Monday, September 27, 2010

Canadian Volunteers (1775)

Canadian volunteers participated in every skirmish and battle of the American invasion of Canada. Some fought for the British, others for the Americans. Inevitably, Canadians were sometimes on opposite sides of the same fight.

The British and Americans tended to obtain their support from somewhat different groups.

The British generally had the support of the principal persons in French Canadian society, including the seigneurs. This segment of society furnished for the British a number of experienced veterans of the French and Indian War (e.g., Joseph-Dominique-Emmanuel Le Moyne de Longueuil, François-Marie Picoté de Belestre, Luc de La Corne), as well as some talented, junior officers (e.g., Claude-Nicolas-Guillaume de Lorimier, David Monin).

Ironically, British Canadian elites were more divided in their loyalties, and some became prominent figures in the American cause (e.g., James Livingston, Moses Hazen).

The Canadian habitants were broadly sympathetic to the American cause, and the British had only mixed success bringing the Canadian militia into the field. The Americans could not provide the pro-American Canadians with arms, ammunition, or pay; nevertheless several hundred habitants took the field on the Americans' behalf in the Richelieu River valley.

The principal military actions at which Canadian volunteers were present are listed below:

  • Siege of Fort Saint-Jean (fought on both sides)
  • Bombardment of Fort Chambly (fought with the Americans)
  • Battle of Longue-Pointe (fought on both sides)
  • Battle of Longueuil (fought with the British)
  • Capture of a British Flotilla at Sorel (fought with the Americans)
  • Siege of Quebec (fought on both sides)

The image below, by von Germann, shows a Canadian habitant wearing a hooded capote (or blanket coat), tied up with ribbons, and with a brightly-colored sash worn about the waist

This image was one source of inspiration for the 15mm miniatures I painted below. These figures are made by Minifigs for the French and Indian War, but the dress is more-or-less appropriate for the Revolutionary War. The hoods are not visible on these miniatures; rather, each is wearing a woolen tuque.

Without a lot of guidance on the dress of the Canadian habitant, I let my imagination run free a bit with these figures. Guiding principles were that the figures should be colorful in appearance, yet also warlike and grim.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Second Skirmish at Petite-Rivière-du-Nord

An American army, under Major-General Philip Schuyler, advanced into Canada on September 4, 1775. Two days later it made what amounted to a reconnaissance-in-force against British-held Fort Saint-Jean. By September 10, reinforcements increased the size of his army from fewer than 1,000 men to 1,394 effectives. The new arrivals included parts of the 2nd New York and 4th Connecticut regiments, and a small number of cannon. [1]

Schuyler believed himself strong enough to begin siege operations against Fort Saint-Jean. His plan to divide the American force into three parts. One part would consist of infantrymen turned sailors and marines. A second part would consist of infantrymen and the army’s artillery. Together these first two parts would establish a base south of the fort and protect the American supply line. The third part would consist of a detachment of infantry that would circle around the fort and cut the British supply line. Schuyler anticipated that additional men and guns would arrive in the days and weeks ahead, at which point he would be able to begin attacking the fort itself.

Ritzema's Planned Advance (approximate path shown in light blue) and Actual Advance (in dark blue). Click to Enlarge.

Schuyler’s army advanced from L'Île-aux-Noix on the 10th, and landed late in the day at the abandoned “upper breastwork.” Schuyler, who was unwell, gave command of the expedition to Brigadier-General Richard Montgomery. Lieutenant-Colonel Rudolphus Ritzema commanded the detachment that was to cut the fort’s supply line.

While the infantry proceeded on land, two American row galleys, the Schuyler and Hancock, proceeded downstream. Each was armed with a 12-pounder cannon and 12 swivel guns. The galleys came under fire as they neared the “lower breastwork” from British forces on land and in the river.

The British commander at Fort Saint-Jean, Major Charles Preston, had anticipated a second American advance. To watch for such a movement, he had dispatched thirty some Canadian gentlemen volunteers and Indian allies under the command of Joseph-Dominique-Emmanuel Le Moyne de Longueuil. This force travelled upstream in two bateaux armed with swivel guns, and halted when it reached the abandoned lower breastwork. There, de Longueuil landed one part of his force, while the others remained in the boats.

Le Moyne de Longueuil

When de Longueuil's men saw the American row galleys, the land forces began a long-range musket fire, and the bateaux fired grape shot from the swivel guns.

According to the one of the Americans, “Our armed boats perceiving the fire on the lake, fired three twelve-pounders, one of which took the enemy' s principal batteau directly in the bow, and tore her from stem to stern; she immediately sunk, with all the men in her, amounting to thirty-five.” [2]

Clearly overmatched, de Longueuil ordered a retreat, and all but six of his land force embarked in the remaining bateau and headed for the fort. The retreating bateau was fired at by the galleys, but the men aboard escaped without injury. The six who remained behind were sieurs Boucherville, de La Bruere, Campion, La Madeleine, and Perthuis, and an Abenaki indian. These men occupied a small house near the lower breastwork and kept watch on American movements.

