Sunday, January 16, 2022

ARP234 Siege of Savannah


The British had captured Savannah at the end of 1778.  Although they briefly retook control of most of the lightly populated state, the Continentals and militia quickly forced them back into a small area around Savannah.  We last left the two southern armies in Episode 223, when the Americans attacked the British rearguard at Stono Ferry, only to be repulsed.

Targeting Savannah

General Washington saw the British occupation of Savannah as a threat to the southern states, most particularly the largest town in the region: Charleston, South Carolina, where the British had almost succeeded in a rather small and ill-conceived attack on the city.  Washington personally kept his primary attention on New York City, which he still saw as the key to winning the war. Washington had lost the city in 1776, and probably also saw it as a personal point of honor to win it back militarily.  Even so, there was no serious chance of retaking New York, even after the British draw-down there, until he could get some naval support.  Since that was not going to happen anytime soon, Washington did what he could to support General Benjamin Lincoln in his efforts to recapture Savannah.

Attack on Savannah
Washington deployed Brigadier General Charles Scott along with several regiments, to reinforce Major General Lincoln’s southern army.  Scott, who had been on furlough in Virginia at the time, forwarded the regiments to General Lincoln, but personally remained in Virginia, trying to recruit more troops and assisting with defenses following the Collier-Mathew Raids in the Chesapeake that I discussed back in Episode 221.  

Washington also allowed Brigadier General Lachlan McIntosh to return from duty in western Pennsylvania to resume a command in Georgia.  McIntosh had left the south in 1777, after killing Georgia President Button Gwinnett in a duel.  McIntosh was eager to get back to his home state of Georgia and joined up with Lincoln as soon as he could.

With the reinforcements, General Lincoln had about 7000 men under his command, more than double the 3000 or so British soldiers in or near Savannah.  However, the majority of these soldiers were militia.  Lincoln was reluctant to try to get militia to storm well-entrenched British regulars.  General Lincoln to get some support from the French.

For months, Washington had been badgering French Minister Conrad Gerard, hoping to get the French fleet under Admiral d’Estaing to support an attack on New York, or barring that, to support the southern army in an attack on Savannah.  Since the French fleet had arrived in the summer of 1778, it had proven to be not very helpful, passing up an attack on New York, pulling out of an attack on Newport, Rhode Island, then spending the winter in Boston getting repairs to the fleet before leaving the continent for the West Indies.  

Admiral d’Estaing, of course, had received more reinforcements and had taken the islands of St. Vincent and Granada in the early summer of 1779 (see, Episode 224).  By late summer, d’Estaing was looking to pull much of his fleet out of the West Indies, before hurricane season hit and posed a threat to his fleet.

In late August, a substantial French fleet, which included more than 20 ships of the line and over 4000 French soldiers, left the West Indies for the Georgia coast. d'Estaing sent a ship to Charleston to let the Americans know that he was ready to participate in a joint attack on Savannah.  Almost immediately, General Lincoln set out from Charleston with 1000 of his best soldiers to launch the cooperative effort to recapture Savannah. He also called on General McIntosh, by this time in command of American troops at Augusta, to raise as many men as he could for the attack on Savannah.

The Fleet Arrives

The arrival of the French fleet caught the British by surprise. The French captured the British 50-gun ship Experiment, and the 24-gun ship the Ariel, as well as several supply ships off the Georgia coast.  Aboard one of the captured ships was Brigadier General George Garth, on his way to succeed General Augustine Prevost as military commander.  The captured ship also held £30,000 for the Savannah garrison’s payroll. 

French Fleet
Several other British ships moved upriver closer to the main British defenses at Savannah.  By September 9, d’Estaing was offloading French soldiers at Tybee Island, at the mouth of the Savannah River, and about fifteen miles from the city of Savannah.  A British outpost there fired on the French fleet.  However, after the French began landing soldiers on the island, the small garrison fled and rejoined the main British force at Savannah.

Over the next few days, the French took several small islands near the mouth of the Savannah River, and drove British pickets back into the city.  On September 12, d’Estaing made contact with Continental General Casimir Pulaski, who had moved to Savannah as part of the army under General McIntosh from Augusta.  Pulaski informed d’Estaing that they were still awaiting the arrival of the main army under General Lincoln, who were still marching to Savannah from Charleston.

Lincoln’s force had made it to Purrysburg, South Carolina, right on the Savannah River and about 15 miles north of Savannah. He began moving his soldiers and equipment across the river, but did not want to proceed toward the city until he received word that the French had arrived.  Lincoln had not received any word about the French fleet since he had left Charleston, where he had only received a rather vague assurance that the French were going to move against Savannah.  Lincoln was concerned about moving back into Georgia if the French fleet had not arrived as promised and disembarked its army on the other side of Savannah.  Otherwise, the British might attack his inferior force and defeat it before the French were ready to go.

So, at this point, the Americans were awaiting word of the arrival of French forces, while the French were awaiting word of the arrival of American forces. During this time, Admiral d’Estaing sent a messenger to British General Augustine Prevost at Savannah, calling on him to surrender to French forces.  General Prevost asked for a day to consider his position, which d’Estaing granted, since he was awaiting the Americans under Lincoln anyway.  

British Defenses

In fact, Prevost had no intention of surrendering.  He had a force of about 2500 men in Savannah, who were pretty well entrenched and supported by cannons.  He had sunk a damaged British frigate, the Rose, along with several smaller ships, in the Savannah River at a point where it narrowed.  This created an obstruction that would prevent the French from sailing their fleet up to the city.  Prevost also removed cannons from several ships that had made it back to Savannah and used the artillery from those ships to bolster his defenses against a land attack.  In addition to his combat troops,  Prevost had more than a thousand escaped slaves who had been doing whatever they could to support their British liberators.  Although Prevost would not use these men in combat, he did put them to work constructing even stronger fortifications in and around the city.

Prevost’s request for a day to consider was simply a delaying tactic.  He wanted more time to build up his defenses. He was also still awaiting the arrival of 600 soldiers under Colonel John Maitland who had still been holding out at Stono Ferry in South Carolina.  

The following day, Colonel Maitland’s reinforcements arrived.  Maitland’s march to Savannah was pretty impressive by itself.  His British outpost could not sail down the coast due to the presence of the French Navy.  It could not march overland because of the Continentals.  Instead, Maitland moved his force quietly over a series of coastal islands, marching his men through swamps, with many of them, including Maitland himself, sick with malaria.  After several days, the force managed to reach Savannah.

With the arrival of Maitland’s reinforcements, Prevost informed d’Estaing that - thanks for the offer, but the British force did not intend to surrender without a fight.  The French were going to have to take the city from them.

Prevost had received the time he needed to put in place the defenses as best he could.  He had consolidated his force in and around Savannah.  His engineers created two concentric lines, with each flank against the Savannah river.  The British had placed artillery, constructed abatis and earthen defenses, and blocked the river.  Although the French and Americans outnumbered the British force of just over 3000 soldiers, Prevost’s men had good defensive positions, and held out hope that a British relief fleet from the West Indies would break the siege.

