Saturday, May 28, 2011

Around the Web

As readers of this blog know, I enjoy taking a fresh look at battles of the Revolutionary War. Happily, there are others around the web who feel similarly and who have put together some terrific posts on subjects ranging from the well known to the obscure.

Here are several recommended offerings (in case you missed them):

  • Also earlier this year, Jerseyman wrote about the battle of Fort Mercer at great length. His post includes transcribed journal entries from the participants and electronic copies of a number of rare maps.
  • The 2nd Virginia Regiment blog has covered a number of actions in which that regiment participated. An especially good post is this one on the battle of Cooch's Bridge.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

St. Kitts (2): The Invasion

This is the second in a series of posts, which will appear from time to time, on the St. Kitts campaign of 1782. The St. Kitts campaign took place in what is known as the West Indies theater of the Revolutionary War. For Part 1, click here.

De Grasse Approaches

A French fleet left Port Royal, Martinique, on January 5, 1782, to attack the British isles of St. Kitts and Nevis. The fleet consisted of 25 ships of the line, the 50-gun Experiment, and a number of frigates and transports. Its commander was Lieutenant-General François-Joseph-Paul de Grasse. Because of calms and fog, the ships became strung out over a considerable distance while en route. Most of the fleet reached St. Kitts on the 11th, but some ships did not arrive until the 13th. [1]

The difficulty of the journey was of little importance. The British West Indies fleet (Rear Admiral Samuel Hood commanding) was at distant Barbados.

The French fleet was spotted from St. Kitts and Nevis long before it reached shore. On the afternoon of January 9th (when the French were still 2 days away), Governor Thomas Shirley received word from Nevis “that a large fleet, consisting of about forty sail, twenty-four of which were large ships and the rest sloops and schooners had appeared in sight of that Island.” Shirley was in Basseterre, the principal town on St. Kitts. There he had a cannon fired as an alarm. A detachment of Royal Artillery, and part of the militia, were ordered to defend the coastal batteries. [2]

The British had little in the way of naval resources on hand. One large vessel, the 64-gun Russell, was in port for repairs, but this ship hurriedly departed on the 10th.

As the French fleet slowly drew closer, the British commanders on St. Kitts – Governor Shirley and Brigadier-General Thomas Fraser– had time to rethink the wisdom of defending the entire coast. At last, the two commanders decided to abandon Basseterre and concentrate their forces on and about Brimstone Hill.

On the morning of January 11th, the St. Kitts brigade of militia assembled in Basseterre. Governor Shirley then marched this force along the coastal road towards Brimstone Hill.

At about the same time, a number of merchant vessels in Basseterre got underway and headed north and west, away from the French fleet.

The French Landing

As the French fleet completed the last leg of the journey, it divided into two parts. The main force headed directly for Basseterre, while a secondary force circled around the island and headed for the town of Sandy Point, near Brimstone Hill.

The secondary force consisted of:

  • 1000 men from regiments Dillon and Royal Comtois aboard transports
  • 500 grenadiers and chasseurs aboard two ships of the line, the Experiment, and several frigates. [3]

St. Kitts: January 11, 1782 (click to enlarge).

The French secondary force reached Sandy Point without difficulty, but no landing was made. The approaches to Sandy Point were defended by two coastal batteries, and the British were in force on nearby Brimstone Hill. Instead, the French attacked the merchant vessels which were streaming along the shore. The merchant vessels hurriedly took shelter under the guns of Brimstone Hill. According to Shirley, some of the merchant vessels were saved from capture “by a well-directed fire from our line of batteries” and “the merchantmen got shelter under the guns of Brimstone Hill and [nearby] Fort Charles.” Nevertheless, the French captured at least 27 vessels. [4]

The French secondary force also spotted the St. Kitts and militia on their march and opened fire. Shirley wrote that the militiamen were “very much annoyed” by the French ships, but the fire did not prevent them from reaching Brimstone Hill.

The main French force, under de Grasse, approached Basseterre and saw that the battery defending the town appeared to have been abandoned. A 60-man company of colonial troops (the Volontaires de Bouillé) approached the fort in two boats, supported by two frigates. When the company found that the battery was undefended, they hoisted the French flag. At about the same time, a delegation of citizens from Basseterre approached the French fleet in a small boat and informed the French that the British had retired to Brimstone Hill and that those who remained behind would offer no resistance.

