Highlights of the Timeline of the Rhode Island Regiment

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Compiled by Robert A. Geake

1777

December

Following the performance of enlisted soldiers of color in the companies of Colonel Christopher Greene and Major Samuel Ward at the Battle of Red Bank, the field officers while encamped at Valley Forge with their commander Major General James Mitchell Varnum, propose the formation of a new regiment of men recruited from the great number of enslaved men held in their home state of Rhode Island.

1778

January

January 2

Varnum wrote to Washington of the proposal under discussion:

“Sir-The two battalions from the State of Rhode Island being small, and there being a necessity of the State’s furnishing an additional number to make up their proportion in the Continental Army, the field-officers have represented to me the propriety of making one temporary battalion from the two; so that one entire corps of officers may repair to Rhode Island, in order to receive and prepare the recruits for the field. It is imagined that a battalion of negroes can be easily raised there. Should that measure be adopted, or recruits obtained upon any other principal, the service will be advanced.”

General George Washington forwarded the letter the same day to Rhode island Governor Nicholas Cooke, with the entreaty that he work

“upon the means which might be adapted for completing the Rhode Island troops to their full proportion in the Continental Army. I…desire that you will give the officers employed in this business all the assistance in your power.”

 

James Mitchell Varnum
James Mitchell Varnum

January 6-9

Acting on Washington’s approval, General Varnum dispatched Colonel Christopher Greene and Major Samuel Ward to Rhode Island for recruiting. These men were followed by Captain Thomas Arnold on January 8th, and Sergeant Jeremiah Greenman with John Smith of Arnold’s company a day later.

February

February 14

Former Prussian officer Baron Friedrich von Steuben arrived at Valley Forge. The Baron would be named the Temporary Inspector of the Grand American Army and set about a rigorous training program that would bring some much needed military discipline to the troops. Among those trained were 52 members of Captain Thomas Arnold’s regiment of soldiers of color who would become part of the 1st Rhode Island, or “Black Regiment” of the Continental Line.

February 23

Former Prussian officer Baron Friedrich von Steuben arrived at Valley Forge. The Baron would be named the Temporary Inspector of the Grand American Army and set about a rigorous training program that would bring some much needed military discipline to the troops. Among those trained were 52 members of Captain Thomas Arnold’s regiment of soldiers of color who would become part of the 1st Rhode Island, or “Black Regiment” of the Continental Line.

February 26

From the Council of War: “Resolved that the General Treasury pay to Maj. Samuel Ward Six Hundred Pounds to be delivered to Col. Christopher Greene and applied to the Payment…of the Bounties to the soldiers entering into the two Continental Battalions raised by this State.”

March

March 2

From the Council of War: “Resolved that John Reynolds Esq., Agent Clothier of this State deliver unto the Colonels & other Field Officers Commanding either of the two Continental Battalions within this State such Quantities of Cloathing as they shall from time to time want for the cloathing of said Battalions, the officers not drawing any one order for more than Fifty or less than Twenty suits at one time…”

March 20

From the Council of War: “Col. Christopher Greene is empowered to take for the use of the Inoculating Hospital, one Barrel of Sugar from the Sugars belonging to the State at William Greene’s estate.”

March 27- April 12

Sergeant Greenman recorded that “this morn we pereded our Slaves for to march to Grinage (Greenwich).”

Training began immediately with daily marching and patrolling along the shoreline between East Greenwich, Warwick, and North Kingstown, Rhode Island. Only two weeks later, Sgt. Greenman would record that the officers were

“…Continuing in Grinage exersis(ing) our Recruits…In ye after part of the day turn’d out our black (troops)/rec’d sum orders picked out a guard of 20 men & a sub. Then marched to (Quidnessett) ware we made a guard house (out) of a dwelling house half a mile from ye shore.”

April

April 15

The recruits were paraded on alarm in East Greenwich after receiving word from their guard in Quidnesset that an enemy raiding party had landed a boat on Quidnesset Point. Officers from the 1st Rhode Island Regiment marched a detachment in support of the guard at Quidnesset and the raiding party retreated without an exchange of gunfire. The men remained on alert for the next two days.

April 20

The recruits of the 1st Rhode Island regiment were paraded under arms along with the Independent Company of Kentish Guards in East Greenwich to honor the arrival of Major General John Sullivan who was given command of Rhode Island forces.

April 21

From the Council of War: “Resolved that John Reynolds Esq., Agent Clothier in this State…is hereby directed to immediately send forward to the Continental Army for use of the two Battalions raised by this State the following Articles of Cloathing, viz: One Hundred and Twenty five Coats, Two Hundred and Twenty five Waistcoats, Four Hundred pair of overalls, Four Hundred Hunting Shirts, Two Hundred and Fifty pair of Shoes, Four Hundred Hatts, and Five Hundred Shirts.”

May

Bowing to pressure from opposition, the new Assembly modified the original Act allowing black and indigenous enslaved to enlist that the body had passed in February. While acknowledging that

“It is necessary for answering the purposes intended by the said act that the same should be temporary; it is therefore voted and resolved, that no negro, mulatto, or Indian slave be permitted to enlist into the said battalions from and after the tenth day of June next, and that the said act expire and be no longer in force.”

The Assembly allowed for the continuation of the enlistment of free blacks in the Rhode Island Regiment as well as the state militia.

That month the First Rhode Island Regiment was officially formed at Valley Forge, comprised of 60 privates of color and twelve white officers, as well as six white musicians under command of Captain Thomas Arnold.

June

June 28

Captain Thomas Arnold and the men of his “black regiment” fought alongside Colonel Israel Angell’s 2nd Rhode island Regiment with great distinction from just after noon through dusk at the Battle of Monmouth, notwithstanding the loss of their commander in the field. Capt. Arnold was wounded by a musket ball to his right leg, which resulted in him being carried from the battle to the shade of a nearby tree. A number of the regiment were wounded as well, including African born Richard Rhodes, who would make note in his pension application that he had “served in the army of the revolution for five years”, and that “in the battle of Monmouth I received a severe wound in my arm from a musket ball.”

The Battle of Monmouth
The Battle of Monmouth

July

July 21

Encamped near Croton River in New York, General George Washington regrouped the Continental Army and placed a large Continental detachment that included Varnum’s Brigade under command of the young General Lafayette. Major General Nathanael Greene was ordered to Rhode Island to assist with preparations for the siege of Newport.

July 22

Col. Israel Angell’s 2nd Rhode Island Regiment, and the men of color of the Black Regiment, now under command of Capt. Jonathan Wallen began their march to Rhode Island that morning.

July 28

Col. Christopher Greene ordered Major Samuel Ward and all but fifteen of the recruits to Warwick to engage in making fascines to be used in the upcoming siege.

July 29

The arrival of the French fleet under the command of Vice Admiral Charles Henry Théodat, Comte d’Estaing marked the first joint operation of the Revolutionary War since the alliance of France with the American cause of independence. By nightfall the fleet had anchored in key positions at the east in the Sakonnet channel, and effectively blocked the middle, and west passage approaches to the island.

August

August 5

After landing forces on Conanicut Island (Jamestown) D’Estaing ordered two men of war up the Middle Passage and two frigates to enter the Sakonnet River under Admiral Pierre Andre de Suffren de Saint Tropez. The British fleet reacted with swift defensive maneuvers, running six ships aground to avoid their capture, including the 32-gun frigate Cerebus which ran aground en route to Newport Harbor. She was set afire by her crew and soon exploded.

August 8

The French fleet regrouped as planned and sailed into Newport Harbor to prepare for the Battle of Rhode Island. The dozen ships under D’Estaing’s command carried 834 heavy caliber guns with which to pound the British fortifications.

August 9

The full contingent of the Rhode Island Regiment is mustered at Tiverton with 181 privates recorded in the Book of Returns.

Early that morning, Col. John Topham led the men of the 1st Rhode Island State Regiment across the Sakonnet Channel and ashore to Aquidneck Island where they found the earthworks and wooden barracks atop Butts Hill vacated, but for a few red-coated straw filled dummy soldiers meant to fool the viewer from a telescope or spyglass. General John Sullivan then ordered the remainder of his Army to be ferried from the mainland. This was done through the afternoon, and by evening the troops had encamped around the abandoned Butts Hill redoubt.

That same morning, as the Americans were ferried to the north end of Aquidneck Island, and the French were disembarking on the western side, a French sailor aloft in the rigging of the convoy spied a contingent of white sails on the horizon. To Sullivan’s disbelief, the fleet signaled the arrival of Lord William Howe and his squadron of ships of the line. As one British historian has noted, “he could not have timed his entrance better”. D’Estaing immediately ordered his troops back to the boats.

The 1st Rhode Island Regiment

August 12

A light rain having begun the night before became a steady gale by dawn. After inspection by the field officers, the march to begin the siege of Newport was called off. By nightfall winds had reached hurricane strength, clearing encampments of tents, and forcing soldiers to find what shelter they could.

August 13

The gale had scattered the opposing forces from Narragansett Bay and caused great damage to topmasts and rigging, forcing wounded ships from both sides to engage in desperate and fleeting combat. On this day, the French flagship Languedoc engaged the HMS Renown with little effect. The Marseillais exchanged cannon fire with the HMS Preston until darkness fell and brought an end to the contest.

August 15

With the weather finally cleared, the troops of the American Army along with horses and carriages with heavy guns were marched down Aquidneck Island towards Newport, Major General Nathanael Greene lead columns down West Main Road in Middletown while General Marquis de Lafayette headed the New Hampshire Volunteers and Col. Green’s 1st Rhode Island Regiment down East Main Street. The grand parade had but few spectators among the largely Quaker community.

