The Battle of Rhode Island: An Impressive Performance by the American Army

Christian McBurney, January 2023

Share this Page

“Plan of the northern part of Rhode Island in the township of Portsmouth… 8th of Dec. 1776 to the 25th of Oct. 1778”  (Courtesy of Huntington Library).

The British army and navy occupied Newport, Rhode Island, for almost three years, from December 1776 through October 1779. The key event occurring during the occupation was the Rhode Island Campaign, which culminated in the Battle of Rhode Island on August 29, 1778. Both the campaign and the battle have not attracted the attention that they are due. Yet the campaign was important. It was the first time that the French cooperated with the Americans in the Revolutionary War. While the allies did not succeed in the campaign, it remains one of the most fascinating in the entire war.

The Battle of Rhode Island, the focus of this article, was the largest battle in New England during the Revolutionary War—and in all of New England’s history. During the Rhode Island Campaign, there were about 11,895 soldiers on the American side and 6,560 on the British side, for a total of 18,450 troops. The soldiers in combat were about 4,875 in the American army and 2,950 in the British army, for a total of 7,825. These were more total soldiers than in the battles of Lexington and Concord (about 4,000 Americans and 1,500 British soldiers, for a total of 5,500), Bunker Hill (2,400 Americans and 3,000 British, for a total of 5,400, and the Battle of Bennington in what is now Vermont (2,350 Americans and 1,450 in the British army, for a total of 3,800).

The American commander was Major General John Sullivan. Of Irish heritage, the former New Hampshire lawyer and delegate to the Continental Congress rose to become one of Washington’s main divisional commanders. While he led a column in the great victory at Trenton, New Jersey, he was also soundly trounced at Long Island (August 27, 1776) and several other battles. Sullivan badgered Washington for his own independent command, realizing this was his best opportunity to gain glory. Finally, Washington agreed, and appointed him to command the Rhode Island theater.

The commander of the British garrison was Major General Robert Pigot, who had commanded five regiments at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

My book The Rhode Island Campaign, The First French and American Operation in the Revolutionary War (Westholme, 2011) sets the stage for the Rhode Island Campaign, as well as having a detailed description of the Battle of Rhode Island. I do not have room to cover all of it here.

In one sense, the stage for the Battle of Rhode Island starts back at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where Washington’s army spent the winter of 1778-1778, short of food, clothing, and blankets.

One of the key goals for Britain was to suppress the rebellion in North America before the Americans could create a solid national army that could stand toe-to-toe with trained British regulars. Continental soldiers had gained vital experience at the battles of Brandywine and Germantown outside Philadelphia and at Saratoga in upstate New York. Then, at Valley Forge, Washington’s winter encampment of 1777-1778 where so many soldiers died and suffered, Continentals received crucial training led by the Prussian-born volunteer Major General Baron von Steuben, who joined the American efforts through his French contacts.

Washington’s new army saw its first test at Monmouth Court House in New Jersey in late June 1778. Major General Charles Lee, commanding half the Continental Army, made contact with the rear of General Clinton’s army as it retreated from Philadelphia to New York. Clinton surprised Lee by turning about with his entire first division and going after Lee. With most of his forces having retreated without his permission, Lee retreated. He halted some troops to make a violent and spirited stand to delay Clinton’s oncoming soldiers, allowing time for his division to march to a hill defended by Washington and the rest of the Continental Army. Even though the Battle of Monmouth was essentially a draw, the British soldiers were shocked at the increased discipline and effectiveness shown by the Continental soldiers.

Colonel Henry Jackson’s detachment of Continentals, a conglomeration of three Massachusetts units, was a proud regiment. Many of its officers were well educated sons of Boston merchants and lawyers, who desperately sought glory on the battlefield. But at the Battle of Monmouth, the regiment’s courage had been questioned. Its commander, Colonel Jackson, had retreated without orders. Jackson’s officers were mortified, and when the regiment arrived in Rhode Island, they requested that Jackson be court martialed. Sullivan, not wanting to spend time on that matter in the middle of the campaign, deferred. Still, Jackson’s detachment was looking to redeem its reputation in Rhode Island.

