Most underrated battle of the Revolutionary War? Why?
The most underrated battle of the war was Springfield, New Jersey, in 1780. If the Americans had lost, the war would have been virtually over.
In the Battle of Pollilur on 10 Sept 1780, the forces of Mysore wiped out a British army of more than 3,500 men—a much bigger loss than at Bunker Hill. Eighty percent of the British officers were killed, wounded, or captured. The British East India Company’s soldiers, mostly sepoys, were entirely wiped out or dispersed. Mysore won with superior rocketry.
Pollilur was part of the Second Anglo-Mysore War, prompted by the global conflict between Britain and France. But if that seems too far afield from the American War for Independence, then I’ll choose Britain’s successful effort to hold onto Gibraltar despite a heavy siege and naval blockade by Spain and France.
Major John Butler’s and Seneca War Captain Sayenqueraghta’s (Old Smoke) expedition was superbly executed. Although a strike on the community had been anticipated for some time, the raiders achieved tactical surprise. In the major action of the raid, the Natives and Provincial Rangers defeated of a force of Continental s and Wyoming militia in a masterful application of native tactics. Major Butler reported to his superior Colonel Mason Bolton, 8th Regiment, at Fort Niagara. “Our fire was so close and well-directed, that the affair was soon over, not lasting above half an hour from the time they gave the first fire till their flight. In this action were taken 227 scalps and only five prisoners. The Indians were so exasperated with their loss at Fort Stanwix last year that it was with difficulty I could save the lives of these few. Col. Denniston (sic), who came in next day with a minister and four others to treat for the remainder of the settlement of Westmoreland, told me they had lost one colonel, two majors, seven captains, thirteen lieutenants, eleven ensigns and 268 privates. On our side we lost one Indian killed, two rangers and eight Indians wounded.”
The destruction of eight ten frontier forts and hundreds of farms, dwellings, livestock and crops of that most fertile region was a terrible blow to the rebel war effort, as so much reliance was being placed on supplies from the region.
The military accomplishments of the Natives and Rangers have been entirely overshadowed by lurid, ridiculous tales of torture, fratricide and wanton murder. That this key resource of the Continental Army was basically ruined for a whole season and crippled for the year following has been ignored.
Cruikshank, Ernest, Butler’s Rangers – The Revolutionary Period (Welland, ON: Lundy’s Lane Historical Society, 1893. Reprinted – Owen Sound, ON: Richardson, Bond & Wright Ltd., 1975)
Battle of Pell’s Point in which John Glover and his 750 men stood off 4,000 British regulars and Hessian mercenaries seeking to outflank and cut off Washington’s escape route from Harlem Heights. But for this delaying action, the British may have forced a surrender, ending the War. Using a succession of stone walls and favorable topography, Glover’s men executed a fighting withdrawal that eventually caused the British to call off the action.
Vincennes, since this minor battle gave the US a legitimate claim to all of the Ohio River Valley and eastern upper Mississippi Valley. A minor battle by little known leaders with only a few hundred men in total caused Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee to be in the US instead of in Canada.
The most underrated battle is the Battle of Springfield, New Jersey in 1780. The British forces (6,000 men) attempted to attack Washington in Morristown. They were repulsed by 1,500 Americans.
Fort Mifflin. I’m following Joseph Plumb Martin’s lead on this. If you haven’t encountered his horrific description of that battle, drop what you are doing right now, grab your copy of his Narrative, and read the whole thing. It will knock your socks off, however inured you are to battlefield descriptions. The unsuccessful defense of Fort Mifflin, he concluded, was “as hard and fatiguing job, for the time it lasted, as occurred during the Revolutionary War … But there has been but little notice taken of it; the reason for which is, there was no Washington, Putnam, or Wayne there. Had there been, the affair would have been extolled to the skies. No, it was only a few officers and soldiers who accomplished it in some remote quarter of the army. Such circumstances and such troops generally get but little notice taken of them, do what they will. Great men get great praise; little men, nothing. But it always was so and always will be.”
