Friday, July 29, 2011

St. Kitts (7): Battle on Land

This is the seventh 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, Part 4, Part 5, or Part 6].

The Siege Continues

While the French and British fleets battled south of St. Kitts (Parts 5 and 6), the Marquis de Bouillé continued to attack Brimstone Hill, despite shortages of guns, mortars, and ammunition (cf. Parts 3 and 4). On the 25th, his men opened fire from a new 5-gun battery on Binkes’ Plantation, a little over 1,000 yards to the east, on high ground that was about level with Brimstone Hill. Enough guns and mortars were in action by now to begin inflicting significant damage to the fortress. According to British Governor Shirley:

the enemy [on the 25th] began an incessant fire upon the garrison with their mortars and cannon and continued it till midnight. This day [the 26th] the enemy's fire destroyed the building wherein our whole stock of rum was deposited, and a store which contained a considerable quantity of provisions and arms, and every building on the Hill except two small rooms. [1]

A new wrinkle for de Bouillé was the presence of British infantry with the fleet commanded by Rear Admiral Samuel Hood. To help protect his northern flank, de Bouillé ordered a battery to be erected that would command Fig Tree Bay, north of Sandy Point Town. To help protect his southern flank, de Bouillé placed a detachment at Basseterre.

The British Landing

The British regular army troops with Hood’s fleet included the 28th Regiment of Foot and the flank companies of the 13th Regiment of Foot. These men were commanded by Brigadier-General Robert Prescott and had been temporarily drawn from the garrison on Antigua. Hood also had the services of troops serving as marines for his fleet; these included the 69th Regiment of Foot and two battalions of His Majesty’s Marines.

According to a second-hand account by John Moore, Prescott presented Hood with a couple of options for relieving the British garrison on Brimstone Hill.

General Prescott offered to join and reinforce the garrison with 700 or 800 men if Lord Hood would land him near Charles Fort at the bottom of the hill [i.e., Brimstone Hill], or if he would give him a couple of frigates to land him at the back of the island. Such was his knowledge of the country that he expected to reach Brimstone Hill from thence by by-paths over the mountains, unknown to the French army. Both these proposals Lord Hood rejected, and proposed to the General to land at some distance from Basseterre, as he said, to make a diversion. [2]

Hood’s reasoning was stated in a letter to Prescott, dated January 27th. He wrote:

It appears to me of great importance to the king’s service to possess a post on shore, and I beg to submit it to your serious consideration. I can land two battalions of marines of 700 each, rank and file; the 69th Regiment of 500 rank and file, which, with the troops in the frigates [i.e., Prescott’s men from Antigua], including officers, would make a body of 2,400; and you might have as many guns, 12- and 9-pounders, as you please. It would certainly, I should imagine, make a diversion in favour of Brimstone Hill, and very much distress, puzzle, and embarrass the enemy. [3]

Hood appears to have believed that this force would be too small to raise the siege, but too large for the French to ignore. He saw little risk in this enterprise, he told Prescott, “because your retreat can always be secure.” In other words, Prescott’s men would be defended by the guns of the Royal Navy.

According to Moore, “General Prescott endeavoured to show the absurdity of this.” It seems Prescott felt that Hood’s plan was overly cautious and only a bold move would save the island. However, “His Lordship, as usual, was deaf to reason, adhered to his opinion, and told the General that if he did not choose to land the troops he would land the marines.”

This last part is undoubtedly true; Hood concluded his letter of the 27th by stating that if Prescott did not this plan, “I shall be inclined to land a party of marines to rout the French from Basseterre, [and] hoist the English flag.”

Prescott could not get to shore without the cooperation of the Royal Navy. Therefore, he reluctantly agreed to follow Hood’s proposal.

The troops from the 13th, 28th, and 69th regiments disembarked on the morning of the 28th, and landed on the shore of Frigate Bay. The marines remained with the fleet. According to Captain William Cornwallis of the Canada, the day was marked by fresh breezes and cloudy weather.” [4]

The British Landing (click to enlarge). This map shows the site of the clash on January 28th, 1782 between Prescott and de Fléchin. Also shown is the approximate position of Hood's fleet and de Bouillé's army.

