The First Land Fight

Introduction

Anyone who believes that the American Revolution was a war easily fought doesn’t know enough about American history.  We might argue that the revolution first occurred as an idea in the heads of British citizens who began to wonder if they could forge their future without the interference of the king or parliament.  Fighting the revolution was an entirely different matter.  Still, before we get to that discussion, we need to explore what else was happening in the world besides men muttering over their mead in a Massachusetts pub about burdensome taxes.

In the last years of the Seven Years’ War (also called the French and Indian Wars), British fleets and armies ranged across the world stage, dismembering France and Spain’s colonial empires.  But in London, from around 1750, British ministers had to consider the prospect of defending British territories from a wide range of enemies.

Looking at North America, it was logical to assume that some colonies could defend themselves, but there were questions about the other colonies.  Nova Scotia would be a problem — French catholic priests would see to that.  In any case, if the British knew anything about the French from the previous 400 years, it was that the French could not be trusted.  One could always tell when a French diplomat was lying because his lips were moving.  In any case, if the French seized Halifax, all the other British American colonies could be rolled up without much effort.

The Virginia colony was always reliable and well-populated with men who knew how to fight.  Pennsylvania’s Quaker politicians would open their doors to the French without a quibble.  No one knew where the ethnic German colonists would come down on the question of war with France.  Georgia and South Carolina could not defend themselves against the Cherokee, much less French marines.  In the West Indies, enslaved Black people outnumbered British Army regulars and colonists.  The thought of a slave revolt was disturbing, indeed.  This was only the tip of the iceberg.

Yes, the French Bourbons were threatening, but so too were the highland Scots, Irish Catholics, and North American Indians, and there was this ongoing and highly perturbing talk inside England about republicanism.  British politicians decided it was time to act.  Highlanders became the flower of the British Army, and Irish Catholics were recruited as well.  In Pennsylvania, German colonists formed two regiments of Royal American infantry.  Amazingly, 21,000 American colonists stepped up to defend the British colonies in 1758.  Before 1763, most native Indian tribes had sided with the British.  Arcadian troublemakers found themselves deported to Louisiana.  There was even some talk of forming a pro-British French militia.

And yet, the preceding concerns were only half of the problem.  North America had no four-lane highways to move large numbers of troops.  Those troops would have to be transferred by ship if that were necessary.  The Atlantic coastline was the only highway.  Additionally, there were no “fast means of communication.”  Coordinating widely dispersed military forces was difficult in the extreme.

The revolutionary campaigns were complex, made so by weather, climate, the distances between cities, thick foliage, and the lack of adequate roads to move troops, artillery, and supply wagons.  The British Army was, in 1775, the world’s premier land army.  Who, in their right mind, would challenge it? 

In those days, armies depended on foraging to feed the men and animals.  There was no question that the British Army could forage; the king owned everything — he could take what he needed.  His subjects might be compensated, or they may not.  The Continental army had to rely on the patriotic spirit of local farmers.  A third of these farmers were British loyalists, with another one-third opportunists who would offer forage to whoever paid the highest.

The American Revolutionary War was a complicated series of campaigns.  It is hard to imagine the distances in an age where automobiles can travel five hundred or more miles in a single day.  It would take an American or British soldier 33 days to march 500 miles in 1775.  Granted, the number of men who participated in the American Revolution pales compared to modern warfare, but the number of combatants was significant for those days.  As with all armed conflicts, whatever could have gone wrong, did.

American land forces included (in total over seven years) 200,000 patriots. American naval forces included 106 Continental and State-owned ships. We don’t know how many men served in the navy, but Continental Marines had 132 officers and 2,000 enlisted men. The Americans were aided by 53 French navy ships and an unknown number of French land forces. Including all losses (Continental Army/State militia and civilian populations), the Americans gave up 70,000 war dead, 6,100 wounded in action, 17,000 losses from disease, and around 130,000 additional deaths attributed to smallpox. [1] The total of French allied dead was 2,112. Setting aside America’s war dead, the average life expectancy for a white male adult in 1780 was 39 years.

