The Invasion of Virginia: 1781

Mike Cecere author photoRelevant History welcomes back Michael Cecere, who was raised in Maine but moved to Virginia in 1990 where he discovered a passion for American History. Mr. Cecere has taught U.S. History for nearly three decades and is an avid Revolutionary War reenactor and writer who lectures throughout the country on the American Revolution. He is the author of thirteen books on the American Revolution and nearly as many articles. His books focus primarily on the role that Virginians played in the Revolution.

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Lexington and Concord, Trenton, Saratoga, and Yorktown—these are the Revolutionary War battles that are taught in every school district in America and that many Americans are familiar with. These key events, all of which happen to be American victories in our struggle of independence, spanned six years and contribute to the mistaken impression held by many that American success in the Revolutionary War was inevitable.

What is overlooked by many are the numerous American defeats and setbacks that occurred in between these important victories: the suffering and struggles and yes, numerous losses that Americans fighting for their rights and independence endured between 1775 and 1783. My latest book, Invasion of Virginia, 1781, sheds a long overdue light upon one crucial military campaign in Virginia that occurred prior to Yorktown and that significantly contributed to what became the decisive battle of the Revolutionary War, the siege of Yorktown. To put it bluntly, we do not get to Yorktown without experiencing the Virginia Campaign of 1781.

Defeat and treason
The situation looked quite bleak for supporters of American independence in late 1780. The British had successfully gained control of most of Georgia and South Carolina (destroying two American armies sent to resist them at Charlestown and Camden) and the British commander in the South, General Lord Charles Cornwallis, had turned his attention to North Carolina. To the north, General Washington and his army was stunned by the betrayal of General Benedict Arnold, the hero of Saratoga and one of Washington’s best generals. Disappointed by insufficient French support, which left Washington too weak to strike the British in New York, and fearful that others in his army might follow Benedict Arnold’s example, the American commander and likely most supporters of independence were anxious for what lay ahead.

The British commander in America, General Henry Clinton, was pleased by the success of his new southern strategy, and sent a force under General Alexander Leslie to Virginia in October to assist General Cornwallis in his subjugation of North Carolina. The surprising defeat of a large force of Tories at King’s Mountain undermined Cornwallis’s plans for North Carolina and caused him to order Leslie southward to South Carolina.

General Clinton was not pleased by this development; he believed that control of the Chesapeake Bay was crucial for gaining control of the south, so in December he sent a new British force of 1,600 men under Brigadier-General Benedict Arnold to Virginia with orders to establish a secure post in Portsmouth and destroy and disrupt whatever military supplies that he could that were destined for the American southern army in North Carolina.

British attention turns to Virginia
Arnold’s expedition to Virginia in early 1781 was enormously successful for the British. Arnold quickly secured Portsmouth and sailed up the James River against virtually no resistance from the largest of the thirteen American states. War fatigue and mismanagement suppressed Virginia’s ability to confront Arnold, and his troops plundered their way past Richmond, destroying vast amounts of military and civilian supplies.

Arnold returned to Portsmouth before January ended and for a time it looked like he had placed his force in extreme danger for Virginia’s militia forces gathered, and then a French naval force arrived, but they were soon chased away by the arrival in March of General William Phillips with 2,500 reinforcements. General Clinton was determined to sever Virginia’s lifeline to the Carolinas, and General Phillips was to see this done. He led a strong force back up the James River, where he confronted Virginia militia near Williamsburg and in Petersburg, but his effort to occupy Richmond was thwarted by the arrival of General LaFayette with nearly 1,000 American continentals, the cream of General Washington’s army (picked light infantry).

Unfortunately for General LaFayette, the arrival of General Cornwallis in Virginia in May (following his pyrrhic victory at Guilford Courthouse) and new British and German reinforcements from New York increased the number of British troops in Virginia at over 7,000, far more than LaFayette’s small force could handle. What ensued was several days of a cat and mouse chase; Cornwallis pursed LaFayette, but not very aggressively, while LaFayette grudgingly fled northward towards overdue reinforcements under General Anthony Wayne of Pennsylvania.