French Forces at Basseterre

The detachment of French troops defending Basseterre was commanded by Le comte de Fléchin, a senior officer in Regiment Touraine [5]. This detachment consisted of the grenadiers and chasseurs from regiments Agénois and Touraine, a portion of Regiment Dillon, and the Volontaires de Bouillé. [6]

Among those stationed near Basseterre was Chevalier de Montlezun, a sous-lieutenant of chasseurs. [7] De Montlezun, still in his teenage years, would later recall tiring days beneath a burning sun and sleepless nights watching for a British attack. His platoon, it seems, dieted chiefly on the fruit of prickly pear plants. These plants abounded on the hills south and east of Basseterre, and one walking across these hills would be tormented by their sharp spines. Nevertheless, according to de Montlezun, the landscape was enchanting. Looking around, he saw green fields of sugarcane surrounded by steep and wild hills, a pale blue salt pond, rows of coconut trees, and a narrow and hilly peninsula, with the ocean lapping on either shore. [8]

It was on this spot that the principal land combat would occur during the St. Kitts campaign and where de Montlezun would have the fight of a lifetime.

When the British infantry landed, de Fléchin moved to confront the British, despite being greatly outnumbered. De Fléchin felt it his duty to delay the British so that de Bouillé would have time to organize a proper defense of the island. De Fléchin left the grenadier company from regiment Touraine and half of his troops from Regiment Dillon to defend Basseterre. The rest were thrown onto the Mooring Hills, southeast of town. From this commanding height they prevented Prescott from moving inland.

Basseterre, Frigate Bay, and the Mooring Hills (click to enlarge). Basseterre town is at left. Frigate Bay is at center (note the three anchors). The Mooring Hills are just to the left of Frigate Bay, and above Great Potatoe Bay.

The French deployment on the Mooring Hills appears to have been as follows: On the right (closest to the sea) was a detachment of 50 men from Regiment Dillon and the 60-man Volontaires de Bouillé, in the center were the flank companies of regiment Agénois, and one platoon of chasseurs from Regiment Touraine, and on the left was the remainder of the Touraine chasseurs (including de Montlezun). The total force numbered around 300 or so men. [9]

The Battle

The three British regiments assembled in column formation on the beach. Around 1pm, General Prescott ordered the 28th and 69th regiments to occupy the Mooring Hills. According to an eyewitness on Nevis, the British regulars “performed this service with gallantry, though their march was all up hill, and through thick shrubs and prickly pears.” [10]

At the same time that the British infantry were ascending the Mooring Hills from the south, de Fléchin was leading a party of men up the northern slope. As the leading British soldiers neared the summit, they unexpectedly “ran against a detachment of… grenadiers and chasseurs running up at full speed” from the opposite direction. The battle had begun. [11]

The British Infantry Land on St. Kitts. From a 1782 painting by François Lescalet. Several frigates are shown disembarking men along the shore. The British form on the beach and advance into combat with de Fléchin's men on the hill at right.

Close up view of British infantry forming on the beach.

De Montlezun and his men were on the British side of the hills when the fighting began. A few British troops were spotted at a dwelling, and de Montlezun was ordered to attack these with his platoon. However, as the chasseurs rushed forward, more and more British troops came into sight, and drew up in a formidable line of battle in an alley of palm trees. De Montlezun’s men would have been slaughtered were it not for the fact that some of the chasseurs on higher ground could see the danger and called for them to come back.

Close up view of chasseurs from Regiment de Touraine. Possibly these men are intended to depict part of de Montlezun’s platoon.

The movement of two British columns up the hill unmasked de Montlezun’s position, and he and his chasseurs began to be shelled by British frigates (they had four in action).

De Montlezun and his men then joined the scramble for control of the hills, where “The musketry fire began at a distance of 10 paces.” He recalled, “Arriving on the line, through a shower of bullets, I had the misfortune to see fall… the valiant Villebrune, second captain of the Agénois chasseurs [12]. The whiteness of his uniform was replaced by a tinge of blood that covered him entirely.”

Close up showing Comte de Flechin rallying the French infantry.

According to the biographer of Chevalier de Mirabeau, then a staff officer in Regiment Touraine, “There were on both sides desperate efforts, furious and repeated counter-attacks… Many times, the French overwhelmed by the number of assailants and shot down by the frigates in the bay, seemed about to succumb,” but the infantry, exhorted by their officers, grimly hung on. De Mirabeau “stood out among those most careless of danger,” until finally “His horse was killed, [and] he was shot in the thigh.” [11]

De Montlezun remembered that “The battle dragged on relentlessly. A mulatto, my company drummer, had the courage to beat the charge for the whole hour that the combat lasted.” De Montlezun admired “the imperturbable coolness” of this drummer, “surrounded by blood and carnage”, who could “expect no reward for his dedication.”

Finally, General Prescott ordered his reserve (the grenadier and light infantry companies of the 13th Foot) to sweep around the French left flank.

“At last,” according de Montlezun, “the ammunition was totally exhausted and,” he wrote with considerable exaggeration, “half of the officers and men had died.” Those still on their feet could not contest the advance of the British reserve, which “was in motion to turn our flank and place us between two fires.”

