THE REVOLUTIONARY PERIOD - Part 3
And so on, until General Howe, thinking that his statement of casualties and American marksmanship might need proof at home, gave orders for the capture alive of one of the curiosities complete with his shooting-iron, and offered a reward. Finally he got one and sent him to England rifle and all, and the marksman was made to perform there and exhibited as a curiosity. This bit of stage-play had an effect upon the British public that perhaps Howe did not anticipate and perhaps he did, for he was accused of being lukewarm to the King's policy that of frightening the British public, through the newspapers, to such an extent that enlistments in the army, difficult to get before, absolutely stopped for a period, and the only new recruits were those forced into service by the German princes of whom King George the Third hired them.
The King had probably forgotten all about his Colonial marksmen of the earlier war, but speeches in Parliament frequently voiced the national dread of the deadly American weapons, and the King took notice. In his negotiations with the German princes he stipulated that as many of the recruits as possible should be riflemen. He evidently tried to treat the problem broadly, on the principle that as there were only two places in the world the Colonies and Central Europe where rifles were used, no new recruits being possible to the Colonists, an equal number of European riflemen would neutralize them. The fault in his reasoning lay with his ignorance of the fact that the American rifles were infinitely the superiors of those he was hiring.
While the unwilling German conscripts were being sent to the slaughter, the campaign in New England had ended, and that of the Hudson had begun. The campaign opened with the immediate loss to the Americans of Long Island and New York City. The battle of Long Island seems to have been a musketry one, and the only mention of riflemen there or in the skirmishing for the possession of the small forts above New York City is in regard to Washington's distress as, standing upon the west bank of the river, he saw on the opposite side a body of Hessians charge up the slopes below Fort Washington and pin to the trees with their bayonets a few straggling sharpshooters outside the works who were trying frantically to reload their rifles. Where those backwoodsmen who had spread death and fear at the siege of Boston were at this period of the war is a mystery. It is probable that, their term of enlistment having expired, they had gone to their homes. Their next appearance of moment was in the decisive battle of Saratoga. The German riflemen appear, however, before that event, and most of them disappear too.
The British General, Burgoyne, following the waterway down from Canada, needing supplies and horses, and hearing that the Americans had gathered a store of each at the little Vermont village of Bennington, sent five hundred Germans armed each with a rifle and a big saber, about 'a hundred Indians, and a couple of cannon, to gather them in. These troops, together with a reinforcement of five hundred more Germans and two more cannon, were surrounded, killed and captured, together with their munitions, by the Green Mountain Boys on the 16th of August, 1777, with casualties to the Americans of only 56, while the killed and wounded among the Germans amounted to more than two hundred. Since the Americans used mostly muskets and fowling pieces, the inefficiency of the European rifle is distinctly apparent. And, as in addition to the two hundred killed, about seven hundred were captured, the influence of German marksmen upon the Revolution is inconspicuous thereafter.
At some time between the Battle of Long Island and the Battle of Bennington, Daniel Morgan was organizing his famous Virginians. This was a rifle regiment formed of skilled 'marksmen. Noted shots were drawn from other regiments: applicants for admission whose fame had not preceded them were obliged to give proof of their skill. Thus not only superior soldiers but superior arms were collected under an able leader.
Morgan had won a great reputation for bravery and resource in the French and Indian War. He was of Welsh descent, a native of New Jersey, but a resident of Virginia; his stature and his tenacity of purpose were equally immense; he was uneducated, but he had a clear and strong intelligence. With his Virginians he arose from obscurity to international fame. Before the close of the war Frederick the Great spoke of him as "the greatest leader of light infantry in the world."
Morgan's Virginians were certainly organized by the time the news of the victory at Bennington reached Washington near Philadelphia. Washington was too busy there to be able to leave; the situation in the North, however, still looked critical to him. The Battle of Oriskany, which had been fought on the 6th of August, hand to hand, tooth and nail, with heavy loss to each side, looked doubtful in its effect: the flight of the British General St. Leger and the capture of his stores had not taken place, and the junction of the armies of St. Leger and Burgoyne looked to Washington both probable and menacing. In this extremity he turned to Morgan and sent him in haste to the seat of war. Morgan and his riflemen arrived in time to dominate the battles at Stillwater, which caused the surrender of the British army at Saratoga. In the first day's fighting, Morgan's advance fell upon Burgoyne at Freeman's Farm and checked his progress. For eighteen days following Burgoyne remained hemmed in, inactive, undecided what move to make next.