The Siege Begins

Several hours after d’Estaing sent his surrender demand to Prevost, Lincoln’s army arrived at Savannah.  Lincoln and d’Estaing met that afternoon to discuss a plan of attack. But first, there was a minor tiff.  Lincoln was upset because d’Estaing’s surrender demand had called on the British to surrender to the French forces outside the city, not to the combined French and American forces.  Many Americans took this as a slight against American honor.  d’Estaing might have responded by saying that maybe if the Continentals had actually shown up by the time he might have issues his request, he might have had cause to call for surrender to both armies.  But he was more diplomatic than that, and simply said it was an oversight and that any further communications would reference both the French and American forces.

Given the state of British defenses, the allies opted for a traditional siege.  After the battle, several British officers noted that, had the French stormed the city immediately following the fleet’s arrival, they probably would have been successful in taking the city.  The British defenses were not ready, and the defenders simply did not have the numbers.  But with the arrival of Maitland’s reinforcements, and several days to construct better defenses, storming the city seemed like a dangerous strategy.  Even if it had been successful, it would have been a costly victory.

With the British having effectively blocked the river, d’Estaing could not bring his fleet to bear on Savannah.  Instead, he opted to bring his army and artillery overland for a siege of the town from the southwest.  The British would have their backs against the river and could be reduced over time.  It took more than a week to get the artillery in place. Lack of horses and carts, rainy weather, and difficult terrain made the effort difficult and time-consuming.  The American forces under Lincoln moved their forces down toward Savannah, taking positions alongside the French.  The American also kept patrols on the other side of the river, to prevent any more loyalist reinforcements from joining the British.

By September 23, the French and American had gotten their first cannons in place and began to dig their first line of entrenchments.  When the British saw the enemy beginning to dig in, they launched an attack against the French entrenchments.  The French repulsed the attack and began to pursue the retreating attackers. This drew the French soldiers out of their trenches, and subjected them to British artillery fire. They took several dozen casualties before retreating back into their own entrenchments.

Map of Savannah Battlefield

It took another week and a half for the first line of entrenchments and cannon placement to be complete, so that the artillery attack did not begin until the night of October 3.  American and French cannons began their attack, mostly hitting homes inside Savannah, not doing much damage to the enemy defenses.

As seemed to be the norm in these operations, the French and Americans did not get along.  General Lincoln found d’Estaing arrogant and unwilling to communicate everything that was happening.  The Admiral found the American forces of mostly local militia to be disorganized and ill-disciplined, and simply did not trust them to be effective in combat.

As the main siege was still being constructed, the Americans came across a small fleet of mostly loyalists trying to join the British defenses.  General Pulaski’s cavalry captured a portion of them, but there was still a fleet of five ships with about 140 loyalists and regulars aboard.  Most of the ships were armed with cannons, and could not be taken by local land forces.

Colonel John White of the Georgia militia had only one other officer and three soldiers with him, but he decided to bluff.  Overnight, he had his men build a series of campfires and make as much noise as possible giving the impression that he had a force of hundreds of men.  The next morning, he sent a messenger out to the loyalist fleet demanding their surrender.  The British force agreed. White had them come ashore, unarmed.  He told them he was keeping his men at bay because many of them wanted to massacre the loyalists.  He brought out his three soldiers and said that they would serve as guides to bring the prisoners to the main army, where they would be held and guaranteed protection as prisoners of war.  The bluff worked, and the five men took 141 prisoners.

The artillery attack continued for about a week.  With the British defenses set up to resist artillery, most of the damage fell on the town, killing a few soldiers but also several civilians.  The attacks also started several fires, which threatened to destroy the city.  General Prevost sent a request to remove women and children from the British army out of the city, but because he had refused to allow Continental General Lachlan McIntosh’s wife to leave along with them, the request was denied.

Storming the City

Under a traditional 18th century siege, the attackers would dig a series of zig zag lines, moving ever closer to the defenses while maintaining artillery fire.  Eventually, the cannons would be so close that the enemy would have to surrender or be destroyed.  It is usually the safest way for a larger force to oust an entrenched enemy.  

Assault on Springhill Redoubt
The problem with sieges is that they could take a very long time, often many months.  The French simply did not have that kind of time.  Admiral d’Estaing was still worried that a hurricane might take out his fleet.  There was also the danger that the British fleet under Admiral Byron in the West Indies could sail up and take out the French.  Many of the French sailors who had been aboard ship for several months were beginning to die of scurvy.

No longer willing to wait, d’Estaing decided to launch a pre-dawn attack on the morning of October 9.  Two French columns would lead an assault against the center of the British line with a third column held in reserve.  A small force of American militia under General Isaac Huger would attack on the right as a feint.  A larger American force led by General Lachlan McIntosh and Colonel John Laurens would attack on the left.

The attack, however, did not go as planned.  An American deserter crossed over to the enemy and revealed the entire plan of attack.  The American and French forces began to deploy around midnight, but due to weather and other problems, were not in position until after dawn.  A heavy fog had made movement particularly difficult.

When the assault did begin the defenders were prepared.  The loyalist militia that had garrisoned the primary target, the Springhill redoubt, had been replaced by some of the best British regulars.  The defenders ignored the feint attacks and focused on the primary assault.  The rising sun dispelled the fog, revealing the attackers in open field, where they could be cut down by British infantry and artillery.

Admiral d’Estaing personally led the attack and suffered two battle wounds.  The French line began to falter under heavy fire and started to withdraw. A regiment of French soldiers of African descent, raised on the French island that is today Haiti, fought with notable ferocity and bravery at this battle, taking considerable casualties.

Casimir Pulaski, hit in battle
General Pulaski, whose cavalry had been held in reserve so that they could charge into any breach that revealed itself, mounted a charge in an attempt to stem the French retreat.  In the process, Pulaski took a cannon full of British grapeshot and fell off his horse, wounded and unconscious.  Several men from Colonel Laurens’ column managed to reach the Springhill redoubt, but not in enough numbers to hold it.  Several men were killed trying to plant the American flag on the redoubt.  Laurens’ brigade suffered about 50% casualties.  

The actual fighting only lasted for about an hour, but it was intense and devastating.  The French and Americans lost about 1000 killed or wounded.  The British reported suffering only about 150 casualties.

Aftermath

After the battle, the attackers called for a truce to gather their dead and wounded.  Prevost permitted the truce.  General Pulaski was taken to a nearby hospital ship. He never regained consciousness and died from his wounds after two days.

General Lincoln wanted to continue the siege.  Officials from South Carolina requested that the French come to Charleston.  However, d’Estaing would not remain.  After burying his dead and tending to his wounded, the Admiral put his men and artillery back aboard ship and returned to the French islands in the West Indies. The French fleet had originally planned to sail north where Washington hoped to cooperate in an assault on New York.  After the loss at Savannah, d’Estaing determined that his army was in no condition to continue the campaign.

