The Adventures Of A Revolutionary Soldier/Chapter VII.
Campaign of 1781.
I saw the plundering British bands,
Invade the fair Virginian lands.
I saw great Washington advance
With Americans and troops of France;
I saw the haughty Britons yield,
And stack their muskets on the field.
Nothing material occurred to me till the month of February, nor any thing then very material. About the twentieth of that month I took it into my head to apply to my Captain for a recommendation to our Colonel for a furlough, that I might once more visit my friends; for I saw no likelihood that the war would ever end. The Captain told me that the Colonel was about sending a non-commissioned officer into Connecticut after two men belonging to our corps, who had been furloughed but had staid beyond the time allowed them, and that he would endeavour to have me sent on this business, and that after I had sent the delinquents to camp, I might tarry a space at home. Accordingly, I soon after received a passport, signed by the Colonel, in these terms, "Permit the bearer, —— ——, to pass into the country after some deserters, and to come back."—The time, "to come back," not being fixed, I set off, thinking I would regulate that as would best suit my own convenience.
When I arrived at home I found that my good old grandmother was gone to her long home, and my grandsire gone forty miles back into the country, to his son's, and I never saw him afterwards. My sister was keeping the house, and I was glad to see her, as I had not seen her for several years. There was likewise a neighbour's daughter there, who kept as much as she possibly could with my sister, and generally slept with her, whom I had seen more than once in the course of my life. Their company and conversation made up for the absence of my grand-parents, it being a little more congenial to my age and feelings. I staid at home two or three days, to recruit after my journey, when a man belonging to our company (going home on furlough) called and informed me that one of the men I was after had arrived at camp, and as he should pass through the town where the other resided, he agreed to do my errand for me. With this arrangement I was much pleased, as it would save me about sixty miles travel in all, going and coming, and I gave him a dollar to help him along, which was all the money I had;—he then went on and did as he agreed. I had nothing now to do but to recreate myself, for, as the time of my return to the army was indefinitely set, I did not trouble myself about it.
I spent my time as agreeble as possible among the young people of my acquaintance, for I thought I was old enough to choose my own method of employing my time, being now nearly twenty-one years of age. I did, indeed, enjoy myself about ten days as agreeably as ever I did in the same space of time in my life; but as I had no set time to return to camp, I was loath to trespass upon my good Colonel's indulgence, and therefore began to think about my return; and as there was two men, one an old associate and the other a private citizen, who were going to camp, I thought, for company's sake, I would go with them, and accordingly did; but I confess that I never left my home with so much regret before; I need not tell the reason, perhaps the reader can guess.
When I arrived within sight and hearing of the army, or rather the garrison of West point, it again harrowed up my melancholy feelings that had, in a manner, subsided on my journey; but upon reaching the barracks where I had left my companions, I could hardly contain myself when I considered my folly in returning so soon, when I might have remained at home a month longer as well as not, and I just then began to think it was my Colonel's intention that I should do so; but what added to my perturbation mostly was, that I found our barracks entirely unoccupied, our men all gone, and not a soul could tell me where. What to do I knew not; I had a great mind to set off for home again, but at length concluded that I would try a little longer to find which way the men had gone. I therefore went to the issuing commissary of the garrison, who was my quondam schoolmate, and he soon informed me that they had gone to Virginia with General Lafayette; I was thunderstruck at this intelligence, and blamed myself tenfold for leaving home so soon. The commissary observing my chagrin, told me that my Captain and eight or ten of our people were in the country, about twenty miles off, where they were undergoing the operation of the small pox. The next day I went out to them and remained with them two or three days; but that would not do for me; I told the Captain that I would go after the men; he said I might act my pleasure as it respected that, but that he should advise me to stay with him till he had got through with the small pox, and the other men that were with him had recovered, and then they should all go together; but that would not content me, I was as uneasy as a fish out of the water. The Captain then told me that if I was determined to follow the corps that my arms were with him, and I might take them and go. I took them and went back to West point, to the commissary, where I procured three or four rations of provisions, and an order for five or six more, in case I could find any commissary on the way. The commissary filled my canteen with liquor, and thus equipped I set off on my journey alone, not expecting to find the men within less than four hundred miles.
I encountered nothing very material on my journey, except it were fatigue and some want, until I arrived at Annapolis, in Maryland; there I found what I had so long sought after, the Sappers and Miners, they were returning to West point. They were on board vessels, and were blocked in at Annapolis by some British ships at the mouth of the river. Shortly after I joined them an opportunity offered, and we escaped with our little fleet, by sweeping out in a dark night, and went up the bay.
We went directly on to West point and took possession of our new barracks again and remained there till sometime in the month of May, when we (with the rest of the army in the Highlands) moved down and encamped at the Peekskill. We remained here awhile and then moved down near King's bridge, fifteen miles from New-York. A part of the army, under the command of Gen. Lincoln, fell down the river in batteaux and landed near old fort Independence, where they were soon attacked by the enemy, when a smart skirmish ensued; our corps, among others, immediately marched to reinforce Gen. Lincoln, but the action ceased and the enemy had retired before we could arrive.
