I wrote the short story “Act Worthy of Yourselves” that asks the question “What if Dr. Joseph Warren had survived Bunker Hill?” as part of the Historical Writers Forum anthology “Alternate Endings” because frankly, Dr. Joseph Warren is the love of my American Revolution life.
This young and largely forgotten patriot is an important character in the first book of my historical fantasy series, Angels and Patriots Book One: Sons of Liberty, Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill. I’ve also have published non-fiction works about Warren including a short piece titled America’s First Martyr in the Military Writers Society of America’s 2021 anthology Untold Stories, numerous blog posts, and three audio clips for a website called Hear About Hear that provides audio clips for historic places. The three audio clips can be heard at Old South Meeting House in Boston, Massachusetts, Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown, Massachusetts, and King’s Chapel in Boston where Warren delivered two Boston Massacre Orations (1772 & 1775), was killed at age 34 at the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775, and the chapel where his funeral was held, respectively.
Warren was a Boston physician, Son of Liberty, politician, orator, masonic Grand Master, president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and a major general. He was a member of the Sons of Liberty, a group of political dissidents formed in Boston to protest King George III and Parliament’s taxation and control of colonial authority. Their protests against the Mother country’s sudden subjugation after more than a century of autonomy, proliferated in the America colonies in the 1760s. Some of their famous members were Paul Revere, John Hancock, and Samuel Adams. John Adams, a Massachusetts lawyer and politician was not a Son of Liberty, but he was a sympathizer.
It was Joseph Warren who sent Paul Revere, along with William Dawes, on that ride to warn the countryside that the British regulars were out of Boston and on the march looking for rebel munitions on the night of April 18, 1775. He was holding the rebellion together in Massachusetts during the spring of 1775 while Samuel Adams and John Hancock were hiding in Lexington for fear of being hanged by the British for treason.
Through the committees of the Provincial Congress, he tirelessly wrote letters to leaders of other colonies, rallying for the cause, asking for help, and pressing them for their responsibilities in the rebellion against Britain. He gathered militia, supplies, and directed the provincial army who conducted the siege of Boston on the British in that town after the first shots of the war were fired in Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts on April 19, 1775.
His death at the Battle of Bunker Hill was widely lamented by his friends and patients such as Abigail Adams, John Adams, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, patriots who fought alongside Warren on that fateful day and as far reaching as Philadelphia and the southern colonies. His death, early in the war, served to leave him in obscurity. He deserves to be known for everything he did in the infancy of the American Revolution to promote freedom and liberty. So the questions is “what if Joseph Warren had survived Bunker Hill?” Where would he have stood among the American Founding Fathers, many of whom were his fellows long before the rest of the world had heard their names.
One last very important comment.
Under the tutelage and permission of the Dr. Joseph Warren Foundation and their operations director J Hart (with whom I will be doing further work), I’m thrilled to announce that the foundation is producing a docudrama about Joseph Warren with a target release date of 2025. This is the trailer narrated by Christian di Spigna author of the biography Founding Martyr.
You can help preserve the legacy of Joseph Warren by supporting the Foundation, giving to the cause, and spreading the word. Huzzah!
I wrote my alternate ending about Abigail Adams and women’s suffrage after researching women’s rights and looking at the current storm on abortion rights with the overturn of Roe vs. Wade. When I was writing my first book, “Clouds of War”, I was surprised by the fact that most women couldn’t sign contracts, and lost control over the property as soon as they were married. In researching my as-yet-unpublished Revolutionary War novel, I discovered that in some colonies, women could vote before the signing of the US Constitution, but lost that right. That led me to look at where these laws depriving women of rights came from – and the answer was somewhat astonishing. It turns out that there was a barrister named William Blackstone in England, who spread the idea of “coverture” because he believed women were emotionally and intellectually unfit for politics, business, and most intellectual endeavors. Blackstone was an obscure lawyer who had lost his job and was not particularly adept at the law, but his book “Commentaries on the Laws of England” was particularly popular with men. It became a mantra of male dominance, without bothering to prove the points it contained.
In studying the Revolutionary War, I read many of the original letters and documents from Abigail and John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Mercy Otis Warren, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington. I was impressed in particular with the logic, intellect, and writing of Abigail Adams. Thanks to her separation for months at a time from her husband, she wrote over two thousand letters. Though she requested that they be burned at her death, thankfully, someone did not follow that instruction, and we have a large collection of her thoughts and feelings during that period.
One letter, in particular, caught my attention, from Abigail to John, and his reply. She had just heard of the decision to declare independence from England, and being of sharp mind, immediately realized that the slate of laws was wiped clean, and they might begin afresh. She was excited at the prospect of equal rights for women, including the vote, and wrote to John that when they made the new laws, the men must “remember the ladies”. John effectively laughed at her and expressed many of the same opinions voiced in Blackstone’s book. In real life, while she was vexed, Abigail acted as the submissive wife of her time and culture, though voicing her indignation in letters both to John, Thomas Jefferson, and her friend Mercy Otis Warren. Reading Abigail’s displeasure led me to wonder – what if? What if she had rallied the other leading women, as well as the poor non-landowning farmer men, to demand the right to vote? How could she have leveraged it to make the men listen? What had the women done before as a group, and what had its effect been?
From there, the story “Remember the Ladies” practically wrote itself, primarily using Abigail’s own words. I hope you enjoy it.
I was asked what inspired me to write the short story “Act Worthy of Yourselves” as part of the Historical Writers Forum anthology “alternate endings” a collection of short stories by a group of eight talented historical writers who each have their own story that asks the question, what if an historical event was altered and changed the course of history?
My story asks, “What if Dr. Joseph Warren had survived the Battle of Bunker Hill?” one of the bloodiest battles of the American Revolution fought on the Charlestown peninsula northeast of Boston on June 17,1775. The title “Act Worthy of Yourselves” is a line from Warren’s Boston Massacre Oration which he delivered at Old South Meeting House in Boston on March 6, 1775 to a crowd so large that he was forced to climb through the window behind the pulpit to avoid being crushed.
This post is part of our blog hop tour for “alternate endings.”
In 2015, I was searching for the topic of my next book. I had written two standalone novels set in Victorian America and I wanted to pursue something historically different. I asked myself how much I knew about the American Civil War as that was the first love of my historical life. But it was set in the same time period and I realized I needed to move to a different era. I did know quite a bit about the American Revolution and Colonial America and decided I was willing to put my effort into learning more.
Where to start? Ah, yes. Why not start with the obvious—the Sons of Liberty, a group of political dissidents formed in Boston to protest King George III and Parliament’s taxation and control of colonial authority. Their protests against the Mother country’s sudden subjugation after more than a century of autonomy, proliferated in the America colonies in the 1760s. Who did I know that belonged to the Sons of Liberty? Why Paul Revere, John Hancock, and Samuel Adams their ringleader, of course. John Adams, a Massachusetts lawyer and politician was not a Son of Liberty, but he was a sympathizer. Boston was already militarily occupied in response to acts of what the King considered disobedience.
My research immediately led me to a list of Massachusetts Sons of Liberty and among them was a handsome, young doctor named Joseph Warren. It was love at first sight. I could not get enough of who he was, what he did, his growth as a man, politician, orator, leader, and masonic Grand Master. He apprenticed under Loyalist Dr. James Lloyd and medically treated people from all walks of life. The rising Patriot admiration for him and his efforts for the Patriot cause could not be ignored nor the threat he posed to the British, who in the end, were pleased to see he and his sedition put to death on a battlefield.
I had read the poem “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow when I was in sixth grade and it always stuck with me. Imagine my delight when I found out that Joseph Warren was the guy who sent Paul Revere, along with William Dawes, on that ride to warn the countryside that the British regulars were out of Boston and on the march looking for rebel munitions on the night of April 18, 1775. That it was Joseph Warren who was holding the rebellion together in Massachusetts during the spring of 1775 while Samuel Adams and John Hancock were hiding in Lexington for fear of being hanged by the British for treason. During the time many of his colleagues including Adams and Hancock attended the second Continental Congress in Philadelphia in late spring 1775, he became president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress.
Warren tended to be dauntless, storming into a situation without thought for personal risk. John Adams once said, “Warren was a young man whom nature had adorned with grace and manly beauty, and a courage that would have been rash absurdity, had it not been tempered by self-control.”
Then, there was the tragedy of Warren’s personal life. His wife died at age 26, leaving him a widower with four children under age eight. When he was killed at age 34 at the Battle of Bunker Hill his children were orphaned.
So Joseph Warren rose as a shining star in my novel “Angels and Patriots Book One: Sons of Liberty, Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill.” Because the series is historical fantasy, my main character is an archangel with the human name Colm Bohannon. How much farther can you elevate someone than have a man and an archangel become friends and learn love and loyalty from one another? Not much. How much do you weep when you know how it historically ended?
As I wrote, I began to share facts about Joseph Warren and I found that he is adored and even worshipped among history and American Revolutionary War enthusiasts and authors. For years, the question that came up was and always has been, “What if Joseph Warren had survived Bunker Hill?” This ubiquitous and charismatic leader took the reins of the rebellion politically and militarily and accepted a provincial generalship on the day the American Continental Army was formed, June 14, 1775—three days before his death.
There were many questions on my mind and on the mind of others.
*If he had survived, how would General George Washington have received him? Or perhaps Washington would have relinquished his appointment as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army and recommended Warren in his stead?
*Would Warren have been one of the greatest tactical or strategic generals of the war?
*Would his concern for civilians taken him in a political direction?
*What about his medical practice and experience? Would he have benefited the Continental Army with his expertise?
*Would he have stayed behind to see to matters in Massachusetts? Or gone on to preside over the Continental Congress, the civilian governing body during the war?
*Would he have discovered great medical break throughs?
*How would his life and his children’s lives unfolded during and beyond the war?
*How far would he have reached for the stars while a new nation was rising?
As an author and person who came to adore Dr. Joseph Warren but not blind to his faults, I couldn’t let these burning questions pass me by when the opportunity arose to write an alternate ending to his life. If only for this moment, in this anthology, he is given another chance. Perhaps others who have asked the same question will agree with how I see it. Perhaps not. Nevertheless, I know people who know who Joseph Warren was will want to read it and share in their opinions. For those who don’t know who he was, the story I wrote is based in fact and I didn’t change the outcome of the Revolutionary War.
Dr. Joseph Warren’s name is not a household word like George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams or Thomas Jefferson. His premature death saw to that. Beyond my own novel, if I can raise awareness of his accomplishments through a historical alternate ending, I will be satisfied that I tried.
One other person who I should mention that is part of the story is Joseph’s youngest brother, Dr. John Warren. His name and extraordinary medical accomplishments are lesser known than those of his brother’s. John’s part in this story is based in fact. I assure you will be surprised and impressed.
