First Foot Guards
Excerpt from the journal of
James Thacher, MD
Military journal 1776
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At the close of the last year, as is now reported, our army was reduced to a very critical situation, being obliged to substitute new-raised troops and militia in the place of those who had been in service five or six months; and this exchange was made within musket-shot of the enemy's lines. During part of this period, our numbers were not sufficient to man the lines, nor was there powder enough in camp to furnish four rounds a man. Before our privateers had fortunately captured some prizes with cannon and other ordnance, our army before Boston had, I believe, only four small brass cannon and a few old honey-comb iron pieces with their trunnions broken off; and these were ingeniously bedded in timbers in the same manner as that of stocking a musket. These machines were extremely unwieldy and inconvenient, requiring much skill and labor to elevate and depress them. Had the enemy been made acquainted with our situation, the consequences might have been exceedingly distressing.
The newspapers announce the most painful intelligence from our army in Canada. General Montgomery, the commander, made a desperate, but unsuccessful, assault on the city of Quebec, on the 31st ultimo. The event has proved most fatal and disastrous. General Montgomery and his aid-de-camp, with several other officers, were slain. Colonel Arnold, the second in command, heroically passed the first barrier with his small party, and received a wound in his leg. About three hundred of the continental troops were made prisoners, And about sixty killed and wounded. We remain unacquainted with further particulars. The death of General Montgomery is universally deplored. In the public papers we have the following account of this brave officer. "He was a captain of grenadiers in the 17th regiment of British troops, of which General Monckton was colonel. He served the last war in the expeditions in the West Indies and America, and returned with his regiment to England. In 1772 he quitted his regiment, though in a fair way of preferment. Whilst in America he imbibed an affection for this country - he had, while in the king's service, declared his disapprobation of the sentiments of the ministry, and viewed America as the rising seat of arts and freedom."
A very considerable firing was heard last evening from Boston; it was occasioned by a detachment of one hundred men, under the command of Major Knowlton, who made an incursion into Charlestown, for the purpose of burning a number of houses, to deprive the enemy of their use. He effected the object of his expedition by burning about ten houses the possession of the enemy, and returned in less than two hours, bringing off some muskets, without the loss of a single man either killed or wounded.
The following anecdote is worth notice; it appears by extracts from letters written by the officers who are the subjects of it. Some British officers, soon after General Gage arrived at Boston, while walking on Beacon hill in the evening, Were frightened, by noises in the air, which they took to be the whizzing of bullets, They left the hill with great precipitation, and reported that they were shot at with air-guns, and wrote frightful accounts of the affair to their friends in England. The whizzing noise which so alarmed these valiant officers, could be no other than the buzzing of bugs and beetles while flying in the air.
It might he supposed that the melancholy aspect of the times, and the dreadful disappointments and privations of the British officers and tories in Boston, would afford matter for the most serious consideration, and effectually check every emotion bordering on levity and amusement. We find, however, that they do not deny themselves balls and theatrical amusements, for they say in the language of the poet,
"What need of piping
for the songs and sherry,
When our own mis'ries can make us merry."
It is asserted from Boston, that on the evening when Major Knowlton set fire to the houses in Charlestown, 8th instant, the farce of "The Blockade of Boston,'' of which General Burgoyne is the reputed author, was to be performed. The figure designed to burlesque General Washington was dressed in an uncouth style, with a large wig and long rusty sword, attended by his orderly-sergeant in his country dress, having on his shoulder an old rusty gun, seven or eight foot long. At the moment, this figure appeared on the stage, one of the regular sergeants came running on the stage, threw down his bayonet, and exclaimed, "The Yankees are attacking our works on Bunker's hill." Those of the audience who were unacquainted with the different parts, supposed that this belonged to the farce; but when General Howe called out, Officers to your alarm posts, they were undeceived; all was confusion and dismay; and among the ladies, shrieking and fainting ensued. How pure the satisfaction to a great mind employed in burlesquing those Yankees by whom they are besieged.
Dr. John Morgan of Philadelphia is appointed by Congress director-general of our hospitals, instead of Dr. Church, removed. Since his arrival here, a new and systematic arrangement in the medical department has taken place; the number of surgeon's mates in the hospital is to be reduced, and vacancies in regiments are to be supplied. I have been subjected to another examination by Dr. Morgan, and received from him the appointment of surgeon's mate to Dr. David Townsend, in the regiment commanded by Colonel Asa Whitcomb, stationed in the barracks on Prospect hill.
Our regiment, according to orders, marched to Roxbury, and took quarters in the large and elegant house formerly belonging to Governor Shirley. Great preparations are making in our army for some important event. Several regiments of militia arrived from the country; and orders have been received for surgeons and mates to prepare lint and bandages, to the amount of two thousand, for fractured limbs and other gun-shot wounds. It is, however, to be hoped that not one-quarter of the number will be required, whatever may be the nature of the occasion. Great activity and animation are observed among our officers and soldiers, who manifest an anxious desire to have a conflict with the enemy. Either a general assault on the town of Boston, or the erection of works on the heights of Dorchester, or both, is generally supposed to be in contemplation.
A very heavy discharge of cannon and mortars commenced from all our works at Cambridge and Roxbury.
The firing from our works works continues, but the great brass mortar, the Congress, and two others, have unfortunately burst; which is exceedingly regretted.
The object in view is now generally understood to be the occupying and fortifying of the advantageous heights of Dorchester. A detachment of our troops is ordered to march for this purpose this evening; and our regiment, with several others, has received orders to march at four o'clock in the morning, to relieve them. We are favored with a full bright moon, and the night is remarkably mild and pleasant; the preparations are immense; more than three hundred loaded carts are in motion. By the great exertions of General Mifflin, our quarter-master-general, the requisite number of teams has been procured. The covering party of eight hundred men advance in front. Then follow the carts with the intrenching tools; after which, the working party of twelve hundred, commanded by General Thomas, of Kingston. Next in the martial procession are a train of carts, loaded with fascines and hay, screwed into large bundles of seven or eight hundred weight. The whole procession moved on in solemn silence, and with perfect order and regularity; while the continued roar of cannon serves to engage the attention and divert the enemy from the main object.
At about four o'clock our regiment followed to the heights of Dorchester, as a relief party. On passing Dorchester neck I observed a vast number of large bundles of screwed hay, arranged in a line next the enemy, to protect our troops from a raking fire, to which we should have been greatly exposed, while passing and repassing. The carts were still in motion with materials; some of them have made three or four trips. On the heights we found two forts in considerable forwardness, and sufficient for a defence against small arms and grape-shot. The amount of labor performed during the night, considering the earth is frozen eighteen inches deep, is almost incredible. The enemy having discovered our works in the morning, commenced a tremendous cannonade from the forts in Boston, and from their shipping in the harbor. Cannon-shot are continually rolling and rebounding over the hill; and it is astonishing to observe how little our soldiers are terrified by them. During the forenoon we were in momentary expectation of witnessing an awful scene; nothing less than the carnage of Breed's hill battle was expected. The royal troops are perceived to be in motion, as if embarking to pass the harbor, and land on Dorchester shore, to attack our works. The hills and elevations in this vicinity are covered with spectators to witness deeds of horror in the expected conflict. His Excellency General Washington is present, animating and encouraging the soldiers, and they in return manifest their joy, and express a warm desire for the approach of the enemy; each man knows his place, and is resolute to execute his duty. Our breastworks are strengthened, and among the means of defence are a great number of barrels, filled with stones and sand, arranged in front of our works; which are to be put in motion and made to roll down the hill, to break the ranks and legs of the assailants as they advance. These are the preparations for blood and slaughter. Gracious God! if it be determined in thy Providence that thousands of our fellow-creatures shall this day be slain, let thy wrath be appeased, and in mercy grant that victory be on the side of our suffering, bleeding country!
