Wednesday, June 29, 2011

St. Kitts (5): The Fleets Clash

This is the fifth in a series of post 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. [Click for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, or Part 4].

Hood’s Mission

Rear Admiral Samuel Hood learned on January 14th that the French were attacking St. Kitts. He and his fleet promptly left Barbados and sailed north for Antigua. En route he was joined by the Russell, which increased his fleet to 21 ships of the line. Hood noted that he had “nothing but flattering winds” on this voyage, but his ships faced “an ugly sea at times” and two ships lost a maintopsail yard and another additionally lost a main topmast and mizzen topmast. [1]


Hood’s Mission: January 14-24, 1782 (click to enlarge). This map shows Hood’s route from Barbados to Nevis January 14-24 (red line). Also shown is the path taken by the French fleet under de Grasse from Martinique to St. Kitts (January 5-11; blue line). Both paths are approximate.


On the 21st, Hood reached Antigua, where he was joined by the Prudent and a couple of lesser vessels. The British fleet then began to take on board provisions and part of the island’s garrison. The troops from the garrison included Brigadier-General Robert Prescott, the 28th Regiment of Foot, and the flank companies of the 13th Regiment of Foot. [2]

By the evening of the 23rd, preparations were complete, and the British fleet sailed out of St. John’s Harbour on Antigua, and anchored at sea. The French and British fleets were now about 60 miles apart.

Hood had probably learned that the French fleet at St. Kitts was, as one eye-witness put it, “formed [in] no regular line,” but rather were “in great confusion in Basseterre road, three or four deep.”

Hood’s intention, it seems, was to cross from Antigua to St. Kitts during the night, and to strike the French in Basseterre roadstead at daybreak. There, with the wind at his back, he would strike the eastern end of the French fleet. The rest of the French fleet would have difficulty coming to their assistance (they would be working against the wind). In this manner, he hoped to win a major victory before the French were ready for battle.


Rear Admiral Samuel Hood


The British sailed that night with 22 ships of the line in the following order of battle: [3]

Advance Guard (Francis Drake)

Alfred (74 guns), Alcide (74), Intrepid (64), Torbay (74), Princessa (74), Prince George (98), Ajax (74)

Center (Samuel Hood)

Prince William (64), Shrewsbury (74), Invincible (74), Barfleur (98), Monarch (74), Belliqueux (64), Centaur (74), St. Albans (64)

Rear Guard (Edmund Affleck)

Russell (74), Resolution (74), Bedford (74), Canada (74), Prudent (64), Montagu (74), America (64)

De Grasse’s Defense

The French had been expecting the British fleet for some days. The French commander, François-Joseph-Paul de Grasse, concentrated his fleet in Basseterre roadstead and used frigates and other, smaller vessels, as lookouts. The lookouts quickly spotted Hood’s departure from Antigua on the evening of the 23rd.

De Grasse then had to decide how he would face the British fleet. One option was to form a line of battle in Basseterre roadstead. As he had numerical superiority and occupied an excellent harbor, he should have been able to ward off any attempt to oust him. However, he thought this might not be the best position if Hood was determined to aid the British garrison on Brimstone Hill. Instead, it might be better to take to the open sea southwest of Basseterre. There, he would be windward of Hood’s ships and poised to maul the British while they lay close to shore. A third consideration was that he was expecting the arrival of supply ships and other reinforcements. If he remained at Basseterre he would be placing these vessels at grave risk of capture.

On balance, de Grasse decided it would be best to take to the open sea and await the British fleet. He planned to set sail the following day.

Hood Reaches St. Kitts

Hood’s daring plan to strike the French fleet in Basseterre roadstead was foiled before it could put into effect. The early morning hours of January 24th were “squally with rain” and by daylight the British fleet was near the south end of Nevis, but still far short of its destination. Also, one of Hood’s leading ship of the line (Alfred) had collided with one of his frigates (Nymphe) with the result that Alfred’s “fore topmast [was] down, and jib boom and sprit-sailyard gone,” and it appeared “much damaged about the bows…” Alfred was in no shape for immediate action, but, it was determined, the necessary repairs could be made in less than 24 hours. Having lost the advantage of surprise, Hood advanced cautiously towards St. Kitts.

The two advance-most British frigates (Lizard and Convert) in Hood’s fleet reached the western shore of Nevis far ahead of the ships of the line. A large French cutter (l’Espion), then just arriving from Martinique, mistook the British frigates for French ones and was promptly captured. The cutter was bringing to St. Kitts mortar shells and other ordinance, which the French could ill afford to lose.

That afternoon, the French fleet began to get underway, and headed south. At 10:00pm, Hood could see from the deck of his command ship (Barfleur) “20 strange vessels in the N.W., which proved to be the French fleet.” Neither commander sought battle at this late hour. Instead, the British sailed south, to a point near Isle Redondo, while the French drew closer to St. Kitts.

