VIII. Interpretation and Assessment
8.1.1 Troop Movements and Strategies
Tactically and strategically, the Battle of Newtown expressed the trends of a frontier Revolutionary War battle while still holding onto the standard techniques used in the battles of the eastern front, such as the Battle of Monmouth. Many of the battles of the American Revolution followed standard strategies and tactics with formal troop movements prevalent during the 18th century (Babits 1998: 16-1nn7). Frontier battles were less regimented in their flow.
Frontier battles are described here as those battles that due to the landscape and combatants deviated from the standard linear formations of 18th century military tactics. Frontier battles mostly occurred in the western or southern borderlands of the colonies. Their location meant they were not the focus of either the British or Continental's strategies; they were secondary in location and priority for both sides. Therefore, both sides devoted limited troops and supplies to fighting on the borderlands. Frontier fighting contained fewer numbers of combatants with limited formal training. The lack of supplies required combatants to use various types of weapons, such as an assortment of various musket and rifle types. The composition of troops in the borderlands included militia, rangers, and Native Americans (Williams 2005). Militia, such as in the Wyoming Valley, were stationed in forts to protect settlements along the borderlands (Williams 2005). The fighting styles of the rangers was typified by Ethan Allen's Green Mountain Boys as they fought from trees and lay in ambush without relying on linear formations (Raphael 2002: 37-38). Lack of military training could result in the loss of discipline, especially with militia (Williams 2005) and the use of non-formal tactics, such as fire from concealed locations and ambushes.
The undeveloped landscape of the borderlands led to the effectiveness of frontier tactics. While the more urbanized and open farm fields of the eastern front allowed for successful use of linear formations, the wooded and more mountainous borderlands limited the effectiveness of formations (Babits 1998: 16). Large numbers of troops in formation would become blocked by obstacles, such as trees, ravines, and ridges. Small forces could move quicker in such a landscape and effectively use rifle fire from long distances against a larger force that was blocked by the landscape.
Historians (Glatthaar and Martin 2007; Williams 2005; Williamson 2011) show how the
fighting styles of the Haudenosaunee are reflective of this frontier type of fighting.
Ethnohistorical accounts of the Haudenosaunee show that their fighting was based on
a system of "Mourning Wars" in which enemies were captured or killed to replace the
loss of members of the community (Glatthaar and Martin 2007; Williamson 2011). Historic
descriptions of the Haudenosaunee stated that they trained for and implemented linear
formations during battle (Williamson 2011: 211). With the increase of European settlement
and development of the fur trade in and around traditional Haudenosaunee territories,
the Haudenosaunee applied less formal fighting tactics (Glatthaar and Martin 2007;
Williamson 2011). They increasingly relied on the use of ambushes and raids against
their enemies. They adopted guns and brass tipped arrows as well as expanded the use
of battle to acquire prisoners to replace their population lost to death and disease
(Glatthaar and Martin 2007; Williamson 2011).
The loss of warriors to disease required the Haudenosaunee to adopt tactics that needed fewer warriors, such as ambushes. Using the wooded and hilly landscapes of upstate New York and Pennsylvania to conceal their movements and positions, the Haudenosaunee could use a small contingent of warriors (10-50) to follow enemies and either occasionally kill a couple enemy troops or warriors, or wait in ambush and kill a larger number (Williamson 2011: 214). Besides requiring little investment in warriors and supplies, the stealth action allowed for an attack on the enemy's state of mind, creating a state of fear as enemy troops or warriors crossed the landscape not knowing if an attack was waiting (Williamson 2011: 214-215).
The Revolutionary War as it occurred in present day upstate New York and Pennsylvania prior to the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign was typified by raids and ambushes. The main military conflicts of the region from 1777 into 1779, such as the Wyoming Massacre, the Cherry Creek Massacre, Colonel Gosen Van Shaick's attack on the Onondaga, and the Battle of Oriskany all represent conflicts or battles in which locally based militia, partisans, or Native American allies used ambushes or raids to overcome their enemies (Glatthaar and Martin 2007; Graymont 1972; Williams 2005). British allies, such as the Loyalist Butler's Rangers, and the Mohawk Chief Captain Joseph Brant, commonly used the natural landscape, such as ridges and wetlands, to lure Continental Militia into ambushes. The Wyoming Massacre exemplifies this strategy as Butler's Rangers drew Wyoming Valley Militia into an ambush using a false appearance of retreat into a field surrounded by swamps. When the Continental militia was surrounded by the swamp, the British allied Native American warriors came from the hidden positions in the swamp to surround and decimate the militia (Williams 2005). These raids and ambushes successfully relied on the inexperience and lack of discipline of militia or civilians.