The anxious day has closed, and the enemy has failed to molest us. From appearances, however, there are strong reasons to suppose that they have only postponed their meditated work till another day. It is presumed that the martial fire, which has been enkindled in the breasts of our soldiery, will not be extinguished during the night, and that they will not rest quietly under their disappointment. Early in the morning of the 6th, our regiment was relieved from its tour of duty, and I bade adieu to Dorchester heights, without being called to dress a single wound. Not more than two or three men were killed or wounded during the twenty-four hours. Some of the British troops were seen to embark, and pass down towards the castle last evening, to be in readiness, it was supposed, in conjunction with others, to attack our works this morning; but a most violent storm came on in the night, and still continuing, obliges General Howe to abandon his enterprise, and thus has a kind Providence seen fit to frustrate a design, which must have been attended with immense slaughter and bloodshed. General Howe must now be sensible of his exposed situation, and be convinced of the immediate necessity of evacuating the town of Boston, if he would prevent the sacrifice of his fleet and army.
There are strong indications in Boston that the king's troops are preparing to evacuate the town; and that no attempt will be made to dispossess our people of the works which we have constructed on Dorchester heights.
A flag of truce has come out of Boston with a message from the selectmen; acquainting General Washington that General Howe has come to the determination to evacuate the town; and that he would leave it standing, provided his army should be permitted to retire without being molested. At the same time intimating, as is reported, that in case he should be attacked by our army, the town should be set on fire in different places, in order to secure his retreat. We are unacquainted with the determination of his excellency respecting this proposition; but it is well known that he has been in favor of making an attack on the town; and that the necessary preparations were made, and the plan arranged, to be put in execution in the event of the enemy's meditated attack on our works at Dorchester heights. Four thousand troops, the first division commanded by General Sullivan, the second by General Greene, were ordered to be in readiness, and in case the enemy had advanced and been defeated on the heights of Dorchester, this force, at a given signal, was to have rushed into the town and taken possession.
It is credibly reported from Boston, that on the morning when the British officers discovered our newly-erected works, which, on account of a fog, loomed to great advantage, and appeared larger than the reality, General Howe, on viewing them, was heard to say in astonishment, "I know not what I shall do: the rebels have done more in one night than my whole army would have done in weeks." His admiral soon assured him that if the rebels were permitted to hold possession, he should not be able to keep a single ship in the harbor in safety.
Nothing of consequence occurred to observation till Sunday morning, March 17th, when at an early hour it was perceived that the royal army commenced their embarkation on board of transports. In the course of the forenoon we enjoyed the unspeakable satisfaction of beholding their whole fleet under sail, wafting from our shores the dreadful scourge of war. It was in the power of the provincials by a cannonade to have annoyed the enemy's shipping and transports as they passed Dorchester heights, and to have occasioned great embarrassment and destruction among them; but no orders were given for this purpose, and they were suffered to pass unmolested. By this event we are happily relieved of a force consisting of seven thousand five hundred and seventy-five regulars, exclusive of the staff, which, with the marines and sailors, may be estimated at about ten thousand in the whole. This force greatly exceeds the five regiments with which General Grant vauntingly boasted in England that he could march successfully from one end of the American continent to the other. A considerable number of tories, who had joined the royal standard, took passage with their families on board of the transports with the army, and bade adieu to their native country, without knowing what part of the world is to be their destiny.
Immediately after the enemy sailed from Boston harbor, General Washington ordered the major part of his army to march to New York, to secure that city against the apprehended invasion of General Howe. It was not till Wednesday, the 20th, that our troops were permitted to enter the town, when our regiment, with two or three others, were ordered to march in, and take up our quarters, which were provided for us in comfortable houses. While marching through the streets, the inhabitants appeared at their doors and windows; though they manifested a lively joy on being liberated from a long imprisonment, they were not altogether free from a melancholy gloom which ten tedious months' siege has spread over their countenances. The streets and buildings present a scene which reflects disgrace on their late occupants, exhibiting a deplorable desolation and wretchedness.
A concourse of people from the country are crowding into town, full of friendly solicitude, and it is truly interesting to witness the tender interviews and fond embraces of those who have been long separated, under circumstances so peculiarly distressing. But it is particularly unfortunate on this occasion, that the small-pox is lurking in various parts of the town; which deters many from enjoying an interview with their friends. The parents and sister of my friend Dr. Townsend have continued in town during the siege; being introduced to the family by the Doctor, I received a kind and polite invitation to take up my abode with them, where I am enjoying the kindest attentions and civilities. I accompanied several gentlemen to view the British fortifications on Roxbury neck, where I observed a prodigious number of little military engines called caltrops, or crow-feet, scattered over the ground in the vicinity of the works to impede the march of our troops in case of an attack. The implement consists of an iron ball armed with four sharp points about one inch in length, so formed that which way soever it may fall one point still lies upwards to pierce the feet of horses or men, and are admirably well calculated to obstruct the march of an enemy.
I went to view the Old South Church, a spacious brick building near the centre of the town. It has been for more than a century consecrated to the service of religion, and many eminent divines have in its pulpit labored in teaching the ways of righteousness and truth. But during the late siege the inside of it was entirely destroyed by the British, and the sacred building occupied as a riding-school for Burgoyne's regiment of dragoons. The pulpit and pews were removed, the floor covered with earth, and used for the purpose of training and exercising their horses. A beautiful pew, ornamented with carved work and silk furniture, was demolished; and by order of an officer, the carved work, it is said, was used as a fence for a hog-sty. The North Church, a very valuable building, was entirely demolished, and consumed for fuel. Thus are our houses, devoted to religious worship, profaned and destroyed by the subjects of his royal majesty. His excellency the commander-in-chief has been received by the inhabitants with every mark of respect and gratitude; and a public dinner has been provided for him. He requested. the Rev. Dr. Eliot, at the renewal of his customary Thursday Lecture, to preach a thanksgiving sermon, adapted to the joyful occasion. Accordingly on the 28th, this pious divine preached an appropriate discourse from Isaiah xxxiii. 20, in presence of his excellency and a respectable audience.
The Massachusetts House of Representatives and Council presented his excellency a respectful and affectionate address; and received from him a reply no less respectful and satisfactory.
One of our soldiers found a human skeleton in complete preparation, left by a British surgeon, which I have received as an acceptable present.
I attended at the Stone Chapel, where were performed the funeral solemnities over the remains of that patriot and hero Major-General Joseph Warren. The remains were taken from the earth at Breed's hill, placed in an elegant coffin, and brought into the chapel, where, in the presence of a numerous assembly, a eulogy was pronounced by Perez Morton, Esq., a young lawyer of abilities. The ceremony was conducted by the society of Free Masons, of which the deceased was grand master. A grand procession was formed, and the remains having received the customary masonic honors, were deposited in the vault under the chapel. This proceeding was to me a pleasing novelty, and in the view of the public, a grateful tribute to the memory of a beloved fellow-citizen.
"Let laurels, drench'd in pure Parnassian dews,
Reward his mem'ry, dear to every muse,
Who, with a courage of unshaken root,
In honor's field advancing his firm foot,
Plants it upon the line that justice draws,
And will prevail or perish in her cause.
'Tis to the virtues of such men man owes
His portion in the good that Heaven bestows.
And when recording History displays
Feats of renown, though wrought in ancient days;
Tells of a few stout hearts, that fought and died
Where duty Placed them, at their country's side;
The man that is not moved with what he reads,
That takes not fire at their heroic deeds,
Unworthy of the blessings of the brave,
Is base in kind, and born to be a slave." -Cowper.
As the small-pox is in many parts of the town among both the inhabitants and soldiers, I was advised by my friends to have recourse to inoculation for my own safety, though contrary to general orders. I was accordingly inoculated by my friend Dr. John Homans, and have passed through the disease in the most favorable manner, not suffering one day's confinement.
