Friday, August 28, 2009

Behind the Scenes

I've begun posting to this blog once a week on weekends. Hopefully, I'll be able to continue at this pace for some time. Although I've been posting weekly, I've been doing something related to this blog most nights. Since the start of the summer, I've gone back to edit a few older posts. I realize that's probably not good "netiquette," but I nevertheless feel compelled to put things in reasonably good order. What I've done is rework posts on British units so they're not specifically about Cowpens (my first project), but rather summarize the service of those units throughout the war. This will better allow me to refer back to those posts in the future (the units in question are the 7th Regiment of Foot, the 17th Light Dragoons, The British Legion, and the 71st Foot). I've also reworked several posts about Cowpens specifically, so as to better explain my reasoning regarding the placement of American militia units (The Militia Line: Composition and Organization) and the numbers of men in those units (Cowpens in Miniature 3). I also deleted some dubious speculation about how the Americans deployed (Cowpens in Miniature 8).

What I've been spending most of my time on is getting ready for the next battle on which I will focus: Williamson's Plantation (July 12, 1780). I've spent a fair amount of time painting American militiamen in summer clothes and making the battlefield. I hope to be able to start describing this battle in a couple of weeks.

When I started painting miniatures a few years back I spent an agonizing amount of time on each one. Lately, I've grown much more efficient. Faces were particularly difficult for me, and the minis I've painted so far reflect various experiments, some more successful than others. What I've finally settled on is painting each face with Vallejo Game Color "pale flesh," then doing a thick wash of Vallejo Game Color "beasty brown" and then painting the highlights (cheeks, nose, chin, and forehead if visible) in pale flesh again. The result is far from great art, but it well suits my needs, works with a variety of different miniatures and produces a better result than other techniques I've tried. I've also been getting better at how I apply paint. Most of the time I'm still applying thick blocks of color onto the miniature, but increasingly often I've been able to apply thin coats that allow one color to shine through another. The Musket Miniatures militiaman below is a good example of this. The white primer is visible through the earth-tone vest and breeches.

Below are some of the latest Brits I've painted. These Minifigs are not intended to depict a specific unit, but rather will be used to represent at least a couple of units that saw hard service in the South. They will depict New York Volunteers at the battle of Williamson's Plantation and Royal North Carolinians at the battle of Hanging Rock. The brown trousers were selected partially on the basis of the striking aesthetic effect and partially on the basis of several Don Troiani paintings (such as this one).

Friday, August 21, 2009

Songs of the Revolution: Jedidiah 1777

People are universally interested in conflict, and this shows up throughout the worlds of art, sport, and popular entertainment. In contemporary music the conflict is almost always romantic in nature, no doubt reflecting the primary concern of many young songwriters. This has left the rich vein of historical conflict almost entirely untapped. But, there are some exceptions.

Relevant to this blog is Jididiah 1777, a song written by Eliza Gilkyson, in tribute to Major-General Jididiah Huntington, to whom she is related. Despite the unusual topic, the song is both beautiful and moving. The lyrics refer to Huntington's time at Valley Forge, his hopes for his new nation, and his courtship of his future wife. Remarkably, the better part of the lyrics are taken directly from his correspondence.

You can listen to the song online, by going to the link below, and then pressing the play button for this song.

I found the following lyrics online, which I believe are correct.

Jedidiah out in the snow
Walkin' the frozen trenchlines
Wet boots and his wool coat comin' apart at the seams.
Rations of hard-baked dough,
Handfuls of melting snow
What else can a man live on but his dreams?
Not twenty miles away,
in the mansions of Philadelphia,
Loyalists lay their money down on the king.
We've provision enough for the day,
but if victory were just for the wealthy
Our noble cause wouldn't be worth the hardship we're suffering.
Send the cloth for a good waistcoat,
I dream of your hearth and the fields of oat.
I awake to the drum and the trembling note of the fifer.
May it please God in His great mercy,
To shelter our friends and our family.
I remain your son most faithfully,
I have seen a man, who has seen a man
who has heard the king,
Tell of his intention our independence to declare.
The peace will undoubtedly bring
A great revolution in commerce;
May it be our rightful fortune to come in for a share.
My regards to a certain Miss Moore,
I've stated my honorable intentions for her;
That upon my return from this necessary war she'll be my wife.
May it please God in His great mercy
to restore the joys of domesticity.
Salutations to the family,
I rejoice that the cause we're engaged in
is in the hands of an Almighty Sovereign;
Who I doubt not is accomplishing the ends of His desire.
My love to you and the fair Miss Moore;
Spare me a bottle from the cellar store,
and in my name let the contents pour,

You can also here the artist discuss this song and perform it live on a past episode of NPR's World Cafe (Jedidiah 1777 comes up after three other songs).