Meanwhile, the secondary force joined the main fleet at Basseterre, and at about 6pm, the French infantry began to disembark. The French commander, the Marquis de Bouillé, had his troops assemble in four divisions on the shore. They were organized as follows:

  • Colonel de Dillon’s division: Regiments Dillon and Royal Comtois, two companies of grenadiers from Regiment Martinique, and a detachment of Volontaires Étrangers de la Marine (perhaps 1,500 effectives in total).
  • Maréchal de Saint-Simon’s division: Regiments Agénois and Touraine (about 2,000 effectives).
  • Brigadier de Damas’ division: Regiments Auxerrois and Champagne (about 1,200 effectives).
  • Brigadier du Chilleau’s division: Regiments Armagnac (2 battalions), Viennois, and Guadeloupe (perhaps 2,100 effectives). [5]

The disembarkation and assembly proceeded smoothly, and at 9pm Dillon’s division began marching towards Brimstone Hill. The rest of the troops followed 30 minutes later. De Bouillé intended to surround the British fortress under cover of darkness.

Left to right: Grenadiers of Armagnac, Auxerrois, and Viennois. These illustrations show what was essentially the uniform worn by these regiments on St. Kitts; one difference is that the French grenadiers generally wore a tall bearskin cap rather than the cocked hat shown here.


1. An invaluable source on French naval operations is John Gilmary Shea's (1864) The Operations of the French Fleet Under the Count de Grasse in 1781-2 as Described in Two Contemporary Journals.

2. Extracts of Shirley’s journal, including that quoted here, appears in Algernon Aspinall's (1915) West Indian Tales of Old.

3. From Attaque et prise de Saint-Christophe dit le «Gibraltar» des Antilles (janvier-février 1782), in Revue Historique des Armées, Vol. 1, 1974. This article includes extracts from «Mémoires Secrets» de Bouillé. A detailed description of de Bouillé’s operations also appears in the Journal Politique of April, 1782 (seconde quinzaine).

4. R. de Kerallain (1928). Bougainville à l’Armée du Cte de Grasse. Journal de la Société des Américanistes de Paris, 20, 1-70.

5. French sources generally claim that they fielded an army of 6,000 men; British sources attribute to the French 8,000 men. I suspect the latter number is more accurate. One French account claims they had “6000 hommes effectifs & de 800 volontaires de la Martinique,” which I take to mean 6,000 effectives of the Metropolitan Army and 800 colonial troops that had been stationed on Martinique. Colonial troops known to have participated in this campaign included Regiment de la Guadeloupe, two companies of grenadiers from Regiment de la Martinique, and the company-sized Volontaires de Bouillé. If one counts soldiers of all ranks, the French army would have totaled well above 7,000 men. De Bouillé only partially identified the size of each of these divisions; I relied on a certain amount of extrapolation to determine the approximate size of Dillon’s and du Chilleau’s divisions. De Bouillé’s exact language in describing the composition of his forces (and how he intended to place them around Brimstone Hill) is as follows:

“La division du Marquis de Saint-Simon, composée de deux mille hommes, des régiments de Touraine et d'Agénois, dut prendre la droite, et se placer entre la vieille rade et Brimstone-Hill, le plus près possible, cependant hors de la portée du canon de la place. Celle du Vicomte de Damas, composée de douze cents hommes, des bataillons d'Auxerrois et de Champagne, à la gauche de la première, pour garder les debouches des montagnes. Celle du Comte Arthur Dillon, compose de 1.200 hommes, des bataillons de Dillon, de Royal comtois, et de deux companies de grenadiers de la Martinique, et les volontaires étrangers de la marine, fut à la gauche de celle de M. de Damas, pour le même objet et pour communiqué avec elle. Celle du Marquis du Chilleau, compose de deux bataillons d’Armagnac, d’un de Viennois, d’un de la Guadeloupe dut être à la gauche de celle de M. de Dillon, et occupier Sandy-point.”

Friday, May 20, 2011

The 71st at Guilford Courthouse

The 71st Regiment of Foot (Fraser's Highlanders) was one of the most active British units serving in the southern theater of the American Revolutionary War. The regiment played an important role a string of British victories in the south from 1778-1780. However, 1781 proved to be a very difficult year for the regiment. The 1st battalion of the 71st was captured at the battle of Cowpens, while the 2nd battalion was first mauled at Guilford Courthouse and then captured at Yorktown.

