Freeman’s Farm: The more I read …

For the past few weeks, I’ve been writing the scenes during the Battle of Freeman’s Farm. The perspective is from inside the 3rd New Hampshire Regiment; imagining what it was like to be in the ranks, commanding platoons and companies, and orchestrating the positioning of a regiment on that battlefield.

Most histories are written from a birdseye view with the occasional tidbit coming from the diary or memoir of one of the men on the field. No complaints as those are great reads for getting introduced to the events and people involved. That said, between such histories and paintings of these battles, both new and old, something has been troubling me. How is it, given that each side had roughly 3,000 men, each man roughly twenty cartridges, and fired most of them over the 4-6 hours they were on the battlefield, that there were only a little over 1,000 total casualties?

Do that math:  The Americans fired upwards of 60,000 bullets and maybe 1,000 found an enemy soldier. The British fired about the same number and only hit half as many Americans.

For having fired a musket and demonstrated, hundreds of times, how a firelock works, while explaining the range and just how far off target they could be at a distance of 75 yards, I was still surprised by these numbers.

As I considered the possible reasons for this, some notions of what must have been going on, strategy and tactics-wise began to develop.  First is the 18th-century battlefield was more like a chess match than a shooting gallery. Colonels and captains had to preserve their troops by maneuvering on the field with the dual intent of catching their enemy within range of their muskets.

Sidebar:  Is the right word musket or firelock?  If Google’s NGram Viewer is reliable, it looks like it was similar to “flip phones” versus “cell phones”. It seems that firelocks were a specific new form of the musket class of weapon. 

Smoke from firing volleys providing the fog of battle to hide movements was only the beginning. Advancing or retreating while firing volleys by platoon allowed for relatively high rates of sustained fire to push groups of enemy troops out of the way, or respectively slow their advance.  Getting close enough, perhaps by flanking (coming around to the side of an enemy’s formation), to warrant a bayonet charge while your enemy reloads was a tempting and dangerous goal. Execute poorly and the tables could be turned rather quickly.

Given that, my respect has risen considerably for the American Colonels (Cilley, Scammell, Cook, Adams, and Hull) who directed their men in the field around Freeman’s farm against Burgoyne and Hamilton on this day 241 years ago. These men did not just rush onto the field ala Mel Gibson (as Benjamin Martin or William Wallace) and clash with their enemy. One of the consistent recollections by the men who were there was of the tremendous amount of musketry.  That meant firing volley’s, advancing, wheeling, and retreating if no advantage was gained.

Another thing to take into account was the likelihood that Morgan’s riflemen, and the Jaegers who carried rifles, accounted for a double-digit percentage of the casualties. There were points during the battle where the fighting came to hand-to-hand combat. Both of these facts imply those muskets accounted for even fewer casualties than the 1 in 60 easy math I began with.

Consider that not all men on either side were killers. Aiming a firearm with the intent of taking a life is no small thing. Given all the smoke, there were certainly times when finding a target was impossible–just point into the smoke and pull the trigger when commanded to fire.

It seems only one man in five or even six fired a shot that struck an enemy that day. The credit for keeping the American casualties so low goes to the officers who guided their troops on the field and in the woods while they fought for something more than a six pence.*

-CF

* From a Henry Dearborn quote: “But we who had Something more at Stake than fighting for Six Pence Pr Day kept our ground til Night, Closed the scene, & then Both Parties Retire’d”

KVCR 91.9 – KVC Arts Interview

It is really nice when your hometown Library, the A.K. Smiley Public Library in Redlands, takes great care of you.  They invited me to give a presentation on the research behind The War has Begunand to promote the presentation they arranged for our local public radio station, KVCR 91.9 to do an interview for their KVC Arts program.

An excerpt from that interview is available now on the KVC Arts website. I enjoyed speaking with interviewer Emmanuel Rogers. We did the interview in the KVCR studio, which is located on the campus of San Bernardino Valley College. Emmanuel’s style was to read the book, then with no questions provided ahead of time, record the interview – it worked great.  No chance to overthink anything.