August 18

A letter from Major Samuel Ward described the army’s position as encamped in Middletown under a steady bombardment of cannon fire, and frequently exchanging gunfire with the well-fortified British position. Ward wrote that the American troops were occupied with “throwing up intrenchments, expecting to return the enemy’s cannonade the following day.”

August 21

An aide was sent ashore to bring the message from French Admiral Count d’Estaing that he would bring his ships no closer, but instead retire to Boston for repairs. The decision placed the American troops on shore in a vulnerable position. A last minute dinner aboard the Languedoc attended by Greene and Lafayette failed to persuade the Admiral and his naval officers to stay and assist the Americans in their attack on the British garrison.

August 24

As dusk fell, the troops and artillery were withdrawn from siege lines established just two weeks before, and a new line of defense was formed that was two miles long, extending from a small rise that held an abandoned British redoubt on the western side of the island to the eastern side, just beyond a crossroad.

General Nathanael Greene was placed in charge of protecting the west road and the redoubt. The 1st Rhode Island regiment, placed for the battle under command of Major Samuel Ward Jr., was assigned to assist in protecting the American line near the abandoned redoubt, being placed in a nearby orchard. They would be supported by the 2nd Rhode Island regiment under Col. Israel Angell, and Col. Henry Jackson’s additional Continental regiment.

August 29

By 8:30 in the morning, the bulk of Turkey Hill just a mile distant, was taken by a large force of Hessians and artillery, who then moved on toward the redoubt.

“On both sides of the island the British drove American troops back toward their entrenched position in Portsmouth…Hessians attacked Greene’s command, the American right flank where the Black or First Rhode Island Regiment was posted. This was a key posting, for if the British could overrun the flank they could press in on the sides and rear of the American line, cutting off their retreat.”

On first encounter, the troops of the 1st Rhode Island fell back. Seeing the flood of Hessians coming toward the redoubt, Varnum and Greene ordered the two veteran regiments to support the outnumbered troops.

The Hessian troops charged twice and were fought back in fierce hand to hand combat. Frustrated, the British sent a frigate into position where it could barrage the flank with cannon fire. Greene quickly ordered two cannons from the Artillery to be placed into position and fire back. This effort, along with cannon fire from an American redoubt on Bristol point, drove the frigate from the scene.

Once reinforced, the Americans put up an “obstinate resistance” as the Hessians advanced toward the hill, finding “bodies of troops behind the works (redoubt) and at its sides, chiefly wild looking men in their shirtsleeves, and among them, many negroes.”

After taking heavy casualties, the Hessians fell back to take reinforcements. Watching the Hessians regroup before Turkey Hill, Greene ordered the remainder of Varnum’s Brigade into the fray, and other reinforcements from Cornell and Lovell’s brigades to flank the redoubt.

Twice more, the Hessians tried to overrun Greene’s troops but failed. “The third time” Sullivan would recall, “the enemy attacked with greater numbers. Again, aid was sent forward. There was a short conflict for an hour. Cannon fired on both sides from the hills. The enemy fled to Turkey Hill, leaving his dead and wounded”.

August 31

General Sullivan dismissed the militia units that had imbedded into the Continental Army for the Siege of Rhode Island. The remaining brigades and regiments are ordered to defensive positions along the coastline. Colonel Christopher Greene’s Regiment was assigned to the redoubts around East Greenwich.

Col. Greene’s Regiment was joined by those under command of Colonel Nathaniel Wade. The two Regiments repaired and manned the redoubts along that section of coastline. Colonel Greene ordered the regiments to maintain a disciplined training. Guards were posted at Quidnesset Neck, and a row guard between Pojack Point and Quonset Neck in North Kingstown.

September

September 9

Colonel Greene wrote to General John Sullivan to express his concern about the poor state of artillery and ammunition for the troops stationed in East Greenwich.

October

The 1st Rhode Island Regiment continued on guard and garrison duty with five companies. The veteran company of enlistees once under command of Captain Thomas Arnold was now given to Captain Thomas Cole, while Arnold took command of Cole’s old company. The Captain was still recovering after his leg was amputated from wounds suffered at Monmouth, and was often on sick leave during this period.

Near the end of the month, General Washington ordered General John Stark and his battalion to march from Albany to Rhode Island in order to assist with the defense of the shoreline.

November

While meat from local cattle seems to have been readily available, the shortage of flour for the troops guarding Rhode Island is raised repeatedly in letters from General Ezekiel Cornell and General Stark, whose men were without bread when they arrived in Rhode Island. These concerns, as well as an impending reduction of troops from the expiration of two companies of six-month enlistees were relayed in letters to Washington by General John Sullivan.

1779

February

February 1

A fleet of British raiding vessels known as the Tory “Mosquito Fleet” had resumed raids on Rhode Island and Massachusetts’ shoreline communities. On this day a loyalist raiding party landed in Quidnesset without raising any alarm, and plundered the farm of Mr. Mathew Manchester, stealing 180 sheep, 19 head of cattle, and 80 bushels of corn.

February 4

Colonel Christopher Greene wrote to General John Sullivan requesting 100 additional soldiers from General Varnum’s Brigade to guard Point Judith where there remained a “considerable quantity of ranging cattle.”

“…I am very apprehensive” Greene wrote, “ Should they make any descent it will be on Point Judith as that part is full of fine Stock the weather Moderate and no Troops in That Quarter.”

February 24

General Sullivan travelled to the posts in East Greenwich to review the situation in person. While there, a large contingent of men from Glover’s Continental Brigade participated in a “sham fight” against members of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment and Sullivan’s Life Guards.

March

March 27

General Sullivan’s Return of Strength and Posts records the 1st Rhode Island Regiment at their post in East Greenwich having 140 men, 14 cannon, and 669 rounds of ammunition. His report also mentions fixing out three vessels for “defence of this Harbor”, among them which

“Col. Green is fixing a large Boat to row with 12 oars, to have proper Sails and to carry 6 Swivels…”

March 29

General John Sullivan was given a hero’s sendoff in Providence, with a military band and a thirteen cannon salute. Before leaving, he was feted at a formal dinner in Johnston, accompanied by Generals Glover and Varnum, along with several other officers.

April

April 3

Major General Horatio Gates arrived in Providence to a display of much pomp and fanfare.

That same day, loyalist attacks launched from Newport against Falmouth, and Woods Hole, Massachusetts were successfully repelled by local militia, but were able to capture livestock on the undefended island of Martha’s Vineyard.

May

May 7

After months of the Captain’s absence in recovery, Colonel Christopher Greene is compelled to write to the Commander-in-Chief concerning the future of Captain Thomas Arnold:

“…Captain Arnold of my Regiment had the misfortune to lose a leg in the action at Monmouth, which has rendered him unfit for duty in the Regiment. If it should be your Excellency’s pleasure, and other ways consistent, I wish he might be permitted to fall into such business as may offer, and be considered as not belonging to the Regiment, with pay, rations, and other advantages the same as if in the Regiment. He has been an excellent good officer…”

May 8

On this day a Loyalist party landed on Point Judith and plundered several farms of livestock. The 1st Rhode Island Regiment was placed on alert and readied to march, but the raiders withdrew quickly with but a few sheep and cattle and returned to Newport.

May 21

A sergeants guard from Capt. Elija Lewis’ company of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, were surprised and captured at Quidnesset. The following day’s Providence Gazette provided a detailed account to readers:

“Early last Friday morning a small fleet of enemy’s shipping…and 4 other armed vessels came up the bay, and about day-break landed a party of 150 men at Quidnesset, on the Narragansett shore, where they surprised an advanced guard of two non-commissioned officers and 11 privates, then burned a house, and began plundering the inhabitants; but a small party of Col. Greene’s regiment, under the command of Capt. Lewis attacking them, they immediately retreated…”

June

June 7

An attack from raiders on Quidnesset resulted in the torching of two houses before the Loyalists were driven back to their boats by a detachment from the 1st Rhode island Regiment.

June 11

After consultation with Colonel Samuel Ward concerning the low recruiting numbers for the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, Colonel Christopher Greene wrote to General Horatio Gates of the idea promoted by Ward of transferring all soldiers of color then in the theatre of Rhode Island military operations into the “Black Regiment” to bolster their numbers.

July

July 7

Another party of loyalists from Newport conducted a raid on the town of Fall River, Massachusetts. The following night, another raiding party under command of Col. George Wightman landed three boats at Quidnesset and surrounded the house of an inhabitant. He managed to escape and the raiders proceeded to plunder the home

“but on the approach of a party of Col. Greene’s Regiment, retreated hastily to their boats; two of them were taken, and a third ran into a swamp…”

July 31

Four privates of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment were given Regimental court-martials for their involvement in the theft of sheep from Mr. Spencer’s pasture with the “encouragement” of their Guard leader Sergeant John Dunbar while patrolling Spink’s Neck in North Kingstown. Dunbar’s punishment was decidedly, and rightly severe. The Sergeant’s immediate punishment was 100 lashes. In addition, his rank was reduced to private, and his wages were attached until the damages had been repaid. The four privates of color were also given guilty verdicts, but were pardoned by Lt. Colonel Samuel Ward.

September

September 6

Inspector General Baron Von Steuben’s report on the return of General Starks Brigade of Rhode Island troops reveals the ongoing recruitment and retainment of troops for the 1st Rhode Island Regiment. Col. Christopher Greene’s Regiment returned 18 Sergeants, 7 musicians, and 158 rank and file. Von Steuben would note

“This from its numbers can hardly be called a Regiment., consisting only of 147 Negroes in very bad Order. The Non Commissioned Officers are very bad which must always be the case as they being white Men cannot be reduced or their places supplied from the Ranks…”

The General suggested that the regiment be replaced in the Continental Line with the state regiment then under Colonel John Topham. There is no record I can find, that this was even considered.