The Fleets Clash

The two fleets maneuvered during the night of January 24th-25th. Cannon discharges and rockets were used (at least among the French) to transmit signals in the darkness. Hood, by this time, had formed a new plan -- to take anchorage in Frigate Bay, a short distance southeast of Basseterre. Hood later called this “the only chance I had of saving the island, if it was to be saved.”

Specifically, Hood intended to gain a defensive position that would neutralize the French advantage in numbers. Ships at anchor could be carefully arranged into a defensive line that would be difficult to attack. Also, ships at anchor were relatively still and could fire with greater accuracy than those rolling on the open water.

Although Hood occupied the windward position (meaning that the winds favored his movements), a lunge towards Basseterre carried with it considerable risk. He would be placing his vessels between the French fleet and the rocky shores of St. Kitts and Nevis. Hood acted carefully before committing himself to this course of action. He later noted, “At daylight we plainly discerned thirty-three sail of the enemy’s ships… I made every appearance of an attack, which drew the Count de Grasse a little from the shore.” Close to midday, the situation appeared favorable to Hood – the main part of the French fleet was some 4 or 5 miles to the west and it appeared that the planned dash would be successful. Hood therefore ordered his fleet to sail north, hugging the coastline of the islands.

De Grasse had decided to concentrate on keeping his line of communications open and protecting the siege of Brimstone Hill. Not unaware that the Basseterre anchorage had been left vulnerable, he ordered François-Aymar, Baron de Monteil, “to hug the point of Isle Nevis” with the French “light squadron” (Caton, Hector, Sagittaire, and Experiment). As the British neared Nevis, de Grasse ordered the “light squadron and van… to bear down on the enemy’s [van].” The rest of the fleet followed “in a bow and quarter line.”

The French main body sailed in approximately the following order (note that the French were doubling back towards Nevis and consequently were in reverse order). [4]

Rear Guard (Louis-Antoine, Comte de Bougainville)

Pluton (74 guns), Bourgogne (74), Auguste (80), Neptune (74), Ardent (64), Scipion (74), Citoyen (74), Réfléchi (64), Glorieux (74)

Center (François-Joseph-Paul, Comte de Grasse)

Diadème (74), Northumberland (74), César (74), Ville de Paris (104), Sceptre (74), Saint-Esprit (80), Eveillé (64), Zélé (74)

Advance Guard (Jacques-Melchior, Comte de Barras)

Magnanime (74), Palmier (74), Jason (64), Marseillais (74), Duc de Bourgogne (80), Languedoc (80), Hercule (74), Souverain (74)

Contrary to de Grasse’s wishes, the light squadron did not contest the British advance. According to an officer with the French fleet,

…the French light squadron instead of continuing to bear down on the enemy, bore away. The admiral [de Grasse] surprised at this manoeuvre, thought that Nevis intercepted their wind [i.e., he thought that the mountainous island might have created a windless calm off its western shore]; to assure himself of it, [de Grasse] signaled [de Monteil] to lie to, which the squadron did; assured by this that it was by no fault of wind that they bore away, the admiral repeated his first signal to the squadron and the van; but it was too late... [5]


Hood’s Dash to St. Kitts (click to enlarge). Hood’s fleet passes the western end of Nevis en route to an anchorage off St. Kitts. De Grasse attempts to intercept Hood, while the light squadron, under de Monteil, bears away. Positioning of the British and French vessels is approximate. Ships carrying fewer than 50 guns are not shown.


The French then aimed at overtaking the center and rear of the British line (the British van was by now beyond their reach). However, the British vessels were moving too quickly and only the British rear found itself in real danger.

An eyewitness on Nevis described the engagement that followed:

About half-past two the Ville de Paris [de Grasse’s flagship]… fired about three single shots, probably to try the range of his guns; which were taken no notice of.

At about three o’clock the French Admiral began in earnest, seeming to direct his fire at the sixth ship from our rear [i.e., the Resolution]. He was immediately followed by about thirteen or fourteen of his ships nearest to him a-head and a-stern. This being returned by the six or seven or our rear, a most dreadful cannonade ensued, which spread by degrees to about the twelfth ship from our rear [i.e., Hood’s flagship, the Barfleur]. But the heaviest of the French fire fell on our last ships; for whose fate we trembled, as they had the fire of twelve or fourteen of the enemy on them at once; yet they never moved an inch out of line, but kept their stations and distances as steadily as if they had been at anchor; at the same time we could distinctly perceive they shot a-head of the enemy. [6]

At one point, de Grasse, aboard his flagship Ville de Paris, came close to cutting off the last three vessels in the British line (Prudent, Montagu, and America). According to Hood, “The Prudent had the misfortune to have her wheel shot to pieces [by] the first broadside”. Soon a gap began to develop between the Prudent and the vessel ahead (Canada), which the Ville de Paris attempted to exploit. However, Canada, followed by the vessels still further ahead (Resolution and Bedford) astutely slowed down and closed the gap.