Battle of the Capes, Sept. 5, 1781. If deGrasse had lost, there would have been no Yorktown, and the British would have been inclined to continue the war, or at least settle on far more favorable terms.
I have to fall back to the January 6, 2014 story I wrote for the Journal of the American Revolution. The most underrated battle of the Revolutionary War may be The Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge, which happened on February 27, 1776 in North Carolina just eight months after the Battle of Bunker Hill. Rebel militia and Scottish Loyalists met in the early morning light at (Widow) Moore’s Creek Bridge just northwest of Wilmington, NC. The short, three minute battle proved devastating for the Loyalists and, in fact, for organized Loyalist activity in the colony/state for years to come. The shocking defeat forced Sir Henry Clinton to shift the planned Southern front to South Carolina, where he was again defeated at the first Battle of Charleston (Sullivan’s Island). The battles of Moore’s Creek Bridge followed by Charleston made the British abandon the southern colonies for five years.
After the abandonment of Fort Ticonderoga to the invading British forces under General Burgoyne in July 1777, British advance units fought an intense, five hour battle with the patriot rear guard under the command of Colonel Seth Warner on a hill outside of Hubbarton, Vermont.
Fighting a classic, rear guard delaying action patriot forces blocked, engaged and then retreated in several successive tactical infantry actions. Eventually when overwhelming British forces arrived, the patriot flanks were turned and the surviving patriots were forced into a small unit, disorganized retreat. The British were unable to further pursue and remained at on the battlefield for two days to refit and bury the dead, providing time for the main patriot army to link up with militia forces and to strengthen defenses.
While Hubbarton was a tactical British victory, General Burgoyne now realized that the patriot army even though retreating would vigorously contest his invasion. Patriots learned that the British could be beaten through flanking maneuver battle tactics that would be employed in the clear-cut, more highly regarded patriot victory at Bennington, 6 weeks later.
King’s Mountain often gets lost in the shuffle, but if Washington’s brilliant Trenton-Princeton campaign was crucially important, King’s Mountain was no less pivotal. Washington’s victory was America’s first in nearly a year, King’s Mountain the first of significance in three years. Trenton-Princeton was vital for recruiting a new army in 1777; King’s Mountain stopped Britain’s recruitment of southern Tories in its tracks. Enemy losses were nearly identical at Trenton-Princeton and King’s Mountain. Finally, Sir Henry Clinton thought the defeat at King’s Mountain was pivotal, and soon thereafter he told one of his generals that with the setback “all his Dreams of Conquest quite vanish’d.”
Virtually forgotten by most historians, Sumter’s victory over Tarleton at Blackstock’s Plantation in November 1780 paved the way for Morgan and Greene to bring their reformed Continentals back to action in the southern theater. Even before Morgan’s famous tactical masterpiece of using multiple lines of riflemen to wear down an infantry advance, Thomas Sumter and Elijah Clark held back a bayonet charge from the 71st Highlanders and the 63rd Regiment of foot by sniping with waves of Georgia riflemen. Just like Cowpens two months later, the advance ground itself out before reaching the main line. However, this time, instead of cowering when called upon to advance, the British Legion Dragoons charged unsuccessfully into a crossfire from Sumter’s South Carolina militia. Major impact from the action includes:
- First time Cornwallis’s British regulars fail on a bayonet charge;
- Tarleton’s dreaded cavalry finds death and defeat by charging the Patriot militia. Their next major action was at Cowpens where it could easily be argued defeat could have been averted by prompt action from the Legion Dragoons.
- Morgan may have taken strong lessons from the battle in developing his Cowpens strategy. At least Sumter seemed to think so. 🙂
- Immediately following the victory, Elijah Clark met with Andrew Pickens with the result being a general rising by the very strong and experienced Long Cane Militia. Without the help of Pickens and the Long Cane Militia, Cowpens and Greene’s campaign would simply not have been possible.
