Archive for the ‘Camp followers’ Category

“Row on boys”

Sarah Matthews Osborn, wife of Aaron, a blacksmith, whom she had married “during the hard winter of 1780” in Albany, New York, accompanied her husband when he re-enlisted as a commissary guard on condition that she would be permitted to ride in a wagon or on horseback. That first winter, they resided at West Point. Sarah Osborn’s deposition applying for her husband’s pension (in 1837) gives a vivid picture of life with the Continental Army.

While at West Point, deponent [Sarah] lived at Lieutenant Foot’s, who kept a boarding house. Deponent was employed in washing and sewing for the soldiers. Her said husband was employed about the camp. She well recollects the uproar occasioned when word came that a British officer had been taken as a spy. She understood at the time that Major André was brought up on the opposite side of the river and kept there till he was executed. On the return of the bargemen who assisted [Benedict] Arnold to escape, deponent recollects seeing two of them, one by the name of Montecu, the other by the name of Clark. That they said Arnold told them to hang up their dinners, for he had to be at Stony Point in so many minutes, and when he got there he hoisted his pocket handkerchief and his sword and said, “Row on boys,” and that they soon arrived in Haverstraw Bay and found the British ship. That Arnold jumped on board, and they were all invited, and they went aboard and had their choice to go or stay. And some chose to stay and some to go and did accordingly.
When the army were about to leave West Point and go south, they crossed over the [Hudson] river to Robinson’s Farms [the property of Beverly Robinson] and remained their for a length of time to induce the belief . . . that they were going to take up quarters there, whereas they recrossed the river in the nighttime into the Jerseys and traveled all night in a direct course for Philadelphia. . . . In their march for Philadelphia, they were under command of Generals Washington and [James] Clinton.

Sarah Osborn continues her story in the next post.

Part of the deposition quoted above is from In the Words of Women, page 153. The illustration of Benedict Arnold is at the Library of Congress, Prints and Photos Division.

posted March 17th, 2014 by Janet, Comments Off on “Row on boys”, CATEGORIES: American soldiers,Camp followers,Military Service

“such a great quantity of snow fell”

Outside the window next to my computer I see that snow is falling, along with the temperatures, yet again. Fie on the polar vortex. Yet it puts me in mind of Valley Forge and the suffering of the Americans there in the cold winter of 1777-78. And of other examples of severe winter weather described by women, some in our book and others I have since come upon. It seems appropriate to present a few.

In 1777, Frederika von Riedesel, with their three children, had joined her husband in Canada where he commanded the German mercenaries hired by the British. General von Riedesel pushed south into New York with British General John Burgoyne and his troops in an attempt to cut off New England from the other colonies. Frederika, who was with him, witnessed the decisive defeat of their combined forces by the Americans at Saratoga on October 17, 1777. The British and Hessian troops were marched to Boston, where the Von Riedesels were put up in a house in Cambridge. In the following year as winter approached, Congress decided to move the prisoners to Virginia where their maintenance would be less costly. The Baroness and her children traveled by carriage while her husband made the journey with his troops. Frederika described what the family had to contend with.

Before we passed the so-called Blue mountains, we were forced to make a still further halt of eight days, that our troops might have time to collect together again. In the mean time such a great quantity of snow fell, that four of our servants were obliged to go before my wagon on horseback, in order to make a path for it. We passed through a picturesque portion of the country, which, however, by reason of its wilderness, inspired us with terror. Often we were in danger of our lives while going along these break-neck roads; and more than all this we suffered from cold, and what was still worse, from a lack of provisions. When we arrived in Virginia, and were only a day’s journey from the place of our destination, we had actually nothing more remaining but our tea, and none of us could obtain any thing but bread and butter. A countryman, whom we met on the way, gave me only a hand full of acrid fruits. At noon we came to a dwelling where I begged for something to eat. They refused me with hard words, saying that there was nothing for dogs of Royalists. Seeing some Turkish [Indian] meal lying around, I begged for a couple of hands full, that I might mix it with water, and make bread. The woman answered me “No, that is for our negroes, who work for us, but you have wished to kill us.”

. . . The place of our destination was Colle in Virginia, where my husband, who had gone ahead with our troops, awaited us with impatient longing. We arrived here about the middle of February, 1779, having, on our journey, passed through the provinces of Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland, and having traveled in twelve weeks, six hundred and seventy-eight English miles. . . .

The passages from the Baroness’s journal appear on pages 268-69 of In the Words of Women.

posted January 30th, 2014 by Janet, Comments Off on “such a great quantity of snow fell”, CATEGORIES: British soldiers,Camp followers,Canada,Hessians,New York,Prisoners,Saratoga,Travel,Weather

“We … had this sad sight before us the whole day”

Mercenaries from the small states of what is now Germany were hired by the British to supplement their forces. They too had camp followers. Madame Fredericka von Riedesel, with their three children, joined her husband who was a general in Burgoyne’s army. With her were also a maid, a cook, and an old servant of the family. As fighting intensified prior to the British surrender at Saratoga, she witnessed firsthand the casualties of war. In her journal she described what happened on October 7, 1777.