The harbor of Boston has not been entirely Cleared of British shipping since the town was evacuated: A fifty-gun ship and several other vessels still occupy the the lower harbor, near Nantasket. A number of provincial troops and volunteers are now ordered on an expedition, under command of General Benjamin Lincoln, with heavy cannon, for the purpose of driving them from the harbor. A part of our regiment being ordered on the expedition, we embarked at the Long Wharf, and landed on Long Island, and immediately made arrangements for a cannonade. A few shot soon convinced the commodore of his danger; he returned the fire with some spirit; but having received a shot through his upper works, he soon got under sail and hastily departed. Thus is the port of Boston again opened by our own authority after being closed during two years by virtue of an act of the British Parliament.
The removal of the British armed vessels from Nantasket has been productive of very favorable consequences. Three days after their departure two transports from Scotland bound to Boston, unapprised of the event, entered Nantasket road, and were accosted by a discharge of cannon from an American battery before they were undeceived. In this situation it was impossible for them to escape, and several of our privateers made their appearance, and commanded them to strike their flag. This beIng refused, a smart action ensued, and continued about an hour and a half when they were obliged to yield and strike to the privateers. On board the transports Major Menzies and eight others were killed, and seventeen wounded. Lieutenant-Colonel Archibald Campbell, two hundred and sixty-seven Highlanders, and forty-eight others, were made Prisoners. Major Menzies has been buried here with the honors of war.
Orders are given to inoculate for the small-pox, all the soldiers and inhabitants in town as a general infection of this terrible disease is apprehended. Dr. Townsend and my-self are now constantly engaged in this business.
Melancholy accounts have been received respect respecting the situation of our army in Canada; they are subjected to very great hardships, sufferings, and privations. Destitute of the necessary supplies of provisions and stores, exhausted by fatigue, and reduced by sickness, with the small-pox attended by unexampled mortality, they are in a state but little short of desperation. In addition to all their sufferings, they now have to deplore the loss of their valuable commander, Major-General John Thomas. This gentleman was a native of Kingston, Massachusetts. He was in military service in former wars against the French and Indians, where he acquired a high degree of reputation. He was among the first to espouse the cause of his country in a military character in 1775, and during the siege of Boston, and on the heights of Dorchester, he was distinguished as an active, vigilant and brave officer. In March, 1776, he was promoted by Congress from a brigadier to the rank of major-generaI, and by them appointed to command our forces in Canada. On his arrival there he found innumerable difficulties to encounter; the smallpox frequently breaking out among the troops, and the soldiers being in the practice of inoculating themselves, to the great injury of the public service. The general deemed it necessary, for the safety of the army, to prohibit the practice of inoculating, and not excepting himself from the injunction, he unfortunately received the infection, which proved fatal to him, and deprived the public of a valuable general officer. He was held in universal respect and confidence as a military character, and his death is deeply deplored throughout the army.
The very important intelligence from Philadelphia is now proclaimed that on the 4th instant, the American Congress declared the thirteen United Colonies, "Free, Sovereign, Independent States" The subject has for some time agitated the public mind, and various opinions have been entertained relative to this momentous transaction. Opinions of much weight and authority have been and still are in collision, and it has been considered very doubtful whether the grand object would be accomplished at the present time. Objections, however, have yielded to imperious necessity, and a new epoch for United America has now commenced. We are now, in the 16th year of the reign of his Majesty King George the Third, absolved from all allegiance to the British crown; and all political connexion between us, as subjects, and his government is totally and for ever dissolved, unless indeed Providence shall so order, that we shall be again reduced to a state of dependence and vassalage.
This day the declaration of American Independence has been proclaimed in form from the balcony of the state-house in this town. On this most joyful occasion Colonels Whitcomb and Sargeant's regiments, were paraded under arms in King street; and also a detachment from the Massachusetts regiment of artillery with two field pieces. A number of the members of our council and house of rerepresentatives, the magistrates, clergymen, selectmen, and a large number of other gentlemen of Boston, and of the neighboring towns, assembled in the council-chamber. At one o'clock the declaration was proclaimed by Colonel Thomas Crafts, and was received with great joy. Three huzzas from the concourse of people were given, after which thirteen pieces of cannon were fired from Fort hill and from Dorchester neck, the Castle, Nantasket, &c. The detachment of artillery in King street, discharged their cannon thirteen times; which was followed by the two regiments in thirteen separate divisions; all corresponding to the number of the American United States; after which, the gentlemen in the council chamber partook of a collation, and a number of appropriate toasts were proclaimed by the president of the council.
This highly important transaction of our Congress is the theme of every circle and topic of universal discussion, and it receives the sanction and approbation of a large majority of the community. When we reflect on the deranged condition of our army, the great deficiency of our resources, and the little prospect of foreign assistance, and at the same time contemplate the prodigious powers and resources of our enemy, we may view this measure of Congress as a prodigy. The history of the world cannot furnish an instance of fortitude and heroic magnanimity parallel to that displayed by the members, whose signatures are affixed to the declaration of American Independence. Their venerated names will ornament the brightest pages of American history, and be transmitted to the latest generations. The instrument was signed by John Hancock, Esq. as President, and by fifty-four others, delegates from the thirteen United States. The Congress have in their declaration, recited the grievances and oppressions, for which we could not obtain redress; and proclaimed to the world the causes which impelled them to a separation from the crown of Great Britain. A sensible and popular writer, in a production entitled "Common Sense," argues the necessity of the measure from the following considerations. "We had no credit abroad because of our rebellious dependency. Our ships could obtain no protection in foreign ports, because we afforded them no justifiable reason for granting it to us. The calling of ourselves subjects, and at the same time fighting against the prince we acknowledge, was a dangerous precedent to all Europe. If the grievances justified our taking up arms, they justified our separation; if they did not justify our separation, neither could they justify our taking arms. All Europe was interested in reducing us as rebels, and all Europe, or the greater part at least, is interested in supporting us in our independent state. At home our condition was still worse; our currency had no foundation; and the state of it would have ruined whig and tory alike. We had no other laws than a kind of moderated passion; no other civil power than an honest mob; and no other protection than the temporary attachment of one man to another. Had independency been delayed a few months longer, this continent would have been plunged into irretrievable confusion; some violent for it, some against it - all in the greatest cabal; the rich would have been ruined, and the poor destroyed. The necessity of being independent would have brought it on in a little time, had there been no rupture between Britain and America. The increasing importance of commerce - the weight and perplexity of legislation - and the enlarged state of European politics, would clearly have shown to the continent the impropriety of continuing subordinate; for after the coolest reflection on the matter, this must be allowed, 'that Britain was too jealous of America to govern it justly; too ignorant of it to govern it well; and too distant from it to govern it at all.'" The author of Common Sense is Mr. Thomas Paine, lately from England. I am credibly informed that the following anecdote occurred on the day of signing the declaration. Mr. Harrison, a delegate from Virginia, is a large portly man - Mr. Gerry of Massachusetts is slender and spare. A little time after the solemn transaction of signing the instrument, Mr. Harrison said smilingly to Mr. Gerry, "When the hanging scene comes to be exhibited, I shall have the advantage over you, on account of my size. All will be over with me in a moment, but you will be kicking in the air half an hour after I am gone."
It appears, by the public papers, that a detachment from the British army of two thousand eight hundred men, under the command of Major-General Clinton, Lord Cornwallis, and a fleet consisting of two line of battle ships, frigates, and other armed vessels, amounting to forty or fifty, have lately made a furious attack on the town of Charleston, South Carolina. Major-General Lee, who commands our army in that quarter, has written to Congress a particular statement of the engagement, which, he says, continued for twelve hours without intermission. The enemy was twice repulsed with great loss; and the Carolina troops and militia have gained the highest honor by their brave and intrepid conduct. Colonel Moultrie, in a particular manner, is deserving of the highest praise. But the British fleet has suffered a loss almost beyond example. Their ships shattered almost to total ruin, and one frigate of twenty-eight, guns was blown up by her own crew. A number of officers were killed and wounded and the number of men is said to be one hundred and seventy-nine killed, and two hundred and sixty wounded. Not one man, who was quartered at the beginning of the action on the Bristol's quarter-deck, escaped being killed or wounded. Lord Campbell, the late governor of that colony, being a volunteer on board, received a mortal wound; and the Commodore, Sir Peter Parker, had a material part of his breeches torn away, and was otherwise wounded. The whole of the British forces displayed the greatest courage and bravery. In a southern newspaper are inserted the following lines on Sir Peter's disaster:
"If honor in the breech is lodged,
As Hudibras hath shown,
It may from hence be fairly judged
Sir Peter's honor's gone."
