Wednesday, April 27, 2011

On the Origins of the Defense in Depth

At the battle of Guilford Courthouse, the American army deployed in a formation quite unlike those traditionally used by European armies. The American commander, Major-General Nathanael Greene, drew his men up in three successive lines that were designed to attrite the attacking British army. First, the British would be confronted by a line of North Carolina militia, then by a line of Virginia militia, and then finally by a line of Maryland and Virginia Continentals.

Three American Lines at Guilford Courthouse (based on the "Haldane" map).

An obvious inspiration for this deployment was that used by Brigadier-General Daniel Morgan at the battle of Cowpens, 2 months earlier. However, Guilford Courthouse and Cowpens were hardly the first time that such a deployment was used during the war. A less elaborate version of this strategy was employed on numerous occasions, including at the battles of Long Island, White Plains, Brandywine, and Freeman's Farm. On each of these occasions, the Americans dispatched a strong force to wear down the advancing British before the British could attack the Americans’ main defensive line. On Long Island, for example, the advanced force was placed on a rocky, wooded spine well in advance of the American fortifications at Brooklyn. However, the British were able to outflank this force and inflict a major defeat on the Americans. Conversely, at Freeman's Farm the advanced American party brought the British advance to a standstill, and the main line was never seriously threatened.

The battles of Long Island and Freeman's Farm are relatively well known. Below is a description of how the Americans used this strategy at the lesser-known battle of White Plains, New York (October 28, 1776).


George Washington’s army entrenched at White Plains, New York, after having been driven from Manhattan. The British army advanced on his position in two columns. Washington detached a handful of regiments to harry their advance.

The party confronting the left British column included the 1st and 5th Connecticut State Battalions. At the head of the opposing British column was the 2nd Jäger company, the 3rd battalion of light infantry, and half of the 17th Light Dragoons.

In brief, the Americans used stone walls as impromptu breastworks from which they fired on the head of the advancing British column. The British then halted, brought up some field pieces, and fired on the Americans from outside of musket range. The Americans were finally forced to retreat when their flank was threatened. The advanced party prolonged the fight as long as it could, but unlike Cowpens or Guilford Courthouse, they were unable to inflict serious losses on the British. [1]

Here are several descriptions of this incident:

Colonel William Douglas (commander of the 5th Connecticut State Battalion):

I was ordered out with my regiment [and] with three others to meet and endeavor to retard their [the British] march. We moved on and at about twelve were attacked by their advanced guard. We drove them back but soon after the main body came on and we stood them until they got on our flank and I ordered a retreat. We had a most severe fire to retreat under, ten men to our one, but we came off in good order and very surely fired on our retreat all the way. I lost three dead and five wounded. They cut my regiment off from our main body and got ahead of me but I took advantage of a wood and got clear of them. [2]

Colonel Gold Silliman (commander of the 1st Connecticut State Battalion):

... Yesterday about 10 o'clock in the morning we had news that the enemy were approaching, when I with my regiment & 3 others were ordered out about 1 1/2 miles below our lines to take post on a hill to gall them in their march as they advanced. We accordingly took our post & mine & one other regiment had the advantage of a stone wall right in front at which we had been waiting but little time before the enemy came up within 6 or 8 rods,--when our men rose from behind the wall, poured in a most furious fire.

The enemy retreated & came on several times & were so hotly received every time that finally we drove them off from the hill. We killed some they did not carry off & some they did.

I had not one either killed or wounded. On this the enemy were coming upon us with a number of field pieces & as we had none there to meet them with, we were ordered to retreat over West on to another Hill [Chatterton's] & join another party of men & accordingly did it & formed a line of battle. [2]

Captain Johann Ewald (commander, 2nd Jäger Company):

The army had marched scarcely two hours when the left column encountered an advanced corps of the enemy, which I had to engage supported by the light infantry. The area was intersected by hills, woods, and marshes, and every field was enclosed with a stone wall. This enemy corps had taken a stand behind the stone walls on the steep hills between two plantations. Several guns were set up on the main road at some distance, which were covered by cavalry. General Heister [commander of the left British column] immediately mounted a battery on the main road and cannonaded the enemy, who withdrew to his own lines behind a creek with high banks and deployed upon the steep hills. [3]