In early June Cornwallis broke off his pursuit and sent detachments to raid a supply depot at Point of Fork and the Virginia Legislature (which had fled to Charlottesville). The timely warning of Jack Jouett spared more of the assembly, as well as Governor Jefferson, from capture, but the raid demonstrated that British troops were capable of appearing almost anywhere in the Old Dominion.

By mid-June General Cornwallis was marching east, back towards Williamsburg. Along the way his rear guard skirmished a detachment of LaFayette’s troops who had raced all night to catch the British rear guard, near Spencer’s Ordinary. Two weeks later, it was Cornwallis’s turn to catch LaFayette off guard by luring him into a trap at Green Spring near Jamestown. Fortunately for the Americans, they were able to withdraw before they were completely trapped, but the fight was intense and costly.

Cornwallis’s return to Portsmouth in July and subsequent decision to occupy Yorktown (in compliance with General Clinton’s orders to establish a winter port for the British navy) provided an opportunity that General Washington seized upon in August when he learned that a large French naval force intended to sail to the Chesapeake Bay. General Washington’s concentration of forces outside of Yorktown was a tremendous logistical achievement and the allied victory over Cornwallis in mid-October the decisive battle of the Revolutionary War.

It is likely though, that none of it would have occurred had not events transpired in Virginia in 1781 the way they did.

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Invasion of Virginia 1781 book coverA big thanks to Michael Cecere.

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The American Turtle, George Washington and Me

Robert Skead author photoRelevant History welcomes back the father-son team Robert J. Skead, with Robert A. Skead, authors of YA historical fiction. Their ancestor Lamberton Clark fought in the Revolutionary War as a member of the Connecticut Militia and the Continental Army, and their popular children’s books include the American Revolutionary War Adventure series: Patriots, Recoats & Spies and Submarines, Secrets, and a Daring Rescue (Zondervan). To learn more about their books, visit their web site and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

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I never knew the first submarine invented for warfare was created during the American Revolution. It wasn’t in any of my history books when I was a child. Had I known about it, my interest in the subject, which was already high (I was in sixth grade in 1976 during the Bicentennial), would have peaked even higher.

I stumbled on the American Turtle submarine while searching for possible hooks for the second book in our American Revolutionary War Adventure series crafted with my father. Our goal with the books is to inspire kids and adults to do great things and educate our readers about some “little known” facts or events during this important period in our nation’s history. The first book in our series—Patriots, Redcoats & Spies—used the Culper Spy Ring as a hook. When I saw the image of the American Turtle on my computer screen, my eyes widened, and I had that “Aha!” moment. When I tell kids about it during my author visits, they too are fascinated. How can you not be—a submarine during the American Revolution! Who knew?!

Turtle submarine beneath shipMy PowerPoint presentation used for my author visits shows an image of the Turtle. One child said it looked like a giant acorn, which is true, but the American Acorn doesn’t sound so cool. Others described it as two giant clam shells stuck together, but the American Clam doesn’t work either. When the sub is in the water it looks like a turtle, hence the American Turtle, maybe not a very threatening name, except when you think of its inventor, David Bushnell, saying that his Turtle snaps on command.

The turtle that more than snaps
The American Turtle was invented to secretly submerge under a British warship and attach a bomb to its hull, and then escape while the fuse burned and the clocked ticked down until BOOM! David Bushnell, a Yale graduate, started inventing the Turtle in 1775 because he first invented underwater explosives (waterproof gunpowder), and he needed a way to deliver it to blow up a ship. Previously when men of war wanted to destroy a ship, they used fire bombs made with oil or other flammable materials, all delivered above the water level. The Governor of Connecticut, the state in which Bushnell lived, who was a Patriot and knew of the invention, recommended it to General George Washington, who, even though he was a little skeptical, invested funds for its continued creation.

The Turtle could hold one man as pilot and operated via pumps and hand-cranked propellers. Tar inside the grooves of the wooden structure made it waterproof. It could submerge for about 20-30 minutes. Glass built into its structure provided some light, but once submerged there would be darkness. That problem was solved, to my surprise, by fungus that would glow in the dark, and that was placed around instrumentation like gauges. Yes, the ingenuity of David Bushnell is so impressive! The fungus would not work in cold weather, so the Turtle didn’t operate in winter.

