Learning History: A Revolutionary August

Signers of Declaration of Independence


1 – Patriots ambushed by Cherokee & saved by mounted charge at Seneca, SC (1776)

2 – Delegates begin to sign the Declaration of Independence (1776)

After the delegates of the Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence, there was a silence throughout the room. Some wept and others bowed to pray. They knew this was  momentous in the cause for freedom, and the first time they had purposely and officially declared themselves free of a king. That meant that their lives would be sought after once they signed their name to the document, which didn’t occur until the following month of August. John Hancock stepped forward and signed his name in large characters across the page. He said, “His majesty can now read my name without his glasses. And he can also double the price on my head.”  The men were tense and the silence continued. Hancock spoke again. “We must be unanimous; there must be no pulling different ways; we must all hang together.” I wonder if this is one of those moments that the silence is uncomfortable. Maybe Hancock had gone too far in pointing out their fate. But Benjamin Franklin, always alive with humor, responded without fear. “Yes, we must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

3- Holding Fort Stanwix

St. Leger had served the British army for more than forty years.  So General Burgoyne was quite confident in his ability to take Fort Stanwix from the small contingent of 60 American soldiers. He sent St. Leger off with 1,800 troops, half of which were indians, to take the fort and then continue on to Albany. On August 3, 1777, St. Leger and his men surrounded the fort. Unbeknownst to them, there were actually 750 soldiers inside, led by Colonel Ganesvoort.  An indian friendly to the Patriot cause took word of St. Leger’s plan to New York, where General Herkimer and his 800 men immediately set off to help their fellow Americans. But St. Leger’s spies weren’t to be outdone. They heard of Herkimer’s march and Leger prepared an ambush that cut down a large number of the unsuspecting Americans. General Herkimer was wounded but continued to command his troops from a nearby tree, eventually striking back at the British.  St. Leger had made the mistake of using most of his men in the ambush, leaving just a few to watch the fort. From inside the fort, Colonel Gansevoort sent out 250 men that frightened the few remaining British into the surrounding woods. They then relieved the British of 21 wagon loads full of needed supplies. They burned what couldn’t be taken and went back into the safety of their fort. When St. Leger returned to his encampment, he was furious, and even more determined to take the fort.  When word of the siege reached General Schuyler, only one man would step forward to defeat St. Leger. Benedict Arnold. He raced toward the fort with 1,000 volunteers, sending forward exaggerated news of a large army coming to defeat the British. He then sent a half-crazy indian named Hon-Yost to tell St. Leger that a large army was coming. When Leger asked how many, Hon-Yost pointed to a tree with thousands of leaves, indicating that the army was vast. St. Leger was deceived. His 900 indians left immediately and St. Leger followed in retreat. Arnold had won without even making it to the battlefield.  

6 – Battle of Oriskany (1777)

10 – TUGALOO RIVER, SC Andrew Pickens’ detachment is surrounded by Cherokee. They form a ring & fire outward. Known as the “ring fight”. They defeat the Cherokees. (76)

11 – Haym Solomon

Haym Solomon was born in Poland  and came to America penniless in 1772 after facing years of persecution from the Russians because he was Jewish. He came with a passion for liberty and a desire to succeed. He moved to New York in the Wall Street section (not yet known for money) and began what became many years of hard work. When the British army took over New York, Haym carried on as he had before. But he watched the British carefully and gathered information that he was able to give to the American army. He was soon thrown in jail for his spying in September of 1776. Prisoners of war were not lucky. They were treated harshly; often having little food and living in squalid conditions.  Haym was taken to a converted prison called Sugar House because it was originally a warehouse to brick sugar. There was no roof above them and they suffered through the ailments. But Haym had a special weapon he didn’t even realize. He spoke six languages, including German, and when the British hired the German Hessians to fight, they had a hard time communicating. One guard noticed that Haym was able to talk to the Germans and he soon became an interpreter for the British. His passion for liberty never waned. While talking to the Germans he added extra words of his own, telling them about the opportunities found in America and how they could live here and not fight for the British. He also continued collecting information in what he saw all around him.  He was eventually released for his service and back in New York, he married Rachel Franks and they had their first child. He continued to help the Americans, often by taking care of hurt soldiers in his home. Again he was arrested after a Loyalist heard moans from his house and turned him into the British authorities. This time there was no mistaking that he was a spy, and that meant death by hanging. The big event was scheduled for August 11, 1778. The Sons of Liberty learned of Haym’s plight and smuggled in escape plans. He was able to conceal some gold coins which bought his freedom from a greedy guard. He was smuggled out of the city, making his way to Philadelphia, and settling down to work, once again penniless. His successes were immediate and grand, and he soon found himself a very rich man. When Morris, the National Superintendent of Finance, approached him with need for money for the army, he was quick in his reply. He ended up providing the struggling government with over $200,000 of his own money (equivalent to $3.5 million today).  He was so trusted and respected he was even put in charge of France’s finances in America. Good thing he also knew French. The US Postal Service honored him by putting him on a stamp and naming him the “financial hero of the American Revolution.”