The British Anchor

As the British vessels neared St. Kitts, they turned and anchored in line of battle in Frigate Bay. From this anchorage, some of the British vessels opened fire again as the French ships passed.


Hood Anchors (click to enlarge). Hood’s lead vessel (St. Albans) turns towards shore and anchors off of Green Point, on the southwest corner of St. Kitts. The following vessels anchor behind St. Albans, forming a line of battle. Meanwhile, the rear of the British fleet is engaged with the Ville de Paris and other French vessels. Some of the French ships, perhaps de Barras’ vessels, did not participate in this portion of the engagement. Positioning of the British and French vessels is approximate. Only ships of the line are shown.


A French officer, Chevalier de Goussencourt, glumly noted, “In spite of our fire, the English admiral managed his fleet so well that it anchored in our place with a spring on the cable, under our fire, without Mr. de Grasse preventing them” [5]. The French fleet turned and headed south for open waters. The last shots were fired around 5:30pm.

Only one British vessel was lost in this action, the frigate Solebay, which ran aground off Nevis at the beginning of the engagement. The observer on Nevis recorded that

Several French ships kept firing on her in this distress, and the Captain returned it; but, finding she must inevitably fall into the enemy’s hands, Captain Everett set fire to her and quitted her. She burnt for an hour or more, and blew up about eight o’clock with a most tremendous report; having 160 barrels of powder on board. [6]

The captain and his crew took shelter on Nevis.



1. For primary accounts of Hood's actions during this period, see David Hannay (1895) Letters written by Sir Samuel Hood (Viscount Hood) in 1781-2-3 and Charles Middleton (1907) Letters and papers of Charles, Lord Barham.

2. The 28th Foot saw significant action in the Thirteen Colonies earlier in the war, distinguishing itself in the storming of Chatterton’s Hill at the battle of White Plains (October 28th, 1776). The regiment was sent to the West Indies in the fall of 1778. There, the 28th had significant losses, chiefly from disease. The regiment’s strength was kept up my drafting into it the rank and file from other weak regiments (which were then sent home to recruit). The flank companies of the 13th Foot saw little or no combat prior to the St. Kitts campaign. Seven of the regiment’s battalion companies were captured in November, 1781, when the Marquis de Bouillé stormed St. Eustatius.

3. cf. William Laird Clowes et al. (1898). The royal navy: a history from the earliest times to the present, Volume 3. Isaac Schomberg (1802). Naval chronology...

4. cf. Odet-Julien Leboucher (1788). Histoire de la derniere guerre...

5. John Gilmary Shea (1864). The operations of the French fleet under the Count de Grasse in 1781-2 as described in two contemporary journals.

6. cf. Journal of the capture and recovery of Nevis in Charles Ekins (1824). Naval battles, from 1744 to the peace in 1814.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Guilford Courthouse in Miniature (1)

This is the first in a series of posts depicting the battle of Guilford Courthouse in miniature. In this post I say a few general words by way of an introduction to the subject.


  • Guilford Courthouse was in some sense the high water mark of British fortunes in the southern theater of the Revolutionary War. After the battle, the British army, commanded by Lieutenant-General Charles Cornwallis, embarked on a path that ended in capture at Yorktown, Virginia. Meanwhile, the American army, commanded by Major-General Nathanael Greene, began the reconquest of South Carolina and Georgia.
  • Guilford Courthouse is known for having been one of the hardest fought battles of the Revolutionary War. The British army lost more than ¼ of its men killed and wounded; American casualties were also considerable, especially among the Continentals.
  • Guilford Courthouse was the largest battle fought in North Carolina during the Revolutionary War. Today the site is a national military park, and one of the better preserved battlefields of the war.

Representation in Miniature

I am using hand-painted, 15mm-high military miniatures. One miniature represents approximately 20 historical combatants or 2 cannon. The manner in which the minis were painted was inspired by the historical dress of the combatants at Guilford Courthouse, but in many cases there are discrepancies between how the mini was painted and what the actual combatants probably wore. The representation, on the whole, is a fairly conventional telling of the battle of Guilford Courthouse, one that closely follows the narrative presented in such histories as Thomas E. Baker’s (1981) Another Such Victory and Lawrence E. Babits' & Joshua B. Howard's (2009) Long, obstinate, and bloody: The battle of Guilford Courthouse.