De Fléchin, realizing that the situation had become hopeless, ordered a retreat. The British had won a strong post near shore, and an open road into the interior.

French losses were about 86 men killed or badly wounded (about ¼ of those engaged). These losses were heaviest in the grenadier and chasseur companies of Regiment d’Agénois. [13]

De Fléchin, although defeated, was lionized for having put up such a stiff fight against the British forces.

British losses were approximately 17 killed, 47 wounded, and 7 missing (71 in total). The 69th Foot reportedly lost 5 officers and 29 men killed and wounded; this loss in officers was one of the highest by a British regiment during the war. [14]

Admiral Hood singled out for praise Lieutenant-Colonel (and New York land baron) Philip Skene, who led the 69th in this engagement. [4]


In October of last year, I made a preliminary assessment of this combat and concluded that the fighting probably took place on St. Timothy's Hill. Further research has led me to conclude that the action almost certainly took place on "the Mooring Hills" instead. None of the sources is explicit on this point, but it is the logical conclusion in view of several pieces of evidence. Most important to my way of thinking was a statement by the anonymous journalist on Nevis, who wrote "This day 700 regulars, being all the effectives General Prescott brought down with him, were landed under cover of the frigates at Frigate and Potatoe Bays [both locations are shown on the map above]. The French had a body of men posted on the hills above them..." Further, his description of events following the battle (these will be covered in the next post in this series) makes clear that the battlefield was closer to Basseterre town than St. Timothy's Hill. See Note #10, below, for the full account.

1. Excerpts from Shirley’s journal are from Algernon Aspinall (1915). West Indian tales of old.

2. The diary of Sir John Moore, Volume 1.

3. Charles Middleton (1907). Letters and papers of Charles, Lord Barham, Volume 1.

4. David Hannay (1895). Letters written by Sir Samuel Hood (Viscount Hood) in 1781-2-3.

5. Full name: Charles-François-Joseph de Fléchin de Vamin

6. 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.

7. Full name: Barthélemi-Sernin du Moulin de Montlezun de la Barthelle

8. Baron de Montlezun (1818). Souvenirs des Antilles. Translations of this work are my own.

9. De Montlezun described himself as being on the extreme left and he reported seeing only white-coated troops from regiment Agénois and Touraine to his right. This leads me to believe that the troops from Dillon and the Volontaires de Bouillé were even further to the right (outside his field of vision), and nearest the British fleet. Admiral Hood was under the impression that the British were fighting Irish troops in French service [cf. Note #4]; however, the detachment from Regiment Dillon was the only set of Irish troops in de Fléchin’s command. The total of “300 or so” is an estimate based on inconsistent statements about de Fléchin’s numbers across several sources.

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

11. Eugéne Berger (1904). Le vicomte de Mirabeau (Mirabeau-Tonneau) 1754-1792. Translations of this work are my own.

12. Full name: Servant-Paul le Saige de Villebrune

13. Statements about French losses varied slightly from source to source. cf. Note #6, above, the Journal Politique of April, 1782 (seconde quinzaine), and other French accounts of the campaign.

14. See Note #10, above, and the Remembrancer for 1782.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Guilford Courthouse in Miniature (5)

This is the fourth in a series of posts depicting the battle of Guilford Courthouse in miniature. Previous posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

The initial British attack was directed against the North Carolina militia, who formed a defensive line behind a rail fence. The attack was successful, but soon the British left wing found itself threatened on its flank.

The British left wing was led by Lieutenant-Colonel James Webster and consisted of the 23rd and 33rd regiments, supported by British Guards and Hessian jaegers.

According to Charles Stedman (British officer and later historian), Webster found “the left of the thirty-third regiment exposed to a heavy fire from the right wing of the enemy, which greatly out-flanked him …” [1]

Webster’s assailants came from a corps of cavalry, light infantry, and riflemen commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel William Washington. Early in the fighting a picked body of the riflemen were dispatched to skirmish with the British. This group (about 50 men) were led by Major John Callaway of Virginia. According to one rifleman, the men gave “the Enemys left Flank four or five destructive fires [before] the Major ordered a Retreat”. [2]

Stedman noted that Webster “changed his front to the left…. [and] moving to the left with the thirty-third regiment, supported by the light-infantry of the guards, and the yagers, routed and put to flight the right wing of the enemy…” [1]

However, the American retreat came only after a stubborn defense.

James Collins, who was with a part of the North Carolina militia, recalled that “He, with most of his company stood till they got four fires” [3]

Sergeant-Major William Seymour of the Delaware light infantry wrote that:

“our riflemen and musquetry behaved with great bravery, killing and wounding great numbers of the enemy. Colonel Washington’s Light Infantry on the right flank was attacked by three British regiments, in which they behaved with almost incredible bravery …” [4]

The first American line retreats before the British infantry. In the background are Virginian militia from the brigades of Brigadier-General Robert Lawson and Brigadier-General Edward Stevens. The 33rd Regiment of Foot (red and white flag) attacks Lynch’s riflemen while British Guards and Jaegers (bottom and right) come up to reinforce the British line.