We lay on the ground we then occupied till after midnight, when we advanced further down towards Morrisonia. At the dawn of day we were in close neighbourhood with a British redoubt, and saw a single horseman of the enemy reconnoitering us; we sent a platoon of men around a hill to cut of his retreat, but mistrusting our scheme he kept off out of our reach, although he was seen near us the greater part of the day, "cutting his capers." As soon as it was fairly light we halted, and remained there all day and the night following.—The next morning we were joined by the French army from Rhode-Island. Between us and the British redoubt there was a large deep gully. Our officers gave leave to as many as chose, of our men, to go over the gully and skirmish with the small parties of horsemen and footmen that kept patroling from the redoubt to the gully, watching that none of us took shelter there to annoy them. Accordingly, a number of us kept disturbing their tranquillity all day; sometimes only four or five of us, sometimes ten or twelve; sometimes we would drive them into the redoubt, when they would reinforce and sally out and drive us all over the gully. We kept up this sport till late in the afternoon, when myself and two others of our non-commissioned officers went down near the creek that makes the island upon which New-York is situated. The two other men that were with we stopped under an apple tree that stood in a small gully. I saw four or five British horsemen on their horses a considerable distance from me, on the island. When they saw me they hallooed to me, calling me, "a white livered son of a b—h," (I was dressed in a white hunting shirt, or was without my coat, the latter, I think, as it was warm, and I wore a white under dress.) We then became quite sociable; they advised me to come over to their side and they would give me roast turkeys. I told them that they must wait till we left the coast clear, ere they could get into the country to steal them, as they used to do. They then said they would give me pork and lasses; and then inquired what execution some cannon had done, just before fired from the island, if they had not killed and wounded some of our men; and if we did not want help, as our surgeons were a pack of ignoramuses. I told them, in reply, that they had done no other execution with their guns than wounding a dog, (which was the case,) and as they and their surgeons were of the same species of animals, I supposed the poor wounded dog would account it a particular favour to have some of his own kind to assist him. While we were carrying on this very polite conversation, I observed at a house on the Island, in a different direction from the horsemen, a large number of men,—but as they appeared to be a motley group, I did not pay them much attention. Just as I was finishing the last sentence of my conversation with the horsemen, happening to cast my eyes toward the house (and very providentially too) I saw the flash of a gun; I instinctively dropped, as quick as a loon could dive, when the ball passed directly over me and lodged in the tree under which my comrades were standing. They saw the upper part of my gun drop as I fell, and said, "They have killed him;" but they were mistaken. The people at the house set up a shouting, thinking they had done the job for one poor Yankee, but they were mistaken too, for I immediately rose up, and slapping my backsides to them, slowly moved off. I do not know that I ever ran a greater risk for my life while I was in the army, indeed, I could not, for I verily believe that if I had not "dove at the flash," the ball would have gone directly through my body, but "a miss is as good as a mile," says the proverb. I kept a bright look out for them as I walked off. They sent another shot after me, and I again dropped, but that did not come so near me as the other, nor did they huzza again. These shots must have come from a rifle, as the distance was more than a quarter of a mile. It is poor business to stand thus a single mark.
This afternoon I had like to have picked up another of their shots. I was standing with another of our men in a narrow gateway talking; a man from the redoubt had crept down behind an old battery near us and fired at us; the ball passed between our noses which were not more than a foot apart. The fellow walked off and we sent him something to quicken his pace, but our shots did as little execution as his had done.
The horseman that I mentioned having seen early in the morning, kept prancing about and blackguarding the sentinels, who often fired at him without effect, until late in the afternoon, when one of the sentinels gave him something that seemed to cool his courage. He reached the redoubt, how he fared afterwards I know not; but I heard no more of his yelping.
There were two British soldiers hanging in chains here; I was standing near them with some others of our men, when two French officers rode up and inquired whether they were Americans or English; we told them they were English; upon which one of the officers laid his cane several times across one of the bodies, making the dry bones rattle, at the same time exclaiming, "Fotre d' Anglaise." A bold action! says the reader.
Our people fired several shots from their fieldpieces at some boats crossing the water to the redoubt, but never fired a single shot at the redoubt, or they at us, although we were lying all day in open sight of each other and within half a mile distant; there seemed to be a tacit agreement between them not to injure one another.
We lay all night upon the ground which we had occupied during the day. I was exceedingly tired, not having had a wink of sleep the preceding night, and had been on my feet during the last twenty-four hours, and this night, to add to my comfort, I had to take charge of the quarter guard. I was allowed to get what rest I could consistently with our safety. I fixed my guard, placed two sentinels, and the remainder of us laid down. We were with our corps, who were all by dark, snug in the arms of Morpheus; the officers slept under a tree near us. My orders were, if there was any stir or alarm during the night, to awake the officers, and if any strangers attempted to pass, to stop them and bring them to the officers to be examined by them. Some time in the night, the sentry by the guard, stopped two or three officers who were going past us; the sentry called me up, and I took the strangers to our officers, where they went through an examination and were then permitted to pass on; I returned to my guard and lay down till called up again to relieve the sentinels; all this time I was as unconscious of what was passing as though nothing of the kind had happened, nor could I remember any thing of the matter when told of it the next day; so completely was I worn down by fatigue.
We now fell back a few miles and encamped, (both Americans and French,) at a place called Phillip's Manor. We then went to making preparations to lay siege to New-York; we made facines and gabions, the former, bundles of brush and the latter are made in this manner, viz.—after setting sticks in the ground in a circle, about two feet or more in diameter, they are interwoven with small brush in form of a basket, they are then laid by for use, which is in entrenching; three or more rows of them are set down together, (breaking joints,) the trench is then dug behind and the dirt thrown into them, which, when full, together with the trench, forms a complete breastwork; the word is pronounced gab-beens. The fascines (pronounced fas-heens) are, as I said, bundles of brush bound snugly together, cut off straight at each end; they are of different lengths, from five to twelve feet; their use is in building batteries and other temporary works.
We now expected soon to lay close siege to New-York. Our Sappers and Miners were constantly employed with the Engineers in front of the army, making preparations for the siege. One day I was sent down towards the enemy with a corporal and twelve men, upon a reconnoitring expedition, the Engineers having heard that there was a party of Refugees, or Cowboys, somewhere not far from their premises. Mr orders were to go to a certain place and if I did not see or hear any thing of the enemy to return; or if I did find them to return as soon as possible and bring word to the officers, unless I thought we were able to cope with them ourselves. We set off upon our expedition early in the afternoon and went as far as directed by our officers, but saw no enemy. We stopped here awhile and rested ourselves.—When we had refreshed ourselves, we thought it a pity to return with our fingers in our mouths and report that we had seen nothing; we therefore agreed unanimously, to stretch our orders a trifle, and go a little further. We were in the fields,—about a mile ahead were three or four houses at which I and some others of our party had been before. Between us and the houses there was a narrow wood, mostly of young growth and quite thick. We concluded to go as far as the houses, and if we could not hear any thing of the Cowboys there, to return contented to camp.