I hope you enjoy our anthology as much as we have enjoyed writing it! Available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle. Click the cover to get your copy!
Sharon Bennett Connolly
Salina B Baker
My share of royalties will go to the Dr. Joseph Warren Foundation an organization dedicated to educating the public about his life & contributions to the American Revolution.
Sometimes freedom disappears one law at a time, like Virginia creeper covering a stone wall. This was often the case with Britain and its American colonies, where the mother country sought to control and sap resources from the citizens far away, often without regard to their welfare or benefit. Everyone has heard from school about the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts, and how the Boston Tea Party and other incidents led to the war for independence – but what about the White Pine Act?
The British Crown first passed the White Pine Act in 1691 for Massachusetts, making it a crime to cut down and retain logs from a white pine tree more than one foot in diameter, without the King’s mark and permission. Such trees were designated solely for the use of the British Navy, used as masts for the King’s ships. In January 1770, the Crown extended this law to New Hampshire, and all of New England.
Courtesy Library of Congress
Since white pine is one of the most plentiful trees in New Hampshire, this law posed a severe hardship to the sawmills along the Merrimack River. The law was extended to all of New England. The sawyers could be arrested, fined, and the Crown could seize the fruit of their labors. Ebenezer Muggeridge was among those targeted, and he incited a rebellion.
Another little-known fact is that during the Revolutionary War, George Washington had a detachment known as Washington’s Honor Guard, whose job was to protect him on the battlefield. Though soldiers had to be sixteen or older to be selected for the guard, some drummer boys were as young as ten. They were in the thick of battle, without weapons, relaying the orders of Washington and other officers via their drums. One of these youngsters was Muggeridge’s ward, Billy Sims. What follows is an excerpt from my upcoming novel, Washington’s Drummer Boy, based in part on a newspaper account of the White Pine Rebellion, and Billy’s exploits.
April 1772 Weare, New Hampshire
Bill Simpson looked up from the bench where he was pulling a drawknife on a piece of oak. Three approaching horsemen clattered into the dooryard, two of them red-coated soldiers. Being only eight years old, it wasn’t his job to meet them, but he was intensely curious – what would redcoats want with the master of the mill, Ebenezer Mudgett? He pretended to keep working while listening to hear all he could.
“Master Mudgett! I am John Sherburn, deputy surveyor for His Excellency Royal Governor Wentworth.”
“Good day, to you, sir. And what does the Crown need this time?”
“Masts for His Majesty’s ships. You, sir, have white pine logs above one foot in diameter, the very kind needed for those masts. And,” paused Sherburn, “you do not have a license to possess them! Guards, scour the shop!”
Bill brushed back sweat into his curly black hair, despite the cold. He remembered the pine he’d placed behind the barn, right where Pa directed. Had he covered it well enough? He worked with Ebenezer in the woods – didn’t these lobsters realize that at least a third of the trees in the forest were white pine? If they found it, would Pa be angry?
The soldiers began ransacking the shop, opening closets, climbing up to the loft, looking behind the building, even searching under the horses’ straw.
“Surely, you must be mistaken, sir. Perhaps a record is mislaid? Of course, I could make the masts that the Crown requires if desired.”
“His Majesty’s shipwrights would be amused. But you will not be if my men find that white pine. You know well that all white pines of that size belong to the Crown, for the last fifty years.”
“Oh, I know well enough. The Crown takes the best trees and the bread from my family’s mouth, all without a by your leave.”
A woman entered from the side door. “What is it, Ebenezer? Are these guests? You didn’t tell me you had invited anyone.”
“Miriam, it’s no concern to you. These are the King’s men, not guests. They’ve come to inspect.”
“Inspect? Inspect what? Has the King a sudden interest in wood shavings and our stables?” She pushed an errant gray hair back under her coif and wiped a hand on her white apron.
“Sir!” One of the soldiers rushed forward. “We’ve found them – ten white pine logs, hidden out behind the barn. They do not have the King’s arrow mark. And some more pieces are sawn,” gesturing at the sash saw.
“Very good, corporal.” He made a slight bow in Miriam’s direction and followed the soldiers.
Ebenezer tensed. “What’s wrong, sir?” asked Bill. The horses and I put those logs just where you said. Covered them well to keep the rain and snow off.”
“The problem, my young apprentice, is that the King thinks he owns everything.”
The soldiers and Sherburn returned. “Arrest this man! Take him to Sheriff Whiting. And make sure to mark those logs with the King’s symbol.”
Miriam rushed forward. “Please don’t take my husband!”
Bill dropped his work. Sir, my Pa has done nothing but try to make a living. I put the logs there – take me! Please don’t hurt him. You can’t take him. You can’t!”
“I’m afraid I must – the King’s law is clear.”
“Never mind, my dear. I’m sure it won’t be for long. Send Bill for my brother, and we’ll see about these laws.”
Bill rushed through the snow, down the path leading to the home of John Mudgett, brother to his master. His mind whirled -if the British took Pa, how would the mill survive? Tall for his age at five feet, his strides lengthened in a hurry. Ebenezer was officially his master but had been a father to him after his own died. His mother in Rockingham parceled out her children, having no means to support them. Bill felt lucky to have a kind and God-fearing master. What would they do to him? The freezing air bit his lungs as he ran, falling once on the ice, and picking himself up again. Clouds poured out from his mouth and hung in the air as he breathed hard, rounded the corner of the barn, and pounded on the door of the whitewashed frame house.
“Uncle John! Uncle John!” he yelled.
The door opened, and Rose, the Mudgett’s slave housekeeper, caught his hand in mid-knock.
“What’s all the fuss and feathers, Marse Bill? Marse John is out doin’ the milkin’.”
“The British have taken my master!”
“Oh, Lawd! I’ll fetch Marse John.”
She darted to the barn and came back with a portly red-haired man, wiping his hands on a milking apron.
“What’s all this? Why would the lobsters take my brother?”
“He got some white pine. The governor says it’s the King’s. That’s all I know. Miz Miriam says to come quick.”
“All right. Rose, you’ll have to finish the milking. I’ll hitch up the sleigh. Tell Clara I may be home late.”
Within minutes, Bill and John were flying down the road behind a pair of matched trotters. The snow blew up in a mist behind them. Bill pulled the laprobe more tightly about him. There had been no time for getting hot bricks, and his feet were numb from the cold.
“Who was it that came, boy?”
“Soldiers – and that new man, Sherburn, I think his name was.”
“Sherburn, eh? A troublemaker if ever I knew one. How much pine did my brother have?”
“Only ten logs or so.”
“Hmm, well, not so much. If we’re lucky, they’ll let him off with a fine.”
“What if they don’t, sir?”
“Don’t you worry about that. Leave it to your elders. And pray.”
They pulled into the dooryard, and John leaped down, handing the reins to Bill.
“Miriam! Has there been any word?”
Miriam came slowly into the yard, head down. Bill’s heart clinched – she looked to have been crying. He wanted to run to her, but held still, holding the horses.
“No, John, no word. I mustn’t leave the other children. But I’m frantic to know what’s happening. You don’t think they would… would they?”
“No, of course, they wouldn’t.” Bill caught the hesitancy in his adopted uncle’s voice. “Don’t worry, Miriam. I’ll spread the word to the other mills, and see what’s happened with Ebenezer. Have you any ready cash?”
“Very little. I have this note for forty shillings. Aside from that, we have accounts owed for work to be completed. The good Lord alone knows how we will do without Ebenezer …”
“Trust in God, Miriam, and I will return soon.”
John took the forty shilling note and stuffed it in a pocket. Bill handed back the reins, and they were off again. They stopped at several other mills along the river. At each stop, John spoke in hushed tones to the mill master, and then on they went again.
When they finally arrived in town, John went to the lockup and asked for the Sheriff.
“When might Sheriff Whiting be available?”
“When he returns from his supper, sir. May be of help to you?”
“I’m here concerning Ebenezer Mudgett.”
“Ah, well. Nothing I can do there. He’s bound over to the magistrate.”
“I’ll just step over to Quimby’s Inn, then. Will you advise me when the Sheriff returns?”
“Bless you, sir, and he’s likely over there himself. Can’t say he’d like you disturbing his victuals, though.”
“Much obliged, sir.”
Turning to the sleigh, he tied off the horses and bid Bill follow.
Bill jumped down from the sleigh and wondered what good it would do to talk to the Sheriff. Hadn’t John said that Pa was already bound over, whatever that meant? It didn’t sound right. They stamped their feet to clear off the snow and pushed open the plank door. A rush of heat hit them from the large central fireplace. There were perhaps ten round tables, each with a coal oil lamp. Only three had patrons. At one sat a florid, overweight man, having an intimate meeting with roast mutton and johnnycakes. The dark paneled wall reflected dancing flames from the fire and the lamps, and at the far end was a bar with stools, and large kegs of beer.
The Sheriff looked up between bites, annoyed. “Yes? What is it? Can’t a man finish a meal in peace?”
“When a man may conduct his business in peace, perhaps so. You’ve taken my brother Ebenezer into custody?”
“Yes. Crown law. He’ll stand trial.”
“Have you ever known him to cause trouble before?”
“Well, no. Except for some talk about the governor.”
“And should his wife, children and this poor boy here,” gesturing at Bill,” suffer for some loose talk? Can you not release him until the hearing? He has a business to run. He isn’t going anywhere.”
“He owes one pound fifteen shillings fine for the trees.”
“And pray sir, how can he pay that from the lockup? There is unfinished work at the mill. If you will but release him, we shall have the fine by the morrow.”
“You’ll sign for that?”
“Yes, if you require it.”
“I do. Meet me at the lockup in fifteen minutes. Now go away.”
Bill was tempted to dump a pitcher of water on the Sheriff but resisted the urge.
They stood by the stove at the lockup, waiting for the Sheriff’s return. It was more like half an hour than fifteen minutes, but there was little else to do. When the Sheriff waddled in, the deputy bobbed and scraped, and went down in the holes to fetch the prisoner. After a few minutes, Ebenezer emerged, face dirty, rubbing his wrists. It was all Bill could do not to fly to him and throw his arms around him. That would seem childish, however.
John bent over a high table, signing papers with quill and ink.
“Tomorrow morning, then,” said Sheriff Whiting.
Ebenezer said, “I thank you for releasing me tonight. We’ll be sure to be here tomorrow to give the King his just due.”
Ebenezer climbed into the sleigh. He held the boy at arm’s length, just looking into my eyes, and then drew Bill into a hug, not caring who saw. John clicked to the horses, who recognized they were headed home and went at a fast trot. The men gazed at the deepening evening in silence. Bill couldn’t keep quiet any longer.
“What will happen, Pa? Will you pay them? And where will we get more trees? The soldiers used hatchets and marked an arrow on each of the ones we have.”
“Don’t worry your head. There are other trees. And yes, we will pay for them. Oh, we will pay for them!”
