Battle of Vitoria - History

Battle of Vitoria - History

On June 21st the British, under General Wellington, decisively defeated the French at the Battle of Vitoria in Spain. The British followed up with a number of other victories that took their armies by November across the French frontier where they invaded Bayonne in December.

The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars

The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars began in 1792, just three years after the beginning of the French Revolution. Quickly becoming a global conflict, the French Revolutionary Wars saw France battling coalitions of European allies. This approach continued with the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte and the start of the Napoleonic Wars in 1803. Though France dominated militarily on land during the early years of the conflict, it quickly lost supremacy of the seas to the Royal Navy. Weakened by failed campaigns in Spain and Russia, France was eventually overcome in 1814 and 1815.


In the pre-computer days, we used to have school handouts made on ditto machines or spirit duplicators that printed in purple ink. Once photocopiers became more common, we sometimes needed to make photocopies of these pale materials. One trick was to insert the sheet with the purple printing into a translucent yellow report cover, so that the ink appeared as black text. In this way, you could make a black-and-white photocopy with darker printing.

I downloaded the image and experimented a bit with Irfanview. On the "Image" menu there is a setting to turn the image to a Negative, which sometimes works to make writing more clear. However, doing this rendered the image nearly unreadable, so I went back to the original and started over.

Playing around with the different color channels, I got the writing to turn black on a greenish background. Having black text might make the letter easier to read.

Perhaps with Photoshop, you could use these techniques and others to simulate the process of overlaying the document with a color which is across the color wheel from the ink color, similar to what I used to do with the purple-and-yellow trick.

Cutting a photocopy into strips, or masking it so that only one line appears at a time, may make it easier to focus on just that line. Blowing it up may help also.

For the handwriting itself, there is an online tutorial at the UK National Archives. The crossed lines might be easier to read, if you could find documents in the same style of handwriting which are not crossed, and practice first on those. Try to find or make a letter chart to use for reference. You have the opening "Vittoria 29th June 1813" and "Dear" (perhaps "Dear Sirs"?) to start off with.

We can give you general tips here, but it's not practical to write answers which are transcriptions of an entire multi-page document. See the related question Reading a Will to Get Land Information and other questions marked palaeography for other ideas.

One thing you might try is finding printed accounts of the Battle of Vittoria, from sources like Google Books or the British Newspaper Archives, that might give you a feeling for the vocabulary that might be used in an account like this.

As you need help reading specific lines, feel free to post new questions asking for help with line-readings.


The Empire strikes back

30 April : The main French army, together with the one from the Elbe, advanced on Leipzig . Napoleon had 200,000 men at his disposal and between 25 and 28 April concentrated 140, 000 of them in a new Army of the Main near Weissenfels. The allies facing the Emperor, under Barclay de Tolly, numbered only 100,000.

1 May : As Lauriston's avant garde began occupying Leipzig , Marshal Béssières was killed by a cannonball during an encounter at Rippach .

2 May: French victory at Lützen .
Attempting to take advantage of Napoleon's army on the march and backed up against the river Saale, the allies moved into attack mode. However, Napoleon was expecting them. Much of the action on the allied side was sustained by the Prussians, with the Russian only entering in support later on in the afternoon. After much taking and losing of the villages around Grossgörschen, the superiority of numbers on the French side began to tell. Threatened both on the left and on the right, the allies were finally saved by nightfall, which allowed them to retreat and avoid a debacle. Shortage of cavalry however meant that the French could not capitalize on their victory. The allies made an orderly retreat, reaching Bautzen on 12 May .

8 May : Napoleon retook Dresden . Frederick Augustus, seeing the result at Lützen returned to alliance with France, and ordered the fortress at Torgau to open to French troops. General von Thielmann, the commander, delayed as long as he could and then fled to join the allies.

14 May : The coalition dug in at Bautzen, planning for a second Borodino.

20-21 May: Battle of Bautzen . French victory. The allied troops of 96,000 men were outnumbered by Napoleon's army, which stood twice as many by the end of the battle. The French emperor's battle tactics (of producing a strong feint along the whole line, causing the allies to bolster it with reserves and to strengthen the left, while the main French, overwhelming, attack was planned against the allied right) should have created a second Friedland. A crucial error late in the day on the part of Marshal Ney (he got overexcited and attacked the allied centre rather than its crumbling right) allowed the Russians and Prussians to make a remarkable retreat largely unscathed. The greater number of better cavalry also played a crucial role in saving the allies. A Saxon officer on Napoleon's staff, Baron von Odeleben, described the retreat as “a chef d'oeuvre of tactics. Although the lines of the allies had been as it were thrown on the centre, the French could not succeed either in cutting off part of their army or capturing their artillery”. So, despite his superiority in generalship and sheer numbers, Napoleon could not force the decisive victory. It only pushed the allies back behind their retreat lines. Furthermore, allied casualties were less than half those of the French forces.

22 May : Metternich suggested an armistice to the combattants. Though the French caught up with and harried the retreating Russians and Prussians, they were unable to derive any advantage in the face of remarkable skill in the Russians rearguard and cavalry. Napoleon himself, eager to finish off the Russians, drove on his avant garde, but at Hollendorff as he was leading his troops through the village, a ‘magic' cannon ball tore through his entourage, killing General Kirgener and mortally wounding Duroc, a bitter blow for Napoleon as he greatly liked the latter.

26 May : Allied victory at the battle of Hainau : the cavalry rear-guard of the coalition took the French pursuers under General Maison by surprise.