Having just completed a book chapter about this, I’d have to say the Battle of Rhode Island (Aug. 29, 1778), which was the largest (in terms of numbers engaged, casualties, etc) of any RevWar battle fought in the northern theater. It has a number of similarities to Monmouth (especially in being viewed as a “draw”), but it was a demonstration to the British that American forces had matured and were capable of standing up in the field against British and Hessian regulars. It also deserves mention as the first battle to employ and African-American regiment , the 2d Rhode Island, which won plaudits from both sides. Thanks to Christian McBurney for a fine book.
The Battle of Valcour Island. Arnold’s defeat slowed up Carlton’s advance from Canada enough that winter set in before the British could occupy Fort Ticonderoga. By the time Burgoyne continues the attack the following year, Schuyler, and then Gates, were able to gather enough forces to stop him around Saratoga.
Springfield, New Jersey. The two-phase battle of Springfield (7 and 23 June 1780) was the only major battle in the northern theater in 1780. The British twice attempted to defeat advanced detachments/corps of the Continental Army and seize Washington’s camp at Morristown. Both attempts failed. In the second-phase battle of 23 June, Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene commanded the advanced corps. If the British had destroyed Greene’s corps, it would have been a major blow to the Revolutionary cause at a critical time (bad finances, defeat at Charleston). But Greene, though greatly outnumbered, fought a brilliant defensive battle and frustrated the British plan. The second-phase battle also saw Greene and Maj. “Light Horse” Henry Lee fighting together as they would soon do in the southern theater. I think the battle was critical to solidifying their relationship as commander and trusted subordinate.
The Battle of Quebec City (Dec 31, 1775). (Yes, we fought in Canada. It’s not our fault the Canadians didn’t accept our offer to the 2nd Continental Congress… well, it sort of is, but that’s another story.) Because it helped keep the British in Canada on defense until late 1777, allowing the Americans to make headway in the war, such as forcing the British Evacuation of Boston. Had no Canadian Campaign been waged, the result of the war might have been very different. Likewise, had then Col. Benedict Arnold died at that battle, the war would have been quite different too.
Rather than battle I will go with campaign. Everything west of the Appalachians was of great importance because had just one or two of those minor skirmishes been a British victory it is very likely the British would have controlled the lands north of the Ohio and not given them to the Americans in the peace process. That would have severely stunted American progress to the West.
The Battle of Monmouth Court House. While it was a draw, it showed that the Continentals, trained at Valley Forge under General von Steuben, could hold their ground on the field of battle against even the best British regiments. Many of the same Continentals fought effectively about a month later at the Battle of Rhode Island, which I write about in one of my books. I believe this marked improvement in the skill and experience of the Continentals was a major reason why General Clinton chose not to commit to any further major campaigns or battles in the North.
The Battle of Guilford Courthouse on March 15, 1781. This battle set in motion the events that led to the American victory at Yorktown and eventual independence. It led to Cornwallis’s march to Virginia, effectively removing his army from the crucial South Carolina/Georgia region; Nathanael Greene had already recognized the greater importance of that area and marched his army there. The British expeditions to Virginia were intended to support the main effort farther south, and Cornwallis, as a result of his casualties at Guilford Courthouse, decided to focus on a secondary objective, thus depriving Britain of any possibility of retaining South Carolina and Georgia in a peace agreement, and instead lost his army at Yorktown.
King’s Mountain: The “Bull Dog” Major Patrick Ferguson and 1,000 Loyalists vs. the red-headed giant Colonel William Campbell and his 1,800 whooping backwoodsmen. In terms of sheer carnage, no battle comes close. There were over three hundred Tories killed and wounded, and many of those finished off by wolves. Tory prisoners were slaughtered. Campbell’s victory avenged Colonel Abraham Buford’s defeat at the Waxhaws, sank British hopes for Loyalist support, and wiped out 1/3 of Cornwallis’ army. It happened real fast, and off the beaten path, but its impact was immense.
What about you? What do you think is the most underrated battle of the Revolutionary War?[Featured image at top: Battle of Springfield, June 23, 1780. Current location: Fraunces Tavern Museum, New York]