In this post I summarize the experiences of the 71st Foot at Guilford Courthouse, giving special attention to the role the 71st may have played in breaking the American “third line” at the battle.

The map below shows the approximate movements of the 71st during the battle. The red and blue lines show positions early in the battle for British and American units, respectively. The long red arrow marks the approximate path taken by the 71st. The numbers on the map refer to important events involving the 71st during the battle. These are:

  1. The 71st attacks North Carolina militiamen behind a rail fence on the first line.
  2. The 71st battles Virginia militiamen on the wooded second line.
  3. The 71st struggles to cross a ravine.
  4. The 71st reaches the high ground near Guilford Courthouse and threatens the Americans’ left flank.

Movements of the 71st Foot at Guilford Courthouse.

1. Attack on the First Line.

Early in the battle, the 71st was ordered to cross a muddy field and assail the American first line (specifically, part of John Butler's brigade of North Carolina militia). David Stewart, a historian who chronicled the experiences of the highland regiments during the Revolutionary War, wrote that:

The Americans, covered by the fence in their front, maintained their position with confidence, and reserved their fire till the British were within thirty or forty paces. At this short distance, their fire was destructive to [the British in front], nearly one-third being killed or wounded. The [British] returned the fire, and rushed forward on the enemy, who abandoned their fence, and retreated on the second line. [1]

Some of the most vivid accounts of this attack were given by the North Carolinians who faced the 71st. John Wadkins recalled:

The North Carolina Militia was stationed in the front line in the rear of a fence – [I] was in the left wing – orders were given us not to fire until the Enemy passed two dead Trees standing in the field through which he was to approach us, about 100 yards from the fence. The morning was cloudy – cannonading commenced on both sides which lasted a short time only – after it ceased, the enemy began to advance and fire – and as soon as they reached the trees the N. C. militia fired – and that part of the line in which [I] was exchanged three or four fires – when [we] became alarmed by report that the enemy was surrounding [us] – and fled [2]

Nathan Slade also appears to have faced the 71st. He recalled:

At the battle of Guilford I was one of the North Carolina militia. We were in that battle stationed by Genl. Greene behind a fence that being a position which he thought most advantageous for raw troops who were unaccustomed to stand the shock of battle... The enemy approached us and were according to the best of my belief within eighty to an hundred yards of us when they made their first fire—my recollection is that most of us stood firm until after the second fire. On the third fire there were but few if any of us left to receive it—all or nearly all had broke and retreated in great disorder. [3]

2. Attack on the Second Line.

The 71st then moved on to attack the second line (specifically, part of Edward Stevens' brigade of Virginia militia). Here the fighting was more prolonged, but the 71st suffered fewer losses. According to Stewart, “The ground was level, but the wood was so thick and difficult, that, though the fire rolled in torrents, few were killed on either side.” [1]

3. Delay.

The attacking British regiments reached the American third line at different times. The 33rd Regiment attacked Continentals first and was repulsed. Then the 2nd battalion of Guards arrived and defeated the Americans' 2nd Maryland Regiment. The American army commander, Major-General Nathanael Greene, was alarmed by the defeat of the 2nd Maryland, and he ordered a general retreat. Before this order was received, the Guards were defeated by the 1st Maryland Regiment and William Washington’s dragoons. The Marylanders and dragoons then chased the Guards to the western edge of the cleared ground on the third line. The 71st arrived just as the Washington's dragoons received a check.