The 33rd Foot attacks Lynch’s riflemen with the bayonet.

The 33rd Foot, wheeling to the left, confronts Continental light infantry.


1. Charles Stedman. (1794). The History of the Origin, Progress, and Termination of the American War, Vol. 2.

2. Pension application of Joel Leftwich.

3. Pension application of James Collins.

4. William Seymour (1896). A journal of the southern expedition: 1780-1783. Papers of the Historical Society of Delaware, 15, 3-42.

The three British "regiments" possibly refer to be the 33rd Foot, the Hessian jaegers, and the Guards' light infantry company.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

St. Kitts (6): Battle of Frigate Bay

This is the sixth 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, Part 4, or Part 5].

Hood’s Plans

On January 25th, 1782, British Admiral Samuel Hood outmaneuvered French Admiral François-Joseph-Paul de Grasse and seized an anchorage in near Basseterre town on St. Kitts.

French reactions to this engagement were mixed. The French admired the tactical skill Hood had shown, but downplayed the importance of this engagement. According to one officer:

The most important anchorage for the English admiral, the only one decisive for raising the siege of Brimstone Hill… was that of Sandy Point; there, even under sail, he could have communicated directly with the fortress, he could have landed his troops under his guns, and been protected by them in case of attack; the place would never have been totally invested… and the position of the besiegers would have become very critical; on the other hand the vaunted anchorage [that Hood actually took]… was too far from the besieged place, and the English [infantry] corps was too weak to cut its way through to [the garrison]. [1]

It was true that if Hood had insisted on approaching Sandy Point he could have had a greater impact on the siege of Brimstone Hill. However, Hood’s decision making was influenced by two factors unbeknownst to the French. One was that that Brigadier-General Thomas Fraser of the British garrison had reported that reinforcements were not needed on Brimstone Hill. The other was that Hood was expecting the arrival of a British squadron commanded by George Brydges Rodney. This combined fleet (which Rodney would command) would give the British a decisive advantage over the French. Hood’s secure anchorage near Basseterre allowed him to balance the twin needs of being in supporting distance of the garrison while preserving his ships until Rodney’s arrival.

De Grasse Attacks

De Grasse was disappointed by the result of the action on the 25th, and he had no intention of allowing Hood to peacefully occupy an anchorage at St. Kitts. He chose to strike Hood’s fleet the morning of the 26th.

Hood anticipated an attack, and he specifically feared that the French would direct their ships against the front (eastern end) of his line, where they could use the windward position to their advantage. To protect this end, he rearranged his ships so that the line lay so close to shore that it was virtually unassailable.

The main part of the British line was in an east-west line (from east to west: Bedford, Russell, Montagu, St. Albans, Alcide, America, Intrepid, Torbay, Princessa, Prince George, Ajax, Prince William, Shrewsbury, Invincible, Barfleur). The rear ships lay in a line that curved to the north, towards Basseterre (from southeast to northwest: Monarch, Centaur, Belliqueux, Resolution, Prudent, Canada, Alfred). [2]

The rear ships abutted the 100-fathom depth line which prevented the French ships from anchoring near the British fleet. [3]

On the morning of the 26th, the French formed line of battle in the usual order (i.e., the reverse of that listed here, with Souverain in the lead) and sailed north, towards the British. De Grasse intended to strike the western extremity of the British line. However, the French ships sailed close to shore as they approached the British fleet, and thus the appearance of aiming for the eastern flank. De Grasse, it seems intended to suddenly turn and sail his ships across the length of the British line before closing with the western flank.

Whatever the merits of this plan, it was not carried out as intended. According to an eyewitness on Nevis, “The leading ship of the French [Souverain] stood on with amazing steadiness and resolution, and advanced considerably farther than the rest.” Perhaps Souverain was carried too far forward by wind and waves, or perhaps Souverain’s captain sought to make a name for himself. In any case:

“She [Souverain] kept on advancing till the fire of our line opened upon her, which seemed visibly to stagger her; the fire of the whole line opening in a manner at once, was truly awful; it resembled loud rolling thunder, and was incessant for nearly two hours. The whole French line followed their leader, but none came so near to the English line.” [5]

The Chevalier de Goussencourt concluded that this misaimed attack was a byproduct of infighting between de Grasse and his subordinates. He wrote sarcastically, “in consequence of the good will and affection entertained for the admiral, all efforts were turned to the centre of the [British] fleet” rather than the western flank, or rear. [1]

The French captains responded differently to this changed set of circumstances. According to the observer on Nevis, “the difference among them was very distinguishable… some luffing up and endeavouring to get as close as possible, while others apparently edged out of the heat of our fire.” [5]


De Grasse’s attack goes awry. The French vessels, with Souverain in the lead, come within range of Hood’s cannon. Ships of the line only are shown; positions are very approximate.