John looked over at his brother with a grim smile.
When they arrived back at the mill, though it was evening and just before chore time, the dooryard was full of horses and men, instead of the usual evening quiet, there was an uproar as twenty men tried to talk at once.
Ebenezer turned to Bill. “Bill, I want you to stay out of this. Tend the horses, mind your Ma, and go to bed. Say your prayers. Don’t mind the noise. Do you hear?”
Bill got down and unhitched the horses, taking them to the barn for a rubdown and feed. His uncle would need them to go home. He was following orders – but that didn’t mean he had to hurry. One advantage of being young he found was that adults often told him something, and then forgot about it. Bill heated some water on the stove, so that it was lukewarm, then gave it to the horses to drink. The dappled gray slurped greedily, and Bill had to hold him back. The bay patiently waited his turn, nibbling at the hay. Once they both had water, Bill mixed a bran mash, and gave that to them, while rubbing and drying them, and straining his ears to listen.
“The Crown has gone too far. We’ve had this highway robbery for fifty years. Previous governors did not enforce it. Now the surveyor is sending soldiers into the forest, marking trees. What happens when they decide white pines aren’t all they want, as if that wasn’t bad enough?”
Another man yelled, “Wentworth and his thugs have done enough!”
Pa spoke – Bill recognized the voice. “Men, we’ve resisted. We’ve written letters. We’ve tried to tell the King what we think of his taxes and fees. We got the Townshend repealed. If we stand still, the King will put his boot on our necks.”
Another voice spoke, calmer, but able to be heard – Bill thought he recognized the reverend. Finishing with the horses, instead of going in the house, he climbed the ladder to the loft and opened the hay doors slightly so that he could look out and hear without being seen. The reverend of the Congregational Church spoke, raising his arms for quiet.
“Brothers, you know that the Scriptures tell us to obey our government. The King must obey God, and we must obey the King. I urge you to consider carefully before starting something that cannot end well. The Bible says to pay tax to whom tax is due, honor to whom honor is due. Take care, lest we are on the wrong side of God.”
The men in the yard glowered at the reverend. Ebenezer stepped forward again, mounting a box.
“The Bible also says there is a time to obey God rather than man. Neighbors, you know me to be a peaceful man. I have paid taxes to the Crown while insisting that they have no right to tax Englishmen who have no vote on the matter. Enough is enough. We must feed our families. It is time to pay King George in something other than a coin. Who’s with me?”
Shouts resounded around the yard.
“All right then. Meet here an hour before first light. Bring ropes and torches. It’s time that King George got a taste of what true Englishmen think of his taxes.”
When Bill awoke the next morning, he saw the shadowy figures of Ebenezer and Miriam moving about the kitchen as he looked down from the loft bed he shared with the Mudgett girls, Achsah and Sarah. The girls still slept, but Ebenezer was up and dressed. Dawn was peeking above the trees, spreading pink and orange tints to the clouds. Bill dressed quietly and descended the ladder.
“Ma, what’s happening so early?”
Miriam started, then shushed him. “Why aren’t you asleep? This will be a busy day.”
Looking out the window, Bill saw buggies and horses in the yard, along with a collection of men, all armed.
Miriam smiled. “The one day we tell you to go back to bed instead of starting chores, and you are too curious. Very well. Pa is going to pay the British. The other men are going along to protest. Now go get some rest.”
“But Ma… if Pa is going, I want to go too.”
“No, that would be too dangerous. He doesn’t want you to draw any more attention to yourself than you did yesterday, speaking out of turn. Children are to be seen and not heard,” she reproved.
“All right, after I go to the privy.”
Bill opened the latch on the door, shoved it open, and stepped out into the frosty morning. In case Ma was watching, he moved toward the privy, entered, and waited a minute, holding his nose. When he came out, he went to the workshop, flitting from tree to tree. He got his work coat that he kept on a peg there, and again climbed to the loft where he could observe. The men were talking too quietly to hear, but he saw that their faces were smudged with soot and bootblack, making it difficult to see who was who.
He recognized Pa and saw the wagon off to the side that they used for deliveries, hitched, and ready to go. He quickly climbed down, went to the stove, and used ashes from the bin to obscure his face, just as the older men had done. Then he looked, saw the men occupied, and ran to the back of the wagon. He hopped in and covered himself with a tarp so that no one would notice him.
He wanted to peek out but forced himself to lie still. Whatever Pa was going to do, Bill wanted to be there.
After what seemed an hour, when his toes were going numb, he felt the wagon lurch and begin to move. Looking out the back, a line of horses, buggies, and wagons followed, like some equine caterpillar with twenty legs following after Pa. Why would all these men come, just to watch Pa pay a fine?
A bump and hard jolt made him bang his head on the wagon bottom, and he bit his lip to keep from crying out in pain.
Eventually, the wagon rolled to a stop. Bill lifted the tarp just an inch to see out and waited until the other wagons grouped around them. They were in front of a house. When the other men had dismounted and gathered around Pa, he slipped out the back, onto the new-fallen snow, and took up a post behind a nearby tree.
Ebenezer pounded on the door, then wrenched it open, breaking the latch. The men boiled through the entrance into the house. Bill thought, no one is going to mind me, since they don’t know I am here. If I stand just inside, I can see and hear. If something happens to Pa, I can take word home.
Bill saw Sheriff Whiting, still in his nightclothes.
“Here, what’s all this? Who are you? By the King’s wig, what’s the meaning of this?”
“We’re here to pay King Georgie his fines and taxes,” said one.
“Very well, but you needn’t break-in, and you could have waited until after breakfast.”
“Oh, we’re very prompt to give the King and his servants their due.”
The men crowded closer, raising clubs.
Whiting blanched and moved backward to the wall, grabbing a brace of pistols from a hook. “Stand back, or I will shoot!” He aimed the pistol squarely at Ebenezer’s chest. Bill feared for his Pa and grabbed an iron from the nearby stove. In confusion, he raced behind the men up the stairway, to where he stood above the Sheriff. Whiting cocked the pistol. Bill dropped the hot iron, aimed to strike the pistol or chest of the Sheriff, who yelled and dropped the pistol in surprise and pain.
The men surged forward, seizing the Sheriff, and tying his hands behind his back. They ripped open the back of his shirt, and bent him over a table, clubbing and whipping him until he cried for mercy.
“Take that payment to King George and the governor, if you will. Tell Wentworth that if he comes, we’ll do the same to him. We’ll not tolerate the tyranny of the King any longer. True Englishmen know their rights. If he does not, then we must teach him.”
Bill crept back down the stairs and again stood near the door. One of the men turned, went to the stables and saddled a horse for the Sheriff. He clipped the mane and tail of the horse, making him look a very sorry beast. They propelled the Sheriff toward the door. But Bill wasn’t quick enough – Ebenezer and the Sheriff saw him at the same time.
“So this is the kind of brigands you are! You even bring a child into your devilry!”
The Sheriff looked more closely at Ebenezer. “You must be Mudgett, who was bringing the fine today – and this must be your boy. I’ll mark it well!”
“If you don’t get on that horse and ride far away, we’ll mark you again!” yelled one of the men.
Whiting mounted with help and whirled the horse out of the yard.
Pa turned his attention to Bill. “I don’t know whether to thrash you or hug you. It was a near thing in there, and you saved us all from bloodshed. But you should have stayed home. Now that you and I are recognized, we’re in danger. Let’s make haste for home, and pray about what to do.”
After the Battle of Monmouth on June 28, 1778, the American Revolutionary War lulled in the north where British General Sir Henry Clinton was stationed with a large part of his army in New York. King George III and the British Parliament turned their eyes on the American South and sent their armies where a civil war raged between American Loyalists and Patriots.
In response, the Continental Congress, the Patriot civilian governing body sent Generals Robert Howe, Benjamin Lincoln, and Horatio Gates respectively who from 1778 – 1780 lost Savannah, Georgia; Charleston, South Carolina; and Camden, South Carolina to the British.
Congress’ previous choices to command the Southern Army failed. Now, they left the choice to General George Washington. He chose his ablest major general: Nathanael Greene. Nathanael’s brilliant strategy, wore down the British army in the South commanded by General Lord Charles Cornwallis. After months of chasing Greene’s army, which lost every engagement except the battle at Cowpens, South Carolina, Cornwallis abandoned Georgia and the Carolinas and retreated with his exhausted and starving army into Virginia. Then, Nathanael systematically destroyed the British outposts, supply lines, and communication lines between the British holding Savannah and Charleston, and the rest of South Carolina.
In late August 1781, Nathanael learned that British Colonel Alexander Stewart was moving through central South Carolina and he intended to put a stop to it. On August 23, he marched his army out of the High Hills of Santee looking for a fight.
On September 7, after weeks of mucking through swamps and heavy rains, the Southern Army arrived at Burdell’s Plantation seven miles from Eutaw Springs, South Carolina where Stewart was camped with 1,500 men. During their march, Nathanael’s army picked up militia under Francis Marion, Andrew Pickens and Francois de Malmedy. Cavalry Colonel William Washington also reunited with them swelling the army to nearly 2,400 men. Nathanael ordered his troops to cook one day’s provisions and allowed them a gill of rum. They would attack in the morning.
On September 8, just before dawn, Nathanael’s army marched toward the enemy. At 7:00 a.m., they saw white tents near a brick mansion. Behind the mansion, springs drained into Eutaw Creek which flowed into the Santee River. A British foraging party was rooting for sweet potatoes when the American vanguard spotted them. Stewart sent cavalry Major John Coffin with a forward detachment. They skirmished with Colonel “Light-Horse” Harry Lee’s legion. Colonel Otho Holland Williams ordered “Move in the order of battle and halt.”
The order of battle was familiar: militia up front, with orders to fire and fall back. This placed the militiamen from North Carolina and South Carolina in front with Colonel Harry Lee’s legion and reinforcements from Francis Marion and Andrew Pickens. Behind the militia, Continentals, men from Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina formed the line. Nathanael held Washington’s cavalry and Colonel Robert Kirkwood’s Delaware company in reserve. Stewart posted a single main line of defense to the west. His 63rd and 64th Regiments of Foot looked directly across at Francis Marion.
Stewart’s 3rd Regiment of Foot held the right of his line. His center was anchored with Loyalist brigades from New York and New Jersey. Musket fire exploded from both sides of the line. Continental 2lb grasshoppers boomed. The Virginia and Maryland regiments drove toward the brick mansion in a race to get inside before the British. The British won shouldering the door closed against the Americans pushing from the other side. American troops surged through the British camp and tripped over tent ropes and stakes. British marksmen opened fire. The Americans tried to dislodge the British with unsuccessful cannon fire.
