Private Yankee Doodle

PrintPrintEmailEmail

But “the ease of a winter at home” caused Joseph Martin to “alter his mind” about the army, and on April 12, 1777, he enlisted for the duration under the Continental Establishment in Colonel John Chandler’s Eighth Connecticut, serving through the summer in the Hudson Highlands. That fall, Howe, despite Washington’s efforts to stop him at Brandy-wine Creek on September 11, 1777, took the rebel capital, Philadelphia. Washington then called in reinforcements, including four regiments from the Highlands, to strike Howe’s army at Germantown. At first, all went well; then the battle turned and the Americans were routed.

In order to hold and utilize Philadelphia, Howe first had to clear the Delaware River of the rebels. After knocking out one of their forts at Billingsport and futilely assaulting another at Red Bank, he turned his attention late that fall upon Fort Mifflin on Mud Island, in the river opposite Red Bank. To succor Fort Mifflin, Washington ordered two Connecticut regiments to the island. “Here,” recalled Martin, “without winter clothing, not a scrap of either shoes or stockings to my legs or feet, I endured hardships sufficient to kill half a dozen horses.” Too, he was subjected to one of the most terrible bombardments of the war: The island, as it is called, is nothing more than a mud flat in the Delaware, lying upon the west side of the channel. It is diked around the fort, with sluices so constructed that the fort can be laid under water at pleasure, (at least, it was so when I was there, and I presume it has not grown much higher since.) On the eastern side, next the main river, was a zigzag wall built of hewn stone, built, as I was informed, before the Revolution at the king’s cost. At the southeastern part of the fortification (for fort it could not with propriety be called) was a battery of several long eighteen-pounders. At the southwestern angle was another battery with four or five twelve- and eighteen-pounders and one thirty-two-pounder. At the northwestern corner was another small battery with three twelve-pounders. There were also three blockhouses in different parts of the enclosure, but no cannon mounted upon them, nor were they of any use whatever to us while I was there. On the western side, between the batteries, was a high embankment, within which was a tier of palisadoes. In front of the stone wall, for about half its length, was another embankment, with palisadoes on the inside of it, and a narrow ditch between them and the stone wall. On the western side of the fortification was a row of barracks, extending from the northern part of the works to about half the length of the fort. On the northern end was another block of barracks which reached nearly across the fort from east to west. In front of these was a large square two-story house, for the accommodation of the officers of the garrison. Neither this house nor the barracks were of much use at this time, for it was as much as a man’s life was worth to enter them, the enemy often directing their shot at them in particular. In front of the barracks and other necessary places were parades and walks; the rest of the ground was soft mud. I have seen the enemy’s shells fall upon it and sink so low that their report could not be heard when they burst, and I could only feel a tremulous motion of the earth at the time. At other times, when they burst near the surface of the ground, they would throw the mud fifty feet in the air.

The British had erected five batteries with six heavy guns in each and a bomb battery with three long mortars in it on the opposite side of the water, which separated the island from the main on the west, and which was but a short distance across. They had also a battery of six guns a little higher up the river, at a place called the Hospital Point. …

Our batteries were nothing more than old spars and timber laid up in parallel lines and filled between with mud and dirt. The British batteries in the course of the day would nearly level our works, and we were, like the beaver, obliged to repair our dams in the night. During the whole night, at intervals of a quarter or half an hour, the enemy would let off all their pieces, and although we had sentinels to watch them and at every flash of their guns to cry, “a shot,” upon hearing which everyone endeavored to take care of himself, yet they would ever and anon, in spite of all our precautions, cut up some of us.

The engineer in the fort was a French officer by the name of [Francois Louis de] Fleury. … He was a very austere man and kept us constantly employed day and night; there was no chance of escaping from his vigilance.