THE UNSUSPECTING BRITISH ALLY “MOTHER NATURE” The deciding factor in the battle of 1778 in NEW PORT RHODE ISLAND.

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Battle of Rhode Island

Battle of Rhode Island

Timeline results for battle of rhode island

My coverage of the Battle of Rhode Island begins in the summer of 1778 when **Count d'Estaing**, commanding the French fleet of twelve battleships and three frigates, arrived in Delaware Bay. Shortly before our long-awaited allies put in appearance, the British fleet had moved north to New York and the French commander lost no time in moving his ships there. Count d'Estaing was determined to destroy the ships in the harbor, than anchoring in the Narrows while **Admiral Howe**'s fleet remained above on the Hudson River. For reasons best known to them, **General Clinton** the British Commander and Chief Commander of the British troops at New York and Howe commanding the enemy fleet anchored nearby, decided to make Rhode Island the theatre of war by concentrating their forces at Newport for either attack or defense.
Seven thousand British and Hessians were transported to the large island down the Bay and here they encamped in July 1778.
There was a frightening amount of enemy forces just a few miles from Providence, and you can imagine **what went through the minds of local residents**—in speaking to them they told me that "they expected an attack most any day". Quote Mary Jones "we live in fear from moment to moment and have no idea what the future will hold for us". **General Washington**' our military and political leader of the New United States of America, turned his attention to little Rhode Island, he sent military leader, Brigadier General **Major General John Sullivan**, he commanded the militia of the East and directed the defense of Rhode Island. In July, I had the opportunity to interview General Sullivan, I asked about the amount of troops he had "I do not have more than 1,600 men prepared for fighting service, also about one half of the available military strength of Rhode Island was called to serve for twenty days starting August first, and the remainder was ordered to be ready at any time." The local scene while all this was going on—mobilization of troops for certain battle on Rhode Island seems almost an imaginary situation full of excitement and fear.
As we came to the end of July, the French fleet left New York waters and came up the Sound, blockading the enemy in Narragansett Bay after the ships arrived off Newport. Ten days after the arrival of the Frenchmen, the British troops stationed on Connecticut Island withdrew to Newport and the British vessels in the harbor, in the Bay, and in the Sakonnet River, where they were either dramatically blown up or burned. There seems to be little doubt that battle is imminent, our forces than started growing in strength.
Generals **Greene**who is the right hand man to Washington and, **Lafayette**, who is also severing under Washington and other military experts came to the assistance of Sullivan. I witnessed volunteers poured in from all parts of New England and New York. By August 9, 1778, our forces had increased to about 10,000 men, and on that day we broke camp at Tiverton and crossed over to the Portsmouth end of the Island while the French fleet occupied the harbor and Bay. While the transfer of our troops was going on, the ever-present British fleet put in an appearance that signaled the battle was upon us. Admiral Howe, the French commander was determined to have a victorious battle. So he took his 4,000 men from Connecticut Island and put to sea hoping to engage the British in battle.
This was a commendable move for D'Estaing, but it seriously interfered with what later happened on the land. An unexpected major storm developed this not only prevented a naval battle that would probably have been won by the French, but it also scattered the two fleets and disabled several of the French warships. The storm not only hurt our French Navel defense but also affected our American troops on land. Our troops had only flimsy tents and little shelter. Our American troops were left poorly protected and exhausted.
**General Pigot** was the British Major General, with about 4,000 British and Hessians lined up for battle just a little north of Newport, waiting an attack from Sullivan who proceeded to march down the island opposite the enemy lines, where he halted his men anxiously expecting the French admiral to return with ships and troops. Our French allied ships failed to appear so a heavy cannonade was ordered all along the line and this kept up for five days. It may be interesting to learn that the right wing of the American army was under the command of General Nathanael Greene and the left was under the illustrious General Lafayette. **John Hancock** commanded the second line of Massachusetts militia.
According to my research the French ships returned to New York for shelter and rest for the men exhausted by a series of rough sea experiences. Admiral d'Estaing decided to proceed from New York to Boston, to have his ships repaired and his provisions replenished. Generals Greene and Lafayette got wind of this decision .They were quickly dispatched to Boston by Sullivan to urge the French to return back to Newport, but as we know they were not successful. We were now left on our own.