Meanwhile, Ritzema's detachment set off to make a night march around the fort. Ritzema was in front with a small vanguard. Behind him were 60 men of the 4th Connecticut, followed by 300 men of the 5th Connecticut, and finally 140 men of the 1st New York.

Ritzema had just reached the lower breastwork when the advance fell apart. The 5th Connecticut had been ambushed in the advance on September 6, and the evening gloom promised another attack. These troops panicked when they unexpectedly encountered another group of men in the woods. Soon they, along with most of Ritzema's other men, were in flight for the upper breastwork. The Americans thought that “they had been waylaid by a party of Regulars and Indians” [emphasis in original], but “not a gun had been fired, except one by a man of the detachment.” The men in the woods had been their own comrades. [3]

After some time, Montgomery, Ritzema, and other officers were able to reorganize the men and put them back on the march. However, they had advanced only about 1/4 mile when the Connecticutians panicked a second time after some random shells from Fort Saint-Jean burst in the woods.

After this second retreat, Ritzema was left with less than half of his original force. Ritzema resolutely pressed on, and his men struggled to keep up in the dark, swampy woods. Near midnight, Ritzema, now with only about 50 men, at last reached the lower breastwork. There, the Americans observed a fire had been lit in a small house, and they moved to surround it. Sieurs Boucherville and La Madeleine, who were outside the house, gave the alarm and fled. When the men inside the house ran out the door, they were met with a hail of gunfire. Sieur Perthuis and the Abenaki were killed, Sieur de La Bruere was shot in both arms (but escaped), and Sieur Campion got away unharmed.

Realizing how few men were still with him, Ritzema halted and waited for stragglers to appear. Meanwhile, his men stripped and scalped Sieur Perthuis and beheaded the dead Abenaki. [4] Sometime before 3am, Montgomery cancelled the operation and ordered Ritzema's men back to the upper breastwork.

The next morning [September 11] the senior officers announced, in a council of war, that they favored continuing operations against Saint-Jean. However, word then came that the enemy was on the move. According to one officer: “we saw their armed schooner [the Royal Savage], of one hundred and eighty tons, carrying twelve nine-pounders, coming towards us.” It was a critical moment: the American flotilla was no match for such a vessel. [5]

According to Ritzema, the New York troops “remained in their Ranks & shewed a ready Spirit to proceed,” but the Connecticutians panicked and fled to the bateaux. Ritzema, in a rage, wounded several fleeing men with his sword, and had to be restrained by a doctor from using his pistol, too. He concluded, “This infamous conduct so much dispirited the General that he ordered the whole to embark and to proceed to Isle au Noix.” [6]

Once again, an American movement against Fort Saint-Jean had ended in disappointment.

Montgomery complained bitterly in a letter to his wife:

“…such a set of pusillanimous wretches never were collected. Could I, with decency, leave the army in its present situation, I would not serve an hour longer. I am much afraid the general character of the people has been too justly represented. However, there are some whose spirit I have confidence in; they are taking pains with the men, and they flatter me with hopes of prevailing on them to retrieve their characters.”

He also feared that any chance that the Canadians would rise up en masse to support the Americans was now lost:

“ We were so unfortunate as to have some Canadians witnesses of our disgrace! What they will think of the brave Bostonians [7], I know not! My own feelings tell me they are not likely to put confidence in such friends.”


1. I've had some difficulty discerning the exact composition of Schuyler's army on September 10. The following represents my understanding of the organization as of this writing (keep in mind that I'm working with a limited set of sources):

  • 1st Connecticut: 2 companies, commanded by captains William Douglass and David Welch. Douglass commanded a row galley; it's possible that all of these men were used to man vessels in the American flotilla.
  • 4th Connecticut: A part of the regiment, commanded by Major Samuel Elmore.
  • 5th Connecticut: Most or all of the regiment, commanded by Colonel David Waterbury.
  • 6th Connecticut: 1 company, commanded by Captain Edward Mott. These men were likely serving the American cannon and/or helping to man the vessels.
  • 1st New York: A part of the regiment, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Rudolphus Ritzema.
  • 2nd New York: A part of the regiment. The officers that I have been able to place with the army at this time are Captain Christopher Yates, Captain Joseph McCracken, and Lieutenant Cornelius Van Slyck.

2. I haven’t been able to find any confirmation of this disaster among Canadian sources. Although the Americans suspected that most or all of the men aboard this vessel were killed or drowned, this is may have been a case of wishful thinking. The men in the boat were thought to have been either Canadian volunteers or British regulars. At the very least, it appears from Canadian sources that no seigneurs died in his incident.

