Friday, October 4, 2013

Off on the wrong foot

Less than a month after the astounding victory at Lexington and Concord, the fledgling government of the Rebellious States of America found themselves faced with the painful realization that the road to independence would not be paved with hopes and good intentions. Rather that road would be one much like the British took from Concord back to Lexington, one fraught with chaos, casualties, loss depression. The truth of the matter was that this haphazard gaggle of militia, rebels and patriots was engaged in a war against the super power of its day - Britain.

The saying was that the sun never set on the British Empire and the British lived up to the Latin proverb of "Empires are not kept through timidity". Their soldiers had fought hard for years to carve out their empire at the point of sword, spear bayonet and by the flash of musket, cannon and horse hoof.
It was this ugly realization that aroused the new continental congress in the days following Lexington. They ordered a full accounting of all available stores, munitions, guns, powder, cannon and wagons. They found themselves severely wanting in all regards. Ammunition, powder and guns would be easy to come by as most of the men who had already volunteered would bring their own weapons, and what the men would not supply, the continental government would contract from some of the best gunsmiths in the world - the Quakers whose fabrication and rifling technique was begining to be duplicated in the southern colonies, could fabricate. The terrain was unforgiving to the use of cavalry who relied on large open spaces to maneuver into the flanks of the enemy, thus leaving only one issue - cannons.

Cannons were vital to any siege or defense of a city as cannons could fire heated shot* into blockading ships. They were also effective at long range engagements of tightly packed troops, the common formation of the day. The issue was that when the Americans tallied the total number of artillery in their possession, they found less than twenty pieces and only five of which were larger caliber than a 4pound gun**. 

Fort Ticonderoga
Something had to be done and the best solution is often the simplest. What do you do when you don't have something and don't have an easy way to get it? Find someone that does have it and take it from them. That someone just happened to be the British. The were the best soldiers and they knew it. This air of superiority served to be their arrogant downfall. Just across the border from modern day Vermont was a fort called Ticonderoga. The fort served as an arsenal and housed over thirty pieces of heavy artillery. The best part of the situation was that there were more cannons defending the fort than there were Red Coats.

Benedict Arnold
Ethan Allen
Congress had its desired target, all it needed was a leader for the attack and the men to carry it out. Congress appointed a young officer whose only desire was to gain fame and glory in the revolution - Benedict Arnold. Arnold was to go north and gather as many volunteers as he could, attack the fort and bring back the much needed guns to aid in the siege of Boston. Congress, however, like any true gambler, chose to hedge its bets. Why send one man with a mission when you can send two? Enter Ethan Allen - the rough-neck backwoods hero of the Hampshire Grants and veteran of the New York/Vermont boundary war and leader of the Green Mountain Boys.

Join us next week as we find how the Patriot started down the path to infamy and how the Backwoods hick became a hero.

*Heated shot was an ammunition type where gun crews would put the cannon ball into a furnace and heat it till it glowed read. The shot was then loaded into the cannon which was quickly fired at an enemy ship. The glowing shot would act as a tracer round and when it struck the ship that was highly sealed with pine tar and coated in oil to keep the wood from rotting, the round would explode into firey fragments that would send the ship up like a torch. This tactic was only employed by gun crews on the ground as no ship commander would be silly enough to allow a red hot glowing ball of death to have the possibility of slipping out of a crewman's control and rolling around a crowded gun deck.

** Cannon gun calibers were designated by the weight of the shot it fired. A 3# gun fired a cannon ball that weighted 3 pounds. A 6# gun fired a 6 pound shot and so on. While this may not seem like a large difference, the weight of the shot determined the distance the round could accurately be fired and the destructive capability the round would have when it arrived at its target. To paint the contrast, Americans were dealing with 3-6 pound guns where the British had whole batteries of 6 pound, 12 pound and 24 pound guns. To say that the Americans were out gunned would be an apropos pun.

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