The English Parliament, doubting the competency of their own powers to subjugate the United Colonies, have resorted to the assistance of foreign troops to prosecute their sanguinary purposes. They have actually entered into treaty with several German princes to furnish seventeen thousand men, to aid in the great work of reducing the Americans to, the same degraded state of vassalage with these hirelings themselves. The terms stipulated in the treaties are, that besides the wages to be paid these foreigners, Parliament engages to pay for every soldier who shall not return, thirty pounds sterling; and for every disabled soldier fifteen pounds sterling! These mercenary troops, it is said in England, are to "assist in forcing the rebels to ask mercy." It has been asserted in the House of Lords, that the expense to England for these foreign troops cannot be less than one million five hundred thousand pounds for one year! There is now the clearest evidence, that the British ministry are woefully disappointed in their expectations respecting the spirit and temper of the American people. They had entertained no idea that the colonists would proceed to such daring enormity as to spurn their mighty power and authority. They appear now determined by their augmented forces to crush at a blow all opposition to their mandates, and to coerce the rebels into a sense of duty to their king. It is estimated that a force exceeding forty thousand men is to be employed in America the present year. His majesty has appointed the two brothers, Lord Howe and General Howe, commissioners for restoring peace to the colonies, and for granting pardons to such of his majesty's subjects,now in rebellion, p as shall deserve the royal clemency. Besides the two commissioners, they are about to send on the same service a combination of Hessians, Brunswickers, Waldeckers, English, Scotch, and Irish. The Scots may perhaps come prepared with this following advice:
"O learn from our example and our fate,
Learn wisdom and repentance ere too late."
The following transaction is now a subject of newspaper discussion and of general conversation. Admiral Lord Howe arrived off the city of New York, not long since, to take the command of the British fleet; on his arrival he proclaimed to the public that he and his brother General Howe were appointed his majesty's commissioners, with full powers to grant pardons to all or to any town, county, or district, who may have departed from their allegiance and duty to his majesty, &c., and who are willing by a speedy return to reap the benefit of the royal favor. These royal commissioners despatched Colonel Patterson, adjutant-general of the British army, to General Washington at New York, with letters respecting their mission; but as the letters were not directed in a manner expressive of his official station, his excellency refused to receive them; but treated Colonel Patterson with much politeness, and dismissed him. The conduct of General Washington in this interview received the approbation of Congress, and they resolved, "that he had acted with a dignity becoming his character." They further resolved, "that no letters or messages be received on any occasion whatever from the enemy, by the commander-in-chief or others, the commanders of the American army, but such as shall be directed to them in the characters they respectively sustain" It was not many days after this that Colonel Patterson again waited on General Washington, and on this occasion he addressed him by the title of excellency; and in the name of the commissioners apologized for any deficiency in point of respect or punctilio, and assured him that they had the highest personal respect for General Washington, and did not mean to derogate from his rank; that the letter, of which he was now the bearer from the commissioners, was directed to George Washington, Esq., &c. &c. &c., which they hoped would remove all difficulties; as the three et ceteras might be understood to imply every thing that ought to follow. To this the general replied, that though it was true the three et ceteras might mean everything, it was also true they might mean any thing, and as Congress had approved of his conduct in the first interview, he could not enter into any new treaty without fresh authority, and declined receiving the letter; adding that he should absolutely decline any letter directed to him as a private person, when it related to his public station. Colonel Patterson said, Lord and General Howe were invested with exceedingly great powers, and were very desirous of being the medium of an accommodation of difficulties. The general replied, he had read the act of Parliament, and found they were merely empowered to grant pardons. The Americans had committed no wrong, and therefore wanted no pardons; we were only defending what we deemed our indisputable rights. Colonel Patterson seemed confused, and replied that this would open a wide field for argument. The adjutant-general conducted with the greatest attention and politeness; and manifested great solicitude that the letter might be received, and that the interview might be productive of favorable results. He expressed strong acknowledgments for the favor done him, in omitting the usual ceremony of blinding his eyes, when passing our works. General Washington invited him to partake of a collation provided for him, and be was introduced to our general officers. After many compliments and polite expressions, he departed with saying, "Has your excellency no commands to my Lord or General Howe?" "None, sir," replied the general, "but my particular compliments to both of them."
This event furnishes an irrefragable testimony of the manly firmness of mind and dignity of conduct of our commander-in-chief; and is calculated to impress the English commanders with a just sense of his exalted merit and character.
The continental army, under the immediate command of General Washington, is stationed at New York; and it is expected that the British army, under Command of General Howe, will endeavor to take possession of that city the present season.
Colonel Whitcomb's regiment, consisting of five hundred men, has now gone through the small-pox in this town by inoculation, and all, except one negro, have recovered.
7th. This regiment, with Colonel Sargeant's, are preparing to march to Ticonderoga. A number of teams are procured to transport the baggage and stores, and this morning, at seven, o'clock, they marched out of town with colors displayed and drums beating. Being myself indisposed, I am permitted to tarry in town till my health is restored, and in the mean time I am directed to take charge of the sick soldiers that remain here.
Having recovered my health, and being prepared to follow our regiment, I am this day to bid adieu to the town of Boston, where I have resided very pleasantly for the last five months. I am destined to a distant part of our country, and know not what suffering and hazards I shall be called to encounter, while in the discharge of my military duty. I shall commence my journey in company with Lieutenant Whiting and fourteen men who were left here as invalids.
We took our route through Worcester, Springfield, Charlestown, in New Hampshire, and over the Green Mountains to Skeensboro'; which is the place of rendezvous for the continental troops and militia destined to Ticonderoga. Here boats are provided at the entrance of Lake Champlain, which are continually passing to and from this place. We embarked on the 6th instant, and with good oarsmen and sails we arrived the same day, and joined our regiment here, a distance of thirty miles. While on our march, we received alarming reports respecting some military operations between our army, commanded by General Washington, and the British, under command of General Howe, on Long Island, near New York. The report states that our army has suffered a complete defeat with great loss, and that two of our general officers are taken prisoners. The inhabitants through the country are in great alarm; but have not obtained the particulars; as the account at present is vague, and somewhat contradictory, we hope and trust that a particular detail will prove the event to be more favorable to our cause.
Soon after my arrival here, a soldier had the imprudence to seize a rattlesnake by its tail; the reptile threw its head back and struck its fangs into the man's hand. In a few moments a swelling commenced, attended with severe pain. It was not more than half an hour, when his whole arm to his shoulder was swollen to twice its natural size, and the skin became of a deep orange color. His body, on one side, soon became affected in a similar manner, and a nausea at his stomach ensued. The poor man was greatly and justly alarmed; his situation was very critical. Two medical men, beside myself were in close attendance for several hours. Having procured a quantity, of olive oil, we directed the patient to swallow it in large and repeated doses, till he had taken one quart; and at the same time we rubbed into the affected limb a very large quantity of mercurial ointment. In about two hours we had the satisfaction to perceive the favorable effects of the remedies. The alarming symptoms abated, the swelling and pain gradually subsided, and in about forty-eight hours he was happily restored to health.
I have omitted to record the following incidents, till I could ascertain the particulars of the reports.