According to British army commander, Lieutenant-General Charles Cornwallis:

The enemy's cavalry was soon repulsed by a well-directed fire from two 3-pounders just brought up tip by Lieutenant Macleod, and by the appearance of the grenadiers of the Guards, and of the 71st regiment, which, having been impeded by some deep ravine, were now coming out of the wood on the right of the Guards, opposite to the Court-house. [4]

4. The 71st Reaches the Courthouse.

Following the defeat of the Guards, the 71st boldly advanced around the American left flank. According to Stewart, this was maneuver prompted the retreat of the remaining American forces. He wrote:

…the Highlanders, who had rapidly pushed round the flank, appeared on a rising ground in rear of the left of the enemy, and, rushing forward with shouts, made such an impression on the Americans, that they immediately fled, abandoning their guns and ammunition, without attempting farther resistance. [1]

This account is partly confirmed by Lieutenant-Colonel John Eager Howard of the 1st Maryland Regiment, who recalled:

After passing through the guards [i.e., defeating the British 2nd battalion of Guards]… I found myself in the cleared ground, and saw the seventy-first regiment near the courthouse, and other columns of the enemy appearing in different directions. Washington's horse having gone off, I found it necessary to retire, which I did leisurely [5]

Howard said that the Washington's dragoons had “gone off” without elaborating. It is possible that they charged the 71st.

Philemon Holcombe, who was with Washington’s cavalry this day, recalled that after defeating the Guards,

…Colo. Washington moved against a large body of Tories, two hundred in numbers, who were formed near the Court house. They were well armed. On the approach of the Cavalry, they fired their guns, and took shelter in the Court house, and under it, for it was not underpined. [6]

A large body of American militia rallied near the courthouse after the British broke the first and second lines. Curiously, none mentioned the advance of the 71st. For example, James Martin recalled that

General Greene… wished me to go with Major Hunter to the Court House in case of a Defeat to rally the Men which we did and collected about 500 & was marching them to the Battle Ground when I met General Stephens [Edward Stevens] of Virginia Corps retreating I asked if the Retreat was by General Greene's Orders he told me it was I then retreated with him [7]

John Wadkins' account suggests that some of the militia may even have attempted to pursue the defeated British Guards. He remembered that “…some of the militia who had stopped at the Court House followed in the rear of the Horse to the Battle Ground” [2]

If all of these accounts are accurate, then it would seem that the American militia left the courthouse area shortly before the 71st arrived. As mentioned above, General Greene ordered the army to retreat after the 2nd Maryland was routed.

In any case, the last of the American units began to withdraw.

Cornwallis wrote that “The 23rd and 71st regiments, with part of the [British] cavalry, were ordered to pursue.” [4] The pursuit, however, does not appear to have been especially energetic. Thomas Cook, a North Carolina militiaman, recalled, “The British did not follow us as we guessed, just took our cannon and fired it upon us.” [8] Possibly this was men of the 71st regiment firing two 6-pounders the Americans had abandoned near the courthouse.

By the conclusion of the battle, the 71st had lost 13 killed and 50 wounded out of 244 men (or 26%).


1. David Stewart (1825). Sketches... of the Highlanders of Scotland.

2. Pension application of John Wadkins.

3. Pension application of Nathan Slade

4. Cornwallis' account of the battle (among others) can be found in this compendium.

5. Howard is quoted in James Herring and James Barton Longacre (1835). The national portrait gallery of distinguished Americans, Vol. 2.

6. Pension application of Philemon Holcombe

7. Pension application of James Martin

8. Pension application of Thomas Cook

Monday, May 16, 2011

Preparing the Diorama (4)

The last time I wrote about the Guilford Courthouse diorama, I had finished making the ridges and ravines on the western half of the battlefield (these were constructed from pieces of foam board covered with Woodland Scenics' ReadyGrass Vinyl Mat).

Since then, I've made the streams and road in this area, and I've started on the fields.

To make the streams I used a nail to scrape away the grass, painted the cleared area with a brownish-blue acrylic mix, and finally dabbed the painted area with a glossy varnish.

For the road, I used a nail to mark the edges of the road, then dabbed the path with a wet cotton swab, then scrapped the grass away with a flathead screwdriver (it came off with remarkable ease), and then painted the cleared area with a brown acrylic.

Creating the New Garden Road. In the foreground is the raw surface of the vinyl mat after the grass has been scrapped away.

The grass on the mats comes off almost too easily. One can see in the above picture how it has flaked off along the edges of the foam board pieces. I ended up dabbing all the edges with brown acrylic to cover up the problem and hopefully prevent its spread.

Finally, for the fields I've begun cutting out pieces of corduroy and placing them on the American first line. At this point, I placed some minis on the model battlefield. Below part of the North Carolina militia and an American 6-pounder square off against the 71st Regiment of Foot. They won't stay there very long. The fields need yet to be glued down, ringed by fences, and surrounded by model woodland.