The Turtle was used several times in New York Harbor but failed to achieve the purpose for which it was created. Patriot Ezra Lee piloted its first mission. The target: The HMS Eagle, Howe’s flagship, stationed off Manhattan.

Lee’s personal account (found in the back of Submarines, Secrets and a Daring Rescue) details how he couldn’t get the bomb to attach to the hull because he hit metal. He tried to connect with another part of the hull, but was not able to stay underneath (imagine all the currents). He had to give up. He reported that the British did spot him and rowed out to investigate. He then released a charge (a floating bomb), which they saw and avoided in retreat. When it exploded, it did so “with tremendous violence, throwing large columns of water and pieces of wood that composed it high into the air.”

The Turtle was exhausting to operate, as you might imagine. Lee tried again a month later, but he was spotted, so he abandoned the mission. The British sunk it later as it sat on its holding device in Fort Lee.

Not so secret, after all
Despite the Continental Army’s best attempts to keep the Turtle’s existence a secret, the British did learn about it, and they didn’t take its threat too seriously. It seems a Loyalist tavern keeper and postmaster had intercepted Bushnell’s mail and learned of it, and a coded message was then sent to British attention. The message contained some inaccuracies, stating it was ready to be used when in fact it was still being developed in the Connecticut River.

Washington says!
George Washington wrote to Thomas Jefferson that the Turtle was an “effort of genius.” He described David Bushnell as “a man of great mechanical powers—fertile in invention and a master in execution.”

Our adventure
Entering  the TurtleIn Submarines, Secrets and a Daring Rescue, fifteen-year-old twins, Ambrose and John Clark, once again find themselves in the thick of things in service of the newly forming United States of America. Their new mission: help transport much-needed gunpowder to the patriots. When they end up in an even more dangerous situation—manning one of the first submarines—it seems the worst is behind them. Until they have to attempt a prison break to rescue one of their older brothers. Follow these brave young patriots as they continue to follow in their father’s footsteps and take even bigger leaps of faith.

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Submarines, Secrets, and a Daring Rescue book cover imageA big thanks to Robert Skead. He’ll give away autographed paperback copies of Submarines, Secrets, and a Daring Rescue to two people who contribute a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available is the U.S. only.

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I’m Featured in Southern Writers Magazine

Suzanne Adair feature in Southern Writers Magazine Nov-Dec 2015Many thanks to Southern Writers Magazine, where I’m featured for the November-December 2015 issue. The article provides information on the historical background of the Michael Stoddard series, details development of characters like Nick Spry, and goes into the importance of my reenacting experience. Interested? Purchase a copy. Follow Southern Writers Magazine on Facebook and Twitter to learn more about your favorite Southern authors.

Tweet: Check out #mystery author @Suzanne_Adair featured in Nov-Dec 2015 Southern Writers Magazine. http://bit.ly/1PgNS7y @SouthrnWritrMag

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Mini Book Tour for Deadly Occupation

Deadly Occupation cover imageA wayward wife, a weapons trafficker, and a woman with “second sight”—it’s a puzzle that would have daunted any investigator. But Michael Stoddard wasn’t just any investigator.

Late January 1781, in coastal North Carolina, patriots flee before the approach of the Eighty-Second Regiment, leaving behind defenseless civilians to surrender the town of Wilmington to the Crown. The regiment’s commander assigns Lieutenant Michael Stoddard the tasks of tracking down a missing woman and probing into the suspicious activities of an unusual church. But as soon as Michael starts sniffing around, he discovers that some of those not-so-defenseless civilians are desperately hiding a history of evil.

Deadly Occupation, book #1 of my “Michael Stoddard American Revolution Mysteries” series, is on a mini book tour through next week. I’ll update the following list as permalinks go live:

Monday 12 October, at the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, Debra Brown posted my essay on Major James Henry Craig, a hero for North Carolina’s loyalists during 1781.

Sunday 18 October, at the Writers and Other Animals blog, Sheila Boneham interviews me. The interview includes a story about how an editor at a mid-sized publishing house didn’t believe my historical research and rejected Deadly Occupation.