Opposing the Americans during the revolution were 48,000 British troops, 30,000 German troops, 25,000 loyalist troops, and 13,000 American Indians. What we know of British casualties is limited. Historians contend that British combat dead totaled 5,500 men; German allies lost 7,774 men, of which 1,800 died in battle. Nearly 5,000 German troops deserted in North America. Of British loyalists, 7,000 died during the American Revolution, including 1,700 combat dead and 5,300 from unspecified diseases.

Some Background

American Marines were created upon the recommendation of the Naval and Marine Committees of the Second Continental Congress in October and November 1775.  The officer commissioned to recruit the two Marine battalions was Samuel Nicholas, a native of Philadelphia.  Nicholas was born in 1744 (d. 1790), the youngest of three children of Anthony and Mary Chute-Cowman Nicholas.  Anthony was a blacksmith; Mary’s uncle Attwood Shute was the mayor of Philadelphia from 1755-58.  Samuel graduated from the College of Philadelphia (present-day University of Pennsylvania) in 1759.  On 28 November 1775, Sam Nicholas was commissioned by the Second Continental Congress to serve as Captain of Marines.  He was the first officer commissioned in the Continental Naval Service.

Upon confirmation of his appointment, Captain Nicholas started planning his recruitment campaign around the number of ships that would require a complement of Marines.  Captain Nicholas’ secondary assignment was the command of the Marine Detachment aboard USS Alfred.  In this capacity, Captain Nicholas answered to Commodore Esek Hopkins.[2]  Alfred sailed on 4 January 1776 for Nassau (See also, The Marine’s First Amphibious Raid).  Nicholas returned to Philadelphia in April 1776 and resumed command of the Marine battalions.  In June, Congress promoted Nicholas to Major Commandant Continental Marine Corps.

In October 1776, the people of Philadelphia speculated that when British General Sir William Howe was tired of chasing patriots in New York, he would march his army to invade their fair city.  Fearing such an eventuality, the Continental Congress organized committees and met with various members of the Pennsylvania legislature to plan a defense of the city.  A Pennsylvania committee submitted its recommendations to the Continental War Board.  They proposed that Congress permanently assign four companies of Marines in Pennsylvania or at Trenton to defend Philadelphia from British or Loyalist troops.[3]  The Pennsylvania committee also suggested an additional two Virginia militia battalions and a German militia battalion.

Contrary to the general concerns of Philadelphia citizens, British General William Howe was already engaged in Westchester County and, for the time being, posed no threat to Philadelphia.  Major Nicholas and his staff continued recruiting and training Marines in Philadelphia through the fall of 1776.  By then, the First Battalion was well-organized, disciplined, and (more or less) functional.  Nicholas adequately provided for their nutritional needs and saw they were accorded comfortable billets.  Still, some Marines deserted from their service responsibilities, with few returning to face the consequences.

Private Henry Hassan took his punishment but, within a month, deserted for a second time.  Even then, the Marine Corps was not everyone’s cup of tea. One Marine who returned may have regretted his decision when, having been found guilty at a court-martial of desertion and quitting his post without authority, received fifty lashes on his bareback for desertion and twenty-one additional lashes of the whip for quitting his post.

The Marines Mobilize

Suddenly, in mid-November, Philadelphia was abuzz with rumors of an approaching British fleet.  Congress directed the Marine Committee to arrange its naval forces in the Delaware River.  Accordingly, USS Randolph was made ready for sea.  Major Commandant Nicholas ordered Captain Shaw to select Marines from the First Battalion, prepare them for duty at sea, and report to the officer commanding the frigate.

Captain Shaw’s Marines reported to Randolph before the ship’s crew.  In 1776, few mariners were interested in serving in the Continental Navy with British sloops of war roaming the American coastlines and taking station in busy seaports.  The rumor of an approaching British fleet was only that; the fleet was actually several British merchantmen, but Randolph’s preparations continued.

Meanwhile, the land war was turning against General Washington.  After defeats at Long Island, White Plains, Fort Washington, and Fort Lee, General Washington began his long retreat through New Jersey.  He was in desperate need of veteran soldiers.  The British Army’s march to Trenton posed a real threat to Philadelphia.  By late November, General Washington was in a precarious situation; the British pushed him from Harlem Heights to Upper Westchester County.  He crossed the Hudson on 13 November and began his painful and embarrassing withdrawal to Hackensack, Newark, Elizabeth Town, and Brunswick.