On July 7, a French squadron of navy ships, under the command of Charles Henri Theodat, Comte d’Estaing, arrived at Chesapeake Bay. The French aristocrat had with him eight ships-of-the-line, with 74 or more guns and seven other ships. He had 10,000 sailors, marines, and regular soldiers on board. But he had arrived too late to trap his British rival, Admiral Richard Howe, and his fleet. It was also decided that d’Estaing could not attack New York City, where Howe had sailed, because his largest ships were in danger of getting stuck on sand bars at Sandy Hook in New Jersey at low tide. Finally, d’Estaing agreed to cooperate with Sullivan to invade Newport.

The French squadron initially made progress in Narragansett Bay, sailing past Newport’s blazing batteries and causing the Royal Navy commanders to scuttle their frigates and smaller warships. But on August 9, soon after Sullivan’s troops had landed on the northeast part of Aquidneck Island and just as d’Estaing’s soldiers were about to land on the west side of the island, Admiral Howe and his ships appeared approaching the entrance to Narragansett Bay. Rather than remain in Narragansett Bay and continue with the invasion of Aquidneck Island, D’Estaing made the fateful decision to sail his ships out of the bay to engage the enemy ships.

“L’escadre françoise entrant dans Newport sous le feu des batteries et forcant le passage le 8 Aoust 1778 : jour que les Américains passerent sur l’Isle de Rode Island par le chemin d’howland’s ferry” [The French squadron entering Newport under the fire of the batteries and forcing the passage on August 8, 1778: the day that the Americans passed onto Rhode Island by way of Howland’s Ferry], Pierre Ozanne, 1778. (Courtesy of Leventhal Map Center)

Admiral Howe refused to battle the French squadron and instead sailed his ships to the south. The French navy chased the enemy ships, but on August 11, a terrible storm, probably a hurricane, heavily damaged both fleets at sea. D’Estaing and his officers decided that it was imperative to sail his ships to Boston to be repaired. D’Estaing conveyed the news to a bitter Sullivan on August 21. The powerful French squadron, with the French army and marine soldiers on board, would not be available to assist Sullivan in attempting the capture of Newport.

While waiting for the French fleet, in the vain hope that the French fleet would return to Newport soon, Sullivan set siege to Newport. It was one of the few times that the Americans engaged in major siege operations against a British stronghold. But Sullivan lacked the soldiers and the cannons, and the defenders were too well dug in in strong fortifications north of Newport in Middletown, for Sullivan to succeed.

On August 28, Sullivan received intelligence that a British force from Long Island under British commander-in-chief Sir Henry Clinton was preparing to sail to Rhode Island to reinforce Pigot and possibly to trap Sullivan’s army on Aquidneck Island. Sullivan and his officers unanimously agreed to retreat to the northern part of the island. There they could wait to see if the French fleet would return; and if Clinton arrived first, the American forces could slip over the Sakonnet Passage (now called the Sakonnet River) to the mainland. That evening, Sullivan ordered his troops to retreat from the front lines. One Rhode Island militiaman recalled during the retreat, “a hogshead of rum was placed near our line of march with head out to refresh the troops as they passed,” but with “the troops staying so long by it” and concern about the enemy following, “it was thought best for safety to turn it over.” The troops retreated at night, without alerting the British in the least, an impressive achievement. Between 2 and 3 am the army’s main body reoccupied defensive works at and around Butts Hill in Portsmouth.

When Pigot woke up the next morning and was informed that the Americans had left their lines, he became aggressive and ordered his troops to assemble. He sought to punish Sullivan’s army as it was in the midst of retreating off the island. He sent 1,100 British regulars up the East Road under Brigadier General Francis Smith and 1,800 Hessian and Loyalist regulars up the West Road under General Friedrich Wilhelm von Lossberg.

