History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Frontiersmen of New York
by Jeptha R. Simms
Albany, NY 1883
Volume I, Page 473.
The Battle of Bunker's Hill; the first Pitched Battle of the War.-Early in June, several transports filled with troops under the command of Generals Howe, Clinton and Burgoyne, arrived at Boston. On the 17th, the battle of Breed's, now called Bunker's hill, was fought. An intrenchment was thrown up on the preceding evening, by a body of one thousand men under Colonel Prescot. The intention was to have fortified Bunker's hill, but the officers sent to throw up the redoubt, found that less tenable, and built the fortification on Breed's bill. Ground was broken at twelve o'clock at night, and by daylight a redoubt bad been thrown up eight rods square. In the morning, a reinforcement of five hundred men was sent to their assistance. Although a heavy cannonading was kept up from daylight by the British shipping, the Americans, encouraged by General Putnam and other officers, did not cease their labors. About noon, General Gage, astonished at the boldness of the American militia, sent a body of three thousand regulars, under Generals Howe and Pigot, to storm the works. Generals Clinton and Burgoyne, took a station in Boston, where they had a commanding view of the hill. The towers of the churches-the roofs of the houses-indeed every eminence in and around Boston, was covered with anxious spectators; many of whom had dear relatives exposed to the known danger, awaiting with great anxiety the deadly conflict. Many, and heart-felt were the prayers then offered for the success of the patriot band. About the time the action commenced, General Warren, who was president of the Provinical Congress of Massachusetts, joined the Americans on the hill as a volunteer.
The British troops, having landed from their boats, marched to attack the works. The Americans, reserving their fire until the white of the eye was visible, then opened a most destructive one, dealing death on every hand. Indeed, rank after rank was cut down, like grass before the mower. The enemy soon retreated in disorder down the hill. Then might doubtless have been heard a stifled murmur of applause, among the eye witnesses in Boston, who believed their countrymen fighting in a just cause. And then too, might have been seen the lip of the British officer and rank tory, compressed with anger and mortification. While this attack was in progress, the firebrand, by the diabolical order of Gen. Gage, was communicated to the neighboring village of Charlestown, containing some six hundred buildings, and the whole in a short time were reduced to ashes: depriving about two thousand inhabitants of a shelter, and destroying property amounting to more than half a million of dollars. The British officers with much difficulty, again rallied their troops, and led them a second time to the attack. They were allowed to approach even nearer than before; when the Americans, having witnessed the conflagration of Charlestown, themselves burning to revenge the houseless mother and orphan, sent the messengers of death among their ranks, The carnage became a second time too great to be borne-the ranks were broken, and the enemy again retreated, some taking refuge in the boats. When the British troops wavered a second time, Clinton, vexed at their want of success, hastened to their assistance with a reinforcement. On his arrival, the men were again rallied, and compelled, by the officers, who marched in their rear with drawn swords, to renew the attack. At this period of the contest, the ammunition of the Americans failed, and the enemy entered the redoubt. Few of the former had bayonets, yet for awhile they continued the unequal contest with clubbed muskets, but were overpowered. The American loss in numbers, was inconsiderable until the enemy scaled the works. They were forced to retreat over Charlestown Neck, a narrow isthmus which was raked by an incessant fire from several floating batteries. Fortunately, few were killed in crossing the Neck.
The following anecdote is characteristic of Yankee bravery: While the Americans were retreating from the hill across Charlestown Neck, Timothy Cleveland, of Canterbury, Ct., was marching with others with trailed arms, when a grape shot struck the small part of the breach of his gun-stock, and cut it off. He had proceeded several rods before he was aware of his loss-but ran back and picked it up, declaring, "The darned British shall have no part of my gun." The gun-stock was repaired with a tin band, and, was long after in the service of its patriotic owner, who was from the same county and under the command of Gen. Putnam. The British loss in this battle, was, in killed and wounded; one thousand and fifty-four, including many officers, among whom was Major Pitcairn of Lexington memory. The force of the enemy in this engagement was about 3,000, and that of the Americans 1,500. The American loss in killed and wounded,was four hundred and fifty-three; and among the former was the zealous patriot, Gen. Warren; who received a musket ball, through his head. Undying be his memory in the American heart!