Historical Context

After the British captured Charleston, South Carolina, in May, 1780, the seat of war shifted to the North and South Carolina backcountry. British sought to control this vast area with small detachments, but isolated forces soon proved vulnerable, and the British met with stinging defeats at such places as Ramsour’s Mill and Williamson’s Plantation. The British gradually began to field larger, more mobile forces, but these too proved vulnerable as demonstrated by the crushing defeats at King’s Mountain, Blackstock’s Plantation, and Cowpens. The one area where the British appeared to hold a consistent advantage was in its main army versus that of the Americans. In August, 1780, the British main army, led by Lieutenant-General Charles Cornwallis, destroyed the American main army, led by Major-General Horatio Gates, at the battle of Camden. In late January, 1781, Cornwallis attempted to destroy the American main army again, which had regrouped and was now led by Major-General Nathanael Greene. Cornwallis chased Greene’s army across the state of North Carolina and to the Virginia border. However, the British army suffered substantial attrition in this campaign. By early March, Greene had receive reinforcements of Continentals and militia, and he felt strong enough to face Cornwallis in battle. Greene then returned to North Carolina and the two main armies clashed near Guilford Courthouse.

Cornwallis and Greene

The battle was fought on March 15th. In the early morning hours, Cornwallis got his army on the road to Guilford Courthouse where Americans encamped. The fighting began along the route the British followed when an American detachment, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Lee, repeatedly skirmished with the advancing British. Several times the Americans halted or drove back the British vanguard. However, it wasn’t long before Lee’s men were forced to give way before overwhelming numbers. This skirmishing gave Greene’s men extra time to prepare for battle. Greene deployed his army in three defensive lines. The British army reached the first defensive line near midday.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

St. Kitts (4): Brimstone Besieged

This is the fourth in a series of post 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. [Click for Part 1 or Part 2, or Part 3].

Brimstone Besieged

Governor Thomas Shirley and Brigadier-General Thomas Fraser were faced with overwhelming French numbers. They commanded a little more than 1,000 men, and were opposed by about 7,000 of the enemy [1]. However, Shirley and Fraser defended Brimstone Hill, a virtually impregnable fortress, and they were optimistic that they could hold out long enough to be relieved by the Royal Navy (specifically, the West Indies squadron commanded by Rear Admiral Samuel Hood).


British Defenses at Brimstone Hill (click to enlarge). This map is based on a 1775 Anthony Ravell map of St. Kitts. Brimstone Hill is at center. Two defenses can be seen on the hill. The square citadel was located on the highest point of the hill. Southeast of the citadel, a fortified “curtain” was placed on a lower plateau. Prior to the siege, the British also held coastal batteries at Fig Tree Bay (upper left) and Fort Charles (center left) on either side of Sandy Point Town. De Bouillé occupied Sandy Point Town on January 12th. On the other side of Brimstone Hill, the French established a camp east of “Goodwin’s Gutt.” [Original Image]

The View Towards Sandy Point (click to enlarge). The view today from Brimstone Hill, looking northwest towards Sandy Point Town. The island of St. Eustatius is visible in the distance. [Original Image by Ukexpat; licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license].

Brimstone Hill in 1783 (click to enlarge). This view is from Sandy Point Town, looking southeast towards Brimstone Hill. The citadel is at the uppermost part of the hill. Part of the curtain is visible on the plateau on the right side of the hill. Fort Charles is on the low-lying promontory at right center.

The View Up the Slope (click to enlarge). The French infantry feared being called upon to assault the British fortress. This modern day image reveals the great difficulty they would have faced. Part of the stone fortifications are visible near the top of the image. These would have been lined with infantry and artillery. [Original Image]


The Marquis de Bouillé, who commanded the French army, determined that an infantry assault on Brimstone Hill was unlikely to succeed. Therefore, he resolved to use heavy guns to batter the garrison into submission and to only use an assault as a last resort. According to Governor Shirley, de Bouillé “carried on his approaches and opened trenches under all the formalities of the most regular siege." [2] Shirley, for his part, was resolved to keep the French at bay.

On January 15th, the British shelled the town of Sandy Point, which the French had occupied and where de Bouillé had his headquarters. The town soon caught fire and much of it was destroyed.

De Bouillé opened his first entrenchments against Brimstone Hill the night of the 16th-17th. Under cover of darkness, 300 workers, covered by 200 troops from the flank companies and a battalion of fusiliers (possibly Viennois [3]), dug an earthwork about 700 yards northwest of the fortress, on the plantation of one Stafford Somersall. After daybreak, the British spotted the work and began firing on the position.

The French launched a similar operation on the night of January 17th-18th. This time, the earthwork was dug 700 yards southeast of the fortress, on a plantation owned by one Stedman Rawlins. Again, after daybreak, the British used their heavy guns to impede French progress.

The French finally opened fire on Brimstone Hill on the 19th, when, according to Shirley, “a battery of seven mortars… bombarded the garrison very briskly” from Rawlins’ plantation. The British responded with “a warm cannonade.”