Another mystery (to me) is when exactly this incident took place. One source implies that it occurred immediately before the skirmish on land, while others imply that it took place considerably earlier.

3. Montgomery believed that the men who inadvertently triggered the panic were stragglers. Another source claimed that they were a party guarding the flank of the American column.

4. The mutilation of the dead bodies was done in retaliation for similar acts attributed to the Indians. One American claimed that after the skirmish on the 6th, “they dug up our dead and mangled them in the most shocking manner.” Perthuis may have been wearing a red coat, for he was mistaken for a British regular. An observer wrote, “We stripped the Regular and found a very fine gun and sword--the gun with two Barrels the neatest I ever saw, a fine watch some money, and very neatly dressed.”

5. The Royal Savage had only recently been launched. It was unavailable to contest the American advance on September 6. Unbeknownst to the Americans, the Royal Savage actually carried only 3, 4, and 6-pounders.

6. Ritzema was convinced that the Connecticut troops were the chief problem. Montgomery, who was also a citizen of New York, found cause for complaint with the troops as a whole.

7. This is in reference to the Canadian slang word Bostonnais, which literally means person from Boston, but was used in reference to all Americans. It carried roughly the same meaning as Yankee does today to some non-Americans.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

An Aside on Research

A few days ago, I posted a description of the first inaugural skirmish in the American invasion of Canada. For good or ill, the post was just a straightforward description of the skirmish itself. I didn't present a long list of sources or explain how and why my account differed from those of others. Because I intend to continue with this style of post for other incidents in the campaign, I feel I should provide a bit of background information.

When researching a project I rely more on online sources than print ones. In particular, I search Google Books, the Internet Archive, and lists of journals. I then make a library of .pdf files and "copy" and "paste" the relevant text into a single electronic document. Below is a listing of the first-hand accounts of the inaugural skirmish in the invasion of Canada. All of these were found in online, out-of-copyright books or Peter Force's American Archives.

  • Richard Montgomery, general. Letter dated September 5 (but, when compared to other accounts, probably was not written before September 7).
  • Benjamin Trumbull, soldier. Journal entry dated September 6, 1775
  • Rudolphus Ritzema, officer. Journal entry dated September 6, 1775
  • Philip Schuyler, general. Letter dated September 8, 1775
  • Anonymous. Letter dated September 8, 1775
  • James Van Rensselaer, officer. Letter dated September 14, 1775
  • Anonymous. Letter dated September 16, 1775
  • Philip Schuyler, general. Letter dated September 20, 1775
  • [Guillaume?] de Lorimier, officer. Memorial dated December 1, 1777
  • Guillaume de Lorimier, officer. Undated memoir.

Next, I do a little bit of writing, and try to establish what I want to say. I don't trust (with good reason) this initial take on the material, so I then read (and re-read) everything again. Reading and reflection on the source material gets spread out over months. The final write-up happens in an evening.

The product of these efforts is not exactly serious scholarship, but it's also not exactly inconsequential. My descriptions are grounded in primary sources, but my method of researching events is crude, and my writing lacks polish. Both strengths and weaknesses are in evidence when comparisons are made with typical military histories. By way of an example, consider the following description of this inaugural skirmish in Boatner's Encyclopedia of the American Revolution. Boatner's account is admirable in how he engages the interest of the reader with remarkably economical prose. However, the account also relies on some dubious sources, and my numbers in brackets refer to critical comments that follow.

“When the Americans approached on 5 Sept. [1], the place was defended by 200 regulars, several cannon [2], a small Indian contingent, and the British were building two 60-foot, 12-gun vessels. Maj. Chas. Preston was in command of the post…

“Montgomery’s command comprised about 1,200 men and a few cannon [3]; their advance was made in a small fleet of two sailing vessels (the sloop Enterprise and schooner Liberty), gondolas, bateaux, rowing galleys, piraguas, and canoes [4]. (Ward, W.O.R., 150) Troops involved were most of Waterbury’s Conn. Regt., four companies of Ritzema’s 4th N.Y. [5], and Mott’s small artillery section. (Ibid.)

“Schuyler caught up with his aggressive subordinate the morning of 4 Sept., (surprisingly) approved his action, and that night the invaders were at Ile aux Noix. Although the expected Canadian allies did not appear to reinforce them [6], Schuyler stripped his men of baggage and pushed toward St. Johns. Landing a mile and a half away, the Americans were advancing through the swamps to attack when a flank patrol was ambushed by 100 Indians under the command of a N.Y. Tory (Capt. Tice). A skirmish developed in the dense underbrush; the Indians were driven off, but the Americans lost 16 men and did not pursue. That night a man who was apparently sympathetic to the American cause visited Schuyler’s entrenched camp and convinced him that St. Johns was too strongly held for him to capture.” [7]


1. Taken as a whole, the first-hand accounts listed above clearly indicate that the skirmish was on the 6th. The journals maintained by Ritzema and Trumbull are particularly convincing.