Unlike the departure at Newport, Rhode Island a year earlier, the French departure did not cause American bitterness.  The French had fought a bloody battle in the field. While the Americans would have preferred to continue the siege, they understood why the French would not. 

With the French departure, General Lincoln withdrew his army to the north, across the Savannah River, and into South Carolina.  He returned to Charleston, where he attempted to raise another army, once again encouraging local leaders to raise several regiments of slaves, only to have such proposals, once again, rejected by State leaders.

Southern loyalists were encouraged by the fact that Britain managed to hold Savannah against a combined allied attack. Loyalist recruitment picked up.  Both sides expected a new British offensive against Charleston in the coming months.

Next week, radicals in Philadelphia attack moderate patriot political leaders culminating in what became known as the battle of Fort Wilson.

- - -

Next Episode 235 Fort Wilson (Available Jan. 23, 2022)


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Further Reading

Websites

“To John Jay from Benjamin Lincoln, 5 September 1779,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jay/01-01-02-0400

Siege of Savannah: https://www.britishbattles.com/war-of-the-revolution-1775-to-1783/siege-of-savannah

Siege of Savannah: https://www.mountvernon.org/library/digitalhistory/digital-encyclopedia/article/siege-of-savannah

Savannah: https://www.battlefields.org/learn/revolutionary-war/battles/savannah

Siege of Savannah, parts 1 and 2:

https://weaponsandwarfare.com/2016/01/13/siege-of-savannah-part-i

https://weaponsandwarfare.com/2016/01/13/siege-of-savannah-part-ii

Smith, Gordon. "Siege of Savannah." New Georgia Encyclopedia https://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/siege-of-savannah

Davis, Robert S. “Black Haitian Soldiers at the Siege of Savannah” Journal of the American Revolution, Feb. 22, 2021. https://allthingsliberty.com/2021/02/black-haitian-soldiers-at-the-siege-of-savannah

Six men captured 141 British http://atlcoin.com/atlcoinblog/2016/09/30/six-men-captured-141-british-237-years-ago-fifty-dollar-gold-american-eagle

“From George Washington to Major General Benjamin Lincoln, 26 October 1779,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-23-02-0048

“To George Washington from Major General Benjamin Lincoln, 7 November 1779,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-23-02-0179

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Hough, Franklin B. The Siege of Savannah, Albany, NY: J. Munsell, 1866. 

Jones, Charles C. The Siege of Savannah, in 1779, Albany, NY: J. Munsell, 1874. 

Jones, Charles C. The History of Georgia Vol. 2, Boston: Houghton & Mifflin Co. 1883: 

McCall, Hugh The History of Georgia, containing brief sketches of the most remarkable events up to the present day, (1784), Atlanta: A.H. Caldwell, 1909 reprint. 

Peck, John Mason Lives of Daniel Boone and Benjamin Lincoln, Boston: C.C. Little and J. Brown, 1847. 

Steward, T. G. How the black St. Domingo legion saved the patriot army in the siege of Savannah, 1779, Washington, DC: The Academy, 1899. 

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Campbell, Archibald Journal of an expedition against the rebels of Georgia in North America under the orders of Archibald Campbell, Esquire, Lieut. Colol. of His Majesty's 71st Regimt, 1778, Ashantilly Press, 1981. 

Hall, Leslie, Land and Allegiance in Revolutionary Georgia, Univ. of Ga Press, 2001.  

Martin, Scott Savannah 1779: The British Turn South, Osprey Publishing, 2017. 

Mattern, David B. Benjamin Lincoln and the American Revolution. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1998.

Russell, David Lee. The American Revolution in the Southern Colonies. McFarland & Company, 2000. 

Ward, Christopher The War of the Revolution, Macmillan Company, 1952. 

Wilson, David K. The Southern Strategy: Britain’s Conquest of South Carolina and Georgia 1775-1780, Univ. of S.C. Press, 2005. 

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Sunday, January 9, 2022

ARP233 Bonhomme Richard vs Serapis


Last week we left John Paul Jones leading a small fleet of ships against the British coast.  The main purpose of the raids, at least as far as the French were concerned, was to distract the British from the armada that France and Spain planned to use to begin a massive invasion of Britain.  After smallpox decimated the French and Spanish crews, the allies cancelled the invasion.  But by that time Jones was well into the North Sea, looking to cause whatever disruption he could.

A Mutinous Crew

Jones’ fleet left in mid-August.  The French Armada had left France nearly six weeks earlier. After a shakedown cruise in June, Jones ran into some delays, falling ill for several weeks.  He was also still trying to recruit more sailors. About the same time Jones sailed into the English Channel, the combined French and Spanish fleets were also moving into the Channel in search of battle. 

Bonhomme Richard & Serapis
Jones had to collect a crew of mostly European sailors and marines.  Some of the sailors were British prisoners, eager to escape jail - not exactly what you would call dedicated to the cause.  Other sailors were similarly poor men, looking for opportunities to make some money.  They were not idealists looking to join a cause either.  Some of his crew were ideologically inclined.  Among Jones’ crew of about 380 men, he took with him 140 French marines, a large number for a fleet his size, but necessary if he wanted to conduct coastal raids.  Many of the marines were part of the French Navy, but were from an English speaking Irish regiment that always enjoyed an opportunity to shoot at the English.  Another hundred or so were American seamen that Jones had obtained through a prisoner exchange with Britain.  Many of these sailors were also eager to get back into the fight.

The voyage did not begin particularly well.  As the Bonhomme Richard left port, a sailor fell from the rigging above Captain Jones.  If he had fallen on the captain, he likely would have killed him.  As it was, the fall was close enough to knock off Jones’ hat.  The unfortunate sailor hit the deck with a thud and died instantly.  Jones did not flinch.  He reached down, picked up his hat, and returned to his duties without comment.

The Bonhomme Richard was the largest of the ships in the small fleet, but also the slowest.  The Alliance, Pallas, Vengeance, and Cerf continually had to slow down and wait for the flagship to catch up with them.  Two other privateer ships, the Monsieur and Grandville also joined the fleet.

One evening off the Irish coast, the current threatened to push the Bonhomme Richard onto the rocks.  Jones sent out his captain’s barge, with oarsman, to tow the ship back out to safer waters.  The man in charge of the barge was one of the sailors that Jones had lashed for abandoning the barge while they were ashore. He and the other oarsman decided to make a break for it.  They cut the tow line and rowed for the Irish shore.  

Jones fired cannons at the escapees into the dark but had no good chance of hitting such a small target at such a distance.  He ordered a longboat to be lowered and go after the barge.  Not only did the barge disappear, but the longboat chasing after them also vanished.  Jones spent several days sailing up and down the coast, looking for signs of his deserters. He sent the smallest ship in his fleet, the Cerf, closer to the coast to look for the sailors. To Jones’ frustration, the Cerf also disappeared.

