His younger brother, Joseph, two years his junior, joined up as well in December 1776 and mustered into the 13th Virginia Regiment. They served together in the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown, and wintered in Valley Forge.
September-October 1776: Enlistment
Benjamin Lemaster enlisted in the First Virginia Regiment at Berkeley County, Virginia, now Morgan County, West Virginia, in September 1776. He was under the command of Captain William Lewis. He stated in his Pension Statement that he enlisted for three years, and he did end up serving for almost three years, but he most likely enlisted for a three-month term which was scheduled to begin October 1 and end December 31, 1776.
Benjamin Lemaster witnessed the Continental Army reduced to shreds by the scarlet and white-clad British regulars. American troops retreated in a panic—not for the last time. “What have I done?” must have crossed his mind. It would have mine.
In his Pension Statement, Benjamin recalled: “I was enlisted by Lieut. Cup [Culp]a recruiting officer, for Capt Lewis company. I joined his company at the white Plain – which was attached to the first Virginia Continental Regt. Commanded by Col. Richard Parker and Genl. Muhlenburg’ brigade – Genl. Washington commanded at the white Plains. Lord Sterling commanded the division of the army to which I belonged. The British came out and attacked its right wing in which the Delaware troops suffered considerably. . .”
Benjamin was among 3,000 troops ferried across the Hudson to block a British strike into New Jersey. They took up positions at Newark on November 13. By November 29, they abandoned Newark, burned their tents (because no wagons were available to carry them), then destroyed the only bridge across the Raritan River, just ahead of the Hessians. Another retreat.
December 3, 1776: They reached Trenton and had five days to get across the Delaware River. For seventy miles up and down the Delaware, the Americans confiscated every craft capable of carrying a man across the river, then went into what they thought would be their last encampment. Their enlistment was up December 31. Benjamin was probably counting the days when he could start back for Virginia.
In his Pension Statement, he continued: “We retreated towards Brunswick crossed the River & encampted [sic] on the Delaware, where I was detached with others under Lieut. Kilpatrick to protect the people of Trenton from the robberies of the Hessians—on rejoining the army we took up the line of march and went to Trenton.”
December 25, 1776: Battle of Trenton
Under the command of Adam Stephen, of Berkeley County, the First Virginia guarded the north of the town, while two other regiments performed the duty of fighting in the streets of Trenton.
Brigadier General Adam Stephen commanded 541 men. This brigade served as bridgehead and advance guard, and formed part of the center of General Nathaniel Greene’s line for the attack, along with Stirling’s brigade. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Order_of_battle_of_the_Battle_of_Trenton) Benjamin Lemaster was in this brigade.
Knowing the British troops would not sit still for very long, Washington ordered his exhausted troops back across the Delaware in the worst possible weather conditions, and he took the Hessian prisoners with him.
I had always imagined my ancestor, Sgt. Benjamin Lemaster, to be on the boat with George Washington, crossing the Delaware on Christmas night. Now I imagine him crossing back over the Delaware the next day. It looks like this boat is going west, doesn't it?
|"Washington Crossing the Delaware" by Emanuel Leutze, 1851, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City|
The day before most of the enlistments expired, Washington had the troops assembled for parade, then rode among them with a personal plea that they stay for six more weeks. His pleas fell on deaf and frozen ears.
Our Benjamin Lemaster was one of these six-weeks men, and stood as a witness to the spiritual power of his commander-in-chief.