Friday, May 13, 2011

More on White Plains

The battle of White Plains marked Britain’s last opportunity to destroy George Washington’s American army during the New York campaign of 1776. The battle was a British victory, but not a crushing blow to the fledgling American republic.

White Plains is also one of the least discussed of Washington’s battles and a subject that has attracted my particular interest. Earlier this month I posted a draft map of the battlefield. Since then I’ve been able to make some improvements to the map. Below I present the revised map, and describe how it was constructed.

Here is the revised version of the map (click to enlarge). Once again, British and American positions are not shown. To envision where they were, imagine a diagonal line running from the lower left corner to the upper right. During the main phase of the fighting, the Americans would have been on the upper left side of the line (especially on Chatterton’s Hill), and the British would have been on the lower right side of the line.

One important change from the previous map is that I expanded the map to the west. Three Hessian regiments – Regiments Lieb, Knyphausen, and Rall – deployed in the lower left corner of the map early in the battle in the area between the Dobb’s Ferry Road and the Bronx River (cf. Baurmeister’s and Ewald’s accounts of the battle [1]), and I wanted to make sure that I included this area.

Another change is that I added a minor road and a creek to the upper right corner of the map. Details about the road appear below. The creek generally does not show up on early maps of the battlefield, but it is clearly shown on several 19th-Century maps of White Plains, and surely it was also present at the time of the battle. I suspect this low-lying ground is what Hessian Captain Johann Ewald was referring to when he wrote the following:

“The two jäger companies had to work their way, under the heaviest enemy cannon fire, through the ravines and marshes which lay between the two [British] wings. Here we came upon a number of riflemen who were hiding in these ravines, and who withdrew when they caught sight of us after sharp firing.”

The British left wing was centered on Wolf Pit Hill; the British right wing was centered on high ground east of this map. There is little sign of “ravines” in the area of the creek, but possibly that is because of changes that have been made in the terrain. This area has been urbanized for more than a century.


The map was constructed first by removing the buildings and roads from a 1930s-era topographic map, and then by adding roads and woods that appear to have been present at the time of the battle.

The oldest maps I’ve been able to identify appear below (I’ve cropped the images so that the area shown roughly corresponds with the area I mapped). Three of these were made during the Revolutionary War, and electronic copies of them are hosted by the Library of Congress. The 1807 map is part of the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.

Early maps of the White Plains Battlefield (click to enlarge).

The three Revolutionary War-era maps are somewhat crude and they differ from each other in some important respects. All three maps, however, show both the Dobb’s Ferry Road, the York Road, and the Bronx River. In all three cases, the Bronx is shown making a nearly 90-degree angle as it skirts the flanks of Chatterton’s Hill. The Dobb’s Ferry Road and the York Road are shown taking different courses on these maps, but it is possible to divine the correct path through comparisons with more skillfully-executed 19th Century maps.

Some roads show up on some maps but not others. The three Revolutionary War maps show a road running across Chatterton’s Hill thank links the Dobb’s Ferry Road and the York Road. The 1776 map shows a large American force deployed astride this road. The 1778 map similar designates this area (through text) as the site of the battle of White Plains. This road, however, does not show up on the 1807 map, and hints of it only appear on later maps. Therefore I drew this road in based on clues present in the early maps, especially the relatively detailed 1776 battlefield map.

I added another road linking the Dobb’s Ferry and York Roads to the revised map. This road is east of the Bronx River. This road shows up in the 1778 and 1781 maps, but not the 1776 or 1807 maps. From this I inferred it was a secondary route (and hence marked it with a thinner brown line). The path I assigned to this road is based on an 1868 map of White Plains, which shows a similar road. I suspect the 18th Century route did not follow the neat straight line of the 19th Century road, but this is what I’ve elected to show for lack of better information.

The 1776 and 1778 maps show another minor road extending northwest from the crest of Chatterton’s Hill. No corresponding path appears on later maps, and I opted to omit this road for lack of good information on its historic route.

Wooded areas are shown in the 1781 map and an 1891 map in the David Rumsey collection. I decided to mark as wooded on my map any area that was shown as wooded on either of these maps.