Agreeably to our plan we set out, and had but just entered the wood when we found ourselves flanked by thirty or forty Cowboys, who gave us a hearty welcome to their assumed territories and we returned the compliment; but a kind Providence protected every man of us from injury although we were within ten rods of the enemy. They immediately rushed from their covert, before we had time to reload our pieces; consequently, we had no other alternative but to get off as well and as fast as we could. They did not fire upon us again, but gave us chase, for what reason I know not. I was soon in the rear of my party, which had to cross a fence composed of old posts and rails with trees plashed down upon it. When I arrived at the fence, the foremost of the enemy was not more than six or eight rods distant, all running after us helter-skelter, without any order; my men had all crossed the fence in safety, I alone was to suffer. I endeavoured to get over the fence across two or three of the trees that were plashed down; some how or other, I blundered and fell over, and caught my right foot in a place where a tree had split partly from the stump, here I hung as fast as though my foot had been in the stocks, my ham lying across the butt of another tree, while my body hung down perpendicularly; I could barely reach the ground with my hands, and, of course, could make but little exertion to clear myself from the limbs. The commander of the enemy came to the fence and the first compliment I received from him was a stroke with his hanger across my leg, just under or below the knee-pan, which laid the bone bare. I could see him through the fence and knew him; he was, when we were boys, one of my most familiar playmates, was with me, a messmate, in the campaign of 1776, had enlisted during the war in 1777, but sometime before this, had deserted to the enemy, having been coaxed off by an old harridan, to whose daughter he had taken a fancy; the old hag of a mother, living in the vicinity of the British, easily inveigled him away. He was a smart active fellow, and soon got command of a gang of Refugee-cowboy plunderers. When he had had his hack at my shins, I began to think it was "neck or nothing," and making one desperate effort, I cleared my foot by leaving my shoe behind, before he could have the second stroke at me. He knew me as well as I did him, for as soon as he saw me clear of the fence and out of the reach of his sword, he called me by name, and told me to surrender myself and he would give me good quarters;—thought I, you will wait till I ask them of you. I sprang up and run till I came to my party who were about a hundred rods ahead, waiting to see how I should come off. The enemy never fired a shot at me all the time I was running from them, although nearly the whole of their party was standing on the other side of the fence when I started from it. Whether his conscience smote him and he prevented them from firing at me; or, whether they were unprepared, not having had time to reload their pieces in their pursuit of us, or from what other cause, I know not, but they never interfered with me while I was running across the field, fifty or sixty rods, in open sight of them. Thus I escaped; and this was the only time the enemy drew blood from me during the whole war. This same Refugee was the youngster that was with me at the salt hay poleing, mentioned in the first chapter of this narrative.
We remained at Phillips' Manor till the last of July. I had a lame leg, caused by the wound given me by Mr. Refugee, but I lost only a short time from duty. I was favoured with easy duty by my officers, on account of my wound.
The first of August, I think it was the first day of that month, we all of a sudden marched from this ground and directed our course towards King's ferry, near the Highlands, crossed the Hudson and lay there a few days, till the baggage, artillery, &c. had crossed, and then proceeded into New-Jersey. We went down to Chatham, where were ovens built for the accommodation of the French troops. We then expected we were to attack New-York in that quarter, but after staying here a day or two, we again moved off and arrived at Trenton by rapid marches. It was about sunset when we arrived here, and instead of encamping for the night, as we expected, we were ordered immediately on board vessels, then lying at the landing place, and a little after sunrise found ourselves at Philadelphia. We, that is, the Sappers and Miners, staid here some days, proving and packing off shells, shot and other military stores. While we staid here we drew a few articles of clothing, consisting of a few tow shirts, some overalls and a few pairs of silk-and-oakum stockings; and here, or soon after, we each of us received a month's pay, in specie, borrowed, as I was informed, by our French officers from the officers in the French army. This was the first that could be called money, which we had received as wages since the year '76, or that we ever did receive till the close of the war, or indeed, ever after, as wages.
When we had finished our business at Philadelphia, we, (the Miners,) left the city. A part of our men, with myself, went down the Delaware in a schooner which had her hold nearly full of gunpowder. We passed Mud Island, where I had experienced such hardships in Nov. '77. It had quite a different appearance to what it had then, much like a fine, fair, warm and sunny day succeeding a cold, dark, stormy night. Just after passing Mud Island, in the afternoon, we had a smart thunder shower; I did not feel very agreably, I confess, during its continuance, with such a quantity of powder under my feet; I was not quite sure that a stroke of the electric fluid might not compel me to leave the vessel sooner than I wished,—but no accident happened, and we proceeded down the river to the mouth of Christiania Creek, up which we were bound. We were compelled to anchor here on account of wind and tide; here we passed an uneasy night from fear of British cruisers, several of which were in the Bay. In the morning we got under weigh, the wind serving, and proceeded up the creek, fourteen miles, the creek passing, the most of its course, through a marsh, as crooked as a snake in motion,—there was one place in particular, near the village of Newport, where you sail four miles to gain about forty rods. We went on till the vessel grounded for lack of water, we then lightened her, by taking out a part of her cargo, and when the tide came in we got up to the wharves and left her at the disposal of the Artillerists.
We then crossed over land to the head of the Elk, or the head, or rather bottom, of Chesapeak bay. Here we found a large fleet of small vessels, waiting to convey us and other troops, stores, &c. down the bay. We soon embarked, that is, such of us as went by water, the greater part of the army having gone on by land. I was in a small schooner, called the Birmingham; there was but a small number of our corps of Sappers and Miners in this vessel, with a few Artillerists, six or eight officers, and a Commissary, who had a small quantity of stores on board, among which was a hogshead containing twenty or thirty gallons of rum. To prevent the men from getting more than their share of the liquor, the officers (who loved a little of the "good creature" as well as the men) had the bulkhead between the hold and the cabin taken down and placed the hogshead in the cabin, carefully nailing up the partition again, when they thought that they had the exclusive disposal of the precious treasure; but the soldiers were as wiley as they, for the very first night after the officers had snugly secured it, as they thought, the head of the cask being crouded against the bulkhead, the soldiers contrived to loosen one of the boards at the lower end, so as to swing it aside, and broached the hogshead on the other head; so that while the officers in the cabin thought they were the sole possessors of its contents, the soldiers in the hold had possession of at least as good a share as themselves.
