History From America's Most Famous Valleys
A MILITARY JOURNAL
During the American Revolutionary War,
From 1775 to 1783.
Describing Interesting Events and Transactions of this period;
with numerous Historical Facts and Anecdotes
From the Original Manuscript
By James Thacher, M. D.
Second Edition, Revised and Corrected.
Boston, Published by Cottons & Barnard, 1827.
MAJOR GENERAL BENJAMIN LINCOLN.
General Lincoln deserves a high rank in the fraternity of American heroes. He was born in Hingham, Massachusetts. January 23d, O. S. 1733. His early education was not auspicious to his future eminence, and his vocation was that of a farmer, till he was more than forty years of age, though he was commissioned as a magistrate, and elected a representative in the state legislature. In the year 1775, he sustained the office of lieutenant colonel of militia, and having espoused the cause of his country as a firm and determined whig, he was elected a member of the Provincial Congress, and one of the secretaries of that body, and also a member of the committee of correspondence. In 1776, he was appointed by the council of Massachusetts a brigadier, and soon after a major general, and he applied himself assiduously to training, and preparing the militia for actual service in the field, in which he displayed the military talent which he possessed. In October, he marched with a body of militia and joined the main army at New York. The Commander in Chief from a knowledge of his character and merit, recommended him to Congress as an excellent officer, and in February, 1777, he was by that honorable body, created a major general on the continental establishment. For several months he commanded a division, or detachments in the main army, under Washington, and was in situations which required the exercise of the utmost vigilance and caution, as well as firmness and courage. Having the command of about five hundred men in an exposed situation near Bound Brook, through the neglect of his patroles, a large body of the enemy approached within two hundred yards of his quarters undiscovered ; the general had scarcely time to mount and leave the house before it was surrounded. He led off his troops, however, in the face of the enemy, and made good his retreat, though with the loss of about sixty men killed and wounded. One of his aids with the general's baggage and papers fell into the hands of the enemy, as did also three small pieces of artillery. In July, 1777, General Washington selected him to join the northern army under the command of General Gates, to oppose the advance of General Burgoyne. He took his station at Manchester, in Vermont, to receive and form the New England militia, as they arrived, and to order their march to the rear of the British army. He detached Colonel Brown with five hundred men, on the 13th of September, to the landing at lake George, where he succeeded in surprizing the enemy, and took possession of two hundred batteaux, liberated one hundred American prisoners, and captured two hundred and ninety-three of the enemy, with the loss of only three killed and five wounded. This enterprize was of the highest importance, and contributed essentially to the glorious event which followed. Having detached two other parties to the enemy's posts at Mount Independence and Skenesborough, General Lincoln united his remaining force with the army under General Gates, and was the second in command. During the sanguinary conflict on the 7th of October, General Lincoln commanded within our lines, and at one o'clock the next morning, he marched with his division to relieve the troops that had been engaged, and to occupy the battle ground, the enemy having retreated. While on this duty he had occasion to ride forward some distance, to reconnoitre, and to order some disposition of his own troops, when a party of the enemy made an unexpected movement, and he approached within musket shot before he was aware of his mistake. A whole volley of musketry was instantly discharged at him and his aids, and he received a wound by which the bones of his leg were badly fractured, and he was obliged to be carried off the field. The wound was a formidable one, and the loss of his limb was for some time apprehended. He was for several months confined at Albany, and it became necessary to remove a considerable portion of the main bone before he was conveyed to his house at Hingham ; and under this painful surgical operation, the writer of this being present, witnessed in him a degree of firmness and patience not to be exceeded. I have known him, says Colonel Rice, who was a member of his military family, during the most painful operation by the surgeon, while bystanders were frequently obliged to leave the room, entertain us with some pleasant anecdote, or story, and draw forth a smile from his friends. His wound continued several years in an ulcerated state, and by the loss of the bone the limb was shortened, which occasioned lameness during the remainder of his life. General Lincoln certainly afforded very important assistance in the capture of Burgoyne, though it was his unfortunate lot, while in active duty, to be disabled before he could participate