What a scene of sublime grandeur must this battle have presented, to the citizens of Boston and the surrounding hills! The roar of cannon and musketry-the clashing of steel, the groans of the wounded and dying-the shouts of the combatants-the dense cloud of smoke which enveloped the peninsula, lit up transversely by streams of death-boding fire--the sheet of flame and crash of burning buildings and falling towers at Charlestown-the intense anxiety of those interested for the safety of friends and their property-the probable effect of that day's transactions, on the future prosperity of the colonies-combined to render it one of the most thrilling spectacles mortal eye ever witnessed. The British trumpeted this battle as a victory. "How many such can the British army achieve without ruin?" asked the Americans.
The following anecdotes of the battle of Bunker's Hill, I find in a letter from Co!. John Trumbull, the artist, to Daniel Putnam, a son of Gen. Israel Putnam, dated New York, March 30th, 1818. The letter is published in a reply of the latter to an unkind attack made by Gen. Dearborn, in a public journal, in which the imputation of cowardice was cast upon the brave "Old Put "-who always dared to lead where any dared to follow. The writer, though a native of the same county in which the old hero died, never heard of but one act in his adventurous life which evinced a want of judgment, and that was far from a cowardly one. It was that of his entering a cavern to kill a wolf, and leaving his gun outside, until he entered a second time.
Says Trumbull: "In the summer of 1786, I became acquainted, in London, with Col. John Small, of the British army, who had served in America many years, and had known General Putnam intimately during the war of Canada from 1756 to 1763. From him, I had the following anecdotes respecting the battle of Bunker Hill: I shall nearly repeat his words. Looking at the picture which I had then almost completed, he said: 'I don't like the situation in which you have placed my old friend Putnam; you have not done him justice. I wish you would alter that part of your picture, and introduce a circumstance which actually happened, and which I can never forget. When the British troops advanced the second time to the attack of the redoubt, I, with the other British officers, was in front of the line to encourage the men: we had advanced very near the works undisturbed, when an irregular fire, like a feu-de-joie, was poured in upon us; it was cruelly fatal. The troops fell back, and when I looked to the right and left, I saw not one officer standing ;-I glanced my eye to the enemy, and saw several young men leveling their pieces at me; I knew their excellence as marksmen, and considered myself gone. At that moment, my old friend Putnam rushed forward, and striking up the muzzles of their pieces with his sword, cried out, " For God's sake, my lads, don't fire at that man-I love him as I do my brother." We were so near each other that I heard his words distinctly. He was obeyed; I bowed, thanked him, and walked away unmolested.'"
The other anecdote relates to the death of Gen. Warren:
" At the moment when the troops succeeded in carrying the redoubt, and the Americans were in full retreat, Gen. Howe (who had been hurt by a spent ball, which bruised his ankle,) was leaning on my arm. He called suddenly to me: 'Do you see that elegant young man who has just fallen? Do you know him?' I looked to the spot towards which he pointed-' Good God, sir I believe it is my friend Warren.' 'Leave me then instantly--run; keep off the troops, save him if possible." I flew to the spot; 'My dear friend,' I said to him, 'I hope you are not badly hurt.' He looked up, seemed to recollect me, smiled and died! A musket ball had passed through the upper part of his head."