We passed down the bay, making a grand appearance with our mosquetoe fleet, to Annapolis, (which I had left about five months before for West point,) here we stopped, fearing to proceed any further at present, not knowing exactly how matters were going on down the bay. A French cutter was despatched to procure intelligence. She returned in the course of three or four days, bringing word that the passage was clear; we then proceeded and soon arrived at the mouth of James' river, where were a number of armed French vessels and two or three fifty gun ships. We passed in sight of the French fleet, then lying in Lynnhaven bay; they resembled a swamp of dry pine trees. We had passed several of their men-of-war higher up the bay.
We were obliged to stay here a day or two on account of a severe North-East rain storm; the wind was quite high, and in the height of the storm, some officers on board a vessel lying near ours, sent off a soldier in a small punt, hardly capable of carrying a man in calm weather, to another vessel to procure them some spirituous liquor, one of the officers had furnished him with his hat as a token for something. The man had done his errand and was returning, when the sea running so high that it upset his underpinning, which floated from him and left him to shift for himself in the water. The storm was so severe that the people were below deck in all the vessels near, except ours. The Captain of our company happened at that instant to be on deck (peeping into some concern that was none of his own, as he generally was) and saw him upset. We had no better boat belonging to our vessel than the one the man in the water had just been thrown from. Our Captain seized a musket that happened to be near by, and discharged it several times before he could rouse any of the people in the nearest vessels. At length he was heard and observed by some on board a French armed vessel, who sent a boat and took the man up and put him on board the vessel he went from. I saw him in the water and he exhibited rather a ludicrous figure; with an officer's large cocked hat upon his head, paddling away with one hand, and holding his canteen in the other. He was nearly exhausted before the boat reached him. Our officers pretended to blame the others greatly, for sending the poor fellow upon such an errand in a storm. But it is to be remembered that they had a plenty of liquor on board their vessel, and therefore had no occasion to send any one on such business.
After the storm had ceased, we proceeded up the river to a place called Burwell's ferry, where the fleet all anchored; it was sunset when we anchored and I was sent across the river with two men in a borrowed boat, to fill a cask with water; it was quite dark before I got ready to return, and I had to cross almost the whole river, (which is pretty wide here,) and through the whole fleet before I reached our vessel. I could not find her in the dark among so many, and when I hailed her the soldiers in almost every vessel in the river would answer me. What could I do? why, just what I did do; keep rowing one way and another till nine or ten o'clock at night, weary, and wishing every man in the fleet, except ourselves, had a toad in his throat; at length by mere good luck I found our vessel, which soon put an end to my trouble and fatigue, together with their mischievous fun.
We landed the next day in the afternoon, when our quartermaster sergeant sat off to procure something for us to eat; we had to go nearly two miles for it. Myself and another sergeant, a messmate of mine, concluded to go after the provisions, to stretch our legs, after so long confinement on board the vessel; we took our cook with us, for he, as usual, had nothing to do at home. When we arrived at the place, we found it would be quite late before we could be served; we therefore bought a beef's harslet of the butchers, and packed off our cook with it, that we might have it in readiness against our return to camp. The cook, who had been a bank fisherman, and of course loved to wet his whistle once in a while, sat off for home and we contented ourselves till after dark, before we could get away, in expectation of having something to eat on our return. When we came home we went directly to our tent to get our suppers, when, lo, we found Mr. Cook fast asleep in the tent, and not the least sign of cookery going on. With much ado we waked him and inquired where our victuals were; he had got none, he mumbled out as well as he could. "Where is the pluck you brought home?" "I sold it," said he; "sold it! what did you sell it for?" "I don't know," was the reply. "If you have sold it, what did you get for it?" "If you will have patience," said he, "I will tell you." "Patience," said the sergeant, "it is enough to vex a saint; here we sent you home to get something in readiness against our return, and you have sold what we ordered you to provide for us and got drunk, and now we must go all night without any thing to eat, or else set up to wait a division of the meat and cook it ourselves. What, I say, did you get for it? if any thing we can eat at present, say so." "I will tell you," said he; "first, I got a little rum, and next, I got a little pepper, and—and—then I got a little more rum." "Well, and where is the rum and pepper you got"—"I drank the rum," said he, "there is the pepper." "Pox on you," said the sergeant, "I'll pepper you," and was about to belabor the poor fellow, when I interfered and saved him from a basting. But, truly, this was one among the "sufferings" I had to undergo, for I was hungry and impatient enough to have eaten the fellow had he been well cooked and peppered.
Soon after landing we marched to Williamsburg, where we joined Gen. Lafayette, and very soon after, our whole army arriving, we prepared to move down and pay our old acquaintance, the British at Yorktown, a visit. I doubt not but their wish was, not to have so many of us come at once, as their accommodations were rather scanty. They thought "The fewer the better cheer." We thought "The more the merrier." We had come a long way to see them, and were unwilling to be put off with excuses; we thought the present time quite as convenient (at least for us) as any future time could be, and we accordingly persisted, hoping, that as they pretended to be a very courtly people, they would have the politeness to come out and meet us, which would greatly shorten the time to be spent in the visit, and save themselves and us much labour and trouble; but they were too impolite at this time to do so.
We marched from Williamsburg the last of September. It was a warm day; when we had proceeded about half way to Yorktown we halted and rested two or three hours. Being about to cook some victuals, I saw a fire which some of the Pensylvania troops had kindled a short distance off; I went to get some fire while some of my messmates made other preparations; (we having turned our rum and pepper cook adrift;) I had taken off my coat and unbuttoned my waistcoat, it being (as I said before) very warm; my pocketbook, containing about five dollars in money, and some other articles, in all about seven dollars, was in my westcoat pocket. When I came among the strangers they appeared to be uncommonly complaisant, asking many questions, helping me to fire, and chatting very familiarly. I took my fire and returned, but it was not long before I perceived that those kind hearted helpers had helped themselves to my pocketbook and its whole contents. I felt mortally chagrined but there was no plaster for my sore but patience, and my plaster of that, at this time, I am sure was very small and very thinly spread, for it never covered the wound.
