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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
|The Death of General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton|
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.
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.
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.
Alas, the British forces were strong—18,000 British troops to 11,000 Continentals—and, 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.
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.]
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.
[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.
|Samuel Smith in middle age. He was only 25 when he commanded Fort Mifflin.|
|Sinking of the HMS "Augusta."|
|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. 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.
Also on November 15, the Continental Congress, in York, Pennsylvania, adopted the Articles of Confederation.
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?
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.
|Fort Mifflin, present day aerial shot|
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 1777starforts.com
|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.