2. The British were stronger than stated. Compare, for example, this document, and this one with this rather detailed listing of British troop totals. The British also had considerably more than "several cannon."

3. Schuyler claimed to have had fewer than 1,000 men with him on the 6th. The "few cannon" did not include field pieces. From Ritzema's journal, entry dated September 6: “The General ordered the whole army without one Piece of Artillery, save two twelve Pounders in the Bows of the Gondolas, to embark for St Johns.”

4. Ritzema's journal, quoted above, in combination with this document, indicate that the Liberty and the Enterprise did not accompany this expedition. Rather, the only armed vessels were the Hancock and the Schuyler. Boatner might have noted, but did not, that the British also had the service of a variety of small vessels.

5. Ritzema's command consisted of five (not four) companies of the 1st (not 4th) New York. See this document, and his journal entry for September 4.

6. I have seen no evidence that a rendezvous was planned between Canadian and American forces at L'Île-aux-Noix. Certainly it would’ve been difficult for Canadians to get there in large numbers, as Fort Saint-Jean sat astride the only route. It wasn’t until the 5th that Schuyler announced his arrival in Canada (see here and here) and sent envoys to his Canadian supporters.

7. The man was Moses Hazen (compare this document with this one). Schuyler had long known that the fort was quite strong (see, for example, here), and it was not the cause of the American return to L'Île-aux-Noix. The true causes of the retreat can be found here, here, and in Ritzema's journal.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Skirmish at Petite-Rivière-du-Nord

The American invasion of Canada began on September 4, 1775, when an army commanded by Major-General Philip Schuyler encamped on L'Île-aux-Noix, in southern Canada. Two days later, this force sets out for Fort Saint-Jean. This advance against Fort Saint-Jean is intended primarily to probe the fort’s defenses and to encourage the support of pro-American Canadians. Schuyler’s force consists primarily of the 5th Connecticut Regiment (commanded by Colonel David Waterbury), a part of the 1st New York Regiment (commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Rudolphus Ritzema), and “Mott’s” artillery company [1]. Mott’s men have no field guns; the only American cannon are two 12-pounders that are placed in the bows of the armed bateaux Hancock and Schuyler.

The Americans travel by boat down the Richelieu River and come within sight of the fort around 2pm. The Americans then make an unopposed landing on the western bank, a little more than 1 mile from the fort. Schuyler, who is sickly, remains on board one of the vessels; Brigadier-General Richard Montgomery is given command of the land troops. Montgomery forms a line of battle and orders an advance northward towards the fort. The ground over which the Americans march is swampy and wooded.

Seeing the American vessels, Major Charles Preston, commandant of Fort Saint-Jean, sends out a scouting party consisting of approximately 90 Indians. Around one-quarter of the men are Six Nations Iroquois, the rest are Canadian Indians, including Kahnawake and Kanesetake Mohawk, and some Hurons [2]. The Indian party is accompanied by Captain Samuel Tice of the Indian Department, and the de Lorimier brothers (Claude-Nicolas-Guillaume and Jean-Claude-Chamilly). This party conceals itself among the trees and sedge on the north bank of the Petite-Rivière-du-Nord, “a deep muddy brook” that feeds into the Richelieu [3].

Petite-Rivière-du-Nord (modern day Rivière Bernier), as recently imaged for Google Maps.

As the Americans advance, a detachment of about 50 men advances somewhat ahead and to the left of the main body. This detachment consists of Major Thomas Hobby’s and Captain Matthew Mead’s companies of the 5th Connecticut. When the detachment reaches the stream, they wade out into the waist-deep water. Suddenly, they are suddenly fired upon by the Indian party. A Kahnawake chief called Sotsichoouane charges into the stream and plunges a lance into one American and a knife into another. He is about to kill a third man when he is brought down by two balls. Captain Tice is also soon wounded. Nevertheless, the Americans reel back before the superior numbers.

The Ambush is Sprung.

The Connecticut troops in the main body are quick to respond. According to one private, “The Army immediately wheeled to the Left in order to Face the Fire of the Enemy, and charged them with great Spirit & Firmness.” The New Yorkers, however, are “little acquainted with wood-fighting” and fail to get into action. Nevertheless, the arrival of the Connecticutians is decisive: the Indian party falls back through the trees under cover of a scattering fire.

Indians losses were between 6 and 8 killed and as many wounded. The Americans had five men killed outright: Privates Patrick Kenney, James Shaw, Caleb Hutchins, Samuel Knap of Hobby’s company, and Corporal Elijah Scribner of Meade’s company. Eleven men were wounded, including three officers: Major Hobby was shot through the thigh, Captain Mead was shot through the shoulder, and Lieutenant Bazaleel Brown (Hobby’s company) was shot in the hand.