The winter of 1778-1779 and the lead up to the Sullivan-Clinton campaign changed how frontier fighting would occur for the duration of the revolution. During the winter of 1778-1779, the Continental Army expanded their formal training of regular Continental troops. Under the guidance of Baron Von Steuben and increased aid from the French, the Continental soldiers gained discipline and training surpassing that of the local militias (Alden 1969: 390). Von Steuben drilled the Continental soldiers in the proper methods of advance, retreat, and linear formations to effectively use muskets and bayonets in battle (Alden 1969: 390; Steuben 1985). The extensive training over that winter instilled a high level of discipline and knowledge of strategy and tactics.
As the main campaign of 1779, the Sullivan-Clinton expedition put the Continental's new training and discipline into practice. The campaign strategy itself changed the Continental approach to the frontier. The Continental Army was not limited to conducting a raid against one or two villages; instead, their goal was a massive scorched earth campaign to destroy the foundation of the British allied Native Americans in the region.
The expedition you are appointed to command is to be directed against the hostile
tribes of the six nations of Indians, with their associates and adherents. The immediate
objects are the total distruction [sic] and devastation of their settlements and the
capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential
to ruin their crops now in the ground & prevent their planting more.... parties should
be detached to lay waste all the settlements around, with instructions to do it in
the most effectual manner, that the country may not be merely overrun but destroyed
(Flick 1929c: 90-91).
The separation of the expedition's troops among three groups, with Major General Sullivan coming from the south (Pennsylvania), Brigadier General Clinton from the east (Otesgo Lake), and Colonel Brodhead from the west (Fort Pitt) made this a regional approach to fighting. The number of troops used in the campaign, with approximately 4,500 in the combined Sullivan-Clinton contingent, served to overwhelm any opposing forces the expedition encountered.
On a smaller scale, the expedition's marching order shows a more formalized and disciplined approach to combat. General Sullivan's use of the box formation allowed a defensive and cautious approach to his advance. Cognizant of the ambush strategies employed by the British forces on the frontier, he attempted to defend his advance. The box formation allowed his forces to react to an attack by having the side facing the attack to directly face the enemy, while the other sides flanked the enemy and the rear served as reserves. The new strategy could repel and offset the Crown's Forces' attempted ambushes.
At Newtown, Butler's Rangers and the British allied Native Americans were attempting to set up such an ambush. The British Ambuscade/defensive line was the center of this attempted ambush. The British forces used the glacial ridges and hogbacks and swamps of the Chemung Valley to lure the approaching Continental Army [text deleted]
The Continental Army's strategy overcame this attempted ambush and in turn planned to encircle the British forces. The events of the Battle of Chemung (Public Archaeology Facility 2011) on August 13, 1779, provided information on the existence of the British Ambuscade at Newtown and allowed Sullivan and Clinton's forces the ability to prepare for the attempted ambush. The resulting plan used the boxed formation as light infantry and rifle companies met the center of the British line, while flanking movements were made to the north and south. Brigadier General Enoch Poor and Brigadier General James Clinton's flanking movement to the north on the British left flank was the most prominent. The Continental Army's overwhelming numbers and control of the landscape allowed them to circumvent the frontier strategies of the British forces. An analysis of the battle related materials recovered allows a more detail interpretation in how the Continentals were able to redirect the style of fighting on the frontier.
Figure 25. This figure was intentionally deleted per the requirements of the Archaeological Resource Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 470hh) and its implementing regulations (49 FR 1027, Jan. 6, 1984).
The analysis of the types of munitions used and the firing ranges of the munitions shows the confrontation of frontier and formal fighting strategies and tactics. Rifle and buckshot were recovered in both the British and Continental firing areas. Although musket balls were not recovered, the presence of buckshot is suggestive of the use of muskets during the battle. The Continental Army used a buck and ball method for loading their muskets. The use of muskets must also be assumed as muskets were the main type of weapon used by both sides during the Revolutionary War.