“Plan de Rhode Islande, les differentes operations de la flotte françoise et des trouppes Américaines commandeés par le major général Sullivan contre les forces de terre et de mer des Anglois depuis le 9 Aout jusqu’a la nuit du 30 au 31 du même mois que les Américains ont fait leur retraite 1778.” [Map of Rhode Island, the various operations of the French fleet and American troops commanded by Major General Sullivan against the land and sea forces of the English from August 9 until the night of August 30 to 31 of the same month as the Americans made their retreat 1778.], Capitaine Michel du Chesnoy, 1778. (Courtesy of Leventhal Map Center)

Sullivan had at his disposal about 7,000 infantrymen and 775 artillerymen. Only about 2,200 of the infantrymen were Continentals. About 1,550 of Sullivan’s army were enlisted in Massachusetts or Rhode Island state regiments. The soldiers in these regiments enlisted for relatively long periods, 180 days or more. They had better training than militia, but less than the Continentals.

The bulk of Sullivan’s troops were militia, most of whom had been called up in drafts in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. These were the least trained, least experienced, and least reliable troops on the battlefield. Sullivan would keep most of them in reserve roles. He had more confidence in the Massachusetts militia than the Rhode Island militia, perhaps because the Massachusetts militia was better at regular training.

Sullivan was well represented with talented artillerymen in both Continental and state regiments, who had gained valuable experience in the recent siege of Newport.

Washington had also sent a coterie of experienced officers to Rhode Island. They included Lieutenant Colonel John Laurens of South Carolina and Colonel Henry Livingston of New York. Both had played key roles at the Battle of Monmouth and had been in hot action. Livingston would play the same role he did at Monmouth, leading a detachment of picked soldiers. Livingston commanded an advance guard on the east side of Aquidneck Island. John Laurens led the advance guard on the west side. In the upcoming battle, he would demonstrate considerable courage.

Pigot, on the East Road, had his best troops, light infantrymen and grenadiers from the 38th and 54th Regiments formed as a flank battalion, in his vanguard. They were followed by the 22nd Regiment under Lieutenant Colonel John Campbell. Then came the 43rd Regiment. The Royal Artillery was well trained. The commander on the east side, the overweight Brigadier General Francis Smith, had gained experience commanding the expedition that culminated in the Battle of Lexington and Concord and he also played a key role at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Proceeding up the West Road, under General Lossberg, in the lead were Hessian chasseurs under Captain Friedrich von der Malsberg. They would soon show they were active and brave troops. They were followed by the 1st and 2nd Ansbach-Bayreuth Regiments. Then there was another German unit, Von Huyn’s Regiment, as well as the King’s American Regiment, a unit of Loyalists under Colonel Edmund Fanning. Hessian artillery followed.

It is worth spending a bit of time discussing how the opposing armies compared in training. Clearly, the British army—the British and German regulars in particular—had generally received better training and drill than the American army. However, the Continentals had helped to close the gap with their training at Valley Forge.

And how did the opposing armies compare in battlefield experience, an even more important factor than training in success on the battlefield? It is often assumed that British soldiers possessed significantly more battlefield experience going into the war, but that is exaggerated. The last major battles fought by the British army had been in 1759 at Minden and Quebec. Only a handful of veterans of those battles were still in the British army in 1775. Some British and American soldiers fought in engagements in the French and Indian War fought in North America that ended in 1763.

Still, the British had the edge in battle experience. The British 43rd Regiment had fought at Bunker Hill, suffering heavy casualties, and at the Battle of Long Island. The 38th Regiment had also fought at Bunker Hill, as well as at Long Island and Brandywine. The 22nd Regiment had suffered light casualties at Long Island. But some of Pigot’s regiments had no battlefield experience, including the two German Ansbach regiments.

On the American side, the 2nd Rhode Island Regiment had substantial battlefield experience: its soldiers had successfully defended Fort Mercer and courageously defended Fort Mifflin on the Delaware River, and they were in the thick of intense action at the battle of Monmouth. The 1st Canadian Regiment saw action at the Battle of Saratoga. General John Glover’s four Massachusetts Continental regiments had marched and skirmished at Saratoga, but they did not engage in much combat; they received training at Valley Forge. Some of the Massachusetts state and militia soldiers had seen action at Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill, and in New York campaigns. For example, Colonel Joseph Buttrick of Concord, Massachusetts, who had ordered his Minutemen to fire at British soldiers before Concord Bridge on April 19, 1775, commanded some Massachusetts militia (he would be wounded in the battle).