Section of the Rossel de Cercy Painting, Prise des Iles de Saint Christophe et de Nevis (click to enlarge). In this image, the mortar battery on Rawlins’ Plantation can be seen shelling the British fortifications on Brimstone Hill. A part of the defensive “curtain” is at upper center; the citadel is at upper right. [Original image]


Artillery exchanges were frequent over the days that followed. The French continued to dig entrenchments and gradually put into more and more artillery into action. On the 21st, three mortars became active on Wells’ Estate, east of Brimstone Hill. On the 23rd, a 6 or 7 mortar battery opened fire from Somersall’s plantation, near Sandy Point. [4]

The artillery exchanges were especially punishing for the French on the exposed plain. In a single incident, 20 men (fusiliers from Regiment Touraine and artillerists) were killed or wounded when a British shell ignited the magazine for the Rawlins battery. [5]

On January 24th it appeared that the worst of the garrison’s troubles were over. Samuel Hood came in sight of the island with 22 ships of the line, plus a number of frigates and other vessels. It was not an overwhelming force (indeed, the French navy was larger), but it was well led. Hopes among the British ran high.


1. Details of the French order of battle were described previously (see Part 2). The British garrison at this point consisted of about 600 effectives of the regular army (specifically, the first battalion of the 1st Foot and the flank companies of the 15th Foot), 350 militia, and 70 sailors. Governor Shirley mentioned in a journal entry dated January 17th that “A working party of seamen and negroes were employed in placing the mortars and forming platforms for them,” indicating some blacks were on hand, but it seems that they were not considered to be part of the garrison.

2. Information on the British perspective, including Shirley’s journal, comes primarily from Algernon Aspinall (1915). West Indian Tales of Old.

3. The description of French actions is based primarily on a) 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. For the role of Regiment Viennois, see Paul Jean Louis Azan. Service of the Azans in America.Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Volume 50, p 429-433.

4. Note that the battery on Somersall’s plantation was slow to get into action although the first entrenchment was dug there. Presumably the delay is related to the sinking of the Lion Britannique at Sandy Point on January 13 (see Part 3). I suspect the guns used at the Rawlins battery were landed at Old Road on January 13th, but I have not found the name of the transport. The three mortars for the battery established on Wells’ plantation possibly arrived aboard the vessel Citoyen on January 19th. Bougainville's journal mentions on this date that “Le Citoyen est revenu de la Guadeloupe avec 3 mortiers et des munitions de guerre” (R. de Kerallain (1928). Bougainville à l’Armée du Cte de Grasse. Journal de la Société des Américanistes de Paris, 20, 1-70).

5. For the losses in Regiment Touraine, see: Ministère des Affaires Étrangères. (1903). Les combattants Français de la Guerre Américaine: 1778-1783.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Painting Update: Regiment von Bose

For the past several months, I've been working on battle of Guilford Courthouse project, in which I plan to depict the battle in miniature. Some time ago I finished assembling the American army. Now I'm just about finished with the British army, too. The last unit that I've had to paint is Hessian Regiment von Bose. This regiment was one of two British units embroiled in the “separate battle” at Guilford Courthouse.

A few of the figures below need some touch up work. The figures also need to be varnished and the stands need to be flocked. Otherwise, this is a completed unit.

The figures, by the way, are from Essex Miniatures' Prussian 7 Years War line. The uniform details are more-or-less appropriate for Revolutionary War Hessians. The flags are metal and part of the flag bearer figures.

15mm Miniatures by Essex (click to enlarge).

Regiment von Bose has been popular among those painting miniatures for this time period. Check out the 28mm-high versions of the regiment painted by Giles, Truls, and Steve.

Friday, June 10, 2011

St. Kitts (3): Opening Skirmishes

This is the third in a series of post 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. [Click for Part 1 or Part 2].

March to Brimstone Hill

The French army, commanded by the Marquis de Bouillé, marched towards Brimstone Hill on the night of January 11-12, 1782. In the lead was a division of troops commanded by Colonel Arthur Dillon. When these troops neared the hill, they filed off to the right and waited for the main body. De Bouillé arrived with the main body at 2:30am. Then, leaving the divisions of Dillon, Saint-Simon, and Damas near the coastal road, he advanced with du Chilleau’s division towards the town of Sandy Point. To reach Sandy Point, the troops marched along a sunken road that skirted the foot of Brimstone Hill. The British sentries above them heard their march and opened fire, but in the dark their aim was erratic. Apparently, some of the British also thought to roll heavy rocks down the hill, and these wounded a few of de Bouillé’s men. [1]

De Bouillé's March (click to enlarge). The French land at Basseterre on the evening of the 11th. That night, the column approaches Brimstone Hill (red dot). De Bouillé and du Chilleau bypass the hill in the early morning hours of the 12th.

Skirmishes at Sandy Point

At daybreak, du Chilleau’s division (regiments Armagnac, Viennois, and Guadeloupe) was on the outskirts of Sandy Point. There the French could hear a small British party in the “hedgerows” (les haies). De Bouillé ordered his vanguard (20 chasseurs from Regiment Armagnac) to charge. The chasseurs promptly killed a few of the British and dispersed the rest. The column then moved into Sandy Point, which was defended on its northern flank by a battery at Fig Tree Bay and on its southern flank (near Brimstone Hill) by Fort Charles. De Bouillé dispatched 100 men from the flank companies to seize the northern battery. The British began a hurried retreat from Sandy Point, preferring to defend Brimstone Hill. It was full light now, and the guns in Fort Charles fired on the tail of the French column as it moved into the town.

