Home History He Fought With Washington At The Siege Of Yorktown—And Wrote About The Experience

He Fought With Washington At The Siege Of Yorktown—And Wrote About The Experience

by Enochadmin

The voices of extraordinary American troopers who took half within the Revolutionary Struggle are seldom heard right now. One exception is Joseph Plumb Martin, born in 1760 in Massachusetts and raised in Connecticut. Martin plunged into the battle at age 15 in June 1776, serving within the Connecticut state militia and finally the eighth Connecticut Regiment of Common George Washington’s Continental Military.

Martin’s memoirs, first printed in 1830, reveal the battle by means of the eyes of an “common patriot” current nearly all through the battle at a number of the momentous occasions through the battle for American Independence.

Among the many most important of those was the September-October 1781 Siege of Yorktown, Virginia, through which Martin, then a 20-year-old sergeant, took half, together with one of the well-known actions of the battle. Serving in a unit of sappers, Martin helped dig a line of entrenchments, parallel to the British trenches, which paved the best way for Washington’s troops to assault and seize the British strongpoint at Redoubt No. 10 because the French concurrently attacked and captured Redoubt No. 9. Washington was determined for this assault to succeed and to point out the power and martial talent of American troops at this stage within the Revolutionary Struggle to stop Britain from falsely claiming Yorktown was merely a “French victory.” Due to this fact, the the actions of Martin and his sapper unit had been essential. 

The assault and seizure of the redoubts put overwhelming numbers of American and French siege artillery cannon inside point-blank vary to batter British forces into whole submission, thereby compelling the British to reluctantly however inevitably give up. Martin, current on the give up, famous that the British appeared two hours late to the give up ceremony and had been visibly downcast—albeit seething on the French—after they lastly appeared. Ungraciously, the British commander, Lieutenant Common Charles, Earl Cornwallis, claiming sickness, refused to attend the give up and despatched his deputy as an alternative.

“The British didn’t make so good an look because the German forces; however there was actually some allowance to be made of their favour; the English felt their honour wounded, the Germans didn’t enormously care whose arms they had been in,” Martin famous. “The British paid the Individuals, seemingly, however little consideration as they handed them, however they eyed the French with appreciable malice depicted of their countenances.” The British capitulation at Yorktown was the final main engagement of the battle from October 1781 to the September 1783 Treaty of Paris which ended the American Revolution. 

Within the following passage, excerpted from Memoir of a Revolutionary Soldier, by Joseph Plumb Martin, taken from Chapter VII: “The Marketing campaign of 1781,” Martin describes pivotal occasions on the siege that introduced victory and independence. 

The Soldier’s Story Begins

We now started to make preparations for laying shut siege to the enemy [the siege of Yorktown, Virginia, September-October 1781]. We had holed him and nothing remained however to dig him out. Accordingly, after taking each precaution to stop his escape, settled our guards, supplied fascines and gabions [troop movement obstacles], made platforms for the [artillery cannon] batteries, to be laid down when wanted, introduced on our battering items [cannon], ammunition, &c; on the fifth of October we started to place our plans into execution.

One third a part of all of the [American patriot and French allied] troops had been put in requisition to be employed in opening the trenches. A 3rd a part of our Sappers [fortification assault specialists] and Miners [tunnelers] had been ordered out this night time to help the Engineers in laying out the works. It was a really darkish and wet night time. Nevertheless, we repaired [moved] to the place and started by following the Engineers and laying laths of pine wooden finish to finish upon the road marked out by the officers, for the trenches.

A Mysterious Stranger

We had not proceeded far within the enterprise, earlier than the Engineers ordered us to desist and stay the place we had been, and be certain to not straggle a foot from the spot whereas they had been absent from us. In a couple of minutes after their departure, there got here a person alone to us, having on a surtout [protective overcoat], as we conjectured, (it being exceedingly darkish,) and enquired for the Engineers.

We now started to be a bit jealous of our security, being alone and with out arms, and inside forty rods [about 650 feet] of the British trenches. The stranger enquired what troops we had been; talked familiarly with us a couple of minutes, when, being knowledgeable which method the officers had gone, he went off in the identical route, after strictly charging us, in case we must be taken prisoners, to not uncover to the enemy what troops we had been. We had been obliged to him for his type recommendation, however we thought of ourselves as standing in no nice want of it; for we knew in addition to he did, that Sappers and Miners had been allowed no quarters [no mercy], a minimum of, are entitled to none, by the legal guidelines of warfare, and naturally ought to take care, if taken, and the enemy didn’t discover us out, to not betray our personal secret.