1. The actions involving the 1st and 5th Connecticut State Battalions are fairly well described in the sources that I’ve encountered. Douglas’ and Silliman’s account suggest that there were other units on hand, but do not name them. As far as I’ve been able to deduce (my reading and research on this battle is not exhaustive), these two units were accompanied by Sage’s 3rd Connecticut State Battalion and Selden’s 4th Connecticut State Battalion, neither of which distinguished itself in this fight. The right British column was led by the 1st Jäger Company, half of the 16th Light Dragoons, and the 1st and 2nd battalions of light infantry (according to Ewald). At a minimum, some Pennsylvania riflemen were dispatched to resist their advance. There may have been other American units present too, but frankly I’m unsure (it is difficult to identify, for several American regiments reporting casualties, where those losses occurred).

As mentioned by Douglas, the British cut off the 1st and 5th Connecticut State Battalions from the American main line. Therefore, they retreated in a westerly direction (towards their right) and took up position alongside a hodgepodge of other American units on Chatterton’s Hill. The British left column was then sent to attack this position, and the subsequent assault is what is usually described when historians write about the battle of White Plains. (That is, the fight by the advanced parties has received comparatively little attention).

2. The Long Island Historical Society. (1878). The campaign of 1776 around New York and Brooklyn.

3. Joseph P. Tustin (1979). Diary of the American War: A Hessian journal. Captain Johann Ewald.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Preparing the Diorama (3)

Progress on my model of the Guilford Courthouse battlefield has been slow but steady. In brief, the model battlefield is intended to be a sort of hybrid between the kind of set-up used in wargames and a traditional diorama. The figures will not be static, and to accommodate their movement, ridges and ravines are being made of a series of tiers (rather than actual slopes). However, the contours of the landscape, and the dimensions of the fields and woods will closely match that of the historical site (see here).

Previously I noted when I had begun to create the foam board tiers and cover them with grass matting.

The basic steps have been: 1) cut out the terrain pieces, 2) paint with a brown acrylic the edges of each foam board tier and the outline of the area on which it is placed, 3) place the foam board tier on the grass mat (I'm using a Woodland Scenics product) and cut out a shape that matches the tier, and 4) glue the grass mat section to the tier.

I have yet to place the many trees that covered the battlefield, but this will be a relatively easy task. The next major challenge will be to represent the streams, roads, and fields. Frankly, I'm not sure how to proceed, and suggestions are welcome. As the streams are small, my thought is to trace the course of the streams on the grass, then scrape away some of the grass and paint the cleared area a pale brown. Next I would glue small stones and bits of brush along the stream. Likewise, the best idea I've had for the roads is to scrape away some of the grass and paint the cleared path some kind of brown. As for the fields, I'm planning on gluing onto the battlefield squares of some brown corduroy material.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Restoring "America's First Official Monument"

Earlier this week, I completed a series of posts on the American invasion of Canada, in 1775, which culminated with an attack on Quebec. Among the fatalities in that ill-fated assault was the American commander, Richard Montgomery.

Since writing that post, I've learned that a monument to Montgomery, regarded as America's first official monument (it was approved by the Continental Congress in January, 1776) is going to be restored. I have been asked to pass along information on the planned restoration. The following is an extract; for more information on the monument and its restoration, see here.




Monument Celebrates Heroism of General Richard Montgomery, the Fight for Independence, and the Perseverance of Benjamin Franklin

New York, NY (April 18, 2011) - America’s first official monument is being disassembled, cleaned, restored and returned to its pedestal on the Broadway façade of St. Paul’s Chapel where it has presided for 223 years, it was announced by The Rev. Dr. James Cooper, the 17th Rector of the Parish of Trinity Wall Street. The first full restoration of the Montgomery monument will take place onsite and is scheduled for completion later this summer.