The French Attack. This painting depicts roughly the same events as the map above. The French vessels are sailing from at left. Nevis is in the foreground, and the "Narrows" separating St. Kitts and Nevis is in the middle ground. Brimstone Hill is faintly visible in the far distance at left (a flag appears above the summit and smoke billows from the British fortifications).


The ships in the British rear began shifting positions once it became apparent that they would come under attack. Captain William Cornwallis, commander of the Canada, was one of those in an exposed position. Seeing “the enemy’s fleet standing in with a press of sail, [we] were obliged to cut the cable…” Canada and the other vessels then began to work eastward, against the wind, to close with the rest of the fleet. [5]

According to de Goussencourt, the French attack did ultimately land hardest against the rear of the British line:

…we were fortunate enough, and our gunners expert enough, to handle the four rear vessels in the English line so severely that they were forced to weigh anchor under our fire, and could hardly have been more cut up than they were. As our ships passed the last English vessels they veered in the same order.


Battle of the 26th of January, 1782. Hood's fleet is anchored at left. The French ships (with sails unfurled) are shown turning back out to sea after passing the rear-most British vessels.


The attack killed and wounded many, but nothing of importance was gained. According to de Goussencourt, “This action was simply a brush, which lasted two hours, and amounted to nothing.” A fellow officer pronounced it a “farce” (facétie). [1]

De Grasse Attacks Again

De Grasse soon reformed his fleet; the much-battered Souverain was placed at the rear of the line. The French then made a new attack during the afternoon.

This time, the French attack landed squarely on the rear of the British line as intended. However, according to one of de Grasse’s officers, “only the head of the French line could come into action, and the wind prevented the action from becoming general.” [1] The eyewitness on Nevis recorded that these “six or seven of the French van attacked our rear; two of them seemed to us to luff up very gallantly, almost so as to double round” the British line.

The fighting, while limited in scope, was nevertheless intense. De Goussencourt claimed “we so harassed the English rear that Admiral Hood replaced the four rear vessels by others which had suffered less in the three engagements…”

Captain Robert Manners commanded one of these British ships (the Resolution), and later wrote:

One of their attacks was pretty severe, and fell mostly on our rear; we came off very well in point of men [Resolution’s losses in the three engagements totaled 5 killed, 11 wounded], but are much cut in the masts and rigging, having our bowsprit, all our lower masts, all our top masts, and all our top gallant masts wounded… [5]

The eyewitness on Nevis believed heavy fire from the British rear ships forced the French van to withdraw:

…the fire from our rear was now so terrible and particularly the Barfleur’s, that they soon bore away and stood up to the southward; when they lay-to for the night.


The final clash on the 26th. Ships of the line only are shown; positions are very approximate.


Once again, Hood’s fleet remained secure in its anchorage.

An officer with de Grasse commented,

We should have attacked again on the 27th, if the English squadron had not appeared out of reach of insult; the vessels cut up the day before were removed and eight or nine of the largest had taken their places. They were anchored, the bowsprit of one over the stern of the other; thus unattackable, the fleet contented itself with keeping them there. [1]

The British and French tallied up their losses from the several clashes. The British counted 316 killed and wounded, the French 314. [6]


De Grasse’s clashes with Hood on the 25th and 26th have been termed the “battle of Frigate Bay,” but this appears to be a misnomer. Frigate Bay was mentioned in Hood’s report on the St. Kitts campaign, but in connection only with the events of January 28th-29th (to be described in the next two posts), not his battle with de Grasse. Maps of St. Kitts shows Frigate Bay to be only a concave section of coastline, east of Basseterre Town, and some miles distant from where de Grasse and Hood are thought to have clashed. Several histories of the campaign claim that Hood anchored his fleet off Green Point, and this is what I have shown on the maps I’ve prepared (it’s the western “bump” in the coastline near Hood’s vessels). I have not seen Green Point specifically mentioned in primary sources, but several illustrations of the St. Kitts campaign (e.g., the Lescalet painting) show the British fleet anchored near a point of land that appears to correspond with Green Point.

1. The journals of Chevalier de Goussencourt, and another, anonymous French officer, can be found in John Gilmary Shea (1864). The operations of the French fleet under the Count de Grasse in 1781-2 as described in two contemporary journals.

