Will Burton and July 5, 1777

While researching and writing Honor and Valor I found journal and diary entries telling of the first commemorations of the July 4th in 1777. The evening of 5 July, 1777 turned out to be substantially more important. As the sun set that day on the American soldiers at Fort Ticonderoga, outnumbered by 3:1 by General Burgoyne’s army several miles to the north, they loaded what they could carry and left. On boats they carried cannon and baggage south toward Skenesborough (now Whitehall), though most marched east and then turned south toward Hubbardton.

The Americans at Fort Ticonderoga numbered about 3,000 with a majority being Continental Army soldiers and the rest Massachusetts and New Hampshire militia.

Will Burton, barely 15-years-old, a fifer with the 3rd New Hampshire Continental Regiment, and likely full of adrenaline marched with them toward Hubbardton. Will, like my ancestor, Isaac Frye, was from Wilton, New Hampshire. Each of the nine companies in the regiment had a fifer and a drummer. Isaac Frye was at that time a Captain and commanded one of the companies in the 3rd NH, the same one Will had enlisted in three months earlier.

When I wrote the outline of Honor and Valor, I was telling Isaac Frye’s story. I was loosely aware of Will Burton’s service and knew I wanted to include it, but had not worked out how until I began writing the book. After getting stuck trying to introduce Will, I realized he would need to be a major character and a significant part of the story would need to come from his perspective.

I had no idea how important Will’s perspective would prove to be. Isaac Frye was an officer, and any who know the U.S. Army know an officer’s life and experiences are different than those of the privates (the short form of “private soldiers”, the 18th Century term for enlisted men).

Having been a private when I was barely 18-years old in the modern U.S. Army, I had some idea of Will’s role in the Continental Army. Being at the dirty hands end of the chain of command and bound by a sense of duty and a sacred oath builds character. Like Will, I learned it takes more than an oath to become a soldier.

-CEF

The image features the cannon at Fort Ticonderoga guarding against approaches on Lake Champlain.

 

 

 

Memorial Day Tribute to Five of a 40-Man Scout

September 4, 1777, Major Henry Dearborn of the 3rd New Hampshire Regiment wrote the following in his journal:

“a Scout of 40 men under Command of Capt. fry of Colo. Scammels Regt. was Surpris’d By a Body of Indians & others Consisting in the whole of about 300. we Lost out our scout 9 men kild & taken–“

Memorial Day has become the time when we reflect on the sacrifices of our country’s soldiers and their families. Researching and writing my books has afforded me opportunities to learn a few stories of such sacrifices that have seemingly gone untold. Last year I wrote on Josiah Parker. This past year I finally sorted out the story of the scouting party Henry Dearborn wrote about.

Early on the morning of September 4, 1777, Captain Isaac Frye of Colonel Alexander Scammell’s 3rd New Hampshire Regiment led a party of forty men selected from the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd NH and the 2nd and 4th New York Continental Army regiments out of their camp by Lowden’s Ferry on the south side of the Mohawk River. After crossing the river, Frye, a New Hampshire Farmer, likely led them along the north side of the river before turning northwest by what is today Alplaus. By early afternoon they were likely near Galway when they were ambushed by the warriors from the Fort Hunter Mohawks, who having been driven from their homes were on their way first to Burgoyne’s camp and ultimately to Canada.

This past summer I was able to use the rolls from these regiments to determine the names of all the men in this scouting party.  It was mostly luck that the rolls were taken on September 5 and 6, listing the men as either on a scout or on command.

Lieutenant Nathaniel McCally and privates Daniel Cook and Daniel Day apparently got separated and did not return with Captain Frye and were listed as missing.  The next date rolls existed for was Jan 1/2, 1778, where I confirmed these men had returned a day or two later. Those January rolls also listed the men who were killed or were listed as missing since the scouting party:

  • Sergeant William Kemp, Morrill’s company, 1st NH
  • Corporal Steven Lovekin, Blodgett’s company, 2nd NH
  • Private Isaac Leeland, Blodgett’s company, 2nd NH
  • Private Andrew Newell, Stone’s company, 3rd NH
  • Private Samuel Page, Gilman’s company, 1st NH

It’s been more than a decade since I learned my 4x great grandfather commanded this scouting party.  It has bothered me that Dearborn’s journal and Anburey’s account were all most of us knew about the events of September 4, 1777.  The names of these men who lost their lives that day while serving in the Continental Army were unaccounted for in any of the histories I’ve read and had eluded me until this year.

This skirmish also claimed the lives of as many as three men in the Fort Hunter party who were led by Odeserundiye (John Deserontyon, aka Captain John), who was wounded during the fighting. Samuel Cooley and Isaac Hill’s brother (I’ve not been able to confirm his first name) are the two names from the Fort Hunter part I’ve found mentioned as being killed. The Fort Hunter party included about 150 men, women, and children.

The full story will be in my upcoming novel, “Honor and Valor”, and I am hopeful of finishing within the year.

-CF

Sources:

Anburey, Thomas 1784. “Travels Through the Interior Parts of America in a Series of Letters by an Officer” William Lane, Leadenhall Street, London, England. p391-398

Brown, Lloyd A. and Peckham, Howard H. 1939. “Revolutionary War Journals of Henry Dearborn 1775-1783” The Caxton Club, Chicago, IL. p104.

National Archives, Rolls of Brigadier General Enoch Poor’s brigade (1st, 2nd, and 3rd NH and 2nd and 4th NY regiments) dated Sept 4-6, 1777 and 1-2 Jan 1778. Accessed from 2014-2018 on http://www.Fold3.com.

Acknowledgments:

Eric Schnitzer, Historian and Park Ranger at Saratoga National Historical Park: A little encouragement goes a long way.  Eric put me on the path to looking at all the September 1777 rolls for Enoch Poor’s brigade.

 

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”

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.

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

Wilton Meetinghouse Tragedy

Wilton Meetinghouse and surrounding town today. The festive raising of the Wilton meetinghouse turned to tragedy in 1773 when a worm-eaten support post gave way. All 53 of the men working on the roof beams fell 27 feet among axes, planks, hammers and crowbars. The Essex Gazette of Salem called it ‘the most melancholy Accident…that perhaps […]

via The Wilton Meetinghouse Collapse of 1773 — New England Historical Society

There is also an excellent book on this topic, The Meetinghouse Tragedy by Charles E. Clark, with Illustrations by John Hatch.  It gets into the details–worth a read; I have a copy, and learned Isaac Frye was one of the men who was injured.

-CEF

 

On the James McGregore Affair

First, it is good to be back to writing after a very busy few weeks at work. While I was away, I realized the calendars from The War has Begun and the current year have aligned, so I have made it my goal to keep this blog in step with the book’s calendar. Thus, Chapter 6, A Lesson in Patience, which featured an unexpected addition to the 3rd Regiment’s staff, in the person of James McGregore. McGregore arrived in the American Army’s camp shortly after the Battle of Breed’s Hill, and shortly thereafter obtained a letter from the provincial congress appointing him as the adjutant of Colonel James Reed’s 3rd NH Regiment.  Read more