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Seeds of Defeat (More)

At beginning of June, 1780, the British were confident that they would soon complete the subjugation of South Carolina. By the end of the month, however, that goal was proving elusive. The Backcountry militia were driven into neighboring North Carolina following the battle of Hill's Ironworks, but the destruction of private property and the hanging of some rebels pushed the populace more towards becoming angry and dangerous than frightened and submissive. The British, in other words, had enough numbers and used enough force to provoke many inhabitants of the Backcountry, but they were not so numerous as to deter or suppress armed resistance. The Backcountry militia were stronger at the end of June than they were at the end of May, and the British had inadvertently started on the road to defeat.

There are multiple explanations that can be invoked to explain the failure of the British occupation of South Carolina. Some authors have praised the indomitable spirit of resistance among the South Carolina Scotch Irish, or the guerrilla-style tactics employed by the American militia (see the works by Sam Thomas and Michael Scoggins). In a previous post, I described errors in strategy and policy as root causes of the British defeat. Recently I read an article by Malcolm Gladwell that prompted me to consider overconfidence on the part of the British leadership as a critical factor.

Gladwell often shows connections between seemingly unrelated events, and in this article he identified overconfidence as the root cause of last year's financial meltdown on Wall Street, and the infamous British defeat at Gallipoli in World War I. In describing Gallipoli, he repeatedly referred to Eliot Cohen's and John Gooch's analysis of this defeat. Gladwell wrote:

"Cohen and Gooch ascribe the disaster at Gallipoli to a failure to adapt--a failure to take into account how reality did not conform to their expectations. And behind that failure to adapt was a deeply psychological problem: the British simply couldn't wrap their heads around the fact that they might have to adapt. "Let me bring my lads face to face with Turks in the open field," [Sir Ian] Hamilton wrote in his diary before the attack. "We must beat them every time because British volunteer soldiers are superior individuals to Anatolians, Syrians or Arabs and are animated with a superior ideal and an equal joy in battle."

What struck me while reading this article is the several parallels between the British invasion of Gallipoli in 1915 and South Carolina in 1780. In both cases, a second front was opened in order to bring a stalemated war to a successful conclusion. In both cases, the invaders had a low opinion of the opponent they faced, and in both occasion the invaders would be slow to adapt to unanticipated difficulties (such as the asymmetrical warfare adopted by the Americans in the South).

"'The attack was based on two assumptions,' Cohen and Gooch write, 'both of which turned out to be unwise: that the only really difficult part of the operation would be getting ashore, after which the Turks could easily be pushed off the peninsula; and that the main obstacles to a happy landing would be provided by the enemy.'"

The British planning for the invasion of South Carolina was likewise concerned primarily with getting the army safely ashore, and dealing with the threat posed by the Continentals. In fact, defeating the Continental army at Charleston proved to be a much less formidable task than subduing the rural parts of the state.

I'm not going to be do justice to the article in this post, but I'll share one tidbit that I found to be especially interesting. Regarding the origins of overconfidence, Gladwell wrote:

"As novices, we don't trust our judgment. Then we have some success, and begin to feel a little surer of ourselves. Finally, we get to the top of our game and succumb to the trap of thinking that there's nothing we can't master. As we get older and more experienced, we overestimate the accuracy of our judgments, especially when the task before us is difficult and when we're involved with something of great personal importance. The British were overconfident at Gallipoli not because Gallipoli didn't matter but, paradoxically, because it did; it was a highstakes contest, of daunting complexity, and it is often in those circumstances that overconfidence takes root."