2. 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...

3. cf. Clowes et al., ibid.

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

5. The accounts by Captains Cornwallis and Manners can be found in David Hannay (1895) Letters written by Sir Samuel Hood (Viscount Hood) in 1781-2-3

6. The commanders' reports can be found in the British Remembrancer, and the French Journal Politique for 1782.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Guilford Courthouse in Miniature (4)

This is the fourth in a series of posts depicting the battle of Guilford Courthouse in miniature. Previous posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

At Guilford Courthouse, the American army was arrayed in three defensive lines. The attacking British deployed on a wide front and charged the first line, which was composed chiefly of North Carolina militia.

According to a Virginian militiaman listening from the second line, the “close firing began near the centre… and soon spread along the line.” [1] This suggests that the 23rd and 71st regiments were advancing more quickly across the fields in the center of the British line than the 33rd and Bose regiments were advancing across the more difficult terrain on the left and right of the British line.

Descriptions of the details of this attack vary considerably from source to source. For example, militiaman James Martin recalled that on his front the first shot was fired when his company commander successfully picked off a British officer:

I was posted in the front Line with… Captain Forbes a brave and undaunted Fellow we were posted behind a Fence & I told the Men to sit down until the British who were advancing came near enough to shoot when they came in about 100 yards I saw [a] British officer with a drawn sword driving up his mans [sic, men] I asked Captain Forbes if he could take him down he said [he] could for [he] had a good Rifle and asked me if he should shoot then I told him let him [come to with]in 50 yards and then take him down which he did it was a Captain of the British Army [2]

But other accounts make no mention of isolated shots. Instead, they described a mass volley coming from the North Carolinians. The American commander, Major-General Nathanael Greene, stated that the North Carolinians opened fire when the British were 140 yards distant. Conversely, Sergeant Roger Lamb of the 23rd Regiment claimed the Americans held their fire until the British had closed to within murderously close range. He wrote:

…when [we] arrived within forty yards of the enemy's line, it was perceived that their whole force had their arms presented, and resting on a rail fence, the common partitions in America. They were taking aim with the nicest precision. [3]

However it happened, the Americans’ reception was deadly. The 23rd and 71st regiments respectively lost 29% and 26% of their men at Guilford Courthouse, and most of these casualties occurred in front of the rail fence. [4]

The British may have fired repeatedly during their advance through the center fields, and this fire (plus the threat of the bayonet) routed the North Carolinians.

Nathan Slade recalled that:

The enemy approached us and were according to the best of my belief within eighty to an hundred yards of us when they made their first fire—my recollection is that most of us stood firm until after the second [British] fire. On the third fire there were but few if any of us left to receive it—all or nearly all had broke and retreated in great disorder. [5]

This retreat was witnessed by men on the left and right ends of the American lines.

Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Lee commanded the flank corps on the left of the North Carolinians. There he saw, to his “infinite distress and mortification, the North Carolina militia took to flight”. [3]

James Collins was a North Carolina militiaman posted 200 yards to the right of the center fields. There “he saw the disgraceful retreat of that portion of the militia which was placed behind the fence”. [6]

Possibly this retreat set off a wave of panic among neighboring militia units. John Wadkins recalled that the “part of the line in which he was exchanged three or four fires” with the enemy. However, the men “became alarmed by report that the enemy was surrounding them – and fled”. [7]

The 71st Foot (Fraser's Highlanders) fires a volley at the North Carolina militia (here and below, click to enlarge).

Regiment von Bose is staggered by a volley.

North Carolinians of Brigadier-General John Butler's brigade flee from British bayonets.

The British break through the first defensive line.


1. Houston's account appears in William Henry Foote (1855). Sketches of Virginia....

2. Pension application of James Martin.

3. Copies of the accounts by Greene, Lamb, and Lee (among others) can be found in this compendium.

4. Based on the appendixes in Lawrence E. Babits & Joshua B. Howard (2009) Long, obstinate, and bloody: The battle of Guilford Courthouse.

5. Pension application of Nathan Slade.

6. Pension application of James Collins.

7. Pension application of John Wadkins.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Guilford Courthouse in Miniature (3)

This is the third in a series of posts depicting the battle of Guilford Courthouse in miniature. Previous posts: Part 1, Part 2.

At Guilford Courthouse, the British army was met by artillery fire as it neared the Americans’ defensive lines. The British commander, Lieutenant-General Charles Cornwallis, responded by sending his own guns into action and by deploying his infantry for battle.

A gunner of the Royal Artillery fires a 3-pounder.