October

Executing a daring escape from Martha’s Vineyard, five of the soldiers of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment taken prisoner in Quidnesset, the previous May, “stole a boat and made their escape to New Bedford and joined the army again at East Greenwich.”

The men reached camp during the week of October 2, 1779.

October 21

From Sgt Jeremiah Greenman’s Diary:

“this morn went to Camp/ are informed that the enemy is about leaving Newport & have burnt the Lighthouse, a No. of Ship that lay up the River have fell down to the Southward of the fleet.”

Anticipating that the British will soon leave Rhode Island, General Washington approved General Horatio Gates plan to march to Hartford as soon as the British had left the island. This stirred the fear of inhabitants on the mainland as expressed in a letter to General Nathanael Greene in November. The British would eventually evacuate on 25 October 1779.

November

November 3

The 1st Rhode Island Regiment joined Colonel Israel Angell’s regiment at Goat Island. After the town of Newport was secured, the troops were ordered by Washington to march to New York to join the Grand Army.

November 14

From a letter written by Gov. William Greene to Gen. Nathanael Greene:

“Sir,

I had the Pleasure of receiving your agreeable favours of the 29th October and 2nd Instant following, and am much obliged for the information of the success of our arms in the Jerseys, as well as that of the Enemys having evacuated Ver Planks and Stony Point. And I most sincerely rejoice with you that they have done the like at Rhode Island…”

Still, as the state began confiscating the Estates left by Loyalists, the Governor worried that

“there is a great Probability of the Enemy’s returning , should not the French Fleet Prevent by coming this way, by which means the Inhabitants of that Town who are well enclin’d might suffer greatly… we seem to be in a disagreeable Situation, the whole of the Continental Troops being Now gone out of this State into that of Connecticut, but as they are to take up their Quarters at Hartford it is very wisely order’d that they remain there in readiness to return again in case the Enemy should do the like.”

On reaching Hartford, Gen. Horatio Gates received a letter from General Washington ordering Colonel Christopher Greene’s regiment back to Rhode Island.

1780

January

January 14

From a letter written by Colonel Christopher Greene to Governor William Greene:

“…The Uncommon severity of the weather has caused me to reduce the garrison to one hundred and eighty, officers included; as well as artillery and infantry…our wood is within three or four days of being out, and being well assured there is not the least probability of being supplied from the main, I have this day ordered the racks belonging to Col. Wanton cut up and carried into the wood-yard, to be dealt out to the troops.”

Col. Christopher Greene
Col. Christopher Greene

February

The severe weather and lack of provisions brought on a rash of stealing from both military supplies and civilian stores in Newport. Colonel Christopher Greene increased the number of lashes given offenders, but as he wrote to Washington,

“….I have been very severe in punishment for stealing but almost to no purpose. There has hardly been a weeks interval, during the winter, but more or less have detected in stealing, breaking in to shops, and stores. I greatly fear they will not be broke of the detestable practice unless capital punishment takes place.”

Colonel Greene was, more specifically, writing the Commander-in-Chief concerning the repeated offenses and subsequent court-martial and death sentence handed down to Private Windsor Fry whose proceedings he enclosed with the remarks:

“The one whose trial I have sent has been several times severely whipt for stealing, to no purpose in reclaiming him. Should it be your Excellency’s opinion to punish capitally for such a crime as his, I think him as proper a subject as can be. I anxiously wish to know your Excellency’s determination in the matter.”

Facing the death sentence, Private Fry had escaped his guard nearly a month before the letter was written. Washington approved the death sentence handed down by the Court-martial the following day in absentia; as the whereabouts of Fry were still unknown.

March

March 8

Letter from Governor William Greene to General Washington

“Sir – I have the pleasure to inform you that that the General Assembly in their session held on the fourth Monday of last month…did pass a resolve that this state shall raise their quota…which is eight hundred and ten men, including those already raised in Colonel Greene and Angell’s regiments…In consequence of which I am requested by said Assembly to apply to your Excellency for one of those regiments to be stationed within this state the ensuing campaign; and when you consider the former and present exertions of this state to complete the number of men apportioned to them…I flatter myself you will think this request reasonable.”

April

April 10

Letter from Colonel Christopher Greene to Governor William Greene

“Sir – Yesterday a flag arrived here from New York, with near one hundred naval prisoners on board. They have brought the small pox. I have ordered them to Coasters’ Harbor to be cleansed. The captain was directed in his orders, to go straight to Providence. I should not have allowed that without your directions…I propose after cleansing the prisoners, to let them go where they may please, after the commanding officer has receipted for them. The captain of the flag expects to wait for prisoners from Boston and Rutland to carry back with him…”

April 16

Letter from Colonel Christopher Greene to Governor William Greene

“…There are eighty prisoners of war in jail here [Newport]; they were brought in last Tuesday, by Capt. Robinson, in a privateer ship, from Beverly, Massachusetts. They are detained here, while I wait to hear from Massuran, commanding prisoners for the eastern department which I expect as soon as tomorrow. Should you think proper to give any directions in regard to them, they will be duly executed.”

June

The Congressional quota for recruitment once again caused disarray among Rhode Island leaders, who were, after all, representing communities now long stretched thin by the war. The General Assembly narrowly passed an Act to raise 600 men who would serve in both Rhode Island Battalions for six-month’s time; beginning July 1st.

The Assembly also enacted that the Hon. Jabez Bowen, General James Mitchell Varnum, and Admiral Esek Hopkins be “appointed a committee to wait upon the Honorable Major General Heath, and request him to cause the privates in Colonel Christopher Greene’s regiment to be incorporated into the regiment commanded by Colonel Israel Angell, or otherwise disposed of for the best good of the service; and that Colonel Greene and his officers be appointed to command the men ordered to be raised by this act, in a corps separate and entire.”

June 21

The Book of Returns of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment lists a total of 124 privates, of those, 96 were fit for duty, 12 privates were on command, with 4 sick present, and 11 sick absent.

June 29

From a letter written by General George Washington to Rhode Island Governor William Greene:

“…Col. Greene’s Regiment being to small to afford any material reinforcement, and being usefully employed where it is at present, I have thought it most advisable for it to remain until the great part of the drafts (levies) are collected; when I have desired Gen. Heath to put them in motion…Upon their joining the [Grand] army, I shall dispose of them in such manner as will make the regiments equal in point of numbers.”

July

July 1

Leaving a small detachment to guard stores at Providence, Col. Christopher Greene and the remainder of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, along with four hundred and forty-seven new recruits of the Rhode Island Six Months Battalion encamped at the north end of Aquidneck Island.

July 10

The French fleet of Admiral Charles Henri Louis d’Arsac Chevalier de Ternay, and troops under command of General Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur Compte de Rochambeau arrive in Newport. Some 5,000 troops would encamp on Aquidneck Island, with separate hospital encampments at Poppasquash Point, and likely Pest Island for those among the arriving soldiers who had fallen ill.

The French encampment camp was established in Newport

“at the most secure part of the island, at the entrance to the Neck. This is where Mr. de Rochambeau placed his camp along the city, the right adjacent to the harbor, the left going out to the east all the way to the edge of the sea, in such a way that a vessel could not appear without being seen. We just had the coast to guard; the whole region was ours.”

The French fleet of the Expédition Particulière arrives in Newport
The French fleet of the Expédition Particulière arrives in Newport

July 19

The British Squadron under command of Admiral Mariot Abuthnot appeared off the coast of Newport. These vessels included an large number of transports with troops aboard. The situation accelerated the need to get the artillery into place. Rochambeau faced a major challenge. The heavy artillery had been stored in the holds of ships with the ammunition. Once those were brought ashore, crews worked to reinforce the redoubts and place the artillery throughout the night.

July 20-23

Steps had also been taken to protect Conanicut Island [Jamestown] from the British landing there, and leaving the right flank of their squadron on Aquidneck Island exposed to cannon fire. Rochambeau dispatched the second battalion of the Soissonnais Regiment under command of the Louis-Marie, Viscount de Noailles. The French battalion took possession of the heights on the narrowest part of the Island, overlooking the Point where a landing party would come ashore.

July 26

Letter from General Lafayette to Colonel Christopher Greene

“Sir,

As there are some fascines prepared on the shore opposite to Cannonicut Island, (its) expedition to have them immediately brought over to Cannonicut there to be delivered to the orders of the French Commanding officer- you will therefore please to send a party of four and twenty men under the command of an intelligent active officer who will take four boats for which orders have been given to the Quarter Master, and bring the fascines to Cannonicut Island…

General Heath has already desired you must immediately send Two Hundred and Fifty men to the same island – he [desires] me to add that as soon as you may collect some militia you will also send them to Cannonicut as fast as you can… they amount to Three Hundred and Fifty men the whole to be…led by a Continental Lieutenant Colonel who will take orders from the Viscount de Noailles a French Colonel Commanding on the Island of Connonicut.”

August

August 2

In a letter to General William Heath, Lafayette expanded upon his organizing troops for the defense of the Island:

“…As to the picquets I think we might have one of the Nigros [sic] upon the Road…One other Sergeants guard with the boats, and a corporals guard with the Cannon…”

This month the encampment of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment and the enlisted men of the Six-Months Battalion were moved from the heights near Butts Hill fort. As Nicholas Ward of the battalion would record, the men “marched to Newport and was employed on working upon the fort at Tammany Hill for about six weeks. They were then taken to a place called Goulds Hill on the west side of Rhode Island.”

September

September 3

General William Heath wrote to General Washington to inform him of Rochambeau’s approval of the release of the Rhode Island Continental Six Month battalion and the 1st Rhode Island Regiment under Col. Christopher Greene to join Washington and the Grand Army in Morristown, New Jersey.

September 17

Colonel Christopher Greene, the 1st Rhode island Regiment, and the Rhode Island Six Months Continental battalion were transported from Newport to East Greenwich to begin preparing for the march west.

