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The Good Soldier White
Modern G. I.’s will recognize a fellow spirit in the sergeant who wrote this account of life in General Washington’s army
June 1956 | Volume 7, Issue 4
I enlisted in the regiment of artillery commanded by Col. Richard Gridley, the beginning of May 1775, for 8 months, as a bombardier, in Capt. Samuel Gridley’s company; but had not been very long in that capacity, before the Adjutant came to me and said, I understand that you are a good speller, I told him I could spell most any word. Why cannot you come and be my Assistant said he. … He said he paid five shillings per week, besides his rations, and mine would be the same, which he would pay. …
I consented and bought a uniform coat, of an officer, he had when he belonged to capt. Paddock’s company of artillery in Boston, but not the uniform of our regiment; the button holes and hat were trimmed with gold lace.
On the evening of the 16th of June 1775, our whole army were drawn up in a circle, to attend prayers. After which, they marched off towards Bunker Hill. I had a lame hand, and they would not let me go.
I then commenced acting the adjutant. I now sat off to take general orders, to the deputy adjutant general, which I followed every morning at 10 o’clock, with all the adjutants of the army. This deputy adjutant general was a sour, crabbed old fellow; he says to me, what do you want? I told him I wanted the general orders.—What are you? said he, I am an assistant adjutant of the regiment of artillery. An assistant adjutant, said he, I never heard of such an officer. Well, set down and take them. …
One day the Col. sent for the adjutant, or assistant, I went to him, he told me to go to Gen. Washington’s quarters, and tell him what I want; you must see him yourself. After a great deal of ceremony, I was admitted into the house. One of his aid-de-camps stood at the bottom of the stairs, (the Gen. being up chamber) he said tell me, and I will go up and tell him. I told him my orders was to see him myself. The Gen. hearing that, came to the head of the stairs, and said, “tell the young man to walk up.” I did, and told my business. “Pray sir, what officer are you”? I said I was Assistant Adjutant of the regiment of artillery. “Indeed, said he, you are very young to do that duty.” I told him I was young, but was growing older every day.—He turned his face to his wife, and both smiled. He gave me my orders, and I retired.
About the middle of summer, Henry Knox, Esq. took command of the regiment, and Col. Gridley retired. I did that duty until the last of December; the time I enlisted for expired. I was a feather bed soldier all this time, and slept with the Commissary-General of military stores.
I then went to Capt. Perkins, and with him I engaged to do the duty of an orderly sergeant, for the year 1776.
In March the enemy left Boston, and we were ordered to New-York. We marched to Providence, then to New-London, and there embarked for New-York.
About the middle of June, the British arrived, with about twenty thousand troops, and landed on Staten-Island, but a few miles distant. Soon afterwards, there was a conspiracy against Gen. Washington, to take his life. Many were implicated in it, but three condemned, and but one hung—one of his own guard, his name was Thomas Hickey, an Irishman…
The English landed on Long-Island and defeated our troops, and kept possession of it. then Gen. Washington made all haste, to evacuate New York. I was just recovering from a dangerous sickness, went on board a row galley ** and sailed up the north river, 20 miles. Sailing up, I saw heaps of peaches, of the best kind, lying under the trees; I got the capt. to send a boat ashore and get some, which he did; I eat so many, was bad as ever, and went into a barn for the hospital. The owner of which was a quaker; after some time, went into his house to buy some milk. The quaker said, we can’t sell thee any. Then I told them I would milk the cows; the woman consented to let me have a pint every morning, by paying her three coppers. My health gained fast.
One morning I sat off for camp, but was so weak, had to set down every few rods, and by sunset reached Fort Washington, after travaling about 10 miles.
I now got to my old company, capt. Perkins told me, that I looked so weak, was not able to fight; that they expected to be attacked every moment. I had better go to Fort Lee, to capt. Allen, so I went.
We encamped at Fort Lee a long time, and saw Fort Washington taken. The General seemed in an agony when he saw the fort surrended.
One night about 12 o’clock, I heard some body inquiring after me, I lay still, in hopes they would not find me, thinking some of the guard had deserted, that I had to go and get a new countersign. It poved to be Richard Frothingham, Esq. waggon-master of the army, Gen. Knox’s right hand man. He called once or twice, I answered him: Come turn out, here is an appointment for you, said he. You are appointed commissary of military stores, of General Wayne’s brigade. Here are the orders and 8 waggons load of ammunition. The orders were, that I must not deliver a single cartridge without Gen. Wayne signs the return—that I might mess with any of the officers, or by my self, and have a waiter—to draw two rations.