Jones and Landais

Jones captained the Bonhomme Richard, while Pierre Landais commanded the second largest ship in the small fleet, the Alliance.  As I explained last week, Landais was an experienced French naval officer who had left the service several years before joining the Continental Navy in 1777.

Jones aboard ship

By the time the fleet left, Jones and Landais had spent months getting to know each other and working together.  They were not, however, what you would call a good match.  Rather, they were two incompatible officers who were thrown together.  Landais was not particularly happy with his assignment.  He would have preferred to be ferrying VIP’s like John Adams back to America, and keeping an eye out for valuable merchant prizes that would improve his bottom line.  Like most of the crew, Landais did not share Jones’ interest in gaining glory and furthering the war effort against the British.  Not only did Jones have very legitimate trust issues about his crew, he did not trust his second in command either.

Normally, a military chain of command should be very clear.  As commodore of the fleet, Jones should be able to expect that his orders would be obeyed.  That might not always be the case, as Jones discovered during his previous mission, when Lieutenant Simpson simply abandoned Jones and sailed off aboard his prize ship.  In some ways, this mission was even worse.  French officials had forced Jones to sign a concordat just before leaving France.  The primary purpose of the document was to spell out how prize money would be divided.  But the document also contained language that essentially said that the fleet strategy should be based on consensus, rather than giving Jones the final word on everything.  Writing years later, Jones ruminated that, under other circumstances, he never would have signed such a document, but that the French official had the ability to replace him as commodore if he proved troublesome, and he did not want to have any further delays.  So Jones signed the agreement in hopes of finally getting to sea.  

Once at sea, his officers were testing just how deferential they would have to be.  As Jones was searching for his escaped crew along the Irish coast, Captain Landais came aboard, upset that Jones had prevented him from chasing a prize ship into rocky waters that Jones deemed too risky.  Landais announced to the Scottish-born Jones that since he, Landais, was the only American captain in the fleet (having been granted Massachusetts citizenship during his last voyage) that he planned to make his own decisions going forward.

According to Jones’ later account of the matter, he took Landais to his cabin and tried to work out their differences.  He told Landais that Jones had supported Landais continuing to captain the Alliance, despite having spawned two mutinies on his last two voyages.  Landais rejected the idea that Jones had anything to do with his command.  Jones tried to change the subject, turning to the deserters that he had been trying to recover.  Landais said that Jones was to blame for their loss, by allowing the boats to go out during a fog.  

Landais later reported that Jones’ response to that comment was to mutter “that’s a damn lie.”  Accusing a gentleman of a lie was fighting words, and usually led to a duel.  Landais challenged Jones.  According to Landais’ account Jones locked the cabin door and the two men drew swords.  However,  the two men agreed that, for the good of the service, such a confrontation would have to wait until the mission was over.  

Landais returned to his ship, but after that time, simply ignored any of Jones’ orders, badmouthed the commander to other officers and men, and refused to set foot again on the Bonhomme Richard.

Ransom of Leith

Because Jones’ ship was so slow, the chances of capturing prizes with it were not very good.  Landais began sailing the Alliance away from the fleet, looking for prizes.  Jones had to give up on efforts to catch several prize ships because he was always struggling to catch up with the Alliance.  The announced purpose of the fleet’s actions was to disrupt merchant traffic and capture prizes.  But Jones had other goals as well.  He had told Franklin that he planned to attack British towns and ports, as he had attempted with Whitehaven on his earlier cruise. Franklin let him know that the French expected him to go after shipping, but that people probably wouldn’t be upset if he also attacked some coastal areas as well.

Edinburgh & Leith, 1779
As the fleet sailed on, the deserters who landed in Ireland began to spread word that the Pirate Jones was on the prowl again.  Coastal towns built up their defenses and set out night watchmen.  The Admiralty dispatched two frigates to patrol the waters off Whitehaven, just in case Jones returned to finish the job he started a year earlier.

Jones, however, avoided those familiar waters.  Instead, he sailed his fleet up the west coast of Ireland, avoiding contact with land, and simply looking for merchant ships.  The fleet made it up to the North Sea and turned east toward Scotland.  

On September 14, the fleet was in the waters off Edinburgh. Jones called aboard the Captains of the Pallas and the Vengeance.  The two privateer ships had left the fleet.  The Cerf had disappeared during the search for the deserters, and Captain Landais of the Alliance still refused to come aboard.  Jones revealed plans to his remaining captains to capture the port town of Leith, just outside Edinburgh.  They would force the town to release American prisoners to avoid having their homes put to the torch.  The captains were hesitant to go along until Jones sweetened the pot by calling for a ransom of £200,000.

British defenses at Leith consisted of a small twenty-gun ship and a couple of smaller cutters.  The attacking fleet would be far enough away from the cannons of Edinburgh Castle to prevent them from becoming a threat.  

Jones planned to overwhelm the British vessels, send ashore a landing party to capture the city leaders, and hold them for ransom.  Instead, things seemed to go awry from the beginning.  During his discussions with the captains, the fleet had drifted south and needed to sail back to the mouth of the waterway, known as the firth of Forth, where the Forth River emptied into the sea.  By the time the fleet returned, it was daylight.  Jones decided on another tact.  He put on the uniform of a British naval officer and sailed in plain sight, appearing to be a friendly ship.

Jones' Raiding Voyages

The Bonhomme Richard soon encountered a small British cutter, which mistook the enemy for a British ship that was in the area. The cutter warned them that the “Pirate Jones” was thought to be in the area, and asked if they had a cask of gunpowder to spare.  Jones played into the mistake and sent over a cask, asking the cutter to send over a pilot to help guide them upriver.

The cutter sailed away, unsuspecting.  The pilot who came aboard repeated the warning that the Pirate Jones was in the area and that he deserved to be hanged.  Jones then revealed that he was, in fact, the “Pirate Jones” at which the shocked man dropped to his knees, fearing death.  Jones assured him that he was quite safe, as long as he helped to navigate the ship, but that he was a prisoner.

The ruse did not work for long.  As the Americans struggled to get upriver, against the currents and wind.  The alarm went out across the land.  Families and businesses fled inland with whatever valuables they could carry.  Men scrambled to find arms for a defense.  But since Scotsmen were forbidden from possessing firearms since the battle of Culloden, it was hard to come up with much of a defense.

As Jones tried to approach Leith, the winds grew stronger, and blew against him.  It began to rain hard.  The storm put an end to any hope of landing a force at Leith. The fleet was blown out to sea.  With the element of surprise now gone they had to abandon the raid entirely.

Jones was not ready to give up completely.  He suggested a different raid, down the coast, on Newcastle to destroy the coal ships there.  The other captains, however, refused to go along.  The alarm was spreading.  The enemy knew their location and would almost certainly be sending ships to capture them.  They were leaving, and Jones should too.  Jones later said he considered going in on his own, but that his crew was equally reluctant to participate in such a plan.

The Pallas and the Vengeance had already sailed off - moving south down the English coast.  Jones struggled to catch up to them.  His slow ship was even slower after the storm damaged his main topmast.  After a couple of days he managed to catch up with his fleet, which had once again joined up with the Alliance.

By this time it was the evening of September 22.  Jones had orders to be in Texel, a Dutch island off the coast of the Netherlands, to escort a French merchant fleet.  Feeling defeated at the few prizes he managed to collect, Jones saw his mission coming to a disappointing end.  The following morning, all that changed.

The Serapis

On September 23, the Serapis and another smaller sloop were escorting 44 merchant ships from Scandinavia to England.  The fifth-rate ship normally carried 44 cannons but had recently taken on several extra, bringing her armament to 50.  Not only did this outnumber the 40 gun Bonhomme Richard, but most of the cannons aboard the Serapis were much larger and in better condition.  She was a faster ship, with far more firepower, and an experienced crew.

When the Serapis Captain Richard Pearson spotted the small American fleet, the thirty year veteran of the navy had every reason to believe he could defeat them.  However, he also had to worry about the merchant fleet that he was protecting.  

Flamborough Head  

The two opponents did not see each other until early afternoon.  It then took several hours for each to maneuver into position.  The ships met in the waters just off an outcropping of land near Yorkshire, known as Flamborough Head.  Pearson ordered the merchant fleet to sail for the shore where they could find safety, while he moved the Serapis to intercept the strangers.

Bonhomme Richard & Serpais
Jones ordered his ships to form a line of battle.  Instead the three other ships simply sailed away, trying to cut off the merchant fleet, and leaving the Bonhomme Richard to face the Serapis on its own.  Through his looking glass, Jones spotted his counterpart, Captain Pearson, nailing his flag to the staff, to ensure that no one would be able to lower the flag and surrender the ship.

It was dark by the time the two ships got within range of each other.  Captain Pearson identified the Serapis and demanded to know who he was facing.  Jones called out, claiming to be a merchant ship, hoping to get the enemy captain to hold off firing until he drew closer.  When a sailor on the Bonhomme Richard rigging fired his gun, the nervous crew on both ships immediately fired their broadsides. 

This was the first time that Jones had the opportunity to fire his large 18-pound cannons with live ammunition.  The older guns were not up to the task. One or two of the guns exploded, killing the gun crews and taking a chunk out of the starboard side of his ship.  The loss of his larger guns also meant that the firepower advantage of the Serapis was that much greater.  

After the first broadside, the Serapis sailed behind the Bonhomme Richard and used its working 18 pound cannons to fire massive volleys through the ship’s stern.  The faster Serapis then circled around to fire another broadside into the bow of its enemy.  Jones, however, managed to get some speed out of his ailing ship and rammed into the Serapis.  He then tried to turn to fire a broadside into the British ship, but Pearson rammed him during the attempt.

Over the course of the next hour, the two ships fearlessly launched volley after volley at each other at near point blank range.  The fatalities on both sides exploded.

The Bonhomme Richard had taken more damage to its hull, while American marines, firing from the rigging, managed to decimate the sailors on the deck of the Serapis.  

Jones realized that he was sinking.  His ship had far less firepower and was moving at about half the speed of the Serapis.  Much of his surviving crew was below decks trying desperately to plug holes and keep the ship afloat.

Marines boarding the Serapis
Jones’ only chance was to storm the Serapis.  Taking advantage of a lull in the wind, the Bonhomme Richard slowly drifted up to the Serapis.  American sailors and marines used grappling hooks to pull the ships together and crossed onto the enemy deck.  The British, however, managed to cut the lines, and push back the attackers.  As the Serapis pulled away, it fired another point blank broadside into the enemy’s hull.  

Remaining barely afloat, Jones managed to move in front of the Serapis leading to another slow motion collision.  Once again, his crew tried to tie the ships together and board the enemy.  With many of the British sailors and marines on deck killed by the American marines firing from the rigging, the American boarding crew was able to get aboard and begin hand to hand combat.  Pearson tried to drop the Serapis anchor in order to stop it from drifting along with the sinking Bonhomme Richard, but by this time the ships were too well tied together.  As the Americans began to take control of the Serapis’ deck, the British cannons below deck continued to fire into the Bonhomme Richard’s hull.

As both ships were locked together in a death grip, Captain Landais returned aboard the Alliance.  He fired a volley into both ships, killing a number of Americans aboard the Bonhomme Richard.  

As Jones struggled to assist one of his cannon crews, he heard one of his men call for quarter.  Apparently, the man thought Jones and first officer Dale were both dead.  Jones immediately called from another deck for someone to shoot that man.  He pulled his own pistol and tried to fire at the frightened sailor, but his gun misfired.  He then threw his pistol at the man.

British Captain Pearson heard the call for quarter and called out to Jones to confirm if he was surrendering.  It was then that Jones allegedly responded “Sir, I have not yet begun to fight!”

The fighting continued for another hour, during which time the Alliance made another pass, firing grapeshot at the men on both ships.  The Americans firing from the rigging were still able to maintain deadly fire against the Serapis.  A little after 10:00 PM, one of the men carried up a bucket full of grenades, small baseball sized bombs with 20 second fuses.  The Americans tried throwing several into the open hatch of the Serapis.  After several attempts, they succeeded.

Below decks, the British gunners had gotten sloppy, leaving powder and shells sitting out in the open near their cannons for faster loading.  The grenade set off a chain reaction of explosives below decks on the Serapis, killing many and horribly burning more of the crew.  By this time, it was nearly 10:30.  The Serapis had suffered a 50% casualty rate, had multiple fires aboard ship, and was threatened with being pulled under by the sinking Bonhomme Richard.  Captain Pearson finally called for quarter.

Jones ordered Lieutenant Dale to take a boarding party and secure the Serapis and asked Pearson to join him in his quarters for a glass of wine.

After a short time Jones had to concede that the Bonhomme Richard was sinking.  A fire had nearly blown up the powder magazine.  Men below decks could not patch the massive cannonball holes.  Despite efforts over the next 24 hours, Jones had to order both crews aboard the Serapis and cut loose the Bonhomme Richard to sink below the surface. The Alliance, Vengeance, and Pallas also returned to assist with the survivors.  

Of course the Serapis, now commanded by Jones, was also seriously damaged.  At least eight British frigates were storming toward the area in search of the Pirate Jones. The American fleet managed to sail to Texel in the Netherlands and put into the neutral port for repairs.

Jones’ capture of a British ship of the line would lead to celebration throughout Europe and America and make Captain Jones a celebrity.  The British made it an even greater priority to capture the Pirate Jones.

Next week, the French fleet cooperates with the Continental army to besiege British-held Savanna, Georgia.