September 22

Alarmed by the recent activity and reinforcements to the Royal Navy within close proximity of Newport, General Heath orders Colonel Christopher Greene’s battalion back to Rhode Island.

The battalion once again encamped near Goulds Hill and worked on fortifications there as well as Butts Hill.

September 26

Following the capture of British Adjunct Major John Andre’ and the revelation of the treason and desertion of Major-General Benedict Arnold, General Washington recalled Major General William Heath to the Grand Army of the Republic. Colonel Christopher Greene was appointed commander of the troops on Rhode Island.

October

October 8

From the Diary of Louis-Francois Bertrand:

“The soldiers under canvas want to see the enemy, want to hear the cannon. In the absence of the British Mr. de Rochambeau created some and, on the eighth, he drilled the army on the point where the real enemy might land. We pretended that a fleet entered our harbor and planned a landing…

We put some 1500 men under the command of the Viscount de Vionmènil who was at Stauder’s house. It was there that our enemies first began to take possession of a few houses along the shore. Mr. de Rochambeau kept the rest of the troops with him for the imminent attack to which he joined the American Rhode Island Regiment commanded by Colonel Greene. These troops were divided into two columns. Mr. de Rochambeau personally led the left column. The Baron de Viomènil commanded the right. The grenadier and light infantry batteries formed a separate one…

The attack began with several discharges of cannon, well executed to create a complete effect of the fictitious enemy leaving their boats and forming quickly. At the same time, the column of grenadiers advanced to dislodge the enemy from the houses as they began to establish themselves there. During this musket fire, the Baron de Vomènil turned their right under the protection of a hill which concealed his movement. When he was ready and the attack fully engaed, Mr. de Rochambeau had the charge sounded. Everything advanced in good order. The enemy disappeared and reassembled on the seashore.”

October 14

Colonel Greene wrote to Washington requesting that if the battalion were not to be called to join the main army, that they remain in Newport working on fortifications:

“…The difficulty of getting Supplies of provisions has been such, that we have been Almost Intirely without. This has greatly retarded the completion of the very important work at Butts Hill, where the three Militia from Massachusetts State have been Imployed; Their time of Service expires the first of next month, I am confident they will not be able to put the Fort in a defencible State by that time. Should your Excellency not call my Regiment to join the Army They will undoubtable be very Usefully Imployed in making it so…”

He also requested a reprieve for the recently captured Windsor Fry, writing that the private whom

“…your Excellency gave a Warrant for Executing Dated on the 1st Day of June last…(Fry) Was taken up and Sent to me about a fortnight Since – It is a doubt with me whether the executing him now wou’d have the same effect on the Others as if I had it on my power to have put it in Immediate execution nor do I think an example of the kind So necessary now as then – An unwillingness to take a life when it can possibly be Avoided Consistent with the general good, Induces me to beg your Excellency to pardon him. I have the Honor to be with the greatest Respect Your Excellency’s Most Obt. Servt.”

October 21

From a letter to Colonel Christopher Greene from General Washington, Passaic Falls, New Jersey:

“I have received your favor of the 14th. I had determined not to march the Levies, attached to your Regiment, to the Army, as their term of service was nearly expired; and as Count Rochambeau expressed a wish that the Regiment might remain with him, I assured him that it should not be ordered away while he thought it of any service to him…

As I never wish to inflict a punishment, especially capital, but for the sake of example, and as you think the execution of Windsor Fry not so necessary upon that account, now, as it was before, you have my consent to pardon him.”

November

November 18

Colonel Christopher Greene wrote to Washington to request the discharge of the Rhode Island Six Months Continental Battalion. The request was granted.

November 27

Washington wrote to Colonel Greene that if ordered by Rochambeau to march, that he only bring those remaining soldiers of the regiment serving for the duration of the war, or with three years enlistment, to West Point.

In Rhode Island, a detachment of troops from the remainder of the regiment were sent to guard stores in Providence in December while the rest were recalled to their base encampment in East Greenwich.

The few weeks given for preparation of the march passed, and Washington grew impatient for their arrival.

Responding to a query from the commander-in-chief, General Rochambeau responded in a letter written on January 10, to “beg of your Excellency to be persuaded that I immediately gave him your Excellency’s orders for his departure, as soon as they came to hand in the beginning of December.”

Col. Greene’s Regiment was “gone, near a month ago, from this Island. I am not knowing what can keep him…”

It appears that there was a last minute effort to bolster the regiment after the loss of the Rhode Island Six Months Continental Battalion. While a return of money dispensed to soldiers in December shows 84 soldiers of the regiment, the receipt for clothing on December 29th lists an additional 19 soldiers of the “Black Regiment” and a few recruits.

1781

January

January 2

From General George Washington to Colonel Christopher Greene:

“Sir, The diminution of our force, by the discharge of the Levies, obliges me to call in all continental detachments of the Army not absolutely necessary. At remote posts – You will therefore immediately, upon the receipt of this, march with your Regiment, and any new Recruits which may have joined, to that part of the Army which lays in the neighborhood of Peekskill, and with which you will be brigaded….”

January 5

The French Major General Chastellux witnessed the arrival of a detachment from the 1st Rhode Island regiment at the ferry crossing for the Connecticut River in Hartford:

“…the same corps we had with us all last summer, but they have since been recruited and clothed. The majority of enlisted men are Negroes or mulattoes; but they are strong, robust men, and those I saw made a very good appearance.”

January 10

An advertisement in the Providence Gazette announced the recruiting drive for an integrated Rhode Island Regiment. Major Ebenezer Flagg led the recruitment in East Greenwich, with Lieutenant Colonel Jeremiah Olney placing the advertisement and recruiting in Providence where

“…Negroes will not be received , nor any but able-bodied effective men- Preference should be given as much as possible to those who have served in the Continental Army, or in the State Battalions…” Recruitment would continue in the coming weeks and despite the proclamation in Olney’s advertisement, the Book of Returns shows that a considerable number did enlist, as well as the many soldiers of color who continued to serve in the State and Six Months Continental Battalions as they were raised through the remainder of the war.

February

The consolidation of the remainder of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment and the 2nd Rhode Island Regiment took place during the first week of February. Several veteran officers, Colonel Israel Angell, Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Ward Jr., Major Simeon Thayer, Captains William Tew and Elijah Lewis, and Surgeon’s Mate Elias Cornelius were chosen for retirement based on seniority. Colonel Christopher Greene, Lt. Colonel Jeremiah Olney, and Major Ebenezer Flagg were appointed as the commander and field officers of the Rhode Island Regiment. Detachments of regulars and recruits from Rhode Island arrived in stages at West Point. As noted by the Marquis de Chastellux, they were now well clothed and provided for the winter encampment. Their number would reach four hundred and thirty six men by late March. The men of the Rhode Island Regiment were assigned various garrison duties at West Point, including manning “boat service” under Major Samuel Darby of the 7th Massachusetts Regiment, or service as “water guard” under Capt. John Pray of the 1st Massachusetts Regiment to transport goods and troops, and patrol the Hudson River. Others of the regiment guarded “rhode Island Village” or were assigned guard duty along the Croton River, considered the “front line” of territory long fought over against Loyalist John Delancey’s Westchester County Militia. Nine enlisted men remained behind in Providence, guarding state and Continental stores, as well as patrolling the streets during the period of Martial Law.

April

April 10

In the early hours of the morning, the guard in the Providence barracks was woken by two men shouting “illiberal language” and throwing stones against the barrack walls. The city was under Martial Law, and the guard there were often challenged by late night carousers when they patrolled to enforce a midnight curfew.

Approaching One o’clock in the morning; it was undoubtably a night of drinking that led twenty-three year old Edward Allen, in the company of his friend John Pitcher to make the fateful decision to go to the barracks and harass the soldiers. The two kicked open the door of the barracks, where a voice in the darkness warned them to get out before they were fired upon. Particulars of the moment were not clear, but as the two men were fleeing the scene, Private Prince Greene stepped outside and fired his musket into the darkness. The ball fired struck Edward Allen in the back of the head, mortally wounding him.

The incident caused an uproar in the city, especially as a soldier of color had fired the shot that killed a white resident.

"The two kicked open the door of the barracks, where a voice in the darkness warned them to get out before they were fired upon. Particulars of the moment were not clear, but as the two men were fleeing the scene, Private Prince Greene stepped outside and fired his musket into the darkness. The ball fired struck Edward Allen in the back of the head, mortally wounding him."

April 14

As the state’s Supreme Court was sitting in Providence at the time of the shooting, Prince Greene was brought swiftly to trial. He was most ably defended by attorney David Howell, an acquaintance of commander Colonel Christopher Greene. As the city was under Martial Law, this figured prominently in the defense, as any soldier under guard in such a situation has the right to fire his weapon upon any person deemed a threat to the guard or the populace.
Prince Greene was found “not guilty of willful murder but manslaughter” and as was the punishment at the time, branded with an “M” on his hand. He would be sent back to the regiment for duty in New York.

April 23

Ensign Jeremiah Greenman was given command of a small guard, which was part of the permanent guard at Pines Bridge, over the Croton River. Among the guards duties were to check the passes of all coming and going over the bridge, as well as to receive deserters and flags of truce.

The small detachment on this place at the river lay in the woods beyond the bridge between the river and the Davenport house, where Commanders Greene and Flagg barracked some two miles distant.

May

May 14

At dawn, Colonel James Delancey and his Westchester County Militia consisting of some two hundred and sixty men that forded the Croton River and executed a lethal surprise attack on the Rhode Island encampment.

Military Surgeon James Thacher would record that while Colonel Greene’s guard at Croton River kept “the greatest vigilance in the night time”. but that the practice of “calling off his guards at sunrise, on the idea that the enemy would nor presume to cross in the daytime”, gave the Loyalist troops the element of surprise.