The Americans build a breastwork south of the stream. After a while, the British in Fort Saint-Jean open fire with their mortars. According to Montgomery, the men “showed a degree of apprehension that displeased me much” and some flee the breastwork. He therefore orders the men to reembark. After much confusion, his force lands about 1 mile upstream where a second breastwork is constructed. The Americans then settle down for the night.

Operations at Fort Saint-Jean: September 6, 1775 (click to enlarge).

At the new campsite, Schuyler receives an unexpected visitor: retired British officer and local resident Moses Hazen. Hazen provides intelligence to the Americans, and in return, Schuyler promises Hazen that his property will not be stolen or damaged. Hazen claims, perhaps duplicitously, that the British force in the fort is quite strong and that the Canadians will not aid the Americans. This dispiriting news, plus the poor performance of the troops and the lack of cannon, convinces Schuyler to return his force to Isle-aux-Noix the following day (September 7). Three of the wounded men in Mead’s company die during the night (Sergeant John Avery and Privates William McKee and Issac Morehouse), and Lieutenant Benjamin Mills of the 4th Connecticut is wounded by a British shell in the morning [4].


1. I haven’t been able to divine the composition of Mott’s Artillery company from the sources I’ve read. A modern-day reenactor unit implies that Mott’s Artillery was made up of Captain Gershom Mott’s company of the 1st New York. However, the journal of Rudolphus Ritzema, which is where the term appears, seems to indicate that Mott’s company remained infantry. Perhaps then Mott’s Artillery consisted of Captain Edward Mott’s company of the 6th Connecticut, which was sent to Schuyler in June, 1775. Another possibility is that this was a unit of Connecticut volunteers commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Samuel Mott, who was chief engineer to Schuyler’s Army. In any event, these men were clearly drawn from the infantry, and Schuyler tried to get them additional pay as compensation for the hazardous duty they agreed to perform.

2. Some time ago, when I had read fewer sources, I imagined that this force might have had Abenaki serving with it. I now consider that possibility doubtful.

3. The term “Petite-Rivière-du-Nord” appears next to this stream on several maps from the mid-to-late 18th Century. However, the term does not appear in any of the journals or correspondence that I have read pertaining to operations against Fort Saint-Jean. The Americans, at least, seemed to have regarded it as just another muddy brook. The term also would prove to be of short endurance; since at least the 19th Century this stream has been known as Rivière Bernier.

4. How the Americans should have come under relatively accurate shell fire at both the upper and lower breastworks is an interesting question. The Americans were far from the fort’s walls and screened from view by intervening woods. A British journal notes in an entry for September 17 that Captain-Lieutenant Edward Williams of the Royal Artillery had some pieces of artillery “fixt so as to serve as a Mortar,” which I think means rigging a cannon barrel to fire shells at a mortar-like trajectory. The diary provides little information on such weapons. Perhaps the shells fired at the American breastworks on the 6th and 7th were fired from such guns.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Concluding Thoughts on Ramsour’s Mill

Ramsour’s Mill was an important battle of the American Revolution, but how that battle was fought is not well understood. As I noted in the first post of this series, the case can be made that Ramsour’s Mill marked the turning point of the southern campaign of the American Revolution. However, none of the participants maintained journals (at least none are extant), and surviving correspondence from the time contains few mentions of the battle. Instead, the main sources of information are first and second-hand accounts written during the 19th Century. These accounts reflect a principally American view of the battle (i.e., Whig rather than Tory), and unfortunately, there is considerable disagreement among these accounts.

Here then are some tentative conclusions about the battle based on the sources available to me:

  • The battle was fought on June 20 or June 22, 1780, on a ridge east of what was then Ramsour’s Mill and north of today’s Lincolnton, North Carolina. June 20 is the date listed in every military history that I have read, but to the best of my knowledge, all ultimately rely on a single source: Joseph Graham. Prior to Graham’s influential account, some authors gave the date as June 22. The Loyalist Anthony Allaire met survivors of the battle on June 23 in Ninety-Six, South Carolina, which is more than 130 miles distant from the battlefield (using modern-day highways). Unfortunately, he did not state how these men got to Ninety-Six; if they walked than only the 20th is plausible.

  • The Tory defenders appears to have outnumbered the Whig attackers, but probably by a smaller number than is usually given. A typical military history of the battle claims that something like 400 Whigs attacked and defeated 1,300 Tories (1/4 of whom were unarmed). Once again, Graham is the main source for this information. However, there is reason to believe that Graham’s numbers were inflated. A key piece of evidence, I believe, is the dimensions of the ridge itself, which suggests a Tory force closer to 500 men than one that was close to 1,000 men.

  • Both Whigs and Tories fought bravely. A point made clear by Graham is that one side did not have a monopoly on heroics. The men who fought at Ramsour’s Mill had been raised in a similar environment, and indeed, in some cases were literally neighbors. The Whig victory cannot be convincingly attributed to one side being better shots or being made of sterner stuff than the other.

  • Three factors that may have contributed to the Whig victory were a) weather, b) arms and ammunition, and c) flank attacks.

  • Weather: A tradition concerning the battle of Ramsour's Mill is that the area was blanketed by fog at the time of the Whigs’ early-morning attack. (cf. battle summary by the Lincoln County Historical Association). This fog helped the Whigs to surprise the Tories and it screened from view their inferior numbers and their movements towards the Tory flanks.

  • Arms and Ammunition: In general, both Whig and Tory militia in North Carolina were lacking in arms and ammunition. Francis Locke’s attacking force seems to have been exceptional for being fairly well supplied in this regard. Indeed, some early accounts of the battle (specifically Gordon and Lee) claimed that Locke’s force was especially made up of those few troops that were well equipped for war. Following Graham’s account and Allaire’s journal, it seems that ¼ of the Tories fled at the beginning of the battle because they had no arms at all, and the rest retreated in large part because they had used up their limited supply of ammunition.

  • Flank Attacks: Graham vividly described how the Whigs surreptitiously gained first the right flank, then the left, of the Tory line. Neither movement was a part of some battle plan (indeed, it seems that Francis Locke did not have one). Instead, these movements were the result of individual captains acting on their own initiative. The flank attacks may have seemed especially threatening to the Tories in combination with the smoke and fog. The Tories' worsening ammunition situation may also have limited their ability to counter these attacks and help explain why the fighting on the Tory left flank devolved into hand-to-hand combat.

Whig vs. Tory at Ramsour's Mill.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Ramsour’s Mill: 19th Century Reminiscences and Lore

Joseph Graham’s description of the battle of Ramsour’s Mill is detailed and clear (cf. parts 1, 2, 3, 4), but that does not mean that it’s entirely correct. Graham’s sources were imperfect, and his memory was not infallible. Graham claimed that 8 or 10 veterans of the battle vouched for his description of the battle, but these were old men whose memories were likely clear chiefly for those things they individually saw and did, not the totality of the battle. Would they have known if there were errors in Graham’s account? Even if they suspected errors, would they have been confident enough in their recollection to contradict him?

For these reasons it’s worth considering other sources of information. Available sources on Ramsour's Mill include pension applications, an interview conducted with a participant of the battle, and local lore collected by historians.

Pension Applications:

I have relied on pension applications in making sense of other battles that I’ve written about to date, knowing full well that they were submitted long after the events of the Revolutionary War and that some are quite untrustworthy. Most of the transcribed applications that I’ve read concerning Ramsour’s Mill provide few details of the battle, but some are noteworthy. A sampling appears below.

The widow of John Dickey claimed that her husband, “served as Captain of a Company under Col Locke in the Battle of Ramsours Mill. That he courageously led on the attack in that battle. That when a retreat was ordered by the Commander in that battle the said Captain Dickey refused to quit his post bravely fighting Sword in hand until the line which was broken and driven back was restored and the Battle gained.” [See transcription by C. Leon Harris]. [hat tip to Burton for emailing me about Dickey's role in the battle].

John Hargrave claimed that “in June of the year '80 he again volunteered under one Capt. Thomas Hemphill & Col. Francis Lock, for the purpose of fighting the Tories who were very numerous. That having got together about 400 they heard that the Tories had taken Maj. (then) Edward Hampton & John Russell Lieut. & had condemned them to be hanged, but that they, having determined to rescue them, met the Tories 1400 or 1500 in number at a place called Ramsour's Mill & defeating them took all their baggage & made something like 100 of them prisoners as well as he recollects.” [See transcription by Will Graves].

Captain Samuel Otterson was with the troops under Brigadier-General Griffith Rutherford and Colonel Thomas Sumter that arrived after the battle ended. He recalled, “we marched toward the house of a celebrated Tory by the name of Ramsour for the purpose of defeating some Tories who had encamped at Ramsour's mill, but before we arrived, the Militia from Rowan, N. Carolina had defeated the Tories & we turned our horses into a large field of oats belonging to Ramsour & the oats were just ripening.” [see transcription by Will Graves].

Interview with Adam Reep:

Long after the battle, Adam Reep, a man who lived near the battlefield and claimed to have participated in the fighting, was interviewed by Wallace Reinhardt, the grandson of Christian Reinhardt, the man who owned the land on which the greater part of the fighting took place. Reep’s description of the battlefield and of the fighting was used to create an important map, that served as the basis for my miniature battlefield. (Reinhardt later published an account of the battle; this is not available online).