Some account of several soldiers who were in this battle, with incidents connected with their lives.-Among the early settlers at Lawyersville, Schoharie county, N. Y., were Capt. James Dana, a native of Ashford, Conn., and John Redington, also of Connecticut, the former having served his country as a captain of the line, and the latter -a soldier of that gallant band. Dana was at the battle of Bunker Hill, and in command of a company of men was stationed, with Capt. Knowlton and his company, by the orders of Gen. Putnam, to prevent the enemy from gaining Col. Prescott's rear, and thus cut off the retreat of the Americans to the main-land. From this position, Capt. Dana, with Lieut. Thomas Grosvenor and Sergeant Fuller, at a given signal, fired on Maj. Pitcairn, a British officer, marching with a body of men toward the fence, and he fell mortally wounded. During the battle a cannon shot struck the fence, and forced a rail against Dana's breast with such violence as to prostrate him ; but he regained his feet, and kept his ground until the troops left the hill, when he drew off his men and aided in covering the retreat of the army in good order. While retreating a bullet lodged in his canteen.
After the battle of Bunker. Hill, a co!onel's commission was offered Captains Knowlton and Dana, which the former accepted and the latter, from his native diffidence, declined: he, however, left the army at the close of the war, with the rank of brevet-major. On arriving at the American camp, near Boston, when apprized of the bravery of the two captains mentioned, Washington distinguished their names in his first general order, making the secret countersign, Knowlton! and parole, Dana!
Thomas Grosvenor, who was a lieutenant, and third in command of the troops stationed at the fence on Bunker Hill, and who was promoted to colonel,-in a letter to Co!. Daniel Putnam, who was compelled to vindicate the character of his father, Gen. Israel Putnam, from an ignoble charge of cowardice made by Gen. Dearborn, alluded to above, in speaking of the officers at that station, makes no mention of Capt. Dana, who was second in that command, and why he did not is surprising, for Dana was the man who first communicated the evident intention of the enemy to out-flank the Americans. Lieut. Grosvenor was wounded, and retired early from the field. That Dana was a modest, uneducated man, affords no good reason why laurels fairly won by him should be claimed by others. The truth is Capt. Dana merited a position in Col. Trumbull's picture of that battle, which is given to another.
On an occasion when Gen. Washington was reconnoitering the American lines, Capt. Dana was on duty in the neighborhood, and observing the former riding in a direction where the enemy were just before posting sentinels, he said to him: Perhaps your Excellency may be in danger of a surprise if you proceed further that way the enemy in force are just over that knoll before you." The Commander thankfully received the caution, and bowing respectfully, galloped back to his quarters. But for the prudence of Capt. Dana, it is possible Gen. Washington would have been a prisoner to Sir Henry Clinton. Capt. Dana stood high in the confidence of the Commander-in-chief.
When he located at Lawyersville, he erected a good log dwelling, in which he ever after resided. His virtues were held in high estimation in the community. On the organization of a brigade of New York infantry, Capt. Dana received from Gov. Lewis, as a partial reward for services rendered his country, a general's commission. He was the first man who ever held that office in Schoharie county, and discharged its duties with becoming dignity.*
The following anecdote of Gen Lee was related to his friends by Gen. Dana: While the latter was reconnoitering on some occasion in the vicinity of the enemy's works, they were firing shells towards the American camp. Observing a shell to strike near him, he stepped behind a large tree near by. At the moment it fell, and while the fuse was burning, Gen. Lee arrived upon the spot with a favorite dog. He did not even seek the covert of a tree,-and the dog, imitating his master's example of unconcern, with curiosity to know the cause of its buzzing,
* Judge Isaac H. Tiffany. from whom tjese facts were obtained, assured the writer that he was instrumental in procuring a General's Commission for Capt. Dana. Judgs Tiffany resided near Gen. Dana for years, and knew him intimately.
ran up to smell of it at the instant it exploded. The dog was sent several rods, though not killed. Seeing his canine friend thus precipitated, he addressed him, unconscious of being overheard: "You d-d fool 1 have you been so long in the service, and don't yet know what a bomb is ?"
Gen. Dana, who was a generous and noble hearted man, died at his residence in the town of Cobelskill, October 16, 1817, aged 85 years.