27 May : the Grande Armée reached the rivers Katzbach and Oder.

28 May : The French relieved the siege of Glogau.

29 May : Barclay de Tolly replaced Wittgenstein as commander in chief of the Prusso-Russian army.

30 May : Davout reacquired Hamburg.

3 June : Oudinot, on his way to Berlin, was stopped at Luckau by the Prussian Bülow.

4 June : The Armistice of Pleiswitz , Napoleon's great mistake.
Regardless of the continuation of hostilities, diplomacy had continued to function. The allies were hoping for the intervention of Sweden and a decision from Vienna finally to join them. However, on the back of two victories and in a powerful position to divide and conquer the allies and to cause and uprising in Poland, Napoleon (perhaps with a little more boldness) could have continued the campaign two more weeks, driven a wedge between the allies and obtained better peace conditions. The allies were at their lowest after the defeat at Bautzen with the Russians desperately lacking suuplies and ammunition considering a retreat in Silesia and the abandoning of Prussia. The Prussians were considered how to make a last stand in Prussian territories which they could feasibly defend. The Prussian had not risen up (this was to be no second Spain) and the Landwehr had not been a success. And Austria was still playing hard to get. For the allies to stay close to the Austrian border in the expectation of alliance was becoming untenable – the land near Schweidenitz could not be defended by 100,000 men. However, Napoleon too had lost men, had a great deal of men sick and injured, and he lacked the cavalry to force a decisive victory. Furthermore, his conscripts, though they fought with bravery, needed a little respite. And more time would allow him to bring up more men and also more cavalry. So he accepted the proposal by Austria of negotiations and a congress (potentially in Prague). It is very likely that Austria was laying a trap for Napoleon, and he was not unaware of this. However he thought he could control events given a rest period. On hearing the news, Barclay de Tolly received Langeron (so the latter noted in his memoirs) “with a great burst of laughter: this explosion of happiness was by no means normal with Barclay. He was always cold, serious and sever in spirit and in his manner. The two of us laughed together at Napoleon's expense.”

10 June : Napoleon entered Dresden and moved into the palace of the King of Saxony. He quickly managed to reconstitute an army, and soon the cavalry comprised 40,000 soldiers.

12 June : Agreement between Russia, Prussia and Austria . The allies tried to convince Austria to reject the alliance with France.

14 and 15 June: Convention of Reichenbach (Silesia), between Prussia, Russia and the United-Kingdom. Britain agreed to provide financial support (£2 million) to the allies. Two thirds went to Russia, and one third to Prussia. In exchange, Prussia and Russia promised not to make any agreement with France without English approval.

21 June: Battle of Vitoria in Spain . (see below)

26 June : Stormy encounter between Napoleon and Metternich in Dresden . The two men argued for six hours in the Marcolini Palace. Napoleon then realized he could not rely on Austria.

27 June : Despite the argument of the day before, Napoleon accepted Metternich's Austrian mediation , fearing to lose Austria to the allies. Metternich, on behalf of Austria, promised to bring his diplomacy into line with Prussia and Russia, should France reject the requests of these two monarchies. Austria signed an agreement with Russia and Prussia , stipulating that Francis I was committed to join the allies and to declare war on France, should Napoleon not accept his conditions, which were: to give up the Grand Duchy of Warsaw and some Hanseatic cities, including, Hamburg, Bremen and Lübeck to allow the reconstitution of Prussia as it was in 1806. Berlin and Moscow also requested the disappearance of the Confederation of the Rhine (Napoleon's armed influence in Germany). Austria also hoped to obtain the restitution of Illyria and of the whole of Galicia, should a European peace be signed.


The Armed Historian

When one thinks of the Field Artillery, the image that typically comes to mind is that of large men heaving huge rounds into cannons. This is followed by an enormous flash before somewhere off in the distance, the ground erupts in a great fireball. Large men then scramble to clear the cannon and reload, and the process is repeated. It is dirty, grimy, hard, exhausting, and dangerous work that is not typically associated with women.

However, in honor of the many U.S. Army Artillery units that will be celebrating their Saint Barbara’s Day Ball this weekend, The Armed Historian has decided to share two famous women in the history of the U.S. Artillery, as well as one additional lesser known female Artillery officer.

St Barbara as seen on the Order of Saint Barbara Medal, United States Field Artillery Association

The first woman on this list has to be Saint Barbara. After all, she is the patron saint of the Field Artillery.

Saint Barbara was the daughter of a rich pagan, Dioscorus, who ruled the city of Nicomedia, Asia Minor in the 4 th century. Dioscorus was a jealous and protective father who had a tower built to shelter Barbara from the outside world. During her forced solitude in the tower, Barbara gave herself to study and prayer. She converted to Christianity and was baptized in secret. While her father was away, Barbara convinced tower builders to install three windows in her bath house in honor of the Holy Trinity. When Dioscorus found out, he was enraged and had Barbara dragged in front of a tribunal where she was tortured, convicted, and beheaded by her own father. As he was riding home from the execution, Dioscorus was struck and killed by lightning.

Because of the timing and nature of Dioscorus’ death, when she was canonized, Saint Barbara was made the patron saint of those who died by lightning. As gunpowder became prevalent on the battlefield, the sounds and explosions that gunpowder produced was similar to lightning. Artillery, which was dependent on gunpowder, was prone to exploding on the battlefield due to poor storage of the powder, flying sparks from the cannons, and improper clearing of cannons between volleys. Due to this, Saint Barbara has taken her place as the patron saint of the King of Battle.

Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley (Molly Pitcher)

“Sergeant Molly” Pitcher swabbing the gun during the Battle of Monmouth

Mary Ludwig was born in Pennsylvania in the mid-1740s. She lived the typical life of a colonial woman at the time, eventually finding herself a husband in the local barber, William Hays. When the Revolutionary War broke out, William enlisted in the Continental Army joining Proctor’s 4 th Pennsylvania Artillery. Following the tradition of a Soldier’s wife that is centuries old, Mary left to follow her husband as he served. Mary joined the camp followers and helped bring water to the Soldiers while they fought the battle. She likely earned the nickname “Molly Pitcher” while serving as a water girl when the Soldiers would yell out “Molly! Pitcher!”

In June, 1778, the Continental Army was lined up at Monmouth, New Jersey and prepared to fight the British. The temperature was well into the 100s and Molly Pitcher and the other water girls were prepared for a long day having located two springs near the battlefield to service the Soldiers. The battle began and the heat and confusion rose on the field. At some point in the battle, Molly was taking water to her husband’s artillery firing line where she saw William being carried off the field, either by heat or enemy fire.

Knowing that the Continental Army was short on artillerymen and knowing how vital every man was to the firing line, Molly ran to her husband’s gun. She quickly picked up his ramrod and took his spot by swabbing and loading the cannon. At one point in the battle, a British cannon ball passed directly through Molly’s legs, tearing away her petticoats. According to the contemporary reports, Molly looked down and observed that “it was lucky that it did not pass a little higher, for in that case it might have carried away something else”.