In a short while the Engineers returned and the aforementioned stranger with them; they discoursed collectively someday, when, by the officers typically calling him, “Your Excellency,” we found it was Gen. [George] Washington [commander of the 8,000-strong Continental and militia American soldiers at Yorktown].

Had we dared, we’d have cautioned him for exposing himself so carelessly to hazard at such a time, and probably he would have taken it in good half if we had. However nothing ailing occurred to both him or ourselves.

Washington Digs In

It approaching to rain laborious, we had been ordered again to our tents, and nothing extra was executed that night time. The following night time, which was the sixth of October, the identical males had been ordered to the strains that had been there the night time earlier than. We this night time accomplished laying out the works.

The troops of the road [regular infantrymen] had been there prepared with entrenching instruments and started to entrench, after Common Washington had struck just a few blows with a pickaxe, a mere ceremony, that it may be mentioned “Gen. Washington together with his personal arms first broke floor on the siege of Yorktown.”

The bottom was sandy and gentle, and the lads employed that night time “eat no idle bread,” [are always active; waste no time] (and I query in the event that they eat some other,) in order that by daylight that they had coated themselves from hazard from the enemy’s shot, who, it appeared, by no means mistrusted that we had been so close to them the entire night time; their consideration being directed to a different quarter. There was upon the precise of their works a marsh; our individuals had despatched to the western facet of this marsh a detachment to make quite a lot of fires, by which, and our males typically passing earlier than the fires, the British had been led to think about that we had been about some secret mischief there, and consequently directed their entire fireplace to that quarter, whereas we had been entrenching actually underneath their noses.

A British Bulldog

As quickly because it was day they perceived their mistake, and started to fireplace the place they must have executed sooner. They introduced out a fieldpiece or two, with out [outside] their trenches and discharged a number of photographs on the males who had been at work erecting a bomb-battery; however their shot had no impact and so they quickly gave it over. That they had a big bull-dog, and each time they fired he would comply with their photographs throughout our trenches. Our officers wished to catch him and oblige him to hold a message from them into the city to his masters, however he seemed too formidable for any of us to come across. 

I don’t bear in mind, precisely, the variety of days we had been employed earlier than we bought our batteries in readiness to open upon the enemy, however assume it was no more than two or three. The French, who had been upon our left, had accomplished their batteries just a few hours earlier than us, however weren’t allowed to discharge their items until the American batteries had been prepared. Our commanding battery was on the close to financial institution of the river and contained ten heavy weapons; the following was a bomb-battery of three giant mortars; and so forth by means of the entire line; the entire quantity, American and French, was, ninety-two cannon, mortars and howitzers. Our flagstaff was within the ten-gun battery, upon the precise of the entire. I

was within the trenches the day that the batteries had been to be opened; all had been upon the tiptoe of expectation and impatience to see the sign given to open the entire line of batteries, which was to be the hoisting of the American flag within the ten-gun battery.

The Star-Spangled Banner

About midday the a lot wished for sign went up. I confess I felt a secret delight swell my coronary heart once I noticed the “star spangled banner” waving majestically within the very faces of our implacable adversaries; it appeared like an omen of success to our enterprize, and so it proved in actuality.

A simultaneous discharge of all of the weapons within the line adopted; the French troops accompanying it with “Huzza for the Individuals!” It was mentioned that the primary shell despatched from our batteries, entered a chic home, previously owned or occupied by the Secretary of State underneath the British authorities, and burst immediately over a desk surrounded by a big social gathering of British officers at dinner, killing and wounding quite a lot of them; —this was a heat [dangerous] day to the British. 

The siege was carried on warmly for a number of days, when a lot of the weapons within the enemy’s works had been silenced [knocked out]. We now started our second parallel [a subsequent trench line, dug closer to and aligned along the enemy position], about midway between our works and theirs. There have been two sturdy redoubts [anchoring forts] held by the British, on their left. It was crucial for us to own these redoubts, earlier than we may full our trenches. One afternoon I, with the remainder of our corps that had been on responsibility within the trenches the night time however one earlier than, had been ordered to the strains. I mistrusted [suspected] one thing extraordinary, critical or comical, was going ahead, however what, I may simply not conjecture.