Soon, the British line swept forward. On the right of the line, Major-General Alexander Leslie led the 2nd battalion of the 71st Foot (Fraser’s highlanders) and the Hessian Regiment von Bose. The former ascended a long muddy field. The latter struggled across a creek and ravine parallel to its path. On the far side of the creek, the left wing advanced up a wooded ravine, while the right wing burst into a small field, whose far end was defended by riflemen and light infantry. The British soon ordered up the 1st battalion of Guards to prevent the Hessians from becoming outflanked.

The 71st Foot (in red) and Regiment von Bose (in blue) advance against a portion of the American first line.

In the ‘separate field,’ Regiment von Bose faces American riflemen and Lee’s Legion.

On the left of the line, Lieutenant-Colonel James Webster led two much esteemed regiments: the 23rd Foot, the famous Royal Welch Fusiliers, and the 33rd Foot, a regiment nicknamed ‘the Pattern,’ for it was regarded as a model for the rest of the army. [1]

The Fusiliers kept pace with the Highlanders on open ground. Referring to these two regiments, Sergeant Roger Lamb of the Fusiliers later recalled:

“After the brigade formed across the open ground, the colonel [Webster] rode on to the front, and gave the word, “Charge.” Instantly the movement was made, in excellent order, in a smart run, with arms charged…”

Meanwhile, the 33rd struggled to cross difficult, wooded terrain. There, they were soon joined by a company of Jaegers and Guards light infantry. Cornwallis, it seems, wanted to ensure that he was not outflanked.

The 23rd Foot advances alongside the Highlanders, while the 33rd Foot crosses through the woods. The British brigade of Guards can be seen in reserve at far right.

Meanwhile, the Americans made adjustments of their own. Captain Singleton’s battery, which had greeted the British advance, limbered up and prepared to withdraw to the third line after the British infantry got in motion.

On the far right of the American line, some of the men in Lieutenant-Colonel William Washington’s flank corps attempted to assail the vulnerable British left. Colonel Charles Lynch was ordered to send “a Detachment of fifty of his best Riflemen to flank the Enemy” [2]

Into firing range. In the center fields, the 23rd and 71st regiments are 100 (scale) yards from the North Carolina militia. The first volleys are about to be fired.


1. Lamb's account of the battle (among others) can be found in this compendium.

2. Pension application of Joel Leftwich.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Uniforms of the St. Kitts Campaign

I'm about halfway through a series of posts on the St. Kitts campaign of 1782 (the most recent post was Part 5). Upcoming posts will focus on a naval engagement on January 26, a land battle on January 28, and the final days of the siege of Brimstone Hill.

As an aside to this series, I discuss in this post the uniforms worn by British and French army regulars during the campaign.

The description that follows touches on only some aspects of the clothing worn by these troops. For a much more complete account, see Philip R. N. Katcher (1973). Encyclopedia of British, Provincial, and German Army Units 1775-1783, and René Chartrand (1991). The French army in the American War of Independence.

British Army

British regulars wore red coats. Individual regiments were distinguished by the color of the coat "facings" (i.e., collar, cuffs, and lapes), by the lace pattern worn around the buttonholes (white with different combinations of colored stripes), and by the metallic color used for officers’ buttons, hat trim, etc. (A copy of the uniform regulations can be found here).

  • 1st (or Royal) Regiment of Foot: Blue facings. Lace pattern was one blue "worm". Officers’ metal was silver.
  • 13th Regiment of Foot: Yellow ochre facings. Lace was worn in pairs; pattern was one yellow stripe. Officers’ metal was silver.
  • 15th Regiment of Foot: Yellow ochre facings. Lace pattern was one mixed yellow and black stripe and one red stripe. Officers’ metal was silver.
  • 28th Regiment of Foot: Bright yellow facings. Lace pattern was one yellow and two black stripes. Officers’ metal was silver.
  • 69th Regiment of Foot: Dull dark green facings. Lace pattern was one red stripe between two green stripes. Officers’ metal was gold.

Perhaps the feature of British army uniforms that is least well understood is the caps and hats worn by the light infantry companies, which were not standardized, and which changed over time. At right is a private of the "picket company" of the 13th Foot, wearing an early version of a light infantryman's cap. The uniform predates the Revolutionary War (by which time picket companies had been replaced by light infantry companies).

British Light Infantry Officer. This officer, thought to have been with the 15th Foot, is wearing a round hat cocked up on the left side and adorned with a feather. This style of hat would have been worn by the light infantry companies of the 15th and 28th regiments during the Philadelphia campaign of 1777, and possibly retained by these regiments after they were sent to the West Indies in 1778. The light infantry company of the 15th Regiment helped garrison Brimstone Hill fortress.

British Light Infantry on Maneuvers. This section of a painting by Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg shows what may be the light infantry company of the 69th Foot participating in war game exercises in England, circa 1778. The dark green facings and the style of leather cap match known uniform details for this unit.