Thursday 22 October, at the A Covent Garden Gilfurt’s Guide to Life blog, I discuss William Herschel and astronomy in the eighteenth century.

Sunday 25 October, at the Make Mine Mystery blog, I discuss why I strive to write historical mysteries that are as accurate as possible, rather than settling for “Hollywood history.”

Purchase Deadly Occupation here:
Amazon Kindle US
Amazon Kindle UK
Nook
Apple
Kobo
Paperback

Release Day for Deadly Occupation!

Deadly Occupation cover imageToday is release day for Deadly Occupation, book #1 of my “Michael Stoddard American Revolution Mysteries” series. Here’s the book’s description:

A wayward wife, a weapons trafficker, and a woman with “second sight”—it’s a puzzle that would have daunted any investigator. But Michael Stoddard wasn’t just any investigator.

Late January 1781, in coastal North Carolina, patriots flee before the approach of the Eighty-Second Regiment, leaving behind defenseless civilians to surrender the town of Wilmington to the Crown. The regiment’s commander assigns Lieutenant Michael Stoddard the tasks of tracking down a missing woman and probing into the suspicious activities of an unusual church. But as soon as Michael starts sniffing around, he discovers that some of those not-so-defenseless civilians are desperately hiding a history of evil.

Purchase Deadly Occupation here:
Amazon Kindle US
Amazon Kindle UK
Nook
Apple
Kobo
Paperback

Over at the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, Debbie Brown has posted my essay on Major James Henry Craig, a hero for North Carolina’s loyalists during 1781.

Reviews on blogs:
Aobibliophile
Amber Foxx
Caroline Clemmons
Warren Bull

Education of Girls and Women in Times Past

How were girls and women educated in Tudor and Regency England and Revolutionary America? I join Relevant History author guests Anna Castle and Libi Astaire on the Historical Fiction eBooks blog for this “back-to-school” report.

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Spies Like Us

Robert Skead author photoRelevant History welcomes Robert J. Skead, with Robert A. Skead, authors of YA historical fiction. Their ancestor, Lamberton Clark, one of the main characters in Patriots, Redcoats & Spies, fought in the Revolutionary War as a member of the Connecticut Militia and the Continental Army. Patriots, Redcoats & Spies includes many historical facts about the war and features events that took place in 1777 in Bergen County, New Jersey, where the Skeads live. To learn more about their books, visit their web site, and follow them on Facebook and Pinterest.

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The best part about writing Patriots, Redcoats & Spies, an American Revolutionary War adventure, was living in 1777—and becoming a teenage spy. You see, our protagonists were twin teenage boys, John and Ambrose Clark. And key to making their adventure real for the reader was the research involved, particularly involving the Culper Spy Ring.

The twins’ father, Lamberton, is a spy/courier for the Culper Ring, and when he is shot by British soldiers while on a mission, he has only two hopes of getting the secret message he’s carrying to General George Washington: his 14-year-old twin boys John and Ambrose.

The boys accept their mission without a clue about what they may be up against. They set off from Connecticut to New Jersey to find General Washington, but the road to the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army is full of obstacles—including the man who shot their father, who is hot on their trail.

I had plenty of help in the research about the Culper Spy Ring in the form of my father, Robert A. Skead (now 89-years-old and a member of the Sons of the American Revolution), who crafted the story with me. In the story, all the twins know is that the letter they carry is from Culper Jr. and is written in invisible ink—and that it’s imperative they trust no one and place that letter in the general’s hand, fast.

Culper Jr.’s real name was Robert Townsend. He operated in New York City, gathering information about British troop movements for General Washington. He made his fellow spy Abraham Woodhull, also known as Samuel Culper, pledge never to tell his name to anyone, not even to George Washington. Townsend posed as a Tory coffee shop owner and society reporter, which helped him gain information from British loyalists and soldiers at fellowship gatherings.

Invisible ink did exist during colonial times, and was used by the Culper Spy Ring with their messaging. The ink was developed by James and John (future chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court) Jay. It was made of a mixture of water and ferrous sulfate, and could be read when activated by heat or when in contact with a reagent. Secret sentences were often crafted between the lines of real letters. That is the device we used in our story.