From Brunswick, Washington sent a letter to President (of Congress) John Hancock begging for immediate reinforcements.  Hancock wanted to help, but with common knowledge that 10,000 British troops were enroute, there were no long queues of volunteers at the recruiting offices.  Washington led his under-staffed army out of Brunswick on 2 December, marching them through Princeton and finally halting them on the banks of the Delaware River.

When General Howe occupied Brunswick, everyone still above the ground inside Philadelphia went into cardiac arrest.  All Philadelphia shops and schools closed by order of the Council of Public Safety.  All able-bodied citizens and militia took up arms to defend the city.  What actually happened was that the good citizens of Philadelphia, able-bodied or not, ignored the Council of Public Safety, loaded their wagons, and deserted the city.  There was much to accomplish in such a short period of time, and defending the city was not very high on anyone’s agenda.

Once city officials realized their fellow citizens were gutless wonders, they urgently appealed to the Congress for Continental Marines.  Responding to the will of Congress, Major Nicholas detailed three companies of Marines for the defense of Pennsylvania.  Company officers inspected their men and readied them for service in the field.  With orders to report to General Washington, Major Nicholas marched his Marines down to the waterfront to board gondolas.[4]

The Marines’ departure from Philadelphia did nothing to bolster the morale of its few remaining citizens.  While Major Nicholas proceeded to General Washington’s camp, city officials formed a regiment of militia — three battalions — in all, around 1,200 men.  These were citizens who didn’t get away from Philadelphia fast enough.  They were well-clothed but poorly armed.  Within a few days, the regimental commander, Colonel John Cadwalader, was ordered to proceed and report to General Washington.

General Washington was happy to receive reinforcements — even Marines — but he wasn’t sure what to do with them.[5]  This problem was solved when Colonel Cadwalader arrived on 5 December.  Since Cadwalader and Major Nicholas were Philadelphians, Washington asked Cadwalader to absorb the Marine battalion into his regiment, along with the USS Delaware and USS Washington crews under captains Charles Alexander and Thomas Read.  Colonel Cadwalader’s regiment became a de facto brigade with these additional forces.

However, General Washington had far more on his plate than personnel issues.  For one thing, Washington was puzzled by General Howe’s delay in Brunswick.  Washington decided to march his men toward Princeton on 7 December.  Informants cautioned Washington that he was walking into a collision with the British.  Since it was not the time or place of his choosing, General Washington again retreated to Trenton and withdrew across the Delaware River.  In this process, Washington ordered his men to remove or destroy anything valuable to the enemy.

General Washington did not know that Similar problems plagued general Howe.  He did not have timely or reliable information about his enemy.  Wisely, Howe was cautious in his pursuit of Washington but unwisely divided his force into two corps.  The first, under Major General James Grant, Howe ordered to Trenton.  The second corps, under Major General Charles Cornwallis, General Howe ordered to Maidenhead — a position halfway between Trenton and Princeton.

The vanguard of Grant’s force reached Trenton just as the last of Washington’s army crossed the river into Pennsylvania. General Cornwallis’ troops reached the East bank of the river 15 miles above Trenton, but Washington had wisely removed all boats from that location and positioned his field canon on the west bank.  These measures brought General Grant’s advance to a screeching halt.

Once General Howe became aware that Grant and Cornwallis lost their momentum, he abandoned his immediate plan for a Pennsylvania campaign.  Instead, he ordered Grant and Cornwallis to establish winter camps.  Ultimately, these cantonments stretched from Hackensack to Burlington on the Delaware River.  General Howe then went to his winter camp.

Observing British forces constructing bridges and river-side docks, Washington logically concluded that Howe’s delay was only temporary.  Desperate for reliable knowledge concerning British activities, General Washington sent a letter to Pennsylvania’s Council of Safety asking them if it would be possible to send Commodore Thomas Seymour upriver to reconnoiter the area.  He also ordered Colonel Cadwalader to send a battalion to Dunk’s ferry.  The battalion’s two-fold mission was to guard the crossing and scout the area of Bordentown across the Delaware River.