- - -

Next Episode 234 Siege of Savannah 


 Contact me via email at mtroy.history@gmail.com

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Further Reading

Websites

“To Benjamin Franklin from John Paul Jones, 3 October 1779,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-30-02-0366

Excerpts from John Paul Jones’ Memoirs https://www.americanrevolution.org/jpj.php

Landais, Pierre https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/landais-pierre-de

Norton, Louis Arthur “The Battle between Bonhomme Richard and SerapisJournal of the American Revolution, August 20, 2019. https://allthingsliberty.com/2019/08/the-battle-between-bonhomme-richard-and-serapis

Norton, Louis Arthur “The Revolutionary War’s most Enigmatic Naval Captain: Pierre Landais” Journal of the American Revolution, July 17, 2018. https://allthingsliberty.com/2018/07/the-revolutionary-wars-most-enigmatic-naval-captain-pierre-landais

Battle of Flamborough Head https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/battle-flamborough-head

I have not yet begun to fight https://emergingrevolutionarywar.org/2019/09/23/bonhomme-richard-vs-serapis

Schellhammer, Michael “The Real Immortal Words of John Paul Jones” Journal of the American Revolution, January 19, 2015. https://allthingsliberty.com/2015/01/the-real-immortal-words-of-john-paul-jones

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Abbott, John S. C. Life of John Paul Jones, New York, Dodd, Mead and Co. 1898. 

De Koven, Anna The Life and Letters of John Paul Jones, Vol. 1, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913. 

Honeyman, A. Van Doren Admiral Paul Jones, Plainfield, N.J. Honeyman & Co. 1905. 

Morison, Samuel Eliot John Paul Jones: A Sailor's Biography, Boston: Little, Brown, 1959. 

Paullin, Charles Oscar The Navy of the American Revolution: Its Administration, Its Policy and Its Achievements, The Burrows Brothers Co. 1906. 

Tooker, L. Frank John Paul Jones, New York: The Macmillan Company, 1916. 

Walker, George Benjamin Life of Rear-Admiral John Paul Jones, Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co. 1876. 

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Boudriot, Jean & David H. Roberts John Paul Jones and the Bonhomme Richard: A Reconstruction of the Ship and an Account of the Battle With H.M.S. Serapis, Naval Institute Press, 1987. 

Bowen Hassell, E. Gorden, Dennis Conrad, and Mark Hays Sea Raiders of the American Revolution: The Continental Navy in European Waters, Univ of the Pacific Press, 2004.

Fowler, William M. Jr. Rebels Under Sail: The American Navy During the Revolution, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1976.

Lardas, Mark Bonhomme Richard vs Serapis: Flamborough Head 1779 (Duel), Osprey Publishing, 2012. 

McGrath, Tim Give Me a Fast Ship: The Continental Navy and America's Revolution at Sea, Caliber, 2014.

Thomas, Evan, John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy, Simon & Schuster, 2003.

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.



Sunday, January 2, 2022

ARP232 Jones and the Armada


This week, we return to Continental Navy Captain John Paul Jones.  We last left Jones’ story in Episode 180.  In 1778 Jones had raided the British coast, captured numerous merchant ships as prizes and eventually returned to France, where he lost his ship and was stuck on land for nearly a year.

A Year in Paris

The French celebrated Jones for his earlier exploits against the British.  At the same time, they seemed in no hurry to give him a new ship to continue those exploits.  Jones spent his time meeting with French officials, as well as the American Commissioners in Paris.  

John Paul Jones

Jones still hoped to get command of L’Indien, a ship built in the Netherlands for the American Commissioners.  This was the ship that Jones had been promised back in 1777.  The British got word of the project and protested a ship being built by an ally for their enemy.  In the end, the French Navy had to purchase the ship.  At the time, France and Britain were still at peace, and Britain could not object to the purchase.

French officials dangled L’Indien to the Americans, suggesting possibly making Jones its captain, but it never happened.  The French were building up their own navy and did not want to give away such a valuable ship of the line to an American.

Jones also continued to feel the effects of his disputes with Lieutenant Thomas Simpson, with whom he had argued constantly on the prior voyage.  In France, Jones had Simpson thrown into prison for disobeying orders while at sea.  John Adams had taken Simpson’s side in the matter, and against Jones, believing that Jones was just trying to take all the credit for the voyage and slandering the good name of this New England officer whose family was related to that of Adams. 

After a few months, Jones, under pressure, agreed to drop the charge against Simpson and allow him to captain the Ranger on its return to America.  Franklin and other French officials hinted that he needed to do this before getting another command.  After Simpson sailed for America aboard the Ranger, Jones remained without a ship.

He spent time with Lafayette, as the two men schemed to put together a substantial invasion of about 1500 men in England.  French officials put the kibosh on those plans as they were planning a much larger invasion.  They transferred Lafayette to a command on the other side of France, where he could not be as much trouble.

comte d'Orvilliers

Jones also met with French Admiral the comte de Orvilliers, who had fought the Battle of Ushant against British Admiral Keppel in 1778 (see Episode 194).  Jones suggested that he be given a ship or small fleet.  He could destroy the coal fleet at Newcastle in order to cause a fuel shortage in London.  He could destroy the fishing fleet of Greenland in order to cause food shortages, or perhaps more disruption of trade by picking off some of the longer distance trade ships.  While his ideas intrigued de Orvilliers, Jones still could not get a ship.

Jones spent the summer of 1779 trying anything to get back to sea, but was continually frustrated. His prize ship, the Drake was plundered and sold for a pittance, meaning his crew was out of much of their hoped-for prize money.  

He did almost get a small fleet to take into the Irish Sea.  He worked out his plans with Edward Bancroft, who was Benjamin Franklin’s secretary.  In the end, the plans fell through when, once again, he was not given the ships promised. In this case, it was probably a good thing since Bancroft was a British spy and had forwarded Jones’ plans to London.  Had he set sail, he probably would have sailed right into a British trap.  Jones was never aware of that.  He continued to express frustration at his inability to get a new ship.

Bonhomme Richard 

In September of 1779, Jones finally received a new ship - well, new to him.  The Duc de Duras was a thirteen year old merchant vessel that had made several trips to China before being converted to more local trade.  

The French Navy purchased the ship in February 1779 and assisted the Americans with outfitting it as a naval vessel.  They added 44 guns, which was a fairly impressive number, although all but six of those were 12 pounders or less.  Larger guns were critical to sinking an enemy ship.  It was an impressive armament to take merchantmen, but not for taking on a British ship of the line.  It was not a particularly fast ship and not one that the French wanted to use.  So they were happy to make it available to the Americans.

Bonhomme Richard

Because the ship had been built as a long distance merchant ship, it had a large and luxurious captain’s quarters.  This appealed to Jones, who liked to present himself as a gentleman of substance.  He even had a set of plates bearing his family crest made for himself so that he could entertain his guests aboard ship in style.

That said, he was wary of the ship.  Early test voyages proved that it was very slow.  That did not matter much for a merchant ship in peacetime.  It mattered very much for a military ship that needed to chase down targets and escape from pursuing naval vessels.

