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.

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