-CF

Here’s a great article, following up on the intersection of Joseph Gray’s narrative and the Van Veghton family’s accounts of the New Hampshire Continental troops assisting in the evacuation of Schaghticoke, NY in August of 1777.

I am re-writing that part of Book 2 in Duty in the Cause of Liberty for the third time now.  Hoping that is the proverbial charm.

-CF

How do we accurately know and report what happened in the past? We learned in school that we should consult primary sources- oral histories; diaries; newspaper reporting; birth, death and marriage certificates, etc. – things created by the people who participated in the events. Of course, we know that everyone experiences an event differently, […]

via Schaghticoke in the American Revolution: A New Perspective on the Death of Major VanVeghten — History of the Town of Schaghticoke

Schaghticoke in the American Revolution, Major VanVeghten scalped

Got to love the Internet for providing the basis to connect the threads of history! See my comment proposing the connecting the thread at the end.

History of the Town of Schaghticoke

          In the last post, I related a Knickerbocker family legend that the fort near the Mansion was occupied by Hessian soldiers at the time of the battle of Saratoga. Though I doubt very much that that was true, there is no doubt that there were bands of Tories, Indians, and perhaps Hessians and British roaming through the area during the summer of 1777 before the battle of Saratoga. Major Dirck VanVeghten of the  local militia unit, the 14th Albany County, was killed by one band when he came from Saratoga just before the battle to check on his home in Schaghticoke. One source states that VanVeghten came home on “an intelligence gathering mission.” In either event,  he was accompanied only by Solomon Acker, one of  the soldiers in his company of the 14th Albany County Militia.

            The story of Major VanVeghten really illustrates the great variety…

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Reflections on Josiah Parker

Memorial Day was not observed in the years immediately following the American Revolution. Soldiers like Josiah Parker, a militiaman from Wilton, NH, who served during the summer and fall of 1776 at Fort Ticonderoga were not much on people’s minds after the Civil War when springtime memorials to fallen soldiers began occurring.

Josiah’s parents, Henry and Sarah Parker lived up the hill from Isaac and Elizabeth Frye in Wilton in the 1770s. Josiah lived a couple miles away, near where Elizabeth’s parents, Timothy and Elizabeth Holt had settled in the early 1770s.

As I was researching The War has Begun, I had quite a time discovering the backstory for Elizabeth Frye writing, in October, about the need to get Josiah a discharge due to his severe illness. That backstory did a great deal to cement, in my mind, the important roles everyone in communities like Wilton played. Their sacrifices were not just categorical things like hunger, sickness, the economic impact of men being absent from farms, etc.

The Josiah Parker who was Fort Ticonderoga and sick enough to be fearing for his life in the early autumn of 1776, was a husband to Phebe, a father to five children, and Phebe was four months pregnant with a sixth child, conceived in the days prior to Josiah being mustered in early July.

Learning what happened to the widows and families of men like Josiah Parker proved fundamental to my writing. How communities coped and the impacts on each individual rippling into the lives of others such the minister of Wilton’s Congregational meetinghouse, Jonathan Livermore provided the threads to make a fabric that richly showed how a community bore the weight of a revolution.

This Memorial Day, take some time to consider what you’ve learned from a Revolutionary War soldier who was killed or died while serving.

Sources

As usual, I am indebted to the work of Abiel Abbot Livermore and Sewall Putnam whose research provided the pieces to this puzzle that matched with those I found in Elizabeth Frye’s letter of October 7, 1776.

Livermore, Abiel Abbot and Putnam, Sewall 1888. “History of the Town of Wilton, Hillsborough County, New Hampshire with a Genealogical Register” Marden & Rowell, Printers, Lowell, MA.

