1 Nephi 1: 1, 3
...therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days. And I know that the record which I make is true; and I make it with mine own hand; and I make it according to my knowledge.

^^That pretty much explains this blog.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Benjamin Lemaster, Revolutionary War Hero, Part II

Please begin by reading Part I HERE

__________OF BENJAMIN LEMASTER__________

This equestrian statue of George Washington at Washington Circle in Washington, D.C. depicts him at the Battle of Princeton. Sculptor Clark Mills said in his speech at the statue's dedication ceremony on February 22, 1860, "The incident selected for representation of this statue was at the battle of Princeton where Washington, after several ineffectual attempts to rally his troops, advanced so near the enemy’s lines that his horse refused to go further, but stood and trembled while the brave rider sat undaunted with reins in hand. But while his noble horse is represented thus terror stricken, the dauntless hero is calm and dignified, ever believing himself the instrument in the hand of Providence to work out the great problem of liberty." (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Princeton)
January 3, 1777: Battle of Princeton. Benjamin Lemaster is wounded.
          The fact that Benjamin Lemaster participated in this battle, proves that he did become one of the "six-weeks men" of George Washington's impassioned plea. 

          Two First Virginia companies, under the command of John Fleming, formed part of a detachment led by Hugh Mercer and were the first troops to make contact with the British. The Americans were doing well in a volley and they were backed up by two canister-firing field pieces which kept the British at a standstill. 

          Suddenly, in one of those quirks of battle, Mercer’s riflemen and his artillery had to pause to reload at the same time. [Yikes!] The British ordered a charge with bayonets—and they were wielded with ferocity.

          Mercer's men were put to flight. [Another retreat?] Mercer was bayoneted as he tried to fight with his sword. The British soldiers thought he was Washington! Mercer died several days later from these wounds.

          Captain Fleming was shot through the head at almost point-blank range. The ranks broke and began running, the British firing wildly while rushing with bayonets. An artillery captain named Joseph Moulder had managed to get his two cannons to the top of the hill overlooking the orchard where the fighting took place. He loaded both with grapeshot and trained them on the charging red-coated regiment.

          Just as Moulder gave the order to fire, Benjamin Lemaster was hit in the ankle by a shot from a British Brown Bess musket. He got to his feet and hobbled away just as Washington arrived on the scene with the Virginia Continentals and Edward Hand’s riflemen. Daniel Hitchcock’s New England Continentals also charged in and were put to the fight as well.

Both British and Americans were given the order to fire, obscuring the field in a cloud of smoke (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Princeton). Dozens of musket balls whistled past George Washington. When the smoke cleared, neither he, nor his white charger, were hit. Turning the tables, his soldiers now pursued the fleeing British. No retreat this time!

I am in awe that my ancestor was a witness to the Divine protection offered to Washington throughout his military career. Many stories were told of his Providential survival.

        Benjamin was taken to a makeshift emergency field hospital, his wound examined, and temporarily bandaged. Someone found Fleming’s horse wandering the battlefield, so it was loaned to Benjamin to enable him to catch up with the army as Washington marched on to Morristown, New Jersey. 
        I can't imagine how Benjamin felt, riding his mortally-wounded commander's horse, his ankle mangled by the musket ball, yet forging onward to be with his comrades. 

With their third defeat in ten days, the British evacuated southern New Jersey. Morale rose in the American ranks and more men began to enlist in the army.

        Sometime after this, Benjamin went to a hospital in Philadelphia to have his wound treated properly. He then returned to headquarters at Morristown for winter encampment.
          In his Pension Statement, Benjamin wrote: “I was at the Battles of Monmouth & Princeton—at the latter engagement I was wounded in the right ancle—with a Musket Ball. was sent to the Hospital at Philadelphia and was there inoculated for the small Pox.”

           According to Agnes McNeill in "Benjamin Lemasters and the American War for Independence," it was a remarkable stroke of luck that Benjamin Lemaster was sent to a hospital in Philadelphia rather than the "Flying Hospital" which accompanied the  Continental  Army on its campaigns. Those medical facilities were usually ill-equipped to handle even what we would consider the most minor of injuries. 

