Friday, October 28, 2011

Letters from the Front: Retreat from New York

"...they were not able to effect any Thing on Acco of the heavy & incessant Fire from the Enemies Forts & Ships ― no less than Eight Coll: & Lt. Colonels have been taken, died or killed since the Landing on L: Island" 

By the end of September 1776, the George Washington's Continental Army was in the midst of a stubborn retreat from New York City. In late August the British Army under General Sir William Howe maneuvered the Americans off Long Island. On September 15th, Howe landed at Kip's Bay, forcing the Americans to evacuate New York City and retreat to their defensive works atop Harlem Heights. Sometime in the following weeks, Jedediah Huntington's command moved to King's Bridge, guarding the crossing over the Bronx, which was a significant river at this time. His account, which can be viewed below, details the various reversals of fortune that the American army suffered during the period, along with casualties including Captain Nathan Hale. The situation would continue to unravel for Washington, as his army was pushed further north in October and finally forced to retreat across New Jersey in November and December.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Letters from the Front: The Flying Camp of Pennsylvania

"...Capt Valentine Opp has raised a Company for the Flying Camp in Bucks County, and his Men refused to march until they had receivd their bounty Money."

On June 3, 1776, the Continental Congress authorized the formation of a "flying camp" of light reserve troops, numbering some 10,000 men. Washington had requested this corps as early as March 1776, realizing that the American army had a huge swathe of territory to defend, and thus needed a quick reaction force that could respond to British raids and feints across the eastern seaboard. The Flying Camp was intended to consist of militiamen from Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland, who would be fed and paid like regular soldiers and discharged by December 1, 1776. As Howell's letter (transcribed fully below) shows, recruiting for this formation was nearly as problematic as raising men for the Continental regiments, further complicating the manpower issues that plagued the American war effort for the first few years of the rebellion.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Letters from the Front: The Quiet before the Storm

"...the British Fleet now consists of between 150 & 200 Ships, those lately arrived are probably a Division of Hessian Troops from England & some others from Hallifax which are mentioned in the Papers."

By early August 1776, it was becoming apparent to American troops in New York City that the British were preparing for a massive attack on their defenses. As Jedediah Huntington notes in this letter of August 6, 1776, an increasing number of British transports and warships were gathering off the coast of Long Island. As Huntington correctly observed, recent arrivals included the first detachment of Hessian troops, as well as the Brigade of Foot Guards from London. These forces would not land until August 22nd, but once on shore, they made relatively short work of the American defenders. Huntington's letter, a complete transcript of which appears below, thus provides us with a final view of American-occupied New York. Our continuing thanks go out to the many David Library volunteers who are helping with this project.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Letters from the Front: Defending New York City

"...3 oClock PM – there has been heard a heavy Cannonade for two Hours past up the North River between the Phenix & Rose & our Row Gallies___ particulars cannot give you yet, the General went up this Morning to see the Action..."

By July of 1776, most of the troops who had been stationed at Boston for the siege of 1775-1776 were in New York City, preparing to defend against an anticipated British attack. Among them was Jedediah Huntington, with his 17th Connecticut Regiment of the Continental Line. Huntington's letter (a complete transcript of which appears below) sheds light on the somewhat confused state of the city, as well as early signs of inflation in the American economy. Of particular note are rising prices coupled with a scarcity of linen cloth and vegetables, with Huntington noting that most commodities were being moved into the interior. The letter ends with an account of an engagement between two British frigates and a squadron of American row galleries, one of the opening acts of the disastrous New York Campaign.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Letters from the Front: Fortifying Boston

"...the Continental Troops are compleating the works on Dorchester Hills, Fort Hills, & the Hill on the east end of Charlestown, the people in the neighbouring Towns in great numbers work Volunarily (& find their own provision) on the Fort at Noddles Island..."

By the time Richard Devens penned this letter to Elbridge Gerry on May 7th, Boston had been freed from British occupation for nearly two months. As Devens account demonstrates, American forces meant to keep it that way. Continental troops and militia were busily engaged in creating an extensive harbor-defense network, while American privateers preyed upon British shipping mercilessly. Boston had also become a center for the production of what contemporaries called "war-like stores," particularly, in this case, gunpowder. For a more detailed look at life in the Boston area in the late spring of 1776, see the full transcript of the letter below.


Friday, October 7, 2011

Letters from the Front: Small Pox in Boston

"...I am in no small fear of having the small pox as it is all around us..."

In this next courting letter from Dr. Samuel Adams to his future wife Sally Preston, we see a triumphant American Army, now in control of Boston, threatened with one of the great scourges of the age: small pox. As with most pre-modern conflicts, more men died from disease than from fighting on the battlefield. As a regimental surgeon for the American artillery, Adams faced a greater threat than most: his line of work brought him into contact with individuals, many in the most contagious phase of the illness, on a daily basis. In Adams' response to this threat, we see the central role played by religious life: he looks to his God for preservation, just as he looks to Sally for prayers on his behalf. For the full text of the letter, read below.