The Anniversary of the Penobscot Bay Expedition

The Anniversary of the Penobscot Bay Expedition

In this week’s #TallShipTuesday, we took the time to remember the last moment’s of Providence. This week marks the anniversary of the end of the Penobscot Bay Expedition. This expedition was one of the most astonishing failures of the Revolutionary War. The Penobscot Expedition lasted from the end of July through mid August of 1779. It was an endeavor characterized by hope, bolstered by a considerable armada of 40 vessels, and was deemed critical to expelling British forces under General Francis McLean from the newly established Colony of New Ireland at Fort George.

Providence’s Last Voyage

Providence was one of the 18 warships and privateers of the fleet sailing up to Penobscot Bay. The remainder 22 schooners and sloops comprising troop transports. However, this apparent strength was undermined by a lack of coordination and unity. One-third of American conscripts failed to report to duty. The warships had no training together as a fleet. Privateers, the swashbuckling free agents of the seas, chafed under the yoke of a formal commander.

American ground forces, under the command of General Solomon Lovell, were hampered by lack of coordination. The expectation was that Lovell would attack by land as Dudley Saltonstall engaged at sea, creating a pincer movement that would overwhelm the British. Yet this tactic was marred by poor communication between the two leaders, each hesitating, awaiting the other’s action.

Finally, when an attack seemed imminent, British reinforcements arrived, causing Saltonstall to withdraw. The arrival of the British fleet spurred American retreat, a chaotic disarray that left every American vessel either captured, sunk, or scuttled. Providence was burned by her crew on August 14th, 1779. Those lucky enough to escape, did so into the woods.

This disastrous expedition was a blow not only to American naval capabilities but also to morale. In the end, Americans suffered 474 casualties compared to a mere fraction of that on the British side. Saltonstall faced a court-martial and was cashiered from the Navy.  Even the renowned Paul Revere, who led an artillery unit, was court-martialed for cowardice.

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