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Penobscot Debacle

One of the great fiascos in American military history, the Penobscot Expedition of 1779 has faded into almost complete obscurity.

The British had long wished to form a new colony for displaced Loyalists.  What is now the State of Maine seemed perfect for the proposed colony of New Ireland.  The forests of the new colony would supply ample naval stores for the Royal Navy, and due to its location it could also serve as a base for raids on New England.

In June of 1779 the British constructed Fort George on a small peninsula jutting into Penobscot Bay.  The garrison consisted of 700 regulars: 50 men of the Royal Artillery and Engineers, 450 of the 74th Regiment of (Highland) Foot and 200 of the 82nd (Duke of Hamilton’s) Regiment, all under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Francis McLean.

Massachusetts reacted promptly to this invasion of territory the Bay State claimed.  An expedition of 44 ships and 1000 troops, Continental Marines and Massachusetts militia, was rapidly gathered.  Lieutenant Colonel Paul Revere commanded the artillery.  The expedition arrived at Penobscot Bay on July 25, 1779.

On July 28, 1779 an assault by land was made against Fort George.  The Americans incurred casualties of approximately one hundred men but took the heights near the Fort.  The high casualties of this day seemed to dampen the enthusiasm of the leaders of the expedition.  Brigadier General Solomon Lovell contented himself with besieging the fort, while Commodore Dudley Saltonstall, who would be cashiered from the Continental Navy for his performance during this expedition,  refused to close with and destroy the small British fleet off Fort George, despite frequent requests from Lovell that this be done and for Saltonstall to bombard Fort George. Continue Reading