Battle of Rhode Island: Wikis

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Battle of Rhode Island
Part of the American Revolutionary War
Date August 29, 1778
Location Aquidneck Island, Rhode Island
Result Tactically indecisive
British strategic victory
Belligerents
 United States United Kingdom Great Britain
Commanders
John Sullivan Sir Robert Pigot
Strength
10,100 7,139
Casualties and losses
30 killed
137 wounded
44 missing[1]
38 killed
210 wounded
12 missing[1]

The Battle of Rhode Island, also known as the Battle of Quaker Hill, took place on August 29, 1778, when units of the Continental Army under the command of John Sullivan attempted to recapture the island of Rhode Island (now known as Aquidneck Island to distinguish it from the state of Rhode Island in which it is located), from British forces. The battle ended inconclusively, but the Continental Army had to give up its goal of capturing the island and securing Narragansett Bay for American and French ship traffic.

Contents

Background

French Admiral d'Estaing arrived in the summer of 1778 with a fleet of ships with infantry reinforcements for the war. Since he was unable to cross the bar into New York harbor, French and American leaders decided to deploy the fresh forces in Rhode Island, to expel the British there. Strategically, this would open up the Narragansett Bay for American and French forces and deny it to the British. John Sullivan was put in charge of this offensive[2].

Battle of Rhode Island from a 1779 print[1]

On Aquidneck Island there were American and British forces remaining in standoff. Colonel Christopher Greene was responsible for assembling the Rhode Island contribution to the Continental Army but was struggling to meet the quota. As a result, General Sullivan had to assemble his force from a variety of sources. Virtually the entire Rhode Island militia was called up and led by William West, and troops from Massachusetts and New Hampshire along with Continental Artillery were called in to supplement the expected French forces.

General George Washington sent generals Nathanael Greene and Lafayette to support Sullivan in his efforts to organize his army, but it has since been suggested that Washington was concerned about Sullivan's decision-making abilities.

Prelude to battle

As American intentions became clear, British General Robert Pigot decided to redeploy his forces in a defensive posture in and around Newport. He also decided to move nearly all livestock into the city, level orchards and houses to provide a clear line of fire, and destroy carriages and wagons.

On August 10, the Continental Army's plans for an offensive on the island suffered a setback when d'Estaing's fleet lifted anchor and left Rhode Island after coming within sight of the landing zone. He intended to engage a British fleet nearby. Sullivan's American troops had preceded him in landing ahead of schedule but were of inadequate strength to defeat the British defensive lines.

On August 11 and 12, a heavy storm hit the area and flattened corn fields. This added to the financial loss suffered by Rhode Island residents as a result of the war. After drying off, American forces started redeploying for a siege of Newport.

Before d'Estaing could engage the British, His fleet was scattered by a storm, which also wreaked havoc on the American troops in the field.

When d'Estaing and his fleet arrived (after regrouping) on August 20, the ships were heavily damaged by the storm. D'Estaing decided yet again to put off landing infantry force, choosing instead to sail to Boston to repair the ships. Dismayed by this turn of events, Sullivan sent Lafayette to Boston to effect the return of the French troops to the prospective battlefield. This proved fruitless in the end. D'Estaing and Lafayette met fierce criticism in Boston, Lafayette remarking that "I am more upon a warlike footing in the American lines than when I came near the British lines at Newport."

At the same time, there was news that the British had sent for reinforcements.

By August 28, Sullivan changed his plans to reflect the relative strength of the opposing forces. Under the cloak of darkness, American troops were moved away from their siege positions to defensive positions in the north of the island around Butts Hill.

Order of battle

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British forces

Continental forces

Battle

The American generals decided to establish a defensive line across the entire island just south of a valley that cut across the island, hoping thereby to deny the British the high ground in the northern section.

The Americans organized their forces in two sections:

  1. On the west, General Greene concentrated his forces in front of Turkey Hill, but sent the 1st Rhode Island to establish advance positions a half mile (1 km) south under the command of General Varnum.
  2. On the east, Brigadier General John Glover, who concentrated his forces behind a stone wall overlooking Quaker Hill.

The British followed suit and organized their attack in a corresponding way, sending Hessian General Friedrich Wilhelm von Lossberg up the west road and General Francis Smith up the east road with two regiments each under orders to not make a general attack. As it turned out, this advance led to the main battle.

Lossberg's chasseurs were the first to come under fire by American John Laurens's troops, who were shooting under cover of trees. At this point, Pigot decided to send in reinforcements, and it became clear this was the general engagement of the battle.

American troops withdrew from their positions but kept up their fire, slowing the British advance. The Rhode Island Militia under Colonel William West provided cover during the retreat. In a move that is yet to be understood, Sullivan sent a regiment forward along each road during this retreat, causing confusion.

The battle involved cannonfire between land and ship positions, attempts at attacks and reinforcements, but by 4 p.m. it had reached an impasse. The Americans stopped their retreat and repulsed several probing attacks. The driving back of these assaults has led some historians to claim the Battle as a victory for the Patriot forces, even though they had already given a lot of ground to the British. Because most of the shooting had been at long range, there were relatively modest casualties on both sides.

Although some artillery fire persisted throughout the night, Continental forces withdrew to Bristol and Tiverton on the night of August 31, leaving Aquidneck Island under British control.

Legacy

The Battle of Rhode Island Site was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1974. It is partially preserved.

Footnotes

References

  • Boatner, Mark Mayo (1666). Cassell's Biographical Dictionary of the American War of Independence, 1763-1783. London: Cassell & Company Ltd.. ISBN 0 304 29296 6.  



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