Lieutenant of the guard Jeremiah Greenman was among the first to be taken prisoner, and would record that at dawn he and the guard were

“…alarmed by the appearance of a party of Cavalry supported by Infantry, which proved to be DeLancey’s Corps of Refugees / they soon surrounded me and being vastly superior in force – & having no prospect of escape, I thought it most advisable to surrender myself and Guard (as) prisoners of War.”

Twenty-two men were taken prisoner by the river. Those in the encampment and beyond were not given that opportunity. As many were just waking in their tents, the alarm caught them off guard, and many were slashed by the sabers of the horsemen riding roughshod over the Rhode Island camp. The commanders, Col. Greene and Major Flagg were also caught by surprise.

There were many accounts of the men’s death that were passed along in letters from Commanders far from the scene, and later by historians that would perhaps place the ghastly encounter in too romantic a light. The most reliable seem to be those from local neighbors who told historians what they had been told by soldiers and the enemy as they boasted of their raid to neighboring farmers on their ride back to British lines.

Joshua Carpenter, who in 1845 lived in the house where the officers were killed, recounted

“some of the particulars of Colonel Greene’s disaster as I heard them from my Grandfather who lived here at the time…

A party of Delancey’s Refugees got to the house unperceived. They came upon the west side of the house where only a single sentinel was stationed, who did not see them until near him, but who then fired. Some soldiers lying on the stoop also fired. Greene and Flagg both sprang up, and the former encouraged the soldiers to defend themselves. Flagg advanced to the window, a pistol in each hand and fired upon the enemy. He was answered by a volley and fell dead, pierced by several balls. The Refugees then burst in the north door and fired in, thus making a cross-fire. Greene, a large, powerful man, met the enemy at the door, sword in hand.”

David Brown, another resident would recall a similar story:

“The door of the Davenport house was forced in by throwing stones. Colonel Greene, a strong man, used his sword and struck at Captain Totten and would have killed him but that he was assaulted by others”. Greene then asked for parole, but it was refused.”

The wounded Colonel’s body was strapped to a horse and brought toward the Loyalist’ encampment, “but after only a mile or so, the refugees changed their minds, leaving the Rhode Islander’s bloody remains by the side of the road.”

May 17

In response to the attack on Pines Bridge, General Washington orders a new provisional Light Battalion created for patrols. The battalion, as stated in his General Orders, would be

“…a detachment of four hundred men immediately formed and held in readiness to march at an hour’s warning. This Corps is to consist of a Colonel, Lieutenant Colonel and Major, eight Captain Subalterns with staff and Non-commissioned officers proportioned. Colonel Scammell will command it and. Till’ further orders may lay encamped contiguous to Kings Ferry and be ready to support the Party on the lines…”

May 24

The Rhode Island regiment contributed a small detachment to Colonel Alexander Scammel’s Light Infantry Battalion, consisting of one Sergeant, and twenty-one rank and file.

June

During the month following the attack at Croton River, the Rhode Island regiment remained in the “Rhode Island Village” at Robinson Mills, with some detachments continuing to patrol the lines around Pines Bridge, and others serving guard duties at West Point and the nearby Continental Village.

June 11

Soldiers of the regiment each received one rifle frock, two linen overalls, and one leather cap. Some soldiers also received knapsacks, blankets, and pairs of shoes.
The Rhode Island Regiment soon became known for their headgear, as the “leather-cap battalion”, the front shield bearing the anchor that also adorned their standard, with the letters “R.I.R” underneath. The caps of this distinct design had first been issued to troops of the Continental Congress early in the war, then been adapted for use by Artillery Corps, including the Newport Train of Artillery.

June 18

The Rhode Island regiment was brigaded with the 2nd Connecticut Regiment under command of Colonel Hemen Swift, and the 4th Connecticut Regiment under command of Colonel Zebulon Butler into one division of the American Grand Army under the command of Major General Samuel Parsons.
Within the Rhode Island Regiment, Captains Coggeshall Olney and John S. Dexter were promoted to the rank of majors.
On this day, the French Regiments also began their march from Providence, Rhode Island to New York.

June 28

The Rhode Island Regiment arrived in Peekskill, New York with much of the Grand Army already assembled. General Washington’s plan, as outlined to Major General Benjamin Lincoln, was to send two regiments, a detachment of Artillery, and the Water Guard “to attempt the surprise of the enemy’s posts upon the North End of York Island (Manhatten).

July

July 3

In the early morning, Washington’s Grand Army, including members of the Rhode Island Regiment marched to within supporting distance of the assault to a height known as Valentine Hill.
The Americans however were in a tempestuous area of the country that housed and supported many loyalists such as Delancey’s infamous Westchester County Militia who had attacked the Rhode Island Regiment. Word of movement by the Americans was carried to the Phillipse Manor House overlooking the Hudson, where a battalion of Hessian Jaegers were encamped to cover a foraging party. The Hessians on receiving word, marched to Kingsbridge, New York to investigate and there encountered the men of Lincoln’s Detachment.
Initially driven back to the Harlem River by Lincoln’s troops, the Hessians regrouped and drove the Americans back. They were driven in retreat towards the oncoming soldiers of Washington’s Army and the Duke of Lauzon’s Legion of Cavalry, and when the enemy gauged the size of the oncoming forces, they retreated; disengaging from battle and withdrawing their troops back to the river and from the Phillipse House itself. Late in the afternoon, Washington rode on horseback to reconnoiter the northern end of the Island. He ordered the Americans back to Valentine Hill.
Known as the Battle of Kingsbridge, the skirmish had inflicted real casualties. One ensign and nine privates were killed in action. Of the wounded, were one captain, two lieutenants, 1 volunteer, 4 sergeants, 2 corporals, and 65 privates.”

July 8

The American Grand Army is reviewed by the Counte de Rochambeau and his legion of French officers, one of whom would record his impression of the Rhode Islanders:

"Three quarters of the Rhode Island Regiment consists of negroes220, and that regiment is the most neatly dressed, the best under arms, and the most precise in its maneuvers"221

July 12

The Return of the Rhode Island Regiment on this day shows that one hundred and fifty-four rank and file from the regiment were still detached: thirty-eight rank and file were serving in the Light Infantry Company in Virginia under Col. Stephen Olney, another twenty were with Scammel’s Light Horse battalion, and ninety-six men remained on garrison duty at West Point. This left three hundred and seventy-eight rank and file in the regiment.

July 22

From the Diary of Compte de Lauberdière:

“The French army marched to King’s Ferry on the 22nd, 16 miles. The headquarters halted at Peekskill. The American army was already on the other side of the river. The artillery and Lauzun’s Legion crossed the same day… We sent off everything that we could, in great haste, to King’s Ferry. The Rhode Island Regiment was very useful to us. Almost every soldier in this corps is a good sailor. They divided our soldiers aboard their boats, which we know our soldiers would not have been able to maneuver without risk for the passengers and whatever cargo.”

August

Once word was received that a fleet under French Admiral Compte Francois Joseph Paul de Grasse would soon be under sail, Generals Washington and Rochambeau prepared to march a large detachment of the Army overland to Chesapeake Bay. These troops would join forces with those of Lafayette and the 3,000 soldiers of the French Army brought by de Grasse to attack the forces of Lord Cornwallis who had begun to build redoubts and improve fortifications at Yorktown on the York River in Virginia.

August 19

After making strategic changes in the Connecticut and Massachusetts forces, and the forming of two additional provisional companies of light Infantry; Washington and Rochambeau began the march southward. The troops were marched rapidly upriver and crossed at King’s Ferry, into New Jersey.

From accounts of soldiers and officers who participated, it was the beginning of a “long and fatiguing march.”

August 20

While on Guard duty at a New Jersey cornfield, Private John Lewis, an Indigenous soldier of the 6th Company of the Rhode Island Regiment, shot and wounded Corporal Matthew Adams of Col. Alexander Hamilton’s Light Infantry. Lewis had noticed Adams walking through the cornfield around 9:00 o’clock in the evening and ordered him to halt. After questioning, Adams admitted to stealing corn. Private Lewis ordered the soldier to remain where he was as Lewis summoned the Sergeant of the Guard, and in response Adams took off running through the cornfield. Private Lewis gave chase and ordered him to halt again. When there was no response he fired his gun.

Corporal Adams was taken from the cornfield and thought to be near dead. The pockets of his coat were filled with corn.

August 22

A Military Court of Inquiry held by order of General Benjamin Lincoln, exonerated Private John Lewis of any wrongdoing in the shooting of Corporal Matthew Adams. Among the witnesses in his defense were Sergeant Michael DePlumengat, Corporal William Thomas, and Drummer Henry Turner, all eyewitnesses and members of the 3rd Company of the Rhode Island Regiment.

September

September 6

The American and French armies arrived at Head of Elk, Maryland. They immediately began a week long effort to load the artillery, ammunition, and the other supplies onto whatever vessels were at hand to transport them on the Chesapeake. Boats were used to transport some troops as well, including the Rhode Island Regiment.

September 29

The Rhode Island regiment arrived with this day at Williamsburg, Virginia with 438 rank and file soldiers. Twenty-four soldiers lay in sick beds scattered in hospitals across the states: in New York, New Jersey, Head of Elk, and in Rhode Island. On arrival, per Washington’s order two days previous, the Rhode Island regiment was placed in a Continental battalion with the First and Second New Jersey regiments under overall command of Colonel Elias Dayton.

September 30

At dawn, finding that the British had abandoned some of the outer works, a reconnaissance party led by Colonel Alexander Scammel were surprised by a small group of enemy cavalry. Scammel surrendered himself as a prisoner, but was almost immediately shot by an enemy trooper, and brought inside British lines.
That evening, American forces began digging the first siege parallel, a long trench about a half-mile from the British defensive lines.