Overall, the British had the edge in both training and battlefield experience, but not by a substantial margin.

On the East Road, Sullivan had brought forward in advance of his lines about 950 troops. At Union Street was a company of Massachusetts state troops under Colonel Nathaniel Wade. Just north of them was Livingston’s Advance Guard, first with Jackson’s Detachment and then a collection of Massachusetts and Rhode Island state troops. About two miles north, at Quaker Hill, was stationed a Continental regiment of Massachusetts troops under Colonel Edward Wigglesworth.

As Smith’s columns got closer to Union Street, Livingston’s Advance Guard began to retreat in an orderly fashion to the north. Seeing this, as the flank battalion of grenadiers and light infantry approached the cross-roads at Union Street, Colonel Campbell ordered half of his 22nd Regiment to veer to the left, in an effort to outflank Jackson’s Detachment by going up the Middle Road. But the British paid a price for failing to send out advance scouts. Hiding behind a stone wall was a company of about 90 soldiers, probably from Wade’s Massachusetts state regiment. As the British soldiers approached, the Massachusetts men rose and fired two volleys into the enemy ranks. Musket balls tore through Lieutenant Colonel John Campbell’s coat, but he survived unscathed. Others were not so fortunate. The 22nd Regiment suffered more killed and wounded that day than any other regiment on the field, 13 dead and 58 wounded. British army historian Don N. Hagist, criticizing Smith’s failure to send out advance flanking parties from his battalion of grenadiers and light infantry, called Smith’s handling of his flank battalion “perhaps the worst of the entire war.”

Jackson’s Detachment and the rest of Livingston’s Advance Guard continued to retreat north to Quaker Hill. In the confusion, the British 43rd Regiment mistook Jackson’s Detachment for the Von Huyn Regiment. Both wore blue coats. Taking advantage, Jackson’s Detachment wheeled and fired a punishing volley into the ranks of the 43rd.

Jackson’s Detachment and Livingston’s Advance Guard made it safely to Quaker Hill, joining the Continental Regiment under Wigglesworth. In addition, Sullivan sent forward Shepard’s Regiment of Massachusetts Continentals under Lieutenant Colonel Ebenezer Sprout. Taking advantage of a temporary superiority in numbers, the American troops at Quaker Hill stood their ground in a firefight, and when Sprout’s soldiers arrived, they charged the vanguard of the British column. They were inspired by the example of Major Louis Tousard, a member of Lafayette’s staff and formerly a French artillery captain. Tousard bravely, if foolishly, charged a British artillery piece, and had his horse shot from under him and his arm shattered with musket balls. He survived and later received a small pension from the Continental Congress.

The American advance guard took possession of the British cannons. During the day’s action, four British artillerymen were killed and two wounded manning their two cannons. A British counterattack by the 43rd then drove the Americans away from the cannons and back to their lines at Quaker Hill.


Seeing more British reinforcements arrive at Quaker Hill, General Sullivan sent forward a messenger to order Wigglesworth, Livingston, Jackson, and the rest back to Butts Hill. The messenger was none other than Colonel John Trumbull, the future painter of Revolutionary War scenes. As he rode forward, Trumbull had round cannonballs bounce near him and musket balls fall in the dirt near his horse. It was probably the closest Trumbull got to being killed in the war. Arriving at Colonel Wigglesworth’s side, Trumbull passed along Sullivan’s orders to retreat. Wigglesworth wanted to remain, until he was warned by Trumbull that the troops to his right were not blue coated Continentals, as Wigglesworth thought, but instead were blue-coated Hessians.

The Americans continued to repel counterattacks at Quaker Hill, fighting for about 30 minutes. Then General Smith organized a bayonet charge with all 1,000 troops under his command. One small contingent of 35 Rhode Islanders, called Sullivan’s Life Guard, suffered terribly in the attack, having two killed and five wounded.