in the capitulation. Though his recovery was not complete, he repaired to head quarters in the following August, and was joyfully received by the Commander in Chief, who well knew how to appreciate his merit. It was from a development of his estimable character as a man, and his talent as a military commander, that he was designated by Congress for the arduous duties of the chief command in the southern department, under innumerable embarrassments. On his arrival at Charleston, December, 1778, he found that he had to form an army, to provide supplies, and to arrange the various departments, that he might be able to cope with an enemy consisting of experienced officers and veteran troops. This, it is obvious, required a man of superior powers, indefatigable perseverance, and unconquerable energy. Had not these been his inherent qualities, Lincoln must have yielded to the formidable obstacles which opposed his progress. About the 28th of December, General Prevost arrived with a fleet, and about three thousand British troops, and took possession of Savannah, after routing a small party of Americans, under General Robert Howe. General Lincoln, immediately put his troops in motion, and took post on the eastern side of the river about twenty miles from the city ; but he was not in force to commence offensive operations, till the last of February. In April, with the view of covering the upper part of Georgia, he marched to Augusta, after which Prevost the British commander, crossed the river into Carolina, and marched for Charleston. General Lincoln, therefore, recrossed the Savannah, and followed his route, and on his arrival near the city, the enemy had retired from before it during the previous night. A detachment of the enemy, supposed to be about six hundred men, under Lieutenant Colonel Maitland, being posted at Stono Ferry, where they had erected works for their defence, General Lincoln resolved to attack them, which he did on the 19th of June. The contest lasted one hour and twenty minutes, in which he lost one hundred and sixty men killed and wounded, and the enemy suffered about an equal loss. Their works were found to be much stronger than had been represented, and our artillery proving too light to annoy them, and the enemy receiving a reenforcement, our troops were obliged to retire.
The next event of importance which occurred with our general was the bold assault on Savannah, in conjunction with the Count D'Estaing. General Prevost had again possessed himself of that city, and Count D'Estaing arrived with his fleet and armament in the beginning of September, 1779. Having landed nearly three thousand French troops, General Lincoln immediately united about one thousand men to his force. The prospect of success was highly flattering, but the enemy exerted all their efforts in strengthening their lines, and after the Count had summoned the garrison, and while Prevost was about to arrange articles of capitulation, he received a reenforcement. It was now resolved to attempt the place by a regular siege, but various causes occasioned a delay of several days, and when it commenced, the cannonade and bombardment failed of producing the desired effect, and the short time allowed the Count on our coast, was quite insufficient for reducing the garrison by regular approaches. The commanders concluded therefore, to make an effort on the works by assault. On the 9th of October, in the morning, the troops were led on by D'Estaing, and Lincoln united, while a column led by Count Dillon missed their route in the darkness, and failed of the intended co-operation. Amidst a most appalling fire of the covered enemy, the allied troops forced the abbatis, and placed two standards on the parapets. But being overpowered at the point of attack, they were compelled to retire ; the French having seven hundred, the Americans two hundred and forty killed and wounded. The Count Pulaski, at the head of a body of our horse, was mortally wounded. General Lincoln next repaired to Charleston, and endeavoured to put that city in a posture of defence, urgently requesting of Congress a reenforcement of regular troops, and additional supplies, which were but partially complied with. In February, 1780, General Sir Henry Clinton arrived and landed a formidable force in the vicinity, and on the 30th of March encamped in front of the American lines at Charleston. Considering the vast superiority of the enemy both in sea and land forces, it might be questioned whether prudence and correct judgment, would dictate an attempt to defend the city ; it will not be supposed, however, that the determination was formed without the most mature deliberation, and for reasons perfectly justifiable. It is well known that the general was in continual expectation of an augmentation of strength by reenforcements. On the 10th of April, the enemy having made some advances, summoned the garrison to an unconditional surrender, which was promptly refused. A heavy and incessant cannonade was sustained on each side, till the 11th of May, when the besiegers had completed their third parallel line, and having made a second demand of surrender, a capitulation was agreed on.