John Redington was a private in Capt. Dana's company of Connecticut troops, and was taken prisoner at Horseneck by Delancey's cavalry. In the retreat of the Americans he concealed himself under a bridge, and being discovered by the enemy he was brought out, divested of his hat, shoes, etc., and thus driven on foot by the unfeeling corps, with which he was compelled to keep up all the way to New York, where he was incarcerated in that charnel, the Sugar House-enduring such sufferings as an iron frame only could endure-to the end of the war. On the return of peace-he removed from Connecticut to Cobelskill, and settled in the neighborhood of his respected Captain. In consequence of his patriotism and sufferings, he was given the command of the second company of cavalry ever organized in Schoharie county. He was a very enterprising man, and the Reformed Dutch Church, near his residence, was erected about the year 1800 through his influence. His commission as captain also came through the influence of Judge Tiffany. He died April 12, 1830, in his 74th year.
William Eaton, afterwards the celebrated Gen. Eaton, began to study the science of war as a private soldier under Capt. Dana. He was born at Woodstock, Ct., February 23, 1764, and entered the army in 1780, proving a daring young soldier to the end of the war. I shall here present a brief sketch of his life, believing it will prove agreeable and profitable reading for the young to follow this adventurer in his after life. * On the return of peace he became a student, graduating at Dartmouth College in 1790, keeping school at intervals to defray his expenses. In 170 I, he was clerk of the House of Delegates of Vermont. In 1792 he was appointed a captain in the United States army, and rendered efficient service on our southwestern
* For a brief sketch of his life, see Barber's His. Collec. of Conn.
frontier. In 1797 he left the army and was appointed consul at Tunis. The fnnctions of his different positions he discharged with signal ability until 1803. In 1804 he returned to America, and at Washington disclosed an enterprise he had planned to restore to his office the ex-Bashaw of Tripoli. The government looked with favor on his project-authorized him to make it and in July he embarked in the sloop of war Argus, arriving at Alexandria, in Egypt, November 25, 1804. From thence he proceeded to Cairo, where he found the ex-Bashaw, who favored his enterprise, and they-at once made arrangements for its execution. Having recruited 500 men-only 100 being Christians -it was determined to cross the desert and seize the city of Derne.
After making one of the most remarkable marches on record, over the burning sands of Egypt-a feat just suited to the adventurous spirit of Eaton, and well seconded by the exiled officer, he. captured the city of Derne; having in that port the co-operation of the sloop of war Hornet. * The achievement of Gen. Eaton and his followers so alarmed the reigning Bas haw, that he hastened to make peace and a favorable treaty with the American Consul; which arrested the further progress of the adventurers: and it is hoped the usurper had to do justice to Gen Eaton's co-adjutor. The natives of that barbarous country looked upon t he American leader of this project, as more than human, and at the end of three quarters of a century, this lesson of American prowess has not been forgotten. This remarkable man, whose fame had filled the world with admiration, returned home soon after these adventures, where he was most kindly and hospitably entertained. He was honorably mentioned in the President's message to Congress; and not long after fixed his residence in Brimfield, Mass., that State giving him 10,000 acres of land. The King of Denmark also gave him a handsome present for services he rendered some of his subjects who were captives at Tunis. This extraordinary man, who was possessed not only of rare intelligence, but of indomitable energy, original genius and bold decision, died at
* The Hornet was then commanded by Commodore Edward Prebble, who, for his part in this enterprise, was awarded a copper medal inscribed: "Vindici Commercii Americani Ante Tripoli. MDCCCIV." The Hornet some years after foundered in the Gulf of Mexico, with the loss of every soul on board.
Brimfield, where may be read on a headstone at his grave the following epitaph: "This is erected as a faint expression of filial respect, and to mark the spot where repose the remains of Gen. William Eaton, who died June 1st, 1811, 47."