Soldiers at the Siege of Yorktown

October

October 7

From the journal of Surgeon James Thacher:

“A Large detachment of the allied army, under command of Major General Lincoln were ordered out last evening, for the purpose of opening entrenchments near the enemy’s lines. The business was conducted in great silence and secrecy, and we were favored by Providence with a night of extreme darkness, and were not discovered before daylight. The working party carried on their shoulders fascines and intrenching tools, while a large part of the detachment were armed with the implements of death. Horses, drawing cannon and ordnance, and wagons loaded with bags filled with sand for constructing breastworks, followed in the rear. Thus arranged, every officer and soldier knowing his particular station, orders were given to advance in perfect silence, the distance about one mile…
Our troops were indefatigable in their labors during the night, and before daylight they had nearly completed the first parallel line of nearly two miles in extent, besides laying a foundation for two redoubts, within about six hundred yards of the enemy’s lines. At daylight the enemy discovered our works, commenced a severe cannonade but our men being under cover received no injury…”

October 8

In his General Orders, Washington divided Col. Alexanders Scammel’s old battalion into two smaller Light Infantry battalions. The Rhode Island detachment under Lieutenant Benjamin Sherburne was now placed under command of Lieutenant Colonel Ebenezer Huntington, while a second battalion was formed under command of Lieutenant Colonel John Laurens.

October 10-15

From the Journal of Surgeon James Thacher:

“The enemy having two redoubts, about three hundred yards in front of our principle works, which enfiladed our entrenchment and impeded our approaches, it was resolved to take possession of them both by assault…”

The Rhode Islanders under Captain Stephen Olney would play a critical role in the assault. As the Rhode Islanders were veterans of the Light Brigade battalions, it was only be natural that the Marquis de Lafayette would choose this veteran company that had been with him in Virginia. The Rhode Island Light Infantry fell under command of Lieutenant Colonel James Gimat, who also commanded the five Connecticut Infantry companies, as well as the 9th and 10th Massachusetts companies.

Perhaps the most compelling eyewitness account of the attack on the British redoubt came from the pen of Capt. Stephen Olney himself:

“After forming our [first] parallel within cannon shot, it was thought necessary to get possession of two of the enemy’s redoubts, which projected from their main works, and were situated where it was thought proper to erect our second parallel, in order to level the way, cut off palisades, and beat down other obstructions…The Marquis [de Lafayette] had orders to storm the redoubt on our right, commanded by a British Major, while the French troops attacked that on our left, which was of greater force, and in their front. Our regiment of light infantry, commanded by Colonel Gimat, a bold Frenchman, was selected for the assault, and was paraded just before daylight…”

After a brief, but stirring address from the Commander-in-Chief , encouraging them “to act the part of firm and brave soldiers”, and exclaiming the necessity of their success in taking the redoubts,

“The column marched in silence, with guns unloaded, and in good order….when we had got about half way to the redoubt we were ordered to halt, and detach one man from each company for the forlorn hope. My men all seemed ready to go. The column then moved on; six or eight pioneers in front, as many as the forlorn hope next, then Colonel Gimat, with five or six volunteers by his side, then my platoon [company] being the front of the column. When we came near the front of the abatis, the enemy fired a full volley of musketry. At this, our men broke silence and huzzaed;…the pioneers began to cut off the abatis…this seemed tedious work, in the dark, within three rods of the enemy; and I ran to the right to look for a place to crawl through, but returned in a hurry, without success, fearing the men would get through first; as it happened, I made to get out through the first…when I found my men to the number of ten or twelve had arrived, I stepped through between two palisades (one having been shot off to make room), on to the parapet, and called out in a tone as if there were no danger ‘Captain Olney’s Company, form here!’ On this I had not less than six or eight bayonets pushed at me; I parried as well as I could with my espontoon, but they broke off the blade part, and their bayonets slid along the handle…and scaled my fingers; one bayonet pierced by thigh, another stabbed me in the abdomen just above the hip bone. One fellow fired at me, and though I thought the ball took effect in my arm; by the light of his gun I made a trust with the remains of my espontoon, in order to injure the sight of his eyes; but as it happened, I only made a hard stroke at his forehead. At this instant, two of my men, [Privates] John Strange and Benjamin Bennett, who had loaded their gums while they were in the ditch, came up and fired upon the enemy, who part ran away and some surrendered; so that we entered the redoubt without further opposition.”

Olney quickly formed his company into order within the redoubt before he was carried away with the rest of the wounded.

The Allied forces soon incorporated the taken redoubts into the second siege line. The Rhode Island Regiment, which had played a reserve role in the previous action, was utilized to man the trenches as part of Major General Benjamin Lincoln’s division.

October 17

From the Journal of Surgeon James Thacher:

“The whole of our works are now mounted with cannon and mortars, not less than one hundred pieces of heavy ordnance have been in continual operation during the last twenty-four hours. The whole peninsula trembles under the incessant thunderings of our infernal machines, we have levelled some of their works in ruins and silenced their guns; they have almost ceased firing.”

This day Cornwallis sent out a flag from British lines, requesting a cessation of hostilities for twenty-four hours, “that commissioners might be appointed to prepare and adjust the terms of capitulation”. After several communiques were delivered back and forth, General Washington consented to a cessation of hostilities for two hours only, that he might hear “his proposals as a basis for a treaty.”

The day also saw the first fatality suffered by the Rhode Island Regiment when Private London Slocum was killed by Artillery fire.

October 19

The formal surrender of Yorktown was held with great ceremony.

From the journal of Surgeon James Thacher:

“At about twelve o’clock the combined army was arranged and drawn up in two lines extending more than a mile in length. The Americans were drawn up in a line on the right side of the road, and the French occupied the left. At the head of the former the great American commander, mounted on his noble courser, took his station, attended by his aids. At the head of the latter was posted the excellent Count Rochambeau and his suite. The French troops in complete uniform, displayed a martial and noble appearance, their band of music, of which the timbrel formed a part, is a delightful novelty, and produced while marching to the ground, a most enchanting effect. The Americans though not all in uniform nor their dress so neat, yet exhibited an erect, soldierly air, and every countenance beamed with satisfaction and joy.”

October 24

While the Rhode Island Light Infantry company under Capt. Stephen Olney and the platoon of Light Infantry soldiers detached to Lafayette’s brigade remained on garrison duty in Yorktown, the larger body of the regiment were given orders this day to move to Gloucester Point and assist with guarding the prisoners there. On arrival they were to be placed under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Jeremiah Olney.

October 25

While drilling and guarding the prisoners over the next few days, the Rhode Island Regiment left quite the impression on at least one of the enemy officers. Captain Johann Ewald of the prestigious Hessian Jaeger Corps would record:

“…I have seen the Rhode Island Regiment march and perform several mountings of the guard… The men were complete masters of their legs, carried their weapons well, held their heads straight, faced right without moving an eye, and wheeled so excellently without their officers having to shout much, the at the regiment looked like it was dressed in line with a string. I was greatly surprised that the men were not in close formation, arm to arm, but had consistently left a place for a man between every two men which is a very good thing in penetrating a thick wood or underbrush with entire battalions…”

November

The month began with the death of Private Matthew Hart of Captain Stephen Olney’s Light Infantry company. It was a harbinger of the grim months ahead, as historian Daniel Popek would note:

“November 1781 began the greatest of two significant “dying events” that the Rhode Island Continental Line suffered through the long war. The Valley Forge death event had been brought about by malnutrition and severe field conditions, but the post-Yorktown episode was caused primarily by infectious disease.”

November 12

The Rhode Island regiment at Gloucester Point received orders to embark on vessels to Head of Elk, Maryland from where the soldiers would march overland and garrison the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The journey proved to be a long and harrowing voyage. A total of ten soldiers of the regiment died in the month of November, but it was not until the men finally reached their destination on December 6th, that the true extent of the loss to the regiment was recorded.

General Ezekiel Cornell and William Ellery, then the Rhode Island delegates to the Continental Congress, wrote to Governor William Greene of the regiment’s condition.

December

December 6

From a letter to Governor William Greene from the Rhode Island delegation

“…We apprehend you will be a little surprised at the deficiency that will appear to be in our regiment when Col. Olney’s returns come to hand. The Colonel is arrived at the Head of Elk with his regiment, after having experienced almost every kind of distress in a long passage by water from Yorktown. The regiment is very sickly; the small pox has got among the last recruits. In this case they are not alone, many from other regiments being down with it.”

Death continued to plague the regiment through the month of December 1781, as they lost another forty-three soldiers to illness.

December 22

Private Fortune Stoddard, a black veteran of the 8th company of the Rhode Island Regiment was confined to jail in Mercer County, Virginia and charged with murder after an unfortunate series of events that began the previous evening.

Stoddard and other soldiers (some of them likely ill) were housed on the first floor of the Jane Clark House in Head of Elk. On the evening of the 21st, a party of sailors from a local sailing vessel under Captain James Cunningham began celebrating on the second floor. None of the regiment attempted to go upstairs and quiet the gathering, but at some point, Captain Cunningham came downstairs and began insulting the soldiers.

A quarrel ensued and Cunningham began to assault Private Stoddard with his fists, and then with a chair. Stoddard informed the Captain that if he could not be civil, that he would complain to his commanding officer. The drunken Captain returned upstairs to continue the revelry. Shortly after 9:00 p.m. Lieutenant Ebenezer Wales of the 1st Connecticut Continental Regiment entered the house to investigate the incident. He observed the party and confronted Cunningham and the Captain once again became violent and challenged the Lieutenant to a fight with “fists, swords, or pistols”.