French Army

Most regiments of the French regular army wore white coats. Individual regiments were distinguished by the combination of facing color on cuffs and lapels, the orientation of the side pocket flaps, and the color of the buttons.

  • Régiment d'Armagnac (6e): Light blue lapels, vertical pocket flaps, white buttons.
  • Régiment de Champagne (7e): Light blue cuffs, vertical pocket flaps, white buttons.
  • Régiment d'Auxerrois (12e): Black lapels, vertical pocket flaps, white buttons.
  • Régiment d'Agénois (16e): Violet cuffs, horizontal pocket flaps, yellow buttons.
  • Régiment de Touraine (34e): Pink cuffs, vertical pocket flaps, white buttons.
  • Régiment d'Hainault (51e): Crimson cuffs, vertical pocket flaps, white buttons.
  • Régiment Royal Comtois (76e): Blue cuffs, vertical pocket flaps, white buttons.
  • Régiment de Dillon (90e): Red coats, yellow cuffs and lapels, horizontal pocket flaps, yellow buttons set in herringbone fashion. At right is a 1779 illustration of a chasseur of this regiment.

Several units of French colonial troops also participated in the St. Kitts campaign. Régiment de la Martinique wore blue coats without lapels and with buff cuffs and collars. Régiment de la Guadeloupe were dressed similarly, but had crimson cuffs and collars. The Volontaires de Bouillé wore a distinctive "blue short coat" with "red cuffs," and a "helmet" (per Chartrand, 1992). Hussars of the 1st Legion of the Volontaires étrangers de la Marine were also present. These wore a uniform similar to that of the well-known Lauzun's Legion.

Regulation uniforms for grenadiers of regiments Hainault (left) and Touraine (right). Note the facing color is used to line the collar and lapels. The red epaulets and hat tuft identify these men as grenadiers.

Both British and French army units may have modified their clothing in various ways. One well-known example of this in the French case is that some (and possibly many) grenadier companies wore bearskin caps rather than the proscribed cocked hats.

Grenadiers of Régiment de Soissonnois in 1781.

A series of images by Nicolas Ponce suggests that chasseur companies also deviated from the regulated headgear. In these images, the chasseurs are shown wearing a round hat that is cocked in the back and adorned with a feather. This style seems practical; unfortunately, I have not come across any evidence to date that corroborates the accuracy of this depiction.

Chasseurs of Régiment de Dillon at the capture of St. Eustatius in 1781.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Guilford Courthouse in Miniature (2)

This is the second in a series of posts depicting the battle of Guilford Courthouse in miniature. Previous posts: Part 1

While the British advanced towards Guilford Courthouse, the Americans formed in three defensive lines. The first line abutted several fields belonging to one Joseph Hoskins. This line was defended by Butler’s and Eaton’s brigades of North Carolina militia in front. Two corps commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Lee and Lieutenant-Colonel William Washington respectively defended the North Carolinians' left and right flanks.

Just ahead of the North Carolina militia, on the New Garden road, was a 2-gun section of 6-pounders commanded by Captain Anthony Singleton of the 1st Continental Artillery.

Singleton's battery, at the center of the American first line.

Singleton’s guns fired at the head of the head of the British column as soon as it came into view. The British promptly brought up guns of their own (two 3-pounders and probably at least one 6-pounder) and began peppering the American line.

British artillery open fires. The Royal Artillery is supported by jaegers and light infantry. Nearby, General Cornwallis contemplates his deployment.

Some of the British cannonballs overshot the first line, and landed among the men of Brigadier-General Robert Lawson's Virginia brigade, on the second line.

The first two American lines. The North Carolina militia is at center. Lee's flank corps is at extreme left. The Virginia militia brigades of Edward Stevens and Robert Lawson are in the foreground. The British vanguard is partially visible at the top of the image.

Meanwhile, the British commander, Lieutenant-General Charles Cornwallis, began deploying his infantry on either side of the road in a line that paralleled the Americans.

The 71st Regiment of Foot Deploys. The 71st was directed to form on the eastern end of Hoskins' fields, to the right of the artillery. The 23rd Foot has formed on the opposite side of the road.

One American standing near Singleton's guns remembered how his men were exhorted by Lee during the artillery exchange:

...just before the battle commenced Colonel Lee rode up to the lines where [I] stood & read something like these words, "My brave boys, your lands, your lives & your country depend on your conduct this day -- I have given Tarleton hell this morning & I will give him more of it before night." & speaking of the roaring of the British canon he said "You hear damnation roaring over all these woods & after all they are no more than we."

For more on this project, see here. For details on the composition of the American army, see here.

The quoted passage is from the pension application of William Leslie.