16 – Battle of Bennington (1777)

In August of 1777, British General Burgoyne had finally reached Fort Edward after an exhausting journey. There they rested for several weeks before realizing they had no more supplies. Burgoyne sent a party of about 500 soldiers, led by Colonel Baum, to plunder the surrounding Vermont countryside. The local American militia would have none of it.They began at once to pester the soldiers in their perfect formations.  Burgoyne sent 650 more soldiers, but their march was tedious and slow going. When Baum was outside of Bennington, he came upon a large New Hampshire militia led by John Stark. Stark’s fifteen hundred men were craving a battle. But Stark had a more underhand plan in mind. Instead of attacking, he waited and watched. He then dressed a number of his men in civilian clothes with white paper badges on their hats that marked them as Loyalists. He sent them over to Baum’s contingent, where they easily deceived the British into thinking they were local Tories out to punish the Patriots.  The counterfeit Tories then spread out around the British army. Stark’s famous cry came next. “There my boys, are our enemies….You must beat them or Molly Stark is a widow tonight!” The redcoats found themselves surrounded and most fled to safety. The Hessians stayed to fight but were beaten back. Baum was mortally wounded and 365 Hessians were killed or captured. Just as the victory was being celebrated by the Americans, a troop of British reinforcements appeared. It was a daunting moment for Stark, who thought his victory would be swept away by a defeat. Just as he was consigning his men to surrender, Seth Warren and his Green Mountain Boys appeared and the battle began anew. The fresh and always incorrigible Mountain Boys did their duty. The British were forced to submit, having lost another 250 men. In both battles Stark lost less than 30 men.  General Johnny Burgoyne found himself outwitted once again by the clever Americans.

16 – Battle of Camden and the Swamp Fox (‘80)

Francis Marion, otherwise known as the Swamp Fox, was the first known military leader to use guerrilla warfare. He served first as captain then lieutenant colonel, making his way up the ranks under Moultrie. But he had a different idea in mind of how to fight the British. He collected his own group of marksmen who knew the terrain and woods of the Carolinas. There was always between 20 and 70 men at his service. His first task, which he gave himself, was to go down to Camden and try to help Horatio Gates push back the British. Gates sent him on another errand, mostly to get rid of him as he didn’t think he would be helpful. When Gates’ men ran away in retreat,  Marion’s men hid in the dense foliage and were able to intercept a group of 150 American prisoners, release them, and take their British guards as prisoners. This was the first of many forays into the British psyche; torturing them from afar and causing all sorts of problems. He was a born leader to his irregular group of men. They each brought their own horses and supplies, and never accepted pay. They furnished food for the group by taking supplies from the British. He was a modern day Robin Hood because he gave receipts to the local people for anything they supplied him with, and those were later paid back to them. He never put his men at the front line in a battle, but chose quick and explosive attacks against the British, both surprising and angering them, and then disappearing before their victims even knew what had happened. The British loathed him and finally sent one of their most brutal leaders, Colonel Tarleton, to hunt him down and kill him. But the fox was always one step ahead because of his remarkable system of gathering intelligence and keeping his men close to the swamps where the British couldn’t navigate. Tarelton and his men chased him for 26 miles and then lost him in the swamps, whereupon Tarleton cursed, “As for this damned old fox, the devil himself could not catch him.” From then on he was known as the Swamp Fox.  One of my favorite stories is of a British soldier who was asked to find Marion’s men and discuss the idea of trading prisoners. When the officer found them, he was asked to breakfast and sat around a fire with sweet potatoes roasting. He was drawn in by the fox; his resourcefulness, and his dedication to the cause. Then and there the soldier switched sides and began to fight for the Americans.

These words were written on Marion’s epitaf: “History will record his worth, and rising generations embalm his memory, as one of the most distinguished patriots and heroes of the American Revolution; which elevated his native country to honor and independence, and secured to her the blessings of Liberty and Peace.”

Sadly, our schools no longer tell the stories of the sly swamp fox. His acts and bravery are unknown to the “rising generation” but will forever remain part of the heroism of our country’s beginning.

