Tuesday, June 30, 2009

New York Volunteers

The New York Volunteers were one of several regiments of Provincials (Loyalists that were essentially trained and equipped in the manner of British regulars) that served in the Southern campaign of the American Revolution.

Loyalist refugees in New York began fleeing in 1775 to the British authorities, and these were formed in early 1776 at Halifax into two companies of Volunteers. The companies were first deployed at the battles of Long Island (1776) and White Plains (1776). The Volunteers were subsequently expanded and in 1779 were placed on the American Establishment and designated the 3rd American Regiment (although they continued to be referred to as the New York Volunteers). The Volunteers participated in the storming of Fort Montgomery, New York (1777), the capture of Savannah, Georgia (1778), the siege of Savannah (1779), and the siege of Charleston, South Carolina (1780). Following the capture of the American army at Charleston, the regiment was assigned to garrison the post at Rocky Mount, South Carolina, one of a string of posts across the northern portion of the state. The regiment was engaged at the battle of Rocky Mount (1780), and, after that post was abandoned, Hobkirk's Hill (1781), and Eutaw Springs (1781). Detachments were also present at Williamson's Plantation (1780), Camden (1780), and King's Mountain (1780).

The regiment appears to have worn red coats, faced blue, while in South Carolina.


René Chartrand (2008). American Loyalist Troops 1775-84. Osprey.

Philip R. N. Katcher (1973). Encyclopedia of British, Provincial, and German Army Units 1775-1783. Stackpole Books.

The On-Line Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies. New York Volunteers Officers' Memorial.

Friday, June 26, 2009

New Topics

Having at last wrapped up blogging about the battle of Cowpens, I will next post on an earlier phase to the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution. Specifically, I will write about four battles that were fought in July and August, 1780 between Colonel Thomas Sumter's brigade of militia, and the British forces occupying the South Carolina "backcountry." These engagements included one smashing victory for the Americans (Williamson’s Plantation; July 12, 1780), one minor defeat (Rocky Mount; July 30, 1780), one bloody but drawn battle (Hanging Rock; August 6, 1780), and one serious defeat (Fishing Creek; August 18, 1780).

None of these battles will receive the thorough reappraisal that I gave the battle of Cowpens. Michael Scoggins’ recent work on the battle of Williamson’s Plantation is perhaps the most thorough treatment given to any battle of the Revolution. I still intend, at least, to put together some kind of representation of the fighting in miniature. My treatment of Rocky Mount, Hanging Rock, and Fishing Creek will also be circumspect, but chiefly because I do not have ready access to some crucial sources of information, such as Draper’s Sumter Papers or British correspondence and official records found in the Public Records Office. With that said, I do have access to quite a few accounts of these battles thanks to online transcribed memoirs and pension applications, early histories that have been digitalized by Google Books, and the resources of my local library. With these I can at least describe the major features of each battle. Good descriptions of the battle of Hanging Rock are particularly wanting in my opinion, and I expect to devote more posts to that topic than the others.


Michael C. Scoggins' 2005 The Day It Rained Militia: Huck's Defeat and the Revolution in the South Carolina Backcountry, May-July 1780 (link to amazon.com).

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Cowpens: Battlefield Maps

Cowpens is one of the more frequently written about battles of the American Revolution; it's a staple, at least, of general military histories of the war. Having perused a number of such histories over the year, my feeling is that the textual summaries of the battle found in these histories are more-or-less adequate. However, the battlefield map that accompanies these histories (at least when one is present) is usually quite inaccurate. Why is this?

The oldest extant maps of the battlefield are the so-called "Pigee map" and "Clove map" first published in Lawrence Babits' A Devil of a Whipping. These were evidently drawn not long after the battle, although by whom is unclear. My view is that these were not the work of a participant at the battle, but rather that they were produced by someone that had read (and wished to illustrate) the disposition of the British and American forces indicated by Morgan's after action report. Morgan's report mentions in one place that "The light infantry, commanded by Lieut. Col. Howard, and the Virginia militia under the command of Major Triplett, were formed on a rising ground, and extended a line in front." In another place it states that "Capts. Tate and Buchanan, with the Augusta riflemen, [were] to support the right of the line." Consistent with this description, the author(s) of the maps drew a battle line consisting of Howard's and Triplett's troops with another two companies forming a wing to the right rear consisting of Tate's and Buchanan's companies. This is exactly what someone relying solely on the report would have drawn; a participant would have known that Tate and Buchanan were part of Triplett's command, not a separate entity.