The marble and limestone Montgomery monument was commissioned by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia in January 1776, as reported in an appreciative treatise by Henry Kent, a former Secretary to the Board of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, writing in a 1929 Trinity publication. The memorial pays tribute to the valor of Major General Richard Montgomery, who died in December 1775 at the age of 37 leading a charge against a larger British force in the Battle of Quebec. The amenable Benjamin Franklin was entrusted to have a monument fashioned in France that would transmit “to future ages, as examples truly worthy of imitation, (General Montgomery’s) patriotism, conduct (and) boldness of enterprise.” For the purpose, Congress allocated “a sum not exceeding three hundred pounds” (comparable to the value of six of the 342 chests of tea dumped into Boston harbor).

Franklin, in Paris, engaged Jean-Jacques Caffieri, a renowned sculptor who worked on Versailles and according to Franklin, “is one of the best artists here.” The completed work was shipped to Le Havre in 1777 in nine “strong” cases in preparation for the risky voyage to America. Caffieri complained about his fee and Franklin, while extolling “the beauty of the marble and the elegant simplicity of the design,” noted that he (Franklin) had “to pay the additional charges of package.”

According to Henry Kent, the pragmatic Franklin took precautions should the French ship become an enemy prize, writing to a connected British business friend, “If (the monument) should fall into the hands of any of your cruisers, I expect you will exert yourself to get it restored to us, because I know the generosity of your temper, which likes to do handsome things, as well as to make returns.”


The monument was installed by Pierre L’Enfant, who subsequently gained fame planning Washington, DC. L’Enfant also created a unique double-sided work of art at the rear, great window of the chapel. It functions as an altarpiece that blocks the view of the unfinished back of the Montgomery monument that could otherwise be seen by worshipers through the chapel window, and which also functions as a frame for the monument when viewed from the exterior. Interestingly, the frame contains post-Independence symbols, including a rising sun with thirteen rays and a bald eagle, draping the pre-Independence memorial.

(click to enlarge)

Finally, in 1818, at Mrs. Montgomery’s further request, the General’s body was shipped from Quebec. The widow, standing on the balcony of her Rhinebeck home overlooking the Hudson, watched the steamer pass by, carrying the General to be re-interred at St Paul’s, the monument becoming a tomb. An imposing funeral was held for General Montgomery with full military honors and choral music on July 8, 1818—43 years after his fatal assault on Quebec.


Time, the elements, cement, paint drippings and problems from corrosive agents used in early prior repairs have caused discoloration, cracks and surface deterioration. The full restoration, the first since its installation, will remove the drippings and corrosive agents, make repairs using sympathetic and compatible materials (including a version of 18th century grout), where needed replace missing marble and limestone from the same quarries (with the help of the present head architect of Versailles) and refresh painted areas.

Non-destructive cleaning and compatible repair methods will be employed to reveal and stabilize the original stone while an invisible coating will be applied in select locations to provide protection from the weather and harmful salts from bird droppings.

Monday, April 18, 2011

To Quebec: Triumph and Tragedy (2)

This is the final post in the series on the Montreal campaign of 1775. The previous post can be found here; an index to all posts can be found here.

Battle of Quebec

Quebec was one of the most readily defended cities in North America. Its “lower town” was built on a narrow terrace between a high cliff and the wide St. Lawrence. Its “upper town” was perched at the top of the cliff and surrounded by 25-foot thick stone walls. A narrow winding road connected the two parts of the city.

An American army camped on the outskirts of the city in early December. Its commanders were Brigadier-General Richard Montgomery and Colonel Benedict Arnold. Somehow these men had to take Quebec if they were to complete the conquest of Canada. They also knew that the attack would have to be made quickly because many of the men’s enlistments would expire at the end of the month. Somehow also, the attack would have to succeed despite the fact that the British defenders outnumbered the attackers by a fair margin (the Americans had about 1,000 men; the British, led by Governor Guy Carleton, had around 1,800).

The Americans tried a variety of stratagems: they tried bluffing the garrison into surrendering, luring the garrison from the city walls, and wearing the garrison down by bombardment and sniper fire. When these efforts failed, they mounted a predawn assault, in a snowstorm, on December 31.