François-Claude-Amour de Bouillé

The Marquis de Bouillé had succeeded in placing his men on either side of Brimstone Hill, but now he faced by an array of difficulties. As the French took up their assigned positions, “many disorders” arose, no doubt caused by soldiers plundering. Officers were dispatched from the navy to help restore order. [2]

The French infantry also found themselves harassed by armed blacks. One French officer, who had invited an English lady to dine in camp, was slain while escorting her home. The adjutant of Regiment Viennois was captured and brought to Brimstone Hill. De Bouillé himself was attacked by 30 men while reconnoitering. He escaped thanks to the speed of his horse. His servant, however, was taken.

In retaliation, the French burned at least one plantation.

According to Governor Shirley, “the Marquis de Bouillé sent in a flag to remonstrate against the conduct of the negroes, threatening that unless they should be restrained he would immediately lay waste the country.” The white militia on Brimstone Hill had little appetite for total war. Therefore, “The servant was released and the Adjutant was discharged on parole.” [3]


De Bouillé’s greatest concern was the loss of the transport Lion-Britannique, which was carrying most of the army’s mortars, heavy guns, solid shot and shells. The vessel struck on a rock near Sandy Point and sank. The artillerists aboard (a “valuable species” according to one officer [2]) were brought off safely, and salvage operations soon begun to recover the guns and ammunition. Nevertheless, the incident threatened to significantly prolong the siege of Brimstone Hill.

The following day (the 14th), the French pushed their pickets closer to the British fortress. The British had some storehouses outside the fortress which contained surplus gunpowder. To prevent its capture, the British spread the powder on the ground and set it on fire. The fire, however, got out of control and destroyed some of their provisions, clothing stores, and spare gun and mortar carriages. These losses could not be easily replaced.

Hood Sets Sail

Rear-Admiral Samuel Hood commanded the British fleet in the West Indies, which was based in Barbados. At the time the French set sail for St. Kitts (January 5), they were being watched by two of Hood’s frigates. The commander of one (the Lizard) informed Hood on January 8th that the French were heading north. The other frigate was unable to follow the French very far, and it was not until the 14th that Hood received definite word on the French destination. Once he did (a letter reached him from Governor Shirley), he immediately put his fleet to sea. He had only 20 ships of the line, he was short on provisions, and his only infantry support consisted of two large battalions of marines and the 69th Regiment of Foot. To give his rescue operation a greater chance of success, he decided to stop en route at Antigua where he expected to be resupplied and reinforced. [4]


1. The description of French actions is based primarily on a) 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. b) Journal Politique of April, 1782 (seconde quinzaine). c) Mémoire du marquis de Bouillé

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

Two quoted phrases are derived from Bougainville’s journal:

“many disorders”:

14 . Il y a eu beaucoup de désordres commis à terre. La communication en est interdite aux équipages. Il est permis à la moitié des officiers de chaque vaisseau d'y aller à 4 heures après-midi...

“valuable species”:

Le Lion britannique s'est échoué sur une roche en allant prendre le mouillage sous Sandy-Point. On a sauvé les hommes, espèce bien précieuse, puisqu'il y avait 200 artilleurs; mais il est douteux qu'on puisse sauver 12 mortiers de 12 pouces, et toute l'artillerie que contient ce bâtiment.

3. Information on the British perspective, including Shirley’s journal, comes primarily from Algernon Aspinall (1915). West Indian Tales of Old.

4. An invaluable source on Hood’s actions during this period is Letters written by Sir Samuel Hood (Viscount Hood) in 1781-2-3.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Preparing the Diorama (5)

I haven't had a lot of time to work on my battle of Guilford Courthouse diorama the last few weeks. As a result, my "Spring project" is going to spill over into the summer. However, there has been progress, which I describe below.

The last time I wrote about the diorama, I had finished making the roads and streams on the western end of the battlefield, and I was beginning to work on the fields.

My intention was to ring each field with a snake rail fence. To make these, I bought a thin dowel rod, which I cut into roughly 1-cm sections. I then split each section lengthwise into four parts. Following a tip I found online, I placed the pieces in a plastic container with vinegar and a couple of old metal screws. The next day I removed the wood pieces and let them dry. Once they were fully dry the pieces nicely resembled aged wood. I could then stack these to make the fence.

I was very pleased at how the fence turned out, but I had all kinds of trouble placing it on the miniature battlefield. The problem was that the fence occupied too much space, and it was all but impossible to get the fence to go up and down the contour tiers. In the end, I decided to go without the fencing. I'm sure that I will find a use for it in some future project.