The Americans retreated to avoid British bayonets. The British claimed that the Americans “ran with the utmost precipitation down the hill.” But Trumbull, Sullivan and other Americans said the retreat was orderly. A combination of the two sides’ views is probably most accurate.

As the American advance units streamed back to the American lines in front of Butts Hill, followed by 1,000 British troops marching after them, a crucial test loomed. Would General Glover’s men, safely behind stone walls, panic at the sight of the retreat and British bayonets or would they hold the line? They held the line.

Now General Smith had to make a decision. He had hoped to catch the Americans off guard in the midst of their withdrawal, but he had not. With almost 2,000 British troops left behind to guard Newport, Smith was under orders not to bring on a general engagement. The main British goal was to defend Newport. Seeing the Americans strongly fortified behind stone walls, and recalling the carnage he witnessed at Bunker Hill, he decided against a frontal assault. The British army stood down, and an artillery duel ensued.

In the action on the East Road, the Americans suffered 122 casualties, including 14 killed. The British had 130 casualties, with 19 dead. Indicating how hot the action was, a Rhode Island militiaman in Livingston’s advance guard said he fired 67 rounds that day. That was considerably more than militiamen typically carried, so he must have taken rounds from wounded or dead soldiers. The action on the West Road has drawn more attention from historians than on the East Road, but more than half the casualties were suffered on the East Road. Moreover, the Americans had performed well in the combat at Union Street and Quaker Hill.

The day’s action actually started on the west side and would end there too. At about 7 am, Malsburg’s chasseurs made contact with about 100 of John Laurens’s advance guard under Major Silas Talbot, the future captain of the U.S. navy warship USS Constitution. Posted behind a stone wall in between the homes of Henry Overing and Newport merchant Abraham Redwood, Talbot’s men inflicted some damage before retreating to the north.

One group of retreating Americans saw some Chasseurs trying to run beyond their right flank. The Americans hid in a field of high Indian corn and as the Chasseurs went running by, they rose and fired a volley, seriously wounding Captain Noltenius.

Hearing the action, General Pigot reinforced General Lossberg with the von Huyn Regiment and the King’s American Regiment. Lossberg now had 1,800 soldiers to a mere 300 for Laurens.

Laurens fell back nearly three miles to more stone walls and hedges at the south base of Turkey Hill. He sent a request to Sullivan for reinforcements. Instead, Sullivan sent orders for Laurens to retreat back to the main lines. But, to cover the retreat, Sullivan did send forward Webb’s Regiment of Connecticut Continentals.

The German general Lossberg organized an attack on Turkey Hill. Despite John Laurens in his green coat sitting on his horse waving his sword to encourage his men, they were outnumbered and had to retreat yet again. Meanwhile, at a distance of about 80 yards, Webb’s Regiment covered the retreat with musket fire for about ten minutes. Gaining the top of Turkey Hill, Lossberg ordered the von Huyn Regiment toward the East Road to attack the Americans’ right flank at Quaker Hill.

The American right wing was commanded by Major General Nathanael Greene. His lines extended one half mile from Butts Hill to Durfee’s Hill. The key position anchoring his lines was the Artillery Redoubt on Durfee’s Hill. It was manned by an extraordinary regiment, the 1st Rhode Island Regiment. It consisted of about 140 soldiers, most of them formerly enslaved men who had obtained their freedom by enlisting in the regiment for the duration of the war. From an incomplete list of 33 of them, eight of them, or 25%, had been born in Africa. So, in their lifetimes, they had been captured and sold into slavery, forced onto slave ships, and brought over in the Middle Passage, worked as enslaved men in Rhode Island, and now were fighting for not only the freedom of their new country but their own freedom. This was all very remarkable. Other soldiers who enlisted in this regiment were free Blacks, Narragansett Indians, and other men of color.

Of course, unlike their white adult male counterparts, the newly enlisted Black soldiers of the 1st Rhode Island had not previously been allowed to participate in militia training. They were about to undergo their first test in battle. However, about twenty of the soldiers of color had fought courageously in fierce action at the Battle of Monmouth, giving them valuable experience.