The end of the day saw the British Army retreating towards Sandy Hook. General Washington, himself, began to ask about the woman he had seen loading a cannon. Molly was brought to the general who awarded her the rank of Sergeant in recognition of her bravery.

Following the war, “Sergeant Molly”, as Mary had now become known, and William returned to Carlisle, Pennsylvania. William died in 1786, and Sergeant Molly married John McCauley in 1793. In 1822, Sergeant Molly was awarded an annual pension by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for her services during the war. She is one of a handful of women who were awarded military pension for the Revolutionary War.

In remembrance of her heroism on the battlefield, the United States Field Artillery Association created the Artillery Order of Molly Pitcher. The Artillery Order of Molly Pitcher is dedicated to the spouses of Artillerymen in the United States Army who have volunteered their time to the improvement of the Field Artillery.

Agustina de Aragon fighting off the French at the Battle of Zaragoza

The last woman for this article is Agustina de Aragon. Agustina is the only woman on this list that does not have personal ties to the United States Army Field Artillery however, one would be hard pressed to talk about famous women of the Field Artillery without mentioning Agustina.

In 1808, Le Grande Armee under Napoleon Bonaparte was successfully marching across Spain. In early June, French forces were situated outside of the Spanish town of Zaragoza. This was a small town that had not seen war in 450 years, was flooded with refugees, and defended by a small provincial force. On 15 June, the French had managed to make their way to the Portillo. Agustina was making her way to the front to deliver apples to the hungry artillerymen near the Portillo where she saw the Spanish lines break under the French assault. With French forces only a few yards away and the Spanish forces running back, Agustina ran forward, loaded a cannon, and proceeded to fire into the oncoming French.

At the sight of this lone woman operating the cannon so close to the approaching enemy, the fleeing Spaniards stopped running. In fact, the Spanish forces turned around and ran back to the front lines to support Agustina. Because of her actions, Agustina rallied the Spanish forces. After a bloody fight, the French gave up on the siege of Zaragoza. Le Grande Armee did return to Zaragoza after a few weeks and this time, the French forces succeeded in forcing the town to surrender.

Agustina did not give up her fight against the French, though. She went on to serve as a leader in the resistance forces in Spain. Agustina was captured by the French where she saw her son die at French hands, by some accounts. This action caused Agustina to mount a daring escape. Eventually, Agustina joined the allied forces that were fighting for the Duke of Wellington. Agustina was granted a commission, becoming Wellington’s only female officer. Agustina rose to the rank of captain and by the time of the Battle of Vitoria, she was serving as a battery commander.

The Field Artillery has had many colorful and powerful figures throughout its history. There have been many points in history were the course of a battle, and indeed the war itself, was determined by the actions of the Artillery and those who served the guns. These are just a few women who have helped place their immortal stamp on that proud branch of the service.


Historical Events in 1813

    1st US raw cotton-to-cloth mill founded in Waltham, Massachusetts 1st federal vaccination legislation enacted US Congress authorizes use of steamboats to transport mail Office of Surgeon General of the US Army forms 1st concerto of Royal Philharmonic David Melville, Newport, Rhode Island, patents apparatus for making coal gas Lady Hester Stanhope sets out for ancient city of Palmyra, the first western woman to visit 1st US flag flown in battle on the Pacific by the frigate Essex Americans under General Pike capture Toronto Pike is killed Ist US Rubber patent granted to Jacob F. Hummel In Australia, William Lawson, Gregory Blaxland and William Wentworth, lead an expedition westwards from Sydney. Their route opens up inland Australia for continued expansion throughout the 19th century.

Event of Interest

May 23 South American independence leader Simón Bolívar enters Mérida, leading the invasion of Venezuela, and is proclaimed El Libertador ("The Liberator")

    Americans capture Fort George, Canada In Australia, Lawson, Blaxland and Wentworth reach Mount Blaxland, marking the end of a route across the Blue Mountains Captain John Lawrence utters Navy motto "Don't give up the ship" US invasion of Canada halted at Stoney Creek (Ontario) Peninsular War: Battle of Vitoria results in a victory for a Spanish, Portuguese and British alliance against the French Battle of Beaver Dams - British and native forces defeat US forces (War of 1812) War of 1812: Three weeks of British raids on Fort Schlosser, Black Rock and Plattsburgh, New York begin British invade Plattsburgh, NY

Appointment of Interest

Aug 12 Robert Southey is appointed British Poet Laureate by King George III

    British warship Pelican attacks & captures US war brigantine Argus Gervasio Antonio de Posadas joins Argentina's second triumvirate. Battle of Grossbeeren - Prussians under Von Bulow repulse French

Victory in Battle

Aug 27 Battle of Dresden Napoleon defeats Austrians

    Battle of Kulm: French forces defeated by Austrian-Prussian-Russian alliance. First US religious newspaper (Religious Remembrancer (Christian Observer)) "Uncle Sam" 1st used to refer to the US, by Troy Post of New York American Naval Commander Oliver Hazard Perry defeats the British in Battle of Lake Erie Battle of Bárbula: Simón Bolívar defeats Santiago Bobadilla Battle of Thames in Canada Americans defeat British

Event of Interest

Nov 9 General Andrew Jackson, responding to a plea for assistance from White Stick Creek Indians at Fort Leslie, drives off the attacking force of Red Stick Creek Indians at Talladega, Alabama

    Dresden surrenders to allied armies Allied troops occupy Zwolle Neth Allied troops occupies Groningen Tax revolt in Amsterdam Stettin surrenders to allied armies Cossacks occupy Utrecht Elias Canneman (Lib) becomes minister of Finance Prince Willem Frederik returns to Netherlands Prince Willem Frederik accepts constitutional monarchy Lübeck surrenders to allied armies

Music Premiere

Dec 8 Ludwig van Beethoven's 7th Symphony in A, premieres in Vienna with Beethoven conducting


Battle of Germantown

Place of the Battle of Germantown: North of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the United States of America.

Combatants at the Battle of Germantown: The American Continental Army against the British and Hessian forces

Generals at the Battle of Germantown: General George Washington against Major-General Sir William Howe

Size of the armies at the Battle of Germantown: 11,000 Americans against 8,000 British and Hessians.