Major John Marjoribanks tried to hold the British right flank. Nathanael ordered Colonel William Washington to push against Marjoribanks. The British in the mansion raked Washington and his men. Washington’s horse was shot out from underneath him. He was bayonetted and taken prisoner. Colonel John Eager Howard of Maryland was shot in the collar bone. Colonel Richard Campbell of Virginia was mortally shot in the chest. Harry Lee’s deputy executed an unsuccessful charge. Nathanael’s army was suffering debilitating losses and his men were scattered across the field.
After four hours of fighting he called a retreat and rallied his bloodied exhausted forces in the woods. Losses that day totaled 1,400. Both sides claimed victory. After destroying their firearms, Stewart retreated toward Charleston. Nathanael’s army returned to the High Hills of Santee. Nathanael praised his soldiers and the militia to Congress. He was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal of Honor bearing his likeness. Otho Holland Williams was awarded a sword. The Battle of Eutaw Springs was the last significant land battle of the Revolutionary War.
A month after the battle, due to General Nathanael Greene and his army’s perseverance and sacrifice, the British general he had chased out of the Carolinas, Lord Charles Cornwallis, surrendered to Franco/American forces under General George Washington at Yorktown, Virginia on October 19, 1781.
Eutaw Springs a poem by Philip Freneau (1752–1832) First published in the Freeman’s Journal, November 21, 1781
AT Eutaw Springs the valiant died:
Their limbs with dust are covered o’er—
Weep on, ye springs, your tearful tide;
How many heroes are no more!
I’m currently writing a novel about General Nathanael Greene titled “The Line of Splendor, A Novel of Nathanael Greene and the American Revolution”
If you’re interested in receiving updates on the novel’s progress and publication, please send me your name and email address through my contacts page on this blog post. Thank you and Huzzah!
Beakes, John H. Jr. Otho Holland Williams in The American Revolution. Charleston, South Carolina: The Nautical and Aviation Publishing Co. of American, 2015
Beakes, John H. Jr. and Piecuch, Jim. Cool Deliberate Courage: John Eager Howard in the American Revolution. Heritage Books, 2009
Buchannan, John. The Road to Charleston. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2019
Carbone, Gerald M. Nathanael Greene A Biography of the American Revolution, 2008.
Golway, Terry. Washington’s General Nathanael Greene and the Triumph of the American Revolution. New York: Henry Holt and Company
Greene, George Washington. The Life of Nathanael Greene, Major General in the Army of the Revolution.3 Volumes. New York: Hurd and Houghton. Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1871
Thayer, Theodore. Nathanael Greene Strategist of the American Revolution. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1960
“My Father was a man of great Piety, had an excellent understanding; and was govern’d in his conduct by humanity and kind Benevolence.”~Nathanael Greene reflecting on his youth.
Nathanael was born in Potowomut, Rhode Island on August 7, 1742; the fourth son of a Quaker preacher and prosperous business man. The brothers’ education was limited to math, reading, and writing. Their father thought book learning beyond that would lead to temptation and sin. Nathanael challenged his father’s “prejudices against Literary Accomplishments.” He later broke with the doctrines of the formal Quaker religion which didn’t condone armed conflict.
He had physical challenges: a limp, asthma, and a small pox scar on his right eyeball that was often infected a result of his 1770 inoculation.
Nathanael was sent to manage and operate the family iron forge in Coventry, Rhode Island. He worked with the men who pounded smelt into anchors sold in Newport. In the house he dubbed Spell Hall he collected and studied works about human theory, civil society, military law and strategy, and poems.
He spent time in East Greenwich with his distant relative, William Greene. Discussions were held about the state of rebellion in America over Parliamentary taxes and control of colonial autonomy. William’s wife was raising her niece, Catharine Littlefield. Caty trapped Nathanael’s heart. They married on July 20, 1774. Caty was 19. Nathanael was nearly 32.
The Birth of a General
Nathanael joined the East Greenwich militia company, the Kentish Guards, as a private. He was mortified when he applied for lieutenant and was denied because of his limp. When the first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired on April 19, 1775 in Massachusetts, the Rhode Island General Assembly formed an Army of Observation. Nathanael was plucked from the ranks and promoted to general. On May 8, 1775, he kissed his pregnant wife goodbye and led his new army toward Boston.
The Siege of Boston
“I am determined to defend my rights and maintain my freedom, or sell my life in the attempt.”~Nathanael to Caty, June 1775
Militia from all over New England responded. Nathanael laid out camp with his army of 1,000 recruits on a hill in Roxbury facing the British army under siege in Boston. He reported to General Artemas Ward. On June 17, while Nathanael was on a recruiting trip in Rhode Island, 1,000 provincial soldiers were defeated by 2,000 British soldiers on the Charlestown peninsula north of Boston on Breed’s Hill.
The Arrival of General George Washington
Two weeks later, the new commander in chief of the recently formed Continental Army arrived—General George Washington. The civilian governing body, the Continental Congress, appointed four major generals and eight brigadier generals. Nathanael was the last brigadier, who at age 32, was the army’s youngest general.
Jaundice and the British Evacuation of Boston
In January 1776, he contracted jaundice. During his illness, Henry Knox, a Boston bookseller, hauled 5o tons of artillery to Framingham, Massachusetts from Fort Ticonderoga in New York. The artillery was mounted on Dorchester Heights overlooking Boston on the night of March 5. General William Howe, the British commander in chief, ordered the city evacuated. Washington placed Boston under Nathanael’s command during which he enforced martial law.
The Battle for New York
“I am confident the force of America, if properly exerted, will prove superior to all her enemies.”~ Nathanael to John Adams, July 2, 1776
The Continental army moved to New York. Nathanael had command of a string of five strategic forts built on Brooklyn Heights across the East River on Long Island. A British armada began dropping anchor in New York Harbor on June 29, 1776. Over the next few weeks, some 32,000 troops arrived on board 270 ships. With the enemy looming, he was one of four brigadiers promoted to major general in August.
That month, he succumbed to a critical fever, possibly typhoid. General Israel Putnam assumed his command. On August 22, William Howe invaded Long Island and defeated the Continental Army stationed there. John Adams wrote that Nathanael’s sickness was the cause of the enemy “stealing a march on us.”
The Fall of Fort Washington and Fort Lee
The army began withdrawing northward from the city as the British invaded New York Island. On September 16, Nathanael experienced his first battle when it erupted at Harlem Heights. Two month later, Forts Lee and Washington perched on the Hudson River across from one another fell to the British under Nathanael’s command. He was devastated. The ragged Continental Army retreated through New Jersey with British General Charles Cornwallis in pursuit. On December 8, they crossed the Delaware River into Pennsylvania.
The Attack on Trenton
Washington recrossed the icy Delaware on Christmas night 1776 and launched a successful surprise attack on the garrison at Trenton, New Jersey manned by 1,400 Hessian (German) soldiers. On January 3, the patriots achieved a victory at Princeton.
The Philadelphia Campaign
“O my sweet angel how I wish—how I long to return to our soft embrace. The endearing prospect is my greatest comfort amidst all the fatigues of the campaign.”~Nathanael to Caty after the British defeated the American army at Brandywine, autumn 1777
In 1777, the Continental Army wintered in Morristown, New Jersey. Late in July, William Howe loaded the bulk of his army on his brother’s ships leaving the Continental Army and Congress baffled over his destination.
Battle of Brandywine
Howe’s armada sailed up the Chesapeake Bay and disembarked at Head of Elk, Maryland. His target was Philadelphia. In response, Washington positioned his army on Brandywine Creek. On the afternoon of September 11, General Cornwallis turned Washington’s right flank on Birmingham Hill. Nathanael and his 1,200 Virginians marched toward Sandy Hollow where they formed a line that surprised and stopped Cornwallis. The Americans fell back to Chester, Pennsylvania. Two weeks later, the British took Philadelphia.
Victory at Saratoga and a Cabal
On October 17, British General John Burgoyne surrendered to General Horatio Gates in Saratoga, New York where Gates was sent to stop Burgoyne’s march to Albany. Spawned from this victory, a loose plot to overthrow Washington was executed. Some in Congress believed that Washington was failing and that the victorious Gates was the answer.
General Mifflin, who resigned as Quartermaster General of the Continental Army proclaimed, “The ear of the Commander-in-chief was exclusively possessed by Greene.” General Conway wrote that Washington was a “weak General and Bad Counsellors would have ruined it [the country],” The cabal collapsed in early 1778.
“They have taken me from the line of splendor.”~Nathanael to Pennsylvania politician Joseph Reed after he accepted the position of Quartermaster General of the Continental Army, March 1778
The Continental Army wintered at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania in 1778. A committee from Congress arrived to discuss the state of the army and a new quartermaster general. The duties of the quartermaster general encompassed obtaining and transporting supplies, and scouting for new camp sites.
Washington and the committee pressed Nathanael to take the job that he thought would confine him “to a series of drudgery.” Congress admitted that the next quartermaster general would “face Confusion of the Department.” With a sense of duty he accepted the position, but complained, “No one has ever heard of a quarter Master in History.”
A French Alliance and a Return to Field Command
In February 1778, the French entered into an alliance with the United States. General Henry Clinton replaced William Howe as commander in chief of the British army in America. Clinton evacuated Philadelphia to move his 10,000 troops to New York.
During that summer, Nathanael played a dual role when Washington deemed his council and command on the battlefield valuable in the days leading up to and during the Battle of Monmouth, a draw, fought against Clinton’s retreating army at Monmouth Courthouse, New Jersey. Thanks to Nathanael and his deputies’ excellent quartermaster and commissary planning, essential supplies were adequate.
The war ground to a stalemate in the north. The value of the Continental dollar plunged. Nathanael made several trips to Philadelphia during the spring of 1779. Congress was questioning the large receipts he and his deputies were receiving from commissions. Compounded by their refusal to provide more money and support, he tendered his resignation in a less than a diplomatic tone to match the insulting letters he received from the Board of Treasury. Congress ignored it.
Bleak Prospects and a Fine Son
The Continental Army returned to Morristown, New Jersey in the winter of 1780. Nathanael lamented, “Provisions are scarce indeed…from the want of money to purchase it.” A snowstorm blocked the roads and cut supply lines. When the storm passed, Nathanael relieved the starving soldiers by ordering the roads cleared and pressing farmers to load wagons with provisions.
Caty arrived in camp eight months pregnant. On January 30, she gave birth to their fourth child a son they named Nathanael Ray. Baby Nathanael joined the Greene’s growing family: George 4, Martha 3, and Cornelia 16 months. He and the two youngest were conceived during Caty’s visits to camp.
That spring, the American garrison in Charleston, South Carolina under General Benjamin Lincoln surrendered to Henry Clinton in the worst loss of the Revolutionary War.
I am to request Congress will appoint another Quartermaster General
Congress adopted its new system for the Quartermaster Department. With the states now responsible for supplies, a decrease in salaries, and the principal men on whom he depended removed, Nathanael believed it was impossible to conduct business. He wrote to Washington outlining his grievances and seeking approval of his intention to quit. But the wording and tone of his resignation letter to Congress dated July 26, 1780 so infuriated members that they threatened to remove him from the army. Washington supported him and put a stop to the threats.