Many things seem to be no longer in our favor like the failure of the French fleet to return, little supplies and the long delay created a general dissatisfaction in the American ranks. Desertions became wide spread; many of the New Hampshire troops and short-service volunteers from Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut returned to their homes; and, by the end of August, our army was reduced from 10,000 men to about 5,000. On the morning of August 29, Sullivan moved the remnants of his army to join our troop in Portsmouth, at the point called Butt's Hill, we awaited developments. The British, elated at the sudden change in conditions, decided to take the offensive and promptly moved out of Newport taking the two main roads that are familiar to those who ride in that direction today. Lively skirmishes took place between the pickets and outposts of the two armies and caused losses on either side. The right wing of the British attempted to advance, but was repulsed and forced to retreat to Quaker.
This valley amphitheatre was the real battlefield, and across this valley cannonading continued all day. Charges and countercharges left rows of dead and dying between the lines the pain and suffering I witnessed that day was one of total despair. At the end of the day, the British at last gave way and retreated to the fortifications on Quaker Hill. General Sullivan ordered a surprise attack, but the exhausted condition of his men and advice of his associate generals led him to abandon this plan.
The Americans lost in killed, wounded, and missing 657, and the British, 1,023. That night, Sullivan's troops with all baggage, artillery, and stores quietly crossed the ferry to Tiverton, completing a piece of strategy that has been termed a masterly stroke of military wisdom. Naturally the Americans were disappointed, although time proved that Sullivan was well-advised in not provoking further fighting. This resulted in another year the principal island of Narragansett Bay would remain in the hands of the British and it was a year of great suffering.
While the Battle of Rhode Island was a defeat it did prevented an invasion of New England and helped turn the direction of the war in our favor.
During my coverage of this battle I was amazed at the amount of black soldiers that were among our troops. I started to research this situation and found the following reasons for the high level of black recruits. It appears that Rhode Island was having difficulties recruiting enough white men to meet the troop quotas set by the Continental Congress. The Rhode Island Assembly decided to pursue a suggestion made by General Varnum and enlist slaves in 1st Rhode Island Regiment. Varnum sent a letter to George Washington, who than forwarded the letter to the governor of Rhode Island. Washington did approve or disapproving of the plan.[1]
On the 14 February 1778, the Rhode Island Assembly voted to allow the enlistment of "every able-bodied negro, mulatto, or Indian man slave" that chose to do so, and that "every slave so enlisting shall, upon his passing muster before Colonel Christopher Greene, be immediately discharged from the service of his master or mistress, and be absolutely free...."[2] The owners of slaves who enlisted were to be compensated by the Assembly in an amount equal to the market value of the slave.
A total of 88 slaves enlisted in the regiment over the next four months, as well as some free blacks. The regiment eventually totaled about 225 men; probably fewer than 140 of these were African Americans.[3] The 1st Rhode Island Regiment became the only regiment of the Continental Army to have segregated companies of black soldiers. As you may recall the enlistment of slaves had been controversial, and after June 1778, only whites were enlisted. The unit continued to be known as the "Black Regiment" even though only whites were thereafter recruited into the regiment to replace losses, a process which eventually made the regiment an integrated unit.[4]
Under Colonel Greene, the regiment fought in the Battle of Rhode Island in August 1778. The regiment played a fairly minor—but praised—role in the battle, suffering three killed, nine wounded, and eleven missing.[5]
Like most of the Main Army, the regiment saw little action over the next few years, since the focus of the war had shifted to the south. In 1781, Greene and several of his black soldiers were killed in a skirmish with Loyalists. Greene's body was mutilated by the Loyalists, apparently as punishment for having led black soldiers against them.[6] This was one of those incidents that began the freeing of Black Slaves in American, which is something we all should be proud of. Sometimes in loses there are unexpected wins



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File:Patriot's Park, Portsmouth, RI.jpg

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Questions Regarding
The 1778 Newport Rhode Island Battle

1. What went through the minds of the locals during this battle?


2. What was the importance of this war to the French and the Americans?


3. What Role did the Black Soldiers play in the Battle of Newport Rhode Island?

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