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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
About a day or two after a lieutenant came for a number of cartridges, I told him he must go to Gen. Wayne, and get him to sign the return, he disputed a long time. I told him that I could not, nor would not, let him have any, unless he did. Off he sat, & not long after, the Col. came, what is the reason you did not let my lieut. have some cartridges? I told him that I could not let him, nor any body else have any, without having it signed by Gen. Wayne. I had so much trouble for two or three weeks, I resigned it.
About two or three weeks after, early one morning an express arrived, screaming “turn out! turn out! we are all surrounded, leave every thing but your blankets —you must fight your way through, or be prisoners.” We were on the march in about 10 minutes, they let us march by them, leaving all the camp equipage.
As soon as we marched by them they followed us through the Jersey, to the river Delaware; here we crossed—after 2 or 3 weeks march.—The privations and sufferings we endured, is beyond description—no tent to cover us at night—exposed to cold and rains day and night—no food of any kind but a little raw flour.
After crossing the river, we were put into the back part of a tavern; the tavern-keeper refused to take rebel money, as he called it. I went to Gen. Putnam and told him that he had every thing we wanted, but he will not take paper money, he calls it rebel money. You go and tell him, from me, that if he refuses to take our money, take what you want, without any pay—I went and told the man what the General said. Your yankee Gen. dare not give such orders, said he. I placed two men at the cellar door, as centries; let nobody whatever go down, I said. I called for a light, and two men to go down cellar with me.—We found it full of good things, a large pile of cheeses, hams of bacon, a large tub of honey, barrels of cider, and 1 do. marked cider-royal, which was very strong; also, all kinds of spirit. The owner went to the Gen. to complain. The sergeant told me, said the Gen. that you refused to take paper money. So I did, said he, I do not like your rebel money. The Gen. flew round like a top, he called for a file of men; a corporal and four men came—take this tory rascal to the main guard house.
I sent a ham of bacon, one large cheese, and a bucket full of cider-royal, to general Putnam. He asked who sent them, he told him the sergeant that he gave leave to take them. Tell him I thank him, said he.
On the afternoon of the 25th of December 1776, our whole army after marching several miles up the river Delaware, in a violent snow storm, crossed it, in order to attack a body of Hessians, posted at Trenton, under the command of Col. Rhol, who was killed in the battle. At day light, their out guard, posted about three or four miles off from their main body, turned out and gave us a fire. Our advanced guard opened from right to left, we gave them four or five cannisters of shot, following them to their main body, and displayed our columns.
The 3d shot we fired broke the axle-tree of the piece,—we stood there some time idle, they firing upon us. Col. Knox rode up and said, My brave lads, go up and take those two held pieces sword in hand.—There is a party going, you must go & join them. Capt. A. said Sergeant W. you heard what the Col. said,—you must take the whole of those that belonged to that piece, and join them. This party was commanded by Capt. Washington and Lieut. Munroe, our late President of the U. States, both of which were wounded. The party inclined to the right. I hallowed as loud as I could scream, to the men to run for their lives right up to the pieces. I was the first that reach them. They had all left it, except one man tending vent—run you dog, cried I, holding my sword over his head, he looked up and saw it, then run. We put in a cannister of shot, (they had put in the cartridge before they left it,) and fired. The battle ceased.
I took a walk over the field of battle, and my blood chill’d to see such horror and distress, blood mingling together—the dying groans, and “garments rolled in blood.” The sight was too much to bear; I left it soon, and in returning I saw a field officer laying dead on the ground and his sword by him, I took it up and pulling the sheathe out of the belt, I carried it of. It was an elegant sword, and I wore it all the time I staid in the army, and part of the way home. At Hartford I met with a young officer, I sold to him for 8 dollars
Col. Knox told us to leave that piece with the broken axle-tree. This field piece was called the best in the regiment. I was determined to get it off. I hired 4 of our men and one of them had been a mate of a vessel; he contrived it and off we moved. The rear guard came on with a whole regiment. The Col. came to me and said, you had better leave that cannon, I will not take charge of it, said he. I told him I rather ran the resque of being taken, than to leave now, we had got so far. They marched on and left us. We kept marching on; here comes the enemy’s light horse, said they. I looked told them they were nothing but a party of old quakers; they had handkerchiefs tyed over their hats, for there had been a snow storm all the day.