Tremendous success and secret codes
Patriot spiesThe Culper Spy Ring operated in the New York City tri-state area for five years, and they were very successful—no spy was ever unmasked. Washington himself didn’t know their identities. To protect his spies identities, Major Benjamin Tallmadge, whom Washington appointed as head of the intelligence-gathering operation (the Culper Spy Ring), used a number system and pseudonyms in documents rather than their real names. The numbers pertained to words only discernable if one had the codebook divulging them.

Tallmadge used John Entick’s New Latin and English Dictionary (1771). Only four copies of the codebook were made—one for him, one for Washington, and the others for the Culpers. His codes, for example, included General Washington as 711, Culper Jr. was 723, and 727 was used for New York. Overall, more than 760 numbers were used in his codebook.

Ben becomes a central character in our sequel story Submarines, Secrets and a Daring Rescue, which launches on 4 August 2015. Tallmadge’s spy team was comprised of schoolmates from Long Island where he grew up. Other names of members included Sarah Townsend, Austin Roe, and Abraham Woodhull.

Petticoats and Benedict Arnold
Secret drop points, locations where messages would be hidden, were part of the spy ring’s operations. Anna Strong, a member of the secret team, would hang a black petticoat on her clothesline, signaling another operative (Caleb Brewster) to retrieve the message. We used the black petticoat in the sequel adventure as well.

The Culper Spy Ring was also behind the capturing of the British spy Major John Andre, and had that not occurred, the British might have taken control of our fort at West Point through the traitorous efforts of Benedict Arnold.

So, right now, you know more about the Culper Spy Ring than the boys in Patriots, Redcoats & Spies. All they know is they have a mission to accomplish and that they have to somehow find a way to do it, which isn’t easy because one of the boys, John, isn’t quite sold on the concept that a cause can be worth dying for. He likes his life as it is. But the reality is none of our lives would be as they are now were it not for the brave men and women who operated as spies in the Culper Spy Ring and were it not for the wisdom of General George Washington, who understood the importance of intelligence and deception to win the war.

We had the pleasure of being spies in this operation, even if only in our imaginations, which was more than historical—it was quite an adventure.

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Patriots, Redcoats & Spies book coverA big thanks to Robert Skead. He’ll give away a hardback copy of Patriots, Redcoats & Spies to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available in the US only.

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Not So Fast: Virginia’s Gradual Embrace of Independence

Mike Cecere author photoRelevant History welcomes Mike Cecere, who was raised in Maine but moved to Virginia in 1990, where he discovered a passion for American History. Mr. Cecere teaches U.S. History courses for Fairfax County Public Schools and Northern Virginia Community College. He was recognized by the Virginia Society of the Sons of the American Revolution as their 2005 Outstanding Teacher of the Year and is an avid Revolutionary War reenactor who lectures throughout the country on the American Revolution. Mr. Cecere is the author of eleven books on the American Revolution. His books focus primarily on the role that Virginians played in the Revolution. For more information, email him at umfspock87 [at] cs [dot] com.

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The famous, “shot heard around the world,” fired on Lexington Green on 19 April 1775 is universally acknowledged as the starting point of the Revolutionary War and ultimately, American independence. The argument goes that an unstoppable force was unleashed when the Massachusetts militia challenged a British raid to seize gunpowder and arms in Concord. The bloodshed of Lexington and Concord propelled Britain and her American colonies into a full-blown war, a war that fifteen months later resulted in America’s Declaration of Independence.

More to the Story
What is overlooked by this view of the origins of the Revolutionary War is that for the colonies outside of New England, many months passed before blood was shed within their borders. It was far from a foregone conclusion after Lexington and Concord that the colonies outside of New England would participate in a war against Great Britain, much less declare independence from the mother county. The mid-Atlantic and southern colonies moved towards conflict with the mother country at their own pace, largely separated from the events unfolding in New England.