We learn by accounts from
New York that, some time since, a plot of a most atrocious nature was detected
in that city. A gang of tories had associated for the purpose of joining the
British army; and had concerted a plan, it is said, to assassinate his Excellency
General Washington and some other officers; and while our army were engaged
with the enemy, to blow up our magazines, &c. The mayor of the city, and
an armorer who was employed in making rifles for the tories, and several others,
were taken into custody, and committed to close prison. The mayor, on examination,
confessed that he received money from Governor Tryon to pay the armorer for
the rifles. Two of his excellency's guards were confederate; and a third, to
whom the secret was confided, honestly disclosed the information. Several of
these miscreants were tried and convicted, and two or three were executed. Another
vile plot has been discovered in the city of Albany by the confession of two
tories, the plan was to set the city on fire, and to blow up the magazine. Some
of the incendiaries were apprehended, and the meditated plot frustrated. We
have now ample evidence, that the tories are the most virulent and implacable
of our enemies; and it is to be considered as a remarkable interposition of
Providence, that their vile machinations are so frequently defeated. Internal
secret enemies are always more dangerous than avowed foes in the field; and
so numerous and active are the tories in the vicinity of our main army, that
it has been found necessary to adopt coercive measures, and to compel them to
take the oath of allegiance, as prescribed by our Congress, or to depart from
I must not omit to notice another instance of villany in a German by the name of Ledwitz. By his solicitation he was appointed lieutenant-colonel in our army, and he has been detected in a traitorous correspondence with Governor Tryon of New York. He entrusted his letter to one Steen, an honest German, to be conveyed to New York; but he considered it his duty to expose the perfidy, and delivered it to General Washington. In his letter he first presents his compliments in a formal manner to Lord Howe, and then proceeds to profess a consciousness that the world will censure him for his treachery, in corresponding with the enemy of those in whose service he is employed, but apologizes by asserting that he had been forced to accept his commission, for fear of ruin to himself and family; and as he had engaged, through compulsion, by a rebellious mob, he can be under no obligation to be faithful in their service. Besides this, he adds, he had previously taken Governor Tryon's advice, and had promised to do all he could in his new capacity for his majesty's service. He then asserts that a person who is a friend to the king, though an interested one, had offered to furnish him with weekly returns of the strength and detail of the continental army, for the sum of four thousand pounds sterling, to be paid in advance in gold; but that he had agreed with him to render that service for two thousand pounds, which sum, he requested, might be immediately conveyed to him. By this criminal act the perfidious wretch had forfeited his life, according to the articles of war; but on his trial by a court martial, his life was saved by the casting vote of a militia officer, who pretended some scruples of conscience; he was, however, cashiered, and declared incapable of holding any military office in the service of the United States.
I have now ascertained, by accounts published, that the battle on Long Island took place on the 27th of August. The British and Hessian army, supposed to amount to twenty-four thousand, landed on the island under cover of their shipping. The continental army consisted of ten thousand five hundred and fourteen effectives only; and these were so situated, that but a small part could be brought into action; the conflict therefore was extremely unequal. In point of numbers, of discipline, experience in war, and of artillery, the enemy possessed the most decided advantage; besides the important assistance afforded by a powerful fleet. The very judicious plan of attack by the British generals was carried into execution with irresistible ardor and impetuosity. The Americans defended themselves with great bravery, till a considerable number of them were completely surrounded and the remainder dispersed. The palm of victory was on the side of the enemy; and our loss is very considerable. Major-General Sullivan and Lord Stirling were obliged to surrender as prisoners; and our total loss is supposed to be not less than one thousand or twelve hundred in killed, wounded, and missing. The enemy suffered very severely.
After this unfortunate skirmishing, our army retreated within their lines at Brooklyn, and were exposed to the greatest hazard; our troops, fatigued and discouraged by defeat, a superior enemy in their front, and a powerful fleet about to enter the East River with a view of effectually cutting off their retreat; but an interposition of Providence, and the wisdom and vigilance of the commander-in-chief preserved our army from destruction. Having resolved to withdraw his army from its hazardous position, General Washington crossed over to the island in the night of the 29th of August, and personally conducted the retreat in so successful a manner, under the most embarrassing circumstances, that it is considered as a remarkable example of good generalship. A circumstance which is remarked as manifestly providential, is, that a thick fog enveloped the whole of Long Island in obscurity about two o'clock in the morning, while on the side of the enemy at New York, the atmosphere was perfectly clear. Thus by a providential interposition of an unusual fog, our army, consisting of nine thousand men, in one night embarked under great disadvantages, and with their baggage, provisions, stores, horses, and the munitions of war, crossed a river, a mile or more wide, and landed at New York undiscovered and without material loss. The enemy were so near, that they were heard at work with their pick-axes, and in about half an hour after, the fog cleared off. and the enemy were seen taking possession of the American lines,
General Washington, finding the city of New York untenable, has removed his whole army about nine miles up the country; which be effected in safety, though under a heavy cannonade from the British shipping. General Howe with his army took immediate possession of the city. Major-General Sullivan, who was captured on Long Island, has been permitted to return o his parole; and is charged with a message to Congress from Lord Howe. The purport of the message is, that his lordship, as commissioner, could not treat with Congress, as such; but is desirous of a conference with some of the members, as private gentlemen. Congress could not consider themselves justified in sending any of their members in their private character; but ever desirous of establishing peace on reasonable terms, offered to send a committee to inquire whether his lordship had any authority to treat with persons authorized by Congress for this purpose, and what that authority was, and to hear such propositions as he should think proper to make respecting the same. They accordingly made choice of Dr. Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Esq. and Edward Rutledge, Esq., who had an inter view with Lord Howe on Staten Island. The first propo sition from his lordship was, that the colonies should return to their allegiance and obedience to the government of Great Britain. The committee expressed their opinion, that a return to the domination of Great Britian was not to be expected. They mentioned the repeated humble petitions of the colonies to the king and parliament, which had been treated with contempt, and answered with additional injuries; the unexampled patience we had shown under their tyrannical government, and that it was not till the last act of Parliament, which denounced war against us, and put us out of the king's protection, that we declared our independence; and that it is not now in the power of Congress to agree that the people should return to their former dependent state. The committee reported to Congress that it did not appear that his lordship's commission contained any other authority of importance than what is expressed in the act of Parliament, namely, that of granting pardons, with such exceptions as the commissoners shall think proper to make, and of declaring America, or any part of it, to be in the king's peace on submission. The committee conducted the business with great judgment, and in a manner becoming the dignity of their character. The Conress adopted no other measures on this occasion; and the British commissioners, finding that the United States could not relinquish their independency, published their declaration to the people at large, recommending to them "to reflect seriously on their present conduct and expectations, and to judge for themselves, whether it is more consistent with their honor and happiness to offer up their lives as a sacrifice to the unjust and precarious cause in which they are engaged, or to return to their allegiance, accept the blessings of peace, And be secured in the free enjoyment of their liberties and property." Had the declaration of independence been deferred but a few weeks longer, this proceeding of the commissioners might have been productive of consequences exceedingly disastrous to our country. It would probably have increased the number of opposers to the measure, and occasioned the greatest confusion and embarrassment. It was undoubtedly their object, by a specious prospect of reconciliation, to create a division among the colonies and people, and thereby paralyze their exertions and preparations for war. But at the present time, the declaration of the king's commissioners is not calculated to effect the great purpose which they have in view; the people at large have become too wise to be duped and cajoled out of their freedom. They repose unbounded confidence in the wisdom of the Congress of their choice; and have no disposition to counteract their views or embarrass their counsels. The number of individuals, who have accepted of the proffered conditions , is supposed to be very inconsiderable; and by far the largest portion of them are in the city of New York and its immediate vicinity. By a flag from New York we learn that, about five days after the British army took possession of that city, a destructive fire broke out, and raged with such violence, that about one thousand houses, some of the most superb buildings, being about one-quarter of the whole city, were consumed. Some suspicions were entertained that this disaster was occasioned by American emissaries, and several persons had been treated with great cruelty, though no proof was produced against them. There is on the contrary much reason to conclude that the conflagration was merely accidental.