Is this what happened in South Carolina? Arguably, the British commanders, Lieutenant-Generals Henry Clinton and Charles Cornwallis had much the same background and were in much the same situation. Cornwallis in particular seemed to take increasingly large and ill-advised risks during the Southern Campaign. He wisely refrained from invading North Carolina in June of 1780 because he felt insufficiently strong and because South Carolina had not been wholly subdued. In August, he took a big gamble at the battle of Camden (attacking a force he believed to be several times larger than his own) that paid off spectacularly well. In the spring of 1781, he invaded North Carolina with a little over 2,000 men, even though this entailed advancing into a wilderness where he could not be supplied and where few supplies could be found. That too paid off, or so he may have convinced himself because of the "victory" won at Guilford Courthouse. And so on it continued until his final courting of disaster at Yorktown.


Sam Thomas. The 1780 Presbyterian Rebellion and the Battle of Huck's Defeat.

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

Malcolm Gladwell. Cocksure: Banks, battles, and the psychology of overconfidence. The New Yorker. July 27, 2009.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Battle of Hill's Ironworks 3

Part 3: Huck Attacks

The Day of Battle:

There is some uncertainty as to exactly when Captain Christian Huck attacked the American force at Hill's Ironworks. June 18 is the date given by several authors, but Michael Scoggins has made a strong argument in favor of the 17th. The evidence for the 18th is this:

On June 19th, Huck's superior, Lieutenant-Colonel George Turnbull, wrote to Lieutenant-General Charles Cornwallis that:

"I have the Pleasure to Acquaint your Lordship that by a Letter from Capt. Huck of the British Legion Dated yesterday some miles this side of the Iron Works. That the Rebells were assembled at that Place about one hundred and fifty strong that He with his Detachment of the Legion and about Sixty militia attacked them. The Rebells had time to pull down a Bridge very near the Iron Works which Impeded them for some time. That Repairing the Bridge they were Lucky enough to overtake their Rear Killed seven and took four Prisoners the Rest Fled to the mountains.

"I am Likewise to Inform your Lordship that Capt. Huck has Completely Destroyed the Iron works which has been the Head Quarters of the Rebells in arms for some time past."

Adjutant Joseph Graham of the North Carolina militia remembered being in arms with his men during Sunday service, and that "After sermon, parting with their families, the men were organized and marched down the east side of the river. The enemy advanced the same day as far as Hill's Iron Works, about ten miles below said church [Steel Creek], on the west side. They set the works on fire. In the evening when our party approached within four miles of the works on the hills above Bigger's Ferry, they saw the smoke ascending and heard the enemy there."

Graham incorrectly claimed this happened on Sunday, July 9. However, June 18th was a Sunday, and perhaps he at least correctly remembered the sequence of leaving church, riding to war, and seeing the ironworks in flames.

Neither Huck's statement to Turnbull nor Graham's remembrance provides definitive evidence (in the case of the former it's not clear whether Huck wrote to Turnbull the evening of the battle or the following day; in the case of the latter, the problem is with Graham's imperfect memory). Michael Scoggins favored the 17th because of a statement Lieutenant-Colonel Will Hill made on behalf of one of his captains. He said:

"This to Certify that on 17th June 1780 when a Great part of the State of South Carolina was overrun by the British, that there was a party of Our friends made a Stand at the Iron works in York County in Said State, & that I Sent Capt. John Henderson to endeavor to make discovery of the Enemeies movements, who in the execution of that endeavor, was Taken prisoner by the british..."

However, this statement, too, is not definitive in my opinion, because Henderson could have been taken before the battle, while Huck's force was moving through the countryside, or on the day of the battle itself.

Huck's Attack.

Not only is the day of the battle of Hill's Ironworks in question, but what happened during the battle is also uncertain. Huck's description of the action, as related by Turnbull, is, to the best of my knowledge, the only description of the fighting. Nevertheless, this brief description does contain important clues as to what took place.

First, consider the site of the ironworks.

Map of Hill's Ironworks. 1 = The ironworks and associated buildings, 2 = The William Hill house, 3 = a hill south of the ironworks and the likely site of the American defenses.