I had just sat down with my husband at his quarters to breakfast. General Fraser, and … Generals Burgoyne and Phillips … were to have dined with me on that same day. …

About three o’clock in the afternoon, in place of the guests who were to have dined with me, they brought in to me, upon a litter, poor General Fraser … mortally wounded. Our dining table, which was already spread, was taken away, and in its place they fixed up a bed for the general. I sat in the corner of the room trembling and quaking. The noises grew constantly louder. … The general said to the surgeon, “Do not conceal any thing from me. “Must I die?” The ball had gone through his bowels … Unfortunately … the general had eaten a hearty breakfast, by reason of which the intestines were distended, and the ball … had not gone … between the intestines, but through them. I heard him often, amidst his groans, exclaim,”O, fatal ambition! Poor General Burgoyne! My poor wife!” Prayers were read to him. He then sent a message to General Burgoyne, begging that he would have him buried the following day at six o”clock in the evening on the top of a hill, which was a sort of redoubt. …

Early in the morning … he expired. After they had washed the corpse, they wrapped it in a sheet, and laid it on a bedstead. We then came into the room, and had this sad sight before us the whole day. … We learned that General Burgoyne intended to fulfill the last wish of General Fraser. … Precisely at six o’clock the corpse was brought out, and we saw the entire body of generals with their retinues on the hill assisting at the obsequies. The English chaplain, Mr. Brudenel, performed the funeral services. The canonballs flew continually around and over the party.
The American general Gates, afterward said, that if he had known that it was a burial he would not have allowed any firing in that direction. … The order had gone forth that the army should break up after the burial, and the horses were already harnessed to our calaches. … we drove off at eight o’clock in the evening.

Narrative from In the Words of Women pages 82-83. Illustrations: View of the West Bank of the Hudson by Thomas Anbury, 1789 and Burial of General Fraser after John Graham.

posted November 19th, 2012 by Janet, Comments Off on “We … had this sad sight before us the whole day”, CATEGORIES: British soldiers,Camp followers,Death,Hessians,Saratoga

“they … saluted us with a cannon ball”

Thousands of women traveled with the armies during the Revolution: American, British, and Hessian. Called “camp followers,” they served as cooks, laundresses, seamstresses, and nurses. Some were wives—of officers or common soldiers. Others offered themselves as sexual partners, but most were women who hoped to obtain something to eat and earn a few pennies. In fact, in recognition of the useful services they provided many were “officially attached” and entitled to rations. With General John Burgoyne’s army moving south from Canada in 1777, there were between 1,000 and 2,000 women and children. Elizabeth Munro Fisher, wife of a Loyalist, described camp life near Saratoga.

We were deprived of all comforts of life, and did not dare to kindle fire for fear we should be observed from the other side of the river [where the Americans were], and they might fire on us, which they did several times. Being about the middle of October, we suffered cold and hunger; many a day I had nothing but a piece of raw salt pork, a biscuit, and a drink of water. … One day, wearied of living in this manner, I told some of the soldier’s wives if they would join me, I would find out a way to get some provisions cooked—seven of them joined me. I spoke to some of the soldiers that were invalid, and told them if they would make up a fire back in the wood, and get a large kettle hung on, we would fill it with provision, and cook it. … They consented to do it for a guinea; they went to work and built up a fire, hung on a kettle, and put water in it, then we women put in what we pleased; we soon filled it with a variety; it began to boil; we all kept our distance from the fire for fear of the cannon that were placed on the other side of the river on a high hill; they soon discovered our fire, and saluted us with a cannon ball; it struck and broke our kettle to pieces, and sent the provision in the air. We met with no hurt only losing our intended feast. …

posted November 15th, 2012 by Janet, Comments Off on “they … saluted us with a cannon ball”, CATEGORIES: Camp followers,Saratoga

Daughters of the Regiment

There was a wonderful story in the in the New York Times on August 5th called “Women at War” by C. K. Larson about the activities that women on both sides undertook in fighting the American Civil War. Larson reminded us that these Civil War women were doing what Continental Army women had done in the past.

Indeed. During the American Revolution, while it is true that women usually stayed behind and provided for their families while their husbands, brothers, and sons were off fighting the British, there were those who played more active roles. A few disguised themselves as men and fought on the battlefields. The record on the right below shows that there was a woman soldier at the Peekskill barracks.
Other women were camp followers. These women, often with children, traveled with the armies—American, British, and Hessian—performing tasks such as cooking, sewing, laundering, and nursing the sick and injured.

Needless to say, it is difficult to find writings by camp followers. The best sources are depositions such as the one given by Sarah Matthews Osborn. Sarah accompanied her husband when he re-enlisted and was stationed at West Point in the winter of 1780. In the deposition applying for her husband’s pension (in 1837) she said that she “lived at Lieutenant Foot’s, who kept a boarding house,” and that she “was employed in washing and sewing for the soldiers.” She and her husband moved south with the army and were part of the decisive battle at Yorktown in 1781. Her statement continues.

Deponent took her stand just back of the American tents, say about a mile from the town, and busied herself washing, mending, and cooking for the soldiers, in which she was assisted by the other females; some men washed their own clothing. … deponent cooked and carried in beef, and bread, and coffee (in a gallon pot) to the soldiers in the entrenchment. On one occasion when deponent was thus employed carrying in provisions, she met General Washington, who asked her if she “was not afraid of the cannonballs?” She replied … that “It would not do for the men to fight and starve too.” …

[A]ll at once the officers hurrahed and swung their hats, and deponent asked them, “What is the matter now?”
One of them replied, “Are not you soldier enough to know what it means?”
Deponent replied, “No.”
They then replied, “The British have surrendered.”
Deponent, having provisions ready, carried the same down to the entrenchments that morning, and four of the soldiers whom she was in the habit of cooking for ate their breakfasts.

I loved the way the Times story ended. “Whatever duties they performed, the Civil War women who valiantly served their causes distinguished themselves from men in one major way: They were all volunteers, as has been every woman who ever enrolled in military service in our nation’s history.”

Osborn’s deposition is from In the Words of Women, pages 153-54.

posted August 9th, 2012 by Janet, Comments Off on Daughters of the Regiment, CATEGORIES: Battles,Camp followers,Military Service,Patriots

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