          "The  major solution to most wounds was amputation, and excessive loss of blood and infection from unsanitary conditions caused a high percentage of hospital deaths. Even the slightest of wounds could sometimes be 'treated' into a fatal ailment by the inadequate methods of the time." (Agnes McNeill)
          The fact that he was sent to a hospital in Philadelphia leads me to believe his ankle injury was more serious than even Benjamin Lemaster portrayed it in his pension statement. Bless his good fortune to be sent to Philadelphia. He was my ancestor. I wouldn't be the same person without him in my tree.

The Death of General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton

 February-April 1777: Guard duty at Trenton under Capt. Kilpatrick

Washington and the Continental Army made winter camp near Morristown, New Jersey from January to May 1777. Washington’s headquarters was at Jacob Arnold’s Tavern in the center of town. Morristown was selected as a strategic location between Philadelphia and New York City, as well as the skill of its tradesmen, natural resources and the ability to provide food to the troops. Its churches were used as a base for inoculations for smallpox. Morristown was also the site of a second winter encampment in 1779.
       Benjamin must have hero-worshiped George Washington—just guessing here. Rumors circulated the colonies about Washington withstanding gunfire in previous wars and battles with nary a wound—but his coat shot up with holes. Benjamin stood as a witness to this at Princeton. He re-enlisted in March 1777 for two more years in William Lewis’s company. 

May 1777: Promoted to Sergeant
          Attesting to Benjamin's good behavior and skill, he was promoted to Sergeant in Captain William Lewis’s company of the First Virginia Regiment. He held this rank for the duration of his service.

June 15, 1777: Benjamin Lemaster turned twenty-one years old this day.

August 1777: Philadelphia March
          Benjamin Lemaster and his First Virginia marched triumphantly through Philadelphia, the new capital, on August 24, 1777. Washington hoped this parade of the Continental Army might send a message to the Loyalists in the city. They then moved south on their way to the head of the Chesapeake Bay on August 25, in order to protect the city from capture. 

September 1777: The Battle of Brandywine
          [Benjamin’s brother Joseph also fought in this battle, as well as The Battle of Germantown which followed.]
          Washington established a complicated line of defense around the Brandywine Creek at Chadd's Ford [of Andrew Wyeth fame], Delaware County, just north of the Pennsylvania-Delaware border. Washington's plan of battle was elaborate and complex. Unfortunately, nearly everything which could have gone wrong, did. The Battle of Brandywine Creek, on September 11, turned into another disheartening defeat.
          Alas, the British forces were strong18,000 British troops to 11,000 Continentalsand, after many casualties on both sides, the Continentals were forced to pull back toward Philadelphia through Chester, and then north to Germantown.

          Washington kept his sights on General Howe, who moved from Reading, then toward Philadelphia, then toward Wilmington. On September 15, he settled on West Chester [about 10 miles from where I grew up] and prepped for battle. 

          Washington’s Army outnumbered Howe’s, so he felt assured of a victory. A torrential downpour on September 16 stifled the presumptive “Battle of West Chester." [It was rained out!] Both armies suffered losses of about a half-million cartridges. Fighting stopped for several days.

          Washington’s Army withdrew to Yellow Springs [where my brother, John, and his wife, Pam, lived when they first got married]. George Washington thought Howe would try to get back to Reading, so he moved his Army to Pennypacker’s Mill on the Reading Road [which, I believe is Route 73. Pennypacker's Mill is located just off Route 73 today on Haldeman Road. I taught a Scherenschnitte class there many years ago.]

          Meanwhile . . . at ten o'clock p.m. on September 20, General Anthony Wayne and his Pennsylvania Regiments were surprised by the British at their camp near the General Paoli Tavern. The Battle of Paoli was fought with another loss for our side.
       [Having grown up and lived in this part of Pennsylvania, I marvel at the amount of miles these troops covered--and on foot. It takes over an hour by car to travel from Yellow Springs to Pennypacker's Mill today.]

          On September 26, almost as an afterthought, Cornwallis led a detachment of grenadiers into Philadelphia and announced that he had captured the city. The Congress fled first to Lancaster, then to York [and I think they took the Liberty Bell with them]. The British took control of the city of Philadelphia without opposition.

The Battle of Brandywine-Chadd's Ford

October 4, 1777: Battle of Germantown 
          On October 2, Washington moved his Army to Center Point, and at twilight, the evening of October 3, 11,000 men moved toward Germantown.