Montgomery wanted to deceive the British as to where the assault would be made. In advance he had hundreds of scaling ladders constructed, so as to convince the British that a frontal assault was planned. On the morning of the attack, John Brown’s provincials and James Livingston’s 1st Canadian regiment feinted against the city wall, so as to hold the attention of the garrison.

Montgomery’s main attack was made against Quebec’s lower town. To maximize the possibility of success, both ends of the lower town were to be assaulted at the same time. Montgomery led a column of New York Continentals from the west, while Arnold led a mixed force from the east (specifically, Continentals from New England, riflemen from Virginia and Pennsylvania, and Lamb’s New York artillery company). Lanterns were set up to light the assembly points, and signal rockets were used to coordinate the attacks.

Despite these careful preparations, the attack was a fiasco.

Circled areas show the approximate area where each American commander made his attack (click to enlarge).

The British were not deceived by the feints against the city walls.

At the western entrance to the lower town, Montgomery’s column encountered a two-storey blockhouse armed with four cannon. Despite a stealthy advance, the vanguard was detected and annihilated. Montgomery was struck in the head and killed instantly; 12 others died around him. The wet weather made it difficult to operate firearms, and the rest of the column, horrified by the death of their commander and facing what appeared to be an insurmountable barrier, decided to retreat.

Arnold’s column was first observed as it passed under the city walls en route to the east end of the lower town. Arnold was hit in the ankle while leading the column, but the men pressed on without him. The barrier they faced was not as formidable as the one confronting Montgomery’s men. Here, two cannon had been placed on an elevated platform. A wall in front blocked the street. Once the cannons fired, the Americans rushed forward with scaling ladders, mounted the platform, and captured the defenders. (In the lead was one Captain Daniel Morgan of Virginia, who would end the war a brigadier-general and an American hero).

By the time the Americans had reorganized on the far side of this barrier, British reinforcements from the upper town had taken up positions at a second street barrier and in the buildings around it. The Americans became pinned down trying to force this point. Worse, some of the British retook the first barrier and cut off their escape. Many of these men were killed and more than 400 captured.

Afterwards, the remnants of the American army maintained a grim blockade of the city. Some reinforcements would arrive that winter and spring, but any real hope of taking Quebec was gone.


Some passages by participants

Captain Thomas Ainslie (British militia) on the feint attack:

“About 4 o clock in the Morning Capt: Malcom Fraser of the Royal Emigrants being on his rounds, saw many flashes of fire without hearing any reports; the sentries inform 'd him that they had perceived them for some time on the heights of Abraham, the sentinels between Port Louis & Cape Diamond had seen fix'd lights like lamps in a street--these appearances being very uncommon & the night favouring the designs of the enemy, Capt: Fraser order 'd the Guards and Pickets on the ramparts to stand to their arms. The drums beat, the bells rang the alarm, & in a few minutes the whole Garrison was under arms--even old men of seventy were forward to oppose the attackers.

“Two Rockets sent by the enemy from the foot of Cape Diamond were immediately followed by a heavy & hot fire from a body of men posted behind a rising ground within eighty yards of the wall, at Cape Diamond, the flashes from their muskets made their heads visible--their bodies were cover 'd: we briskly returned the fire directed by theirs--at this moment a body of men supposed to be Canadians appear 'd in St Johns suburbs,--& the enemy threw shells into town from St Roc.” [1]

Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Caldwell (British militia) on the repulse of Montgomery’s attack:

“In the mean time, Montgomery made his attack at Près-de-Ville… He got past some pickets… but the post was much stronger than, I believe, he imagined, and defended by four cannons there and a 4-pounder; they were served by some seamen under the orders of the master of the transport; his name was Barnsfare. The guard was under the command of a Canadian officer of Militia; the men, Canadians and British, mixed, Barnsfare declared he would not fire till he was sure of doing execution, and with the utmost coolness, waited till the enemy came within his view, at about 30 yards distance, where they received a general discharge from the cannon and musketry. Nothing but groans were heard, and the rebels immediately retired…” [2]

Private Abner Stocking (American Continental) on Arnold’s attack:

“[Arnold] led the forlorn hope in person, and was followed by Captain Lamb with his company of artillery, and a field piece mounted on a sled. Close in the rear of the artillery was the main body, in front of which was Morgan’s company of riflemen… In this order Arnold advanced with the utmost intrepidity… against the battery. The alarm was immediately given, and the fire on his flank commenced [i.e., plunging fire from the walls of the upper town], which, however, did not prove very destructive. As he approached the barrier [to the lower town] he received a musket ball in the leg which shattered the bone, and he was carried off the field to the hospital. Morgan rushed forward to the battery at the head of his company, and received from one of the [cannon] pieces, almost at its mouth, a discharge of grape shot which killed only one man. A few rifles were immediately fired into the embrasures, by which a British soldier was wounded in the head, and the barricade being instantly mounted with the aid of ladders… the battery was deserted without discharging the other gun. The captain of the guard, with the greater number of his men, fell into the hands of the Americans…”

“We had now passed the first barrier; but a second we knew was before us and not far distant. We had no pilot and the night was very dark and dismal. We took shelter from the fury of the storm under the sides of some of the buildings and waited for day light to direct us. At the dawn of day we collected in a body, seized the ladders and were proceeding to the second barrier, when we were hailed by a Captain Anderson [British] who had just issued from the gate with a body of troops to attack us. Captain Morgan who led our little band… answered the British captain by a ball through his head, his soldiers drew him within the barricade and closed the gate; a tremendous fire from the windows of the buildings and port holes of the wall, was directed against our little host.”

“Thirty of our privates being killed and thirty five wounded, and surrounded as we were on all sides without any hope of relief, we were obliged to surrender ourselves prisoners of war.” [3]



1. Journal of Thomas Ainslie.

2. Henry Caldwell's account of the battle.

3. Journal of Abner Stocking.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Preparing the Diorama (2)

Some more progress has been made on the battle of Guilford Courthouse diorama, although it is still far from completion.

The last time I wrote about this I had begun cutting out pieces from terrain from foam board. That stage is now complete. Now, I am working on painting the edges of the foam board pieces with brown acrylic paint. This looks like it will be the most time consuming stage. The foam edges are irregular and it is difficult to get the paint into every crevasse. The next stage is to mount grass and trees onto the pieces. After that I plan to create the roads and fields on the battlefield.

I also started to complete a hill in the southwest corner of the battlefield to get a better sense of how the battlefield will look when it's complete. The 1st battalion of Guards (~180 officers and men) was placed in a reserve position on the slope of this hill when the battle started. Later the 1st Guards was brought up to extend the right end of the advancing British line and became heavily engaged with American riflemen and Continentals.

Diorama in Progress (click to enlarge)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

To Quebec: Triumph and Tragedy (1)

To the Gates of Quebec

“We Shall Be Undone”

In the Fall of 1775, the Americans launched an invasion of Canada. The defending British forces were concentrated in the western part of the province, especially at Fort Saint-Jean. In the eastern part of the province, Lieutenant-Colonel Allan Maclean safeguarded Quebec, a strategically valuable city and the seat of government.

Unbeknownst to the British, the American invasion was made in two parts. General Richard Montgomery led the main effort in the west. In the east, Colonel Benedict Arnold led a secretive expedition through the wilderness of Maine and southern Canada in a bid to take the city of surprise. His march was a remarkable achievement, and one of the most celebrated events of the war.

Strategic Situation: November-December, 1775 (click to enlarge).

Arnold’s expedition was nearly successful as British attention was focused elsewhere. At the time Arnold reached the St. Lawrence River, the city of Quebec was defended by only a handful of regulars. Maclean, and most of his men had moved west to Sorel. Meanwhile, a number of English merchants in Quebec scarcely hid their hopes that the Americans would take over. However, word of Arnold’s expedition leaked out, and the British removed all small craft from the south shore of the river. This stymied Arnold just long enough. By the time the Americans were across the St. Lawrence, Maclean and his men were back in the garrison. [1]

At this point, the city of Quebec was not in imminent danger, but its fall looked inevitable. Maclean lamented:

“…we have been now ten days invested so that we can get nothing into the Town, and our provisions are by no means Adequate to Maintain the Number of Inhabitants, and if we turn out some thousands, we run a very great risk of having the Canadian Militia Mutiny… But what above all gives me the greatest uneasiness is, that the very best Train of Artillery in Canada fell into the hands of the Rebells at St. John's, there is not a single piece of Brass Ordnance in the Whole Province that they have not got, and if they have got a ship that lay at Montreal with 2000 Barrells of Powder, which I am afraid is the case, we shall be undone…”

Fortunately for the British, the supply of gunpowder had been thrown into the St. Lawrence.