Uniforms, arms and equipment at the Battle of Germantown:

The British wore red coats, with bearskin caps for the grenadiers, tricorne hats for the battalion companies and caps for the light infantry. The Highland Scots troops wore the kilt and feather bonnet.

The two regiments of light dragoons serving in America, the 16 th and 17 th , wore red coats and crested leather helmets.

Grenadier of the British 40th Regiment of Foot: Battle of Germantown on 4th October 1777 in the American Revolutionary War

The Hessian infantry wore blue coats and retained the Prussian style grenadier mitre cap with brass front plate.

The Americans dressed as best they could. Increasingly as the war progressed infantry regiments of the Continental Army mostly took to wearing blue or brown uniform coats. The American militia continued in rough clothing.

Both sides were armed with muskets. The British and German infantry carried bayonets, which were in short supply among the American troops. Many men in the Pennsylvania and Virginia regiments carried rifled weapons, as did other backwoodsmen. Both sides were supported by artillery.

Winner: The British won the battle, but failed to follow up the success, permitting Washington to withdraw and reform his army behind fortified positions.

British Regiments at the Battle of Germantown: The British Regiments that can be identified at the battle are: Light Dragoons (not clear which regiment 16 th or 17 th ), two composite battalions of grenadiers, two composite battalions of light infantry, two composite battalions of Foot Guards (1 st , 2 nd and 3 rd Guards), 5 th Foot, 25 th Foot, 27 th Foot, 40 th Foot and 55 th Foot.

American Units at the Battle of Germantown:
Colonel Bland’s 1 st Dragoons, Wayne’s Pennsylvania Brigade, Weeden’s Virginia Brigade, Muhlenburg’s Virginia Brigade, Maxwell’s Light Infantry, Stephen’s Division, Stirling’s Division, Pennsylvania Militia, Maryland Militia and New Jersey Militia.

British Queen’s Rangers: Battle of Germantown on 4th October 1777 in the American Revolutionary War

Background to the Battle of Germantown:

Following the British capture of Philadelphia after the Battle of Brandywine, Howe’s troops encamped in Germantown to the North of the city. The camp stretched in a line astride the main northern road.

Washington determined to surprise the British army in camp. His plan required a strong column under Major-General Nathaniel Greene, with McDougall, Muhlenberg, Stephen and Scott, to attack the right wing of the British army, which comprised Grant’s and Donop’s troops. The second column, which Washington commanded, with Stirling and Sullivan, would advance down the main Philadelphia road and attack the British centre. Forces of American militia would attack each wing of the British force, formed of the Queen’s Rangers on the right, and, on the left near the Schuylkill River, Hessian Jägers and British Light Infantry.

Washington’s plan required the four attacks to be launched “precisely at 5 o’clock with charged bayonets and without firing”. The intention was to surprise the whole British army in much the way the Hessians had been surprised at Trenton.

Map of the Battle of Germantown on 4th October 1777 in the American Revolutionary War: map by John Fawkes

Account of the Battle of Germantown:

Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Thomas Musgrave commanding 40th Foot at the Battle of Germantown on 4th October 1777 in the American Revolutionary War

The American columns started along their respective approach roads on the evening of 3 rd October 1777. Dawn found the American forces well short of their start line for the attack, and there was an encounter with the first British piquet which fired its guns to warn of the attack. The outpost was supported by a battalion of light infantry and the 40 th Foot, under Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Thomas Musgrave. It took a substantial part of Sullivan’s division to drive back the British contingent.

General Howe rode forward, initially thinking the advanced force was being attacked by a raiding party, his view impeded by a thickening fog that clouded the field for the rest of the day.

During the fighting, Musgrave caused six companies of the 40 th to fortify the substantial stone house of Chief Justice Chew, Cliveden House situated on the main road, and use it as a strong point. The American advance halted, while furious attacks were launched against the house, aided by an American artillery barrage.

Hearing the firing, Major-General Adam Stephen, heading the other main American column, ignored his orders to continue along the lane to attack the British right wing, swung to his right and made for the Chew House. His brigade joined the attack on the house, which was assailed for a full hour by the infantry and guns of several American brigades.

British 40th Foot occupying the Chew House at the Battle of Germantown on 4th October 1777 in the American Revolutionary War: picture by Xavier della Gatta

The rest of Greene’s division launched a savage attack on the British line as planned and broke through, capturing several British troops.

In the meantime, Sullivan and Wayne continued past the Chew House and began their attack. In the fog, Wayne’s brigade encountered Stephen’s brigade and the two American brigades exchanged fire. Both brigades broke and fled.

American guns fire on the Chew House at the Battle of Germantown on 4th October 1777 in the American Revolutionary War

Sullivan’s brigade was attacked on both flanks, on his left by Grant with the British 5th and 55th Regiments of Foot, and on his right by Brigadier Grey. Sullivan’s brigade broke. The British then turned on Greene’s isolated division, capturing Colonel Matthews and his 9th Virginia Regiment.

Attacked by the British Guards and the 25 th and 27 th Foot, Greene withdrew up the main road to the north west, assisted by the efforts of Muhlenberg’s brigade. As the American army retreated, its condition deteriorated and Washington was forced to withdraw some sixteen miles, harried by the British light dragoons.

The American attack on the Chew House at the Battle of Germantown on 4th October 1777 in the American Revolutionary War

The American militia forces did not develop their attacks and finally retreated.

Casualties at the Battle of Germantown:
500 British were killed, wounded or captured in the battle. 1,000 Americans were killed, wounded or captured in the battle.

50 Americans were killed attacking the Chew House.

The American attack on the Chew House at the Battle of Germantown on 4th October 1777 in the American Revolutionary War: picture by Edward Lamson Henry

Follow-up to the Battle of Germantown:
It is said that the Battle of Germantown was a profound influence in convincing the French Court that the American cause was worth supporting with war on England. The French were more impressed by the ability of the Americans to raise their army and deliver an attack on the British than by its lack of success.

A noteworthy feature of the battle was the failure of the British to exploit their battlefield success by pursuing and destroying the defeated American force.