          Benjamin Lemaster, his shoes probably worn through with three weeks of constant marching, trekked along once again under the command of Adam Stephen. A dense fog hung over the Schuylkill River [pronounced "Skookle"] at dawn on October 4. By six o'clock, they made contact with a British outpost at Mt. Airy.  The Battle of Germantown had begun.

          Benjamin Lemaster was there for the crazy chaos that ensued.

          Stephen’s division got hopelessly lost in the fog and got separated from the other divisions. He heard firing and the division turned toward the sound of the guns. The fog was made worse now by the addition of the smoke of battle. The firing, they came to find out, was from William “Scotch Willie” Maxell’s division, held up by a small group of red coats in the home of Benjamin Chew, a noted Philadelphia Loyalist. He tried to overcome the Chew house, but to no avail. A heavy stone manor, the Chew House proved almost impervious to cannon attack.

          Other battles ensued and it didn’t look good for our side. Our men had to fight harder to retreat than they had fought to move forward.

          Meanwhile, Stephen’s division, with our Benjamin Lemaster, spied some “blue coats” in the fog. Someone shouted “Hessians!” and they fired into the backs of the men in front of them, which turned out to be Anthony Wayne’s men. They all thought the British were pursuing them and made a mass exodus through the fog, colliding with Maxwell’s men fighting to overcome the Chew house.

          Both sides ran for their lives in opposite directions, our men not realizing their victory. Anthony Wayne was close to resigning his command when he saw the incredible spectacle before him—Adam Stephen lying on the ground, drunk. Washington could not believe his eyes at the debacle and utter chaos. He could only order a general retreat. 

           The British withdrew to Philadelphia.

The Battle of Germantown, attack on Chew's House
Johnson, Fry & Co. Publishers, 1860
October 23 to November 15, 1777: The Battle of Fort Mifflin
          After the Battle of Germantown, Washington moved his headquarters to Whitemarsh, along the Wissahickon Creek and Sandy Run, near present day Fort Washington. He hoped to fortify the Delaware River to keep out the British ships and cut off supplies to the taken capital city.

          Benjamin Lemaster and his comrades were moved to Mud Island on October 18, 1777 under the command of Lt. Col. John Green. When Benjamin arrived, the fort's defense was under the direction of Lt. Col. Samuel Smith. Green outranked Smith [I don't know how or why since they were both Lt. Colonels] and an uneasiness prevailed at the fort. In fact, in many accounts, it was stated that Smith didn't get along with most of the officers. However, he did prove to be a good commander himself in all the accounts I read.

          [In Benjamin Lemaster's Pension Statement, he called him Major Smith, so maybe a Lt. Colonel outranks a Major and maybe these historians had Smith's rank incorrect at this point in history.]
          Mud Island was called Fort Mifflin, named after Major General Thomas Mifflin,a politician and merchant, who became the first Governor of Pennsylvania after the war. There is a Governor Mifflin high school in Shillington, near Reading, today. 

          The fort was located at the confluence of the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers, south of Philadelphia--nothing more than a mud bank deposited by the Schuylkill. Fort Mercer was on another mud island at Red Bank, on the New Jersey side of the river. 

          Washington had previously sent engineers to fortify and strengthen the Delaware River forts. He thought they were, but they remained in pitiful condition. Smith, a Baltimore native, tried to put the forts in defensible condition, but the entire garrison was sick, and there wasn’t enough of anything. It was said by other commanders Smith didn't know how to make this fort defensible.

Samuel Smith in middle age. He was only 25 when he commanded Fort Mifflin.
          On the night of October 22, a fleet of six British warships maneuvered its way into position for a dawn attack on Fort Mifflin and Fort Mercer. As the early morning mist lifted over the river, watchmen in the fort were horrified to see the British fleet in battle formation. But their terror turned to glee when they saw the 64-gun ship-of-the-line HMS Augusta, and the sloop HMS Merlin, large ships, stuck on a sandbar—sitting ducks.

          The Continentals fired on the ships, and they fired back while trying to rescue those on the trapped boats. A fire broke out on board the Augusta, which exploded with a tremendous roar at noon. It shattered windows in Philadelphia, seven miles away. Smoke was visible to Washington in Whitemarsh, more than thirty miles away, if he was actually located near Fort Washington.
Sinking of the HMS "Augusta."

          During the month-long siege, four hundred American soldiers held off more than two thousand British troops and 250 ships until November 10.