This map reconciles the contemporary topography of the area [see Note 1] with an 1813 plat map of the ironworks (the original can be seen in the issue of Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution linked to below). Note that the ironworks are on the south side of the stream (Allison Creek), the same side as the British outpost at Rocky Mount, yet Huck had to first cross a bridge before attacking. This suggests that Huck's force crossed somewhere upstream of the ironworks, and circled around to attack from the north. Why? Michael Scoggins maintained the Americans had set up a swivel gun on a hill south of the ironworks, defending the most likely route an attacking force would take. Perhaps Huck was appraised of this obstacle by the Loyalists accompanying his force and therefore determined to attack from an unexpected direction.

Below I show Huck's force approaching the ironworks from the north. Each miniature represents 20 combatants; therefore there are two British Legion dragoons (Scoggins estimated Huck's company at 30-40 men) and three mounted Loyalists (per Turnbull's letter to Cornwallis, claiming 60 militia).

The set-up of the scene is crude and not to scale. The hills are not represented. What is shown is the creek, road, and bridge. The ironworks are at the lower left, the many stumps in the area depict the extensive deforestation needed to meet the energy demands of the ironworks. The small field represents agricultural activity near the William Hill house.

The Americans were evidently sensitive to danger. William Hill had dispatched Captain Henderson to scout for Huck, a call for help was dispatched to the militia in North Carolina (implied in Graham's statement), and the Americans detected Huck's force before it reached the bridge. In the image above, a militiaman (representing a small group), is disabling the bridge as Huck's force approaches.

With the bridge out, and the Americans appraised of the danger, how did Huck's force cross the creek? The dragoons were armed only with sabers and pistols, and a small number of militiamen could have detained them indefinitely. Perhaps the Loyalist militia dismounted and forced the Americans away with the bridge with their rifles.

Once the bridge repair was underway, the Americans abandoned the ironworks. That the Americans pulled out at this point suggests that they were not as numerous as Huck claimed and/or that the ironworks and associated buildings were determined to be poor points of defense. In any case, the British quickly pressed their advantage, and the dragoons swarmed after the retreating Americans, overtaking some and brutally dispatching them with their sabers (note the high proportion of dead in Turnbull's letter: 7 killed and 4 captured).

Once the Americans had been routed, the British razed all of the buildings in the area, including the ironworks and the William Hill house.

I suggested previously (see Occupied South Carolina) that British provincials, operating in cooperation with Loyalist militia, would have been key to a successful British subjugation of South Carolina. The battle of Hill's Ironworks was a highpoint (maybe the highpoint) of such combined operations. If the present account of the battle of Hill's Ironworks is correct, then the Loyalists provided key intelligence of the American dispositions, helped Huck find an unguarded ford across the creek, and cleared the Americans from the bridge. The provincials provided discipline to the enterprise and the raw force to overpower their opponents.


1. A complicating factor is that the landscape has been dramatically altered since 1780. a downstream dam has dramatically widened Alison Creek, covering the site of the ironworks.


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

Michael C. Scoggins. More on the Battle of Hill's Ironworks (.pdf file). Article in Volume 2, Number 7 of the Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution magazine.

William Alexander Graham. (1904). General Joseph Graham and His Papers on North Carolina Revolutionary History.

Keith Krawczynski. Aera Ironworks (.pdf file). Article in Volume 2, Number 7 of the Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution magazine.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Battle of Hill's Ironworks 2

Part 2: A Center of Resistance

The British Post at Rocky Mount:

Lieutenant-Colonel George Turnbull commanded the British outpost at Rocky Mount, South Carolina, with his New York Volunteers and Captain Christian Huck‘s company of British Legion dragoons [see Note 1]. The South Carolina Backcountry was a patchwork of different communities, some predominately aligned with the “American“ cause, or “Whigs,” while others were loyal to the Crown, or “Tories.” Within a given community could be found persons that preferred to stay out of the conflict or that supported (secretly perhaps) a different cause than their neighbors. It was Turnbull's responsibility to organize and support the Loyalists in his area and to suppress rebellion. Turnbull largely remained in Rocky Mount, relying chiefly on Captain Huck and the Loyalist militia (who, like the dragoons, were mounted) to control the countryside.

Turnbull had several bands of Loyalist militia at his disposal in early June, including companies commanded by Henry Houseman, James Ferguson, and John Owens. On June 15, Matthew Floyd joined the Rocky Mount garrison with around 30 men. Floyd was the rare man that was clearly committed to the Crown, influential among his neighbors, and experienced in war. Turnbull promptly gave him a colonel’s commission.