Military Buckshot in the Mid-Eighteenth Century — Kabinettskriege

Reenactors portray Maryland troopsDear Reader,Today, we are going to examine a particular type of ammunition used by eighteenth-century soldiers: buckshot. For those unfamiliar with the term, buckshot consists of smaller projectiles, which spread out after leaving the barrel of the weapon. It is often used in a shotgun today. In the eighteenth-century, German language speakers…

via Military Buckshot in the Mid-Eighteenth Century — Kabinettskriege

Balancing the Balance of Power

On May 5, 1776, General George Washington wrote to Congress. Among the many items was this paragraph:

“I beg leave to lay before Congress, a Copy of the proceedings of a Court Martial upon Lieutenant Grover of the 2d. Regiment, and of his defence, which I should not have troubled them with, had I not conceived the Courts Sentence upon the facts stated in the proceedings, of a singular nature; the small fine imposed, by no means adequate to the enormity of his offence and to be a dangerous and pernicious tendency: for these reasons, I thought it my duty to lay the proceedings before them, in order to their forming such a Judgment upon the Facts, as they shall conceive right and just, and advancive of the Public Good. At the same time I would mention, that I think it of material consequence that Congress should make a resolve, taking away the supposed right of succession in the Military line from one Rank to another, which is claimed by many upon the happening of vacancies, and upon which principle this Offence seems to have originated in a great measure, and this extraordinary Judgement to be founded; declaring that no succession or promotion can take place in case of vacancies, without a Continental Commission giving and Authorizing it.”

In Congress on May 10, 1776 it was resolved:

“That this Congress has hitherto exercised, and ought to retain the power of promoting the officers in the continental service according to their merit; and that no promotion or succession shall take place upon any vacancy, without the authority of a continental Commission.”

Thus, not even his Excellency, General George Washington, would not have the power to promote an officer in the Army he commanded.  An act of Congress would be required. Even in the early days of the American Revolution, the idea of a balance of power was in practice. Washington also knew who held the power over his own commission, and personally, in later correspondence with Congress made recommendations for many of the officers, in addition to forwarding the recommendations from the thirteen provincial congresses that recommended which officers should be commissioned.

These commissions, however, did not arrive immediately. In Isaac Frye’s case, New Hampshire made the recommendation in March 1777, but the commission was not signed until June 1779, more than two years afterward.

Sources:

George Washington Papers, Series 4, General Correspondence: George Washington to Continental Congress, May 5. May 5, 1777. Manuscript/Mixed Material. https://www.loc.gov/item/mgw447183/.

Livermore, Abiel Abbot and Putnam, Sewall 1888. “History of the Town of Wilton, Hillsborough County, New Hampshire with a Genealogical Register” Marden & Rowell, Printers, Lowell, MA. Page 106 has a transcription of Isaac Frye’s commission to rank as Captain, which was signed by John Jay, President of Congress, on June 16, 1779.

New Hampshire Continental Bounties in 1777: A model for the Army College Fund?

Early on I learned my ancestor, Isaac Frye, recruited a company of soldiers for the Continental Army in early 1777.  He ranked as a captain at that time, and records show was given 300£, for to be paid as bounties to induce the men to enlist.

For years, I took that literally, i.e., he was given species as in hard sterling silver money.  In those days that was enough money to buy a nice plot of land. Read more

Nathan Weare’s 1777 Ticonderoga Diary was Actually Sullivan’s Expedition in 1779!

As I’ve been writing “Honor and Valor”, book two of Duty in the Cause of Liberty, I have had to get back into research mode. I always look for journals written by the men who were there–these journals have an authenticity historians cannot replicate. In writing about the lead-up to the evacuation of Fort Ticonderoga, I found a reference to the “Diary of Lieut. Nathan Weare Kept at Ticonderoga and During the Retreat, 1777.” Read more

How Accurate were Regular Soldiers in the Mid-Eighteenth Century? — Reposted from Kabinettskriege

A Soldier from the King’s Regiment takes aim.

Dear Readers, Today, I want to touch on a rather controversial subject.* The subject is the infantry fire effectiveness of mid-eighteenth century European and Euro-American armies. At the outset, “shooting at marks” or target practice, was common in many eighteenth-century armies. Specifically, I am examining the accuracy and limitations of firepower…

via How Accurate were Regular Soldiers in the Mid-Eighteenth Century? — Kabinettskriege