Fort Mifflin, 1771, Mud Island in the Delaware River, 
originally built by the British, ironically used against them in 1777
A painting by Seth Eastman
           Benjamin Lemaster was stationed at Fort Mifflin from October 18 to November 15, 1777, during which time the fort was under almost constant bombardment. To read the accounts of life at the fort makes me almost cry when thinking of my poor young ancestor fending off the British. [read: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Fort_Mifflin]

           Benjamin Lemaster was stationed at Fort Mifflin from October 18 to November 15, 1777, during which time the fort was under almost constant bombardment. To read the accounts of life at the fort makes me almost cry when thinking of my poor young ancestor fending off the British. While reading about the battle at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Fort_Mifflin, I was overcome with the bravery of the men fighting at the fort, overcoming such great odds. What massacre was observed by our Benjamin Lemaster, at such a young age, especially during the last few days at the fort.

          On November 11, as Smith was in the barracks, a cannonball smashed through the chimney and struck him in the left hip. Though covered in bricks from the collapsed chimney, and suffering a dislocated wrist, Smith survived. He was ferried across to Red Bank, leaving the garrison leaderless. On November 12, Major Simeon Thayer of Rhode Island accepted command of the fort.

          On the morning of November 15, the fort was bombarded from many sides and subjected to point-blank fire. A single shot killed five American gunners at one cannon. A defender wrote that men were “split like fish to be broiled.” The interior of the fort was wrecked. That evening, Thayer gave the order to abandon Fort Mifflin (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Fort_Mifflin)

The Americans evacuated the fort by night. The 300 survivors and what equipment could be salvaged were rowed across to Red Bank (Fort Mercer). Thayer held back a detail of forty men. These troops burned down the barracks at midnight and soon joined the others in Jersey. Thayer was last to leave. (http://arrtop.org/tag/hms-augusta/   (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Fort_Mifflin)

The fort was conceded to the British, though they didn’t formally surrender. They left the flag flying.
         Also on November 15, the Continental Congress, in York, Pennsylvania, adopted the Articles of Confederation.

        While stationed at the fort, on two occasions, Smith sent Lemaster to Washington’s headquarters to advise Washington on the general situation at the fort and to plea for more men and supplies.

          Although Washington desperately wanted to help, he had to send Benjamin away on both occasions with nothing more than verbal encouragement.

In Benjamin Lemaster’s Pension Statement, it was written: Whilst employed at Mifflin he saw the [British] Ship Augusta blown up in the river Delaware. During this siege he roade express [illegible word] for Maj. Smith to Gen’l. Washington at the white marsh.”  

Our Benjamin had contact with George Washington. At least I hope he saw him, face to face, to deliver his message and not pass it on to a subordinate. He had served with Washington in all his other campaigns thus far. 

It thrills me to no end to know my ancestor walked on ground where I grew up and lived and made my life. I lived in Conshohocken, close to Whitemarsh. I lived and went to college in Reading and lived near Center Point. I’ve been to the historic Pennypacker’s Mill, and even did a newspaper article about the place, so I know its history as well. All these cities and towns—Philadelphia—how lucky was I to live in such an historic area? 
This brings us now to another place everyone will recognize.

December 1777: Valley Forge
          Washington moved his army from Whitemarsh to a narrow valley about eighteen miles farther west, along the Schuylkill River. Valley Forge became the Continental Army’s 1777 – 1778 winter home

          The name has become synonymous with suffering and privation, as well as extraordinary courage in the face of adversity. It's where the enlisted men and volunteers learned to be soldiers.
End of Part II.
Part III: Valley Forge

Fort Mifflin, present day aerial shot
Fort Mifflin
Mud Island, south of Philadelphia in the Delaware River
Designed by Pierre Charles L'Enfant in 1793, the same person who designed the layout of Washington, D.C.
The flag that still flies above Fort Mifflin is the Continental Navy Jack which flew over the fort through 1777

Inside the Fort, present day
At the confluence of the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers, Mud Island was identified as a
strategic point by which any attacking naval force would need to pass to get to the city of Philadelphia. This strategy proved correct during the Battle of Fort Mifflin in the fall of 1777.

                                      Fort Mifflin housed prisoners during the Civil War. 

Fort Mifflin Hospital
Fort Mifflin was used as a hospital during WWI and WWII.

Gun emplacements (see aerial shot)