Analysis shows a new perspective on the use of rifles during the Battle of Newtown. British regulars preferred the Brown Bess musket to rifles, but Butler's rangers and Native American warriors supplied their own weapons and often relied on rifles (Cruikshank 1893: 59; Salmon 2009: 329-339). The Continental Army had four rifle companies at the Battle of Newtown with two companies associated with Morgan's Rifle Corps under Major James Parr and two companies associated with Schott's Independent Rifle Corps under Captain Anthony Selin. As such, rifle balls were expected to be present in association with British forces and Continental contexts. The recovery of three fired rifle balls in the area of the Continental line suggests that British forces were using rifles exemplifying the frontier nature of the battle. The surveyed area corresponded with the northern section of the British defensive line, which was occupied by Native American warriors. The British supplied the Native American warriors during the war (Glatthaar and Martin 2007; Graymont 1972; Williams 2005) leading to an expected use of the Brown Bess and other muskets. Native American warriors also had access to rifles. Rifles were made for civilian use during this period. Raids on American settlements, ambushes on Continental militia, and trade all offered possible avenues for British forces to access rifles. The possible use of nonstandard armaments also fits the pattern of frontier fighting as partisans used the weaponry to which they had access.
The analysis of firing ranges can also aid in the identification of firing lines and positions and suggest possible strategies and tactics used during the battle. Firing range analyses were conducted using ArcGIS 10 Desktop with the military analyst extension. The military analyst extension is similar to a GIS viewshed analysis. Viewshed analysis uses data from a digital elevation model (DEM) to determine the observable range from a specific position. The analysis assumes a constant radial observable area of an extended range. This observable area is interrupted by obstructions, such as hills, ravines, and general changes in the terrain or elevation. Areas are not observable behind hills or ridges. The DEM provides the elevation data used to determine the locations of terrain obstacles to viewsheds. The military analyst uses the same comparison of radial observable area to DEM data, but allows the user to modify the conditions, such as the height of the observer, distance of observable range, and angle of observation radius. For the analysis presented here, rifle ranges of 300 yards were used given those were the types of ball recovered. Rifles had an accurate firing range of approximately 300 yards, with expert marksmen able to reach 500 yard (Babits 1998: 12-15). The observer's, or firing position's, height was set to 2 m (6 ft) as an approximate height of a person. The angle of fire was set to approximately 150 degrees to account for a wide possible range of fire in front of the firing soldier. [text deleted]
[text deleted] It was assumed for this analysis that dropped balls were associated with possible firing positions. It may be that these dropped balls were associated with camp sites and not directly related to fighting during the battle, but the firing ranges do fit as to possible firing positions for the battle. [text deleted] The area between the firing positi ons and the opposing terrace was freely open to fire from the British defensive line. [text deleted]
The terrain was a major influence in the fighting in Newtown's core. [text deleted] The interpolation allows a more detailed view of the terrain and elevation changes across the landscape. [text deleted]
Figure 26. This page/map was intentionally deleted per the requirements of the Archaeological Resource Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 470hh) and its implementing regulations (49 FR 1027, Jan. 6, 1984).
The use of the terraces as firing lines continues for the Continental line (Figure 29). The Continental Army appears to have avoided placing all their forces at the center of the British defenses and spread their troops along the defensive line. Photo 20 shows that from the area of the Continental line, a soldier could see much of the British line. Positioning troops in parallel to the British line would have allowed the Continentals to avoid being encircled and let them use the landscape to their advantage. If most of the British were using muskets, positioning Continental rifles along areas with greater space between lines would have given Continentals a firing advantage over the British. This spread of rifles would also corroborate the historical descriptions of the Continental's strategy for the center, that of using the forces in the center to distract the British forces rather than directly engaging with them to allow the flanking movements and artillery to take their positions (Lt. Erkuries Beatty in Cook 1887: 27; Lt. Col Adam Hubley in Cook 1887: 155-156). The position associated with the Continental line surveyed for this project also related to historic descriptions of the artillery position before the final Continental advance into the British center (Lt. Erkuries Beatty in Cook 1887: 27; Lt. Col Adam Hubley in Cook 1887: 156). Lieutenant Erkuries Beatty stated that "...Genl. Hands brigade advanced in a line of battle with all our Artillery in the Centre [sic] within about 300 Yards of the Enemys works but in full View of them" (Cook 1887: 27). The Continentals most likely would have formed a firing line along the artillery position to protect that position. The Baldwin Creek floodplain is also covered in both the British and Continental firing ranges suggesting a high probability for battle related materials to be present along the creek. However, flooding and scouring of Baldwin Creek's banks has eroded any battle related deposits.
