A little-known battle is about to get on the map.
Salve Regina University students, working in partnership with the Middletown Historical Society, will soon begin researching and mapping one of the largest military operations of the Revolutionary War that took place in Middletown on what is now Valley Road.
The project is being funded by a $67,200 grant awarded to the Society from the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program. Salve Regina students, under the guidance of cultural and historic preservation assistant professor Jon Marcoux and history professor John Quinn, will conduct most of the work, which will begin immediately and last about two years.
Students will conduct historical research, generate computerized mapping to overlay digital scans of historic maps, and use groundpenetrating radar surveys to see what lies beneath the ground. “We are really excited to have our students getting hands-on experience doing historical and archaeological research, as well as training in cutting-edge technologies,” said Marcoux. “Ultimately, the goal of the project is to locate battlefield sites so we can preserve and protect them. This project is another example of the unique experience-based education we offer here at Salve.”
The project aims to define in detail the location of Colonial and British fortifications involved in the Siege of Newport. The French Navy and a Colonial army, under the command of Generals John Sullivan, Nathanael Greene, and the Marquis de Lafayette, attacked the British defensive positions through cannon fire and trench warfare.
The British and Hessians (6,000 regulars and naval gunners) in fortified positions on the west side of Valley Road were attacked in August 1778 by the French Fleet under Adm. Comte D’Estaing and about 8,000 Colonial regulars and militia under Sullivan.
Although unsuccessful, the combined French-Colonial assault contributed to the decision by the British to withdraw from Newport in 1779 and opened the way for General Rochambeau in 1780.
The study will form the basis for follow-up efforts that will employ ground penetrating radar (GPR) and other nonintrusive measurement methods to refine the location of the fortifications so that they may be preserved.
“The American Battlefield Protection Program supports projects that safeguard, preserve and tell the stories of America’s battlefields,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis. “These places are symbols of individual sacrifice and national heritage that we must protect to help this and future generations understand the struggles that shaped and defined us as a nation.”
Dr. Kenneth Walsh, director of research for the Middletown Historical Society, told the Middletown Council on Sept. 21, that more than 50 supporting documents are coming in from Michigan to aid the cause, as well as a number of maps from the Rhode Island Historical Society.
“This should be [recognized as] one of the most important battles in the American Revolution, and one of the largest in terms of manpower on both sides. In some ways, it encouraged the British to leave the island in 1779,” said Walsh.
Walsh added that the positions of the camps have historically been an “approximation.” He said the GPR will locate actual ditches through gradations and will better define the actual positions of both the British and the Colonial camps.
“They dug trenches to place cannons to blast out the guns deployed by the British,” said Walsh. “In the beginning of August, they arrived and dug down the hill. They built wind platforms with the guns and they started shooting and the British started shooting back.”
Walsh said that after this yearplus work, he will seek an additional grant to further identify camp areas. Eventually his longterm goal will be to develop a large piece of land donated to the Society at the corner of Valley Road and Green End Avenue, to create a monument and a building to house all of this information.
“In the long run, I’d like to put a museum there with the backing of the board of directors, [and] raise the money and be able to tell everyone who wanted to visit it, what happened in that area,” said Walsh.