The American attack on the Chew House at the Battle of Germantown on 4th October 1777 in the American Revolutionary War (the uniforms portrayed are late 18th Century)

Anecdotes and traditions from the Battle of Germantown:

American Continental soldier: Battle of Germantown on 4th October 1777 in the American Revolutionary War

  • General Stephen was discovered by the American authorities at the end of the battle incapably drunk. He was cashiered and his command given to Lafayette.
  • Major-General Adam Stephen (or Steven) was another American officer who began his military career commanding a Virginian company under General Edward Braddock in 1755 (see Defeat of Braddock Part 6).
  • The Americans suffered at the Battle of Germantown from the perennial difficulty of 18 th Century armies to re-supply their troops. Many of the American regiments ran out of ammunition during the battle.
  • General Sir George Osborn, the colonel of the 40 th Regiment of Foot, caused a medal to be struck to commemorate the defence of the Chew House by the regiment at the Battle of Germantown. Silver medals were awarded to the officers and copper medals to the soldiers: an early example of a campaign medal.

40th Regiment Medal obverse: Battle of Germantown on 4th October 1777 in the American Revolutionary War

References for the Battle of Germantown:

History of the British Army by Sir John Fortescue

The War of the Revolution by Christopher Ward

The American Revolution by Brendan Morrissey

The Philadelphia Campaign Volume II Germantown and the Roads to Valley Forge by Thomas J. McGuire

The previous battle of the American Revolutionary War is the Battle of Paoli

The next battle of the American Revolutionary War is the Battle of Saratoga

Chief Justice Chew’s Cliveden House: Battle of Germantown on 4th October 1777 in the American Revolutionary War

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Lord Liverpool

Robert Banks Jenkinson, Lord Liverpool is not generally viewed as one of Britain’s greatest prime ministers – Disraeli’s sneer at him as the “Arch-mediocrity” in his 1844 novel ‘Coningsby’ is only too well remembered. Yet, as my new book ‘Britain’s Greatest Prime Minister’ shows, when you look at what he achieved, as a wartime and a peacetime leader, he deserves to rank very high indeed.

Lord Liverpool

Liverpool’s greatest achievements were in economics, not the strong point of Disraeli, or of Liverpool’s remarkably few biographers. As War Secretary in 1809-12, he devised an economic and military strategy to beat Napoleon that relied on constant moderate pressure over several years, rather than the massive short-term coalitions that had previously been unsuccessful. By capturing France’s remaining colonies and the attritional Peninsular War, he increased the pressure on France’s loot-driven economy until Napoleon was forced into an invasion of Russia in 1812 that proved fatal.

After 1812 as prime minister, Liverpool increased the pressure further, providing subsidies to Britain’s potential allies, and pulling together a coalition that won the key Battle of Leipzig in October 1813. The road to victory was a rocky one, however in June 1813 Liverpool and Vansittart (Chancellor of the Exchequer) were reduced to begging the Bank of England for Treasury bill rollovers week by week, until Wellington’s victory at Vitoria improved Britain’s credit standing.

Battle of Vitoria.

As victory approached, Liverpool set out the basis for a peace settlement, which Castlereagh (his Foreign Secretary) followed at the Congress of Vienna. Instead of punishing Britain’s enemies after victory, Liverpool decided on a peace that imposed no direct reparations, left France with most of her colonies and brought Britain no additional colonial gains. His moderation, and the deft management of Castlereagh and the Austrian minister Metternich, produced a European peace that lasted for almost 100 years. Their distant successors at the 1919 Congress of Versailles would have done well to follow their example.

The Waterloo campaign was also a masterpiece of organization, with Wellington (then in Vienna) assembling the Allies into a coalition as soon as Napoleon’s return was known, and Vansittart raising £27 million of Consols four days before Waterloo – forty times the funds that Napoleon had available.

Once peace was restored, Liverpool faced three economic problems. The government debt was far too high, the highest it has ever been in terms of the economy. The pound was unanchored, its value governed largely by the Bank of England’s note issues Liverpool believed the country should return to gold. Agriculture had been over-expanded during the war, with marginal lands planted. Liverpool believed some protection was necessary, to avoid bankrupting landholders and ensure the maximum food self-sufficiency in any future war.

Liverpool tackled the agriculture problem first with Corn Laws that allowed free imports if the corn price was above 80 shillings per quarter, but blocked imports below that price. This allowed farmers to adjust it also stimulated corn growing in Ireland, which since 1806 could sell freely into the rest of the U.K. 30 years later, Irish corn crops were a modest offset to the notorious potato famine.

The debt was the biggest problem. Vansittart reduced non-debt-service public spending by 69% in three years, balanced the budget, and kept it balanced, raising taxes in 1819 to do so. Liverpool passed legislation that year returning Britain to the Gold Standard, which took effect in 1821. Sound debt management and the Gold Standard helped Britain’s credit rating and reduced interest rates, so holders of Consols (which had no maturity) received a capital gain of over two thirds of national output in the nine years 1815-24. That capital gain financed the industrial take-off of the early 1820s, and offset the deflation caused by the return to gold (prices fell by 40% in the same period). By the time Liverpool left office, economic growth had made the debt much less burdensome – Victorian chancellors like Gladstone had it very easy by comparison.

The first few years after the war were difficult. There was a deep recession in 1816-17, following the crop failure of the 1816 “Year without a summer” then another painful recession in 1819-20 caused by the deflation accompanying the return to gold. Both recessions caused unrest, which Liverpool and his Home Secretary Lord Sidmouth handled deftly. Sidmouth usied informants to watch for revolution, arresting the participants in the 1820 Cato Street Conspiracy before they could break into a Cabinet dinner and assassinate the ministers, for example. The Peterloo massacre, caused by inept Manchester magistrates, was a blot on the government’s record, but overall, order was maintained. Unrest died down once prosperity returned after 1820.

Peterloo massacre

One useful reform in these years was the Savings Banks Act of 1817, by which Trustee Savings Banks were set up, investing only in government bonds, to provide safe havens for worker savings. Liverpool’s next major innovation was to move the country towards free trade, which he did by a speech in May 1820, setting the path for British trade policy for the next 40 years, and opening British business to the world.

After 1820, things became easier as the economy recovered and then boomed. Taxes were reduced, as the budget was now in surplus. Peel, the new Home Secretary, instituted numerous legal reforms, and trades unions were legalized by 1824 and 1825 legislation.

