Monday, October 26, 2015

Thomas Nelson -- Jefferson Escapes
 
Here are links to two maps to help you locate the rivers and cities referenced below.
 
 
 
 
Lafayette returned to Annapolis after American and French efforts to trap General Benedict Arnold in Portsmouth were abandoned.  Not long afterward, General William Philllips and 2,600 redcoat soldiers reinforced Arnold.  Virginia forces had dwindled to 1,200 men.  Only 700 were positioned south of the James River.  Lafayette was expected to return with about 1,200 soldiers.  A new group of militia was being desperately called up.  Neither source of reinforcements, however, would be useable before the end of April.  Consequently, General von Steuben withdrew his troops from Portsmouth and stationed them at Richmond.  Given free reign, on April 18, 1781, Arnold and 2,500 British troops left Portsmouth to move up the James River to plunder.
 
They launched an attack on the supply depot of Petersburg.  Generals Steuben and Muhlenburg, with 1,000 militiamen, defended stubbornly.  At the end of the day Steuben ordered a withdrawal.  Arnold advanced into Petersburg where he destroyed four thousand hogsheads of tobacco.  He destroyed at Osbornes, a small village on the James River 15 miles below Richmond, what passed for the Virginia navy.  General Phillips burned barracks and stores at Chesterfield Court House.  Both generals then moved toward Manchester, just across the James from Richmond.
 
Thomas Nelson, having recovered from his illness, gathered a handful of militiamen hoping somehow to defend the capitol city.  “Fortunately the British did not get to Manchester until the morning of April 30, and on the previous afternoon General Lafayette had marched his nine hundred weary troops into Richmond, after a forced march that had taken them only ten days in miserable weather to cover the 150 miles from Annapolis.  Thus, when the British arrived in Manchester, they were confronted across the river by Lafayette’s troops located in good position.  Though superior in numbers, the British decided not to attack, and after burning some tobacco they dropped down the river, and by May 6, were below Jamestown” (Evans 99).  To put Richmond beyond further attack, Lafayette moved Nelson and his militia to Williamsburg and his own forces between that city and the capitol. 
 
In May, General William Cornwallis came driving up into Virginia from North Carolina.  He had won a costly victory at Guilford Court House in March and had then moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, where he had made plans to march into Virginia to join Arnold and Phillips at Petersburg.  He did so May 20, Lafayette, being outnumbered, forced to withdraw to Richmond.  For a week and a half neither Lafayette nor the British made any further move.
 
On May 10, the state legislature had decided to convene two weeks later not in Richmond but in Charlottesville.  In Richmond, Lafayette reorganized his army, now totaling 900 Continentals and the 1,200 to 1,500 militia divided into two brigades commanded by Nelson and Muhlenburg.  After Cornwallis’s arrival May 20, British forces totaled about 7,200 men. 
 
During this time Nelson had had to deal with numerous disloyal acts.  “In early May, he was forced to take twelve disaffected persons into custody, including Williamsburg merchant John Greenhow, who had advised a ‘militia officer to lay aside his Sword because we were already conquered.’  Horses, which might strengthen an already superior British cavalry, had to be removed from Cornwallis’s path.  Owners who did not cooperate were to have their animals seized.  Nelson also had to oversee the impressment of horses for Lafayette’s cavalry.  A condition approaching martial law prevailed” (Evans 100). 
 
On May 24, Cornwallis marched out of Petersburg, crossed the James River, and headed toward Richmond to attack Lafayette.  Wanting to keep his army intact and determined to prevent Cornwallis from getting between him and General Anthony Wayne, who was marching from Pennsylvania with reinforcements, Lafayette retreated northward toward Fredericksburg.  On the last day of the month, Cornwallis ended his pursuit, deciding to direct his aggressive activities elsewhere.
 
