- Historic Sites
The Revolution Remembered
Newly Discovered Eyewitness Accounts of the War for Independence
April/may 1980 | Volume 31, Issue 3
At this juncture, General Washington made his appearance, whether by accident or design I never knew. I only saw him and his colored servant, both mounted. With the spring of a deer, he leaped from his saddle, threw the reins of his bridle into the hands of his servant, and rushed into the thickest of the melee, with an iron grip seized two tall, brawny, athletic, savage-looking riflemen by the throat, keeping them at arm’s length, alternately shaking and talking to them. In this position, the eye of the belligerents caught sight of the general. Its effect on them was instantaneous flight at the top of their speed in all directions from the scene of the conflict. Less than fifteen minutes time had elapsed from the commencement of the row before the general and his two criminals were the only occupants of the field of action. Here bloodshed, imprisonment, trials by court-martial were happily prevented, and hostile feelings between the different corps of the army extinguished by the physical and mental energies timely exerted by one individual.
James Hawkins of New York met Washington a little later in camp near Kingsbridge, during the bitter winter of 1776–77.
During a part of this time, General Washington … was in command, and he [James Hawkins] well recollects a personal interview with him under the following circumstances. He, the said James, and a soldier by the name of Elijah Morehouse, a tent mate of his, being barefooted and having made fruitless applications to their under officers for a furlough to enable them to procure shoes, applied to the commander-in-chief at his quarters. Having been conducted into his presence by a file of soldiers, they found the general surrounded by officers, who rose, and, pointing them to seats, he himself took a chair, and with the utmost condescension and kindness of manners listened to the story of their sufferings. The good general, after a pause of a few moments, replied, “My brave fellows, you see the condition in which I am placed. Yonder upon the East River is the enemy. Should they advance, and we expect them every moment, I shall need every man of you. My soldiers are my life. Should they retire, call again, and you shall have your furlough.”
Jacob Francis, a New Jersey freedman, was helping to build fortifications during the siege of Boston when he encountered General Israel Putnam.
I recollect General Putnam … from a circumstance that occurred when the troops were engaged in throwing up a breastwork at Lechmere Point across the river, opposite Boston, between that and Cambridge. The men were at work digging, about five hundred men on the fatigue at once. I was at work among them. They were divided into small squads of eight or ten together and a noncommissioned officer to oversee them. General Putnam came riding along in uniform as an officer to look at the work. They had dug up a pretty large stone, which lay on the side of the ditch. The general spoke to the corporal who was standing looking at the men at work and said to him, “My lad, throw that stone up on the middle of the breastwork.”
The corporal, touching his hat with his hand, said to the general, “Sir, I am a corporal.”
“Oh,” said the general, “I ask your pardon, sir,” and immediately got off his horse and took up the stone and threw it up on the breastwork himself and then mounted his horse and rode on, giving directions, et cetera. It was in the winter season, and the ground was froze.
Samuel Deforest of Connecticut witnessed the Battle of Long Island as a frightened eighteen-year-old.
On the twenty-eighth day of August … we could see boats passing and repassing from Staten to Long Island loaded with men. After sunrise we returned to our quarters, and after breakfast Colonel Lewis, with some of his officers, among the rest Lieutenant Curtis (being his waiter, I was permitted to follow the company), [climbed] up several flights of stairs, till we reached the top of the roof, from which we [could see] the British soldiers were landing at the foot of a road perhaps three-quarters of a mile south of Brooklyn Ferry. Leading an eastern direction, the road appeared about four rods wide, and the road was constantly filled with men. The road ascended gradually about forty rods and then lay on a level. The motion of the men’s bodies while under march, which of course would give motion to the burnished arms which came in contact with the rays of a brilliant morning sun … to the eye gleamed like sheets of fire. This road was filled with reinforcements from Staten Island for about six hours, and this time and much longer the battle was fighting.
About eleven o’clock, Colonel Lewis had orders to march his regiment along the dock opposite Brooklyn Ferry, and when there was an officer on horseback, we concluded he was one of the general’s aides. He informed us that he was calling for volunteers to turn out and man every watercraf t which lay along the dock. “All must know there was dreadful fighting, and if our men were driven to retreat, we wish to be able to bring them over this side.”
One Wells Judson and myself turned out. A periauger was committed to our charge, and we landed at Brooklyn Ferry about one o’clock. The thunder of the British artillery, the roaring of the small arms of both armies, was tremendous.