Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Battle of Rhode Island -- 1778

Historians have to build readable narratives. It's their craft to tell a story about the past. But actual events and life are seldom so neat that they naturally form a single strand of narrative -- there are usually eddies, backstories and side trips.

For example, most naratives of the the American Revolution follow Washington's army up through the Battle of Monmouth and then turn to the Southern campaigns that eventually led to Yorktown, with just a passing reference to events up north in the meantime.

This often means that the fairly substantial Battle of Rhode Island of late August, 1778, doesn't even get mentioned. It's true that the battle ended up having no decisive impact on events, but that's largely because of an inopportune storm that scattered the British and French fleets just as they were about to fight a potentially decisive naval battle. Had the French won the effects of Yorktown might have been achieved four years early, because a large British army might have been trapped at Newport, R.I. and captured. Instead, with both fleets badly damaged the British army was able to turn the tables on its erstwhile besiegers and launch a counteroffensive that nearly bagged a substantial American army.

On Aug. 28 and Aug. 29 the Americans fought a rearguard action to cover their escape that was notable in part for the participation of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, which was a rare all-black regiment in American service (most Continental regiments, especially those from northern colonies, were integrated).

The British, recognizing they had escaped a close call, eventually pulled out of Newport and consolidated their troops in New York and the war went on four more years.

So far as I know the land battles which actually occurred have never been depicted in a wargame, but the naval battle which did NOT happen appears in both Close Action and Flying Colors as a "what-if."

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