Here, or about this time, we had orders from the Commander-in-chief, that in case the enemy should come out to meet us, we should exchange but one round with them and then decide the conflict with the bayonet, as they valued themselves at that instrument. The French forces could play their part at it, and the Americans were never backward at trying its virtue. The British, however, did not think fit at that time to give us an opportunity to soil our bayonets in their carcases; but why they did not we could never conjecture; we as much expected it, as we expected to find them there.
We went on, and soon arrived and encamped in their neighbourhood, without let or molestation. Our Miners lay about a mile and a half from their works, in open view of them. Here again we encountered our old associate, hunger; affairs, as they respected provisions, &c. were not yet regulated,—no eatable stores had arrived, nor could we expect they should until we knew what reception the enemy would give us. We were, therefore, compelled to try our hands at foraging again. We, that is, our corps of Miners, were encamped near a large wood; there was a plenty of shoats all about this wood, fat and plump, weighing, generally, from fifty to a hundred pounds apiece. We soon found some of them, and as no owner appeared to be at hand, and the hogs not understanding our enquiries (if we made any) sufficiently to inform us to whom they belonged, we made free with some of them to satisfy the calls of nature till we could be better supplied, if better we could be. Our officers countenanced us, and that was all the permission we wanted; and many of us did not want even that.
We now began to make preparations for laying close siege to the enemy. We had holed him and nothing remained but to dig him out. Accordingly, after taking every precaution to prevent his escape, settled our guards, provided fascines and gabions, made platforms for the batteries, to be laid down when needed, brought on our battering pieces, ammunition, &c.; on the fifth of October we began to put our plans into execution.
One third part of all the troops were put in requisition to be employed in opening the trenches. A third part of our Sappers and Miners were ordered out this night to assist the Engineers in laying out the works. It was a very dark and rainy night. However, we repaired to the place and began by following the Engineers and laying laths of pine wood end to end upon the line marked out by the officers, for the trenches. We had not proceeded far in the business, before the Engineers ordered us to desist and remain where we were, and be sure not to straggle a foot from the spot while they were absent from us. In a few minutes after their departure, there came a man alone to us, having on a surtout, as we conjectured, (it being exceeding dark,) and inquired for the Engineers. We now began to be a little jealous for our safety, being alone and without arms, and within forty rods of the British trenches. The stranger inquired what troops we were; talked familiarly with us a few minutes, when, being informed which way the officers had gone, he went off in the same direction, after strictly charging us, in case we should be taken prisoners, not to discover to the enemy what troops we were. We were obliged to him for his kind advice, but we considered ourselves as standing in no great need of it; for we knew as well as he did, that Sappers and Miners were allowed no quarters, at least, are entitled to none, by the laws of warfare, and of course should take care, if taken, and the enemy did not find us out, not to betray our own secret.
In a short time the Engineers returned and the afore-mentioned stranger with them; they discoursed together sometime, when, by the officers often calling him "Your Excellency," we discovered that it was Gen. Washington. Had we dared, we might have cautioned him for exposing himself so carelessly to danger at such a time, and doubtless he would have taken it in good part if we had. But nothing ill happened to either him or ourselves.
It coming on to rain hard, we were ordered back to our tents, and nothing more was done that night. The next night, which was the sixth of October, the same men were ordered to the lines that had been there the night before. We this night completed laying out the works. The troops of the line were there ready with entrenching tools and began to entrench, after General Washington had struck a few blows with a pickaxe, a mere ceremony, that it might be said "Gen. Washington with his own hands first broke ground at the siege of Yorktown." The ground was sandy and soft, and the men employed that night eat no "idle bread," (and I question if they eat any other,) so that by daylight they had covered themselves from danger from the enemy's shot, who, it appeared, never mistrusted that we were so near them the whole night; their attention being directed to another quarter. There was upon the right of their works a marsh; our people had sent to the western side of this marsh a detachment to make a number of fires, by which, and our men often passing before the fires, the British were led to imagine that we were about some secret mischief there, and consequently directed their whole fire to that quarter, while we were entrenching literally under their noses.
As soon as it was day they perceived their mistake, and began to fire where they ought to have done sooner. They brought out a fieldpiece or two, without their trenches and discharged several shots at the men who were at work erecting a bomb-battery; but their shot had no effect and they soon gave it over. They had a large bull-dog, and every time they fired he would follow their shots across our trenches. Our officers wished to catch him and oblige him to carry a message from them into the town to his masters, but he looked too formidable for any of us to encounter.
I do not remember, exactly, the number of days we were employed before we got our batteries in readiness to open upon the enemy, but think it was not more than two or three. The French, who were upon our left, had completed their batteries a few hours before us, but were not allowed to discharge their pieces till the American batteries were ready. Our commanding battery was on the near bank of the river and contained ten heavy guns; the next was a bomb-battery of three large mortars; and so on through the whole line; the whole number, American and French, was, ninety-two cannon, mortars and howitzers. Our flagstaff was in the ten gun battery, upon the right of the whole. I was in the trenches the day that the batteries were to be opened; all were upon the tiptoe of expectation and impatience to see the signal given to open the whole line of batteries, which was to be the hoisting of the American flag in the ten gun battery. About noon the much wished for signal went up. I confess I felt a secret pride swell my heart when I saw the "star spangled banner" waving majestically in the very faces of our implacable adversaries; it appeared like an omen of success to our enterprize, and so it proved in reality. A simultaneous discharge of all the guns in the line followed; the French troops accompanying it with "Huzza for the Americans!" It was said that the first shell sent from our batteries, entered an elegant house, formerly owned or occupied by the Secretary of State under the British government, and burnt directly over a table surrounded by a large party of British officers at dinner, killing and wounding a number of them;—this was a warmday to the British.