At the end of 1825, a financial crash occurred, caused mainly by speculation by the English country banks, of which there were more than 800 (no bank was allowed to have more than six partners). Liverpool had warned against the speculation the previous March. After the crash he reformed the banking system, allowing the formation of joint stock banks, restricting note issues except by the Bank of England, and pushing the Bank of England to open branches. The new laws were passed early in 1826, and by the end of 1826 the post-crash recession had lifted.

Liverpool had major achievements in both war and peace over 15 years – for one thing, he won four successive general elections, more than any other prime minister. Although his main expertise was in economic policy, he produced an excellent post-war peace settlement and embarked on major programs of legal and social reform. Without his work, the Victorians’ lives would have been much less contented and prosperous. In war and peace, when you look at Britain’s 55 prime ministers, Liverpool deserves to rank No. 1.

Martin Hutchinson was born in London, brought up in Cheltenham, England, and has lived in Singapore, Croatia, London, suburban Washington, and since 2011 in Poughkeepsie, NY. He was a merchant banker for more than twenty-five years before moving into financial journalism in 2000. He earned his undergraduate degree in mathematics from Trinity College, Cambridge, and an MBA from Harvard Business School. Pre-order the new book ‘Britain’s Greatest Prime Minister’.


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Battle of Sullivan’s Island

Place of the Battle of Sullivan’s Island: At the mouth of the estuary outside Charleston Harbour, South Carolina, in the United States of America.

Combatants at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island: British Royal Navy and British Army against the American Continental Army and South Carolina Militia and Regiments.

Commanders at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island: Commodore Sir Peter Parker R.N. commanded the Royal Navy squadron. Major-General Sir Henry Clinton commanded the British troops. Major General Charles Lee commanded the American Continental garrison in Charleston. Governor Routledge commanded the local South Carolina forces. Colonel William Moultrie commanded the American troops in the fort on Sullivan’s Island.

Commodore Sir Peter Parker RN commander of the Royal Navy Squadron at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island on 28th June 1776 during the American Revolutionary War

Size of the armies at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island: 10 British warships and 2,500 British troops against 6,500 Americans.

Uniforms, arms and equipment at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island:

The British wore red coats, with bearskin caps for the grenadiers, tricorne hats for the battalion companies and caps for the light infantry.

The Americans dressed as best they could. Increasingly as the war progressed infantry regiments of the Continental Army mostly took to wearing blue uniform coats. The American militia continued in rough clothing.

Both sides were armed with muskets. The British infantry carried bayonets, that were in short supply among the American troops. Both sides were supported by artillery.

Winner of the Battle of Sullivan’s Island: The attack on Sullivan’s Island was a resounding and unexpected success for the American troops.

British Ships and Regiments at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island:
Royal Navy Squadron: HMS Bristol (Flagship), Captain John Morris, 50 guns, HMS Experiment, Captain Alexander Scott, 50 guns, Frigates: HMS Active, Captain William Williams, 28 guns, HMS Actaeon, Captain Christopher Atkins, 28 guns, HMS Solebay, Captain Thomas Symmonds, 28 guns, HMS Syren, Captain Tobias Fourneaux, 28 guns, HMS Friendship, Captain Charles Hope, 22 guns, HMS Sphinx, Captain Anthony Hunt, 20 guns, HM sloop Ranger, Captain Roger Willis, 8 guns, HM schooner St Lawrence, Lieutenant John Graves, 6 guns and HM bomb ketch Thunder, Captain James Reid, 6 guns and 2 mortars.

30 transports carrying the troops.

Major General Sir Henry Clinton: Battle of Sullivan’s Island on 28th June 1776 during the American Revolutionary War

British Army Regiments: 15 th , 28 th , 33 rd , 37 th , 46 th , 54 th and 57 th .

American Units at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island:
On the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, the South Carolina militia was divided in its loyalties between the two sides. To counter this problem the American authorities in the colony raised 6 new regiments of provincial troops and 3 artillery companies, amounting to 2,000 men.

In addition, there were 2 regiment of Continental troops: 2 North Carolina regiments and 1 Virginia regiment amounting to 2,000 men.

The country militia joined the garrison in Charlestown, adding a further 2,000 men.

The Charleston militia supporting the American cause amounted to 700.

The American troops holding Charlestown amounted to 6,500 men.

Background to the Battle of Sullivan’s Island:
The new Royal Governor for the colony of South Carolina, Lord William Campbell, arrived in Charleston on 18 th June 1775, the day after the Battle of Bunker Hill.

While there was a strong loyalist element in the population of South Carolina, the sentiment in Charleston was hostile to the British.

When, in September 1775, the Council of Safety in Charleston, after raising troops in support of the American Congress and arming a ship of war, seized Fort Johnson at the entrance to Charleston Harbour, Lord Campbell embarked on the Royal Navy sloop Tamar.

The Royal Governor of North Carolina was forced to leave his post in similar circumstances.

The British government decided to send a military and naval force to act in conjunction with the loyalist elements of the population of North Carolina. A naval squadron, commanded by Commodore Sir Peter Parker, was assembled at Cork in Ireland, with 30 transports to convey a military force, amounting to 2,500 men, to Cape Fear in North Carolina to carry out these operations.

At his request to King George III, Major General the Earl of Cornwallis was appointed to command the military element of the force.

The convoy sailed from Cork on 13 th February 1776, but was dispersed by storms, five days into the journey. It took to the 3 rd May 1776 for the fleet to arrive at Cape Fear, a journey of almost three months.

Major General Sir Henry Clinton was one of the British major generals despatched to America in 1775, to bolster the resolve of the British commander in chief in Boston, General Thomas Gage. Clinton was sent from Boston to engineer the loyalist uprising in North Carolina.

By the time the Cork re-inforcements were available, the loyalist uprising had taken place and been dispersed by the Americans.

British Royal Navy 50 gun ship at sea: Battle of Sullivan’s Island on 28th June 1776 during the American Revolutionary War

On 30 th May 1776, the Cork flotilla with Clinton’s small force set sail again, this time for Charleston, persuaded by Lord Campbell’s urgings that the recovery of the port of Charleston would considerably advance the British cause. As the senior major general, Clinton commanded.

From January 1776, the Americans in Charleston planned and began to build a new fortification on Sullivan’s Island at the entrance to the estuary, to defend the city from an incursion by the British.

