Harbinger of the British defeat in the American Revolutionary War
Looking out from Culloden Point, Montauk, in 10 ft of water, lies the wreck of ‘’Culloden”. The name fascinates me. I am a fan of “Bonnie” Prince Charlie. This Jacobean pretender to England’s crown and his ability to unite Scottish Clansmen in 1745 is legendary. First victorious, he was defeated at the battle of Culloden by King George I ending Stuart claims to the throne of forever. I too often tip my glass to Prince Charles when I down shots of Drambuie, his official scotch.
The Seven Year War (French and Indian War to us) was brought victory to England having been fought from 1754/6 to 1763 under Kings George II and George III. This world conflict in Europe, America, Africa and Asia is too complex to break down here. The end result was the superiority of British Navel forces allowed it to be Victorious over the French coalition. After victory, Britain’s Navy needed a major refit to keep her sea supremacy. In addition, stress from England’s financing of the war planted the seed of American rebellion by demanding the colonies pay the costs of their protection by instituting the stamp act and tariffs on much needed goods needed in the 13 colonies.
The Treaty of Paris in 1763 changed the world map and Britain, now had larger possessions such as Canada to protect. She began to refit her Navy under the auspices of John Montagu, First Lord of the Admiralty and 4th Earl of Sandwich. (Yep! He invented it! Bread on top and bottom. Ham and cheese in the center!). The Earl was a crafty dodger who was indecisive, lazy and had an inability to resist bribery. Similar to our government officials today but being British, he was less crass about it.
One new ship was christened “Culloden”. She was a “State of the art” third ship of the line armed to the teeth with 74 powerful cannons of various calibers, weighed 1659 tons, 170 ft. long; full rigged, and carried 650 crew, officers and a contingent of Royal Marines. She was launched May 18,1776, 6 years after her keel was laid. Her hull was covered in copper plate, an experimental technique to reduce marine life and vegetation that fouled and rotted hulls. This added 15 tons to her weight. Previously Sir Sandwich had fitted some ships of the line with lead plates to try and achieve anti-fouling with less than satisfactory results. The lead interacted with the metal spikes used to fasten hulls together causing Galvanic Electrolysis, which over time decayed the iron spikes holding the hull together. When they switched to copper, Sandwich thought he had it beat and contracted to have all the Navy ships sheathed while copper was in short supply slowing the refit up. At the time Lord Sandwich was unaware that even with copper sheathing Electrolysis would interact with hull spikes he was too busy hamstringing the Navy with too many ships dry docked waiting for copper sheathed hulls. When France entered the war in 1778 on the side of the colonies, the First Lord Sandwich was sighted by Parliament as being an incompetent lout. Not only was his Navy lacking serviceable ships to fight a major war but as a Naval tactician he decided to keep most of his working ships close to Britain and retain the colonies by making colonial coastal cities into navel bases from which squadrons could seal off French military supplies from General Washington. Clearly this was impossible with too few ships. Finally he gave way and those ships not coppered were put back in service.
The rebellious colonies had a rabble army of volunteers many of whom we veterans of the French and Indian war. They lacked armaments and had no navy. Washington knew his undisciplined volunteers had great independent pioneer spirit and unlimited bravery. He harnessed them into a credible fighting force. Their unconventional technique of fighting from Native Americans was stealth, surprise, and retreating to fight another day. Meanwhile John Adams started converting merchantmen (Freighters) into warships to intercept British Maritime ships. They were rarely successful than Privateers who made swift runs in colonial made sloops to West Indian ports of call and returned with weapons and powder. The Continental Congress also financed 13 major war ships but they never were effective. It was the French who changed the balance both on sea and land by entering the war in 1778. They convinced both the Spain and Dutch to join in helping the colonies leaving England to fight without allies.
It was revenge time for Louis XVI. The British took Canada from France in 1763 and now Louis helping take the Colonies from Britain. Before 1778 the French were secretly supplying Washington with most of his armament. Up to that point the war had not gone well for Washington. He lost Long Island, which the British considered the most important part of the colonies. The Battle of Long Island was the biggest battle of the war. It was said, “He who controlled Long Island would win the war”! (LOL) Washington then lost Manhattan, retreated to White Plains then slid away until his Generals pulled a coup by defeating British Burgoyne at Saratoga. Then France committed a large portion of their fleet to the rebellion. We hear about Comte De Lafayette as the French Revolutionary Hero but he was just twenty-year-old snot compared to French General Comte De Rochambeau and Admiral D’Estaing of the French fleet.