Soon after Floyd reached Rocky Mount, word arrived that the Americans were destroying the homes and property of Floyd and his men. Turnbull promptly dispatched Huck’s troop and all the Loyalists on hand (a mere 60 men) “to give these fellows [the Americans] a Check.” Either because of exhaustion or other pressing business, the newly-appointed Colonel Floyd did not participate in this mission. Instead, command of the Loyalists devolved on his son, Captain Abraham Floyd. Captains Huck and Floyd set off on the morning of June 16. They would "Check" the Americans by destroying Hill’s Ironworks, the chief center of American resistance in the area.

Hill’s Ironworks:

William Hill’s Ironworks was a well-known locale that included sawmills, a gristmill, and a blast furnace. The ironworks was the most productive in the state, supplying Backcountry settlers with plows, kitchen wares, and other implements. Once the war began, the ironworks were used to manufacture cannon, cannonballs, rifles, and other materials of war for the American army. As the British overran the Backcountry, proprietor William Hill turned the ironworks into an important center of resistance. On June 12, Hill spoke out against a British officer sent to the ironworks to take the submission of the area settlers, raising the spirits of his neighbors. Hill then encouraged them to reactivate the New Acquisition militia regiment, which had disbanded after the British advanced into the Backcountry. The men of this regiment then elected Andrew Neal as their colonel and William Hill as their lieutenant colonel [see Note 2].

American Forces at the Ironworks:

It is uncertain which American commanded the forces at the ironworks when Huck attack and what units were present. According to William Hill, Andrew Neal, colonel of the New Acquisition militia regiment, departed the ironworks to attack Floyd shortly before the battle, leaving 12-15 men behind. These men may have belonged to Captain Joseph Howe's company, to judge from the pension applications filed by Samuel Gordon and James Clinton. Two sources link John Thomas’ 1st Spartan militia regiment (see pension applications of Samuel Gordon and James McIlhenny) and Captain John Moffett’s company of militia (see James Collins’ autobiography and Robert Patteson’s pension application) to the battle.

William Hill did not indicate, in his memoir, either that he accompanied Neal's mission to stop Floyd's Loyalists, or that he was at the ironworks at the time of the battle. Michael Scoggins observed that a statement he wrote on behalf of Captain John Henderson implicitly places him at the battle. If Hill was present, he was arguably in command; Colonel John Thomas also could have held that position.

Christian Huck told George Turnbull that the Americans had 150 men when he made his attack. This number could be close to correct, but it's doubtful that he had either the opportunity to count the Americans for himself or that he would have obtained accurate information from the men he captured. Michael Scoggins conservatively accepted as present only the 12-15 men mentioned by Hill; Patrick O'Kelley estimated the total as 50 men.


1: “Huck” is the anglicized spelling of a German surname, most likely Houck or Hauck. Early writers sometimes called him Hook, or used other spellings; Huck is the spelling most often given, and it is the spelling that Huck chose for himself (for more, see this discussion on Marg Baskin’s Banastre Tarleton website; a longer biography appears in Michael Scoggins’ book on Huck‘s Defeat).

2. Neal was chosen colonel because he was experienced in war; Hill was not.


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

Patrick O'Kelley. Hill's Iron Works, South Carolina: The Presbyterian Rebellion -- 18 June 1780 (or June 9th or 11th) (.pdf file). Article in Volume 2, Number 6 of the Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution magazine.

Michael C. Scoggins. More on the Battle of Hill's Ironworks (.pdf file). Article in Volume 2, Number 7 of the Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution magazine.

Keith Krawczynski. Aera Ironworks (.pdf file). Article in Volume 2, Number 7 of the Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution magazine.

James Collins. (1859). Autobiography of a Revolutionary Soldier.

Robert S. Lambert. (1987). South Carolina Loyalists in the American Revolution. (link to

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of Samuel Gordon (.pdf file).

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of James Clinton (.pdf file).

Will Graves transcribed the postwar memoir of William Hill (.pdf file)

Michael G. Williams transcribed the pension application of James McIlhenny (.pdf file).

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of Robert Patteson (.pdf file).