We arrived on the trenches a bit earlier than sundown; I noticed a number of officers fixing bayonets on lengthy staves. I then concluded we had been about to make a common assault upon the enemy’s works; however earlier than darkish I used to be knowledgeable of the entire plan, which was to storm the redoubts, the one by the Individuals [Redoubt #10] and the opposite by the French [Redoubt #9]. The Sappers and Miners had been furnished with axes, and had been to proceed in entrance and lower passages for the troops by means of the abatis [wooden obstacles], that are composed of the tops of bushes, the small branches lower off with a slanting stroke which rendered them as sharp as spikes. These bushes are then laid at a small distance from the ditch or ditch, pointing outwards, and the butts fixed to the bottom in such a way that they can’t be eliminated by these on the skin of them; —it’s virtually not possible to get by means of them. By these we had been to chop a passage earlier than we or the opposite assailants may enter.

“Rush On Boys”

At darkish the detachment was fashioned and superior past the trenches, and lay down on the bottom to await the sign for advancing to the assault, which was to be three shells from a sure battery close to the place we had been mendacity. All of the batteries in our line had been silent, and we lay anxiously ready for the sign. The 2 good planets, Jupiter and Venus, had been in shut contact with the western hemisphere, (the identical route that the sign was to be made in,) once I occurred to forged my eyes to that quarter, which was typically, and I caught a look of them, I used to be able to spring on my ft, pondering that they had been the sign for beginning.

Our watchword was “Rochambeau,” [Marshal de France, Jean-Baptiste, Comte de Rochambeau, 1725-1807] the commander of the [8,000-strong] French forces’ title, a great watchword, for being pronounced Ro-sham-bow, it sounded, when pronounced fast, like rush-on-boys. We had not lain right here lengthy earlier than the anticipated sign was given, for us and the French, who had been to storm the opposite redoubt, by the three shells with their fiery trains mounting the air in fast succession. The phrase up, up was then reiterated by means of the detachment. We instantly moved silently on towards the redoubt we had been to assault, with unloaded muskets [to prevent musket-firing from alerting the enemy defenders, although bayonets were fixed].

Simply as we arrived on the abatis, the enemy found us and immediately opened a pointy fireplace upon us. We had been now at a spot the place lots of our giant shells had burst within the floor, making holes enough to bury an ox in; the lads having their eyes fastened upon what was transacting earlier than them, had been every so often falling into these holes. I believed the British had been killing us off at a terrific charge. At size one of many holes occurring to select me up, I discovered the thriller of the large slaughter. As quickly because the firing started, our individuals started to cry, “the fort’s our personal!” and it was “rush on boys.”

The Sappers and Miners quickly cleared a passage for the Infantry, who entered it quickly. Our Miners had been ordered to not enter the fort, however there was no stopping them. “We are going to go,” mentioned they; “then go to the d—l [devil—considered a curse word in that era],” mentioned the commanding officer of our corps, “if you’ll.”

I couldn’t cross on the entrance we had made, it was so crowded; I subsequently compelled a passage at a spot the place I noticed our shot had lower away a number of the abatis; a number of others entered on the similar place. Whereas passing, a person at my facet acquired a ball in his head and fell underneath my ft, crying out bitterly.

“By The Mild Of the Enemy’s Musketry”

Whereas crossing the ditch, the enemy threw hand grenades, (small shells) into it; they had been so thick that I at first thought them cartridge papers on fireplace; however was quickly undeceived by their cracking. As I mounted the breastwork, I met an outdated affiliate hitching himself down into the ditch; I knew him by the sunshine of the enemy’s musketry, it was so vivid.

The fort was taken, and all was quiet in a really brief time. Instantly after the firing ceased, I went out to see what had develop into of my wounded pal and the opposite that fell within the passage—they had been each lifeless. Within the warmth of the motion I noticed a British soldier bounce over the partitions of the fort subsequent the river and go down the financial institution, which was virtually perpendicular, and twenty or thirty ft excessive; when he got here to the seashore he made off for the city, and if he didn’t make good use of his legs I by no means noticed a person that did.

All that had been within the motion of storming the redoubt had been exempted from additional responsibility that night time; we laid down upon the bottom and rested the rest of the night time in addition to a relentless discharge of grape and canister shot would allow us to do; whereas those that had been on responsibility for the day accomplished the second parallel by together with the captured redoubts inside it. We returned to camp early within the morning, all secure and sound, besides one among our Lieutenants, who had acquired a slight wound on prime of the shoulder by a musket shot. Seven or eight males belonging to the Infantry had been killed, and a quantity wounded.

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