The siege was carried on warmly for several days, when most of the guns in the enemy's works were silenced. We now began our second parellel, about half way between our works and theirs. There were two strong redoubts held by the British, on their left. It was necessary for us to possess those redoubts, before we could complete our trenches. One afternoon, I, with the rest of our corps that had been on duty in the trenches the night but one before, were ordered to the lines. I mistrusted something extraordinary, serious or comical, was going forward, but what, I could not easily conjecture. We arrived at the trenches a little before sunset; I saw several officers fixing bayonets on long staves. I then concluded we were about to make a general assault upon the enemy's works; but before dark I was informed of the whole plan, which was to storm the redoubts, the one by the Americans and the other by the French. The Sappers and Miners were furnished with axes, and were to proceed in front and cut a passage for the troops through the abatis, which are composed of the tops of trees, the small branches cut off with a slanting stroke which renders them as sharp as spikes. These trees are then laid at a small distance from the trench or ditch, pointing outwards, and the butts fastened to the ground in such a manner that they cannot be removed by those on the outside of them;—it is almost impossible to get through them. Through these we were to cut a passage before we or the other assailants could enter. At dark the detachment was formed and advanced beyond the trenches, and lay down on the ground to await the signal for advancing to the attack, which was to be three shells from a certain battery near where we were lying. All the batteries in our line were silent, and we lay anxiously waiting for the signal. The two brilliant planets, Jupiter and Venus, were in close contact in the western hemisphere, (the same direction that the signal was to be made in,) when I happened to cast my eyes to that quarter, which was often, and I caught a glance of them, I was ready to spring on my feet, thinking they were the signal for starting. Our watchword was "Rochambeau," the commander of the French forces' name, a good watchword, for being pronounced Ro-sham-bow, it sounded, when pronounced quick, like rush-on-boys. We had not lain here long before the expected signal was given, for us and the French, who were to storm the other redoubt, by the three shells with their fiery trains mounting the air in quick succession. The word up, up, was then reiterated through the detachment. We immediately moved silently on toward the redoubt we were to attack, with unloaded muskets. Just as we arrived at the abatis, the enemy discovered us and directly opened a sharp fire upon us. We were now at a place where many of our large shells had burst in the ground, making holes sufficient to bury an ox in; the men having their eyes fixed upon what was transacting before them, were every now and then falling into these holes. I thought the British were killing us off at a great rate. At length one of the holes happening to pick me up, I found out the mystery of the huge slaughter. As soon as the firing began, our people began to cry, "the fort's our own!" and it was "rush on boys." The Sappers and Miners soon cleared a passage for the Infantry, who entered it rapidly. Our Miners were ordered not to enter the fort, but there was no stoping them. "We will go," said they; "then go to the d—l," said the commanding officer of our corps, "if you will." I could not pass at the entrance we had made, it was so crowded; I therefore forced a passage at a place where I saw our shot had cut away some of the abatis; several others entered at the same place. While passing, a man at my side received a ball in his head and fell under my feet, crying out bitterly. While crossing the trench, the enemy threw hand grenades, (small shells) into it; they were so thick that I at first thought them cartridge papers on fire; but was soon undeceived by their cracking. As I mounted the breastwork, I met an old associate hitching himself down into the trench; I knew him by the light of the enemy's musketry, it was so vivid. The fort was taken, and all quiet in a very short time. Immediately after the firing ceased, I went out to see what had become of my wounded friend and the other that fell in the passage—they were both dead. In the heat of the action I saw a British soldier jump over the walls of the fort next the river and go down the bank, which was almost perpendicular, and twenty or thirty feet high; when he came to the beach he made off for the town, and if he did not make good use of his legs I never saw a man that did.
All that were in the action of storming the redoubt were exempted from further duty that night; we laid down upon the ground and rested the remainder of the night as well as a constant discharge of grape and canister shot would permit us to do; while those who were on duty for the day completed the second parallel by including the captured redoubts within it. We returned to camp early in the morning, all safe and sound, except one of our Lieutenants, who had received a slight wound on the top of the shoulder by a musket shot. Seven or eight men belonging to the Infantry were killed, and a number wounded.
Being off duty one day, several of us went into the woods and fields in search of nuts; returning across the fields, which lay all common, we came across a number of horses at pasture; thinking to make a little fun for myself, I caught one of the horses and mounting him, as the Dutchman did his bear, without saddle or bridle, set off full speed for camp, guiding my nag with a stick. After I had proceeded thus for nearly a mile, my charger appeared to possess a strong inclination to return to his associates. I could not persuade him from his determination, but rather affronted him in all my endeavours to stop him. He at length set off back with himself and me too, at full spring, I clung to him till I found he was directing his course straight under the limbs of a large spreading oak tree; fearing I might meet with something like Absalom's fate, I thought it best to quit my situation in season, and accordingly jumped off; I happened to get but little personal injury, but I bounded like a foot-ball; this cooled my courage for such sort of exercises ever after.
Our duty was hazardous but not very hard. As to eatables, what we could not get from the public stores, we could make up in the woods. We had a large dog that we had brought from West point; we had no more to do than to go into the woods, which were quite handy, and when we came across the trail of a shoal of hogs, to set off old Bose, when we soon heard a crying out, and it was generally made by a black one, he having a particular regard or antipathy (he never told us which) for that colour. After the knife had passed the throat of the victim, we carried it to a frog pond, in the rear of our camp, and near our bakehouse, where, after evening roll call, we could fit it for eating, convey it to the baker where it was baked in prime order. We were on duty in the trenches twenty-four hours, and forty-eight hours in camp. The invalids did the camp duty, and we had nothing else to do, but to attend morning and evening roll calls, and recreate ourselves as we pleased the rest of the time, till we were called upon to take our turns on duty in the trenches again. The greatest inconvenience we felt, was the want of good water, there being none near our camp but nasty frog ponds, where all the horses in the neighbourhood were watered, and we were forced to wade through the water in the skirts of the ponds, thick with mud and filth, to get at water in any wise fit for use, and that full of frogs. All the springs about the country, although they looked well, tasted like copperas water, or like water that had been standing in iron or copper vessels. I was one day rambling alone in the woods, when I came across a small brook of very good water, about a mile from our tents; we used this water daily to drink, or we should almost have suffered. But it was "the fortune of war." I was one night in the trenches, erecting a bomb-battery, the enemy (it being very dark) were directed in their firing by a large tree. I was ordered by our officers to take two or three men and fell the tree with some old axes as dull as hoes; the tree was very large and we were two hours in cutting it, although we took Solomon's advice in handling dull tools, by "putting to the more strength," the British all the time urging us to exert ourselves with round and grape shot; they struck the tree a number of times while we were at work at it, but chanced to do us no harm at all. In the morning, while the relieves were coming into the trenches, I was sitting on the side of the trench, when some of the New-York troops coming in, one of the sergeants stepped up to the breastwork to look about him, the enemy threw a small shell which fell upon the outside of the works, the man turned his face to look at it; at that instant a shot from the enemy (which doubtless was aimed for him in particular, as none others were in sight of them) passed just by his face without touching him at all; he fell dead into the trench; I put my hand on his forehead and found his skull was shattered all in pieces, and the blood flowing from his nose and mouth, but not a particle of skin was broken. I never saw an instance like this among all the men I saw killed during the whole war.