Also, the American army was on the point of dissolution.


“Patience and Perseverance”

Brigadier-General Richard Montgomery’s men had spent a miserable campaign in the swampy forestland around Fort Saint-Jean, during which time much of the army was debilitated by illness. Now the Canadian winter was at hand, and the men were without adequate clothing. Provisions were chronically in short supply and the army was essentially bankrupt. It didn’t help either that most of the Americans’ terms of enlistment were set to expire on December 31st, and the men longed to be with their families again.

Montgomery issued a proclamation at Montreal on November 15 in which he made “acknowledgment to the troops for their patience and perseverance during the course of a fatiguing campaign.” Rather than force dispirited men to campaign with him any longer, he offered “Passess, together with boats and provisions… for such as choose to return home…” However, he asked “the troops not to lay him under the necessity of abandoning Canada; of undoing in one day what has been the work of months,” and he hoped “that none will leave him at this critical juncture but such whose affairs or health absolutely require their return home…”

Montgomery also asked the men to extend their enlistments until April 15th, by which time new regiments could be raised in the colonies and sent into Canada. By way of enticement, he wrote: “Those who engage in this honorable cause shall be furnished completely with every article of clothing requisite for the rigor of the climate, blanket-coats, coats, waistcoat and breeches, one pair of stockings, two shirts, leggins, sacks, shoes, mittens, and a cap, at the Continental charge, and one dollar bounty.”

The response was disappointing. The Green Mountain Boys chose to return home, so too did Bedel’s Rangers, and most of the troops from Connecticut. At least many in Montgomery’s own New York regiments agreed to stick it out. Major John Brown also remained along with many of his men, and James Livingston retained a corps of Canadian troops (soon to be reorganized as the 1st Canadian Regiment).

Another unit that had planned on departing was Lamb’s artillery company. Cannoneer Robert Barwick recorded in his journal on November 18, “our Capt [John Lamb] Came up to know the minds of our Company about [en]Listing but there was scarce one of them that would consent to it, as they been so long from home and wanted to go Back.” [2]

Lamb’s men, however, seem to have been given the option to leave only after the other unwilling men were dismissed. Lamb’s men then “were told what Difficulty it was in getting down the Lakes in the winter[, and] they began to think it would be best to [en]list again…” Once the other units departed, the Americans suffered from a shortage of bateaux -- the one practical means of returning to New York.

Therefore, Barwick, in spite of his wishes, “went forwards to Quebec although I had but about 4 or 5 weeks to serve of my old inlistment.” Most of the company followed suit.

Montgomery then began to send the troops downriver aboard the vessels captured at Sorel.


“To Die with a Hero”

Lieutenant John Copp of the 1st New York Regiment left Montreal on December 1st and reached Quebec on the 6th. He wrote the following day, “We met herewith Colonel Arnold and his Detachment from Cambridge, he has about 600 men who have suffered innumerable hardships on their March hither. He is really a brave Man, and will no doubt, if his Life is spared, do honor to the American Arms. Great part of the Army left us when they were most wanted, but I flatter myself we shall be able to do without them. The more Danger, the more Glory. If Quebec is taken all is Ours…” [3]

But Copp admitted that the situation was hardly promising: “the place appears to be almost impregnable… This Evening our Bombardment is to go on, and the Artillery to begin their Attack in different places. Our Chief difficulty is in erecting Batteries, on account of the Frost having hardened the Ground too much for throwing it up.”

