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Battle of Fort Cumberland (Alternity)

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Next:

Battle of Sackville
Second Battle of Ft. Cumberland

Battle of Fort Cumberland
Beginning:

November 10, 1776

End:

November 15, 1776

Place:

Fort Cumberland, Nova Scotia
(modern-day Nova Scotia County, Maine)

Outcome:

Seizure of Fort Cumberland
Beginning of the Maritime Uprisings

Combatants

United States

Grand Union Flag United States of America

Great Britain

Flag of the United Kingdom Great Britain

Commanders

Jonathan Eddy

Joseph Goreham
Thomas Dixson†

Strength

600 militia

200 miltia

Casualties and Losses

12 killed, 15 wounded

20 killed, 26 wounded

The Battle of Fort Cumberland (referred to by some historians as the First Battle of Fort Cumberland) was a decisive victory by militia forces under Colonel Jonathan Eddy in mid-November 1776 that resulted in the seizure of Fort Cumberland in modern day Nova Scotia County, Maine, and the beginning of the Maritime Uprisings.

The Uprisings and the accompanying battles resulted in Britain ceding all territory of both Nova Scotia Colony (most of modern-day Maine, St. Lawrence, and Nova Scotia) and Quebec (portions of modern-day New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York) south of the St. Lawrence River to the United States as part of the 1783 Treaty of Paris.

Course of battle

Eddy first began laying siege to Fort Cumberland on November 10, 1776, three days after capturing a 30-man party aboard the supply sloop Polly that had been sent to get word out of the fort's predicament. It was at this point the commander of the fort's garrison, Col. Joseph Goreham, realized that he was in a precarious position, with over 60 of his 200-man garrison having fallen prisoner to Eddy in the preceding three weeks. Continual efforts to get messengers past Eddy's troops failed, helping to isolate the battle from the colonial authorities.

The already inadequately-equipped garrison was initially able to hold out against Eddy's force, but following the disappearance of Captain Thomas Dixson and a three-man volunteer crew while attempting to cross Scotia Bay's Minas Basin inlet (the body of one of his crew was recovered by a fishing boat near Cape Split on the 18th) to bring word to the British authorities at Halifax of Eddy's presence, Goreham realized that no reinforcements were coming.

An initial charge against the fort on the 13th resulted in several American casualties and one British casualty. Undeterred, Eddy reorganized his forces and awaited reinforcements, which finally came late on the 14th in the form of local Patriot sympathizers and Acadian guerrillas, swelling the militia strength to just over 600 men. Now feeling he had sufficient manpower, Eddy ordered a final charge around midday on the 15th, utilizing a newly-arrived single cannon to disable one of Goreham's hastily mounted guns and break through the poorly constructed palisade, effectively breaching the fort's perimeter. Less than two hours later, the badly outnumbered Goreham surrendered the fort to Eddy. Casualties were relatively light on both sides, with Eddy's force suffering only 12 dead and 15 wounded in total (counting the losses in the failed November 13th charge), while the British suffered 20 dead and 26 wounded.

Aftermath

The success at Fort Cumberland energized local Acadians, enlarging Eddy's force to just over a thousand men, a force that would prove instrumental in holding the fort and his victory at the Battle of Sackville in mid-December, after which Eddy was finally granted some support from the Continental Army, in the form of Colonel John Allan, over a hundred allied Mi'kmaq Indians, multiple cannons, and two hundred Continental regulars. Word of the capture didn't reach authorities at Halifax or Windsor for over a week, due in large part to interdiction of British couriers by Acadian guerrillas, by which time Eddy had completely occupied the fort and repaired damage incurred during the battle. A force of 180 men (not knowing the size of Eddy's force) from Windsor marched overland in an attempt to retake Fort Cumberland on the 28th (in the so-called Second Battle of Fort Cumberland), but without success, resulting in a decisive rout and ending plans for a second force from Halifax. Goreham became a prisoner of war and was routinely interrogated by Eddy, and later, Col. John Allan to no avail. He was released following the war and returned to Britain in 1783. He later died of pneumonia in 1790 at the age of 65.

Memorials

  • Two US Navy craft have been named for the battle: the Fort Wayne-class training airship USS Fort Cumberland (ZRT-3) commissioned in 1943 and scrapped in 1965, and the McHenry-class guided missile battlecruiser Fort Cumberland (BCG-14), commissioned in 1966 and still active as part of the Atlantic Fleet, though the Navy currently plans to retire the battlecruiser by the end of the this year, likely in either October or November.

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