The Battle of the Kegs

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The Battle of the Kegs is a propaganda ballad written by Francis Hopkinson describing an attempted attack upon the British Fleet in the harbor of Philadelphia on January 6, 1778 during the American Revolutionary War.

The kegs themselves were made by Colonel Joseph Borden's cooperage to the specifications of Caleb Carman and designed by David Bushnell, an inventor and graduate of Yale College. They were filled with gunpowder and released to float down the Delaware River. It was hoped that they would contact British warships along the riverfront and explode as river mines. As the floating mines moved downriver, however, few of them contacted the ships of the British navy. The British had hauled their ships into positions that protected them from floating river ice, and as a result of this precaution the ships also avoided the exploding kegs. The operation did not achieve strategic results, and the British fleet was little damaged. The only casualties were two curious young boys who were killed by a mine/keg. [1] and alerting the British. The attack was ineffectual.

Earlier in 1777 a floating mine/keg sank a small British barge/tender to the HMS Cerberus (1758), killing four sailors and wounding an unknown number. The sudden explosion alerted the British to the point that soldiers flocked the wharves and were ordered to shoot at any piece of wood in the water. The ensuing emotional scene on the Philadelphia riverfront forms the basis of the ballad, which sarcastically praises the "courage" of the British occupation force.

The ballad was meant to signal the indefatigable nature of the American rebel army, which had been driven out of Philadelphia and at the time of this operation was encamped under miserable conditions at Valley Forge. By creating a defiant song, the Americans hoped to signal that they did not propose to give up.


Further reading[edit]

  • Swanson, June. David Bushnell and His Turtle" - The Story of America's First Submarine. Atheneum. 1991. ISBN 0-689-31628-3
  • David Bushnell: David Bushnell
  • Lefkowitz, Arthur S. Bushnell's Submarine - The Best Kept Secret of the American Revolution. Scholastic Inc. 2006. ISBN 0-439-74352-4

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