The history of the King's American Regiment is presented in 8 parts. Click below to skip to:
Part 1 - Introduction & Recruiting a Regiment
A History of the King's American Regiment - Part 4 of 8
Rhode Island 1778
The winter of 1777/1778 passed rather uneventfully for the KAR at Kingsbridge. The war itself was changing strategically with the entry of France as a combatant on the side of the Rebels. Great Britain was now faced with a world war and resources that were not in a position to act against the new foe.
Forced to deploy troops to both the West Indies and other parts of America, plus launch a Southern offensive at the urging of the home government, the British were forced to concentrate their troops in New York. For this reason, Philadelphia was abandoned and the army put on notice that action against the French was likely with the approach of an enemy fleet in American waters.
Not being able to attempt anything against New York, the French sailed to Newport, where they would cooperate with a major Rebel attempt to capture Rhode Island from the British. Awaiting them there was the King's American Regiment.
The KAR had moved from New York by sea to Newport, arriving there on 15 July 1778.39 The KAR was universally looked upon as an excellent regiment, and the men immediately went to work building fortifications for the impending siege. Their work was eventually finished and named the Fanning Redoubt in honor of their commander.
Officers and men from the regiment made numerous patrols from their lines at night to capture enemy sentries for intelligence gathering.40 The missions were extremely dangerous, and at times the sentries had to be killed when they resisted.41
The siege progressed through August of 1778. A British fleet had appeared to give battle to that of the French. The French admiral re-embarked his infantry and sailed out to give battle. While the two fleets maneuvered for position a terrible storm battered them both, with the French suffering the worst. Needing to put into Boston for repairs, the French gave up the siege and sailed away.
Not having the assistance of their new allies, the Rebels gave up the siege, and on the morning of 29 August 1778 the British awoke to find the enemy siege lines abandoned. The Crown forces were immediately put in motion, including the King's American Regiment.
The troops raced north and ran into a mass of Continental soldiers, not fleeing but rather drawn up for battle. The KAR, along with the Hessian regiment of Huyne and the Hessian Chasseurs, immediately drove a large body from Turkey Hill to the Artillery Redoubt.42 They took up position in a wheat field in support of some artillery, and were almost on the point of retreating further, when reinforcements arrived.43
The action was extremely hot, and they fought against a numerically much superior force. The regiment had lost four of its men killed and twenty others wounded. One sergeant was thought killed but was actually wounded and captured.44
The siege and the Battle of Quaker Hill (as the action of 29 August would be known) had been the regiment's first real taste of battle. The regiment performed well, but several tense situations arose before, during and after the battle.
When the siege first began, the officers were ordered to attend the working parties of the soldiers to encourage them and assist in a sharing of labor. Captain Abraham DePEYSTER of the Grenadier Company had been extremely ill for days but was ordered out of bed by Lt. Col. George CAMPBELL. When he took more time in attending than CAMPBELL thought allowable, he placed DePEYSTER under arrest. DePEYSTER was cleared by a court martial after the siege was over.45
When the French fleet was passing the batteries of the town, the different Crown regiments were ordered under arms and the officers were posted to the different companies. Captain Isaac ATWOOD asked Colonel FANNING for leave to view the French, which he could do at a small distance from his company.
Lt. Col. CAMPBELL, already unpopular with almost every officer, infuriated them further by ordering ATWOOD to physically stand in front of his company and then ordered him under arrest when he didn't attend as quickly as CAMPBELL thought proper. He, too, was court martialed and found guilty of only a part of the charges, being sentenced to a mild reprimand.46
The most serious of the courts martial was one not instigated by Lt. Col. CAMPBELL, but rather by all the captains and junior officers of the regiment, against an officer mentioned previously, Lieutenant Daniel McGUIN. Sometime after the Battle of Quaker Hill, Lt. McGUIN attempted to dine with some other officers of the regiment but was not permitted to sit by them. They accused him of cowardice under fire and refused to do duty or associate with him.
The matter was immediately brought up to Colonel FANNING, who recommended McGUIN either resign or clear his name by court martial. McGUIN chose the latter. Soldier after soldier testified how a detachment of the regiment under the command of Captain John William LIVINGSTON, in which Lt. McGUIN served, was posted behind a stone wall under heavy fire from Rebel troops to their front.47
They testified how they saw Lt. McGUIN laying low under the wall, neither firing his weapon nor giving commands. Corporal Zachary TRUMBOUR testified he saw the lieutenant trembling during the battle. Private Richard TOAKLY swore he looked pale and frightened during the fighting there. Worse yet, the enlisted soldiers, and even Captain LIVINGSTON, started to laugh at and ridicule him during the battle.
With orders from Colonel FANNING to retreat to the regiment, everyone retired quickly except McGUIN, who would not budge from the protection of the stone wall. He would later find his way to the rear area of the lines, gathering up straggling soldiers to return to the regiment after the fighting had dissipated.
McGUIN, to his credit, was able to produce witnesses of his own, adding weight to his contention that he was very ill prior to and during the battle and was under a doctor's care. Surgeon's Mate Alexander DRUMMOND testified to his being ill but insisting to go out with the regiment, despite the "Fever and Ague" under which he then suffered.
This evidently appeared to be the truth to the court, as he was acquitted of the charge and allowed to serve again in the regiment. McGUIN disappears from the rolls between June and November of 1779. It is not known whether this trial influenced or resulted in his somehow leaving the regiment.48
39 The Diary of Frederick Mackenzie, Harvard University Press (Cambridge) 1930, I, 309–310. (Hereafter cited as Mackenzie).
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