24 – Dolley (1814)

Dolley Madison was the beloved wife of James Madison. She was famous for her fabulous parties and gorgeous gowns. She was quite a trendsetter. She wore rouge and fancy jewelry, both looked down upon at the time, and she gambled. She had a big personality and surpassed the President in popularity. She was also very brave. In 1814, when we were fighting against the British for the second time, she was at the White House when rumors that the presidential city was going to be attacked. President Madison was away and she was left to decide whether she should leave immediately and what to take with her.  The servants were collecting silver and valuables, but she had other things in mind. She wrote to her sister: “I insist on waiting until the large picture of General Washington is secured, and it requires to be unscrewed from the wall. The process was found too tedious for these perilous moments; I have ordered the frame to be broken, and the canvas taken out! It is done.” Though the British were upon them, she insisted that the canvas be cut right out of the frame. She sent it off to New York for safe keeping. The next morning the British attacked and Dolley barely escaped in time. She also saved an original of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  Four thousand British soldiers then burned Capitol Hill and other buildings of significance throughout Washington DC, including the White House.

27 – Battle of Long Island at Brooklyn Heights (1776) The Redcoats win but are unable to capture Washington’s army, who miraculously escapes at night.

29 – Evacuation of Long Island

During August of 1776, George Washington and his 8,000 troops were hedged in on three sides by 32,000 British soldiers.  They had heavy casualties while fighting the Battle of Long Island and were now in a weakened and impossible predicament. Their only source of retreat lay in the East River behind them, but how to enact the removal of so many men without notice was heavy on Washington’s mind. Miraculously, the British hadn’t yet attacked by land. If they had, the Americans would surely have been massacred. They also couldn’t attack via the East River because adverse weather conditions made using boats dangerous.  Washington knew they must retreat in total secret. He told no one, not even his troops of the plan. He called for every sea-going vessel to be used. Right at this critical moment, another thousand soldiers from Massachusetts arrived, all fisherman able to traverse the turbulent river. At 8 pm on August 29th, the evacuation began along with a heavy rain. The wind was blowing the wrong way and all seemed lost. At 11 o’clock, the northwest wind fell to a quiet calm and a gentle breeze began to push the boats toward safety. Now they were moving, but afraid the British would easily see them rowing across the moonlit river. But all night as the retreat continued, the British neither saw nor heard anything. Toward dawn, many more soldiers still needed to be evacuated and they became nervous that it was too late for them. A very dense fog arose and covered the land just surrounding their encampment. The fog remained until every last boat had left. Meanwhile, when the boats began their crossings, a neighboring Loyalist had seen the movement and sent a servant to warn General Howe. Instead of finding British soldiers, however, he found German Hessians who thought him suspicious and locked him up for the night. When released in the morning, he found a British officer and relayed the news of the retreat.  An officer went to see if the claim could possibly be true and found the entire camp empty. All 9,000 men with their equipment and supplies had escaped. General Greene called it “the best effected retreat I ever read or heard of.” But General Washington attributed all the success to God.

30 or 31 – Nathan Hale (‘76)

After the Battle of Long Island in August of 1776,  the British were left with sole possession of the island after the colonists were forced to retreat with their many losses. The only redress General Washington had was to find out what the British were to do next and use information about their size, strength and future movements to make his next move more successful. He asked Colonel Knowlton, who commanded a regiment of light infantry, to find someone willing to risk his life for the information. In turn, Knowlton told one of his captains, a Nathan Hale from Connecticut, the desire of the General.   This young officer jumped at the chance to be useful to his country, and at once offered himself a volunteer for this hazardous service. In disguise, he easily crossed to Long Island, and examined every part of the British army; information on their current and future situations. While trying to return, he was apprehended and taken to Sir William Howe. Nathan knew it was obvious that he was a spy, so he plainly revealed his plans and who he was. Sir William Howe gave an order to have him executed the next morning.

When the morning dawn came, Nathan asked to see a clergyman to repent of his sins and have someone beside him who was not his enemy. He was refused. He asked for a Bible, and was once again refused. He wrote letters to his mother and other friends, but the British destroyed them immediately. The provost-martial later revealed his reasoning behind these unkind acts. “That the rebels should not know they had a man in their army who could die with so much firmness.”

He was alone and friendless; about to be hung by his enemies. What an extraordinary example of patriotism he showed. No fear, only bravery, and gratitude at having been apart of such a noble cause. His final words were that  “he only lamented that he had but one life to lose for his country.”


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