Lieutenant Wales ordered the able-bodied soldiers quartered downstairs to arm themselves against the sailors and “turn them out doors”. One seeing the soldiers with their muskets and fixed bayonets, the sailors left without incident.

They returned the next morning however, hurling insults from the street and breaking into the house to demand liquor from the landlady. When it was refused, the Captain went on a rampage breaking a chair and floorboards before being confronted by two of the soldiers quartered downstairs who had come up unarmed, hearing the commotion.

One of the soldiers was almost immediately struck with a board, knocking him to the floor, the other, Private Benjamin Blanchard of the Light Infantry company retreated back downstairs where the armed soldiers were waiting.

Private Robert Piper of the 3rd Company stepped forward as Cunningham and others came down the stairs. He presented his musket to the captain’s breast, only to have the weapon grabbed from him by Cunningham and another sailor. The captain then swung the butt of the musket against the head of Private Piper.

It was then that Private Stoddard fired his musket at the Captain, striking him in the groin. He reloaded his musket, and the sailors dragged their wounded Captain to another room where he died within two hours of the incident.

Private Stoddard was taken into custody and confined to await trial.

This same day, the Rhode Island Regiment was ordered to assume the guard duties in Philadelphia, which had previously been kept by local militia:

“Olney’s Regiment will tomorrow take the Guards at present mounted by the Militia in this City and keep them up untill further orders.”

December 23

Assuming the Guard, the Rhode Island Regiment posted details at the barracks, the city powder magazine, and the large stone jail at the intersection of Walnut and Sixth street, located just south of the famous Pennsylvania State House. Since the British evacuation of Philadelphia in June 1778, the prison had been used to house British and German prisoners of war, as well as convicted Tories.

The command of the Regiment was turned over to Col. Coggeshall Olney, as Lieutenant Jeremiah Olney returned to Rhode Island to prepare for recruitment.

Death continued to take its toll on the regiment. Another thirty-nine soldiers died in December, some housed in the hospital in Wilmington Delaware, the others in the Philadelphia hospital. A small ceremony was held to bury the Rhode Islanders who had died in the city. Their bodies were placed in plain wooden coffins constructed by members of their regiment, and carried to an open trench to be interred, as were over two thousand soldiers of the Revolution before them in the Potter’s Field, close by what is now Washington Square.

1782

January

January 19

A detachment of Rhode Islanders that had remained at West Point arrived in Philadelphia. Among them was Lieutenant Jeremiah Greenman who would record the following day that he “found the Regiment very Sickly, & much reduced with Deaths.”

With the regiment in such a dire situation, Lt. Colonel Jeremiah Olney was dispatched to Rhode Island to lobby the Assembly to pass an Act for further recruitment.

January 31

Letter from Gen. George Washington to Lt. Col. Jeremiah Olney, 31 January 1782

“Sir,

Having forwarded , under a flying seal to your care, Dispatches of immense consequence, on the subject of compleating the Regt of your State to the Establishment, I must request you will lose no time in delivering them to His Excellency, the Governor; and that you will use your utmost influence to have this business put upon such a footing as will be attended with the desired success…

As I am certain, from your experience in service, and the knowledge you have of our present circumstances & prospects you are convinced that the events of the ensuing Campaign will depend principally upon the exertions of the States, this Winter, in filling the Army & making provisions for its support; I have only to authorize & desire you to devote your whole time, attention, & abilities (as far as possible) to the accomplishment of these interesting objects – to consult and advise with the Legislature, or such persons as they may please to appoint for the purpose…”

February

February 3

Lieutenant Oliver Jenckes became the latest casualty of the epidemic sweeping the hospital. Just a month before, he had undergone an arduous journey to Kings Ferry, to meet a baggage train that carried clothing and supplies for the troops at Philadelphia. On his return with the baggage he fell ill almost immediately, and died within a few days.

February 14

Lieutenant Colonel Jeremiah Olney wrote to General Washington on this day in response to the letter of January 31st. He explained that he had arrived in Providence on the 9th, but too late to deliver Washington’s appeal, “the General Assembly having that day Completed their Affairs.”
He delivered the appeal to the Governor “who immediately lay them before as many of the legislators as could handily be assembled at Providence…”, and though Olney considered it a “Dangerous delay”, the full Assembly would not meet until the 25th of the month to vote for the recruitment of troops and payment of expenses.

February 25

The General Assembly met in special session to take up the appeal of Lt. Colonel Jeremiah Olney on the Commander-in-Chief’s behalf for the raising of recruits for the Rhode Island Continental Battalion. The Assembly ultimately voted to raise an additional two hundred and fifty-nine men for nine month’s service. Each recruit would be supplied with towcloth, stockings, knapsacks, and leather caps. Once again, the requirements for recruitment stated that people of color would not be accepted into the Regiment, nor for that matter, were foreigners of any race to be enlisted..

March

March 22

With the arrival of Major General Baron von Steuben in Philadelphia, the able-bodied men of the Rhode Island Regiment, dressed in newly arrived clothing and equipped with new muskets, bayonets, and musical instruments; practiced drills and maneuvers in the morning and again in the afternoon.

The following day, the Regiment, along with other battalions were paraded before the Army’s Inspector General.

March 25

The Rhode Island Regiment was paraded and drilled again on the Philadelphia Commons before an assembled gathering that included the current president of the Continental Congress, John Hanson of Maryland.

March 29

The Rhode Island Regiment was presented with a new standard, believed to be made by seamstress Rebecca Young. The standard is believed to be the R.I.R. banner long held in the Rhode Island State House. The staff and restoration team of the James Mitchell Varnum museum have raised an effort recently to restore the flag, and retrieve it from storage in a conservation facility.

April

April 7

The Rhode Island Regiment assumed guard detail of the “Flag of Truce” site at Philadelphia harbor the first week of April. On this night the guard detail under command of Lieutenant John Hubbart of the 3rd Company, was charged with guarding a brig that had anchored under a flag of truce. Major General Benjamin Lincoln had given strict orders as Secretary of War to prevent anyone from leaving or removing anything from the vessel.
As the guard were on their passage to the brig, they noticed a small boat coming from the flag vessel. Lieutenant Hubbard ordered the craft to halt, but his command was ignored and he ordered the guard to fire upon the boat.
Two inhabitants of the city were wounded in the craft, though they managed to reach shore. Lieutenant Hubbard was later confined to his room at the barracks and replaced in the guard by Lieutenant Jeremiah Greenman.

April 9

Letter from Gen. George Washington to Lt. Colonel Jeremiah Olney:
“Sir: Your two letters of the 26th of Febry and 19th ulto. have been received.
I am so well persuaded of your Care and Attention to the Business committed to your charge, that no Arguments are needfull to press your utmost Diligence. The Recruits as they are forwarded, may be directed the nearest Rout to peekskill, where on their Arrival, they will report themselves and receive further Orders.
The Time of your comg on to Camp dependg on your Success in Recruitg, and other Circumstances not as yet decided, you will be duly noticed of the period at which you are to join your Regiment.”

April 18

After a lengthy and difficult march, some seventy, now seasoned Recruits under Adjutant John Rogers arrived from Providence to be added to the rolls of the Rhode Island Regiment for ninety days service. Eight days later, another fifty-six recruits under Lieutenant Benjamin L. Peckham marched into Philadelphia.

May

May 6

After a winter of disciplinary hearings and courts-martials of numerous soldiers during their stay in Philadelphia, the officers of the Rhode Island Regiment appeal to Major General Benjamin Lincoln for his assistance in deploying the regiment to the encampment of the Grand Northern Army.

From a letter from Major General Benjamin Lincoln to Gen. George Washington:

“…I beg leave to suggest to your Excellency the expediency of removing the Rhode Island regiment from the vices and follies of the City, by calling Them to Camp. The commanding Officer informs me that a great proportion of them must be committed to the Surgeon’s care before they will be fit to take the field—and that some of them unless they are soon attended to, will be lost to the service for the campaign—The Recruits, who appear to be a good set of Lads, will too soon from the example of the others be led astray.
I think we had better submit to the necessity of calling a few Militia to do duty in this City than ruin one of the best regiments in service. I have the honor to be, with the most perfect esteem and respect, my dear General, Your most obedient servant, B. Lincoln”

May 13

The Continental Congress, having put aside this date as a day of celebration of the recent birth of the Dauphine of France, invited the Hon. The Chevalier de la Luzerne, Minister Plenipotentiary of France to join the celebration. As the Rhode Island Regiment was the largest Continental Battalion in the city, they were paraded with great ceremony before the visiting dignitary and his suite.

May 15

General order to Coggeshall Olney or Commander of the Rhode Island Regiment from General George Washington:
“Sir: Immediately upon the receipt of this, you will put the Rhode Island Regt. in motion, and conduct it by easy marches and the most convenient route, to join the Army on the North River. You must take care to bring on with you every man who is able to march, except such a Detachment as the Secry at War may think proper to order as an Escort for the British Office who is to be sent to the Jersey Line for the purpose of Retaliation; this detachment which ought to be composed of picked Men…”

May 29

From the Diary of Lieutenant Jeremiah Greenman:

“This morning left Philadelphia at 10, o’Clock / came as far as Frankford 5 miles from the City where we made a halt an hour, & parted with Sum of Our friends who came here with us from the City. From here proceeded to Bensalem where encamped.”

June

Private Fortune Stoddard was tried by a civilian court for murder and while acquitted of that crime, was convicted of manslaughter, and sentenced to be “to be burnt on the brawn of the left thumb with a hot iron”.

Stoddard was also ordered to pay all court costs, but as he could not raise the full amount owed the court, the County sought to sell him into slavery in order to cover the costs owed.