Cornwallis wanted to destroy a main supply depot fifty miles above Richmond, capture the Virginia legislature in session in Charlottesville, and seize Governor Thomas Jefferson.   Lieutenant Colonel John Simcoe and 500 troops destroyed the depot.  Steuben and 400 militiamen ordered to defend it retreated.  “Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton and 250 cavalry, assigned the second objective, fell upon Charlottesville early on the morning of June 4.  Had it not been for the ride of Captain Jack Jouett from Cuckoo Tavern to warn the legislature and the governor, the plan would have been successful” (Evans 101).  Here is how The Meriwether Society, Inc., on the internet, narrates this event.
 
 
On May 28th, the first day a quorum was present for the reconvened Assembly, Governor Jefferson wrote George Washington pleading he bring the Continental Army to Virginia to bolster the weary patriots, “That your appearance among them I say would restore full confidence of salvation…” Soon afterwards, General Washington wrote Jefferson almost apologetically, “The progress which the enemy are making in Virginia is very alarming…,” only daring to hint at his plans for the British, which would only be secured by a Naval Superiority not yet in place.
 
 
 The Green Dragoons moved easily through the countryside between the North and South Anna Rivers on “a rainy dark day”. The heat of the weather obliged a rest around noon to refresh the men and horses. Then they pressed on into the night, and at a small crossroads in eastern Louisa County (the junction of today’s US 33 and US 522), tradition has it that their motions were then observed. About 10:00pm there at the Cuckoo Tavern, a young member of the Virginia militia, John Jouett (of Huguenot origins), watched the British cavalry sweep past along the main road. Whether they stopped is unknown; perhaps some officers entered the Tavern and Jouett overheard them talking, or maybe in watching from a window he just guessed what they were up to. A native of Charlottesville, Jouett’s father was the keeper of the Swan Tavern there, a stopping place and meeting room for many delegates to the Virginia Assembly. Figuring the British would take the main road, Jouett inconspicuously left the area, then mounted a horse said to be the finest in 7 counties, and (thoroughly familiar with the region) rode 40 miles over back roads in the middle of the night, which had nearly a full moon though it was probably overcast. He traveled through a maze of vines, brambles, and potholes, to Monticello where at 4:30am June 4 he awoke Jefferson and several prominent members of the legislature, effectively warning them. It is said he paused only briefly before continuing to Charlottesville. Jouett’s descendants say he wore the scars of brambles and branches from that ride the rest of his life.
 
Meanwhile, Tarleton’s troops arrived at the Louisa County Courthouse at 11:00pm. They remained on a “plentiful plantation” in Louisa until 2:00am June 4, 1781, then resumed their march. Before dawn, they burned a caravan of 12 supply wagons with stores of arms and clothing headed for South Carolina.
 
 
… Tarleton ordered Dr. Walker and his wife to prepare breakfast for the British Legion. It is said the Walkers knew or guessed of the plan to capture Jefferson, so while Mildred Walker “ordered the cooks to be slow in preparing breakfast, Dr. Walker was busy mixing mint juleps for… Tarleton and his troops.”  … He [Tarleton] was still at that point counting on the surprise he might gain from the approximately 70 mile distance covered that night and the previous day.
 
 
Just ahead of the British on the morning of June 4, 1781, militia rider John Jouett reached Charlottesville, an 18-year-old town described by a visitor at the time as “a courthouse, one tavern, and about a dozen houses.” He warned the Virginia Assembly members staying there about the approaching raid. They hastily convened, and arranged to reconvene in Staunton, safely across the Blue Ridge Mountains in 3 days time. Their main business of electing a new Governor, because Jefferson’s term had expired June 1, would have to wait. A then little-known Colonel Daniel Boone and some others started loading up wagons with some of the public records.
 
Not far behind, British Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton and his troops were on the way, refreshed after a quick breakfast at Castle Hill. 
 