In any case, these maps have only recently come to light. The first battlefield map to be widely circulated was the map that William Johnson included in his 1822 Sketches of the Life and Correspondence of Nathanael Greene. I previously noted that the depiction is inaccurate, but it does have some strong points worth noting.

The Johnson Map (click to enlarge).

First of all, William Johnson clearly visited the battlefield. The three major elevations which I've previously described in connection with the battlefield are both present and correctly placed on his map.

Three Elevations on the Cowpens Battlefield.

Second, Johnson correctly placed the main American line between the first and second elevations on the battlefield. Although counterintuitive, this is indicated in various participant memoirs and pension applications (for a previous discussion, see: The Main Line: Location). For example, in one application, the son of North Carolina militiaman Thomas Lackey learned from his father "That at the Battle of the Cowpens the regulars were situated rather behind a hill."

Third, Johnson shows both troops of British dragoons attached to their front line charging the American militia, a point which most writers overlook, but which does seem indicated, on balance by participant accounts (see: British Cavalry Charges at Cowpens - Part 1, British Cavalry Charges at Cowpens - Part 2, Cowpens in Miniature 16, Cowpens in Miniature 18).

Fourth, Johnson shows that at the end of the battle, the British line had broken into two parts, which separately surrendered. This does not appear in Morgan's or Tarleton's description of the battle, but it is indicated in participant accounts (see: Cowpens in Miniature 21, Cowpens in Miniature 23). This further suggests that Johnson made an investment into learning what really happened at Cowpens rather than just rely on authority. This is clearly to his credit, even if he did err in some respects.

The chief problem, however, isn't the problems with Johnson's map, but it's rather with what was done with it. Henry Beebee Carrington printed a modified version of this map in his 1881 Battle Maps and Charts of the American Revolution.

For reasons not easily guessed at, Carrington turned Johnson's three elevations into two and he placed the Broad River on the edge of the battlefield, when in actuality it is miles away. Carrington's other deviations from Johnson were likewise unhelpful: he placed the main line on the crest of the foremost ridge and he reduced the number of charging troops of dragoons from two to one. Strangest of all, Carrington mistook the small rectangles representing the retreating American militia (lower right panel in Johnson's map) for British infantry units, and so has the British infantry drifting off to the right rather than directly advancing on the Continentals.

The Carrington Map (click to enlarge).

Although the Carrington map does not adhere well to the physical geography of the battlefield or participant accounts of the fighting, most of the subsequently-published battlefield maps adhere closely to the Carrington map. Notable exceptions can be found in the histories published by Edwin Bearss, Lawrence Babits, and John Moncure. All three of these distinguished writers prepared detailed maps based on multiple participant accounts and a careful consideration of battlefield topography. Two of these three works can be read in their entirety online, and Bearss' history is more than 40 years old. What does it say about the quality of contemporary treatments of the battle of Cowpens when Carrington should remain the gold standard and Bearss, Babits, and Moncure should have little discernable impact?

One of Edwin Bearss' excellent maps (click to enlarge).


Lawrence Babits' 1998 A Devil of a Whipping: The Battle of Cowpens is available through amazon.com.

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of Thomas Lackey (.pdf file).

Henry Beebee Carrington's 1881 Battle Maps and Charts of the American Revolution.

Edwin Bearss' 1967 Battle of Cowpens: A Documented Narrative and Troop Movement Maps. (Also valuable is Edwin Bearss' 1974 Historic Grounds and Resource Study).

John Moncure published The Cowpens Staff Ride and Battlefield Tour.

Related: The Cowpens Battlefield, Morgan's Report, Cowpens Battlefield in Miniature

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Cowpens: Addendum

I've read numerous participant accounts pertaining to the battle of Cowpens, but I expect that there are some accounts out there that I haven't read yet and which may alter to some degree my views about the battle. Recently I read a couple of British accounts that I hadn't cited previously, and I feel compelled to briefly comment on each.