" Having received," says the general, " an address from the principal inhabitants, and from a number of the country militia, desiring that I would accept the terms ; and a request from the lieutenant governor and council, that the negotiation might be renewed ; the militia of the town having thrown down their arms ; our provisions, saving a little rice, being exhausted ; the troops on the line being worn down by fatigue, having for a number of days been obliged to lay on the banquette ; our harbor closely blockaded up; completely invested by land by nine thousand men at least, the flower of the British army, besides the large force they could at all times draw from the marine, and aided by a great number of blacks in their laborious employments, the garrison at this time, exclusive of sailors, but little exceeding two thousand five hundred men, part of whom had thrown down their arms; the citizens in general discontented, the enemy being within twenty yards of our lines, and preparing to make a general assault by sea and land, many of our cannon dismounted, and others silenced for want of shot; a retreat being judged impracticable, and every hope of timely succor cut off, we were induced to offer and accede to the terms executed on the 12th of May." It is to be lamented that, with all the judicious and vigorous efforts in his power, General Lincoln was requited only by the frowns of fortune, whereas had he been successful in his bold enterprize and views, he would have been crowned with unfading laurels. But notwithstanding a series of disappointments and unfortunate occurrences, he was censured by no one, nor was his judgment or merit called in question. He retained his popularity, and the confidence of the army, and was considered as a most zealous patriot, and the bravest of soldiers. " The motives and feelings that prompted General Lincoln rather to risk a siege than to evacuate Charleston, were most honorable to him as a man and a soldier. There was such a balance of reasons on the question, as under the existing circumstances should exempt his decision from blame or distrust. He could not calculate on the despondence and inactivity of the people who should come to his succor. The suspense and anxiety, the toil and hazard attending the siege, gave the fullest scope to his wisdom, patience and valor. His exertions were incessant. He was on the lines night and day, and for the last fortnight, never undressed to sleep."* Notwithstanding this unfortunate termination of his command, so established was the spotless reputation of the vanquished general, that he continued to enjoy the undiminished respect and confidence of the Congress, the army, and the Commander in Chief.+" Great praise is due to General Lincoln," says Dr. Ramsay, " for his judicious and spirited conduct in baffling for three months the greatly superior force of Sir Henry Clinton, and Admiral Arbuthnot. Though Charleston and the southern army were lost, yet by their long protracted defence, the British plans were not only retarded but deranged, and North Carolina was saved for the remainder of the year 1780.
General Lincoln was admitted to his parole, and in November following he was exchanged for Major General Phillips, a prisoner of the convention of Saratoga. In the campaign of 1781, General Lincoln commanded a division under Washington, and at the siege of Yorktown he had his full share of the honor of that brilliant and auspicious event. The articles of capitulation stipulated for the same honor in favor of the surrendering army, as had been granted to the garrison of Charleston. General Lincoln was appointed to conduct them to the field where their arms were deposited, and received the customary submission. In the general order of the Commander in Chief the day after the capitulation, General Lincoln was among the general officers whose services were particularly mentioned. In October, 1781, he was chosen by Congress secretary at war, retaining his rank in the army. In this office he continued till October, 1783, when his proffered resignation was accepted by Congress
* Notice of General Lincoln in the collection
of the Historical Society, vol. 3d, Second series, from which I have made
+ Lee's memoirs of the war in the southern department.
