Affiliate Link

Action on Rhode Island

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol II. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

Since the departure of the French fleet from Rhode Island, the operations of the Americans against the enemy’s strongholds in that quarter have been carried on with great vigor; and last night it was unanimously determined by the general officers in council to change the position of the army from the advanced batteries before the enemy’s lines, and to take post on Butt’s Hill, at the north end of the island, till the return of the fleet. This was effected before two o’clock this morning, with the greatest order, the picket, commanded by Colonel Wigglesworth, remaining on Quaker Hill, a mile in front of the main body, and Livingston’s and Lauren’s corps advanced on the east and west roads, a mile beyond the picket. At seven o’clock, the advanced corps were attacked by the enemy, and after returning the fire briskly, retired skirmishing to the picket on Quaker Hill. Here the whole made a stand, and were reinforced on the left by a regiment from Glover’s brigade, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Sprout, and on the right by a regiment from Varnum’s brigade, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Livingston. The action now became severe; the Americans were well posted, and twice repulsed the enemy on their left, but they being strongly reinforced, and a general action not intended on this ground, the advanced corps were ordered to retire, which they did with the greatest order and regularity, having five killed and sixteen wounded on the left, and bringing off a lieutenant of grenadiers and seven privates prisoners. The enemy, about nine in the morning, began a cannonade, which was returned with great spirit, and skirmishing continued between the advanced parties until near ten, when their two ships of war and some small armed vessels, having got up the river on the right flank of the Americans, the enemy bent most of their force that way, and endeavored to turn their right under cover of their ships. They were twice driven back in much confusion, when a third effort was made with greater numbers. General Sullivan now ordered the right to be reinforced, and a sharp conflict of near an hour succeeded, in which the artillery of both armies played briskly from the hills. The enemy were at length routed, and fled in great confusion to a hill where they had cannon and works to cover them, leaving their dead and wounded on the field. We took about sixty prisoners. The action must have ended in the ruin of the British army, had not the redoubts on the hill covered them from a close pursuit. Immediately after the repulse of the enemy on the right, they appeared advancing on the left, in consequence of which, Glover’s brigade and General Tyler’s militia, supported by Titcomb’s brigade, were ordered to advance and form in a cross road within half a mile of the enemy. They accordingly took post, and a cannonade, with skirmishing, ensued, and continued till dark. It was not judged advisable to attack them in their works, as the Americans, inferior in number to the enemy, were much fatigued, and had been without provision or refreshment of any kind for thirty-six hours.

Too much praise cannot be given to the officers and soldiers in general for their exemplary bravery. The whole of the troops that were engaged received the thanks of the general in orders. The Americans killed, wounded, and missing, are two hundred and eleven; about sixty supposed to be killed. The enemy’s loss is computed at three hundred killed and wounded, of which number forty or fifty of the latter fell into our hands, and about one hundred and sixty were left dead on the field.

Mr. Walker, of Massachusetts Bay, who acted as brigade major, is among our slain. Major Sherburne, of the same State, unfortunately lost his leg by a cannon ball. Young Mr. Henley, of Boston, is wounded in his wrist and through the body. Lieutenant-Colonel William Livingston received two contusions on his breast, from balls whose force was too far spent to penetrate his body, and had his horse killed under him by a cannon shot. There are three or four more officers of Colonel Jackson’s regiment slightly wounded. The whole of his corps distinguished themselves.1


1 New York Journal, September 14.