Malsburg tried to overtake the Artillery Redoubt with his chasseurs but was driven back. He later reported that he found “obstinate resistance” in the redoubt, which was filled with “chiefly wild looking men in their shirtsleeves, and among them many negroes.” This quote makes it clear that Malsburg considered the 1st Rhode Island defenders as among those engaged in “obstinate resistance.”

At about 12 noon, Lossberg tried again, but with more of his troops. This time he coordinated with a small squadron of British warships off the Portsmouth coast that fired broadsides at American lines. They were led by the Vigilant, a gun boat carrying fourteen 24-pound cannons. It had pulverized Fort Mifflin on the Delaware River in November 1777. In fact, several Americans on the west side had defended the fort, including its onetime commander, Major Simeon Thayer, as well as a French officer and Major Silas Talbot, both of whom had been wounded in the fort. But this time, the round and grapeshot fired by the Vigilant did little damage. Meanwhile, Greene sent down an 18-pound artillery piece to the beach that began hulling the Vulture, which then sheered off. Lossberg’s infantry attack was again repulsed, with the help of accurate American artillery fire.

Lossberg then personally directed the third and heaviest assault on the Artillery Redoubt, sending forward Malsburg’s exhausted Chasseurs, the King’s American Regiment, elements of the 1st and 2nd Ansbach Regiments, and the von Huyn Regiment, in total some 1,200 attackers.

This time, Von Huyn’s soldiers succeeded in penetrating 100 yards beyond the Artillery Redoubt.  During the whole time, Continental regiments rained musket fire at the attackers.

Nathanael Greene then saw his opening. He fed a Continental regiment into a gap in the attacker’s lines, probably Sherburne’s Massachusetts men, as well as Jackson’s Detachment, which had shifted over from the East Road. Although the action was not hand-to-hand combat, the increased fire made the attackers believe they were being fired at on all sides. The increased fire suppressed the return fire of the attackers and then broke them, forcing them to retreat.

Greene then sent forward a fresh brigade of 850 Massachusetts militiamen, who bravely marched forward. But they only got off a few rounds before the retreating enemy was out of musket range. The attackers left their dead and wounded behind.

Now General Sullivan had a choice. Should he order a general advance to lead to a general engagement? Earlier in the day, General Greene had recommended a general engagement, but Sullivan refused, and Greene later said that was the correct decision. Neither Sullivan nor Pigot sought a full-scale battle. Sullivan wanted to get his American army off Aquidneck Island before Clinton’s reinforcements arrived, and Pigot wanted to keep possession of Newport. There would be no general engagement.

The battle was over. The British army had suffered more casualties, 260, with 38 killed, 210 wounded, and 12 missing. The Americans had 211 casualties, with 30 dead, 137 wounded, and 44 missing.

The next day, Sullivan received word from Washington that a British expeditionary force was on its way to Rhode Island. The next night, the entire American army and their artillery and equipment got off the Aquidneck Island (one man was accidentally left behind).

Overall, the Rhode Island Campaign had been a failure for the Americans. The first joint allied effort — to seize Newport — had not succeeded. Many Americans blamed d’Estaing for not keeping the French fleet in Narragansett Bay, but the biggest factor was the summer storm that had wrecked a number of his ships.

The battle was a draw. On the other hand, the battle could be deemed a success for the Americans. As with the Battle of Monmouth, an important success for the Americans was the increased effectiveness of the American army. The Continentals had fought well. Jackson’s Detachment, in action on both the east and west sides, had more than redeemed itself. The artillery had been effective all day. Even the performance of state regiments and militia was encouraging.

The 1st Rhode Island Regiment, consisting of mostly former enslaved men overall performed well holding the crucial Artillery Redoubt. There was a rumor that they had not performed well, but General Sullivan issued an order denying it and stating that the regiment deserved honors along with the other regiments engaged in the battle.