Colonel William Moultrie and his 2 nd South Carolina Regiment began building the fort on Sullivan’s Island in March 1776.

By the time the British flotilla arrived off Charleston at the end of May 1776, the fort on Sullivan’s Island was unfinished, but was sufficiently advanced to provide a substantial defence to the city.

The fort on Sullivan’s Island was planned as a square redoubt, with bastions at each corner. The construction was of an inner and an outer wall, made with palmetto trunks up to a height of twenty feet, with the sixteen-foot space between the walls filled with sand. The side facing the sea was complete, with bastions in place. The sides facing away from the sea appear to have been still under construction when the battle took place. The fort was, until being re-named Fort Moultrie after the Battle of Sullivan’s Island, referred to as Fort Sullivan.

On seeing the uncompleted fort, General Charles Lee recommended that it be abandoned, describing it as a ‘Slaughter Pen’. Acting on Colonel Moultrie’s advice, Governor Routledge refused to leave the fort.

Plan of the attack on Fort Sullivan 28th June 1776 during the American Revolutionary War: plan by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas James Royal Artillery

Guns at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island:

A plan of the fort was prepared by an officer of the Royal Artillery, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas James after the battle. The plan appears to show 28 pieces of artillery in Fort Sullivan. One is described as a mortar and the rest as being 32 and 26 pounders. It is apparent from the caption on the plan that Colonel James took his information from officers present at the battle, if he was not himself present, which is not clear. Possibly information was obtained when the fort, by then called Fort Moultrie, was taken by the British when they captured Charleston in 1780.

Ward describes the cannon in Fort Sullivan in these terms: ‘Along the front were mounted six 24-pounders and three 18-pounders. Along the southerly side were six guns, 9- and 12-pounders. In each bastion were five guns, ranging from 9 to 26 pounders.’ Ward describes three 12-pounders as mounted in each of the other two bastions. The difficulty with Ward’s description is that he puts the ‘front’ in contradistinction to the ‘southerly side’. It would seem that the southerly side of the fort was the front.

View of Charleston in 1771: Battle of Sullivan’s Island on 28th June 1776 during the American Revolutionary War

It seems likely that the guns available to the Americans were those they removed from the other long-standing British coastal batteries. It is very unlikely that a coastal battery would have mounted a cannon smaller than an 18-pounder. James, the producer of an apparently contemporaneous and professionally informed plan, refers only to 32 and 26 pounders.

If James is correct the British ships were heavily out-gunned by Fort Sullivan.

The largest British ship, HMS Bristol, carried twenty-two 24 pounder guns, twenty-two 12 pounder guns and other smaller cannon. Experiment carried the same size and number of guns. The frigates deployed nothing larger than 9 pounders.

The report of damage suffered during the Battle of Sullivan’s Island by HMS Bristol describes being struck by 32 pounder cannon balls.

Account of the Battle of Sullivan’s Island:
The British flotilla arrived off Charleston on 4 th June 1776. There was much work to be done. It seems unlikely that the British had access to reliable charts of the estuary, an infinitely complex area with sandbanks and intricate channels giving access to the inner harbour. The Americans will have removed all navigation aids. Time was spent taking soundings and putting in buoys.

It took until 7 th June 1776 to get the frigates and transports over the bar and into ‘Five Fathom Hole’, an area of open water against the shore to the west of the main estuary.

Charleston was an important port for the southern colonies, and it is surprising that there was not a shipping channel giving access to the harbour. It may be that the Royal Navy ships were unable to find the normal shipping channel and were forced to cross one of the shoals, or, that the two 50 gun ships were too large to have access to Charleston harbour. Certainly, the Royal Navy found that its larger ships were limited in the access available to them on the American coast.

The attack on Fort Sullivan: Battle of Sullivan’s Island on 28th June 1776 during the American Revolutionary War: picture by Nicholas Pocock

The British plan was to land the military units on Long Island, the island next up the coast to the north-east of Sullivan’s Island, cross the channel between Long Island and Sullivan’s Island, called ‘the Broad’, and attack Fort Sullivan in the rear.

General Clinton received information that the channel between Long Island and Sullivan’s Island at low tide was only eighteen inches deep. This erroneous information was not checked before the operation was begun.

The attack on Fort Sullivan: Battle of Sullivan’s Island on 28th June 1776 during the American Revolutionary War

On 9 th June 1776, 500 British troops landed on Long Island. An attempt was made by a force of the 15 th Regiment and the light infantry and grenadier companies of the other regiments to cross the channel to Sullivan’s Island.

In the light of the threat from the British on Long Island, General Lee hurried a force of 800 American troops commanded by Lieutenant Colonel William Thompson, comprising 3 rd Regiment of South Carolina Rangers, North Carolina Continentals, South Carolina troops and militia and the ‘Raccoon’ Company of riflemen onto Sullivan’s Island, and moved them to the north of the island to face the oncoming British. Two American guns were brought to the north end of Sullivan’s Island and installed in an earthwork.

Map of Charleston Harbour and Estuary: Battle of Sullivan’s Island on 28th June 1776 during the American Revolutionary War

The channel between Long Island and Sullivan’s Island, ‘the Breach’, turned out to be a patchwork of shoals and subsidiary channels up to seven feet deep. The boats carrying the British soldiers grounded on the shoals and the soldiers found the channels too deep to wade across. In any case, there were only enough ship’s boats available to carry around 500 men across at a time, insufficient for an attack on a prepared position supported by guns.

On 10 th June 1776, the remainder of the British troops landed on Long Island, but there was now no prospect of a successful crossing of the difficult channel. The two sides relapsed into a long range and sporadic exchange of cannon fire.

It took two weeks, until 27 th June 1776, for Commodore Sir Peter Parker to kedge his two 50 gun warships across the bar and into Five Fathom Hole, an operation that required the removal of the ships’ guns to lighten them sufficiently.

On 28 th June 1776, the bomb ketch HMS Thunder, escorted by HMS Friendship, moved across the estuary, anchored a mile and a half from Fort Sullivan and opened fire on the fort, the Thunder firing ten inch mortar shells.

During the morning, the first line of British warships, HMS Active, Bristol, Experiment and Solebay anchored in a line within four hundred yards of the fort, and, regulating their movement by way of spring cables attached to their anchor lines, opened fire on the fort.