On 11 December 1776, Hessian Colonel Carl E. U. von Donop departed Trenton with a force large enough to seize Bordentown and Burlington.  Von Donop encountered only light resistance from local militia, but his presence forced Washington’s scouting party back across the river.  The Germans had no problem occupying Burlington, but local Loyalists complained that his presence would only attract the attention of the Continental Navy.  Von Donop organized a delegation of Burlington citizens to confer with Commodore Seymore to receive his assurances and gain information from Seymour that might benefit General von Donop.  Meanwhile, Hessian troops began patrolling inside the town.

Commodore Seymour met with citizen delegates and, to his credit, was direct in response to their inquiries.  Seymour would have no sympathy for Burlington if von Donop occupied it.  As soon as he observed the Hessian town patrols, Seymour opened fire, forcing von Donop’s army to withdraw northward and aggravating the ulcers of the townspeople.

On 12 December, Marines from USS Hancock, serving under Marine Captain William Shippin, occupied Burlington.  Reports from Seymour and his scouts confirmed Washington’s suspicions.  Consequently, Washington established a defensive perimeter on the West Bank of the Delaware south of Burlington.  Brigadier General Philemon Dickinson secured Yardley’s Ferry and tied his defense line with that of Brigadier General James Ewing.  Colonel Cadwalader’s force tied in with Ewing from Hoop’s mill to Dunk’s Ferry.

While General Washington created his line of defense, militia General Israel Putnam supervised the defense of Philadelphia.  In the middle of these preparations, such as they were, HMS Roebuck anchored just inside Delaware Bay.  Roebuck’s position prohibited ships from reaching the open sea.  Congressional delegates ordered the Marine Committee to send warnings of Roebuck’s station to local merchantmen.[6]

The Committee then considered the employment of Randolph and Hornet — both ship’s captains received instructions placing them under General Putnam’s orders.  Congress offered a $10,000 bounty to the crew and Marines of Randolph if Captain Nicholas Biddle could bypass HMS Roebuck and get into the open sea.

Having done its duty in defense of Philadelphia, Congress promptly removed itself to Baltimore.  Congressional delegate Robert Morris, however, remained behind as a congressional liaison to General Putnam.  He advised Putnam to send Randolph and Hornet to sea without delay.  Putnam agreed and ordered both frigates readied for sea.  Morris’ idea was to send Biddle to sea in search of British ships operating off the coast of New York.  Despite Biddle’s recruitment of sailors from the city prison to man his ship, he did not have a full crew complement and was reluctant to shove off without an entire crew.

Captain James Nicholson, commanding Hornet, received different instructions.  Since Hornet had a barely adequate crew, Morris and Putnam ordered Nicholson to sail to South Carolina and, once clearing the capes, proceed to Martinique, where he might find crewmen and military stores needed for Washington’s army.

Both Continental ships set sail on 14 December, setting a course for Hog Island.  The following day, a messenger vessel overtook them with instructions to put into Chester to await the arrival of merchantmen destined for France.  While anchored in Chester, another boat arrived from Philadelphia, recalling both ships.  After Morris learned that HMS Falcon and two bomb ketches (ships rigged for firing mortars) had arrived to reinforce Roebuck, he recalled Randolph and Hornet, fearing their loss to the Royal Navy.

Morris was also concerned about Captain C. Alexander’s frigate Delaware; he asked Washington to release the ship back to Philadelphia.  Colonel Cadwalader, under whose command Delaware was placed, concurred.  Major Nichols formed a detachment of Marines for service on Delaware, placing them under the command of First Lieutenant Daniel Henderson and Second Lieutenant David Love.  The shifting of officers led to the temporary appointment of Sergeant James Coakley to First Lieutenant.[7]  The loss of 20 Marines from Cadwalader’s command had little effect on Washington because, on 14 December, the British had gone into winter quarters.

