United States History and American Revolution: 1777

About the United States in 1777, the American Revolution in full swing including the Battle of Saratoga and the Charge of the American Light Brigade.


--Cold-cut nails appeared. Thought of by Jeremiah Wilkinson of Cumberland, R.I., he used pieces of a discarded chest lock, headed up in a blacksmith vise.

Jan. 3 Milestone Battle: Princeton. With his final fight, lasting a half-hour, Washington concluded a campaign which Frederick the Great called one of the greatest.

June 14 The birthday of the "Stars and Stripes" as the official flag of the U.S.

July 2 Vermont became the 1st State to abolish slavery.

Summer Reflecting European sympathies, the Marquis de Lafayette and Baron Jean de Kalb arrived to join Washington's army. The marquis was 19. The baron, 61.

Aug. 6 The bloody Battle of Oriskany. Great losses were suffered by both the Americans and their opponents, the Indians of the Iroquois Confederacy. For the 1st time since it was formed, the Confederacy split into civil was with some tribes supporting the British and some the Americans. Their united front was gone forever.

Aug. 27 The Charge of the American Light Brigade. William Alexander, Earl of Stirling, was not really an earl. The House of Lords had denied his claim to an extinct Scottish title. But in the hills of New Jersey, his home before joining Washington as a major general, his neighbors accepted him as Lord Stirling, a genuine nobleman.

Although Stirling had been a miserable failure at the art of making money, verging continually on bankruptcy, his military genius was never in doubt. Outnumbered by odds of 6 to 1 in the battle of Long Island, Stirling's gallant but hopeless counterattack--personally leading Smallwood's Marylanders against Cornwallis--prompted Washington's agonized exclamation, "Good God, what brave men must I lose this day!" Only 9 men escaped in the charge. Stirling himself was captured, but released later.

A monument in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, carries the inscription:

In honor of Maryland's 400 who on this battlefield . . .

saved the American Army.

Stirling's decision to attack at Long Island preserved the integrity of Washington's command. It led the way for a successful evacuation, a feat which, in the opinion of British military historian Trevelyan, was "a master stroke . . . by which Washington saved his army and his country."

Oct. 17 Milestone Battle: Saratoga. To the strains of "Yankee Doodle" on one side and the "Grenadiers' March" on the other, Gen. John Burgoyne surrendered to General Gates. An adjutant had asked Gentleman Johnny if he saw the U.S. party coming, and the general replied, "Yes, I have seen them too long."

Oct./Nov. The culmination of the Conway Cabal, a plot to remove Washington as commander in chief after defeats at Brandywine and Germantown. Gen. Thomas Conway had supposedly criticized Washington severely in a letter to Gen. Horatio Gates. James Wilkinson, on Gates's staff, leaked a demeaning passage--allegedly taken from the letter--to Lord Stirling, who relayed it: "Heaven has been determined to save your country, or a weak general and bad counselors would have ruined it."

However, the much-quoted comment, intended as a wedge to drive Washington out and replace him with Gates, was never written by Conway.

Dec. 25 Washington wintered at Valley Forge, the nadir of the Revolution. The Christmas Day menu:

Soggy fire-cake (bread baked over the fire)

Carrion beef (as available)

Creek water on-the-rocks.

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