Reep’s account differed from Graham’s in important ways. Reep claimed that he met the Whig militia, led by Francis Locke, east of the battlefield, and that he provided them important intelligence about enemy strength, position, and intentions. Locke then asked Reep to guide his forces forward. Whereas Graham seemingly described all of Locke’s forces approaching along a single route, Reep claimed that there was a division of forces. Locke’s orders were that:

“Captain Falls will continue on this road, as it runs across the hill to the Mill, and move up to within three or four hundred yards of the enemy (who were on top of the hill), halt, and wait until the main body is near enough to commence the attack from the south side. Captain Dobson will march over towards the creek and into Green’s road (a road laid off by an English surveyor of that name) and will attack the enemy from that direction. Not a gun is to be fired until all are ready; the attack must be simultaneous.”

His map of the battlefield shows Captain Falls and the cavalry advancing down the Sherrill's Ford Road, and the main body, under Locke, swinging off to the southwest in order to gain the Tuckaseegee Ford Road.

According to Graham, Locke’s infantry formed a line opposite the Tories’ center, but the “Reep” map indicates that they instead formed a line opposite the Tories’ flank.

Graham's and Reep's Versions of the Opening Attack at Ramsour's Mill. Water courses are shown in blue, roads are brown, and the outline of a ridge is shown in grey. The Tory line is shown in red, the approach of the Whig horsemen is shown as a light blue arrow, and the approach of the Whig infantry is shown as a dark blue arrow. A = Ramsour's Mill on Clark's Creek, B = Green's Road, C = Tuckaseegee Ford Road, D = Sherrill's Ford Road.

There are, however, also similarities in the two accounts. In both cases, the Whigs initially drove the Tories up the hill, only to be driven back in turn. In both cases, the Whigs eventually gained the crest of the ridge and drove back the left flank of the Tory line. In both cases, the Tories were forced to flee across the bridge spanning Clark’s Creek.

Like Graham, Reep remembered especially vividly the nightmarish condition of the battlefield once the smoke cleared:

“The scene upon the battlefield was indescribable—dead men here and there, broken skulls, a few were seen with gun-locks sunk into their heads; disabled men moving about seeking help, men with shattered shoulders, broken arms and legs, while others were breathing their last breath. Shortly after the battle many women, children and old men came hunting for their loved ones.”

Local Lore:

A compendium of local lore about the battle was collected and published by E. G. Rockwell of Davidson College, in The Historical Magazine... (July, 1867, pages 24-27). Rockwell claimed that his account was “for the most part in the words of the different narrators, from whom the traditions have been taken down.”

There are some notable similarities between Rockwell's account and Graham's. In both cases, on the eve of battle, Francis Locke and his officers decided, after some debate, to attack the numerically superior force of Tories at Ramsour's Mill and sent word to Griffith Rutherford's nearby force of their intentions (see Ramsour's Mill: Joseph Graham's Timeline). For the most part, however, the accounts differ greatly.

According to Rockwell, Locke's infantry “divided into two equal bodies; the first was to advance and fire, then retreat, and form in the rear of the second, in the mean time to load as they retired; the second division was to advance and fire, retreat and in like manner, form in the rear, and load; thus to draw the enemy on, till Rutherford came up with the main body of the army.
This was the plan of attack, with the clear understanding that each was to watch the other’s motions, and act in concert. The arrangement being thus made and understood, the attack was made about sun-rise, while the Tories were engaged in preparing their breakfast; and so complete was the surprise that they found themselves falling by the balls of their enemies almost as soon as they discovered them.”

Graham also described the Whig infantry advancing in two successive lines, but he implied that the two lines had merely become separated during the chaotic opening attack.

Rockwell attributed the American victory in large part to the coordinated movements of these two lines, and to the heroic actions of a lone horseman:

“The first division, after firing, retreated, opening to the right and left from the centre, for the second to advance, fire, and retreat in the same way. The enemy, not withstanding their surprise, attempted to form a line; but a Whig of more courage than prudence, rode up, seized their colors and rode off with them unhurt amidst a shower of balls. Having now no rallying point, their consternation increased; and the quick succession of destructive fires, kept up by the assailants, rendered their confusion complete. The Whigs not only stood their ground, but advanced, after a few rounds, upon the enemy’s camp; and in a short time obtained a complete victory, taking possession of the camp before General Rutherford arrived with the main body of the army...”

By comparison, in Graham's account the American victory was due chiefly to the Whigs gaining the flanks of the Tory line. There is some recognition of this happening in Rockwell's account, but Graham's heroic Captain Hardin was replaced by one Captain Reed.

