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Roadside America

Catoctin Iron Furnace in Frederick County, Maryland

For over a century, the Catoctin Iron Furnace smelted iron, its forges spewing smoke and burning red hot. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it fueled the machines of war. Much of this backbreaking work was done by slaves.

Catoctin Iron Furnace is a historic iron forge along U.S. Route 15 from Frederick to Thurmont in Frederick County, Maryland. Though forges were present when the ironworks were operational, there is currently no forge at the site. But you can still tour the grounds and the ruins of the “Isabella forge” casting shed and the owner’s mansion.

In 1774, four brothers: Thomas, Baker, Roger, and James Johnson, built Catoctin Furnace to manufacture pig iron from locally-mined hematite. The oven produced cannonballs for the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, including shells fired during Yorktown’s siege. Some claim it also provided cannon and produced plates for the USS Monitor during the Civil War, but researchers consider that improbable.

On the eve of the American Revolution, the Johnson brothers eyed the Monocacy River Valley’s industrial potential. They acquired land under Catoctin Ridge and erected an iron furnace. The original Johnson Oven burned until 1776, producing useful tools and household products including the famous “Catoctin Stove,” also called the “Ten Plate Stove” and the “Franklin Stove”.

Categories
Historic America

Thunder on the Hudson

During the Revolutionary War, New York’s Hudson River Valley was the scene of numerous battles as both sides sought to control this vital waterway.

Before automobiles and paved roads, rivers were the highways of their day. Whoever controlled a major river could ferry troops and supplies back and forth over hundreds of miles. Control of the Hudson River in eastern New York was critical to British plans early in the Revolutionary War, but Patriots blocked passage by spanning the river with large iron chains at a narrow point near Bear Mountain.

After being pushed out of New York City in 1776, Gen. George Washington established his headquarters in Peekskill along the Hudson River. He considered the area critical for keeping the Continental Army supplied. Numerous battles and skirmishes were fought for control over this vital waterway.

Battle of White Plains

The Battle of White Plains was fought on October 28, 1776 during George Washington’s retreat from New York City. Washington positioned his depleted Continental Army on hills near White Plains, New York, east of the Hudson River. He established 3-mile long defensive positions, including two lines of earthworks, anchored by swampy land near the Bronx River on one flank and Chatterton’s Hill on the other.

Categories
Historic America

Williamsburg Gunpowder Incident: The Spark that (Almost) Ignited the Revolution

In 1775, the ‘shot heard ’round the world’ almost occurred in Williamsburg, Virginia and not Lexington and Concord. Cooler heads prevailed.

Most people are familiar with the outbreak of the Revolutionary War on April 19, 1775, with the Battles of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts. However, seemingly few people are familiar with the Gunpowder Affair: a near simultaneous outbreak on a second front in Virginia the very next day. Today, you can visit a reconstruction of the magazine where it all happened.

By April of 1775, tensions were high. The Intolerable Acts, a series of laws that closed the Boston port, transferred greater control to Royal governors, and allowed quartering of British troops among other things, had drawn ire throughout the colonies. Meanwhile, word had spread at the First Continental Congress of General Thomas Gage’s removal of gunpowder from an installation near Boston, further exacerbating tensions.

In Virginia, opposition to British rule was hitting a fervor. Patrick Henry’s famous “give me liberty or give me death” speech in March of 1775 led Virginia Royal Governor Lord Dunmore to grow weary of the presence of militias. He hatched a plan to remove gunpowder from a magazine in Williamsburg under the shadow of nightfall.

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Historic America Photography

Wilmington and Brandywine Cemetery in Wilmington, Delaware

Visit the final resting place of two Continental Congressmen, Civil War generals, and even a Cherokee chief.

Wilmington and Brandywine Cemetery, 701 Delaware Avenue in Wilmington, New Castle County, Delaware, is a small rural cemetery established in 1843. It encompasses a rectangular area of 25 acres, relatively flat on its western side with a steep eastern descent toward Brandywine Creek. It is the final resting place for over 21,000 former residents, including Richard Bassett, a signer of the U.S. Constitution, governors, congressmen, and even a Cherokee chief.

Gunning Bedford, Jr. (1747-1812)

Gunning Bedford, Jr. (1747-1812) was a member of the Continental Congress, Delaware’s State Attorney General, and a signer of the U.S. Constitution. Bedford was born and raised in Philadelphia, then attended the College of New Jersey (aka Princeton University). He briefly served as an aid to George Washington during the Revolutionary War.

John McKinly (1721-1796)
Categories
Historic America

The 1777 Van Cortlandtville Skirmish

A daring attack by outnumbered colonials routs a British raid, while a blue cloak captured in the skirmish later provided material for a U.S. flag flying above Fort Stanwix.

Click to expand photos

The Van Cortlandtville Skirmish was fought on March 24, 1777 between American patriot troops commanded by Lt. Col. Marinus Willett and a British raiding party commanded by Lt. Col. John Bird near modern-day Cortlandt, New York during the American Revolutionary War. The battle ended in American victory, with the British withdrawing back to their boats.

After being pushed out of New York City in 1776, George Washington established his headquarters in Peekskill along the Hudson River. He considered the area critical for keeping the Continental Army supplied. The British were well-aware, and in late March 1777, 500 British troops sailed up the Hudson River to raid Patriot farms and burn supplies. They landed at Peekskill Bay on March 23 and began pummeling Brig. Gen. Alexander McDougall‘s 250-man force on Fort Hill with artillery.

The following day, a force of 200 British troops marched northeast toward the Van Cortlandt family manor and began pillaging. Some became separated from the main body. Sensing an opportunity, Lt. Col. Marinus Willett, newly arrived with his 80-man detachment, persuaded McDougall to allow him to attack. His men fixed bayonets and charged the unsuspecting British raiders as the sun disappeared behind the horizon.

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Historic America Photography

Yorktown Victory Monument

This striking monument commemorates the American-French victory over the British in the Siege of Yorktown (1781), which effectively ended the Revolutionary War. The Yorktown Monument to the Alliance and Victory was designed by architects R.M. Hunt and Henry Van Brunt and sculpted by J.Q.A. Ward in 1881, and completed in 1884. Lightning damaged the statue of liberty atop the column and Oskar J.W. Hansen sculpted a replacement in 1957.

Yorktown Victory Monument Detail
Categories
Mysterious America

Oriskany's Spectral Battlefield

Some visitors insist the sights, sounds, and smells of this bloody Revolutionary War ambush still linger after dark.

The Battle of Oriskany was fought on August 6, 1777 in Oneida County, New York during the siege of Fort Stanwix. It was an attempt by Tories and British Iroquois allies to ambush a Patriot relief column headed for the fort. Heavy rain and dogged defense by the colonists and their Oneida allies saved them from destruction. While Fort Stanwix is widely believed to be haunted, the Oriskany battlefield has its own reputation for the macabre.

As British forces lay siege to Fort Stanwix, 800 Tryon County militia and Oneida warriors under General Nicholas Herkimer rushed to its defense. The British were alerted to their approach and a force of approximately 1,200 British troops and Iroquois braves under Sir. John Johnson and Joseph Brant planned an ambush. Just six miles from their objective, in a marshy ravine, Seneca warriors waited for the column of Colonial militia.

Impatient, the Seneca warriors opened fire before completely entrapping the Colonial militia. General Herkimer was shot in the leg, but refused to be carried from the field. “I will face the enemy,” he said. The battle raged over several hundred yards. A thunderstorm interrupted the fighting, giving the colonists time to establish a last line of defense on a hill while British reinforcements left their camps outside Fort Stanwix to join the battle.