Hand on the Trigger
Williamsburg powder magazineJust two days after the bloodshed of Lexington and Concord, Virginia experienced its own crisis when its royal governor, Lord Dunmore, ordered a supply of gunpowder removed from the powder magazine in the center of Williamsburg to a British warship in the James River. A large, angry crowd gathered in Williamsburg and hundreds of militia from the surrounding countryside prepared to march on the capital to demand the powder’s return. Three weeks earlier, Patrick Henry, Virginia most famous orator and politician, had declared, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” in an effort to strengthen Virginia’s militia. He had predicted war with Britain, and in late April and early May of 1775 it looked to many Virginians that Henry’s prediction had come true. More moderate voices, led by Peyton Randolph, the Speaker of the House of Burgesses, managed to defuse the crisis and disburse the militia, but tensions remained.

While Virginia’s delegates to the Second Continental Congress supported a proposal in June to form a continental army and appoint a fellow Virginian, George Washington, to command it, the Virginia House of Burgesses pleaded with Governor Dunmore, who had fled to a British warship in early June, to return to the capital so the business of governing could resume. Weeks of stalemate passed in Virginia while in Massachusetts, the bloody battle of Bunker Hill occurred, and the British army in Boston was besieged by New England militia.

By the end of the summer, hundreds of militia had gathered in Williamsburg, and Virginia’s leaders had taken steps to significantly strengthen the colony’s military forces (with militia battalions and two regiments of full time “regular” troops), but blood had yet to be shed in the Old Dominion.

The Gloves Come Off
This finally changed six months after the battle of Lexington and Concord when a small squadron of ships under Captain Matthew Squire of the H.M.S. Otter sailed into the Hampton River in late October to burn Hampton. This was a retaliatory raid against the town, punishment for the destruction of a British tender that had washed ashore in a storm in September near Hampton and been destroyed by the townspeople. Captain Squire’s ships struggled to reach Hampton up the river channel, which was obstructed by the Virginians with sunken vessels. Heavy small-arms fire from the Virginians onshore drew a response from the British, and blood was shed on both sides. The British received the worst of it and reluctantly withdrew, sparing Hampton of destruction.

Lord DunmoreThree weeks later in November, Lord Dunmore used a successful skirmish against the Princess Anne militia as a platform to raise the King’s standard and call on all loyal Virginians to rally to his, and the King’s, cause. Dunmore also offered freedom to any slave or indentured servant of a rebel who took up arms for him. Hundreds stepped forward to do so, and for a time it looked as if the royal governor just might re-establish royal authority in Virginia.

Alas, Dunmore’s decisive defeat at the Battle of Great Bridge in early December was a turning point in his efforts to maintain control of southern Virginia. Forced to abandon Norfolk and seek shelter aboard ships in the Elizabeth River, Dunmore and his supporters spent the first six months of 1776 little more than refugees in Norfolk harbor.

It’s Gone Too Far
By the spring of 1776, Virginia’s movement towards independence from Great Britain appeared unstoppable, and calls echoed throughout the colony to “Cast off the British Yoke.” The Fifth Virginia Convention voted unanimously to do so on 15 May 1776, and instructions were sent to Virginia’s delegates in the Continental Congress to offer a resolution on independence on behalf of all the colonies. While debate on this proposal occurred in Philadelphia, the Fifth Virginia Convention drafted a new state constitution and a Declaration of Rights, adopting both before independence was formally voted on in Congress.

The path to American independence was far more complicated than is widely known. Virginia’s journey is a fascinating tale. The story of Virginia’s movement to independence is the focus of my new book, Cast Off the British Yoke: The Old Dominion and American Independence, 1763-1776. The book chronicles the key events that led to Virginia’s entry into the Revolutionary War in October 1775 and its eventual support for independence from Great Britain in the spring of 1776.

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Cast Off the British Yoke book coverA big thanks to Mike Cecere.

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Revolutionary Miami?

Paper Woman book coverRegulated for Murder book coverHow do you think my protagonists Sophie Barton and Michael Stoddard would respond if they were suddenly transported from the American Revolution to 21st-century Miami? Check out my tongue-in-cheek response in this fun interview of me on Raquel Reyes’s Miami blog.

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Finding the Revolution’s Last Men

Don Hagist author photoRelevant History welcomes back Don Hagist, an independent researcher specializing in the demographics and material culture of the British Army in the American Revolution. He maintains a blog about British common soldiers and has published a number of articles in academic journals. He has written several books including The Revolution’s Last Men: The Soldiers Behind the Photographs and British Soldiers, American War, both from Westholme Publishing, and is on the editorial board of Journal of the American Revolution. Don works as an engineering consultant in Rhode Island and also writes for several well-known syndicated and freelance cartoonists. For more information, check his Facebook page.