The Marines under Major Nicholas numbered around 130 officers and men.  While under Cadwalader’s command, the Marines shared the usual service duties with the brigade, including guard duty.  Cadwalader, well aware of General Washington’s concerns about gaining intelligence about enemy movements/intentions, assigned his guard units the additional task of obtaining information and passing it up the chain of command.  Guard units were also instructed to harass the enemy whenever possible.

Washington appreciated Cadwalader’s foresight.  He constantly fretted over the possibility of a sudden attack by Howe’s forces, particularly since Washington’s army was weak and under-equipped.  An army collapse at that point would be a disaster for the patriot cause.  Of additional concern to Washington was that most of his army’s enlistments would expire on 31 December 1776.  These factors prompted General Washington to seize the initiative against Howe while he still had an army.  News of Howe’s withdrawal and the scattering of his forces encouraged Washington’s line of thought.  By 24 December, General Washington had formulated a plan for offensive operations.

Washington’s primary objective was Trenton.  His plan called for crossing the Delaware River at three locations, executed by Cadwalader’s brigade, Hitchcock, Ewing, and a militia company under Captain Thomas Rodney.[8]  Captain Rodney would cross the river near Bristol and join Colonel Griffin, who was already in New Jersey.  Together, this force would march on Trenton and join Washington’s main body.  Ewing would cross the river at Trenton Ferry to the north of Cadwalader.  Ewing’s primary task was to capture the Assunpink Bridge to prevent the Hessians from escaping Trenton.   Washington commanded 2,400 troops and decided to cross at McKinley’s Ferry, ten miles above Trenton.  Once his three brigades reformed in New Jersey, Washington intended to march on Princeton and Brunswick.

Trenton was under the control of Hessian Colonel Johann Gottlieb.  In keeping with German tradition, Gottlieb’s regiment celebrated Christmas with feasting and strong drink.  Washington readied his men in Pennsylvania, but a fierce winter storm set in as the day progressed.  Snowfall was dense, and the temperature was agonizingly bitter.  Nevertheless, by 1800, Washington had sent his advance force across the Delaware River.  Poor weather, dropping temperatures, and coagulating river ice impeded Washington’s operations by midnight.  By then, Washington’s operation was already three hours behind schedule.

The army wasn’t assembled and ready to march until 0400.  Throughout the night, the storm worsened.  General Washington divided his command into two corps.  Brigadier General Nathanael Greene led the first of these toward the left and seized the Pennington Road, while Colonel Arthur St. Clair proceeded southeast, down the river road.

Within a mile of Trenton, Greene deployed his men to form a half-circle around the town.  Greene’s approach alerted the Hessians.  A number of pickets retreated to an area north of town.  Washington launched his main assault at around 07:00.  Patriot artillery opened fire into the ranks of Hessians, whom Gottlieb had formed to repel the patriot force.  The barrage decimated the Hessians, and they withdrew to the edge of town.  German officers rallied their men, reformed the ranks, ordered “fix bayonets,” and started back to confront Washington’s force.  Soon aware that they were outnumbered, the Hessians began a fighting withdrawal.  Unhappily for the Germans, they withdrew into elements of Ewing’s force at the Assunpink Bridge.  With their officers dying right and left, the German troops became confused and soon surrendered.

The second group of Hessians rallied under Major von Dechow to re-take the bridge, but they were soon defeated.  The battle lasted barely two hours.  Washington suffered the loss of one man killed and three wounded.  The Hessians lost 22 killed, 83 wounded, and 891 captured.  Six hundred Germans managed to escape capture and moved rapidly toward Bordentown.

As it turned out, Washington’s force assaulted the Hessians without the support of either Cadwalader or Ewing’s full complement.  As Cadwalader attempted to cross the Delaware River, the storm increased in intensity; dangerous ice impeded his movements.  Out of concern that the storm might cause the loss of his canon, Cadwalader delayed sending his main force across the Delaware River.

General Ewing faced the same predicament and, with the exception of his initial advance guard, made no further attempt to cross the river.  General Washington, meanwhile, was unaware of any of these circumstances.  Having defeated the Hessians, his mission accomplished, General Washington returned across the Delaware River.  He dispatched a force to accompany his prisoners to Philadelphia and resumed his defense of the West Bank.

Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, Robert Morris had no success recruiting crews for Pennsylvania’s militia Navy.  Service at sea with low pay may have been too much to ask.  Captain Biddle grew obstinate about not having a full crew, but with Washington’s victory at Trenton, there was no longer a reason to send Randolph to sea.

Late in the day on 26 December, General Washington received a letter from Cadwalader explaining his reasons for failing to complete his mission.  When General Cadwalader wrote his letter, he did not know where Washington was.  He informed Washington that he intended to cross the Delaware River “the following morning.”  By then, Washington had returned to Newtown, Pennsylvania.  Washington’s reply asked Cadwalader to delay crossing the river until the two men could confer.  Of course, except for one regiment under Colonel Hitchcock, Cadwalader had already crossed.

Having received General Washington’s instructions, Colonel Hitchcock canceled his planned movement across the river.  He dispatched a messenger to Cadwalader advising him of recent events and instructions.  Cadwalader conferred with his officers.  Ultimately, Cadwalader decided to remain in New Jersey and make an attack against Burlington.  He sent Colonel Joseph Reed ahead with a small scouting force.  At 0400 on 28 December, General Cadwalader marched to Bordentown and took possession of the military stores abandoned by the Hessians.  There being no food for his men, however, Cadwalader proceeded to Crosswicks, where he located food stores.

Major Nicholas’ Marines, being attached to Cadwalader’s brigade, did not participate in the Battle of Trenton, but they would not have long to wait for their first taste of land warfare.  From Crosswicks, Cadwalader rejoined Washington outside of Princeton on the night of 2 January 1777.  Washington attached Cadwalader’s brigade to Brigadier General Greene’s Division.  At dawn on the morning of 3 November, Major Nicholas’ Marines arrived at the outskirts of Princeton.  Green placed the Marines in reserve.

General Washington’s plan called for a dawn assault on Princeton, but at dawn, he was still two miles from the town.  Intending to delay Cornwallis, Washington sent 350 men under Brigadier General Hugh Mercer to destroy the bridge over Stony Brook.  Shortly before 0800, Washington wheeled his army to the right through Clarke’s farm and proceeded to enter Princeton through an undefended section.

En route to Stony Brook, Mercer’s brigade encountered two British infantry regiments and a cavalry unit under Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mawhood.  This collision of combatants was the initiating engagement in the Battle of Princeton.  Mercer and his men put up a stout defense against overwhelming forces.  The British, mistaking Mercer for Washington, quickly surrounded him and demanded his surrender.  Incensed, Mercer drew his sword and attacked his captors.  Defending themselves, the enemy beat him to the ground and bayoneted him repeatedly.[9]

With Mercer’s executive officer dead, junior officers and troops became disorganized.  Having observed the fight, General Washington rallied what troops remained of Mercer’s force and pushed the British back.

Upon hearing the clatter of muskets, Brigadier General Cadwalader led his 1,100 men against Colonel Mawhood, whose men at the time were disorganized.  Mawhood rallied his men, reorganized them, and put them into ranks for an assault or defense.  Cadwalader’s brigade was mostly composed of untrained, inexperienced, poorly armed militia.  Nicholas’ Marines occupied the brigade’s right flank, but observing Mawhood’s battle line, the militia on the left began to falter.

General Washington, observing Cadwalader’s hesitance, ordered Colonel Edward Hand to move his sharpshooters forward to the right of the Marines.  Washington courageously rode amongst the young militiamen and encouraged them.  Colonel Hitchcock’s regiment soon arrived and took a position to Colonel Hand’s right.  The Americans advanced against Mawhood’s left and center, forcing the British to withdraw and scatter.  Despite Mawhood’s efforts to rally his men, the British line was defeated.

Washington’s Continentals controlled Princeton within an hour, and the British withdrew to Maidenhead.  Washington estimated enemy casualties were around 500 incapacitated and 100 left dead on the field.[10]  Of his own, Washington reported 30-40 slain, including Brigadier General Mercer, Colonel John Haslet, Captain Daniel Niel, Ensign Anthony Morris, Jr., and Marine Captain William Shippin.