One source is the widely-read history of the American Revolution authored by Charles Stedman, commissay during the war to Lieutenant-General Charles Cornwallis. Stedman was not present at the battle of Cowpens; his account of it is therefore largely based on Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton's history and Lieutenant Roderick Mackenzie's commentary on that history. Earlier I argued that Mackenzie contradicted (and likely corrected) Tarleton's description of the first British cavalry charge. I also blamed William Johnson for creating confusion about this charge by adopting a nonsensical position halfway between Tarleton and Mackenize. Stedman, however, adopted this position before Johnson did. Stedman wrote:

"The first line of the Americans being composed of militia, did not long withstand the charge of the British regulars: It gave way in all quarters, and was pursued to the continentals. The latter, undismayed by the retreat of the militia, maintained their ground with great bravery; and the conflict between them and the British was obstinate and bloody. Captain Ogilvie, with his troop of dragoons on the right of the British line, was directed to charge the left flank of the enemy. He cut his way through their line, but being exposed to a heavy fire, and, at the same time, charged by the whole of Washington's cavalry, was compelled to retreat in confusion. The British reserve now received orders to move forward; and as soon as they felt the advance of the Seventy-first regiment, the whole again moved on. The continentals, no longer able to withstand the shock, were forced to give way."

I also observed with interest, that while Tarleton claimed the British were outnumbered by the Americans and Mackenzie hedged on this point, Stedman unequivocally stated that the "The British were superior in numbers." I have no idea whether Stedman, by virtue of his having served with the British army in the South had special insight into the true strength of the two armies. At the very least, this statement indicates that the American view about the relative strength of the two armies eventually came to prevail on both sides of the Atlantic. (In regards to the strength of the two armies, see: How Many Fought at Cowpens?, Cowpens in Miniature 2, and Cowpens in Miniature 3).

The other source is Mark Urban's recently published, Fusiliers: The Saga of a British Redcoat Regiment in the American Revolution, which focuses on the experience of the 23rd Foot. In it, I was surprised to find an unpublished officer's account of Cowpens. The officer, Lieutenant Harry Calvert, was with Cornwallis' army at the time, and he described in his journal what was being said about the battle. One passage stands out. Urban, summarizing the journal, wrote:

"As one fugitive after another wandered into the British camp, Calvert pierced together the story of what had gone wrong. Tarleton, as was his custom, had hurled his troops into action before they were all up, and the 71st had advanced towards their enemy, taking significant losses from enemy sharpshooters as they went" (p 226).

Assuming that the description is faithful to the source, Calvert echoed Mackenzie's complaint that the British attack against the first line (militia and skirmishers) occurred before all of the British troops were in position (see Cowpens in Miniature 13). However, Mackenzie complained that the 71st Foot was out of position when the attack was launched, while Calvert seemingly indicated the opposite. I make this observation not because I feel compelled to reverse course but because it helps illustrate how difficult it can be to reconcile the various participant accounts. To summarize on this issue, participants indicated that the 71st directly participated in the attack on the first line (Morgan, Calvert), that it was a short distance in reserve and joined the fighting soon after the Continentals were attacked (Tarleton and, sycophantically, Hanger), and that it joined the fighting after the British had begun to retreat (Cornwallis). Regardless of the view adopted (I deferred to Tarleton), it is necessary to stand in contradiction with key sources.


Charles Stedman's 1794 The History of the Origin, Progress, and Termination of the American War.

Marg Baskin's Banastre Tarleton website has a transcription of Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton's and Lieutenant Roderick Mackenzie's accounts of the battle.

Mark Urban 's 2007 Fusiliers: The Saga of a British Redcoat Regiment in the American Revolution is available through amazon.com.

James Graham's 1856 The Life of General Daniel Morgan has a copy of Brigadier-General Daniel Morgan's report of the battle.

A transcription of Lieutenant-General Charles Cornwallis' report of the battle can be found here.

Related: How Many Fought at Cowpens?, Cowpens in Miniature 16, Cowpens in Miniature 17

Monday, June 1, 2009

Looking Ahead

At this point, my Cowpens project is basically complete -- the culmination of about 2 years' worth of reading, painting, and writing. My views about the battle have evolved somewhat since I've started blogging, and I have ended up revisiting older posts and editing them, where necessary, to present a consistent view. I may well make a few additional "tweaks" to what I've already written, but for the most part I intend to leave things as they are. I'm not sure, however, that I'll be able to completely leave the topic of Cowpens aside. I expect to have at least a couple of posts on Cowpens in the weeks ahead.

Already I've begun making preparations for my next battlefield project. I'll make an announcement about it either at the end of June or the beginning of July. I had a lot of time to work on my Cowpens project before I started blogging, which enabled me to blog at a rapid pace over the past five months. I've only recently started working on the new project, which means output will significantly slow. I don't think the new project will take 2 years to complete, however. My goal is to be finished within 12 months.