Today’s Keyhole to History January 1, 1777 Bernardo de Galvez becomes Governor of Spanish Louisiana. He was soon smuggling supplies to American forces until 1779 when Spain declared war on Great Britain. Galvez swiftly began attacking British positions leading up to the siege of Pensacola in 1781. When Spanish cannon fire struck a powder magazine in the British defenses causing a deadly blast, the fort and the colony of British West Florida were soon surrendered. With this and prior victories, Galvez drove the British from the Gulf of Mexico. King Carlos III promoted Galvez for his wartime efforts and he eventually rose to the position of Viceroy of New Spain.
Today’s Keyhole to History highlights Lucy Flucker Knox. Lucy was the daughter of a wealthy Royal official who remained loyal to George III. She married middleclass bookstore owner Henry Knox and her family disowned her. When war erupted, Henry joined the Continental Army and used his artillery knowledge as a Major General in the Continental Army. In 1777 Lucy wrote to Henry “How horrid is this war, Brother against Brother… and the parent against the child.” Lucy’s independent nature led her to join Henry at Valley Forge in 1778 along- side Martha Washington. Lucy made clear Henry would not be “commander in chief of [his] own house.” When the Americans captured Boston her Loyalist family fled to England and Lucy never saw them again.
Today’s Keyhole to History focuses on Sybil Ludington, sometimes known as the “female Paul Revere.” In April 1777, 2,000 British troops were deployed to Fairfield, Connecticut. As the troops moved inland, they destroyed many American sympathizers’ homes and supplies. Sybil and her family lived in a nearby town, where her father was the local militia commander. On April 26, an exhausted American messenger rode into town with word of the attacks and enemy advance, when militia members were spread out tending seasonal farming duties. Sixteen-year-old Sybil volunteered to relieve the messenger and alert local Patriots while her father prepared for battle. Sybil rode through the night covering forty miles and successfully rallied the militia from their homes.
Keyhole to History: August 11, 1777. That’s when Colonel Friedrich Baum marched into New Hampshire with a force of about eight hundred men under the orders of Britain’s General Burgoyne. Burgoyne’s army was running out of basic supplies and much-needed horses for his dragoons and artillery, so he sent Baum to lead a foraging and raiding party into the Connecticut River region to capture whatever he could. The advance scouts, mostly local Indians who hated the settlers, turned out to be a major liability. They looted and burned homes and barns, killing the cattle just for the cowbells. They so alarmed the inhabitants that most of them took their livestock and belongings out of the danger zone, thus depriving Burgoyne of his much-needed supplies.
Keyhole to History: August 16, 1777. That’s when the battle of Bennington took place in the colony of New Hampshire, which is today’s Vermont. Local Tories told General Burgoyne that the rebels had built up an important military supply base in Bennington and was guarded by only a few hundred men. As Colonel Baum and his eight hundred men were marching toward the supply base, Brigadier General John Stark was on his way with reinforcements. On August 16, the battle began, with the patriots holding a two-to-one advantage. Around three o’clock, Stark mounted his horse and called to his men, “There they are! We’ll beat them, or Molly Stark is a widow tonight!” Heavy fighting continued for several hours and did not cease until Colonel Baum was killed.
Keyhole to History: September 11, 1777. That’s when the battle of Brandywine took place along the border of Delaware and Pennsylvania. While Washington’s army was camped in Wilmington, a port city of the Brandywine River, General Howe landed at Head of Elk at the mouth of the Delaware River, about twenty miles south of the American camp. Washington made his stand at several fords along the Brandywine, but left open Trimble’s Ford to his north. When Howe found the American defenses, he ordered General Knyphausen and his Hessians to stage a mock frontal attack while he and Cornwallis crossed in the north and attacked Washington’s left flank and rear guard. Howe once again outsmarted and outflanked Washington.
Keyhole to History: September 21, 1777, when the Paoli Massacre took place just outside of Philadelphia. On the night of September 21, 1777, General Anthony Wayne was camped near the Paoli Tavern preparing to capture some British supply wagons. The local Tories reported Wayne’s position to Howe, who detached Major General Grey to destroy them. Grey had his men remove the flints from their muskets so no accidental shots might be fired. Shortly after midnight on the twenty-first of September, they swarmed over the sleeping patriots, killing them one after another with their bayonets. Hundreds of Wayne’s men were killed or taken prisoner, while the enemy had only minor casualties. Some call it a massacre; others praise it as a great military victory.
Keyhole to History: October 7, 1777. That’s when the final battle for Saratoga, New York, was fought at Bemis Heights. General Burgoyne and several thousand British troops were abandoned in upstate New York by General Howe, and Sir Henry Clinton, who was in charge of New York City, was reluctant to send reinforcements for fear of an attack on the city by Washington. This left Burgoyne only two options: surrender or fight. His choice, although outnumbered almost three-to-one, was to fight. Our American general, Horatio Gates, executed an exceptional battle plan that countered Burgoyne’s attack while turning into a successful attack on the enemy’s encampment. The English suffered four times the casualties suffered by the patriots and Burgoyne’s army was on the run.
Today’s Keyhole to History, October 22, 1777 Connecticut soldier Joseph Plumb Martin arrives at the besieged Fort Mifflin. Located south of Philadelphia on the Delaware River, Fort Mifflin and its defenses were the last obstacle stopping the British from controlling the river and naval access to the city. With very little food, clothing, and supplies, Martin and around 500 other soldiers held the fort for several weeks despite blistering cannon fire from the British, finally evacuating on November 16. The surviving soldiers marched off to the difficult winter at Valley Forge. Martin remained in the army until the end of the war and later wrote an account of his experiences. Recalling the dangerous, cold, and muddy conditions at Fort Mifflin, he declared it his most difficult trial of the Revolution.
Keyhole to History: October 22, 1777. That is when Colonel Christopher Greene, cousin of General Nathanael Greene, threw back an overwhelming force of Hessians under Colonel Carl von Donop at Fort Mercer on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River. After occupying Philadelphia, the British General Howe turned his attention to clearing out American defenses at the mouth of the Delaware River. Learning from past experiences, Greene had all fourteen cannons at Fort Mercer moved to cover an attack by land, and when the German Hessians attacked the fort, the patriots held their fire until the enemy had crossed their outer defenses. Then, when the enemy was well within range, Greene opened fire with everything he had. The Hessians’ ranks staggered and then retreated.
Today’s Keyhole to History gives us a peek into the past for December 2, 1777, when Lydia Darragh spied on British officers in her own home. Darragh and her family were Quakers who opposed any involvement in the war on either side. While the British occupied Philadelphia, Darragh and her husband were allowed to stay in their house, provided they keep a room that officers could use for meetings. On that early December night, the family was ordered to stay in the bedroom during an officers’ secret council meeting, but Darragh’s bravery and love for her country outweighed her religious beliefs. She snuck into a nearby closet and overheard plans for an ambush on American troops at Whitemarsh. The next morning, Darragh left the city with permission for food supplies and told details of the attack to a passing American soldier, giving the Americans time to prepare and escape.