Battle of the Kegs
Download Midi File
John Renfro Davis

In October 1778 during the winter of Valley Forge, Americans began experimenting with floating mines. They used the "kegs" to harass British shipping on the Delaware River. On January 5, 1778 a number of kegs were floated downriver. The British fired at them, exploding them.

Francis Hopkinson wrote the following ballad. The words were set to Yankee Doodle. According to another source they may also have been set to Maddie Lauder.

Hopkinson was one of the first American composers. He was also a lawyer, poet, inventor and painter. He was a signer of the Declaration of Independence (for New Jersey) and helped design the American Flag. He served as judge of the Pennsylvania Admiralty courts and was later a judge for the District Court in Eastern Pennsylvania. He also wrote My Days Have Been so Wondrous Free.

For a full list of tunes by Francis Hopkinson at this site, enter "hopkinson" (without the quotes) in the search engine.

Gallants attend, and hear a friend,
Trill forth harmonious ditty;
Strange things I'll tell,
Which late befell, In Philadelphia City.
'Twas early day, as poets say,
Just when the sun was rising,
A soldier stood on a log of wood,
And saw a site surprising.

As in a maze, he stood to gaze,
The truth can't be denied, sir
He spied a score - of kegs, or more,
Come floating down the tide, sir,
A sailor too, in jerkin blue,
The strange appearance viewing,
First damned his eyes, in great surprise,
Then said, Some mischief's brewing.

These kegs now hold the rebels bold,
Pack'd up like pickled herring:
And they're come down to attack the town,
In this new way of ferrying.
The soldier flew, the sailor too,
And, scared almost to death, sir,
Wore out their shoes, to spread the news,
And ran til out of breath, sir.

Now up and down throughout the town,
Most frantic scenes were acted:
And some ran here, and some ran there
Like men almost distracted,
Some fire cried, which some denied,
But said the earth had quaked;
And girls and boys, with hideous noise
Ran through the town half-naked.

Sir William he, snug as a flea,
Lay all this time a-snoring,
Nor dreamed of harm, as he lay warm,
In bed with Mrs. Loring.
Now in a fright he starts upright,
Awaked by such a clatter;
He rubs his eyes and boldly cries,
For God's sake what's the matter?

At his bedside, he then espied,
Sir Erskine in command, sir,
Upon one foot he had one boot,
And t'other in his hand, sir.
Arise! Arise! Sir Erskine cries;
The rebels - more's the pity -
Without a boat, are all on float,
And ranged before the city.

The motley crews, in vessels new,
With Satan for their guide, sir,
Packed up in bags or wooden kegs,
Come driving down the tide, sir.
Therefore prepare for bloody war;
These kegs must all be routed;
Or surely we despised shall be,
And British courage doubted.

The royal band now ready stand,
All ranged in dread array, sir,
With stomach stout to see it out,
And make a bloody day, sir.
The cannons roar, from shore to shore,
The small arms make a rattle:
Since wars began I'm sure no man,
E'er saw so strange a battle.

The fish below swam to and fro,
Attacked form every quarter;
Why sure, thought they, the devil's to pay,
'Mongst folk above the water.
These kegs 'tis said, tho' strongly made,
Of rebel staves and hoops, sir,
Could not oppose their powerful foes,
The conquering British troops, sir.

From morn to night, these men of might
Displayed amazing courage;
And when the sun was fairly down,
Retired to sup their porridge:
An hundred men with each a pen,
Or more upon my word, sir,
It is most true, should be too few,
Their valor to record sir.

Such feats did they perform that day
Upon these wicked kegs, sir,
That years to come, if they get home,
They'll make their boasts and brags, sir.
Related Links
The Ballad of America
See Bibliography for full information.