We have the information that, before our army evacuated the city of New York, General Howe's army landed, under cover of five ships of war, the British and Hessians in two separate divisions. So soon as this was announced to our commander-in-chief, by a heavy cannonade from the men of war, he instantly rode toward our lines; but he was astonished and mortified to find that the troops which had been posted there, and also two brigades which had been ordered to support them, were retreating in great confusion and disorder. He made every effort to rally them, but without success; they were so panic-struck that even the shadow of an enemy seemed to increase their precipitate flight. His excellency, distressed and enraged, drew his sword and snapped his pistols, to check them; but they continued their flight without firing a gun; and the general, regardless of his own safety, was in so much hazard, that one of his attendants seized the reins, and gave his horse a different direction. The following fact is of considerable interest:
When retreating from New York, Major-General Putnam, at the head of three thousand five hundred continental troops, was in the rear, and the last that left the city. In order to avoid any of the enemy that might be advancing in the direct road to the city, he made choice of a road parallel with and contiguous to the North River, till be could arrive at a certain angle, whence another road would conduct him in such a direction as that he might form a junction with our army. It so happened that a body of about eight thousand British and Hessians were at the same moment advancing on the road, which would have brought them in immediate contact with General Putnam, before he could have reached the turn into the other road. Most fortunately, the British generals, seeing no prospect of engaging our troops, halted their own, and repaired to the house of a Mr. Robert Murray, a Quaker and friend of our cause; Mrs. Murray treated them with cake and wine, and they were induced to tarry two hours or more, Governor Tryon frequently joking her about her American friends. By this happy incident General Putnam, by continuing his march, escaped a rencounter with a greatly superior force, which must have proved fataI to his whole party. One half-hour, it is said, would have been sufficient for the enemy to have secured the road at the turn, and entirely cut off General Putnam's retreat. It has since become almost a common saying among our officers, that Mrs. Murray saved this part of the American army.
I have collected from the preceding pages of my Journal some observations relative to the formation and character of our army. After the battle at Lexington, such was the enthusiasm for the cause of liberty, and so general and extensive the alarm, that thousands of our citizens, who were engaged in the cultivation of their farms, spontaneously rushed to the scene of action; and an army was assembled almost without the efforts of public authority. At this most eventful period , it was the fond hope of a large proportion of our patriotic leaders, that the controversy with our parent-country would yet be compromised on honorable and equitable terms. Though the haughty Britons had unsheathed the sword, and shed the blood of their brethren, it was impossible to endure the idea that our loyal and humble supplications to the king could any longer be contemptuously rejected; more especially after a complete union of all the colonies in a determined opposition to their tyrannical measures was clearly demonstrated. Calculating therefore that the services of an army would be required for a short period only, and the troops in the field consisting chiefly of minute-men, volunteers and militia, it was a considerable time before they were regularly organized into regiments and brigades. In many instances the soldiers were indulged the privilege of choosing their own officers; the consequence was, as might be expected, that the choice did not fall on the most respectable and meritorious, but on those who were the most popular among the lower class; and these too frequently proved unqualified to discharge their military duties in a manner creditable to themselves or advantageous to the public service. Nor was it to be expected that this description of people could appreciate the importance of the great desiderata in all armies, discipline and subordination. It has been found, by sad experience, that but little dependence can be placed on an army of militia, and those whose term of service is so short that they are almost continually fluctuating from camp to their farms, and in whom the noble spirit of patriotism is in a considerable degree extinguished. There is another evil of a very serious complexion which has manifested itself in our camp. Since the troops from the Southern states have been incorporated and associated in military duty with those from New England, a strong prejudice has assumed its unhappy influence, and drawn a line of distinction between them. Many of the officers from the South are gentlemen of education, and unaccustomed to that equality which prevails in New England; and, however desirable, it could scarcely be expected that people from distant colonies, differing in manners and prejudices, could at once harmonize in friendly intercourse. Hence we too frequently bear the burlesque epithet of Yankee from one party, and that of Buck-skin, by way of retort, from the other. The troops which compose the continental army being enlisted for a few months only, their time of service will soon expire. Congress, being apprised of the absolute necessity of a permanent army, have lately resolved, "to raise a standing army to consist of about seventy-five thousand men, to serve for the term of three years, or during the war." Those troops, when raised, are to be systematically arranged on the continental establishment, and according to their apportionment, the quota of Massachusetts is fifteen battalions, or about twelve thousand men: To encourage enlistments, each soldier is to receive a bounty of twenty dollars, besides his wages and allowance of rations, and one hundred acres of land, if he serve during the war. The officers are to receive land in proportion to their respective ranks, from two hundred to five hundred acres. Their monthly pay is to be as follows:
Colonel, a month......$75.00
Drummer and Fifer......$7.33
Each commissioned officer is allowed the privilege of taking a soldier from the ranks for a waiter, and he is exempted from camp and other duty, except in time of action.
Officers are also allowed a number of rations in proportion to their rank. A surgeon draws three, and a mate two rations. One pound of beef or pork; one pound of bread or flour a day; a small quantity of vegetables, when to be had; one gill of rum or whiskey a day; A small quantity of vinegar, salt, soap and candles, a week, constitute a ration.
Ticonderoga is situated on an angle of land forming the western shore of Lake Champlain or rather what is called South Bay; being the inlet into the lake. It is about twelve miles south of the old fortress at Crown Point; and about one hundred and ten miles north of Albany. This point of land is surrounded on three sides by water, and on the north-west side it is well defended by the old French lines and several block-houses. The works at this place were originally erected by the French, in 1756, and the post was considered of high importance by both the French and English, as commanding the pass direct from Canada to the provinces of New York and New England. In the war between the English and French, in the year 1759, it was surrendered to General Amherst, which was a prelude to the conquest of Canada by the English and Provincial army. In 1775, after the commencement of hostilities at Lexington, this post was taken from the English, by a small party of militia volunteers under command of Colonel Allen and Colonel Arnold, which put the Provincials in possession of a large number of cannon, mortars and other ordnance; a part of which was transported to Cambridge during the siege of Boston. On the east side of South Bay, directly opposite to Ticonderoga, is a high circular hill, on the summit of which our army has erected a strong fort, within which is a square of barracks. This is called Mount Independence. A communication is maintained between the two places by a floating bridge thrown across the lake, which is about four hundred yards wide. The army stationed at this post at present is supposed to consist of about eight or ten thousand men, and Major-General Gates is commander-in-chief. We have a naval armament on Lake Champlain, below this garrison, which is commanded by the intrepid General Arnold; General Waterbury is second in command. The British have also a naval armament, of superior force, at the head of which is the celebrated Sir Guy Carleton. Preparations are making on both sides for a vigorous combat to decide which power shall have dominion on the lake. Should Sir Guy Carleton be able to defeat our fleet, it is supposed that he will pursue his victorious career by an attempt to possess himself of this garrison; and our troops are making the utmost exertion to put our works in the best possible state of defence. Each regiment has its alarm-post assigned, and they are ordered to repair to it, and to man the lines at day-light every morning. Among our defensive weapons are poles, about twelve feet long, armed with sharp iron points, which each soldier is to employ against the assailants when mounting the breastworks. We are happy to learn from head-quarters that the two continental generals, taken in the action on Long Island, Lord Stirling and Major-General Sullivan, have returned to our camp; being exchanged for General Prescott, captured in Canada, and Governor Brown, who was brought off from New Providence by one of our armed vessels.
