Revolutionary War Historical Article

The American Revolution Month-by-Month November 1778

By Compatriot Andrew "Andy" Stough

Editor's Note: This article was reprinted by Permission of the Gold Country Chapter No. 7 of the CSSAR and was slightly edited by the Sons of Liberty Chapter of the CSSAR

With winter weather already upon them, both the French and British fleets felt the need to follow the common practice of abandoning the stormy North Atlantic for warmer and calmer waters. On the third day of November, General Sir Henry Clinton dispatched transports carrying General Grant and 5,000 men from New York City; destination unknown.

On November 4th, French Admiral D'Estaing eased his fleet from the harbor at Boston heading along a southerly course. We now know that their common objective was St. Lucia in what is today the "British Windward Islands."

The movement of the French fleet had no direct effect on the war. But, the removal of 5,000 redcoats from New York should have given Washington an advantage. However, the annual end of enlistments and the loss of entire units who had either been recalled by their state government or in some cases "just gone home" to secure their farms for winter, evened the odds and the two forces were again about equal. The good side of the coin was that Washington was left with fewer men to feed and clothe through the winter. The Continental Army was rearranged into five divisions, each under a General officer who was given the responsibility for a specified area of operations. One Division was located at West Point, a second at Fredricksburg (now Patterson New Jersey), a third division filled the gap between Fredricksburg and West Point creating an armed arc around New York City. The fourth and fifth divisions were assigned to Danbury, Connecticut. Unlike Valley Forge, each Division went into winter quarters in the area assigned to it.

The alliance with France was essential to the Patriots as it furnished money, arms and munitions but the debacle at Newport convinced Washington from a military standpoint that French military intervention would be only, "as convenient to the purpose of France."

Perhaps it is time to digress to an earlier time and milieu of the war. If the war along the seaboard had grown cold, in the west the wilderness frontier blazed with action caused by British agents and their Indian allies. In the early days some Indians had assisted British colonists and lived in harmony with them, but that day was long past. The Indians had soon come to learn that the arrival of British colonists spelled disaster for them and their way of life. The French co-existed with the Indian because they had been not as much interested in colonizing as in exploiting the land for raw materials; in particular they were interested in the fur trade. The lack of any great desire to settle the land, the establishment of only a few large cites and a general willingness of the traders to live among the Indians, made the Indian their accomplice.

Britain had originally planned to colonize the American seaboard using such raw materials as were available but intended to reserve the land in the mountains and beyond as a trading area with the Indians. After the French and Indian War and Britain's acquisition of Canada that policy was even more pronounced with the Crown forbidding any colonial settlement beyond the mountains. Thus, having previously gained their support and trust, most Indians were more than happy to follow British leaders in the burning of any American property and massacre of the inhabitants. Some older members of Indian tribes were not interested in involvement in the war as they had seen the futility of trying to stem the flood of westward expansion and wanted only to let the white men destroy each other. The majority of the young braves of the Indian tribes saw this as a way to show their manhood and to retake some of the lands taken from them.

Notorious among Indian leaders was a Mohawk, Joseph Brant, who in August of 1777 with his tribe fought alongside Britsh General Barry St. Leger at Fort Stanwix and at Oriskany. He now joined Briton Walter Butler in the Cherry Valley Massacre in 1778. This was no isolated case. Another depredations against American settlements had been an attack on Eaton's Station in June of 1776. In July 1776, in response to an Indian raid, North Carolina militia was recruited for a three month expedition against the Cherokee. Burning a Cherokee village, destroying the crops and winter storage of corn was intended as a lesson to the Cherokee that retaliation for raids on settlers would be swift and deadly.

In December of 1776, George Rogers Clark had petitioned the Virginia legislature to annex Kentucky settlements which were in danger of Indian attacks, but no action was taken by the legislature at that time. Clark, failing to get legislative action, set about to personally claim the western lands for colonization by Virginia.

The Continental Army could only concern itself with containing British troops in the British occupied areas. If troop strength was decreased in the New York area, Clinton might try once again to divide New England from the states south of the Hudson River. Congress for the most part left defense of the frontier up to the states and local militia. Settlers on the western frontier were increasingly coming under attack from Indians, who might or might not be led or assisted by Loyalists or British agents. Minute Men and local militia were the only resource left to cope with Indian problems; they were not very successful at coping with the problem as they had few resources and no particular intelligence available about what was a well organized and well supplied British program to dispossess settlers on the entire frontier.

 

George Rogers Clark

George Rogers Clark was making a concerted and planned effort to extend Virginia's holdings and to defend western settlements and the isolated farms from Indian raiders. On May 15th, 1778, Clark and 150 Virginia Volunteers (mostly recruited along the frontier) captured Cahokia on the Mississippi River.

On May 30th, the settlement of Cobbleskill, New York was burned by 300 Iroquois Indians beginning a campaign of terror against American frontier settlements by Loyalists and Indians.

On July 3rd, a force of Loyalists and Indians massacred settlers in the Wyoming Valley of northern Pennsylvania.

On July 4th, Clark celebrated Independence Day by capturing the British Garrison at Kaskaskia at the junction of the Kaskaskia and Mississippi Rivers.

On July 20th, Clark captured the British Garrison of Vincennes on the Wabash River.

From the 7th to the 17th of September, Shawnee Indians conducted an unsuccessful siege of Boonesborough, Kentucky.

On November 11th, a combined force of Loyalists and Indians, led by Walter Butler and Joseph Brant, massacred over 40 militia and settlers at Cherry Valley, New York, bringing war to the Mohawk Valley, Western Massachusetts and Connecticut.

The amount of violence in these attacks by Indians, led by and/or accompanied by Loyalists, as well as the bayoneting of militia and soldiers along the seaboard, continually raised the intensity of dislike between Patriot and Loyalist to a fever pitch which reached it's height at King's Mountain on October 7th, 1780. On that day Patriots returned the favor of past massacres by destroying in open battle the Loyalist forces led by Major Ferguson who so frequently in the past had slaughtered Americans who had surrendered or were asleep when attacked.

November 27th, 1778 set the stage for a significant victory for the British. Lt. Colonel Archibald Campbell sailed from Sandy Hook with 3,000 men. His orders were to link up with General Prevost who was to march up from British controlled East Florida to lead in the return of the Georgia Colony to the Crown.

On the same date, November 27th, the British Peace Commission, which had arrived on June 6, 1778 to meet with the Continental Congress, departed for England, convinced that there was no possibility of bringing about a peaceful settlement between the King and his rebellious subjects.

References: Arthur Meier Schlesinger's "Almanac of American History"; Encyclopedia Britannica; "The Revolutionary Years; "Don Higginbotham's "War of American Independence"; Christopher Ward's "War of the Revolution";"Concise Columbia Encyclopedia."; Colin G. Calloway's "The American Revolution in Indian Country."

 

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