Tales of the Revolution by William Champlin
About the commencement of the Revolutionary War the British ship Rose Commanded by Captain Wallace came to Stonington Point and commenced firing upon the village; my father, then a Colonel of the regiment of militia, assembled his troops and marched to the Point to prevent their landing. I accompanied him and by a well directed fire from behind the buildings, fences and rocks, succeeded in preventing their landing; the women and children all fled from the Point, and went to my father’s house where they remained the succeeding night and consequently the fire of the British did not do so much damage as it otherwise would.
One man only was wounded and one cow killed; the houses were considerably damaged by the shot. Soon after this a small fort or battery was built at Stonington Point, which I assisted in building, and was afterward stationed there three months under the command of Captain John Belcher, who was then a Captain of the militia in that place and I a soldier in the said militia. I was then taken from the Point and stationed at Groton Fort under the command of Captain Peleg Noyes, where I remained three months; I was then ordered to New London fort and stationed there three months under the command of Captain Belcher again. After my term of service was out I returned to my father’s.
Soon after this I enlisted into the service of the State of Rhode Island under the command of Captain Andrew Staunton for the term of fifteen months to guard the coasts and harbors.
While on our march to the coast we stopped at East Greenwich where a recruiting officer was stationed and I then enlisted as a sergeant into the Continental service for the term of three years under the command of Captain Elijah Lewis. We were then marched to Coventry onto General Green’s Farm and inoculated with the Small Pox where we remained until cured of the disease. We were then marched to New Jersey and joined Washington’s Army. After remaining at New Jersey a short time we were marched to Red Bank on the Delaware River, near Philadelphia, where we repaired the fort at that place, then under the command of Colonel Christopher Green. While stationed there, the fort was attacked by the British and Hessian troops under the comand of Lord Howe; the Fort was gallantly defended and the enemy driven back
While defending the fort the flint was driven out of my gun by a ball from the enemy which passed so near me that I felt the heat and my Captain, who stood near me, had his fingers shot off. Thirty-one were killed in the fort, and it was said that seventeen hundred of the enemy were killed and wounded.
Mud Island Fort which lies opposite Red Bank was besieged while we were stationed at Red Bank. The troops stationed at Red Bank assisted in defending the fort at Mud Island and frequently crossed the river for that purpose. I was stationed at Mud Island Fort a part of the time during the siege. The enemy, by bringing a large ship to bear upon the fort and attacking it at the same time with their land forces, gave them such a decided advantage that it appeared useless to defend it any longer, we therefore abandoned it in the night, leaving our colors flying. The Fort being vacated by the Yankees, the British troops succeeded in taking it Nov. 15, 1778. We also abandoned Red Bank fort, leaving a train and one man behind to blow it up; the explosion took place soon after we left the fort. The night was extremely cold for that season of the year and we suffered much from cold during the night, but continued our march to Valley Forge where we made preparations for winter quarters (the British then having possession of Philadelphia).
While at Valley Forge we built a bridge across the Schuylkill and placed our cannon in a direction to defend the crossing of the bridge, that in case we should retreat we could cross the bridge and by the aid of our cannon could prevent the British from crossing or annoy them so much that they would not attempt it. We also built huts and made ourselves as comfortable as the circumstances of the times would admit. Three rows of huts were built about a half a mile apart and at the head of the center row was Washington’s headquarters. Lady Washington, accompanied by the wives of some of the officers, came there and spent the winter.
While in the State of Pennsylvania we heard of an old Tory who had been providing provisions and stores for the British; our army was then almost destitute of provisions and stood in great need of the provisions so an officer ws selected to go and take it. Volunteers were called for and I immediately turned out for one and on our march thither we had to cross a stream although the weather was very cold. We forded the stream up to the waist bands and on our arrival at the house we found the doors barred and our admittance refused. Our officer demanded entrance and threatened to break down the door unless we could have admittance and while standing at the door my wet clothes froze stiff upon me, but at last the door was opened and we went in and found the provisions that had been provided aforesaid and we were ordered to fill our packs with pork which we did.
While on our march returning, I was taken sick and unable to proceed; a soldier was left to take care of me until a wagon was sent from the army in which I was conveyed to the hospital or hut. Many of the soldiers, for want of suitable provision and clothing had become sick and were placed in this miserable hut or hospital , as it was called, with me, where we suffered more than I am able to describe.
I was sick of a fever for a long time and my hair, which was very long and thick, all came off. After my recovery, I again joined the army. We remained at Valley Forge watching the movements of the British until June, when we received news that the British had left Philadelphia and had been one day on their march for South Amboy where they expected to take shipping. Washington immediately gave orders to pursue them, and our army was accordingly marched with all possible haste on that pursuit. While on our march, we found that the British had taken up all the bridges and had felled trees across the road to retard our march. We, however, overhauled them at Monmouth, where the memorable Monmouth battle was fought. The weather was extremely warm, and we suffered much from the heat. Washington commanded the right wing of the army and General Lee the left, but in consequence of General Lee disobeying orders, the British army was not captured at that time as they otherwise would have been had Lee obeyed his orders.
Lee was afterward tried by a court martial for his disobedience and broke. My station in the army during the battle was in the right wing, commanded by General Washington. The British made good their retreat and got on board their shipping at South Amboy.
After the battle of Monmouth, we were marched from place to place and what transpired I do not distinctly recollect, but in the Fall of the year we were halted upon a high hill, and were entirely destitute of provisions for three days. The hill was afterward called Hungry Hill. The commissary whose duty it was to have furnished us was afterwards broke for his neglect of duty.
Our army marched from New Jersey to Rhode Island, upon Sullivan’s Exepediton, where we had a battle with the British. Previous to the battle many of our sentries were killed while on duty. I was frequently stationed where I considered my life in more danger than in open battle, but the British retired from the conflict, and we were again marched on our return to New Jersey and prepared for winter quarters at Morristown. We had many difficulties with the Tories and often scouting parties were out and skirmished with them. Washington’s headquarters were at Morristown, where we wintered. My health at that time was good. I do not recollect anything that took place worthy of note save that we were often short of provisions and our rations were very small and frequently quite poor; a detachment was sent to Staten Island where they took a number of horses and some provisions and blankets from the enemy and returned to headquarters. I am not able at this time to recollect dates, shall therefore notice promiscuously some particular events which occurred in which I took an active part, that a more perfect account of my serviced and suffering may be given while in the Army of the United States.
While our Army was at Pixkill on the Hudson river, I was taken sick of the camp distemper which prevailed to an alarming degree. The Hospital where I lay was filled with the sick, many of whom died daily. What made our situation more distressing and the disease more fatal was the want of suitable and skillful nurses to take care of the sick. An old drunken Irishman and his wife were the only nurses that could be procured for that purpose and they spent more time in quarreling and drinking than in taking care of the sick, and as soon as the breath had left the body and sometimes before, they would rifle the pockets after money to buy whiskey with. My sickness was considered uncurable and the doctor told my friends that I could not live till morning; in this, however, he ws mistaken, for after a long and distressing disease I began to recover and finally regained my health to such a degree that I was able to return again to my duty in the army in about two months.
While at Rhode Island on Sullivan’s Expediton, the British then having possession of the Island, our troops advanced so near them that we were obliged to take our sentry from duty during the day and place them on guard again at night. While there, one of our drummers deserted and fled to the British, as he supposed, and related all the information he was possessed of relative to our army, their situation, movements and intentions. But to his surprise, he had only reached our advanced guard and was telling his story to one of our officers when he was immediately arrested, tried by Court Martial and hung on the spot. While hanging, our army was marched around him three times that every one might see and learn the fate of a traitor and deserter.
While at Red bank, two Tories, a black man and a white man, were hung for piloting the British army from Philadelphia to our Fort at Red Bank. By the order of Captain Green they were tried by a court Martial and condemned and hung. These were the first persons I ever saw hung. The dead march was played with muffled drums and other instruments, producing a mournful and solemn sound which I shall never forget.
While at Red Bank fort we were daily expecting an attack from the enemy to prevent their approach and retard it as much as possible, Gen. Green ordered an orchard to be cut down and the trees hauled out-foremost toward the fort and the tops trimmed so as to make the picket difficult to march through or remove. One afternoon we received information that the enemy had commenced their march to attack the fort. We accordingly made preparations to receive them, but when they first came in sight their formidable appearance was augmented by the bright rays of the sun (then about an hour high) shining upon their high brass plated caps which made them appear like men of superior height and strength. An officer bearing a flag of truce advanced saying if we surrendered we would be treated like prisoners of war; but if not every man would be put to the sword. Gen. Green answered that he had orders from Gen Washington to keep that Fort and should keep it so long as he had one man living by his side. The flag returned and the enemy immediately commenced their attack and fought till dark, when they were repulsed with great slaughter. We fired forty-eight rounds and my gun was so hot that it almost blistered my hands to hold it; the enemy retreated leaving their dead and wounded on the ground.
While in New Jersey near Morristown, our army suffered much for want of provision to satisfy the cravings of nature. The soldiers would often resort to theft; at one time they stole a cow belonging to a widow woman; after driving her to a by-place in the bushes they killed her and secreted the meat (which they cut from the carcass with their knives) in their tents. Search was made for the cow and the carcass found. Complaint was made to the officers. The soldiers were all paraded and search made for the meat which was found secreted in their tents, and punishment for theft awaited them. Washington, then at headquarters near by, heard of the fact and immediately countermanded the order for punishment, saying that his men should not by punished for a theft which hunger obliged them to commit. He then paid the widow money enought to buy her two cows.
I received continental money for my services in the army and laid it by thinking to buy me a farm. But the money all died or became nearly worthless in my hands, so that my loss was nearly the amount of all my services.
Soon after I left the army I saw an advertisement in a New London paper for able bodied men to man the sloop Hancock for a privateering excursion I immediately volunteered, signed the articles of agreement and soon after set sail for a cruise but returned without taking a prize. We soon after set sail again the second time, and while out captured and took a brig loaded with wine. I returned in her. My share of the prize was one pipe and a half which I sold to my brother Christopher, then a merchant in Newport. I next went out in the Oliver Cromwell, commanded by Captain Buddington.
While out we captured and took a brig loaded with shocks of staves and some articles of small value. I next went out on board the Minerva and was Captain of Marines. While out, we captured and took from the British the Hybernia, a valuable prize and sent her into New London. We also captured and took from the British the ship Hannah which was considered the richest prize taken during the war and sent her also into New London, and as Captain aforesaid I was entitled to my share of the prize and was offered for my share of the ship a good farm worth two thousand dollars, but refused the offer, being confident they were worth much more. But before a division of shares were made in both of said last prizes, that infamous rascal of a traitor, Benedict Arnold arrived, came into New London, burned the town and also the prizes aforesaid, and the storehouses containing the prize goods and I thereby lost all my property and I verily believe that my loss at that time could not be less than from three to four thousand dollars, for which I never received one farthing.
I again sailed in the sloop Spitfire commanded by Captain Thompson and while out gave chase to a British galley and drove her into Fire Inlet, off Long Island and while on the chase we pursued her with so much speed that the water flew over us so that it wet our guns and it was difficult to fire them. I had command of two guns, in one of which I forced the priming wire through the wet powder and reprimed her; I then took aim and fired, which was the only gun and the only one necessary as the ball from the gun had cut the rudder entirely off and disabled her so much that she immediately struck her colors and we took her and for this exploit of mine I received the captured Caption’s guns.