By some gentlemen from head-quarters, near New York, we are amused with an account of a singular machine, invented by a Mr. D. Bushnell of Connecticut, for the purpose of destroying the British shipping by explosion. This novel machine was so ingeniously constructed, that, on examination, Major-General Putnam was decidedly of opinion that its operations might be attended with the desired success; accordingly he encouraged the inventor, and resolved to be himself a spectator of the experiment on the British shipping in New York harbor. Mr. Bushnell gave to his machine the name of American Turtle or Torpedo. It was constructed on the principles of submarine navigation, and on trial it has been ascertained that it might be rowed horizontally, at any given depth under water, and the adventurer, concealed within, might rise or sink, as occasion requires. A magazine of powder was attached to it in such a manner as to be screwed into the bottom of the ship; and being now disengaged from the machine, the operator retires in safety, leaving the internal clock-work in motion; and at the distance of half an hour or an hour, the striking of a gun lock communicates fire to the powder, and the explosion takes place. It was determined to make the experiment with this machine in the night, on the ship Eagle, of sixty-four guns, on board of which admiral Lord Howe commanded. General Putnam placed himself on the wharf to witness the result. Mr. Bushnell had instructed his brother in the management of the Torpedo with perfect dexterity; but being taken sick, a sergeant of a Connecticut regiment was selected for the business, who, for want of time, could not be properly instructed. He, however, succeeded so far as to arrive in safety with his apparatus under the bottom of the ship, when the screw, designed to perforate the copper sheathing, unfortunately struck against an iron plate, near the rudder, which, with the strong current and want of skill in the operator, frustrated the enterprise; and, as day-light had begun to appear, the sergeant abandoned his magazine, and returned in the Torpedo to the shore. In less than half an hour a terrible explosion from the magazine took place, and threw into the air a prodigious column of water, resembling a great water-spout, attended with a report like thunder. General Putnam and others, who waited with great anxiety for the result, were exceedingly amused with the astonishment and alarm which this secret explosion occasioned on board of the ship. This failure, it is confidently asserted, is not to be attributed to any defect in the principles of this wonderful machine; as it is allowed to be admirably calculated to execute destruction among the shipping.
By intelligence from our fleet, on the lake, we are in daily expectation of a decisive naval action, as the British are known to have a superior force; our officers, here, I understand, are full of anxiety respecting the important event. Great confidence is reposed in the judgment and bravery of General Arnold, whom General Gates has appointed to command our fleet.
I have now to record an account of a naval engagement between the two fleets on Lake Champlain. The British, under command of Sir Guy Carleton, advanced on the 11th instant, and found our fleet in a line of battle prepared for the attack. A warm action soon ensued, and became extremely close and severe, with round and grape shot, which continued about four hours. Brigadier-General Waterbury, in the Washington galley, fought with undaunted bravery, till nearly all his officers were killed and wounded, and his vessel greatly injured; when General Arnold ordered the remaining shattered vessels to retire up the lake, towards Crown Point, in order to refit. On the 13th, they were overtaken by the enemy, and the action was renewed, in which was displayed the greatest intrepidity on both sides. The Washington galley, being crippled in the first action, was soon obliged to strike and surrender. General Arnold conducted during the action with great judgment, firmness and gallantry, obstinately defending himself against a superior force, both in numbers and weight of metal. At length, however, he was so closely pressed that his situation became desperate, and he run his own vessel, the Congress galley, on shore, which with five gondolas were abandoned and blown up. Out of sixteen of our vessels, eleven were taken or destroyed, five only arrived safe at this place. Two of the enemy's gondolas were sunk by our fleet, and one blown up with sixty men. Their loss in men is supposed to be equal to our own, which is estimated at about one hundred. A large number of troops were on board the British fleet,
consisting of regulars, Canadians and savages, which have been landed on each side of the lake, and it is now expected that Sir Guy Carleton, at the head of his army, reported to be about ten thousand strong, will soon invest this post. By order of General Gates, our commander, the greatest exertions are constantly making, by strengthening our works, to enable us to give them a warm reception; and our soldiery express a strong desire to have an opportunity of displaying their courage and prowess; both officers and men are full of activity and vigilance.
It is now ascertained that the British army and fleet have established themselves at Crown Point, and are strengthening the old fortifications at that place. Some of their vessels have approached within a few miles of our garrison, and one boat came within cannon-shot distance of our lower battery, in order to reconnoitre and sound the channel; but a few shot having killed two men, and wounded another, soon obliged her to retire. All our troops are ordered, to repair to their alarm posts, and man the lines and works; every morning, our continental colors are advantageously displayed on the ramparts, and our cannon and spears are in readiness for action.
Ever since the defeat of our fleet we have been providentially favored with a strong southerly wind, which has prevented the enemy's advancing to attack our lines, and afforded us time to receive some reinforcements of militia, and to prepare for a more vigorous defence. It seems now to be the opinion of many of our most judicious officers, that had Sir Guy Carleton approached with his army, immediately after his victory on the lake, the struggle must have been most desperate, and the result precarious; but we now feel more confidence in our strength.
Several letters, lately received from Canada, acknowledge that no man ever manoeuvred with more dexterity, fought with more bravery, or retreated with more firmness, than did General Arnold on the 11th and 12th instant. After making every effort to compensate, by the advantage of situation, for the inferiority of force, and seeing his own vessel, and the rest, torn to pieces by the superior weight of metal, and the execution of the enemy's howitzers, he set fire to his vessel, and would not quit her till she was so completely in flames that it was impossible for the enemy to strike her colors on their arrival, and they were left flying among the flames to the last. This, says one of the letters, was supporting a point of honor in a manner almost romantic; yet so it was.
The enemy remain at Crown Point, and evince no disposition to molest our garrison, having probably discovered that our means of defence are too formidable for them to encounter. General Gates has now ordered a detachment of troops to march towards Crown Point, to reconnoitre their position, or to attack them. A report was soon returned that the whole fleet and army have abandoned Crown Point, and retired into Canada, where they will probably occupy their winter-quarters in peace, and it is not probable that Sir Guy Carleton intends to invest our garrison, at this advanced season, unless, however, he should attempt it by marching his army over the ice, when the lake is frozen, which will probably be very practicable.
Ticonderoga is situated in about latitude forty-four degrees. I have no means in possession of ascertaining the precise degree of cold,; but we all agree that it is colder here than in Massachusetts at the same season. The earth has not yet been covered with snow, but the frost is so considerable that the water of the lake is congealed, and the earth is frozen. We are comfortably situated in our barracks, our provisions are now good, and having no enemy near enough to alarm or disturb us, we have nothing of importance to engage our attention. Our troops are quite healthy, a few cases of rheumatism and pleurisy comprise our sick-list, and it is seldom that any fatal cases occur.
Intelligence has lately arrived at head-quarters here, that a British fleet, and a detachment of five or six thousand of the royal army have taken possession of Newport, in Rhode Island, without any opposition; many of the inhabitants being friendly to the royal cause, they were received as friends. By letters from officers, and by other information from our main army, we learn with sorrow that our affairs in that quarter are in a most deplorable and almost desperate situation. Since the evacuation of New York, several battles and skirmishes have taken place between the two armies, with considerable loss on both sides; but his excellency the commander-in-chief has constantly avoided a general action. Fort Washington and Fort Lee have fallen into the hands of the enemy, with a considerable number of prisoners; and our army being reduced to the lowest ebb, discouraged and dispirited, are retreating through the Jerseys, and the enemy in close pursuit. The continental army has even crossed the Delaware, and left the whole state of Jersey in the possession of the royal army.
Another disaster of much importance is the capture of Major-General Lee; on the 13th instant, marching at the head of his division to join the main army, he very incautiously took up his lodgings at a house three or four miles from his troops. Information of this was, by some tories, communicated to Colonel Harcourt of the British
light-horse, who resolved to attempt his capture. Accordingly, with a detachment of dragoons, he speedily surrounded the house; made General Lee his prisoner, and not permitting him time to take his cloak and hat, mounted him on a horse, and in triumph conveyed him to New York. The loss of this favorite general officer, it is feared, will be attended with very serious consequences, as respects the American cause. He was from his youth an officer in the British service, where he sustained a reputation of the highest grade, as a brave and skilful warrior. Having adopted our country, and become a zealous advocate for its liberties, he had acquired the confidence and highest regard of the public, and was exalted to the rank of second in command in our army.
