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This Month in History: November and the American Revolution

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By Edited Sep 7, 2016 2 1

From 1775 to 1783

November was not a big battle month. Yes, there were battles and yes, they had an impact; however, they were not the "turned-the-tide of the war moments" in the American Revolution. November brought with it concerns for both sides as to the third opponent entering the fray: Winter. Late November meant winter encampments; the struggle for replenishing supplies, clothing, food, weapons, gun powder, and ammunition. Occasionally, a military leader from one side or the other would use the weather to their advantage and achieve a victory. Below you will find many of the more significant events that occurred in the American Colonies over the eight years, from the first shots to the final departure of British troops from New York.

Burning of Stamp Act

1765 Taxation without Representation

November:  The Stamp Act 1765 was imposed on the American (British) colonies. It required a direct tax on the colonists and forced them to use paper produced in London; paper that must carry the embossed revenue stamp. This was Britain’s way of raising money for supporting troops stated in the colonies.

1775, Colonials Stretch Their Arms in Canada and the Olive Branch Petition Snaps

  • November 2:  As a part of an expedition for Colonials in the early days of the war for independence, Brigadier General Richard Montgomery captured Fort St. Jean on November, 1775. Montgomery, with 1,700 militiamen, and after a long march and siege effort that began on September 28, 1775, finally pressured the British fort defenders to surrender the fort. Following this, the Colonial forces continued to Montreal which fell to the American’s without a battle on November 13, 1775.
  • A second expedition conducted by Colonel Arnold during November, 1775, to take control of Quebec failed as a result of poor planning, poor leadership, lack of skills and lack of commitment to the mission by his troops. As a result, Colonel Arnold was promoted to Brigadier General.

Below: General George Washington portrait at Princeton 

George Washington at Princeton, 1779
  • November 8:  General George Washington records his concerns about the lack of soldierly skills, abilities and commitment to act as a disciplined military force. Beyond the basic issues of soldier skills, there is also a problem of territorial prejudice and colonial separatism; as Washington states it, “Connecticut wants no Massachusetts man in her corps. Massachusetts thinks there is no necessity for a Rhode Islander…” Washington’s later observations include a description of “stupidity among the enlisted men.” He further, notes that the local militias were accustomed to electing their officers not having them appointed over them. In spite of his best efforts, Washington’s insistence and requirements for a discipline among the ranks was always short lived as militia troop would come and go, only serving a few months at a time just to be replaced by a new group of undisciplined troops.
  • November 12:  As a result of England’s rejection of the Olive Branch Petition (July 1775, Congress adopted the Olive Branch Petition, written by John Dickinson, which appealed directly to King George III and expressed hope for reconciliation between the colonies and Great Britain), Abigail Adams writes to her husband John Adams, "Let us separate [from England], they are unworthy to be our Brethren. Let us renounce them and instead of supplications as formerly for their prosperity and happiness, Let us beseech the almighty to blast their councils and bring to naught all their devices."
  • November 13:  American Continental Army Brigadier General Richard Montgomery takes Montreal, Canada, without opposition.
  • November 29:  The Second Continental Congress created a Committee of Secret Correspondence. Committee members included: Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Harrison, John Dickinson, John Hay and Robert Morris, and Silas Deanes Gravier. The committee’s function was not unlike the current U.S. State Department and the role of the U.S. Secretary of State. This “secret’ committee’s mission was to communicate the American Colonies’ position on political affairs and the impact of British policies on the safety, security, and independence of the colonists. Their goal was to develop a friendly relationship with France in order to solicit aid for the America colonies hopes for independence. The aid the colonies sought included military supplies. 

1776, The Year of The Declaration of Independence and The Fall of White Plains, Fort Washington and Fort Lee