After we had finished our second line of trenches there was but little firing on either side. After lord Cornwallis had failed to get off, upon the seventeenth day of October, (a rather unlucky day for the British) he requested a cessation of hostilities for, I think, twenty-four hours, when commissioners from both armies met at a house between the lines, to agree upon articles of capitulation. We waited with anxiety the termination of the armistice, and as the time drew nearer our anxiety increased. The time at length arrived,—it passed, and all remained quiet.—And now we concluded that we had obtained what we had taken so much pains for,—for which we had encountered so many dangers, and had so anxiously wished. Before night we were informed that the British had surrendered and that the siege was ended.
The next day we were ordered to put ourselves in as good order as our circumstances would admit, to see (what was the completion of our present wishes) the British army march out and stack their arms. The trenches, where they crossed the road leading to the town, were levelled and all things put in order for this grand exhibition. After breakfast, on the nineteenth, we were marched on to the ground and paraded on the righthand side of the road, and the French forces on the left. We waited two or three hours before the British made their appearance; they were not always so dilatory, but they were compelled at last, by necessity, to appear, all armed, with bayonets fixed, drums beating, and faces lengthening; they were led by Gen. O'Harra, with the American Gen. Lincoln on his right, the Americans and French beating a march as they passed out between them. It was a noble sight to us, and the more so, as it seemed to promise a speedy conclusion to the contest. The British did not make so good an appearance as the German forces; but there was certainly some allowance to be made in their favour; the English felt their honour wounded, the Germans did not greatly care whose hands they were in. The British paid the Americans, seemingly, but little attention as they passed them, but they eyed the French with considerable malice depicted in their countenances. They marched to the place appointed and stacked their arms; they then returned to the town in the same manner they had marched out, except being divested of their arms. After the prisoners were marched off into the country, our army separated, the French remaining where they then were and the Americans marching for the Hudson.
During the siege, we saw in the woods herds of Negroes which lord Cornwallis, (after he had inveigled them from their proprietors,) in love and pity to them, had turned adrift, with no other recompense for their confidence in his humanity, than the small pox for their bounty and starvation and death for their wages. They might be seen scattered about in every direction, dead and dying, with pieces of ears of burnt Indian corn in the hands and mouths, even of those that were dead. After the siege was ended many of the owners of these deluded creatures, came to our camp and engaged some of our men to take them up, generally offering a guinea a head for them. Some of our Sappers and Miners took up several of them that belonged to a Col. Banister; when he applied for them, they refused to deliver them to him unless he would promise not to punish them. He said he had no intention of punishing them, that he did not blame them at all, the blame lay on lord Cornwallis. I saw several of those miserable wretches delivered to their master; they came before him under a very powerful fit of the ague. He told them that he gave them the free choice, either to go with him or remain where they were; that he would not injure a hair of their heads if they returned with him to their duty. Had the poor souls received a reprieve at the gallows, they could not have been more overjoyed than they appeared to be at what he promised them; their ague fit soon left them. I had a share in one of them by assisting in taking him up; the fortune I acquired was small, only one dollar; I received what was then called its equivalent, in paper money, if money it might be called, it amounted to twelve hundred (nominal) dollars, all of which I afterwards paid for one single quart of rum; to such a miserable state had all paper stuff, called—money—depreciated.
Our corps of Sappers and Miners were now put on board vessels to be transported up the bay; I was on board a small schooner, the Captain of our company and twenty others of our men were in the same vessel. There was more than twenty tons of beef on board, salted in bulk in the hold; we were obliged to remain behind to deal out this beef in small quantities to the troops that remained here. I remained part of the time on board, and part on shore, for eighteen days after all the American troops were gone to the northward, and none remaining but the French. It now began to grow cold, and there were two or three cold rain storms; we suffered exceedingly while we were compelled to stay on shore, having no tents nor any kind of fuel, the houses in the town being all occupied by the French troops. Our Captain at length became tired of this business and determined to go on after the other troops at all events; we accordingly left Yorktown and set our faces towards the Highlands of New-York. It was now the month of November, and winter approaching; we all wished to be nearer home, or at least to be with the rest of our corps, who were—we knew not where, nor did they know where we were; they had heard before this that our schooner was cast away, and we were drowned. After we left Yorktown we had head winds for several days and made but little progress, getting no farther than Petuxant river in Maryland, in that time; we came to anchor at the mouth of that river about sunset, and as we had been some time on board the vessel, we obtained permission from our Captain to go on shore and sleep, as we saw a shelter on shore, put up by some of the troops who had gone on before us. And here again I had like to have taken a short discharge from the army. It was noised around that there was a small pirate boat in the bay. Just after we had anchored with several other small vessels in the river; there came sweeping in a boat that answered the description given of the vessel in question. Our Captain charged a musket that was on deck, belonging to one of our men, and hailed the boat; but as the people proved to be friendly, and acquaintance too, the musket was laid by and no further notice taken of it for the present. When we had landed and kindled a fire, and were most of us sitting down by it, one of our men took up the loaded musket (not knowing it to be so) and placing the butt of the piece on the ground between his legs, asked the owner if his musket was in good order, and cocked and snapped it. I was standing by his side with the muzzle of the piece close by my ear, when it proved to be in good order enough to go off, and nearly sent me off with its contents; the fire from it burnt all the hair off the side of my head, and I thought at the instant, that my head had gone with it.
In the morning there were signs of a southerly wind; we hastened on board and the wind breezing up, we got under weigh and steered for the head of the bay; it was about sunrise when we started, and when we anchored at the head of the bay, the sun had just set, having run in that time upwards of a hundred and thirty miles. The flats about our anchoring place were almost covered with wild water fowl. I do not remember ever seeing so many at one time, before or since, although I have often seen large numbers of them. One of our men discharged his piece at a flock on the wing, when they appeared like a cloud, and were spread over a space of a quarter of a mile every way. The ball passed almost through the flock before it chanced to hit one, and it hit but one.