Having made up my mind about the fencing, I recently began "planting trees" on the western end of the battlefield. I've also placed miniatures in that area as well; they represent the American first line. You can see part of the American first line below. This is not yet a finished product, but at least I'm getting close.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The “Separate Battle” at Guilford Courthouse

The British army at Guilford Courthouse deployed for battle in a well-ordered formation. However, this order did not last very long. As the British routed the first American line, and drove into a forest to attack the second, the British regiments became scattered and disorganized. Two British units drifted so far to the right of the others that they fought what has been called a “separate battle” at Guilford Courthouse.

The two British units in the separate battle were Regiment von Bose and the 1st battalion of Guards. These two unit fought two American formations: Henry Lee’s flank corps and the “Rockbridge Rifles” [1].

The source material does not allow one to trace the exact movements of the units in this fight, but some generalities can be stated with confidence.

One of the most helpful accounts for understanding the course of the separate battle was composed by Charles Stedman, a British staff officer who wrote one of the first military histories of the Revolutionary War [2].

According to Stedman, the advancing 1st Guards found themselves facing, alone, a withering fire from a hilltop. The Guards eventually seized this position, but only to find that “another line of the Americans presented itself to view, extending far beyond the right of the guards, and inclining towards their flank, so as almost to encompass them.” The fire from in front and from the right “completed its confusion and disorder” until the battalion “was at last entirely broken.”

Stedman went on to relate that the Guards were saved by “the fortunate arrival of the regiment of Bose” which “was advancing in firm and compact order on the left of the guards...” The Hessians then wheeled to their right and attacked the Americans while the Guards rallied. The two units then made a unified drive against the Americans.

The "separate battle" at Guilford Courthouse according to Stedman (click to enlarge). The image has been cropped and red arrows drawn onto the map to clearly show the path taken by the 1st Guards and Regiment von Bose (these are indicated by faint dashed lines on the original map).

The Stedman map shows the separate battle to have been centered on a prominent hill south and west of the American third line. This hill will also be included in the Guilford Courthouse diorama I am preparing. The figure below depicts the area I am modeling (at left: the roads, fields, and topographic features that will be modeled; at right: a modern topographic map of the same area).

Below I show how the movements depicted on the Stedman map correspond with my project map. The four panels in this map represent, from left to right, four successive stages in the separate battle (note that the final phases of the separate battle are not shown). The following units are represented by numbers: 1) 1st Guards, 2) Regiment von Bose, 3) Lee’s flank corps. In the first panel, Regiment von Bose attacks the American first line, and the 1st Guards is brought up from reserve to extend the British line. In the second panel, the 1st Guards approaches a hill defended by Lee’s men. In the third panel, the 1st Guards takes the hilltop, but is driven back in disorder. In the fourth panel, Regiment von Bose wheels to the right and attacks the Americans while the 1st Guards rally.

(click to enlarge)

Although the 1st Guards and Regiment von Bose had taken a key position, the separate battle was far from over. According to Stedman:

No sooner had the guards and Hessians defeated the enemy in front, than they found it necessary to return and attack another body of them [Americans] that appeared in the rear; and in this manner were they obliged to traverse the same ground in various directions, before the enemy were completely put to the rout.

The separate battle finally ended when Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton arrived with part of the British cavalry. These troops scattered “a few hardy rifle-men” who had remained behind to harry the British.


Another valuable source on the separate battle is the journal of Samuel Houston of the Rockbridge Rifles. The Rockbridge Rifles was positioned on the extreme left of the American second line (in Brigadier-General Edward Stevens' brigade). Houston wrote that:

...the enemy appeared to us; we fired on their flank, and that brought down many of them; at which time Capt. Tedford was killed. We pursued them about forty poles [i.e., 660 feet], to the top of a hill, where they stood, and we retreated from them back to where we formed. Here we repulsed them again; and they a second time made us retreat back to our first ground, where we were deceived by a reinforcement of Hessians, whom we took for our own, and cried to them to see if they were our friends, and shouted Liberty! Liberty! and advanced up till they let off some guns; then we fired sharply on them, and made them retreat a little. [3]

Presumably, the “the enemy [who] appeared to us” were men of the 1st Guards, and the “Hessians” were men of Regiment von Bose.

There are two basic ways of reconciling Houston’s account with Stedman’s. One way is to assume that the events described by Houston correspond with the first set of events described by Stedman (the attack of the 1st Guards up a hill, their retreat, and subsequent relief by Regiment von Bose). The other way is to assume that the events described by Houston correspond with the second set of events described by Stedman (the appearance of an American force in the rear of the British and the subsequent round of back-and-forth combat in the woods).

As described below, neither method of reconciling the accounts is wholly satisfactory, leaving as an open question what exactly took place during the separate battle.

