In the first of the January in History of the American Revolutionary War we covered the major events of 1775 to 1776. In this second part of the series we will continue on with event through the end of the war.  Just as in the article on December during the American Revolutionary War, seasons can and did affect military actions. Major battles were few during the winter months; and those that occurred were, arguably defining for the winning side. In the case of January, the greater benefactor was the revolutionaries.

The Grey Fox

As the year 1776 came to a close, General George Washington provided that he would regularly employ three principles of military planning and execution: audacity, timing and subterfuge. The British commanders could not have thought it any less than audacity for an ill supplied, equipped, and trained force in the extreme cold to attack British forces to include Hessian mercenaries – And win. By the time British General Charles Cornwallis began regrouping and refitting his forces on January 2, 1777, the man they dubbed the Gray Fox, had escaped their grasp by leaving a handful of troops behind to set camp fires and set the stage to appear as if his forces were encamped. When the British rangers scouted the area the following day, they only found burning embers as the last of Washington’s forces escaped and caught up to the Colonial Army main body.

Image below: General George Washington

George Washington at Princeton, 1779Credit: Charles Willson Peale - United States Senate

January 3, 1777:  Washington skirmishes with two regiments of British troops leaving Princeton, New Jersey, to join Cornwallis. A third British force with cannon joined the battle and initially drove the Americans back. George Washington continued to motivated his forces to fight on, and with the aid of Alexander Hamilton’s cannon, the Colonials held the day. British forces losses were estimated at 400 men and Colonial losses were 40 killed and approximately 100 wounded. Washington, facing a numerically larger force, won and captured 200 British troops.

Colonial Morale

Troop morale for the Colonial Army was improving with the successes at Trenton and Princeton. This success helped to encourage more colonials to enlist with Washington’s army during the early part of the year 1777.   

January 15, 1777:  Residents of New Connecticut (later to be called Vermont) declared their Independence from the Monarchy. A little odd since the Continental Congress, a body that includes Vermont, declared independence in July the prior year (1776). 

January 18, 1777:  Washington tasked Colonial Major General William Heath to attack Fort Independence in New York; however the effort was abandoned by Heath eleven days later. General Washington admonished Heath for the failure and never permitted him to command of troops in combat for the remainder of the war. 

January 1778:  Benjamin Franklin was in France assuring the French and other Europeans that the majority of Americans were solid supporters of the Revolution and were committed to achieving total independence. In reality, according to John Adams, only a third of the colonials actually supported the Revolution.

January 1778:  Continental Army moral was strong but its numbers were not. Desertion was not a problem, but sickness can be just as debilitating to an army as a bloody battle and the colonials dealt with more than their share of the sick and injured from battle, weather, and lack of supplies, medical care, and food. Keeping the Colonial Army strong in numbers was critical and recruitment needed fresh blood. 

January 2, 1778:  General Washington forwards a letter to governor Nicholas Cooke from General James Varnum advising him to recruit blacks to fill Rhode Island's troop quota. General Washington had previously resisted recruiting black soldiers; however, the British had already been doing so; and with the colonial troop shortages, it made no sense to deny this manpower resource since both sides were enlisting Native Americans to fight for each side and there was a large number of free-blacks and slaves to recruit.  

Too Much Cold and Too Little Rations

January 1780:  General Washington and his army at Morristown, New Jersey were encamped, or better to say “buried” in four to six feet of snow. Snow drifts were reported as high as twelve feet. Tents were covered and encampments looked more like an Eskimo igloo village than soldiers’ tent city.

On January 9, 1780,  Due to a lack of provisions and the failure of Congress to insure that the army was adequately supplied, General Washington divided New Jersey into several districts and issued an order requiring those districts to provide rations for Continental Troops. If ration contributions were not given willingly, and they were available, Colonial officers were authorized to confiscate sufficient rations within the limits Washington had prescribed in his order. This method of resupply was successful and, according to records, districts generally were cooperative.

January 15, 1780:  Colonial Major General Stirling (Lord Stirling) attempts to cross the ice into Staten Island with 3000 men in order to attack British forces, commanded by General Wilhelm von Knyphausen; however, the raid failed to accomplish anything and the extreme cold eventually forced Stirling to retreat. To Stirling's credit, it was he who, discovered and reported a plot by a group of discontented colonial officers that were working to have Washington removed as Commander of the Army. 

Future Nashville

On January 1, 1780, Congress approved the establishment of a Fort in the location where Nashville, Tennessee now sits. Here, just up the road a-stones-throw from my home, Fort Nashborough was completed on January 28th, 1780. Fort Nashborough is located Riverfront Park, downtown Nashville, Tennessee.  James Robertson leading his group of pioneers across the frozen Cumberland river to a place called The Cedar Bluffs, established the Nashborough. It served as a shelter for the first families until Indian attacks ended in 1792.


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Coming up Next

In the next article in the series of January and the American Revolutionary War we will look at the battle that is often marked as the beginning of the end for the British southern campaign as well as the end of the war. Additionally, we will look at a few of the major events that represent the final days of the war.