  • November 1:  As a result of Colonial losses and pressure by British forces during the Battle of White Plains near White Plains New York in October 1776, George Washington retreats north to secure a new defensive position. When again threatened by British General Howe, Washington pushes even farther north to avoid another loss to Howe. Eventually, Howe decides to no stop chasing Washington and instead, moves south to re-engage rebel forces still in Fort Washington. According to an English officer’s diary writing about what he saw of the rebels: “[they]…were without shoes or stockings and several were observed to have only linen drawers on, with a rifle and hunting shirt, without any proper shirt or waistcoat.”
  • Fort Washington, poorly equipped and against overwhelming odds, Robert Magaw’s Pennsylvanians surrendered to the British officer’s serving General Howe. The Colonial troops were ill-equipped and low on supplies, including a lack of clothing and food. They had little to no chance of contesting the British. Thus, the British captured 2,837 rebel troops and killed 59. Colonial prisoners sent to British jails and prison ships experienced conditions worse than the poor conditions they suffered with before their capture.    
  • Howe continued his campaign by sending Cornwallis to attack Fort Lee. Nathanael Greene’s and his troops were caught by surprise and his soldiers panicked and abandoned the fort to the British. The loss of both forts began to look like an end to the goal of an independent nation.  

Tree of Battles
  • November 14:  The St. James Chronicle of London published an item that claimed Benjamin Franklin (actual verbiage states, "The very identical Dr. Franklyn) as being at the head of the rebellion in North America.
  • November 18:  After November 13 when Fort Washington fell to the British General Howe’s and Hessian Lieutenant General Wilhelm von Knyphausen forces, Howe renames the fort as Fort Knyphausen.

Hessian troops in British pay in the US war of independence
  • November 19:  Congress sends out a plea to all the colonies for more troops to serve in the Continental Army. Their message reminded the colonies of their mutual responsibility for the common safety and defense; a responsibility that include each colony providing their quota of troops to fill the ranks of the Continental Army.
  • November 21:  General Washington writes to General Charles Lee of Fort Lee to the British. Washington further orders Lee to bring his forces to New Jersey and the Delaware River immediately. Lee, however, was in no hurry to follow orders as a result of his personal animosity towards his boss. This decision Lee would regret when, after dawdling around for a few weeks, in December, Lee was caught off guard and captured in his nightgown by the British.
  • November 30:  Brothers, Admiral Richard Howe and General William Howe offered amnesty to anyone in New York who, within 60 days, would sign and swear to desist from “Treasonable Acts[ings] and Doings.” Do to the fact that the British already had a firm hold on Westchester, Manhattan and Long Island; many New Yorkers were eager to grasp at the pardoning opportunity. 

William Howe

1777, the Brothers Howe: The Year Britain Held the Upper Hand 

  • November 9:  British General William Howe began preparations to spend the winter in Philadelphia. Fort Mercer was still under colonial control and could be used to disrupt British supplies along the Delaware River. During November 1777, General Howe and Admiral Richard Howe joined forces to reduce all the colonial forts on the Delaware. Fort Mifflin on Mud Island was undermanned and poorly fortified. Admiral Howe took advantage of the fort's weaker side and prepared to engage Fort Mifflin with high angle cannon fire.
  • November 10:  On November 10th, General Howe and Admiral Howe let loose with every canon they had on Fort Mifflin; bombarding it for the next five days.
  • November 15:  Pennsylvania adopts the final draft of the Articles of Confederation after 16 months of debate in the Continental Congress [it was not until March 1, 1781, that the last hold-out, Maryland, ratified the agreement.
  • November 17:  The Articles of the Confederation was signed by the Congress on November 15, 1777. On the November 17, 1777, the Articles were submitted to the states for ratification.
  • November 28:  John Adams was appointed as U.S. commissioner to France.

1778, It was a Cherry Valley Massacre

  • East of Cooperstown, New York, the Cherry Valley Massacre took place on November 11, 1778. Prior to the battle, Colonial Colonel Ichabod Alden received information warning of an impending attack. He chose to ignore it. In spite of the cold and snow, a combined force of 600 Native Americans and 200 Loyalists attacked the American force of less than 300.  The result was approximately, 40 colonials killed and more than 70 taken prisoner. Colonel Alden was one of the Americans killed in the massacre.

