Sunday, April 29, 2012

1777: The Forage War, Vol II.

From Great Bridge to Guilford Courthouse, the rifle and line companies of the First Virginia
and its sister regiments were often employed on detached duty between the lines. 

       "Suppose a light Body of Troops, under an active Officer, sufficient to repel any foraging parties of the Enemy, except they come out in very large Bodies, should be left behind...While they kept a good look out they never could be surprised, for not being encumbered with any Baggage, they could always move at a moments warning, if the Enemy came out with a superior force, and move back when they returned. This would Oblige them to forage, with such large covering parties, that it would in a manner harrass their Troops to death. We have found the advantage of such practices with us, for by keeping four or five hundred Men far advanced, we not only oblige them to forage with parties of 1500 and 2,000 to cover, but every now and then, give them a smart Brush..."[1]

         Washington's subordinates were given such guidance from the Delaware to the Hudson, it being his aim to deny Howe the opportunity to forage for supplies and fodder through constant pressure[2].  Partisan warfare offered Washington the opportunity to attack a critical requirement for the British Army, one that if denied, would impact man and horse, making it "...impossible for them to take the Field in the Spring..."[3]

A Plan of Quibbletown, by Von Ewald. Bloomsburg Univ. of PA Archives[4]

       Jaeger Captain Von Ewald writes of one such foraging patrol on February 8th,
          "I formed the advance guard with fifty jaegers, supported by four hundred light the first plantation I ran into an enemy post of riflemen who withdrew after stubborn resistance...we arrived with them before Quibbletown at the same time...I took my position in the form of a semicircle, and discovered that the enemy was deployed along the wood to the right and left in such a manner that I was outflanked from both sides. I had hardly begun the movement [retreat] when I was so heavily attacked from all sides by a vast swarm of riflemen that only a miracle of bravery by my men could save me...the enemy hung on our rear until we reached our outposts..."[5]

          New Jersey and Pennsylvania militia, supported by detachments of Continental troops were diligently carrying out Washington's intent to the letter.   By an account published in Purdie's Gazette,
          "...deserters daily come over from the enemy, who are penned up in Brunswick, so that they never peep out bu that our people have a knock at them, which often turns out in our favor...the 18th instant...we took several wagons, 8 prisoners, and found 4 or 5 dead on the field...another...when the enemy made the best of their way into town, to tell they could not get any forage for the rebels."[6]

            If a foraging patrol had to be supported by over 450 light troops as security or another took twelve casualties in one forage patrol, the Howe's forces would be exhausted before the summer campaign was even close to commencing. 
[4] Von Ewald, Diary..., 54. Bloomsburg Univ, of PA Archives, accessed 26 Apr 12.
[5] Von Ewald, Diary..., 53.
[6] Purdie, Supplement to the Virginia Gazette, No. 115, 11 Apr 1777, (1).  Colonial Williamsburg Rockefeller Library Archives.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

1777: The Forage War, Vol I.


Charge Bayonets, The depleted Virginia regiments, short on officers, were often consolidated
to form provisional units or employed in detachments during the Forage War, supporting reconnaissance and
outpost actions by Pennsylvania and New Jersey Militia.

          There are two pictures of battle in the 18th century.  On one hand the regular battalion in line:  close ordered ranks, officers to the front, colors centered, section fire on command.   On the other hand, the myth of the embattled farmer:  skulking behind trees and rock walls, bounding away in a loose and open order.  The truth lies somewhere in the middle.  It certainly was the discipline of the Continental Line that won decisive victories, however, when we consider the major actions or set piece battles in the French and Indian War or the American Revolution there are actually very few.   Instead conflict predominantly involved small unit actions which set conditions for the decisive actions (involving divisions or armies) to take place.  Consider the year 1777: Princeton, Short Hills, Brandywine,  and Germantown in the New Jersey/Pennsylvania Theater.  Four set piece battles involving divisions or higher took place in the theatre (althought some of Washington's troops were sent to New York to participate in Oriskany, Bennington, Saratoga [Freeman's Farm and Bemis Heights]).  Only two of these Battles achieved the tactical decision that Washington sought:  Princeton and Saratoga.   The point is that the American Revolution, like it's predecessor, the French and Indian War, was a small war ( petit guerre or partisan war, in the parlance of the time).   It was this style of making war that set the conditions for the decisive battles of every campaign.  
          During that same year of 1777, while the Continental Army was in winter quarters in the hills of Morristown, New Jersey, there were numerous strings of small unit actions involving both regular and irregular, or partisan, troop formations.  From the hills of Morristown, Washington was able to control the roads heading from New York to Pennsylvania between the Passaic and Raritan rivers.  If the Crown forces were to make a move from Manhattan or Staten Island, they must cross directly through his patrols.  If Howe moved to attack Philadelphia from Amboy and New Brunswick, he would leave Washington in his rear, effectively cutting British lines communication and supply with New York.[1]   Instead, Howe's redcoats sat on the coast of New Jersey, foraging and awaiting better weather for the spring campaign.  From January to July there were at least nine engagements in the vicinity of  the village Quibbletown alone, ranging from contact between foraging parties to battalion and brigade sized skirmishes [2].

