.”

Benjamin Trumbull was a chaplain in the 5th Connecticut Regiment. He was south of the fort (in the American main camp) at the time of the skirmish.

“Monday Morning September, 18th Major Brown who had been previously sent of from the Isle Aux Noix into Canada, and on the 17 had taken 4 Hogsheads of Rum and several Carriages and some clothing from the Enemy was attacked by them above the forts. The Fire was heard in the Camp South of the Forts. On this 500 men under the Command of Colonel Bedel who had orders to Pass the Forts and cut of the Communication between them and the adjacent Country were hastened off immediately to assist major Brown and his Party w[h]o at the Time of the Action did not exceed 50, men of the Provincials, joined with 30 or 40 Canadians. His Party consisted originally of towards 100 men, but one half of them were placed as Guards at Chambly and the adjacent Country. The General marched at the Head of the Detachment of 500 men and passed the Forts. The Regulars who came out with several Field Pieces and 3 or 400 men drove Major Browns Party from their Breast Work and took the Ground on the Appearance of Colonel Beadles Party the Regulars Fire their Field Pieces and discharged a few vollies of small Arms and retreated, almost before our men had marched into open view so as to fire on them with any Advantage.

“No man was lost on the Side of the Provincials. Capt. Watson was badly wounded and afterwards taken up by our men another was wounded and taken. This was all the loss we sustained. The Regulars lost one or two. One was killed with a Cannon ball Shot from their own Canon. Our People took and ever after maintained their Ground.

“The Rest of the Army Advanced to the lower Breast Work and began to clear a Place for an Encampment. Encamped and cast up a Breastwork.”

Bayze Wells was a sergeant in the 4th Connecticut Regiment. The 4th Connecticut was one of three regiments in Bedel's relief force. Wells, (like many of the men in the Connecticut regiments) was sick at the time of the engagement. He did not participate in the action.

“18th three Regiments Col Hinmans With the Rest about 300 of them Ware ordred to march Round St Jo we travild Round St Johns we ware beset by A Party which Give us A warm fire but I was unwell I Did not Get So Near as to See any Enemy I was Abligd to Get my Pack Carried to A house that Day St Johns was Besedged I being So unwell that I Got to mr minneeres with Cpt Watson that was badly wounded...”

Thursday, October 7, 2010

New York Regiments of 1775

In 1775, the colony of New York raised four regiments of infantry and one company of artillery. These troops were assigned to the army commanded by Major-General Philip Schuyler and Brigadier-General Richard Montgomery, and they participated in the siege of Fort Saint-Jean and the assault on Quebec.

New York had considerable difficulty getting its men into the field, with the result that when the American invasion of Canada was launched, only 5 companies of the 1st New York Regiment were on hand. Many of the troops were awaiting either arms and equipment, or transportation north.

The problems then facing the colony are well-illustrated in a letter by the lieutenant-colonel of the 4th New York, written just 1 week before the invasion got under way.

"I arrived [in Albany] the 26th [of August], finding Captain Henry B. Livingston, with his Company, in a small house in Town. He wants many things, such as shoes, stockings, shirts, underclothes, haversacks, and cash, having advanced all himself that has been paid his men as yet. The day I arrived, came up the following Captains, with their Companies: Captain Herrick, Captain Palmer, Captain Horton, and Captain Mills, all without blankets, excepting Captain David Palmer; many of the men wanting shirts, shoes, stockings, underclothes, and, in short, without any thing fit for a soldier, except a uniform coat; and not more than thirty guns [i.e., muskets], with four Companies, fit for service. They are now on board of the small boats that brought them up, having no place for them to go into, as there is not one tent that I can find for our Battalion, and three Companies without blankets, and none to be had at this place. I do not know how to act or what to do with them; they begin to ask for cash and better lodgings, being much crowded in the small boats in which I am obliged to keep them."

Uniform coats seems to be one of the few items the colony was able to reliably supply to its troops. On June 28, 1775, the New York Provincial Congress ordered the purchase of 712 of each of the following types of short coats: blue broadcloth with crimson facings, light brown coarse broadcloth with blue facings, grey broadcloth with green facings, and dark brown coarse broadcloth with scarlet facings. [see here].

A number of writers have indicated that the above description refers to, in order, the uniforms worn by the four New York regiments. However, in a relatively recent uniform book, Marko Zlatich (1994) wrote that in practice the regiments were clothed as follows: blue faced scarlet (1st New York), blue faced crimson (2nd New York), a variety of coat colors faced green (3rd New York), a variety of coat colors faced blue (4th New York).

Lamb's New York artillery company wore blue coats with buff facings. [see here].

Uniforms of Lamb's Artillery Company (Left) and the 3rd New York (Right) According to Charles Lefferts.

3rd New York Regiment in Miniature. Following Zlatich, I've painted the regiment in a variety of coat colors (blue, brown, and grey) faced green. The miniatures are by Stone Mountain.

Reenactor Units:

Friday, October 1, 2010

Fall, Winter, Spring

Two things I'd like to do with this blog are 1) write on a variety of different topics, and 2) depict big battles of the Revolutionary War in miniature. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to do both because I'm a slow painter. Even at a 1:20 ratio, it takes me quite a while to paint the miniatures for a single, moderate-sized battle. The solution that I've hit upon to this dilemma is as follows.

First, I will put together a fairly big battle in miniature during the Spring. I really look forward to doing this. The tiny figures I paint are not well suited to the small battles I commonly write about. I prefer not to say yet which one it is, beyond the fact that it will involve substantially more miniatures than any of my past projects (including Cowpens). I have a lot of remaining painting to do, and I haven't started on the battlefield, but I hope to have things ready to go by mid-Spring.

Meanwhile, I will post on variety of topics, some that will involve miniatures, and some that won't. The posts that will involve miniatures will be on the American invasion of Canada. I have already started on this topic by writing about the first two skirmishes of this campaign (cf. here and here), and I will intermittently cover other battles and skirmishes over the weeks and months ahead. The posts that won't involve miniatures will be on topics that I haven't written about before. I anticipate that the subject of these other posts will range from the familiar to the obscure. There will be, I expect, some multi-post treatments of various battles, plus single posts devoted to whatever odd topic catches my interest.

One Mini at a Time. The most recently completed minis for my Spring project: 15mm American light infantry in hunting shirts (from the new Peter Pig line).