The Revolution Remembered
Newly Discovered Eyewitness Accounts of the War for Independence
April/may 1980 | Volume 31, Issue 3
Judson and I walked up the ferry road and lay down under a shade, for it was very warm, and drank some cold water. While we lay under the board fence perhaps an hour, ruminating on the terrors of that day, we heard the tramping of men just over the knoll, but we [had] hardly time to think before they hove in sight, and the road was filled with redcoat regulars, and again we had hardly time for surprise before we saw they were prisoners, and they were hurried over the ferry and through the city and over the Hudson into Jerseys. We concluded there was between two or three hundred of them. The firing ceased a little before sundown, and a number of us got into a small boat and went back to our regiment. We learned soon that the flower of the army was killed and taken prisoners; that General Lord Stirling and General Sullivan and several brigadier generals and between nine and ten thousand soldiers were taken prisoners. The remaining of our army on Long Island retreated and pitched on the best and highest ground just back of Brooklyn and entrenched themselves as suddenly as well as they could. The British army left Fiatbush, where the late and dreadful ill-fated battle had been lately fought, and were planting themselves alongside our troops in order soon to give the finishing stroke to Washington’s army.
But shortly after, I do not remember how many days, a most wonderful thunderstorm took place. It commenced about one o’clock in the day. The thunder and the lightning was dreadful. The clouds run so low, that they seemed to break over the houses, and the water run in rivers. The darkness was so great that the two armies could not see each other, although within one hundred rods of each other. Through the whole of that stormy afternoon they were crossing as fast as possible, but they themselves did [not] know that they were retreating. They came over to get a little rest, and we [were] to go over and take their places. The sergeant major told us that Colonel Lewis told him we must be prepared to go over the next morning. In one hour after, the sergeant major come to Captain Tomlinson’s quarters and warned us all forth to march up to the grand parade in order to pass a review and take further orders. The storm began at one, and it was now five o’clock. It now rained but not so hard. The company would not turn out.
A Mr. Othniel French, a nice and good man, a friend and neighbor to my father, he says to me, “The men will not turn out, Samuel. You are a minuteman. Will you turn out with me and go up to the grand parade and see what is going to be done?”
I says, “Yes, Mr. French, I will go with you.”
There was a few in other companies belonging to Colonel Lewis’s regiment fell in, and we marched up to the grand parade, and we found three or four hundred men.
There was an officer there, who says to us, “Come, my brave boys, I am glad you are not afraid of a few drops of water.” By this time, the rain had subsided. It appeared to be turned into mist and fog. “A picket guard is to be set tonight a little this side [of] Bunker Hill on the Bowery.”
Mr. French says to me again, “Samuel, keep close to me.”
“I will, sir,” and we marched on, and we come to the house where the picket was to be kept, and the sergeants began to distribute the sentinels.
Mr. French says to the sergeant, “I wish you would be so good as to let this young lad stand next to me, for there is none that either of us are acquainted with,” and the sergeant placed me close to the guardhouse and Mr. French next. I found out the whole of three or four hundred men who marched with us was to form a line of sentries from the North River to the East River, once in forty feet.
As soon as the sentries were set, an officer on horseback, he rid close to me and says to me, “Let no man pass you this night. Take no countersign nor watchword. If any man come to you, see that he is put under guard. You must keep your station here till morning.” There was no more through the night. The fog thickened and all was silent as death. At about twelve o’clock … the dogs began to bark, the cattle to low, the Indians to howl and yell. All these noises was from Long Island, by reason of the thick and heavy fog, and all the other dense qualities which conspired to tune the air like an organ. We supposed that the barking of the dogs and the lowing of the cattle and the howling of the Indians was two miles from us. It was said afterwards that perhaps there was three or four hundred Indians attached to our army on Long Island. They made as much noise as the yelling of a thousand under other circumstances. It was said that the Indians was set to yelling that night by the counsel of General Putnam.
About day, the noise was all still, and about sun an hour high, the fog began to go off. At this instant, a man in the appearance of an officer came up to the guardhouse. One of the officers asked him where he was from. He replied, “From Long Island, sir.”
“What’s the word from there?”
“Our army has all came off the night past.”
The officer says, “Gentleman, this man ought to be put under guard.”
The gentleman who had just came up said, “You can put me under guard if you please, sir, but I presume that in less than forty minutes, you will find what I tell you is true.”