The second line of warships, HMS Syren, Actaeon and Sphinx, took up positions covering the gaps between the first line ships and also opened fire.

The American gunners began to return the fire, with the major disadvantage that there was only enough gun powder in the fort for thirty-five rounds per gun. Each shot was carefully aimed, in contrast to the broadsides fired by the ships. There does not appear to have been any shortage of cannon balls in the fort. Chain shot was used to destroy the ships’ rigging.

Battle of Sullivan’s Island on 28th June 1776 in the American Revolutionary War: picture by Henry Grey an officer of the American garrison in Fort Sullivan wounded during the battle

After an hour of firing, acting on the commodore’s order, the second line ships weighed anchor and moved off up the estuary. The intention was that these three ships would move around the headland into the inlet behind the fort, and bombard the garrison in enfilade, the shots striking the area of the fort that was incomplete and provided least protection to the American gunners.

The second line ships, Actaeon, Sphinx and Syren, sailing up the estuary, suddenly grounded on an area of shoal called the Middle Ground, positioned, as the name suggests, in the middle of the estuary.

As these ships went aground, Sphinx ran into Actaeon, losing her bowsprit. By the end of the day’s fighting, Sphinx and Syren got themselves clear, although damaged. Actaeon was stuck fast.

The bombardment between the first line ships and the fort continued.

Morning after the Battle of Sullivan’s Island on 28th June 1776 in the American Revolutionary War: picture by Henry Grey an American officer present in Fort Sullivan and wounded during the battle: HMS Actaeon burning in the foreground

The fort was struck repeatedly by several thousand cannon balls, but the palmetto trunks used in the structure absorbed the shock of the strikes and the fort’s structure remained intact.

The American gunners were protected by the sixteen-foot-thick sand and timber walls and suffered few casualties.

It was quite the reverse for the British ships of the first line. Commodore Sir Peter Parker had little idea what to expect from the fort before he engaged it. What he clearly did not anticipate was a fully functioning battery, with immensely strong walls, the largest of cannon and a well-motivated garrison able to operate their guns with precision and determination.

American defence of Fort Sullivan: Battle of Sullivan’s Island on 28th June 1776 during the American Revolutionary War

The British ships were too close to engage with such an enemy. Both 50 gun ships had their anchors shot away and, swinging round, took shots in the stern that hurtled the full length of the ship, killing and maiming crew, dismounting guns, smashing bulkheads and equipment and blasting holes at each end of the hull.

General Charles Lee visited Fort Sullivan during the afternoon. Seeing the low state of the ammunition supply he sent over a further 700 pounds of gun powder from the city. By the time the powder arrived, the fort’s guns had been silent for an hour. They resumed firing.

The bombardment continued until 11pm, when the British ships cut their cables and made their way back down the estuary. The battle was over.

The next morning showed the Actaeon to be firmly stuck on the Middle Ground shoal. The crew set her on fire and came away in her boats.

Casualties at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island:

The British casualties were all from the Royal Navy.

The American fire had been concentrated on the two largest ships, HMS Bristol and HMS Experiment. The captain of Bristol, Captain John Morris, was killed as were 39 others of his crew, with 71 wounded. Commodore Sir Peter Parker was wounded. Captain Alexander Scott of HMS Experiment lost an arm. 23 of his crew were killed and another 55 wounded. Active had 1 killed and 6 wounded. Solebay had 5 wounded.

The damage to HMS Bristol, reported by the ship, confirmed the presence of 32 pounder cannon in Fort Sullivan. Bristol’s mizzenmast was hit by seven 32 pounder cannon balls and had to be cut away. Twice, American gunfire cleared the quarterdeck of all personnel, other than the commodore, who was wounded in the leg. The top of the mainmast was carried away. Seventy cannon balls struck the ship in the hull. The comment is made that Bristol would probably not have survived had the weather been rough.

Experiment was heavily damaged, but not as badly as the flagship.

HMS Actaeon was lost entirely, although all her crew got away by boat.

Americans casualties were 17 dead and 20 wounded. 7,000 British cannon balls were collected on Sullivan’s Island after the battle.

British Squadron in ‘Five Fathom Hole’ the morning after the Battle of Sullivan’s Island on 28th June 1776 during the American Revolutionary War: picture by a British officer present at the battle: Actaeon is on fire: HMS Bristol can be seen with a mast missing. Charleston is in the distance

Follow-up to the Battle of Sullivan’s Island: Clinton’s troops remained on Long Island for a further three weeks. Once it was clear that nothing further could be achieved against the Americans in Charleston, the British troops embarked on the transports and, escorted by HMS Solebay, headed for New York and the Battle of Long Island.

The other British warships remained in the estuary carrying out the repairs necessary to make them seaworthy.

Following the Battle of Sullivan’s Island, the British made no attempt to attack the Americans in the Southern Colonies for another two years.

Sergeant William Jasper fastening the South Carolina flag at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island on 28th June 1776 in the American Revolutionary War

Anecdotes from the Battle of Sullivan’s Island:

  • Drayton’s Memoirs of the American Revolution in Relation to South Carolina records in the Appendix that an American deserter from Colonel Gadsden’s First South Carolina Regiment, called M’Neil, informed Commodore Sir Peter Parker that the guns in Fort Johnson had been spiked. If this is what happened, it may be an explanation as to why Parker appeared to treat the fort on Sullivan’s Island with so little care, in the belief that none of the big guns from Fort Johnson could be used against his ships.
  • A British surgeon in a Royal Navy ship at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island wrote of the Americans: ‘Their artillery was surprisingly well served. The fire was slow, but decisive indeed they were very cool and took care not to fire except their guns were exceedingly well directed.’

The attack on Fort Sullivan: Battle of Sullivan’s Island on 28th June 1776 during the American Revolutionary War

The South Carolina flag at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island on 28th June 1776 in the American Revolutionary War

References for the Battle of Sullivan’s Island:

Drayton’s Memoirs of the American Revolution in Relation to South Carolina

History of the British Army by Sir John Fortescue

The War of the Revolution by Christopher Ward

The American Revolution by Brendan Morrissey

The previous battle of the American Revolutionary War is the Battle of Quebec 1775

The next battle of the American Revolutionary War is the Battle of Long Island

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