The Battle of Princeton was the first time in the Revolution that General Washington’s army saw the fleeing backs of British Redcoats — and the Continental Marines had their first taste of land battle.  General Howe regarded Washington’s victories at Trenton and Princeton as minor inconveniences, but to the Americans, having taken on the world’s greatest land army, the victories proved that the British could be beaten.  In writing of the American victories at Trenton and Princeton, modern British historian Sir George Trevelyan observed, “It may be doubted whether so small a number of men ever employed so short a space of time with greater and more lasting effects upon the history of the world.”

Sources:

  1.  Collins, V. L.  A Brief Narrative of the Ravages of the British and Hessians at Princeton, 1776-1777.  New York: Arno Press, 1968.
  2. Fischer, D. H.  Washington’s Crossing.  Oxford University Press, 2006.
  3. Ketchum, R.  The Winter Soldiers: The Battles for Trenton and Princeton.  Holt Publishing, 1999.
  4. McCullough, D.  1776.  New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006.
  5. Smith, C.  Marines in the Revolution: A History of the Continental Marines in the American Revolution, 1775-1783.  Washington: Headquarters U. S. Marine Corps, 1975.

Endnotes:

[1] Most of the 17,000 dead due to disease involved Americans imprisoned on British prison ships.  British prison ships were obsolete, captured, or damaged ships used to house American prisoners of war.  Conditions aboard these ships were appalling; far more men died as British prisoners than died in actual combat.  The men languished in frigid conditions without adequate nourishment or clean water.  According to historian Edwin G. Burrows, disease and starvation killed half of those taken on Long Island and as many as two-thirds of those captured at Fort Washington in 1776 — a realistic estimate of between 2,000 and 2,500 men in the space of two months.  British guards harassed and abused the men constantly.  Of the total, 10,000 men died from simple neglect.  When they died, the British simply threw their bodies overboard into the New York harbor.  Well over 1,000 prisoners were transported to England, where they performed forced labor in the mines.  The British released some prisoners after they agreed to serve in the British Navy.

[2] Commodore was an honorary title (not a formal rank) bestowed on navy captains serving in command of two or more vessels of the Continental (later U. S.) Navy.  Esek Hopkins was forced out of the Navy in 1778.

[3] There were around 80 Marine privates in a company and five companies of Marines in a battalion.  It is amazing to imagine that the war board imagined that ten companies of Marines could defend against one or more British regiments.

[4] A Revolutionary War (period) gondola (also a gunboat) was a 54-foot, 29-ton boat armed with a single 24-pound bow canon.

[5] During the period from the Revolutionary War to the end of World War II, the Army operated under the War Department, and the naval forces operated under the Navy Department.  When Nicholas reported to General Washington, the Army Commander-in-Chief was uncertain that the naval forces were reliable (or useful) — one problem was that they had no obligation to obey Washington’s orders.  They were in the Navy Department with a completely different chain of command.

[6] On 6 July 1776, Pennsylvania’s Committee of Safety authorized the purchase of ships for the defense of Philadelphia.  By October, thirteen small ships had been constructed, six of which were operational by August: Bulldog, Burke, Camden, Congress, Dickinson, Effingham, Experiment, Franklin, Hancock, Ranger, and Warren.  Deciding overall command of the fleet was contentious, however.  The first commodore was Thomas Caldwell, who resigned due to ill health.  Caldwell was replaced by Samuel Davidson, a junior captain whose appointment ahead of more senior men nearly caused a mutiny of officers.  Davidson was removed from naval service and replaced by Thomas Seymour.  Captain John Hazelwood objected to serving under Seymour owing to his advanced age.  Eventually, the Committee of Safety removed Seymour and appointed Hazelwood in his place.    

[7] This reflects that even in these early days of American Marines, the Marine Corps placed tremendous trust and confidence in their noncommissioned officers and offered the most exceptional among them advancement into the officer ranks. 

[8] Washington promoted Cadwalader to Brigadier General.

[9] Mercer, later discovered on the battlefield, was rushed to the home of two Quaker women.  They nursed Mercer for nine days until he passed away.

[10] Actual British casualties were 270 men of all ranks.


Published by

Mustang

Retired Marine, historian, writer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s