as follows: " Resolved that the resignation of Major General Lincoln, as secretary of war for the United States, be accepted in consideration of the earnest desire which he expresses, the objects of the war being so happily accomplished, to retire to private life, and that he be informed that the United States in Congress assembled entertain a high sense of his perseverance, fortitude, activity and meritorious services in the field, as well as of his diligence, fidelity, and capacity in the execution of the office of secretary at war, which important trust he has discharged to their entire approbation." Having relinquished the duties and cares of public employment, he retired and devoted his attention o his farm; but in 1784, he was chosen one of the commissioners and agents on the part of the state to make and execute a treaty with the Penobscot Indians. When in the year 1786-7, the authority of our state government was in a manner prostrated, and the country alarmed by a most audacious spirit of insurrection under the guidance of Shays and Day, General Lincoln was appointed by the governor and council, to command a detachment of militia consisting of four or five thousand men to oppose their progress, and compel them to a submission to the laws. He marched from Boston on the 20th of January, into the counties of Worcester, Hampshire and Berkshire, where the insurgents had erected their standard. They were embodied in considerable force, and manifested a determined resistance, and a slight skirmish ensued between them and a party of militia under General Shepherd. Lincoln, however, conducted with such address and energy, that the insurgents were routed from one town to another, till they were completely dispersed in all directions; and by his wise and prudent measures the insurrection was happily suppressed without bloodshed, excepting a few individuals who were slain under General Shepherd's command. At the May election, 1787, General Lincoln was elected lieutenant governor by the legislature, having had a plurality of votes by the people. He was a member of the convention for ratifying the federal constitution, and in the summer of 1789, he received from President Washington the appointment of collector of the port of Boston, which office he sustained till, being admonished by the increasing infirmities of age, he requested permission to resign about two years before his death. In 1789, he was appointed one of the commissioners to treat with the Creek Indians on the frontiers of the southern states, and in 1793, he was one of the commissioners to effect a peace with the western Indians. The subject of this memoir received from the University of Cambridge, the honorary decree of Master of Arts. He was one of the first members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and he contributed by his pen to the stock of useful materials for their respective publications. Having after his resignation of the office of collector passed about two years in retirement, and in tranquillity of mind, but experiencing the feebleness of age, he received a short attack of disease, by which his honorable life was terminated on the 9th of May, 1810, aged 77 years. The following tribute is on the records of the society of Cincinnati. " At the annual meeting in July, 1810, Major General John Brooks was chosen President of the society, to supply the place of our venerable and much lamented President, General Benjamin Lincoln, who had presided over the society from the organization thereof, in 1783, to the 9th of May, 1810, the day of his decease, with the entire approbation of every member, and the grateful tribute of his surviving comrades, for his happy guidance and affectionate attentions during so long a period," General Lincoln in his very nature was unsusceptible of the spirit of envy. Whoever achieved a noble action to the honor and advantage of his country, whether as a patriot or soldier, was with him the man of merit, and the theme of eulogy, though it might eclipse his own fame. He was universally respected as -one of the best of men, of ardent patriotism, and of heroic courage. Major General Knox, whose candor and discriminating judgment no one will deny, was known to estimate next to Washington, in military talents, Generals Greene and Lincoln. Colonel Nathan Rice, a respectable officer, who was a member of his military family, observes, that the sacrifice of as much domestic happiness as falls to the lot of men, to serve his country, would seem to place his patriotism beyond suspicion. The firmness and zeal with which he rendered this service during her struggle, the coolness with which he met danger, his fortitude under bodily pain, privation and disappointment, and the confidence reposed in him by the Commander in Chief, all strongly evince that his country had not misjudged in elevating him to the distinguished rank he held in the army, While at Purysburgh, on the Savannah river, a soldier named Fickling, having been detected in frequent attempts to desert, was tried and sentenced to be hanged. The general ordered the execution. The rope broke, a second was procured, which broke also; the case was reported to the general for directions. " Let him run," said the general, " I thought he looked like a scape gallows."* Regularity both in business and his mode of living were peculiar traits in his character; habitually temperate, and accustomed to sleep unconfined to time or place. In conversation he was always correct and chaste; on no occasion uttering any thing like profanity or levity on serious subjects, and when others have indulged in these respects in his presence, it was ever received by him with such marked disapprobation of countenance, as to draw from them an instantaneous apology, and regret for the offence. Having while collector, appointed a violent party man to a place of profit merely from motives of benevolence, he had frequently, with many others abused the general, calling him " a damned old rascal." On the first opportunity the General said to him, " so Mr. --, you say I am a damned old rascal, you might have spared the damned," Without adding a word more, but it was expressed in a manner that prevented a reply ; nor did he remove him from office. In the various characters of parent, husband and master, I ever held him up, says Colonel Rice, as a model