What’s Next

I’m not sure whether I’ll make any additional changes to this map yet or regard it as final. There’s a few things I’m uncertain about – like the original route of the Dobb’s Ferry Road in the Hartsdale area (lower left part of the map). The main X factor is whether I will find any other historic maps of the battlefield.

The next major step will be to locate exactly where the fighting took place during the battle of White Plains. In this regard, the 1776 map is invaluable. This map, by one Captain Charles Blaskowitz, shows the position of a number of specific regiments (a zoomable version of the map is available through the Library of Congress website; the regiment names can be read there quite clearly). Although the map is somewhat crude, the hills and ravines he drew generally have clear counterparts in the modern topography of the area. Thus, it would seem possible to use the Blaskowitz map to precisely locate where the fighting took place. However, in respect to certain details, the Blaskowitz map is contradicted by the accounts of Baurmeister and other participants. No obvious method of reconciling these differences has occurred to me.

The problem of identifying the exact location of the American units is even greater. Participant accounts make it possible to fairly precisely locate where certain regiments were located (e.g., the Delaware Regiment). But I have significant questions about a number of others (John Moseley’s regiment of Massachusetts militia, Jonathan Holman's regiment of Massachusetts militia, and David Forman’s regiment of New Jersey levies, to name a few). Maybe it’s not possible to show exactly where every regiment was located. In any case, I will describe the battle in as much detail as my research permits.


1. Bernhard A. Uhlendorf. (1957). Revolution in America: Confidential letters and journals 1776-1784 of Adjutant General Major Baurmeister of the Hessian forces. Joseph P. Tustin (1979). Diary of the American War: A Hessian journal. Captain Johann Ewald.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Stylish Blogger Award

Recently, several folks gave me for a "Stylish Blogger Award." I've had some trouble figuring out what this is exactly. Apparently there are four things that one must do when receiving such an award. They are:
  1. Make a post & link back to the person who awarded you this award.
  2. Share 7 things about yourself.
  3. Award 10 recently discovered great bloggers.
  4. Contact these bloggers and tell them they’ve won!
1. Thank you, Dick at Captain Richard's Miniature Civil War, Giles at Tarleton’s Quarter, and Neil at Toy Soldiers and Dining Room Battles for thinking of me. Truly I'm flattered.

2. Seven things about me:
  • I’m married and have two daughters. They mean the world to me.
  • "AD" is my initials (first name is Adam); I'm 37.
  • I moved to North Dakota in 2003. I hoped to find work on the East Coast because I’m so interested in the history of that area, but North Dakota is where I ended up. I don’t regret it – it’s a nice part of the country and I’ve met some great people here.
  • I got hooked on the Revolutionary War at a relatively young age. It had something to do with family vacations to historic sites + annual visits near my hometown of a Revolutionary War reenactor group (NWTA) + a general tendency towards nerdiness.
  • I’m interested in other historical periods, too. The American Civil War is my second favorite period. I’m frankly in awe of how much excellent, scholarly work there has been on this subject and the size and quality of the Civil War-themed blogosphere.
  • I also very loosely follow science blogging. Really, there aren’t enough hours in the day to keep up on everything that’s interesting and worth reading about, but maybe once every couple months I’ll stop by websites like Tetrapod Zoology to get a sense of what’s new.
  • The first miniature I owned was a painted figurine depicting an officer in the 1st Texas Regiment (Civil War, 54mm), which I purchased in Gettysburg in the mid-80s. I liked to imagine him bravely leading his men up the slopes of Little Round Top. It’s been downhill for me ever since. :)
3 & 4. Other blogs:

I don't know if I have recently discovered 10 great blogs. To be sure, there are a lot of great new blogs, but mostly I've been keeping up with ones that have been around for awhile. Therefore, I'm going to bend the rules here and simply say a few words about some very nice blogs (some of which have also received a "stylish blogger award"). Apologies for omitting from this brief list some excellent sites. I recommend all those I have linked on the right-hand side of the page.

Tarleton’s Quarter – Giles is a master painter with a good grasp of history. He takes impeccable pictures that really show off the details of his miniatures and his writing is clean, concise, and entertaining. His blog is what chiefly inspired me to start one of my own.

Boston 1775 – An outstanding blog. J. L. Bell focuses on one specific theme, and yet he has averaged more than one post a day over the past few years, and he shows no signs of exhausting his subject matter. How does he do this? His posts are well researched and well written.