Jones, of course, had been lobbying to get the ship for months.  He would take anything he could get.  Jones renamed the ship the Bonhome Richard, an honor to Benjamin Franklin whose Poor Richard’s Almanac sold in France under the name Les Maximes du Bonhomme Richard

The Bonhomme Richard ready to sail in the fall, Jones received a fleet to sail with him.  It included the 36 gun Alliance, the 32 gun Pallas, the 18 gun Cerf, and the 12 gun Vengeance.

Captain Landais

Commanding the Alliance was the fleet’s second-in-command, Captain Pierre Landais.  He was a French officer of 30 years.  He had been wounded in action during the Seven Years War and had spent time as a British prisoner.  He had also accompanied Captain Louis Antoine, Compte de Bougainville on a voyage around the world after the war. 

Pierre Landais
By 1775, Landais was discharged from the service for his reputation as an incompetent officer.  Two years later, he was one of many down-on-their-luck officers who went to Silas Deane looking for work. In 1777, Deane gave Landais a captain’s commission and command of the newly converted merchant ship, the Alliance, full of covert French military aid for the Continental Army. 

Why did Deane give a disgraced terminated officer a commission? Well, the American commissioners did not exactly do any due diligence in checking the backgrounds of their officer applicants.  Landais appeared to have been able to present himself well, and he did have decades of experience.

Landais would prove to have a rather poor record with the Continental Navy. As one historian put it “If he was not the worst of the frigate captains, it was only because, with a few notable exceptions, so many of them were incompetent.” 

During Landais’ voyage from France to America, he had to put down a mutiny, but arrived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire with his cargo intact.  The captain met with top officials in America and received praise from Samuel Adams.

Based on his successful mission, and his very high view of himself, during interviews Congress affirmed his captaincy and his command of the Alliance.  He also became a citizen of Massachusetts during his visit. In January of 1779, he was given the honor of returning the Marquis de Lafayette to France.  During the return voyage, he had to put down another mutiny, but manage to complete his voyage successfully once again.

Landais was supposed to bring the Alliance back to America, returning John Adams home.  Benjamin Franklin, however, countermanded those orders and assigned Landais to the squadron under Captain Jones to sail into the North Sea and harass British shipping.

Jones and Landais did not seem to get along, despite efforts to spend some bonding time together before the voyage.  During a shake-down cruise, the Bonhomme Richard crashed into the Alliance, causing some minor damage.  At the time, Jones was asleep in his cabin. Landais was on duty, but rather than attempt to avoid the ship, he ran down to his cabin to grab his pistols.  He later said that he thought the crew on the other ship had mutinied and was deliberately trying to ram him.  Captain Jones dismissed Lieutenant Robert Robinson who had the con on the Bonhomme Richard during the collision, but also began to doubt Landais’ abilities as a captain.

Commodore of a fleet

The crew of the fleet was pretty problematic.  Most of them were European sailors, who mostly wanted rum and money, and cared about little else.  A fair percentage of the crew were English sailors who had been taken from French prisons.  Landais’ fear of a mutiny was not without cause.  Many of the men would have happily overthrown their officers and sailed for England if given the chance.

Jones had to resort to repeated lashings to keep control of his crew.  He broke a mutiny plot among the English sailors and sentenced the ringleader to 250 lashes.  On another occasion, he had a crew take him ashore for some business.  While he was away, the crew abandoned their boat and went off to get drunk.  Jones had to find a local fisherman to get back to his ship.  When the crew returned with the launch, he sentenced each man to twelve lashes.

Richard Dale

Captain Jones did have a few good men among his crew.  After he fired Lieutenant Robinson for crashing into the Alliance, Jones appointed Lieutenant Richard Dale as his new second in command.  The 22 year old Virginian had seen his share of difficulties before his assignment on the Bonhomme Richard.  

Dale had gone to sea in 1769, at age 12. His father, a merchant and shipwright from Norfolk, Virginia, had died two years earlier, and the boy needed to support himself.   His uncle gave him his first position aboard ship.  Dale traveled to Liverpool, England as he learned the trade of a seaman.  After five years as an apprentice, the 17 year old Dale was serving as chief mate on colonial merchant vessel.

Richard Dale
In 1776, Dale joined the Virginia Navy, but was captured almost immediately by a British ship, the Liverpool, at that time still fighting under Lord Dunmore to take back Royal control of Virginia.  Dale knew many of the men serving on the British vessel.  They persuaded him to sign on with the British crew.   A short time later, Dale was wounded while fighting for the British as they tried to capture several smaller American ships.  While traveling to Jamaica, an American ship, the Lexington, under the Command of Captain John Barry, captured the British ship on which Dale was serving.  Dale agreed to return to switch sides again and took a position as a midshipman in the Continental Navy.  He remained aboard the Lexington after Captain Barry transferred to a larger ship.

Once again though, the fates were against him.  The British ship Pearl captured the Lexington and Dale was taken aboard as a prisoner.  Although a storm soon allowed the Lexington to escape, Dale remained a prisoner aboard the Pearl.  A prisoner exchange returned Dale to the Lexington, but it was only January 1777, and he had already been a prisoner of war twice.

The Lexington then sailed for France, where it joined a small fleet under the command of Lambert Wickes, raiding the Irish coast, a raid I discussed back in Episode 137.  The raiders took many merchant ships and returned to France.  There, however, British diplomats forced France, which was still at peace with Britain, to expel the American ships from its ports.  The Lexington attempted a return voyage to America, but was captured at sea in September of 1777.

Dale and the rest of his crew were sent to Mill Prison in Plymouth, England.  There, the crews of a number of ships were being held under horrific conditions.  Charged with treason, the men were often held in irons, and almost never fed.  Malnutrition threatened their lives. At one point the prisoners killed and ate a dog.  Other desperate meals included cats, rats, and grass.  Some of the locals even took pity on them and raised funds to provide a bit of food, disgusted that the British government was simply allowing the prisoners to starve to death.

The prisoners managed to dig a tunnel under the prison wall, allowing several dozen men to escape.  I mentioned this incident once before as one of the successful escapees was Gustavus Conyingham, another Continental Navy captain.  Dale managed to get away from the prison, but was arrested as he attempted to board a ship in London that was headed for France.  He was returned to Mill Prison, where he spent 40 days in the black hole as punishment.

After about a year at the prison, Dale managed to obtain the uniform of a British officer, and simply walked out the front gate of the prison.  This time, he managed to get aboard a ship and make his way to France in February 1779.  This was about the time that John Paul Jones had received word that he would get command of the Bonhomme Richard.  Desperate for crew members, Jones happily signed on Dale as an officer.

French-Spanish Armada

The reason that the French government provided Jones, not only with a ship, but a small fleet, at this time, was that it was part of a larger plan by French officials.  France and Spain’s combined fleet, along with the British Navy’s distraction in America, provided the best opportunity for an invasion of Britain in centuries.  

