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Story Archives: Thirsty soldiers, apple trees, Molly Pitcher & Natchez
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|Thirsty soldiers, apple trees, Molly Pitcher & Natchez|
Oh, the things Samuel Forman saw as a young boy growing up in New Jersey during the 1770s. His experiences, which he recorded, provide snapshots of some of the most momentous events during and after the American Revolution, including the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse in 1778.
Samuel even provided a description of Natchez in 1790 when he arrived with his Uncle Ezekial Forman and party of 100. His Uncle Forman came to settle in Natchez with his family and some friends as well as 60 slaves. Samuel Forman made the journey down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to assist his uncle in the long journey and to help him settle. He stayed a year and then returned home.
Here's a glimpse of Natchez in 1790, according to Samuel's memoir, "Narrative of a Journey Down the Ohio and Mississippi in 1789-90":
-- The small settlement was located under-the-hill and along the side of the hill. There was no settlement atop the bluff.
-- A sense of community was emerging in the region -- first springing from the Natchez fort -- since the first wave of immigrants began coming in during British rule in the 1770s. Two decades later when the Formans arrived during Spanish dominion in 1790 there were a number of settlers along St. Catherine Creek, Second Creek, the Homochitto, Cole's Creek, at Ellis Cliffs, Bayou Pierre and Bayou Sara (St. Francisville.)
-- New settlers not acclimated to the climate, including members of the Forman party, fell ill with fever and ague. Some died.
-- The first four-wheeled carriage ever seen in Natchez country was brought by Uncle Forman. Samuel said his uncle also brought along "handsome coach horses" to pull the carriage.
As Samuel got to know some of the people, he shared his stories of the American Revolution, including the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse, which took place in Freehold, New Jersey, his hometown.
The battle came on a stifling hot and humid day -- June 28, 1778 -- pitting about 12,000 Americans, many untested but recently trained at Valley Forge, against 10,000 British, constituting some of the finest soldiers on the planet. Gen. George Washington was the American commander, the British were led by Lt. Gen. Henry Clinton.
Gen. Charles Lee initiated the battle at 8 a.m. when his Continental forces attacked the rear guard of the British army which was marching from Philadelphia to New York. The British column, including baggage and supply wagons, was 12 miles long. The British turned and fought back and Lee, who failed to properly direct his forces, turned in retreat. The event infuriated Washington who rallied the troops on the battlefield and had words with Lee, who was eventually court-marshaled.
Battle lines formed near the Monmouth County Courthouse in Freehold and featured not only two massive armies but entailed the most furious artillery battle of the war that included hand-to-hand combat. Fighting ended in a tactical draw, and the British army resumed its march to New York at midnight and the Americans let them go.
Historians say the event proved that American farmers, frontiersmen and small town boys could fight against what was known as the most formidable army in the world. This invigorated the Americans and gave them full confidence that they could stand toe-to-toe with the British in the field.
The British suffered 1,000-plus casualties, the Americans 500-plus. The excessive heat -- which topped 100 degrees -- exhausted both armies and claimed dozens of lives. Days after the battle, a British officer recalled: "We proceeded five miles in a road composed of nothing but sand which scorched through our shoes with intolerable heat; the sun beating on our heads with a force scarcely to be conceived in Europe, and not a drop of water to assuage our parching thirst; a number of soldiers were unable to support the fatigue, and died on the spot. A Corporal who had by some means procured water, drank to such excess as to burst and expired in the utmost torments. Two became raving mad, and the whole road, strewed with miserable wretches wishing for death, exhibited the most shocking scene I ever saw."
Samuel Forman, at 12 years of age, witnessed the battle. The path to the town schoolhouse went through the battlefield, and afterward Samuel and his friends walked by the grave of "a remarkably tall British officer." They learned of the extraordinary height of the officer because they decided to "open the grave." Inside they found a "a few pieces of a blanket, which encompassed the corpse...One schoolmate, Barnes Spock, was a very tall person, but the thighbones of this unfortunate officer far out-measured his."
The battle, said Samuel, "was the only engagement when the two opposing armies had recourse to the bayonet and this (grave site) was the place of that charge. The battle took place on the Sabbath."
Samuel said a British cannon ball went through a local church which was pastored by one of his grammar school teachers. "The two armies lay upon their arms all night after the battle. General Washington and General (Marquis de) Lafayette slept in their cloaks under an apple tree in Mr. Henry Perrine's orchard."
The most fierce fighting in the battle centered on 100 acres of Henry Perrine's property. In the adjoining orchard, 12 apple trees were reportedly leveled by cannon-shot, while seven cannon balls went through Perrine's home.
Said Samuel: "It was Washington's intention to have renewed the battle the next day, but the British, in the course of the night, stole a march as fast as they could" for New York.
Around the fireplace or under the shade of a tree, Samuel Forman told his new friends in Natchez these stories and surely he told them about Molly Pitcher who symbolized the spirit and fight in American women during the revolution. Molly may have been a composite of several women there that day, and could have been in actuality Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley, who like other women carried buckets of water to thirsty soldiers.
At one point in battle Molly watched her husband fall and die on the artillery line. She held him for a brief moment before racing to his cannon, where she plugged the hole left when he went down on the field of battle. This was an image many Continental soldiers fondly carried with them to their graves.
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