The Seat of the Forage War:  The Province of Jersey..., by Von Ewald, Bloomsburg Univ. Archives [3]
           We have an excellent record of the partisan "Forage War" of 1777 from the diaries of Jaeger Captain Johann Von Ewald and his contemporaries, letter-books, orderly books, and other primary sources.  Ewald describes these small unit actions in detail,

          "On the 12th [January] we received information that the enemy was marching towards Quibbletown and Bound Brook, and from this time on we patrolled constantly in those areas...The jaeger post now became quite serious, since Bound Brook and Quibbletown were less than an hour's march away.  The teasing now occurred daily, and when they did not visit us, we rendered the honors to the Americans.  Not only did the men have to stay dressed all day and night, but they had to be kept together, the horses constantly saddled, and everything packed."[4]

         This constant contact between Continentals, Crown forces, and Patriot and Loyalist militia happened by design on the part of Washington.  In order to give his exhausted army time to recuperate after the successful winter Trenton-Princeton campaign, Washington would launch a partisan war to spoil any effort for the Crown forces to consolidate, forage for supplies, and destroy the tiny Patriot army at Morristown, or to take Philadelphia and the rebel Congress...

[1] Dixon and Hunter, Virginia Gazette, No. 1352, 11 Jul 1777, (1).  Colonial Williamsburg Rockefeller Library Archives.
[2] West Jersey History Project,, accessed 26Apr12.
[3] Bloomsberg University Archives,, accessed 26Apr12.
[4] Von Ewald, Johann, John Tustin, trans., Diary of the American War,  Yale University Press, New Haven and London1979. (p. 52).

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Diderot, The Father of Tech Ed

The Smith's Forge, Diderot
            When enlightenment philosopher Denis Diderot created the Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers,  he sought to provide a collection of all knowledge relating to the practical arts, sciences, and technology existing in the 18th century.  Wrote Diderot, "Indeed, the purpose of an encyclopedia is to collect knowledge disseminated around the globe; to set forth its general system to the men with whom we live, and transmit it to those who will come after us, so that the work of preceding centuries will not become useless to the centuries to come; and so that our offspring, becoming better instructed, will at the same time become more virtuous and happy, and that we should not die without having rendered a service to the human race." [1]

Tools of the Smith, Diderot
          Diderot's Encyclopédie was a collection of articles published in several volumes in collaboration with such enlightenment luminaries as Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Rousseau among others, from 1751-1765.  The publication of the accompanying engraved plates was completed by 1772.[2]  Diderot and company leave us an invaluable record of the scientist, philosopher and craftsman, including articles and diagrams on topics ranging from naval tactics, manual of arms and blacksmithing to carpentry, snares and ichthiology.[3]  Diderot left " important heritage for our understanding of the development of technology, especially the ways it has been organized and represented for the purposes of dissemination..." in his "...systematic method of representing the mechanical arts." [4]

The Boxmaker, Diderot

         While Diderot's folios would have probably been far too expansive not to mention expensive to grace the library of a middling tradesman, they certainly contain information and methods that would have been handed down from Master to Apprentice in the 18th century.  As for this "Jack of  All Trades", I will consult it often as mechanick and craftsman.


"Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before unknown men."                              
                                                                           -Proverbs 22:29

[1] Vol. 5 (1755), p. 635, trans. Philip Stewart, Ann Arbor, Univ. of Michigan., 2002.

[2] The Plates of Diderot's Encyclopedie at Univ. of Michigan Collaborative Translation Project (CTP).

[3] The Articles of Diderot's Encyclopedie at Univ. of Michigan CTP.

[4] Diderot, the Mechanical Arts, and the Encyclopédie... by John R. Pannabecker.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Thomas Payne

 Dear Traveller,
         When a complicated system begins to break down, it is best to refer back to the manufacturer's instructions.

           "Here then is the origin and rise of government; namely, a mode rendered necessary by the inability of moral virtue to govern the world; here too is the design and end of government, viz. Freedom and security. And however our eyes may be dazzled with show, or our ears deceived by sound; however prejudice may warp our wills, or interest darken our understanding, the simple voice of nature and reason will say, 'tis right.

I draw my idea of the form of government from a principle in nature which no art can overturn, viz. that the more simple any thing is, the less liable it is to be disordered, and the easier repaired when disordered..."

                                                                            -Thomas Payne, Common Sense, 1776.

        And so dear traveller, if we expect to fix something, we must ensure that it is kept in the most simple form that will allow it to function for its intended purpose, whether machine or government.


"Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than a house full of feasting with strife."
                                                                          -Proverbs 17:1      

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Fort Frederick, On the Maryland Frontier

Fort Frederick from the SouthWest: Albert Burns, Library of Congress.

 Fort Frederick.  Garrison Duty on the Potomac River
Smith's Company, First Virginia Regiment of Foot in the Continental Establishment

The stone fort was built in 1756 to defend Maryland’s frontier during the French and Indian War. Fort Frederick is unique among most southern frontier fortifications due to its eighteen foot high stone curtain, built to withstand fire, a common occurance in native attacks.  It was used at a supply depot for action against the French and their native allies in the Pennsylvania campaigns. Fort Frederick again saw service during the American Revolution as a prison for British and Hessian soldiers, garrisoned by Maryland militia.
Up at dawn, boiling hominy for the section.
Morning Roll Call, Six effectives.  The remainder on post, in hospital, or the grave.
At drill on the parade ground.
Private Wenger, The Gunsmith of Fincastle County.
Firing at Marks.
At leisure before guard mount.

Sound "Roast Beef"

Ensign Heatherington fraternizing with the other ranks.

Wasting wages at diversions and ale.

Dear Traveller, make haste to the market faire within rifleshotte of the walls of the fort.
Friends of Fort Frederick


"The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold."
                                                                                         -Psalm 18:2

Friday, April 20, 2012


Dear Traveller,
       "I know there are readers in the world, as well as many other good people in it, who are no readers at all,—who find themselves ill at ease, unless they are let into the whole secret from first to last, of every thing which concerns you...To such however as do not choose to go so far back into these things, I can give no better advice than that they skip over the remaining part of this chapter; for I declare before-hand, 'tis wrote only for the curious and inquisitive —You must have a little patience. I have undertaken, you see, to write not only my life, but my opinions also; hoping and expecting that your knowledge of my character, and of what kind of a mortal I am, by the one, would give you a better relish for the other: As you proceed farther with me, the slight acquaintance, which is now beginning betwixt us, will grow into familiarity; and that unless one of us is in fault, will terminate in friendship. Therefore, my dear friend and companion, if you should think me somewhat sparing of my narrative on my first setting out—bear with me,—and let me go on, and tell my story my own way:—Or, if I should seem now and then to trifle upon the road,—or should sometimes put on a fool's cap with a bell to it, for a moment or two as we pass along,—don't fly off,—but rather courteously give me credit for a little more wisdom than appears upon my outside;—and as we jog on, either laugh with me, or at me, or in short do any thing,—only keep your temper..."
      I believe we are in a time where we must resurrect the self-reliant man, Henry, Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, Boone...pillars who experimented  with every aspect of life...innovation, engineering, agriculture, distillery...self sufficiency, and steadfastly championed the preservation of the natural rights of man.  We must be able to do for ourselves and not rely upon man's institutions to meet our needs or to cushion a fall.


"He has shown you, O man, what is good.  And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."
                                                                    -Micah 6:8