Thursday, May 03, 2012

A Narrative of Some of the Adventures, Dangers and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier

In His Excellency by Joseph Ellis, there are quotes from “A Narrative of Some of the Adventures, Dangers and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier” by Joseph Martin on Washington. I thought I’d include this one from before Yorktown:
Sighting: October 5, 1781

It is a moonless and rainy night as a squad of American sappers and miners attempt to extend the trench-line to within five hundred yards of the British perimeter. Sergeant joseph Plumb Martin is in charge of the digging, only twenty-one but a six-year veteran of the Continental army, one of those poor New England farm boys who had signed up “for the duration” because it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. While digging away in the mud, a stranger appears alongside Martin’s squad in the trench and urges the troops to work quietly because British sentries were nearby, and if discovered and captured to avoid divulging valuable information. Martin thing this is well-intentioned but useless advice, since, as he later puts it, “we knew as well as he did that Sappers and Miners were allowed no quarter,” meaning that they should be shot if discovered. Then a group of officers crawl into the trench and Martin hears them address the stranger as “His Excellency.” This prompts Martin to wonder why the commander in chief is so needlessly and casually exposing himself to danger. Washington apparently never gives the matter any thought. The next night he joins the squad again, this time carrying a pickaxe, so it can be recorded, somewhat inaccurately, that General Washington with his own hands first broke ground at the siege of Yorktown.

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