Such is now the gloomy aspect of our affairs that the whole country has taken the alarm; strong apprehensions are entertained that the British will soon have it in their power to vanquish the whole of the remains of the continental army. The term of service of a considerable part of our troops has nearly expired, and new recruits do not arrive in sufficient numbers to supply their places. His Excellency General Washington is continually making every possible effort to produce a change of circumstances more auspicious to our country. The critical and distressing situation in which he is placed is sufficient to overwhelm the powers of any man of less wisdom and magnanimity than our commander-in-chief. He has the confidence and the affection of the officers and soldiers of the whole army; and there is not perhaps another man to be found so well calculated to discharge the duties of his important and responsible station. It is generally agreed by our officers that, in his retreat through the Jerseys and over the Delaware, under the most pressing difficulties, he displayed the talents and wisdom characteristic of a great military commander, possessing unfailing resources of mind. While retreating through the Jerseys with an army not exceeding three thousand five hundred men and deeming our cause as almost desperate, he said to Colonel Reed, passing his hand over his throat, "My neck does not feel as though it was made for a halter: we must retire to Augusta county in Virginia, and if overpowered we must pass the Alleghany mountains." General Washington at this time was suffering the most agonizing distress for the fate of his army and his country.
The king's commissioners, flushed with the success of the royal army, have availed themselves of the occasion, and put forth another proclamation, granting pardons to all those who shall within sixty days subscribe a declaration to remain peaceable, not to take up arms, nor encourage others to act against the king's authority; and at the same time, they charge and command all who are assembled in arms against his majesty to disband, and all under the names of general and Provincial Congress committees, &c. to desist from their treasonable practices, And relinquish their usurped power within sixty days from the date of the proclamation.
This production, couched in the haughty style of royal authority, demands submission of those who have long since been compelled to abjure all allegiance to the British crown. How far the people of this continent may be disposed to retrace their steps, to abandon the government of their choice, relinquish their independence and succumb to arbitrary power, is a point to be decided within sixty days. However apparently forlorn, is our situation, we presume to hope that his majesty's commissioners will not realize their sanguine expectations, though British clemency on the one hand, and the gallows on the other, may be the alternative. The Congress resolved, on the 12th instant, that it be recommended to all the United States as soon as possible to appoint a day of fasting and humiliation. This is according to the custom of our pious ancestors in times of imminent dangers and difficulties. Considering the rapid movements of the enemy, and knowing it to be their intention to possess themselves of the city of Philadelphia, the Congress have resolved to retire to Baltimore in Maryland. They have also ordered, that hand-bills be circulated through the states with the view of rousing the whole people to a sense of the impending danger, and the calamities that will ensue should the enemy succeeded in the attempt to get possession of the capital.
A singular kind of riot took place in our barracks last evening, attended by some unpleasant consequences. Colonel A. W. of Massachusetts, made choice of his two sons, who were soldiers in his regiment, to discharge the menial duties of waiters, and one of them having been brought up a shoe-maker, the colonel was so inconsiderate as to allow him to work on his bench in the same room with himself. The ridiculous conduct has for some time drawn on the good old man the contemptuous sneers of the gentlemen officers, especially those from Pennsylvania. Lieutenant-ColoneI C. of Wayne's regiment, being warmed with wine, took on himself the task of reprehending the "Yankee" colonel for thus degrading his rank. With this view he rushed into the room in the evening, and soon despatched the shoe-maker's bench; after which, he made an assault on the colonel's person, and bruised him severely. The noise and confusion soon collected a number of officers and soldiers, and it was a considerable time before the rioters could be quelled. Some of the soldiers of Colonel Wayne's regiment actually took to their arms and dared the Yankees, and then proceeded to the extremity of firing their guns. About thirty or forty rounds were aimed at the soldiers of our regiment, who were driven from their huts and barracks, and several of them were severely wounded. Colonel C., in making an assault on a superior officer, and encouraging a riot, is guilty of one of the highest crimes in our articles of war. It was in the power of Colonel W., and in fact it was his duty, to bring the audacious offenders to exemplary punishment; but, as if to complete the disgrace of the transaction, Colonel C. sent some soldiers into the woods to shoot a fat bear, with which he made an entertainment, and invited Colonel W. and his officers to partake of it; this effected a reconciliation; and Colonel W. was induced to overlook the high-handed assault on his own person and on the lives of his soldiers. Our colonel is a serious, good man, but is more conversant with the economy of domestic life than the etiquette practised in camp.
Profile of Thacher
One of the most
interesting wartime journals penned by an American surgeon is James Thacher's
Military Journal During the Revolutionary War (1823). Chiefly remembered
for his contributions to medical history, Thacher (1754-1844) was among the
most influential but least flamboyant practitioners of his time. Born in Barnstable,
Mass, he apprenticed with a celebrated local physician, Abner Hersey (1721-1787).
Having completed his medical education in mid 1775, Thacher entered the army
as a surgeon's mate attached to the provincial hospital at Cambridge, Mass,
under the command of John Warren (1753-1815). Thacher served with distinction
in the Continental Army and was eventually promoted to the position of surgeon.
At the termination of the war, he settled in Plymouth, Mass, where he resided
until the day of his death. Extremely busy clinically, Thacher was also one
of the most prolific medical writers of his era, his books were widely regarded
for reflecting the best available medical information of the time.
Among his texts are:
The American New Dispensatory (1810)
Observations on Hydrophobia (1812)
American Modern Practice (1817)
Thacher also wrote on nonmedical topics, including:
A Practical Treatise on the Management of Bees (1829)
An Essay on Demonology, Ghosts, Apparitions and Popular Superstitions (1831).
As if all this were not enough, Thacher authored the first biographical dictionary of American physicians, American Medical Biography (1828), which contained a little-appreciated but well-documented history of medicine in the United States.
Although Thacher's Journal does not have a specific section on surgery, it provides numerous interesting anecdotes from the standpoint of a Revolutionary War surgeon. Thacher describes one scene (October 24, 1777) following the battle of Saratoga after 5000 British troops led by General John Burgoyne (1722-1792) surrendered to Major General Philip Schuyler (1733-1794) and Horatio Gates (1728-1806):
The hospital is now crowded with officers and soldiers from the field of battle; those belonging to the British and Hessian troops, are accommodated in the same hospital with our own men, and receive equal care and attention. The foreigners are under the care and management of their own surgeons. I have been present at some of their capital operations, and remarked that the English surgeons performed with skill and dexterity, but the Germans, with few exceptions, do no credit to their profession; some of them are the most uncouth and clumsy operators I ever witnessed, and appear to be destitute of all sympathy and tenderness toward the suffering patient . . . We have about thirty surgeons, and mates; and all are constantly employed. I am obliged to devote the whole of my time from eight o'clock in the morning to a late hour in the evening, to the care of our patients. Here is a fine field for professional improvement. Amputating limbs, trepanning fractured skulls, and dressing the most formidable wounds, have familiarized my mind to scenes of woe. A military hospital is peculiarly calculated to afford examples for profitable contemplation, and to interest our sympathy and commiseration. If I turn from beholding mutilated bodies, mangled limbs and bleeding, incurable wounds, a spectacle no less revolting, is presented, of miserable objects, languishing under afflicting diseases of every description . . . awful harbingers of approaching dissolution . . . emaciated bodies and ghastly visage.
In another instance, Thacher tells of a soldier who was shot in the forehead with a musket ball. Fortunately, the victim's skull was thick enough that it deflected the now flattened ball to under the skin of his chin. As Thacher noted, "no one can doubt but he received his wound while facing the enemy." Conversely, Thacher termed another soldier's wound as "not so honorable," because he was injured in the sole of his foot while running away from the enemy. Included at the end of the Journal are vignettes of various generals Thacher personally met, including Frederick William von Steuben (1730-1794), Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), Charles Lee (1731-1782), and Benedict Arnold (1741-1801). Thacher's book was popular enough that a second edition was published in 1827
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