“Capt. Reed was ordered to take his men and flank the Tories: in doing so he had to cross a bottom and a branch, and pass through some underbrush. As he emerged in view of the enemy, a man rushed out towards him, and got behind a tree, watching an opportunity to shoot him. But being a good marksman Reed kept his eye on the tree, and seeing the shoulder of the Tory not entirely covered, he took a rifle from one of his men, and shot him through the part exposed. After the close of the battle he went among the wounded, and finding one shot through the shoulder, on inquiry as to the way he received his wound, he found him to be the man he had shot, and dressed the wound for him.”

Saturday, September 4, 2010

235 Years Ago Today

Today marks the 235th anniversary of the American invasion of Canada. On this day, an American army commanded by Major-General Philip Schuyler occupied L'Île-aux-Noix in southern Canada. The post would remain in American posession until the summer of 1776. Below are links to clips from the excellent series Canada: A People's History that concern the American invasion of Canada. Unfortunately, the sound is out of sync with the video on these youtube uploads. Still, the production values are quite good and they are worth watching for those that are relatively unfamiliar with this facet of the American Revolution (and what will be a recurring topic over the next few months).

The Montreal Campaign and Benedict Arnold's March on Quebec.

Attack on Quebec.


British Soldiers at the Siege of Fort Saint-Jean

American Soldiers Blockade Quebec

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Carleton Defends Canada

At the time that Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold captured Fort Ticonderoga and raided Saint-Jean in the province of Quebec [cf. Allen and Arnold: 30 Days to Glory], the only British regulars in Quebec were the 7th and 26th regiments of Foot and two companies of the Royal Artillery. These forces, like all British forces in North America, fell under the command of Lieutenant-General Thomas Gage. Gage, however, was preoccupied by events in and around Boston and he issued few orders to Canada. The important local commanders were the governor of the province of Quebec, Guy Carleton, and Lieutenant-Colonel (and acting brigadier-general), Richard Prescott [1].

The British were aware that the Americans were amassing thousands of men and that they might try to invade Canada and make it a “fourteenth colony.” The British could have sent additional regiments to Canada to turn back the American invasion in the early summer, but this did not occur due to the crisis in Boston and the false hope that thousands of Canadians and Native Americans would fight alongside the British regulars. By the time the American invasion got underway, and the British fully realized their peril, it was impossible to send reinforcements due to the slowness of communications and the worsening weather on the North Atlantic and in the Gulf of Saint-Lawrence.

Carleton knew little about American intentions, but he reasoned there were four routes by which the Americans plausibly could gain entry into Canada. The most likely route, he determined, was via the Richelieu River, which flowed north from American-controlled Lake Champlain in the province of New York. Also possible, though considerably more difficult, was that the Americans would attempt to invade via the Saint-François or Chaudière river valleys, or even along the upper Saint-Lawrence via the western frontier. Carleton therefore placed the greater part of his regulars in the Richelieu valley, kept watch over the other routes, and maintained garrisons in the key towns of Montréal and Québec.

Strategic Situation (click to enlarge).


British forces are in red, Americans in blue. Totals include all ranks. The French language is used for places in the province of Québec.

A: Fort Saint-Jean on the Richelieu: 390 men of the 7th and 26th Foot (Major Charles Preston commanding), and 44 men of the Royal Artillery

B: Fort Chambly on the Richelieu: 114 men of the 7th Foot (Major Joseph Stopford commanding), and 5 men of the Royal Artillery

C: Rivière Saint-François: 35 men of the 7th and 26th Foot The placement of this force on the map is quite approximate.

D: Rivière Chaudière: 26 men of the 7th Foot. The placement of this force on the map is quite approximate.

E: Oswegatchie: 28 men of the 8th Foot, and 1 man of the Royal Artillery. This post was on the upper Saint Lawrence, to the west of the area shown on the map. The remainder of the 8th was divided among several posts further west.

F: Lachine: 14 men of the 26th Foot. These men guarded a store of gunpowder and other supplies.

G: Montréal: 110 men of the 26th Foot (plus Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Prescott), and 4 men of the Royal Artillery.

H: Québec (ville): 59 men of the 7th Foot, and 6 men of the Royal Artillery.

In addition to these numbers, 11 of the regulars were on furlough and 69 men of the 26th Foot and 4 men of the Royal Artillery were prisoners of the Americans.

In September, American forces advanced along two of the four possible invasion routes:

A: The American army commanded by Major-General Philip Schuyler and Brigadier-General Richard Montgomery that invaded Canada via the Richelieu.

B: American force commanded by Colonel Benedict Arnold that invaded Canada via the Chaudière (shown here first advancing along the Kennebec River in modern-day Maine).


1. At the time of the Saint-Jean raid, and before Prescott’s arrival, the senior officer was Lieutenant-Colonel Dudley Templer of the 26th; he was no longer with the army at the time of the above dispositions.


I'm working from a number of sources, but the above information on troop totals and location comes primarily from the following document: