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Arnold’s Expedition to Virginia

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

January 31.—This morning, his Majesty’s ship Iris arrived at New York from the Chesapeake, with the following account of the proceedings of the British forces in Virginia, under Brigadier-General Arnold:—”The fleet having been separated by a hard gale of wind on the 26th and 27th December, rejoined off the capes of Virginia, and arrived in Hampton road on the 30th, except three transports and one armed vessel, with upwards of four hundred troops.

“On the 31st of December the troops were embarked in small vessels and boats, (part of which were captured on their arrival,) and proceeded up James River, with the Hope and Swift armed vessels. On the 3d of January, in the evening, they anchored at Flour de Hundred, about half a mile from a battery of three eighteen and one twenty-four pounders, and one brass eight-inch howitzer, which only killed one man. Lieutenant-Colonel Sirocco,1 with two hundred men, landed and took possession of the battery, without opposition, spiked the iron guns, and brought off the howitzer. On the 4th the fleet proceeded to Westover, about one hundred and forty miles from the capes of Virginia, where the troops were immediately landed, and marched to Richmond, which they reached without opposition; the militia that was collected having everywhere fled on their approach. From hence Lieutenant-Colonel Simcoe marched with a detachment of the army to Westham, where the troops burnt and destroyed one of the finest foundries for cannon in America, and a large quantity of cannon, stores, &c. General Arnold, on his arrival at Richmond, found there large quantities of tobacco, salt, rum, sail cloth, and merchandise, and that part which was public property he destroyed.

“The public stores, &c., said to be at Petersburg, being found on inquiry not an object worth attention, the ships only were sent up within six miles of that place, from whence they brought off some vessels, several having been previously sunk by the rebels.

“The troops having effected this service, marched back with five very fine brass field-pieces, six-pounders, which they had taken, and arrived at Westover on the 7th, having performed a march of sixty-six miles, through very heavy roads and excessive rains, in three days, in an enemy’s country where they were sometimes retarded for hours by the destruction of bridges, &c.

“The 8th, in the evening, Lieutenant-Colonel Simcoe was detached with forty-two cavalry to Charles City Court House, nine miles from Richmond, where, with his usual address, he surprised about two hundred of the enemy’s cavalry and foot, killed about twenty, and took eight prisoners, with the loss of one man killed and three wounded. Captain Shanks, of the Queen’s Rangers, behaved on this, as on every other occasion, with great bravery.

“On the 9th the army was joined by the troops in the missing transports, and on the 10th the whole fell down the river to Flour de Hundred, where the general being informed there was a party of six or eight hundred rebels, under the command of Baron Steuben, he landed with part of his troops, and sent Lieutenant-Colonel Simcoe, with three hundred men, about two miles to the cross roads, where the enemy were posted; Captain Hatch, who commanded the van-guard, having with great gallantry drove in their picket on the main body. A very heavy fire from the rebels killed three men, and wounded Captain Hatch, Ensign Sword, and about twenty privates of the loyal American regiment, whose conduct on this occasion does them great honor. They then charged the enemy with such firmness and resolution, that they instantly fled on all sides, and were pursued about two miles, but the darkness of the night, badness of the roads, and a heavy shower of rain falling about the time, put an end to the pursuit. On their return, three pieces’ of heavy, and some light cannon, with a quantity of stores taken from the enemy, were put on board, and the troops embarked at four next morning. On the 11th, fell down the river, taking some stores on their way. On the 14th they anchored at Harding’s Ferry, the troops, horses, and artillery were landed, and on the 15th the army marched to Smithfield, on Pagan Creek, seventeen miles from thence, where a quantity of provisions was collected.

“On the 16th, Lieutenant-Colonel Simcoe, with two hundred men, was detached to Mackie’s Mills, three miles from Smithfield, to dislodge about two hundred of the enemy who had taken post there, and who fled upon his approach. Major Gordon was at the same time thrown over the creek to cut off their retreat, but they took the woods. On the 18th the army moved to Sleepy Hole on Nansemond River, which Lieutenant-Colonel Simcoe passed with his men, and at two o’clock in the morning they began to cross the ferry. They were all over by eleven, and marched fifteen miles. When they were within five miles of Portsmouth, Lieutenant-Colonel Simcoe was detached thither, and arrived at ten the next morning, time enough to prevent the town from being burnt, as threatened by the rebels; and on the 20th, in the morning, the whole army, to the great joy of the inhabitants, marched into Portsmouth in good health and high spirits.

“General Arnold expresses himself much indebted to Commodore Symonds, Captain Evans, and the other officers of his Majesty’s ships on this service, for the great assistance he has received from them. And he at the same time speaks in the highest terms of the behavior of the officers and men of both navy and army during the whole expedition.”2


1 Of the Queen’s Rangers.
2 Rivington’s Gazette, February 7.