Image courtesy of Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

ARRT of DC Meeting: March 4, 2015

Glenn Williams sent the following:

Those who live in, or plan to visit, the Washington, DC, area are cordially invited to the next program of the American Revolution Round Table of the District of Columbia on Wednesday evening, March 4, "A Sea Change: Naval Warfare in the American Revolution during the spring of 1778, presented by Dr. Dennis M.  Conrad, a historian at the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC).
"A Sea Change: Naval Warfare in the American Revolution during the spring of 1778 " presents the spring of 1778 as a time when the naval war changed fundamentally and dramatically. Developments he will highlight include: the internationalization of the naval war, including the sailing of the fleet of the Comte d'Estaing to America and the British response; a re-direction in British strategy that included some retrenchment on the North American mainland; a new aggressiveness on the part of the Continental Navy that increasingly brought the war to European waters. This presentation will also address American naval successes along the periphery of North America, i.e., East Florida/Georgia, Spanish Louisiana/British West Florida and Nova Scotia in North America and Africa; an increase in the numbers and effectiveness of Loyalist privateers in American waters; the questioning of the reputation of the Continental Navy and its officers by fellow Americans; and questions of the allegiance and power of ordinary seamen in the Continental Navy. Many of these changes, although vitally important in understanding the American Revolution, have been virtually ignored in history books. This talk, will use material found in the newly-published "Naval Documents of the American Revolution," volume 12, that provides a fresh and exciting perspective to anyone interested in the Revolutionary War.

Dennis M. Conrad, Ph.D., is associate editor for the Naval Documents of the American Revolution series and has published an essay on John Paul Jones. He is currently the lead historian for an electronic documentary edition on the US Navy in the Spanish-American War and a book-length study of Josephus Daniels, Secretary of the Navy during World War I. Prior to coming to the NHHC, Dr. Conrad was the principal editor and project director for volumes 7 through 12 of the award-winning Papers of General Nathanael Greene, published by the University of North Carolina Press. Those volumes covered Greene's time as Continental Army commander in the South. Dr. Conrad has published several essays concerning Greene's campaigns in the South, which were also the subject of his doctoral dissertation at Duke University.

 See: for more information.

The ARRT of DC meets at the Fort Myer (Arlington, VA) Officers Club on the first Wednesday of September, November, March and May, from 6:00 to 9:00 pm. For more information on attending the program, or the ARRT of DC in general, go to our web page at ; OR, send me an e-mail off-list to
; or call: (703) 360-9712; or write: ARRT DC, PO Box 137, Mount Vernon, VA 22121.

Meeting Change: July Meeting Moved to August

Due to changes in personal commitments, we have had to cancel our July 2015 meeting. We're extremely fortunate, though, that our own Mark Lender has agreed to step-in and present. However, he is not available in July but can present in August.

Therefore, our July 2015 meeting has been rescheduled for August 12.

More reminders will be forthcoming.

Friday, January 23, 2015

2015 Preservation Fund

It is time to choose the recipient of our 2015 Preservation Fund to be awarded in late-2015. If there is an organization that you would like to nominate for consideration, please submit your suggestion as a comment to this post, as an email to the Board at, or by individually contacting any member of the Board.

It was suggested that we review "Campaign 1776" as a potential recipient and a link to their website is here as well as several other places on this site:

All suggestions will be presented and a vote taken of our paid membership at our March meeting.

Meeting Notes: January 14, 2015

"Stand to Horse! The Dragoon at War," Dennis Farmer

Who were the American Revolution dragoons? How were they equipped, how did they fight and who were some of the more famous British and American dragoon commanders?

These and other questions about dragoons were answered by American Revolution dragoon re-enactor Dennis Farmer at the January 14, 2015 meeting of the American Revolution Roundtable of Richmond. Farmer is a longtime member of Richmond’s roundtable and spent 20 years working at various history museums in Michigan, New York and Virginia.

“A dragoon was a soldier who carried a firearm on his horse and could fight mounted or dismounted,” said Farmer. “There were many variations of dragoons but the light dragoons were popular in North America. One of the primary functions of dragoons was gathering intelligence and screening work.”

Who made an ideal dragoon? According to Farmer, both the American and British armies wanted a man weighing 120-140 pounds who was “young and adventurous”. Dragoons needed to know basic horsemanship but they didn’t need to be expert horsemen.

“It’s surprising how many infantry would get a horse, and now you are in the dragoons,” laughed Farmer.

American dragoons generally came from middle and upper-class society while most British dragoons were career soldiers with horses who did not come from the upper class. Dragoons were generally more literate than the average infantry soldier and wrote many of the war’s best journals. In terms of service the dragoons generally served longer during the war than their infantry counterparts.

Dragoons on both sides used a variety of weapons. They used a sword in a similar manner to their regular cavalry colleagues, however they also used a short carbine, pistols and during the early stages of the war, an ax.