While Nathanael resigned, General Horatio Gates rode into camp in North Carolina and took command of the remnants of the Southern army. On August 16, General Charles Cornwallis, now in command of the British army in the south, defeated Gates near Camden, South Carolina. Gates abandoned his vanquished army and rode 180 miles to Hillsboro, North Carolina. What Washington needed was a good general in the South. Congress’ previous choices had failed. This time they left the choice to him. He chose Nathanael Greene.
The Southern Army
“My Dear Angel, What I have been dreading has come to pass. His Excellency General George Washington by order of Congress has appointed me to command of the Southern Army. God bless you my love and support your spirits. I am yours.” ~Nathanael to Caty, October 1780
Nathanael and his second in command General Baron von Steuben rode to Virginia and stopped along the way to gather troops and supplies from various states. Their efforts were largely futile. Leaving Steuben in Virginia to continue recruiting efforts with Governor Thomas Jefferson, Nathanael went in search of his army, and on December 2, 1780 in Charlotte, North Carolina, he “found nothing but a few, half-starved soldiers who are remarkable for nothing but poverty and distress.”
He adapted quickly to the breakdown of civil authority in the south. A large part of the population was poor. A civil war raged between loyalists and Patriots. Malaria was rampant. Before taking command from Gates, he studied maps and ordered a survey of the nearby rivers so he could understand the geography.
The circumstances forced him to embrace partisan strategy. He reached out to militia generals Francis Marion, Thomas Sumter and Andrew Pickens operating in South Carolina. Cornwallis’ principal force of 4,000 was posted at Winnsborough, South Carolina 70 miles south. What was a general with a new independent command, to do? Ignore every military doctrine that warned of the dangers of dividing an army in the face of a superior foe.
He detached General Daniel Morgan to march to northwest South Carolina. Nathanael led the remainder of his little army to Cheraw. Cornwallis ordered cavalry Colonel Banastre Tarleton to rid the countryside of Morgan. Morgan prepared for the inevitable battle at a place called the Cowpens. On the pastures, he formed his men into three lines. On the morning of January 17, 1781, Morgan shouted “Boys get up, Banny is coming.” They deployed, fired one shot, and then retired so the next line could step up. The British infantry and cavalry broke. Tarleton fled.
To The End of the World
“In this situation, without baggage, necessaries, or Provisions of any sort for Officer or Soldier, in the most barren inhospitable unhealthy part of North America, opposed to the most savage, inveterate perfidious cruel enemy… it was resolved to follow Green[e]’s Army to the end of the World.” ~British General Charles O’Hara referring to Cornwallis’ decision to burn the army’s baggage train.
Cornwallis lost 1,000 men at Cowpens. Furious, he went after Morgan. Nathanael ordered his wing to march to Salisbury, North Carolina. With a small contingent of guard, he set out through 300 miles of perilous loyalist country to support Morgan where they began a retreat toward Salisbury.
Cornwallis burned his baggage train to lighten his army’s pursuit. The further Cornwallis marched, the more his army succumbed to exhaustion and starvation. Nathanael, also exhausted, shifted his army’s junction to Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina. When the army linked up, he held a rare war council.
Nathanael laid it out. They had 2400 men, many of whom were badly armed and clothed. Cornwallis was less than twenty miles away. It was agreed that a retreat to the Dan River on the border of North Carolina and Virginia was the only option to avoid annihilation.
The Race to the Dan
Nathanael detached 700 men and formed a light corps, to screen his main army from the British and detract them from the lower fords of the Dan River where he intended to cross. The ailing Daniel Morgan went home to Virginia. Colonel Otho Holland Williams was selected to command and with Colonel “Light-Horse” Harry Lee’s cavalry legion, they kept Cornwallis at bay while Nathanael led the army toward the Dan River at a frantic pace.
On February 15, Cornwallis’ troops marched up to the banks of the Dan where the campfires of the American army burned on the other side. Nathanael had taken every boat in the Roanoke Valley across the river and there was nothing Cornwallis could do but stare.
With thousands of new militia and some Continentals, the Southern Army swelled to 4,500 men. Nathanael moved back to Guilford Courthouse. Cornwallis led his 1,900 men toward a long awaited battle with Nathanael Greene.
Nathanael’s order of battle was a model of Daniel Morgan’s at Cowpens, but the wooded terrain at Guilford Courthouse prevented his three lines from seeing or supporting one another. He rode among the troops to encourage them. Artillery opened up. His lines began to fall apart under advancing British fire. The enemy turned his left flank. After two hours, he prudently called a retreat to preserve his army.
It was a pyrrhic British victory that cost Cornwallis more than 500 men. He retreated to Wilmington, North Carolina, a coastal port 200 miles away. Nathanael moved to Troublesome Creek. In a letter to Caty, he expressed his desire to be “on a farm with my little family about me.” In return, he received a letter from her that contained a locket with her picture in it.
War of the Posts
Nathanael turned his attention to the British outposts in the interior of South Carolina. With his usual preachy admonishments, he ordered Baron von Steuben and Thomas Jefferson to send militia. The Virginia Assembly blocked his request because Henry Clinton had sent British troops and reinforcements to that state.
Infuriated with Jefferson and frustrated with a lack of support from Washington in New York, he turned his army southward toward the primary outpost at Camden. They arrived at the stockade walls on April 20 where Lord Francis Rawdon had 900 loyalist and British troops garrisoned. Aware that it was too strong to attack, Nathanael pulled his army back to Hobkirk’s Hill, a ridge two miles north.
On the morning of April 25, Lord Rawdon approached. Nathanael’s infantry rolled forward but then the Maryland line bowed causing the Virginia regiments to fall back. Nathanael called a retreat. The loss angered him and wounded his pride. He directed his anger at Maryland Colonel John Gunby saying his actions were the cause for the loss and had Gunby court-martialed. As one of his biographers said, “This was Greene at his worst: petulant, filled with self-pity, and desperately trying to protect his reputation from those confounded critics.”
Persevere and Fortitude
At this time, he wrote to the exiled governor of South Carolina, John Rutledge, stressing the importance of reestablishing government. His concern extended to his command in Virginia where the Marquis de Lafayette arrived to stop the British path of destruction there. By April 24, Cornwallis had had enough of Nathanael Greene. He abandoned the Carolinas and marched to Virginia.
Nathanael’s strategy began to strangle the British. He cut off Lord Rawdon’s supply line and forced him to evacuate Camden on May 9. Over that month under Nathanael’s orders, the British outposts fell at the hands of “Light-Horse” Harry Lee and militia generals Francis Marion and Andrew Pickens. Nathanael laid siege to the last remaining outpost at the fortified town of Ninety-Six on May 22. The siege ended in bloody, hand to hand combat. Nathanael called off the assault and retreated on June 18. Lord Rawdon marched into Ninety-Six two days later and burned the outpost.
The High Hills of Santee
Nathanael moved his army to the High Hills of Santee where the air was cooler and the mosquitos were less relentless. Although it was a camp of repose, there was not a moment that allowed him to let his guard down or cease his endless letters of instruction, exhortation, and solicitation regarding the condition of his ragged, malaria-ridden army and their needs. Still, Nathanael’s sense of humor didn’t completely escape him. He wrote to Henry Knox that no general had run as often or “more lustily” as he had and likened his flight to that of “a Crab, that could run either way.”
The Valiant Died at Eutaw Springs
The Southern Army rested for six weeks in the High Hills of Santee. Lord Rawdon fell ill and Colonel Alexander Stewart replaced him. Stewart pressed his 1,500 men toward Orangeburg, South Carolina. Nathanael called in the militia under Francis Marion and Andrew Pickens. On August 23, his army marched out of the High Hills looking for a fight.
On September 8, at 4:00 a.m., after weeks of mucking through swamps and heavy rain, Nathanael’s army marched toward the enemy at a place called Eutaw Springs. Musket fire and artillery exploded from both sides of the line as they clashed on wooded grounds near a three-story mansion. Some of the British locked themselves in the mansion. Artillery fire proved useless in dislodging them. Nathanael’s cavalry tangled in the bushes near the creek and their commander, Colonel William Washington was bayonetted and captured. After 4 hours of fighting, Nathanael ordered a retreat. Losses that day totaled a staggering 1,400. Both sides claimed victory.
Laurels of a Hero
The Battle of Eutaw Springs was the last significant land battle of the Revolutionary War. The months of sacrifice and perseverance led to the recognition and laurels Nathanael so desperately wanted. He was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor bearing his likeness.
A few days after the battle, he learned that Cornwallis was entrenched in the village of Yorktown, Virginia. There on October 19, 1781, Lord Charles Cornwallis surrendered following a three-week Franco/American siege under Washington. Nathanael wrote to Washington, “Nothing can equal the joy it gives this country.”
Nathanael’s army returned to the High Hills of Santee. He lobbied military and government authorities to provision his army and send reinforcements, but he received almost no help. Beginning in the first week of December, he moved his army to positions between Charleston and Savannah. He was given a boost when General Anthony Wayne arrived from Yorktown.
In early April 1782, after nearly two years of separation, Nathanael and Caty were enveloped in each other’s arms. He was sunburned and thin. He told her about the tracts of land South Carolina and Georgia gifted him for his service in the south. In addition, he invested in 7,000 acres on Cumberland Island off the coast of Georgia. With the military and government coffers empty, he was forced to buy uniforms for his troops on credit through a Charleston speculator named John Banks.
The Evacuation of Charleston
The British evacuated Charleston on December 14, 1782. There was a peaceful transfer of power between Nathanael and British General Alexander Leslie. The Greenes moved into the residence of former governor John Rutledge. The mansion became army headquarters. Nathanael was hailed as the conquering hero. Caty was referred to as “Lady Greene.”
Nathanael was still faced with clothing and providing for his army. His own financial affairs fell apart. A business he formed in 1779 came to its conclusion and Nathanael garnered only 10% of his original 10,000 pound investment. His clothing supplier, John Banks, entered a moneymaking scheme that went bad. Congress delayed paying Banks’ creditors. Banks in turn refused to deliver the provisions without a guarantee. Nathanael signed what amounted to a personal loan for 30,000 pounds.
On April 16, 1783, preliminary articles of peace were signed between the United States and Great Britain. He dismissed his soldiers on June 21 saying “We have trod the paths of adversity together, and have felt the sunshine of better fortune.”
He left Charleston on August 11. On his journey he was greeted with fanfare. He briefly reunited with Washington. On October 7, he formally requested that Congress accept his resignation as major general and asked that he be allowed to go home to Rhode Island. He didn’t attend Washington’s farewell address delivered on December 4. Nathanael was already home.
“My family is in distress and I am overwhelmed with difficulties and God knows when or where they will end. I work hard and live poor but I fear all this will not extricate me.” ~ Nathanael to Henry Knox, March 12, 1786
Pressures and Perplexities
He arrived at the docks of war torn Newport, Rhode Island in late November 1783. He had written to Caty that he trembled to think of the enormous sums of money he owed and that he was doomed to a life of hardship. The Greenes had no home of their own. In the coming year, they decided that Mulberry Grove on the Savannah River in Georgia held fruitful possibilities.
He reunited with his four children, George 7, Martha 6, Cornelia 5, and Nat 3 who looked upon him at first as a stranger, but he was soon their “companion and playfellow.” On April 17, 1784, the Greenes welcomed the arrival of their seventh family member, a baby girl they named Louisa.
He made business plans with his brother, Jacob. On December 17, he was elected the president of the Rhode Island Society of the Cincinnati. But his despondency grew. He received a letter from a firm demanding money for the army clothes they had sold John Banks. On August 1, he sailed to Charleston to look for Banks. He found him dead and buried. He asked his lawyer to file a claim against Bank’s estate.
He returned to Newport, but was soon back on his way south to tend to legal matters and prepare to move his family to Mulberry Grove. His business kept him away until mid-August 1785. When he returned home, Caty had just given birth to their sixth child, a girl named Catharine. The children came down with whooping cough. The older children recovered, but baby Catharine died. Caty was despondent. She missed her monthly “complaint” and chalked it up to her nervous state.
The Greenes boarded a ship bound for Savannah, Georgia on October 14, 1785. Nathanael would never see Rhode Island again.
Legacy of a Fond Father
In April 1786, he described his new life at Mulberry Grove as “a busy time” surrounded by gardens and fruit trees. His library was well-stocked with his beloved books. General Anthony Wayne was also awarded land by the State of Georgia and was a close neighbor. Years later Nathanael’s son, Nat, recalled his father holding him on his knee and teaching him “funny songs.” Little George often walked the fields with his father.
In late April, a very pregnant Caty fell. The accident brought on premature labor and the baby died soon after. One day, seeking the comfort of Nathanael’s arms, she found him by the river weeping. When he looked up at her, she saw the haggard face of a man who had sworn to give everything including his life and his future to the cause of freedom, and had done just that. She, too, had sacrificed. Only as one, could they survive and thrive.
I Have Seen a Great and Good Man Die
“Pardon this scrawl, my feelings are but too much affected, because I have seen a great and good man die.” ~ General Anthony Wayne to Colonel James Jackson, June 19, 1786
Caty and Nathanael drove to Savannah on Monday June 11, 1786 and spent the night with a friend. The next day they stopped at a neighbor’s home. Under the hot sun and without a hat, Nathanael walked the fields with his neighbor. On the way home, he complained of a headache. By Thursday, the pain had intensified over his eyes and his forehead swelled. He became unresponsive. He was suffering from sunstroke and the standard treatments of the day, bleeding and blistering, were useless. The children were sent to a neighbor. Anthony Wayne arrived and for two days he and Caty held vigil. At six o’clock in the morning on June 19, 1786, Nathanael Greene stopped breathing. He was 43.
His body was dressed in the uniform he had worn on formal occasions as a major general of the Continental Army. White silk gloves, a gift from the Marquis de Lafayette, were slipped on his hands. His body was floated down the river to Savannah and carried ashore where Caty and the children waited among silent citizens. A military corps escorted his coffin to Colonial Cemetery. A service was read and then Nathanael’s body was placed in a vault and a 13 gun salute was fired. No one thought to erect a marker.
Congress passed a resolution to erect a monument to General Nathanael Greene. The statue by Henry Kirke Brown and a gift from Rhode Island was erected in 1877 in Stanton Park, Washington D.C.
Sacred To The Memory of Nathanael Greene, Esquire
A Native Of The State Of Rhode Island
Who Died On The 19th Of June 1786
Late Major General In The Service Of The U.S.
And Commander Of Their Army In The Southern Department
“I found the South in confusion and distress and restored it to freedom and tranquility.” ~Major General Nathanael Greene
I’m currently writing a novel about General Greene titled “The Line of Splendor, A Novel of Nathanael Greene and the American Revolution”
If you’re interested in receiving updates on the novel’s progress and publication, please send me your name and email address through my contacts page on this blog post. Thank you and Huzzah!
Barnwell, Joseph W. “The Evacuation of Charleston by the British in 1782.” The South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine 11, no. 1 (1910): 1–26. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27575255.
Beakes, John H. Jr. Otho Holland Williams in The American Revolution. Charleston, South Carolina: The Nautical and Aviation Publishing Co. of American, 2015
Buchannan, John. The Road to Charleston. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2019
Carbone, Gerald M. Nathanael Greene A Biography of the American Revolution, 2008.
Gardiner, Asa Bird. The Discovery of the Remains of Major-General Nathanael Greene, First President of the Rhode Island Cincinnati. New York: The Blumberg Press, 1901
Golway, Terry. Washington’s General Nathanael Greene and the Triumph of the American Revolution. New York: Henry Holt and Company
Greene, George Washington. The Life of Nathanael Greene, Major General in the Army of the Revolution.3 Volumes. New York: Hurd and Houghton. Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1871
Greene, Nathanael. “Letter of General Nath’l. Greene to Gen’l. Washington, 1781.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 30, no. 3 (1906): 359–65. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20085346.
Johnson, William. Sketches of the Life and Correspondence of Nathanael Greene Volume 1 and II. Charleston, South Carolina 1822
Reed, William B. Life and Correspondence of Joseph Reed. Philadelphia: Lindsay and Blakiston, 1847
Schecter, Barnet. The Battle for New York. New York: Walker and Company, 2002
Showman, Richard K. Editor. The Papers of Nathanael Greene: Volume V and VII and pages 612-613. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press. 1989.
Stegeman, John F. and Janet A. Caty A Biography of Catharine Littlefield Greene Athens, Georgia University of Georgia Press, 1977.
Thayer, Theodore. Nathanael Greene Strategist Of The American Revolution. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1960.
Upham, Charles Wentworth. The Life of General Washington: First President of the United States, Volume I. London: Officer of the National Illustrated Library, 1852
Waters, Andrew. To The End of World. Yardley, PA: Westholme Publishing, LLC, 2020
Nathan Hale is remembered today as the quintessential patriot who proclaimed that his only regret was that he had but one life to give for his country. We don’t actually know for sure if Hale said those words, but we do know that he gave his life on 22 September 1776 when he was hanged as a rebel spy. He was only twenty-one years old and had graduated from Yale College three years earlier. He had been at school through the rise of revolution and conflict, undoubtedly discussing with his erudite peers the events that led to the Declaration of Independence and Hale’s ultimate sacrifice.
Two months after turning fourteen, Nathan began his collegiate life at Yale alongside his brother, Enoch, who was nineteen months his senior. The brothers were close friends and roommates, distinguished by their peers as Primus and Secundus. Even the Yale billing records refer to Nathan as ‘Hale 2.’ The brothers seem to have been rarely separated until after their graduation in 1773.
They shared several friends who also played their part in the American Revolution. Of these young men, Benjamin Tallmadge would eventually become the best known, with the possible exception of Nathan himself. Tallmadge became a highly successful officer and spymaster in the Continental Army, but at Yale he was just another student, if a particularly intelligent and overachieving one. In his memoirs, Tallmadge admitted that his preparation for Yale meant that ‘I had not much occasion to study during the first two years of my collegiate life, which I have always thought had a tendency to make me idle.’
One evening in 1771, this idleness led to troublemaking when Tallmadge, the Hale brothers, and some other students broke several windows on campus. One can imagine that Enoch, who was studying to be a minister, must have felt particularly repentant when the bill was sent to their father. Benjamin’s father was also a minister, who might have sent his son a strongly worded reprimand when he was informed of the extra charges.
The boys were not generally troublemakers, however, and a great deal of their free time was spent in intellectual debate as part of the Linonia Society. This fraternity, dedicated to ‘the promotion of friendship and useful knowledge’ gave the young men the opportunity to discuss, debate, and inquire on topics from mathematics and astronomy to religion and philosophy. They undoubtedly had lively talks about the current events of the day and the path to revolution, possibly even discussing Joseph Addison’s Cato from which Nathan’s alleged last words were paraphrased.
In 1771, Nathan served as scribe for the Linonia Society, and his name appears at the end of the surviving meeting minutes. He recorded event participants, questions presented, and topics discussed. One of the items he records is the creation of the society’s library. Since Yale made books available only on-site, the Linonians decided to supply their own library with books that could be checked out by members. The Hale brothers and other members each made contributions of a varied collection of books, including the works of Shakespeare, The Vicar of Wakefield, Rollins Ancient History, Paradise Lost, and The Art of Speaking.
When the Hale brothers graduated in 1773, Nathan participated in a debate on the education of women. The transcript of this debate has not survived, but the fact that Nathan later opened lessons to young women at the school he managed gives us insight to the strength of his feelings on this topic. During his brief time as a schoolmaster before entering the army, Nathan taught girls from 5-7am before his male students arrived for the day.
Through his experience at Yale, we can see the development of Nathan Hale into an intelligent, loyal patriot who was willing to sacrifice all, even his life, for his ideals and for his country.
Revolution. Friendship. Sacrifice.
But One Life: The Story of Nathan Hale is an intimate retelling of the life of a great American patriot. As a young man, he debated philosophy at Yale and developed his personal politics of the revolution. Shortly after graduation, he joined the Continental Army and volunteered a spy in 1776. How did Nathan become a man willing to sacrifice himself with just one regret – that he had but one life to give for his country?
Experience the American Revolution alongside Nathan, his brother, Enoch, and good friends like Benjamin Tallmadge. They dream of liberty and independence. But at what cost?
Friendship, faith, love, and loyalty motivate young Nathan to become a name recognized throughout America as the quintessential patriot.
If I had ten thousand lives, I would lay them all down.
Writer of historical fiction and sufferer of wanderlust, Samantha enjoys exploring the past. She strives to reveal the deep emotions and motivations of historical figures, enabling readers to connect with them in a unique way. Samantha is an American writer with British roots and proud mother of three amazing young adults. She can frequently be found lakeside with a book in one hand and glass of wine in the other.
Catharine Littlefield Greene was a product of the feminine sphere of women during the colonial period. Marriage was considered a critical event in the life of the early American woman. It raised her status socially but it also moved her from dependency on her family to dependency on her husband. When she married Nathanael Greene, a former Quaker and iron forage owner with a limp, asthma, a smallpox scar on his right eye and who hailed from a fairly well-to-do family, she believed that she would be settling down to a life of domestic tranquility. But as we shall see, things were different for Caty. An American Revolution was on the horizon and her husband’s direct and important influence in that revolution changed her domestic circumstances.
Convivial and beautiful with few women friends, poorly trained in domestic skills, and without her own home to settle down in, Caty found her own path that often led to history’s criticisms of her that may have been based in jealousies, misunderstandings, and Caty’s own struggle to be a part of the social whirl that accompanied the officers’ corps during the Revolutionary War. Caty Greene, unlike many of her colonial sisters, was not freed by the American Revolution. Only a personal tragedy could free a woman who defied the narrow perception of acceptable behavior.
Note: Caty burned all her letters to Nathanael therefore their relationship was interpreted through Nathanael’s letters and responses to her.
May 1761, six-year-old Caty Littlefield watched her mother’s burial on Block Island off the coast of Rhode Island, an isolated place where her ancestors had lived since the 1660’s free from Massachusetts dogma, formal social rules, a hurried sense of time, and organized religion and schooling. Two years later, Caty was taken in by her namesake, her mother’s sister Catharine Ray Greene, a dark-haired violet-eyed beauty who Caty resembled. Aunt Catharine had once had a relationship with Benjamin Franklin who wanted more than the platonic handholding she was willing to offer. Now, she was married to William Greene, Jr. a Rhode Island politician who was distantly related to Nathanael Greene.
Nathanael was a frequent visitor to the house in East Greenwich. Lacking a formal education as she did, the Caty he met there was comfortable in the society of men and her “power of fascination was absolutely irresistible.” She was born on February 17, 1755, thirteen years younger than her future husband. Nathanael and Caty wed on July 20, 1774. They settled into Spell Hall his home in Coventry, Rhode Island, but those early days of tranquility were short lived.
The events in Massachusetts on April 19, 1775 when the British fired on civilians in Lexington and Concord changed all that. Nathanael, a private in the Kentish Guards a Rhode Island militia company, left to attend the siege of Boston. His militia company was sent home initially. Rhode Island then formed the Army of Observation. Nathanael had previously been denied officer status due to his limp that “was a blemish to the company.” Suddenly, the man the Kentish Guards considered to be a blemish incapable of cutting a physically shining figure was a brigadier general. He went home and showed Caty his commission. He and his men were sent to Roxbury, Massachusetts where they settled in with the Provincial Army.
General George Washington arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts on July 2, 1775. The Continental Congress had appointed him commander-in-chief of the newly formed Continental Army of which the Provincial Army became a part. Washington saw in Nathanael Greene a man who loved his country, cared about his troops, was a strict disciplinarian, and an active soldier. Within the year, Nathanael was a major general in the Continental Army. Caty was suddenly thrust into the role of a major general’s wife.
She was determined to spend time with her husband at camp no matter where that was. Pregnant with their first child a son they named George Washington Greene, she initially traveled to Nathanael’s headquarters west of Boston in 1775. When she returned to Coventry, her lack of domestic skills, fear for Nathanael’s safety and pregnancy led to personal anxieties. She squabbled with her female in-laws who lived in her household in Coventry and those living in Nathanael’s childhood home in Potowomut.
Caty visited her husband at his headquarters as often as possible, with or without her children. As a general’s wife, she was naturally made the center of attention. She became close friends with Martha Washington and Lucy Knox. Her vivacious behavior elicited a spontaneous response from admiring gentlemen. She listened with genuine interest to stories told by men like General Israel Putnam. Young aides became smitten with her looks and playfulness, and Nathanael was delighted by their admiration. Even General Washington asked that she come to camp for her convivial nature brightened the hardest of winters. During an officers’ party in February 1780 at the Morristown, New Jersey encampment, Caty danced with General Washington for three hours straight without sitting down. Nathanael commented that they had “a pretty little frisk.”
In late spring 1776, whispers about Caty’s behavior circulated among her family members. In the winter of 1777, although they were very much in love, jealousies and insecurities surfaced between Caty and Nathanael. His admiration for Lady Stirling and Kitty, General Lord Alexander Stirling’s wife and daughter, and his reminder to watch her spelling when writing to the scholarly Lucy Knox lured Caty’s doubts about how much Nathanael loved her. His subsequent letters were an oxymoron of adoration or designed to make her jealous especially after he heard about the many parties Caty attended in Rhode Island:
“In the neighborhood of my quarters there are several sweet pretty Quaker girls. If the spirit should move and love invite who can be accountable for the consequences?”
Yet many times he soothed her fears:
“Let me ask you soberly whether you estimate yourself below either of these ladies. You will answer me no, if you speak as you think. I declare upon my sacred honor I think they possess far less accomplishments than you, and as much as I respect them as friends, I should never be with them in a more intimate connection. I will venture to say there is no mortal more happy in a wife than myself.”
Leaving her children with in-laws, Caty arrived in Valley Forge in 1778 where she met men like the Marquis de Lafayette, Baron von Steuben, and Alexander Hamilton while her jealousy simmered over the Stirling ladies. It was here she met General Anthony Wayne. An incurable ladies man, his wife never came to camp. Caty was stimulated by the company of this charming man. The whispered gossip began yet Nathanael remained unconcerned.
By the summer of 1780, she was back in Coventry. Nathanael’s new post was uncertain. Then, he was sent off to command the Southern Army to replace the disgraced General Horatio Gates. The Greene’s had no cash; only land in Rhode Island. While Nathanael bore the horrors of the Southern Campaign, forbidding Caty to join him, she was enjoying the social life in Newport among French soldiers.
After the British surrender in Yorktown, Virginia in October 1781, she traveled to South Carolina to join Nathanael at his headquarters near Charleston. She witnessed the devastation Nathanael had warned her of. After a twenty-three month separation, she found her husband much changed and worn down from the war and debt. Only land grants for his service in the Southern campaign stood between their family and utter financial ruin—Mulberry Grove plantation and holdings on Cumberland Island off the coast of Georgia. Anthony Wayne was granted the plantation adjacent to Mulberry Grove.
In 1785, Caty gave birth to their sixth child, Catharine. The infant died of whooping cough. Caty lay despondent for weeks. Nathanael hired a tutor for the children, a twenty-one year old graduate of Yale, Phineas Miller. The family moved to Mulberry Grove in November. Caty was pregnant again. Tragically in April 1786, she fell and gave birth to a premature daughter who died soon after.
By then, the Mulberry Grove plantation was thriving. The Greenes had a promising new start which came to an abrupt end on June 19, 1786, when Nathanael died of sunstroke at age 43. Caty soon learned the worst. Her husband died before he had made the barest beginning toward paying off the huge debts he owed to his creditors after borrowing money to equip his Southern Army. She would have to make a claim of indemnity to the government for reimbursement.
She poured her heart out to Jeremiah Wadsworth, one of Nathanael’s business partners and a man she had been attracted to for years. Wadsworth was married and had past indiscretions. Jealousy ignited between Miller and Wadsworth for Caty’s affections and Wadsworth’s support in settling her estate in Congress began to wane.
In 1791, she stood before Congress with her indemnity claim that Alexander Hamilton had helped her prepare. Anthony Wayne held a seat in Congress and fought furiously for her settlement. On April 27, she was awarded $47,000 and for the first time since the war, her family was solvent. Soon after, Wayne disappeared from her life. He went west to join the military there. He died of complications from gout on December 15, 1796 during a return trip to Pennsylvania from a military post in Detroit.
By this time, Caty and Phineas Miller had drawn up a legal agreement concerning their relationship and prospective marriage. All five of her children were living at Mulberry Grove, but her oldest child, George, drowned in 1793 soon after coming home from France where he was attending school. In his late teens, George’s body was found on the banks of the Savannah River near Mulberry Grove. His body was taken down the river to the colonial cemetery in Savannah and was placed in the vault beside that of his father’s.
Enter Eli Whitney, a graduate of Yale who came south to accept a teaching position. Caty invited Eli to live in her home so he could read law and work on his new cotton gin invention. Phineas and Eli formed a business partnership with Caty as a silent backer to finance Whitney’s cotton gin invention. However, the venture needed more capital than Caty could provide. Caty and Phineas invested in a land scheme—the Yazoo Company. The company collapsed and Caty once again faced poverty. She married Phineas later that year much to Eli’s chagrin for he was in love with her.
In 1800, Mulberry Grove was sold and the family moved to Cumberland Island at Dungeness where Nathanael, fourteen years before, had begun construction of his family’s future home. The island yielded everything the family needed to survive. Three years later at age thirty-nine, the gentle and faithful Phineas died of blood poisoning after pricking his finger on a thorn.
Caty was faced with selling Phineas’ part of the Miller estate which was tied up in his company with Whitney. There were also the settlements against her estate for legal fees, loans, etc. For a time, she sold live oaks to a lumber company in an effort to salvage the cotton gin company.
Eli Whitney returned to his home in New Haven, Connecticut yet he was tormented by his love for Caty. She was now past childbearing age and he wanted a family. She wrote him letters, cajoling him to come to her side, offering her sentiments on his health and his aloofness. She made a failed attempt at matching him with her youngest daughter, Louisa. On a trip to New York to endeavor to settle her final legal affairs with Nathanael’s and Phineas’ estates, she begged him to visit her. When he came at last, she recognized the final hopelessness of her dream of marriage with this man she badgered, pitied, worried over, and loved with all her heart. She often asked him to come back to Georgia to visit her, but he never returned.
On July 5, 1814, Caty wrote her last letter to Eli Whitney:
“We have a party of eighteen to eat Turtle with us tomorrow. I wish you were the nineteenth. Our fruit begins to flow in upon us—to partake of which I long for you… ”
She had grown and found as Nathanael once suggested, that self-pity made a sad companion. In the last week of August, Caty was struck with a fever. The same week the capital city of Washington lay in ruins, burned by the British. Caty never knew. She died on September 2, 1814.
Despite history’s proverbial finger pointing about what she may have done during her marriage to Nathanael, Caty was a women whose strengths and weaknesses allowed her to face the consequences of war and meet them head on the rest of her life.
1776, the first full year of the American Revolutionary War, began with General George Washington and the Continental Army breaking the ten month Siege of Boston and driving the British out. In April, suspecting that General William Howe, commander-in-chief of all British forces in America was headed for New York, Washington marched his somewhat undisciplined, fledgling army from Cambridge, Massachusetts to New York City. They occupied the largely loyalist city. In anticipation of an attack, the army set up batteries on the waterfront and a string of fortresses across the harbor at Brooklyn Heights on Long Island.
In July, an armada commanded by Admiral Lord Richard Howe arrived with 13,000 British and Hessians on board and dropped anchor off Staten Island. Born as illegitimate relations to King George III, the powerful Howe brothers let their troops recover from their long sea voyage before attacking the Continental position on Long Island late in August. After being badly outflanked, Washington’s army was able to escape to Manhattan under cover of fog at the oars of Colonel John Glover and his Marblehead Massachusetts mariners.
With the British in control of the East and Hudson Rivers, New York harbor and Long Island, Washington abandoned the city leaving behind a small force under General Israel Putnam and a regiment of artillery corps commanded by Henry Knox. Howe landed 10,000 troops on the eastern shore of New York Island and divided his army—some marched south to take the city (Putnam and Knox managed to escape). The rest of Howe’s army pursued the retreating Continental Army and defeated them at White Plains, New York.
Washington’s ragged, sick, and hungry army crossed the Hudson into New Jersey. Their last hope lay in the American forts that faced each other across the Hudson. Garrisoned with 2,500 troops, Fort Washington stood on a summit on the New York shore. Fort Lee, manned with 3,500 soldiers, rose on the palisades on the New Jersey shore. The forts fell to the British in mid-November, after which, General Howe set up a line of seven garrisons to hold the southern half of New Jersey. The smallest of these was at Trenton manned by fourteen hundred Hessians under Colonel Johann Rall.
Pursued by one of Howe’s best generals, the aggressive Lord Charles Cornwallis, the Continental Army retreated south through New Jersey headed for Trenton. The dispirited Patriots, many whose enlistments were to expire on December 1 and December 31 and had refused to re-sign, deserted by the hundreds reducing Washington’s army to a force of about 2,400 men.
General Nathanael Greene of Rhode Island reported to Washington, “Two brigades left us at Brunswick. It made no difference that the enemy is within two hours march and coming on.”
On December 1, despite being slowed by trees blocking the roads, destroyed bridges, and enemy sniper fire, Cornwallis’s exhausted army almost caught up with the Continental Army on the banks of the Raritan River at New Brunswick. He stopped in obedience to orders from General Howe to go no further.
When the Continental Army arrived near Trenton, they were faced with crossing the icy Delaware River into Pennsylvania. Washington dispatched Colonel John Glover, to bring over every small boat he could find. The army safely gathered on the Pennsylvania shore.
Washington realized that the Patriots needed a victory to instill new hope after the failed effort to keep the British from occupying New York. He knew he must strike a military blow to the enemy before his army melted away and he was determined to hit the Hessian garrison at Trenton. He and his general officers also understood that the element of surprise was the only way that the army stood a chance of defeating the highly trained Hessian mercenaries. They would attack on Christmas night.
On Christmas Day, the weather turned ominous. Glover was in charge of the boats: big, flat-bottomed, high-sided Durham boats normally used to transport pig iron on the Delaware from the Durham Iron Works near Philadelphia. Colonel Henry Knox (who would later become the army’s artillery general) organized and directed the crossing. A demanding part of the task would be transporting the eighteen field cannon and fifty horses.
General John Cadwalader and Washington’s adjutant, Colonel Joseph Reed, were to lead a force of Pennsylvania militia and Rhode Island troops and cross downriver at Bristol. General James Ewing was directed to take Pennsylvania militiamen, attack directly across the river at Trenton, and hold the wooden bridge over Assunpink Creek at the foot of Queen Street, which the enemy might use as an escape route.
Drums rolled in camp, and starting at two in the afternoon the army began moving out for the river, each man carrying sixty rounds of ammunition and food enough for three days. The password was “Victory.” The answer was “Or Death.” It was nearly dark and raining when the troops reached McConkey’s Ferry where the boats waited. Glover’s men used oars and poles to get the big boats across.
At 11:00 p.m., a full-blown northeaster struck, slowing the crossing as sheets of ice formed that grew thicker as they bounced on the windblown waves in the Delaware River. The ice was hindering the sweep oars and scraping against the sides of the boats.
It was 3:00 a.m., three hours behind schedule, when the last of the troops, horses, and cannon were across. The march south from McConkey’s Ferry turned into a march of misery. The storm worsened with cold, driving rain, sleet, snow, and violent hail. The troops trudged on in the most profound silence. Many wearing worn-out shoes or cloth tied around their feet left a trail of blood. Knox’s artillery led the way. There was little light to see by. A few men carried lanterns, and torches were mounted on some of the cannon so the army wouldn’t be seen moving through the forested terrain. Men and horses kept slipping and skidding in the dark.
Washington rode out into the lines and said, “For God’s sake, keep with your officers.”
The entire twenty-four hundred on the march kept together for five miles until they reached the crossroads at Birmingham where the army divided. General John Sullivan’s column, which included Glover’s brigade, kept to the right on the River Road. Generals Lord Alexander Stirling and Hugh Mercer, commanded by Nathanael Greene, veered off to the left with Washington along the Pennington Road. The distance to Trenton was four miles either way.
Sullivan sent a courier to tell Washington that the weather was wetting his men’s gunpowder.
“Tell General Sullivan to use the bayonet,” Washington responded. “I am resolved to take Trenton.”
Yet some of the plan stalled. General Ewing called off his attack on Trenton because of ice in the river. General Cadwalader’s and Joseph Reed’s diversionary landing to the south had been aborted due to ice.
The Patriot columns reached their position outside Trenton at about the same time: an hour after daylight. Most of the residents had fled the village. The Hessians were quartered in the abandoned houses and the stone barracks. Harassed by rebel patrols that kept coming over the Delaware, Colonel Johann Rall established outposts on Pennington Road outside of town. The Patriots attacked the outposts just after eight o’clock in the morning.
Hessian Major Jacob von Braam heard the sudden sound of a musket volley. He and his disoriented company ran out into the blinding snow and tried to get into formation. The Americans surged forward in a confusion of musket fire and smoke.
Major von Braam saw his men were still unable to get into formation. “Retreat!” he ordered.
The Hessians fell back into town, as they had been trained to do when retreat was the only choice. They shouted in warning, “Der Fiend! Heraus! Heraus!” (“The enemy! Turn out! Turn out!”) In town, Hessians rushed out of their houses and barracks into the streets. Drums beat and officers shouted orders.
Henry Knox’s artillery was positioned at the head of King and Queen Streets. General Mercer and his troops moved down a hill on the west side of town and swept into the village through alleys and house lots. The Hessians retreated into the side streets as generals Sullivan’s, Stirling’s, and Greene’s men came at them with fixed bayonets.
When the Hessians rolled out a field gun midway on King Street, American artillery Lieutenant James Monroe rushed forward, seized it, and turned it on them. James lit the touchhole. The cannon belched a tongue of fire and black smoke when the ball exploded from the muzzle, killing two Hessians. Colonel Rall, who was rousted out of bed, was on horseback and in command in the midst of the battle. He ordered a charge, “All who are my grenadiers, forward!” A musket ball hit Rall in the chest and he fell from his horse.
Some of Rall’s confused men retreated to the cover of an orchard. The Patriots steadily advanced on the Hessians. Knox shouted orders to move the artillery units toward the orchards. Mortally wounded, Rall’s men picked him up and carried him to safety where he would die later that day. The Hessians in the orchard, finding themselves surrounded, lay down their arms and surrendered. Within forty-five minutes, twenty-one Hessians were killed, ninety were wounded, and nine hundred were taken prisoner. Five hundred managed to escape across Assunpink Creek at the foot of Queen Street.
Four Americans were wounded. Only two Americans died on the march. Washington exclaimed to his officers, “This is a glorious day for our country!”
The Continental Army was faced with the arduous journey from Trenton back to the Delaware River through snow and ice with the Hessian prisoners. The troops were uplifted, however, because they had done something glorious at last.
From Baltimore, addressing Washington on behalf of the Continental Congress, John Hancock wrote, “It is all the more extraordinary given it had been achieved by men broken by fatigue and ill fortune.”
The British naturally did not see it that way. William Howe cancelled Lord Cornwallis’s furlough request and ordered him to return to Trenton. To General James Grant, overall commander of the New Jersey outposts, Howe wrote:
Trenton was an unlucky cursed affair quite beyond comprehension. I have dispatched General Cornwallis to New Jersey with an army of 8,000 men to smash the remnants of the filthy rebel army and retake Trenton.
The Americans crossed the Delaware River back into Pennsylvania. On December 30, Washington took a force of five thousand men back to Trenton and encamped at Assunpink Creek Bridge. General John Cadwalader had finally crossed the Delaware River at Bristol leaving Washington’s army divided and vulnerable.
Washington rode among his ranks, who had not been paid in months and whose enlistments were up, and issued a plea for them to stay. “My brave fellows, you have done all that I have asked you to do and more than could be reasonably expected. But your country is at stake, your wives, your houses, and all that you hold dear.”
At Assunpink Creek Bridge, Knox’s artillery crews trundled cannon in place to defend the bridge as Cornwallis’s army attacked. The two sides exchanged heavy cannon fire. The Americans volleyed furiously at Cornwallis’s advancing troops. The bridge over Assunpink Creek was soon drenched in blood and the creek began to run thick with it as the bodies of the dead splashed into the water. Surrounded by the fog of smoke and confusion, Cornwallis called for his troops to fall back three times.
When night fell, Charles Cornwallis declared, “We’ve got the old fox safe now. We’ll go over and bag him in the morning.”
But in the morning, to Cornwallis’s mortification, Washington and his army had stolen away in the dark. Nathanael Greene’s army veered off to the left and John Sullivan’s army veered off to the right of Washington’s main army. On January 3, Greene’s vanguard clashed with Cornwallis’s army outside of Princeton. The British were taken totally unaware. Although General Hugh Mercer was unmercifully bayoneted and died nine days later, the Americans prevailed at Princeton, taking three hundred and fifty prisoners. Cornwallis’s rear guard retreated rather than risk anymore of their numbers.
The British viewed Trenton and Princeton as minor American victories, but with these victories, now known as “The Ten Crucial Days”, the Americans believed that they could win the war. A century later, British historian Sir George Otto Trevelyan wrote in a study of the American Revolution, when talking about the impact of the victories at Trenton and Princeton, that “It may be doubted whether so small a number of men ever employed so short a space of time with greater and more lasting effects upon the history of the world.”
As General Nathanael Greene wrote to Thomas Paine, his aide and author of the popular Patriot pamphlet Common Sense, “The two late actions at Trenton and Princeton have put a very different face upon affairs.”
This post is a part of the Historical Writers Forum 2021 Holidays blog hop!
The Crossing of the Delaware is an event in the second novel in my award-winning historical fantasy series of the American Revolution: Angels and Patriots Book Two, The Cause of 1776. Click the cover to see more information on this book and all the books in the series.
O’Shaughnessy, Andrew Jackson. The Men Who Lost American New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2013. Print.
Puls, Mark. Henry Knox Visionary General of the American Revolution New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. Print.
McCullough, David. 1776 New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. Print.
Schecter, Barnet. The Battle For New York New York: Walker & Company, 2002. Print.
Thayer, Theodore. Nathanael Greene Strategist Of The American Revolution New York: Twayne Publishers, 1960. Print.
Featured Image: Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze, The Metropolitan Museum of Art