Bunker Hill – Christopher is a masterful painter, and I enjoy seeing his latest creations.

Captain Richard's Miniature Civil War – Prolific and terrifically inventive, Dick creates realistic towns and landscapes for his miniatures, filled with charming details.

Conquering the Lead Mountain – A website with a great sense of style. Sire Godefroy is a standout painter.

Der Alte Fritz Journal – An elegant website. I greatly admire Der Alte Fritz's painterly abilities.

Past in the Present – Michael keeps readers abreast of the many fascinating ways the past and present intersect, giving special attention to the Civil War and Revolutionary War. His blog is a joy to read -- brilliant and incisive.

Steve's Paintingshed – I admire his blog for much the same reason that I think so highly of Tarleton's Quarter. Steve is a master painter and he takes great pictures of his work. I really like how he infuses such personality into his 28mm-high figures. Also puts on great looking wargames.

Toy Soldiers Forever – Mannie's writing is warm and engaging, and he has a great sense of humor. Love the “toy soldiers are awesome!” enthusiasm he brings to his posts. Occasionally he makes videos, which are terrific.

1775 – Derek's blog is an outgrowth of a book by the same name that is in the works (and which I look forward to reading). He shares fascinating findings he's made about a pivotal year in American history.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

St. Kitts Campaign Overview


This is the first in a series of posts, which will appear from time-to-time, on the St. Kitts campaign of 1782. The St. Kitts campaign took place in what is known as the West Indies theater of the Revolutionary War.

The Other Thirteen Colonies

In 1775, half of Britain's colonies in the New World embarked on the Revolutionary War, which ended with their establishment as the United States of America. The remainder stayed loyal. One might suppose that outside the Thirteen Colonies, the inhabitants must have been strongly loyalist in their sentiments. This was not always so. Loyalists and rebels were to be found in every colony. In places like Barbados and St. Kitts in the West Indies, the rebellious spirit was quite strong. However, these colonies were small in size and easily occupied by land forces or dominated by the royal navy. Armed rebellion had no hope of success. [1]

The West Indies

Britain’s West Indies possessions shared a plantation-based economy dominated by sugar cane cultivation. Sugar cane gave these islands an economic power greatly out of proportion to their diminutive size. Because these islands were much valued, they were also much fought over, and changes in ownership were not uncommon. At the time of the Revolutionary War, the islands were colonized by Spain, France, Britain, Holland, or Denmark.

St. Kitts and Nevis

Among Britain’s possessions in the West Indies were the sister islands of St. Christopher’s (commonly called St. Kitts) and Nevis. During the Revolutionary War, the islanders greatly aggravated the British authorities. As one historian put it:

“During the American War, the people of St. Kitts were, to put it mildly, by no means so loyal as they now are. It is, indeed, an admitted fact that they sympathized more or less openly with the revolted colonists, and enriched themselves by carrying on a contraband trade in munitions of war…” [2]

St. Kitts and Nevis in 1782.

In 1782, the islands became a scene of conflict. At the time, St. Kitts was garrisoned by the 1st battalion of the 1st Regiment of Foot, the flank companies (i.e., grenadiers and light infantry) of the 15th Regiment of Foot, and a detachment of Royal Artillery. Nevis was not garrisoned, but both islands had an armed militia that could be called out for emergencies.

The main defensive work was Brimstone Hill on St. Kitts. Steeply-sided Brimstone Hill bordered the sea on one side, and a flat swath of sugar cane fields on the others. The summit was crowned by stone fortifications. A British officer visiting the site remarked,“I have had an opportunity of visiting Brimstone Hill, a position which Nature has rendered almost inaccessible… Casemates for the troops, storehouses, and cisterns were almost all that were necessary. The situation is cool and healthy, the troops suffer as little as they would do in Europe.” He believed an enemy might establish batteries upon a distant hill, but at that distance guns could not breach the walls. “To approach much nearer is almost impossible, and even a breach in works placed on ground so commanding would be of no avail. The garrison may be annoyed by distant firing, and starved out by blockade, but not assaulted.” [3]

The islands were also defended by several low-laying coastal batteries. These protected the principal harbors (and most likely landing points).

Brimstone Hill, as seen from the northwest.