* Major Garden, in his anecdotes of the American Revolution, relates this story with some addition. It happened that as Fickling was led to execution, the surgeon general of the army passed accidentally on his way to his quarters, which were at some distance. When the second rope was procured, the adjutant of the regiment, a stout and heavy man, assayed by every means to break it, but without effect. Fickling was then haltered and again turned off, when to the astonishment of the bystanders the rope untwisted, and he fell a second time uninjured to the ground. A cry for mercy was now general throughout the ranks, which occasioned Major Ladson, aid de camp to General Lincoln, to gallop to head quarters to make a representation of facts, which were no sooner stated than an immediate pardon was granted, accompanied with an order that he should instantaneously be drummed with every mark of infamy, out of camp, and threatened with instant death if he ever should be found attempting to approach it. In the interim the surgeon general had established himself at his quarters, in a distant barn, little doubting but that the catastrophe was at an end, and Fickling quietly resting in his grave. Midnight was at hand, and he was busily engaged in writing, when hearing the approach of a footstep, he raised his eyes and saw with astonishment the figure of the man who had in his opinion been executed, slowly and with haggard countenance approaching towards him. " How ! how is this ?" exclaimed the doctor, " whence come you ? what do you want with me ? were you not hanged this morning?" " Yes, Sir," replied the resuscitated man, " I am the wretch you saw going to the gallows, and who was hanged." " Keep your distance," said the doctor, " approach me not till you say why you come here." " Simply, Sir," said the supposed spectre, " to solicit food. I am no ghost. Doctor. The rope broke twice while the executioner was doing his office, and the general thought proper to pardon me." " If that be the case," rejoined the Doctor, " eat and be welcome ; but I beg of you in future to have a little more consideration, and not intrude so unceremoniously into the apartment of one who had every right to suppose you an inhabitant of the tomb."
of perfection. The law of kindness ever dwelt on his tongue.
This memoir will be concluded by some brief extracts from the Historical Collections. " In General Lincoln's character, strength and softness, the estimable and amiable qualities, were happily blended. His mind was quick and active, yet discriminating and sound. He displayed a fund of thought and information derived from select though limited reading, from careful observation of men and things, from habits of thinking and from conversation. A degree of enthusiasm or exaltation of feeling on the objects of his pursuit belonged to his temperament, but it was under the control of good sense and sober views. He was patient and cool in deliberation, in execution prompt and vigorous. He was conspicuous for plain, strict, inflexible integrity, united however with prudence, candor, and a compassionate disposition. As a military commander, he was judicious, brave, determined, indefatigable. His distinguished merit in this character was never denied, while all have not agreed in opinion on some of his plans in the southern command. Being a soldier of the revolution, he had to anticipate the effect of experience, and might commit mistakes. He was surrounded by difficulties ; he met extraordinary disappointments in his calculations of supplies and succors. In the principal instances which issued unfortunately, the storming of Savannah and the siege of Charleston, he had but a choice of evils ; and which ever way he decided, the course rejected would have seemed to many persons more eligible. General Lincoln was a federalist of the Washington school. He experienced the benefit of his weight of character and the sense entertained by the community of his public services, in being suffered to retain his office of collector.
" Religion exerted its full influence over the mind and conduct of General Lincoln. He was a Christian of the Antisectarian. Catholic, or liberal sect. He was firm in his faith, serious and affectionate in his piety, without superstition, fanaticism or austerity. He was from early manhood a communicant, and for a great part of his life a deacon of the church. He never shunned an avowal of his belief, nor feared to appear what he was, nor permitted the reality of his convictions to remain in doubt. The person and air of General Lincoln betokened his military vocation. He was of a middle height and erect, broad chested and muscular, in his latter years corpulent, with open intelligent features, a venerable and benign aspect. His manners were easy and unaffected, but courteous and polite."
In all his transactions, both public and private, his mind was elevated above all sordid or sinister views, and our history will not perhaps record many names more estimable than was that of General Lincoln.
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