Newport Rhode Island was a busy seaport at the time of the revolution with a large contingent of Patriots who sent a large amount of her privateer sloop fleet to harass the British Navy using speed to out run the larger, slower, powerful ships of the line. Privateers were like pesky knats near your boat at low tide. They targeted slow, poorly armed British freight ships carrying gunpowder, supplies and weapons. The weapons captured were turned on the British and their store bought Hessians. The British did not take well to this and quickly occupied Newport. The privateers then sailed from Boston continuing their old tricks but Boston stayed safely in Patriot hands. The British abandoned Newport in 1778 and Comte De Rochambeau occupied it with 6,000 highly trained French soldiers while his comrade, Admiral D’Estaing, arrived on the East coast of the colonies with his large fleet. Clearly the British had reason to be nervous.
The British decided blockade French forces in Newport. They positioned “Culloden” to patrol the waters of Block Island Sound, Montauk waters and access to Long Island Sound to keep the French from being supplied or moving their 6000 soldiers quickly by sea. There are no heavy engagements recorded in the area during this time.
“Culloden” was an intimidating warship doing its job effectively.
Time! Time does us all in eventually and Culloden did not have time on its side. Remember Culloden’s copper shielded hull and iron spikes holding her great oak hull together. Well, by January 1781 Electrolysis had been cooking for 5 1/2 years. Plenty of time to compromise her hull. Surely something strange happened when she came ashore near Montauk. Ships of the line didn’t just run aground. There must have been an impending threat to take the drastic step of scuttling such a valuable vessel. Deductive reasoning points to the possibility she was likely taking on water as her spikes became compromised below her water line. Had Admiral Sandwich had cursed Culloden? The British saved all 650 men aboard and any cannons and materials they could before setting her afire. If she was simply grounded the British Naval Engineers knew fair well how to refloat her. She was useless so they burned her to the water line. “Culloden’s” hull was finished. Amen, Sandwich man!
How did Culloden’s demise affect the colonies cause? By losing her, the already stretched British Navy had one less ship in service and a lot more worries with so many other ships with undependable hulls. Then there was the issue of an unguarded Newport. French ships were now free to come and go supplying the Patriots while using it as a base. Compte de Rochambeau now met with Washington and arranged to move his troops southward to entrap the British. Admiral D’Estaing coordinated with Rochambeau and Washington to move the bulk of his fleet towards Yorktown, Virginia to trap the British under General Cornwallis by land and sea. The Perfect Military “Sandwich maneuver” you might say.
Cornwallis had moved to Yorktown using it as a sea supplied base to wage to war in the southern colonies. Yorktown was accessible to the Atlantic yet safe from storms in the calm waters of the Chesapeake. But Cornwallis inadvertently walked himself into a trap. Washington’s army and French allies quickly cut of any land escape and put him under siege. The British Navy then engaged the giant French fleet but was sorely defeated and limped back defeated to New York. His Army was lacking food and weapons with no fleet to resupply or rescue him from Yorktown and being penned in by Washington’s army while the French Navy bombarded him from the sea, Cornwallis had run out of options. He surrendered on Oct 19, 1781. The war was essentially over.
After the Peace of Paris in 1783 Congress disbanded the volunteer army, decommissioned the navy and sold its ships. The French left in glory but the American Revolution set the world on its head. Soon the French would storm the Bastille and King Louis XVI would be separated from his head. The United States would become a major world trade power with its Yankee Clippers and Whalers circling the globe. In 1786 the British Admiralty solved the Electrolysis problem by using spikes of a copper –zinc formula to fasten the copper sheathing to their hulls while near a little cove in Montauk would continue to lay the bones of “Culloden” a harbinger of the colonists victory over Britain.
C. 2018 by Mark C. Nuccio. All rights reserved
Mark Nuccio is an Artist, Author, and Historian.
He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org