The French Invasion

France entered the Revolutionary War in 1778. At the time, much of the British army, and, to a lesser extent, navy, was tied down in North America. France (and later Spain and Holland) hoped to exploit this weakness and pick off some of Britain’s far-flung possessions. The largest French effort was made in the West Indies. By 1782, France captured the British isles of Dominica, St. Vincent, Grenada, the Grenadines, and Tobago (Britain, in turn, took St. Lucia).

The French fleet in the West Indies was commanded by François-Joseph-Paul de Grasse. In the late summer and fall of 1781, this fleet was in North American waters where it played a decisive role in the siege of Yorktown. When it returned to the West Indies in November, the French fleet had a numerical advantage over the British royal navy. The French hoped to exploit this advantage by capturing another British island. The two initially set their sights on Barbados: Britain’s main naval base in the West Indies. However, the invasion was repeatedly stymied by severe weather. In January they chose to attack St. Kitts and Nevis instead.

The French expedition set sail from Martinique on January 5, 1782, with 6,000 infantrymen, and a train of heavy artillery.

A Part of the West Indies (click to enlarge). St. Kitts and Nevis are at upper left, Martinique near center, and Barbados at lower right.

The Commanders

  • François-Joseph-Paul de Grasse: Known as the hero of Yorktown, but otherwise generally seen as a competent, if not brilliant, officer.
  • François-Claude-Amour de Bouillé. Daring and energetic, de Bouillé was one of the most skilled and successful general officers of the Revolutionary War.
  • Samuel Hood. Commanded the British West Indies’ naval station. He is seen by some historians as the greatest British admiral of the Revolutionary War. It was his responsibility to aid any British isle that came under French attack.
  • Thomas Shirley. Governor-General of Britain’s Leeward Islands, he resided on St. Kitts and led the British militia.
  • Thomas Fraser. He commanded of the British regulars on St. Kitts. It was the joint responsibility of Shirley and Fraser to defend the islands (especially Brimstone Hill) long enough for outside aid to reach them.


1. As best I’ve been able to determine, Britain had, in addition to the Thirteen Colonies, an additional thirteen colonies or provinces in the Americas in 1775 that a) were administered by a governor and b) were not a dependency of some other colonial possession. They were 1) Quebec, 2) Newfoundland, 3) Nova Scotia, 4) St. John’s Island, 5) East Florida, 6) West Florida, 7) Bermuda, 8) Bahamas, 9) Jamaica, 10) The Leeward Islands (Anguilla, Antigua, Barbuda, British Virgin Islands, Montserrat, Nevis, St. Kitts), 11) Dominica, 12) Barbados, 13) The South Caribbee Islands (Grenada, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Tobago)

2. See Algernon Aspinall (1915). West Indian Tales of Old.

The inhabitants of Nevis were probably of similar sympathies, but their actions tended to be overshadowed by those of their larger and wealthier neighbor. Of note is that Alexander Hamilton was born on Nevis in the 1750s.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

White Plains Battlefield Map

My main project at the moment is the battle of Guilford Courthouse, and I spent quite a bit of time last month putting together a diorama (of sorts) of the battlefield. After my most recent update on diorama construction, I decided to take the week off to work on some other things, including the map of the White Plains battlefield visible below.

White Plains Area, 1776 (work in progress; click to enlarge)

This map is a work in progress -- no units are shown and terrain features have not been labeled. I've only recently begun studying this battle in earnest, so I'm hesitant to say too much yet about where individual units were located. In brief, White Plains, New York is at upper right (the streets and buildings of the modern-day city are not visible), and George Washington's army was positioned there, as well as spots further to the north (top) and east (right). The British army (commanded by William Howe) advanced in two columns towards Washington. The left column advanced along the road that runs north from the bottom of the map. The route taken by the right column is not shown (it was further to the east). The left column clashed with an advanced American party near the hill at right-center (I recently wrote about this event). Then the British turned and attacked the American forces on Chatterton's Hill (the big eminence at top-center).

The map is based off a topographic map published in the 1930s. Placement of the roads and woods is based on a handful of 18th and 19th Century maps available in the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection and the Rochambeau Map Collection hosted by the Library of Congress.

Eventually, I'll present an updated version of the map and more information about the battle, but that won't be for quite some time.