Arnold's Raid 225 Years Ago
- Dear List,
I know that most of our attention has swung to Cowpens, but I wanted to share
some primary accounts of Benedict Arnold's raid up the James River in early
January 1781. Jefferson was informed about the appearance of a large fleet off
of Chesapeake Bay on December 31, but was not sure of their destination. He
may have assumed that they were heading for the Carolinas. In any case, the
alarm was not sounded in Virginia until January 2nd when Jefferson received a
message from Nathaniel Burwell. Burwell's Ferry was on the James River, just a
few miles from Williamsburg. What Burwell saw was Benedict Arnold's 1,200
man expedition heading upriver.
Nathaniel Burwell to Governor Jefferson Burwell's Ferry 2d: Jany
Ten o' Clock a:m
"The Enemy's Fleet have just now come to off this Place; they consist of 23
Sail, including two Men of war; a number of Flat bottom'd Boats are a-Stern of
the Ships full of men. We have near 200 men under the Command of Colo: Innis
and myself a number very insufficient for the present Purpose: however nothing
shall be wanting as far as we're able to oppose the Enemy if they attempt to
land. A Small Party of Foot and Horse are now engag'd with a Boat detachd
from the Fleet."
Here's an account from Captain Johann Ewald of what happened at Burwell's
Ferry 225 years ago today:
"In the morning the fleet set sail again, and about midday cast anchor at
Burwell's Ferry, where two enemy vessels and several distinguished rebels fell
into our hands. Several battalions with a few guns appeared on Burwell's
height, which, perhaps, would attempt to dispute our landing. General Arnold sent a
naval officer with a white flag ashore, warning them to lay down their arms
and obey their King. The American officer asked the English naval officer [if]
General Arnold was...possibly the traitor Arnold. If this were the case, he
requested him to tell the next ranking English officer that if he had a
request to make, he would like him to use his name, for the American officer would
not and could not give up to a traitor. But if he were to get hold of Arnold,
he would hang him up by the heels, according to the orders of the Congress.
The English officer delivered the message word for word, and Arnold was obiged
to make a very wry face. Toward evening the fleet set sail with the flood
tide and anchored off Jamestown during the night."
Meanwhile, Governor Jefferson was busy calling out the militia. He called on
the surrounding counties of Richmond to send a portion of their militia to
Petersburg. He also called for troops from the counties in the Blue Ridge. A
different number was inserted in the blank below for each county the message
"The Enemy having again thought proper to invade our Country and being now on
their Way up James River I have thought proper...to require ____ of your
Militia under proper Officers to repair immediately to Richmond armed with good
Rifles and Accoutrements...such of them as have not Rifles will be armed here
with Musquets and joined to the Battalions of Musquetry. Those who bring Rifles
will be formed into a separate Corps."
Jefferson informed Militia General Thomas Nelson that he hoped to have 4,600
men in the field as soon as possible and placed some of them under his
command. Jefferson also solicited the help of General Steuben, who had recently
arrived in Virginia to organize and forward to General Greene the state's
continental troops. Lastly, Jefferson ordered the "residue of the Convention Troops"
to be removed immediately to Fort Frederick of Frederick Maryland to prevent
their rescue. Needless to say, January 2nd was a busy day for Mr. Jefferson.
Mike Cecere 3rd & 7th VA
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