Friday, October 25, 2013

"I would that we could have sold them two more hills at such a cost!"

The wooden breastwork
Ammunition was low, the men were exhausted and the heat of that muggy June took its toll on the men who had spent the last twelve hours digging a dirt barricade between them and the British Red Coats. The redoubt was high and gave the men extraordinary cover, the wooden barricade extension they had thrown up gave them cover on their flank leaving not but empty ground, marsh, sand and grass between the battle lines, something that the British would learn to hate.

British Doctrine dictated that battle lines were to advance to within range of their muskets, present arms, fire and then, if the enemy lines were weak enough, present a charge with bayonet to finish off the will of the enemy. In countless battles in numberless countries this formula had paid large dividends against make-shift armies and rabble. Doubtless, this time tested tactic should work here and at 3pm the British tested the theory.The main British force was to form up at the center and advance in glorious fashion toward rebel right flank. The Line of Foot regiments were to engage the rebels at the weakest point in the line, attempt to crack them and turn the flank to envelop the remaining force in the great redoubt. The British Light infantry were sent in first to engage John Stark and his small band of men who held the extreme left on the rebel flank. These men would be counted as the heroes of the day.
The Redoubt

The pum-pararum-pum-pum of drums drowned out the chirping of crickets and the shrill cries of the piccolos cut through the muggy air as the British Light infantry formed up for their attack. They advanced at the double, moving quickly into formation. Theirs was a precarious task, the rebel redoubt on their left, and not but a sandy beach on their right. They were penned in and manouvering would not be east as the men packed in tight formation to advance.

First Attack
Knowing the range of his weapons, Stark had left stacks of painted rocks to mark ranges and as the British advanced into the perfect range, he bellowed the blessed words of battle: "FIRE!" Smoke, fire and lead filled the air as the tightly packed red coats came into range. Where twenty men had been, less than eight now remained in broken lines. Before the British had even formed ranks to fire, their had been cut nearly in half. The main attack advanced blindly in front of the redoubt, drawing sniper fire from the rooftops of Charleston and direct fire from the defenders of the earthworks. Quickly the advance turned into total chaos as officers and men fell in bloody heaps one atop the other under the withering fire of the rebels. British command watched in complete shock as some of their best men were obliterated with almost miraculous accuracy under the defensive fire from the rebels.

Charge of the Grenadiers
Second Attack
A second attack was to break the rebels once and for all. There was no way the rebels could withstand a full frontal assault.With most of their ammunition gone the command was issued down the rebel ranks to hold fire "...until you see the whites of their eyes". This popular quote carries a great weight when you figure that the whites of a person's eyes are only visible at a range of less than thirty yards. Most engagements of the time took place at the 100-140 yard range. This meant that the rebels would hold fire until the British were almost on top of them. The British formed their Grenadiers at the center. They marched boldly, bayonets charged and didn't stop to fire. When the rebels opened fire their ranks were reduced by a full three quarters. The grenadiers fell back completely decimated.

Final Attack
The third assault formed up with the remnants of all the regiments. Again they marched boldly over the same ground, now littered with the dead and dying of the previous brilliant plan. The rebels again held their fire, but, having expended most of their ammunition in the previous two engagements, the rebels were unable to stop the advance. The terrified rebel line melted away, running for their lives as the British poured over the walls of the redoubt, an ominous red wave crashing down on the battle weary defenders.

When the smoke cleared and the sides counted their dead, the rebels had 115 dead and 300 wounded. The Crown suffered 226 killed in service to the King with another 828 wounded. The Rebels had been driven from the field, but the severe loss of some of the Crown's finest troops would serve to haunt the British in later campaigns.

When Nathaniel Greene, one of Washington's closest generals, heard of the battle he said "I would that we could have sold them two more hills at such a cost!"

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