The next morning we landed at what is called the head of Elk, where we found the rest of our corps, and some of the Infantry, also a few French. Our people seemed very glad to see us again, as they had been informed that we were certainly all drowned.—We remained here a few days and then marched for Philadelphia. We encamped one night, while on our march, at Wilmington, a very handsome borough town on the Christiania creek, in the State of Delaware. I was quartered for the night, at a gentleman's house, who had, before the war, been a sea captain. He related to me an anecdote, that gave me rather a disagreeable feeling, as it may, perhaps, my readers. It was thus,—"At the battle of Germantown, in the year 1777, a Dutchman (an inhabitant of that town) and his wife fired upon some of the British during the action; whether they killed any one or not, he did not say; but after the battle some one informed against them and they were both taken and confined in the provost-guardhouse, in the city, and there kept with scarcely any thing to sustain nature, and not a spark of fire to warm them. On the morning that the Augusta was blown up at fort Mifflin, on Mud Island, the poor old man had got to the prison-yard, to enjoy the warm sunbeams, with a number of other prisoners, (my informant among them, he being a prisoner at the time,) when they heard the report of the ship's magazine, the poor creature exclaimed, "Huzza for Gen. Washington! to-morrow he comes." The villain Provost Marshal, upon hearing this, put him into the cellar of the prison, and kept him there, without allowing him the least article of sustenance, till he died. The prisoners cut a small crevice in the floor, with a knife, through which they poured water and sometimes a little spirits, while he held up his mouth to the place to receive it."—Such inhuman treatment was often shown to our people when prisoners, by the British, during the revolutionary war. But it needs no comment.
In the morning before we marched, some of us concluded to have a stimulater. I went to a house, near by, where I was informed they sold liquors; when I entered the house, I saw a young woman in decent morning dishabille; I asked her if I could have any liquor there; she told me that her husband had just stepped out and would be in directly, and very politely desired me to be seated. I had sat but a minute or two when there came in from the back yard, a great potbellied negro man, rigged off in his superfine broadcloth, ruffled shirt, bow-shin and flat foot, and as black and shining as a junk bottle. "My dear," said the lady, "this soldier wishes for a quart of rum." I was thunderstruck; had not the man taken my canteen from me and measured me the liquor, I should certainly have forgotten my errand. I took my canteen and hastened off as fast as possible, being fearful that I might hear or see more of their "dearing," for had I, I am sure it would have given me the ague. However agreeable such "twain's becoming one flesh," was in that part of the Union, I was not acquainted with it in that in which I resided.
We went on to Philadelphia, crossed the river Schuylkill on a pontoon bridge, entered the city and took up our abode in the barracks. The Infantry passed on for the Hudson, but the regiments of Artillerists, (Col. Lamb's,) who were at the siege of Yorktown, stopped with us. We staid here several days. The barracks in this city are, or were then, very commodious; they were two stories high, with a gallery their whole length, and an ample parade in front; they were capable of sheltering two or three thousand men. One night, while we were lying here, one of my comrades having occasion to go out, it being very dark, he soon came back in a shocking fright, hardly able to speak; he was asked what was the matter, when, having recovered himself so far as to be able to speak, he said there was a ghost in the gallery. The greater part of the men in the room turned out to see the ghost, a thing often talked of but very rarely seen. We could hardly persuade the man to go out with us, to direct us to the object of his terror; however, we went out, when lo! what should the spirit be but an old white horse, which had walked up the stairs to the gallery, probably in search of something to eat, as, judging by his appearance, he very much needed it, for he had rather a ghostly aspect, but did not seem a very formidable foe.
After staying in Philadelphia about a fortnight, we left the city and proceeded to the city of Burlington, in New-Jersey, twenty miles above Philadelphia, on the Delaware; which place we understood was to be our winter-quarters. We marched about noon, went about ten miles and halted for the night. We took up our lodgings in the houses of the inhabitants; the house where I was quartered seemed to belong to a man well off for this world's goods. We were allowed the kitchen and a comfortable fire, and we happened to have, just then, what a soldier of the revolution valued next to the welfare of his country, and his own honour, that is, something to eat, and being all in good health, and having the prospect of a quiet night's rest; all which comforts happening to us at this time, put us in high spirits. We had received some fresh beef and bread that morning, and, after being settled in our quarters, we set about cooking our suppers. There were three or four small boys belonging to the house, who were so taken up with their new guests, that they kept with us the whole evening. We traded with these boys for some potatoes to cook with our meat; we gave them two or three cartridges and they gave us as many potatoes as we needed. Just as we had got our supper upon the table, the man of the house passed through the room, and seeing that we had potatoes, asked us where we procured them; some of the men replied, "in Philadelphia." He took up one from the dish and broke it: "miserable things," said he, "my potatoes are worth double the value of these." We laughed in our sleeves at his simplicity—his own boys skinned their teeth to think how their father was deceived, but said nothing. When we turned out in the morning to resume our march, upon examination we found these roguish urchins had undertaken to serve us with the same sauce they had their father, for they had, during the night, nearly emptied all our cartridge boxes. We saw where they deposited those we gave them; when, upon examining the place, we found our lost goods which we did not fail to secure: and likewise those which we had given them, as a punishment for their roguery.
We marched again and crossed a narrow ferry, called Penny ferry; arrived at Bristol and crossed the Delaware, to Burlington, where the Artillerists went into barracks, and our corps of Miners were quartered in a large elegant house, which had formerly been the residence of the Governour, when the State was a British province. The non-commissioned officers, with a few others had a neat room in one of the wings, and the men occupied the rest of the house, except the rooms in the third story, which were taken up by the officers and their attendants. Now we thought ourselves well situated for the winter, (as indeed we were, as it respected shelter,) after a tedious campaign; but it turned out quite the reverse with several, and myself among the rest, as in the next chapter will appear. Being once more snugly stowed away in winter-quarters, it of course ends my sixth campaign.