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The American Revolution was fought by thousands of soldiers, as most wars are, and as in most wars only a few of the participants achieved fame. As individuals, most soldiers played only minor roles in a long and wide-ranging war, but together their efforts were vital in shaping the course of events. With few exceptions, it was the leaders and policymakers who were remembered, while the soldiers remained almost anonymous.

A quirk of fate changed that for six men who were only teenagers when they served in the war that created their nation. In 1864 an innocuous budget report from the Federal government revealed that only a handful of Revolutionary War veterans were still alive and collecting pensions. When a photographer and a clergyman-activist learned how few of these men remained, the race was on to capture their images and words before the opportunity was lost.

The result of this quest by photographer Nelson Augustus Moore and Reverend Elias Brewster Hillard was the book Last Men of the Revolution. Published at the end of 1864, it contained biographies of the last six Revolutionary War pensioners and, more remarkably, a photograph of each one.

New technology for old veterans
The book was innovative. While daguerreotype photography was already a quarter-century old, the technology to make prints from photographic negatives had been introduced only a few years before 1864. There was still no way to put a photograph onto a printed page, so each copy of Last Men of the Revolution contained individual prints of each man pasted by hand onto the pages. It represented the very latest technology for sharing images, capitalizing on the sensation of photographic image collecting that was sweeping the nation.

The book had great visual appeal, but the biographical content was sorely lacking. Reverend Hillard interviewed five of the six men but did no research to corroborate their garbled tales based on fading memories. Indeed, his goal was not to record history but to inspire the current nation, at the time torn by civil war, with the stories of heroes that had seen first-hand the nation’s founding.

Finding the soldiers behind the photographs
The images captured in 1864 have continued to captivate generations of history enthusiasts ever since. Unfortunately, the error-ridden biographies that were published with those photographs have also been repeated without question, even though much of the information ranges from implausible to impossible. The book has been reprinted verbatim several times, and the images with summaries of the biographies are readily available on the Internet. A new study of these six veterans has been long overdue.

Two years ago, Westholme Publishing asked me if I could research the men profiled in the 1864 book and compose a new volume telling their real stories. It was an interesting proposition; although I’ve researched and written extensively about British soldiers in the American Revolution, that’s a completely different discipline than researching American soldiers. The organization and administration of the army was completely different, and the archival sources used to study it is also completely different. But, unwilling to turn down a book project, I accepted the challenge.

The Revolution's Last Men book cover imageIt was quite an adventure. Extensive research revealed a wealth of previously unpublished information about each man and also a new perspective on the 1864 photographs and the 1864 book. It has finally come together in The Revolution’s Last Men: the Soldiers Behind the Photographs (Westholme, March 2015). This new volume presents all of the information that was in the original book but gives it a thorough examination using the pension depositions of the soldiers themselves and men who served alongside them, as well as muster rolls, orderly books, and a host of other primary sources. This is the most complete look at each soldier ever published.

William Hutchings, elderly and youngTo supplement the textual information, The Revolution’s Last Men includes six original drawings of the men as they may have looked when they were young soldiers, based on extensive study of period military clothing and equipment. Rendered by artist Eric H. Schnitzer, these images put into perspective the photographs taken six decades later, providing new visual context for each man’s military service. [Suzanne Adair’s note: Photograph and sketch are of William Hutchings.]

The research for The Revolution’s Last Men revealed many unexpected surprises. Besides additional recollections by the veterans not published in 1864, I discovered several photographs taken by other photographers after the men became celebrities due to the publication of the original book. These photographs, along with the drawings and extensive text, make The Revolution’s Last Men a valuable study of memory as well as of history. Creating this book was a remarkably rewarding experience for me, and I hope that you’ll find it enjoyable and informative both to read and to look at.

William Hutchings, young man, corrected[Suzanne Adair’s note #2: Don accidentally sent the wrong drawing for William Hutchings. Here is the correct sketch.

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A big thanks to Don Hagist.

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