Swords had both curved and straight blades. The curved blades were more likely to knock an enemy cavalryman off his horse but usually didn’t deliver fatal blows. The straight sword was more effective at delivering a fatal thrust against the enemy. In order to protect themselves from sword attacks to the head, dragoons wore helmets made out of boiled leather---similar to what had been worn by soldiers since the days of the Roman Empire.

Short carbines had very limited use, a range of 75-80 yards. This compares with infantry muskets which had a range of 100-125 yards. The carbine was kept on the side of a horse in a sling, a common practice that continued in warfare through World War II.  

According to Farmer, pistols were “noisy but highly inaccurate”. Their effective range was limited to approximately 10 feet.

Dragoon horses during this time period could generally go 25-27 MPH and weighed 800-1,100 pounds. Their typical lifespan was 15-20 years but some of them lived to age 40. However, the typical combat horse during the American Revolution had a lifespan of only six months. Starvation was the primary cause of death.

“The American Revolution horse was basically a small-armored vehicle by today’s standards,” said Farmer.

Since surveillance and screening were the primary duties of dragoons, they rarely fought in major battles. Typically the dragoons would fight only in skirmishes and in perhaps one or two major battles throughout the war.

Cavalry doctrine differed between the British and Americans, and this had an impact on the use of dragoons.

Typically the British favored medium cavalry attacks where they created a shock action, particularly against American militia. They also used regular dragoons as police forces and light dragoons as scouts, raiders and screeners.

The Americans favored cavalry actions with small units that were used in skirmishes, patrols and as scouts. They rarely engaged in shock actions and generally favored speed and mobility over battlefield use.

Several of the American Revolution’s most famous dragoon regiments and legions were led by some of the war’s most famous commanders.

The 16th Light Dragoons, also known as the Queen’s Own of Light Dragoons, were led by the legendary Banastre Tarleton. According to Farmer, Tarleton “was like a meteor” in the way he rose through the ranks of the British officer corps. He became a lieutenant colonel by the youthful age of 25.

Another famous dragoon regiment was the Queen’s Rangers and Yagers, commanded by John Simcoe. Farmer called Simcoe “one of the finest light infantry officers during the war”.

On the American side there were the 3rd Continental Light Dragoons, under the command of William Washington. They were among the victors at The Cowpens and Farmer called them “the finest single battlefield regiment during the war”. 

Although best known as the father of Robert E. Lee, Light Horse Harry Lee commanded Lee’s Legion which according to Farmer, “was virtually undefeated during the war”. The North Carolina Dragoons, under the command of William Davie, were another American outfit that “fought very well”, said Farmer.

Dennis Farmer graduated from Eastern Michigan University with a major in history from the Colonial Period. He worked as a curator at Michigan’s Monroe County Museum, and at Stony Point and Old Fort Niagara in New York. Later he worked in Virginia at Pamplin Historical Park near Petersburg and as the executive director of the Chesterfield County Historical Society. He and his wife Carol serve as re-enactors who portray characters from the American Revolution and the Civil War.

For those who wish to read more about the American Revolution dragoons, the following books are available online and in bookstores:

1. Washington’s Eyes: The Continental Light Dragoons, by Burt Garfield Loescher, 1977.

2. Cavalry of the American Revolution, edited by Jim Piecuch, 2012

3. William Washington, American Light Dragoon, by Daniel Murphy, 2014

4. Dragoon Diary: The History of the Third Continental Light Dragoons, by C.F. William Maurer, 2005

--Bill Seward

Next Meeting: March 18, 2015

"The Convention Army," Larry Arnold

The meeting will be held in the Westhampton Room, Heilman Center (dining hall--building 34 on the campus map), University of Richmond, at 6:30 p.m. with dinner available for purchase in the dining hall beginning at 5:30 p.m. It is not necessary that you purchase dinner in order to attend the meeting.

University of Richmond campus map:

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Hacking John Adams

The following is taken from the Massachusetts Historical Society's E-news:

John AdamsAt the end of 2014, the hack into Sony Pictures and the subsequent publication of the private communications of Sony employees drew massive public interest. John Adams faced a "hack" of his own in the summer of 1775 when private letters he had written to his wife, Abigail Adams, and to his friend James Warren were intercepted by the British and subsequently published in Boston and London. Adams, participating in the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia, was growing increasingly frustrated at the reluctance of some of the members to take strong measures of resistance against Great Britain and took to his letters to vent his frustration, in particular against John Dickinson, a member from Pennsylvania who believed that even with hostilities ongoing, reconciliation with Great Britain was still possible and should be pursued. John Adams, fed up with this, vented to Warren: "In Confidence,--I am determined to write freely to you this Time.--A certain great Fortune and piddling Genius whose Fame has been trumpeted so loudly, has given a silly Cast to our whole Doings--We are between Hawk and Buzzard." Read more about John Adams's candid opinions about congressional members. 

Crossing of the Dan 2015 Commemoration: February 14, 2015

Here are details about the 234th Anniversary Commemoration of the Crossing of the Dan on February 14, in South Boston. If you have never attended, it’s well worth the trip. Information: