Sunday, July 04, 2010

Letters From the Front

Charlotte Chambers, the daughter of General Benjamin Chambers, married Colonel Israel Ludlow, who had served under the general and moved to Cincinnati to survey SW Ohio (the Symmes Purchase) & later started an estate in what is now the neighborhood of Northside north of the Mill Creek & east of Hamilton Avenue. One of her grandsons collected her letters and published them in the mid 1800s. The book, "The Memoirs of Charlotte Chambers" is available at the Hamilton County Public Library in the general and rare books departments. It is also online here. Besides Miss Chambers being a drama queen & hypochondriac, she speaks conversationally about life in Cincinnati at the turn of the century & social engagements with the founders of the Queen City. But the book also contains correspondences from her uncle fighting in the American Revolutionary War. Here is a sampling.

"On the evening of the 26th inst., Saturday, I was ordered to draw fifty men out of each of the Cumberland companies, and be ready to march at sunset. Accordingly I did so, and marched without beat of drum to Prospect Hill, and thence proceeded with the riflemen stationed there-in all about four hundred;-to Ploughed Hill and then down the hill within three or four hundred yards of the enemy's strongest works, to cover a party of about two thousand musketmen, who were at the same time to entrench on Ploughed Hill. They labored very hard all night, and at daybreak had the redoubt nearly completed. When the English discovered our defences so near, they began a heavy cannonading which continued all day. They killed with their cannon balls one adjutant and one soldier, and wounded three others with musket balls. These were close to the floating batteries and their field works. Mr. William Simpson of Paxton, a volunteer, was struck by a shot and his foot carried away.
On Monday we were with about fifteen thousand men on Ploughed Hill, as the enemy made every appearance of coming out to storm our works, but thought it not good for their health, and so returned to Boston. They fired several cannon from Bunker Hill, and killed one man on Ploughed Hill. This last point is about six hundred yards from Bunker's, where is their strongest force. Your son Benjamin sends his love to you. He was with me in all this affair."


SEPTEMBER 3, 1776.
" MY DEAR KITTY: I should have written to you sooner, but the hurry and confusion we have been in for some time past, has hindered me. I will now give you a short account of transactions in this quarter. On the morning of the 22nd August there were nine thousand British troops on New Utrecht plains. The guard alarmed our small camp, and we assembled at the flagstaff. We marched our forces, about two hundred in number, to New Utrecht to watch the movements of the enemy. When we came on the hill, we discovered a party of them advancing toward us. We prepared to give them a warm reception, when an imprudent fellow fired, and they immediately halted and turned toward Flatbush. The main body also, moved along the great road toward the same place. We proceeded alongside of them in the edge of the woods as far as the turn of the lane, where the cherry-trees were, if you remember. We then found it impracticable for so small a force to attack them on the plain, and sent Captain Hamilton with twenty men, before them to burn all the grain; which he did very cleverly, and killed a great many cattle. It was then thought most proper to return to camp and secure our baggage, which we did, and left it in Fort Brown. Near 12 o'clock the same day we returned down the great road to Flatbush with only our small regiment, and one New England regiment sent to support us, though at a mile's distance. When in sight of Flatbush, we discovered the enemy, but not the main body; on perceiving us, they retreated down the road perhaps a mile. A party of our people commanded by Captain Miller followed them close with a design to decoy a portion of them to follow him, whilst the rest kept in the edge of the woods alongside of Captain M. But they thought better of the matter, and would not come after him though he went within two hundred yards. There they stood for a long time, and then Captain Miller turned off to us and we proceeded along their flank. Some of our men fired upon and killed several Hessians, as we ascertained two days afterwards. Strong guards were maintained all day on the flanks of the enemy, and our regiment and the Hessian yagers kept up a severe firing, with a loss of but two wounded on our side. WVe laid a few Hessians low, and made them retreat out of Flatbush. Our people went into the town, and brought the goods out of the burning houses. The enemy liked to have lost their field-pieces. Captain Steel, of your vicinity, acted bravely. We would certainly have had the cannon had it not been for some foolish person calling retreat. The main body of the foe returned to the town; and when our lads came back, they told of their exploits. This was doubted by some, which enraged our men so much that a few of them ran and brought away several Hessians on their backs. This kind of firing by our riflemen and theirs continued until ten (two?) o'clock in the morning of the 26th, when our regiment was relieved by a portion of the Flying Camp; and we started for Fort Greene to get refreshment, not having lain down the whole of this time, and almost dead with fatigue. WVe had just got to the fort, and I had only laid down, when the alarm guns were fired. We were compelled to turn out to the lines, and as soon as it was light saw our men and theirs engaged with field-pieces. At last, the enemy found means to surround our men there upon guard, and then a heavy firing continued for several hours. The main body that surrounded our men marched up within thirty yards of Forts Brown and Greene; but when we fired, they retreated with loss. From all I can learn, we numbered about twenty-five hundred, and the attacking party not less than twenty-five thousand, as they had been landing for days before. Our men behaved as bravely as ever men did; but it is surprising that, with the superiority of numbers, they were not cut to pieces. They behaved gallantly, and there are but five or six hundred missing.
General Lord Stirling fought like a wolf, and is taken prisoner. Colonels Miles and Atlee, Major Bird, Captain Peoples, Lieutenant Watt, and a great number of our other officers also prisoners; Colonel Piper missing. From deserters, we learn that the enemy lost Major-General Grant and two Brigadiers, and many others, and five hundred1 killed. Our loss is chiefly in prisoners. It was thought advisable to retreat off Long Island; and on the night of the 30th, it was done with great secrecy. Very few of the officers knew it until they were on the boats, supposing that an attack was intended. A discovery of our intention to the enemy would have been fatal to us. The Pennsylvania troops were done great honor by being chosen the corps de reserve to cover the retreat. The regiments of Colonels Hand,2 Hagan, Shea, and Hazlett were detailed for that purpose. We kept up fires, with outposts stationed, until all the rest were over. We left the lines after it was fair day, and then came off:
Never was a greater feat of generalship shown than in this retreat; to bring off an army of twelve thousand men within sight of a strong enemy, possessed of as strong a fleet as ever floated on our seas, without any loss, and saving all the baggage.
General Washington saw the last over himself."


On the morning of the 11th Sept., 1777, we were apprised that the enemy was advancing; and soon after heard the engagement between our light troops and their advanced parties. Whilst their main design was in front to our right, the cannon ceased firing except now and then; and small detachments of our troops were constantly skirmishing with them. But in a short while, we found that they had crossed the Brandywine near the forks, and were coming in flank of our right wing. The cannonade commenced about three o'clock, but soon gave way to small arms, which continued like an incessant clap of thunder till within an hour of sunset, when our people filed off. Then the attack began with us on the left. But I must observe to you that while the right was engaged, the troops that were on the right of our brigade on the hill were drawn off and left our right flank quite uncovered. The enemy kept an unremitted fire from their artillery (and ours too, played with great fury) until advancing under the thick smoke they took possession of the redoubt in front of our park. As there were no troops to cover the artillery in the redoubt-the enemy was within thirty yards before being discovered-our men were forced to fly and to leave three pieces behind. Our brigade was drawn into line, with the park of artillery two hundred yards in the rear of the redoubt. Our park was ordered off then, and my right exposed. The enemy advanced on the hill where our park was, and came within fifty yards of the hill above me. I then ordered my men to fire. Two or three rounds made the lads clear the ground.
The General sent orders for our artillery to retreatit was on my right-and ordered me to cover it with — of my regiment. It was done, but to my surprise the artillerymen had run and left the howitzer behind. The two field pieces went up the road protected by about sixty of my men, who had very warm work, but brought them safe. I then ordered another party to fly to the howitzer and bring it off. Captain Buchanan, Lieutenant Stimson, and Lieutenant Douglass went immediately to the gun, and the men followed their example, and I covered them with the few I had remaining. But before this could be done, the main body of the foe came within thirty yards, and kept up the most terrible fire I suppose ever heard in America; though with very little loss on our side. I brought all the brigade artillery safely off, and I hope to see them again fired at the scoundrels. Yet we retreated to the next height in good order, in the midst of a very heavy fire of cannon and small arms. Not thirty yards distant, we formed to receive them, but they did not choose to follow.
I lost Lieutenants HIalliday and Wise killed; Captain Grier was badly wounded, Captain Craig and myself slightly wounded. I have, I suppose, lost six or seven killed, and about the same number wounded. We lost several fine officers out of the brigade.


About the 20th July, General Wayne formed a design of attacking a block house built by the British on the bank of North River, on the point that runs down to Bergen, six or seven miles above that town; and had orders from the Commander in Chief to bring off the cattle. The general marched the Pennsylvania division down in the night to within a few miles of the place of action, and then in the morning ordered the 2d brigade to take post near Fort Lee, to prevent the enemy crossing from Fort Washington, and falling on the rear of the troops destined for the attack. After making the disposition necessary, my regiment was ordered to advance and commence the attack, and to cover the artillery, which was done with unparalleled bravery. Advancing to the abattis, which was within twenty yards of the house, several crept through, and there continued under an incessant fire till ordered away. They retreatedwith reluctance. The foe kept close under shelter, firing through loop holes. Our men and artillery kept up a galling fire on the house, but at last were obliged to fall back, as our pieces were too light to penetrate. There were twelve killed of the 1st regiment, and four of them within the abattis; in all, forty were killed, wounded and missing; three of these in Ben's platoon. You may depend your son is a good soldier. All the officers and men say he behaved exceedingly well. I had not the pleasure of seeing it, as I lay very sick at the time. Ben can tell you plenty of news about fighting.
J. C."