On the 7th of October he began a battle. As the British moved on, their right under General Fraser, who was regarded as one of the best officers in the British service, was attacked by Morgan's men. After a short, sharp fight their whole line was broken and Fraser began forming them a little farther back, and on the west border of Freeman's Farm. Morgan saw that a disheartening blow delivered then would not merely shatter that particular division of the British, but also would imperil the whole Britisharmy. Calling to him Tim Murphy, a Northumberland County Pennsylvania hunter, he said to him that the success of American arms demanded the death of General Fraser, and, pointing him out to Murphy, ordered him to do his duty. Murphy climbed a tree and, resting in a crotch, aimed his rifle over a limb. Fraser was about three hundred yards away, sitting his horse with an orderly beside him and one behind, and quietly directing the movements of his men. Murphy fired two shots in quick succession from his double-barreled rifle. The first cut Fraser's bridle rein near his fingers; the second passed between him and the man beside him and killed the man behind. Fraser was perfectly aware that he was being used as a target, and had even seen the flashes in the tree before the bullets struck. His subaltern implored him to move to a place of safety, but he chose to remain. In a few moments there was another flash from the tree, and Fraser received a mortal wound. In the confusion following his fall, the British position was taken in reverse and made untenable. Nothing was left for Burgoyne but to get the wreck of his army out of the way by retreating to Saratoga. There, surrounded, hungry, thirsty, and daily thinned by the deadly American rifles which sought them from across the river, the British were obliged to surrender.
Up to that time there had been no open help; no foreign intervention. After that victory there was foreign assistance, by help of which the war was dragged on to a favorable conclusion. Success at Saratoga was therefore the hinge upon which the Revolution swung. And the bearing point in that hinge was Tim Murphy's rifle bullet.
In the two years following, the years 1778 and 1779,military operations were less active than before, giving the Americans opportunity for drill and reorganization. Riflemen were sought everywhere, and formed into regiments. There were Morgan's Virginians, Colonel Samuel Miles's Pennsylvania Rifle Regiment, Colonel Moses Rawling's Maryland Riflemen, the Augusta Riflemen of Virginia, the Eleventh and Twelfth Continental Line, and perhaps others. Upon the killing efficiency of the gunnery of those regiments hung the failure or success of the Campaign of the South, the third and last campaign of the war.
Other smaller and less noted bands of riflemen were, while these regiments were being drilled by the systematic pupils of Baron Steuben, doing active frontier service, which then seemed of minor importance, but now appears of great value. Bands of pioneers operating upon the "Dark and Bloody Ground," were freeing it of savages and making a great, fertile, and dangerous country a safe refuge for future settlement. Only the rifle could have so rapidly and effectively done the work. During the summer of 1778 bands of Tories and Indians devastated Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania, and Cherry Valley, New York. Again the only effective weapon to put an immediate stop to wide devastation and continued horrible cruelties was the deadly rifle, and that was what General Sullivan, sent there to retaliate, employed. He totally destroyed the Indian settlements of the Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas. In 1778 and 1779 George Rogers Clark with a heroic band of only two or three hundred riflemen passed through an immense extent of country of the then Far West, captured the British posts of Kaaskasia, Cahokia, and Vincennes which had permitted British dominion of the territory, and hoisted the flag of the republic, marking the end of British authority in that section forever, and adding the territory to that of the United States.
In 1780 the final activities of the campaign of the South began. The British captured Charleston, South Carolina, with more than five thousand prisoners. Bad as was this loss for the Americans, it was not a mortal blow for the reason that loss by death or capture could be made up by new recruits. The British army in America could not, however, well be increased, and whatever means tended to diminish it tended to make possible the capture of the weakened remnant. Working toward this end the guerrilla warfare of the marksmen under Marion, Sumter, and Pickens became a more valuable Ameriican movement than otherwise appears. Battles and skirmishes called British successes Camden, for instance were in reality rendered by American sharpshooters steps in ultimate British defeat by the severity of British casualties. In other battles Eutaw Springs, Cowpens, King's Mountain, Ninetysix, Guilford Courthouse, Hobkirk's Hill, etc., one-sided battles because the American troops were made up almost wholly of riflemen the British losses were so excessive as to cause a repetition of Saratoga. Just as Burgoyne, after Stillwater withdrew his remnant of an army to Saratoga, and there, surrounded, saw no safety but in surrender, so, again, did Cornwallis, with the remnant of his obsoletely armed army, get caught at Yorktown. And, although his surrender at Yorktown was on the 17th of October, 1781, and peace was not declared until 1783, Yorktown ended the war.
The outcome of a war is influenced by an immense number of diverse factors, and a claim for the predominance of any one of them is a very difficult claim to maintain. During the Revolution the great credit due to the wise Washington and to his able officers and self-sacrificing soldiers makes all other factors of success seem puerile. Yet an accurate analysis of the times and events makes necessary the recognition of all the diverse factors, and their classification as either political, economical, or martial. According to a historian's leaning towards one or other of these specialties, so do the others seem to sink into insignificance, and so accordingly is a dominant claim apparent in his especial presentation.
Firearm influence belongs to history in general and to economics in particular. Neither it nor any set of influences really stands alone in directing the progress of the world. Firearms have been, are, and will be of great importance as one of the many influences; they are mighty in their place; they are worthy of an attention that so far has been dormant; they are worthy of other, broader, and deeper studies than seem wise to attempt to present in the first rehearsal.
The omission of ordnance from among the firearms of early American history is merely because of its sameness then throughout the civilized world. The cannon of one nation neutralized those of another, weight, numbers, position, service, and luck being equal. In their development later they take an important place.
Sawyer, Charles. Firearms in American History. Boston: The Author,
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