The Battles of Monmouth and Rhode Island were remarkably similar. In both engagements, the British forces with superior numbers chased the American forces for several miles, while the Americans put up strong stands along the way. Finally, in both cases, the British advance halted before strong American defensive positions.

What officers said about the Continental Army’s performance at Monmouth and Rhode Island were similar. After Monmouth, a British general was quoted as saying that the Continentals had administered “a very handsome flogging” on His Majesty’s troops and “Gentlemen may now be convinced the Americans can and will fight.” After speaking with captured British officers, Henry Knox wrote, “the British confess they have never received so severe a check.”

After the Battle of Rhode Island, Nathanael Greene boasted to General Washington, “I had the pleasure to see enemy regulars run in worse disorder than they did at the battle of Monmouth.” Lieutenant Colonel William Livingston, who had been wounded in the battle and had his horse decapitated, wrote exuberantly, not “since the commencement of the war” had the enemy “receive[d] so unexpected a check.”

I believe that after Monmouth and Rhode Island, General Clinton knew that he was facing an improved Continental Army in the north that could fight with his army on the same field. This may explain, in part, why Clinton turned his attention to the South and why Monmouth and Rhode Island were the last two major engagements in the North.

In ending, I quote the last words of Lieutenant Richard Walker of Jackson’s Detachment, who was severely wounded in the hip in the action of the East Side. In the night after the battle, surrounded by fellow officers, he was asked if he was in great pain. He replied, “I am a solider of the states, and feel no pain in the service of my country.” Being very thirsty, he called for a glass of wine, and drank to his friends around him, wishing them a longer service to their country, and soon after died.


The main source for this article is Christian McBurney, The Rhode Island Campaign, The First French and American Operation in the Revolutionary War (Westholme, 2011), particularly Chapter 8, “The Day of Battle.” This article is essentially a condensed version of Chapter 8. See also Chapter 7, “The Siege of Rhode Island;” Chapter 9, “Aftermath;” Chapter 10, “Evaluating the Admirals and Generals,” and Appendix E, “Order of Battle, Battle of Rhode Island, August 29, 1778.” The book has more than 1,000 footnotes, most citing original sources. The footnotes also contain additional information that may be of interest to readers. (Due to a technical problem, this book is no longer available on, but it is available at the publisher’s website at, as well as at many independent bookstores and historical society gift shops in Rhode Island.) The author is working on an updated and expanded version of the book, which will include an expanded description of the battle and all fifteen battle maps.

For material on the Battle of Monmouth, see Christian McBurney, George Washington’s Nemesis, The Outrageous Treason and Unfair Court-Martial of Major General Charles Lee during the Revolutionary War (Savas Beatie, 2020), particularly Chapter 8, “Lee in Command,” and chapters 10 and 11, on the court-martial of Lee.

For a company of Black soldiers from the First Rhode Island Regiment fighting at Monmouth, see Daniel M. Popek, They “…fought bravely but were unfortunate:” The True Story of Rhode Island’s “Black Regiment” and the Failure of Segregation in Rhode Island’s Continental Line, 1777-1783 (AuthorHouse, 2015), page 211.

For Don N. Hagist criticizing the failure of General Smith to send out flanking parties, see Don N. Hagist, These Distinguished Corps: British Grenadier and Light Infantry Battalions in the American Revolution (Helion & Company, 2021), page 142. For an argument that the American Army achieved a victory at the Battle of Rhode Island, see Patrick T. Conley, The Battle of Rhode Island, August 29, 1778: A Victory for the Patriots (Providence, RI: Rhode Island Publications Society, 2005).

The maps of the battle positions were prepared by Tracy Dungan, copyright held by Christian McBurney. Please do not use any of the maps without the permission of Christian McBurney.

About the Author

Christian McBurney is the author of six books on the American Revolutionary War and eight on Rhode Island (with some overlap). For more on his books, see He is the founder, publisher and chief editor of a leading Rhode Island history blog at He practices law in Washington, D.C. and he and his wife have a second home in West Kingston, Rhode Island. He lectures frequently on history topics in Rhode Island.

Click to purchase "The Rhode Island Campaign", McBurney, 2011

Related Posts