The same mix of optimism and fatalism appears in a letter written the same day by an officer stationed at Fort Saint-Jean (now an American depot):

“Heaven seems still to smile upon us… This is the time of the year when in common the rivers about here are froze up, but we have this day calm moderate weather, with a fair wind to carry down the boats with the powder… Gen. Montgomery landed at Point aux Trembles last Friday the 1st inst. on Saturday part of his Army marched for Quebec and he was to follow with the remainder the next day; This we call great news, & if it is true that fortune favours the brave, success must attend our General, for a braver man does not tread on America nor on English leather; to die with such a man is to die with a Hero indeed.” [4]



1. Maclean left Sorel for other reasons and learned of Arnold's arrival on the St. Lawrence while returning to Quebec.

2. Barwick's journal appears in the series, Naval Documents of the Revolutionary War.

3. Source.

4. Source. The last passage is of course remarkably prescient. I got the chills when reading it.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Preparing the Diorama (1)

In March I announced my plans to build a Guilford Courthouse diorama, and I described what the diorama would look like.

A few days ago I started building the diorama -- here is a first look at the construction.

In brief, the diorama will be constructed from pieces of foam board that are covered in simulated grass and model trees. The foam board will be stacked up to depict the ridges and ravines on the battlefield. The first step (and what I'm working on at the moment) is drawing contour lines on the foam board and cutting out the shapes.

The northwestern section of the battlefield is now almost done (one tier is remaining). Below you can see what it looks like at the moment. For perspective, I've placed on the foam board some of the British troops that fought in this area.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Fighting Formations at Guilford Courthouse

The traditional view of the British fighting formation of the Revolutionary War is a line of redcoats advancing shoulder-to-shoulder in a slow-moving, rigid line. This view is gradually being supplanted by the belief that for most of the war the British adopted loose formations that made it easier for the British to outflank their opponents and that facilitated a rapid advance (especially across what was often difficult terrain).

Most of the illustrations I've seen of the battle of Guilford Courthouse depict the British formed in two tightly packed ranks. In such a "close order" formation, each soldier in a rank occupies something like 2 linear feet.

The 71st Foot marches against the American first line.

Conversely, when an "open order" formation was used, a gap of about 18 inches or 24 inches (one arm's length) apart separated each soldier in a rank [1].

Open order formation with 24" file intervals (one arm length).

Given that detailed information is available on the British army at Guilford Courthouse [2], and having prepared a relatively detailed battlefield map, I thought it would be interesting to see how different the British army would have looked deployed in one formation instead of the other. For this exercise, I assumed that the British deployed in two ranks, that each soldier was about 18 inches across, and that 6 inches separated each soldier when they stood "shoulder to shoulder," while 24 inches separated each soldier when they stood in open order. [3]

Three maps are shown below. The first is based on a sketch made by a British officer shortly after the battle and it shows the British (in red) and American (in yellow) positions at the beginning of the battle. The two below that show, very roughly, the positions of the British (in red) and American (in blue) as the British advanced against the American first line. (This phase of the battle will be discussed at another time). On each of these two maps, the group of red lines at left depict the Guards Light Infantry company, a group of Jaegers (or Jäger), and the 33rd Regiment of Foot. Advancing through the fields are the 23rd Regiment of Foot, the 71st Regiment of Foot, and the Hessian Regiment von Bose. At far right is the 1st Guards battalion. In reserve is the Guards Grenadier company and the 2nd Guards battalion. At bottom (in column) are the British Legion dragoons.

(click to enlarge)

If the Tarleton map (at top) is at all an accurate indicator of how the British were deployed, than surely a looser formation was used. By comparison, if the British stood shoulder to should it would have been quite impossible for them to come close to matching the breadth of the American line, except by leaving large, regiment-sized gaps between their units.


1. For an extended discussion of this and other tactical matters, see Matthew H. Spring's (2008) With Zeal and with Bayonets Only. The question of open and close order is also discussed at this website.

2. cf. Lawrence E. Babits & Joshua B. Howard (2009). Long, obstinate, and bloody: The battle of Guilford Courthouse.

3. Thus, the 23rd Foot, for example, with 238 men, has a front of about 238 feet at 6" file intervals and 417 feet at 24" file intervals.