Figure 27. This page/map was intentionally deleted per the requirements of the Archaeological Resource Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 470hh) and its implementing regulations (49 FR 1027, Jan. 6, 1984).
Figure 28. This page/map was intentionally deleted per the requirements of the Archaeological Resource Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 470hh) and its implementing regulations (49 FR 1027, Jan. 6, 1984).
Figure 29. This page/map was intentionally deleted per the requirements of the Archaeological Resource Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 470hh) and its implementing regulations (49 FR 1027, Jan. 6, 1984).
Photo 20. This photograph was intentionally deleted per the requirements of the Archaeological Resource Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 470hh) and its implementing regulations (49 FR 1027, Jan. 6, 1984).
To confirm the location of the British and Continental lines, a fire range analysis was conducted in reverse from the position of fired rifle balls. The previous fire range analysis grouped all of the observable areas together to show the extent of the firing range. To do the reverse, the observable areas were separated into groups based on the number of firing positions that could observe that position. All the conditions were kept the same as the original firing range analysis except for the radial distance of observation. That was extended to 400 yards, again assuming the use of rifles and allowing for increased distance of the fired rifle rounds. [text deleted] mark the observer position from which the analyst based the range analysis. The range of fire analysis developed three fire ranges with some overlap. The amount of overlap was color coded based on how many of the positions covered that range. [text deleted] The area that had the most overlap represents the area that should correspond to a firing area or line that could have led to the fired balls reaching all of their final locations. Those areas that could be reached by all positions were assumed to be the general area of the firing line [text deleted]
The fire range analyses show that Continentals had an advantage over the British forces provided to them by the natural landscape. The Continental line was well positioned along the terrace. The line allowed a clear and wide firing range for the rifle corps to fire onto the British line, yet the British firing ranges seem to reach their limits at the approximate area of the Continental line at the top of the terrace. The British forces could reach the Continental line, but not with the same level of effectiveness that the Continentals could reach them, even with the use of rifles. The inequality of firing effectiveness allowed the Continentals to harass the British forces throughout the day of the battle with sporadic fire. The artillery could have also been positioned on the top of the terrace close to the British line with little threat from British fire. The advantageous use of the landscape most likely was not a purposeful reading of the landscape, rather an inadvertent opportunity on the part of the Continentals. It may be that the British forces' use of the landscape to attempt an ambush indirectly pushed the Continentals into a position on the terrace that afforded the Continentals a greater ability to reach the British line than the British forces' ability to reach the Continental line. As the Continentals remained at a distance from the British's ambush, the use of landscape changed. The British forces became tied to their position as the Continentals surrounded them. British forces became confined by their own ambush strategy.
8.1.2 The Continental's Flanking Maneuver and Butler's Depot
Besides troop movements and armaments, the project's research questions addressed the function of Butler's Depot and the effect of Poor and Clinton's flanking movement. The lack of material recovered in the survey areas associated with Sullivan's Hill and Butler's Depot hinders any attempt to address these issues. The questions related to these areas are limited to discussion on their integrity and the reasons why battle related materials were not recovered in these areas.
Figure 30. This page/map was intentionally deleted per the requirements of the Archaeological Resource Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 470hh) and its implementing regulations (49 FR 1027, Jan. 6, 1984).
Figure 31. This page/map was intentionally deleted per the requirements of the Archaeological Resource Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 470hh) and its implementing regulations (49 FR 1027, Jan. 6, 1984).
Figure 32. This page/map was intentionally deleted per the requirements of the Archaeological Resource Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 470hh) and its implementing regulations (49 FR 1027, Jan. 6, 1984).
8.2 Assessment of Defining Feature Integrity
Battlefields by their nature are ephemeral archeological sites. The majority of the Newtown Battlefield fits the sense of ephemerality as the battle occurred over approximately six hours with a few thousand combatants. Much of the combat was also limited as the Continental army engaged the British center while their flanking troops made it to their positions. Archeological artifacts and features are lightly scattered across the battlefield's landscape. Natural and cultural activities have led to the disturbance of portions of the battlefield and its defining features. Over two hundred years of alluvial erosion [text deleted], as well as local and regional artifact collectors have had an effect on the battlefield's deposits.
Figure 33. This page/map was intentionally deleted per the requirements of the Archaeological Resource Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 470hh) and its implementing regulations (49 FR 1027, Jan. 6, 1984).