Armada off the British Coast, 1779
The plan was for the French fleet to sail down to Spain and combine with the Spanish fleet.  The combined fleet would sail into the English Channel and defeat the smaller British fleet.  Once in control of the channel, troop transports would carry 40,000 soldiers from France to the coast of Britain.  They would then force a battle with the British army and capture London.

The numbers seemed to favor the would-be invaders.  France had 30 ships of the line to combine with 36 Spanish ships of the line, along with many more smaller ships.  Britain had less than 40 ships of the line to defend the island, commanded by Admiral Charles Hardy, who had not had a sea command in twenty years.  The rest of the officers and ships were away, defending other parts of the empire.

The British army had only about 20,000 soldiers in Britain.  It could supplement these with militia.  But the English militia had even less training and experience than colonial militia.  The English militia had not seen combat in generations.  It had not seen combat in generations.  If the French and Spanish could clear the Channel with their larger fleet, then land a larger army in England, they had a real chance of repeating William the Conqueror's success of 1066.  

Britain was completely unprepared for such an invasion.  Coastal defenses had already proved ill-equipped to handle small coastal raids, let alone a full invasion.  Fortunately for the unprepared British, the invasion fleet ran into problems from the outset.

In an attempt to throw off British spies in France, the French fleet, under the command of Admiral d'Orvilliers, left Brest quickly and without taking on rations for an extended tour.  The fleet set sail on June 3, 1779 to meet up with the Spanish off the northwest coast of Spain.  Where they awaited the arrival of the Spanish Armada. They waited and waited and waited.  June turned into July with no Spanish fleet in sight.

French sailors and marines suffered through terrible heat below decks during the Spanish summer.  Without proper rations, the men began to show signs of scurvy.  On top of that smallpox and typhus spread through the fleet.

Finally, after about six weeks of waiting, the Spanish fleet, under the command of Don Luis de Cรณrdova, arrived.  By this time, it was late July.  It was not until mid-August that the combined fleet could get underway and reach the English Channel.  The fleet made it to the British coast with no opposition.  They encountered only one British naval vessel, the Ardent, which was sailing to join the British fleet.  The captain mistook the French and Spanish Armada for the British fleet, sailed toward it, and was promptly captured.

British Defensive Encampment in Kent
The sight of the enemy fleet off the coast of Plymouth set off alarms all over Britain.  But the Armada was not the invasion force.  It was looking for the British Navy in order to clear the way for the invasion force.  The British had received word that the French and Spanish had sailed out into the Atlantic and had sailed after them, thus leaving an open path in the English Channel. But until the Allied French and Spanish defeated the British Navy, they could not launch the invasion fleet of troop transports.  Otherwise, the British Navy could show up at the wrong time and destroy the troop transports.  So, the French and Spanish continued to sail around the channel, looking for their enemy.

A storm blew the armada out into the Atlantic.  At the same time, the British fleet used foggy conditions to sail back to Plymouth, where the smaller fleet could be supported by many smaller ships and coastal defenses.

Meanwhile, all of these many weeks of delay meant that thousands of French and Spanish soldiers, sailors, and marines were dying.  Typhus and smallpox in the French fleet has spread to the Spanish ships as well.  Hundreds of men were dying each day.  Further, it was already September, meaning a land campaign in Britain, even if launched successfully, would probably be fought into the winter, which French and Spanish leaders thought would put them at great disadvantage. 

In the end, the allied fleet simply returned to Brest and gave up without a fight.  The armada had not fired a single cannon shot in battle, but lost over 8000 men to disease.  Admiral d’Orvilliers resigned his command shortly after returning in failure.  The British, now on high alert, began improving their coastal defenses all over Britain.

It was in the context of this planned invasion that John Paul Jones embarked on the raid that led to one of the most famous naval battles in American history. We will get to that next week, when the Bonhomme Richard takes on the British ship Serapis.

- - -

Next Episode 233 Bonhomme Richard vs. Serapis 


 Contact me via email at mtroy.history@gmail.com

 Follow the podcast on Twitter @AmRevPodcast

 Join the Facebook group, American Revolution   Podcast: https://www.facebook.com/groups/132651894048271

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American Revolution Podcast is distributed 100% free of charge. If you can chip in to help defray my costs, I'd appreciate whatever you can give.  Make a one time donation through my PayPal account. You may also donate via Venmo (@Michael-Troy-20), Zelle, or popmoney (send to mtroy1@yahoo.com)


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You can support the American Revolution Podcast as a Patreon subscriber.  This is an option making monthly pledges.  Patreon support will give you access to Podcast extras and help make the podcast a sustainable project.

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Further Reading

Websites

“To Benjamin Franklin from John Paul Jones, 3 October 1779,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-30-02-0366

Excerpts from John Paul Jones’ Memoirs https://www.americanrevolution.org/jpj.php

Landais, Pierre https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/landais-pierre-de

Norton, Louis Arthur “The Battle between Bonhomme Richard and Serapis” Journal of the American Revolution, August 20, 2019. https://allthingsliberty.com/2019/08/the-battle-between-bonhomme-richard-and-serapis

Norton, Louis Arthur “The Revolutionary War’s most Enigmatic Naval Captain: Pierre Landais” Journal of the American Revolution, July 17, 2018. https://allthingsliberty.com/2018/07/the-revolutionary-wars-most-enigmatic-naval-captain-pierre-landais

Battle of Flamborough Head https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/battle-flamborough-head

I have not yet begun to fight https://emergingrevolutionarywar.org/2019/09/23/bonhomme-richard-vs-serapis

Schellhammer, Michael “The Real Immortal Words of John Paul Jones” Journal of the American Revolution, January 19, 2015. https://allthingsliberty.com/2015/01/the-real-immortal-words-of-john-paul-jones

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Abbott, John S. C. Life of John Paul Jones, New York, Dodd, Mead and Co. 1898. 

De Koven, Anna The Life and Letters of John Paul Jones, Vol. 1, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913. 

Honeyman, A. Van Doren Admiral Paul Jones, Plainfield, N.J. Honeyman & Co. 1905. 

Morison, Samuel Eliot John Paul Jones: A Sailor's Biography, Boston: Little, Brown, 1959. 

Paullin, Charles Oscar The Navy of the American Revolution: Its Administration, Its Policy and Its Achievements, The Burrows Brothers Co. 1906. 

Tooker, L. Frank John Paul Jones, New York: The Macmillan Company, 1916. 

Walker, George Benjamin Life of Rear-Admiral John Paul Jones, Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co. 1876. 

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Bowen-Hassell, E. Gordon, Dennis Conrad, and Mark Hays Sea Raiders of the American Revolution: The Continental Navy in European Waters, Univ. of the Pacific Press, 2004.

Fowler, William M. Jr. Rebels Under Sail: The American Navy During the Revolution, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1976.

McGrath, Tim Give Me a Fast Ship: The Continental Navy and America's Revolution at Sea, Caliber, 2014.

Thomas, Evan, John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy, Simon & Schuster, 2003.

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.