First, consider the possibility that the combat described by Houston took place earlier rather than later. In this case, the initial sequence of events in the separate battle might look something like this (click to enlarge):

The four panels in this map represent, from left to right, four successive stages in the separate battle (note that the final phases of the separate battle are not shown). The following units are represented by numbers: 1) 1st Guards, 2) Regiment von Bose, 3) Lee’s flank corps, 4) Rockbridge Rifles. In the first panel, Regiment von Bose attacks the American first line, and the 1st Guards is brought up from reserve to extend the British line. In the second panel, the 1st Guards attacks a hill defended by Lee’s men. The Rockbridge Rifles spy the flank of the Guards and attack it. In the third panel, fighting rages back and forth between the 1st Guards and the Rockbridge Rifles. At last, the 1st Guards is saved by the advance of Regiment von Bose. In the fourth panel, Regiment von Bose wheels to the right and attacks the Americans and the 1st Guards rally and renew the attack.

A difficulty in combining the accounts in this way is that some statements by Stedman and Houston appear to contradict.

  • Stedman’s account indicates that the Guards were attacked on their right flank; Houston’s account suggests that the Guards were attacked on their left flank.
  • Stedman’s account suggests that the Guards advanced on a relatively straight line, interrupted by one brief retreat. Houston’s account indicates that the fighting raged back and forth over a wide area.
  • Stedman’s account suggests that the Guards were forced to retreat from a hill; Houston’s account indicates that the Guards were forced to retreat to a hill.

I tried to finesse these differences in the above figure, but the interpretation is not without problems. For example, the above figure makes it appear that Regiment von Bose was very slow in reaching the separate battle. This seems implausible in light of comments made by the British army commander, Lieutenant-General Charles Cornwallis, in his after action report:

the Hessian regiment of Bose deserves my widest praises for its discipline, alacrity, and courage, and does honor to Major Du Buy, who commands it, and who is an officer of superior merit. [4]

Why would Cornwallis have praised the regiment’s “alacrity” if it was slow to advance?


An alternative way of combining the accounts by Stedman and Houston is to assume that the combat described by Houston occurred relatively late in the battle (when the British discovered an American force to their rear). In this case, the initial sequence of events in the separate battle might look something like the figure below (click to enlarge).

The eight panels in this map represent, from upper left to lower right, eight successive stages in the separate battle (note that the final phases of the separate battle are not shown). The following units are represented by numbers: 1) 1st Guards, 2) Regiment von Bose, 3) Lee’s flank corps, 4) Rockbridge Rifles. In the first panel, Regiment von Bose attacks the American first line, and the 1st Guards is brought up from reserve to extend the British line. In the second panel, the 1st Guards approaches a hill defended by Lee’s men. In the third panel, the 1st Guards reach the top of the hill, only to be forced to retreat when the Americans attack their right flank. The Guards are given time to rally by the arrival of Regiment von Bose. In the fourth panel, Regiment von Bose wheels to the right and attacks the Americans. In the fifth panel, the 1st Guards renews the attack. In the sixth panel, the 1st Guards and Regiment von Bose are forced to fight off party of Americans in their rear. In the seventh panel, the 1st Guards run into a deadly fire from the Rockbridge Rifles while pursuing one group of Americans. Meanwhile, Regiment von Bose continues to fight off small parties of Americans. In the eighth panel, back and forth fighting has begun between the 1st Guards and the Rockbridge Rifles. Panels 7 and 8 correspond with the beginning of the quoted passage in Houston’s journal.

A ninth panel, were it included, would show part of Regiment von Bose advancing on the Rockbridge Rifles, as per Houston’s account. Note that in the first interpretation, the Hessians advanced on the Rifles from the west, while in this case the Hessians advanced on the Rifles from the east. I think the change in direction is a strong point of the second interpretation. It’s more plausible that the Rockbridge Rifles would have been deceived by a body of men advancing from the east – the direction from which reinforcements might be expected – than from the west – the direction from which the British originally attacked.

One cause for skepticism about this interpretation is that it is terribly complicated. Also problematic is that there is not a lot of evidence to support the fine points depicted in the figure above.


I'm not sure how I will handle the details of the separate battle when I begin representing the battle of Guilford Courthouse in miniature later this month. Feel free to leave a comment as to how you would interpret the source material.


1. Lee’s flank corps consisted of Lee’s Legion, some militia dragoons, and a corps riflemen. After the battle started, they were joined by some diehards among the North Carolina militia. The Rockbridge Rifles was a regiment of Virginia militia on the extreme left of the American second line. (See The Americans at Guilford Courthouse).

2. Charles Stedman. (1794). The History of the Origin, Progress, and Termination of the American War, Vol. 2. Note that Stedman is believed to have been at the battle of Guilford Courthouse, but it has not been established that he was an eyewitness to the separate battle. In any event, his account was probably composed years after the battle.

3. William Henry Foote (1855). Sketches of Virginia...

4. A copy of Cornwallis' report can be found in this useful compendium of primary sources.