1779, The Colonial Army starts the winter on a bad note; both sides struggle with harsh weather, lack of resources, and health of troops issues

  • November 12: British Commander-in-Chief General Sir Henry Clinton had control of both New York and Savannah.  After a failed attempt to retake Savannah from the British by Benjamin Lincoln and French Admiral D'Estaing, Lincoln returns to Charleston and D’Estaing departs from Georgia and returns to France. Washington had hoped to retake New York, but after the failure to retake Savannah and the departure of the French Fleet, and the appearance of British Admiral Byron’s Fleet in the area, squelched his plan. Instead, Washington chose to move to Morristown and setup his winter camp.
  • With winter ahead, American General Washington and British General Clinton were suffering from the same and constant drain of resources. While the greater portion of Clinton’s Army wintered in New York and Savannah, Washington’s Army Wintered in Morristown – Ney Jersey, Danbury – Connecticut, West Point – New York, and Charleston – South Carolina.
  • Washington’s northern Army was seriously hampered by the colder than usual winter. Food supplies were inadequate, clothing, blankets and even cash were short in supply. Morale was low for the colonial troops, especially the militia members; frost bite, illness and related deaths were just as devastating to Washington’s forces as the guns of their enemy.    
  • November 29: No More Paper Money.  The value of the mass-produced paper money had dropped well below the face value. Every state was printing their own. There was little to no control and all paper money was on the verge of being worthless. Congress decided to stop printing paper money. On this day, printing presses stopped making Continental dollars. From 1775 to 1779, the colonies printed 242 million dollars in paper currency; however, it was not worth nearly that in real value.

1780, Capture the Gamecock

  • November 9:  British Major James Wemyss nicknamed the Gamecock by the militia and considered the second most hated British officer behind that of Tarleton, planned to attack Fishdam Ford, South Carolina. Wemyss believed he could catch the South Carolina militia commanded by General Thomas Sumter by surprise. Wemyss was overconfident and willing to fight even without weighing his opponent, as his nicknamed implied. He was commanding a force of 140 horsemen. Sumter’s militia numbered 300 South Carolinians.  The result of the brief engagement: the Gamecock was shot and captured.

Nathanael Green, 1783

Above: Portrait of General Nathanael Green, 1783

1780, Nathanael Green Takes Command of The Southern Army.

  • November 14:  November was a month with no great battles. This was a time when many partisan groups were weighing their long-term interests in relation to colonial support or British alliance. American guerilla tactics of hit-and-run were common. Bands of militiamen routinely plucked away at Cornwallis’s rearguard, stealing supply wagons, equipment, and food.
  • General Cornwallis camps his troops in Winnsboro, South Carolina from October through November; while the American troops stayed in Hillsboro, North Carolina.
  • General Washington appointed Major General Nathanael Green as commander of the Southern Army. Green tries to recruit help from the southern states to reconstitute his forces with soldiers and supplies; he has little success due to the continued separatist and suspicious attitude by southern states towards the Continental Congress.
  • November 20:  Where Wemyss failed on November 9, eleven days later, Tarleton succeeded by wounding Sumter and forcing the General to surrender.
  • General British Commander-in-Chief General Sir Henry Clinton and Patriot Commander-in-Chief General George Washington throw verbal punches and threats. Clinton threatened that if British Major John Andre was hanged, the British will do likewise and hand several American prisoners as the price in return. Washington parried back with the same threat stating that British prisoners will meet the same fate: a man for a man. Andre was hung as a spy for assisting Benedict Arnold in attempting to surrender the Fort and West Point to the British. Clinton did not make good on his threat.

1783, End a War

  • November 25:  King George III receives news of the British surrender at Yorktown. The King delivers a defiant speech stating his intent to continue the war; the House of Commons agrees with the King’s pledge. Nearly three months after the Treaty of Paris officially ending the American Revolution, the last British troops leave New York.

King George III in coronation robes

Summary

November marked the start of winter encampment planning and, for the colonials, simply trying to survive the weather; lack of resources and surprise attacks by the British and their Native American allies. It seemed that the Colonists or Rebels regularly found this month to be the beginning of hard times. Occasionally, a military leader from one side or the other would use the weather to his advantage and achieve a victory such as in the case of the Cherry Valley Massacre and the fall of Fort Mifflin to the Howe brothers. Still the month of November usually marked the period in commander’s minds as to “wintering” their troops: where will we winter, what needs defending as we winter, where will we get our supplies, care for our sick, bury our dead. The citizens and army of the fledgling nation were not equipped or trained for winter warfare. Neither contestant was expected a long protracted war.

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Comments

Nov 19, 2014 4:23pm
janewinstead
Very interesting and very thorough.
Jane Winstead
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Bibliography

  1. History Channel "AMERICAN REVOLUTION HISTORY." History Channel. 29/10/2014 <Web >

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