 
… About that time the former Governor had just left Monticello after seeing his family safely off via carriage toward Enniscorthy, the Coles plantation about 14 miles distant in southern Albemarle County. Jefferson had ordered his favorite riding horse to be shod and brought to the road (about where state highway 53 is today) in the valley between his mountaintop home and the nearby Carter’s Mountain … According to a popular folktale of the time, as the British approached, Jefferson walked a ways up Carter’s Mountain to a good viewing point, and gazed from a telescope. He looked down at the streets of Charlottesville and saw nothing out of order. Jefferson started to walk away, but it is said he noticed his light walking sword had slipped from its sheath, so he returned to retrieve it, and then took another look through his telescope, this time to see the streets swarming with Dragoons, identifiable by the color of their uniforms--green for the British Legion, and red for the Fusiliers. Jefferson then mounted his horse and briskly made his escape. [The Jeffersons’ eventual destination was their family’s Poplar Forest plantation further south.]
 
… with the help of Jouett’s early warning and the Walker family’s strategic delay, Jefferson, his family, and guests (including the Speakers of the State Senate and House, and some others) all had narrowly escaped, missing the British by just 10 minutes. 
Down in Charlottesville, the British were raiding the town, burning goods and seizing firearms. The numbers vary according to different sources. The British said they destroyed 1,000 muskets, 400 barrels of powder, 7 hogsheads of tobacco, and a quantity of Continental soldier’s clothing and “accoutrements”, while the American estimates were much lower. Also, invaluable county legal records were destroyed, that are still missing from 1748-1781, burned on the Courthouse green.  About 20 prisoners, remnants from the neighborhood of The Barracks prisoner-of-war camp on the West side of town, were liberated.
 
… Elsewhere in Charlottesville, a British officer overtook Daniel Boone, dressed inconspicuously in frontier hunting shirts and leggings, with John Jouett walking away. The former was questioned and dismissed, then the latter. According to Boone family tradition, as their relative walked away, Jouett (probably exhausted and/or still full of adrenaline) absentmindedly called out Colonel Daniel Boone’s rank and name so that he could catch up with him. The British officer overheard and promptly arrested Boone.
 
 
 
After the drama and violence of the early June days and nights in 1781, life in Charlottesville gradually returned more to its routines. The most hunted General Assembly in Virginia’s history reconvened at the Old Trinity Church in Staunton with most of its members, somewhat riled by their recent harrowing experiences. Some placed blame on Jefferson for their lack of security. 
 
… The Assembly later voted to exonerate Jefferson of any blame. A year later, Jouett traveled Daniel Boone’s Wilderness Road to Kentucky, serving well as a progressive delegate in State Assemblies. 
 
… unsuccessful in the main goal of his mission, Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton and his Green Dragoons sometime between June 6-9 made it back to join General Cornwallis at Point of Fork, where the Rivanna River meets the James River (near present day Columbia). He reported “the attempt to secure Mr. Jefferson was ineffectual.” Their main prisoners from the raid were then paroled, including Daniel Boone.
 
Jefferson’s term of office had expired on June 2.  “The gentle Virginian was not a military man, his second term had been a frustrating one, and he was determined to step aside for someone better fitted for the position.  A little over a week later, the Assembly meeting in Staunton chose General Thomas Nelson as Jefferson’s successor” (Evans 101).
 
Washington’s decision to remain north proved to be fortunate.  General Henry Clinton, commander-in-chief of all British forces in the Colonies, situated in New York City, feeling uneasy about Washington’s near presence, ordered Cornwallis to take a defensive position at Williamsburg and York and send to him every man he could spare.  Then, seeming to regain his composure, Clinton ordered Cornwallis to send no reinforcements.  But Clinton did not countermand his order instructing Cornwallis to take a defensive position.  Consequently, on August 2 Cornwallis positioned at York his 4,500 men.
 
 
Works cited:
 
Long, Stephen Meriwether.  British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton and the American Revolution: Drama on the Plantations of Charlottesville.”  The Meriwether Society, Inc.  http://homepages.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~meriweth/article_archive/lt_col_banastre_tarleton.html.  Net.
 
Evans, Emory G.  Thomas Nelson of Yorktown: Revolutionary Virginian.  Charlottesville, Virginia, The University Press of Virginia, 1975.  Print.