June 8

From the Diary of Lieutenant Jeremiah Greenman:

“This morning the Genl. Beat at day break and in half an hour the assembly when the March commenced from the right – Came 7 Miles to Haverstaw where we halted 2 hours, after which came a Mile and a half & incamped in Order to wait General Washingtons Orders wether to cross the River or tarry the West Side – at two oClock received Orders to cross the river, at 4 oClock the Genl. Beat when we struck our Tents & proceeded on Our March to Kings Ferrt where we crossed the North River. Sent our Baggage up by Water / came one Mile & lay in the Woods / very Cold…

S. 9. At day break the Revally beat in half an hour the Assembly when the Troops paraded and marched from the right / Came to the Continental Village where breakfasted after which proceeded on our March as far as N Battery where halted an hour, then came to the Connecticut huts where halted two hour, after which received orders to incamp / came one Mile below the Mountain Nigh the North River where incamped.”

June 13

The Rhode Island Regiment was paraded for inspection before Colonel Walter Stewart, the Inspector of the Northern Army who was joined by Major General Baron von Steuben. The Inspector’s report noted that the men were “ clean and neat, but the Cloaths are very much worn.”

July

July 8

Letter from Patrick Hamilton of Cecil County, Maryland to Col. Jeremiah Olney:

“Last June Negro Fortune Stoddard had his tryal, he was acquitted of the Murder, but found guilty of Manslaughter. He is ready to be delivered on payment of his fees, which if not speedily done he must be sold agreeable to the laws of this State. The fees will amount, (at present) to Twenty five pounds Specie if not more. Every day he remains in custody adds something to the sum. I request you would as speedily as possible favor me with a letter, informing me, whether you intend to pay his fees, & by whom the money is to be paid…”

August

August 4

From a letter from Col. Jeremiah Olney to Gen. George Washington:

“I beg leave to lay before Your Excellency the Case of Fortune Stoddard a Negroe Soldier of my Regmt who is now in the State of Maryland in Civil Custody in the County of Cecil, for killing one James Cunningham, who with others bred a Riot in the Soldier’s Quarters on the 21st Decr/81…it appears from the Sherrifs letter the Soldier had his Tryall…and was aquitted of murder but found Guilty of man slaughter, and that from the Laws of this State he will be sold to pay the Cost of Prosecution &c. Except Some person appears to Settle the Charges…it appears to me very Cruell, the Soldier should be Sold to pay the Charges, as he was in the line of duty defending himself and Quarters against the Insults of the Rioters – I confess myself at a loss to know the Necessary measures to be pursued for Recovering the Soldier again into Service….”

August 21

From the General Orders of General Washington:
The Light infantry of this army is to be organized and commanded in the following manner:
The four flank companies of Massachusetts from the 1st. to the 4th. regiment inclusive to compose a battalion under the orders of Major Oliver, four others from the 5th. to the 8th. to compose another battalion under the orders of Major Ashley; these two to form a regiment and to be commanded by Colonel Henry Jackson.
The two remaining flank companies of Massachusetts, the flank company of the 5th. Connecticut and that of Rhode Island is to form a Battalion under the command of Major Dexter.

The six companies of the Rhode Island Regiment took garrison duty at the blockhouse at Dobbs Ferry, New York. The southernmost outpost of the Grand Northern Army on the Hudson River, the blockhouse was the site of flags received from Great Britain, those ships exchanging prisoners that occurred throughout the war despite hostilities. The Rhode Island Regiment maintained Guard at the blockhouse, the Flag of Truce landing, the beacon at Dobbs Ferry as well as the light above Nyack, New York, and along the Closter Road. In addition, a small water guard patrolled the river.

September

September 8

From a Letter from Lieutenant Colonel Jeremiah Olney to Gen. George Washington:

“I have the pleasure to inform your Excellency the State of R. I. have order’d 200 men to be Rais’d for Filling the Regmt, this I have in a Letter (Recd this morning) from his Excellency the Gover. of 26th Ulto the Term & Condition on which they are to be ingag’d is Express’d in the act which I daily Expect by Major Olney when I shall Communicate it to your Excellency—the State have declin’d makeing a Single New appointment, tho’ it was So Essential—I am at a loss to account for their Policy…”

On this day the Rhode Island Regiment was relieved of duty from at Dobbs Ferry by the New Jersey Continental Line. The Regiment assembled with their detachment at Stony Point and joined the encampment of the American army at Verplancks Point the following day.

September 20

A detachment from the Rhode Island Regiment was sent with soldiers from the 2nd Connecticut Continental Regiment to quartermaster Timothy Pickering in order to transport supplies of wood to West Point.

October

October 14

From Washington’s General Orders concerning maneuvers the following week:
“For a Monoevre to be performed on Thursday next, the disposition for which will be hereafter communicated.
The Jersey Line will give one, the York line two, the Connecticutt line including the Rhode island regiment two, and the Massachusetts line three battallions; each battallion to consist of two Field and twelve Platoon officers, twenty five Noncommissd. officers, and eight Platoons of fifteen Files each. Four field Pieces to be attached to this Corps.
The Jersey battallion to be furnished with 12, the two Connecticutt and that battalion of Massachusetts which forms immediately on the left of the Connecticut, with four rounds of blank cartridges per man. The Field pieces with ten rounds each the battallions to be provided with colours.”
In the same orders, among the issued reports of recommended sentences at courts-martials:
At the same Court Samuel G. Dyer of the Rhode Island regiment, “charged with Desertion from the regiment in April 1781, and joining the enemy, was found guilty in breach of article 1st. section 6th. of the rules and articles of war and sentenced to suffer Death (more than two thirds of the court agreing thereto). The Commander in chief approves the sentence of the court.”

October 24

Per Washington’s orders, the entire Grand Army of America is paraded and put through maneuvers. The Rhode Island Regiment was positioned in the right wing between the Connecticut and Massachusetts Lines, assigned to a brigade led by Colonel John Greaton of the Massachusetts Line in a division led by Major General Robert Howe of North Carolina.

From General Washington to the Troops:
“Before the Army marches from this ground the Commander in chief Orders it to be signified to the several corps which have been in the field, that he has been particularly satisfied with ~he internal Police and order the Encampments as well as the perfect regularity with which every species of duty has been performed the present Campaign. The alacrity and dispatch the troops have shown in procuring fuel for Westpoint and its dependences are extremely satisfactory to him…”

October 29

From Washington’s General Orders:
“Parole Peekskill. Countersigns Croton, Crumpond.
As it is expected the troops will have sufficient time to cover themselves commodiously before the setting in of the winter; the General directs that regularity, convenience , and even some degree of elegance should be attended to in the construction of their hutts; the plan and dementions of which will be furnished by the Quarter Master General, as soon as the positions for the several corps shall be fixed upon. Any huts that shall be built irregularly, in violation of this order will be demolished. All the Levies and draughts from the Rhode Island regiment are to join that corps near Newburgh immediately. They will bring their tents and baggage with them..”
Upon their arrival in Albany, the Rhode Island Regiment fell under the command of Major General William Alexander, Lord Stirling. They were immediately ordered into Winter Quarters at Saratoga, New York.

November

November 9

From the Diary of Lieutenant Jeremiah Greenman
“This morning wrode to Saratoga Garrison where companies of the Regiment had arrived & took possession of the Barracks which was very poor….”

December

December 18

Letter to George Washington from Lord Stirling:
“On the 16th I was honord with the receipt of your Excellency’s letter of the 9th with the enclosures there in mentioned. after fully Considering the busyness; I concluded it would be best to Commit the Management of it to Lt Colonel Olney who is at Saratoga, and will best know which of his Officers are the most proper for the interprize; the enclosed letter which went off Yesterday contains such Matters as occured to me as necessary to say to him on the Occasion.”
Later that month, a sizeable detachment from the Rhode Island Regiment including one subaltern officer, three sergeants, and forty-three rank and file marched under command of Captain Ebenezer Macomber to the State of Vermont ostensibly to search for deserters. The actual objective of the mission was the capture of Judge Luke Knowlton of Newfane and Colonel Samuel wells of Brattleboro; two known loyalists who were suspected of passing letters between the British in Canada and officers in New York, deemed “inimical to American interests.”

Congress had passed a resolution for their capture on November 27th.

In the waning weeks of December, another expedition was being considered, one put forward by Colonel Marinus Willett to raid the British fort on the eastern end of Lake Ontario, known as Fort Ontario or Fort Oswego. The present fort had been rebuilt on the ruins of a previous fort that dated from the “Indian Wars”.

General George Washington would be actively involved in the coming weeks of planning and provisioning the expedition. He wrote at length with both news of provisions, and advice on planning to ensure the success of what would be a long and grueling march for the troops chosen.

Colonel Marinus Willett
Colonel Marinus Willett

1783

Feburary

February 8

Colonel Willett’s Provisional Regiment began the march to Fort Oswego. Perhaps the most riveting and searing account was recounted by Charlestown, Rhode Island native Sergeant Immanuel Drake:
“…there were five companies of Col. Willetts regiment that stated for Oswego, but cannot recall how many there were of the Rhode Island reinforcement. Declarent well recollects that this was in the dead of winter. There were Indian guides employed…They travelled several days through the snow, as they supposed toward Oswego. A great number…went ahead on snowshoes, That instead of leading the Army to Oswego,…led us into a swamp, about nine miles it was afterwards ascertained, from Osego.”
The Regiment hastily built fires to warm themselves and then began the trek back to Fort Hermiker. Many were already severely frostbitten, physically exhausted, and starving from lack of provisions.
Drake continued in his pension declaration
“…when we started our return…our provisions were nearly all exhausted & the last five days before we arrived at Fort Stanwix (a fort werst of Fort Hermiker) we had no provision, except dead horse flesh, or something of that kind…”
The expedition would ultimately disable some veterans of the Regiment for life. The loss of extremities and punishment on the body would be well documented in the testimony of pension files in the months after Oswego, and again, decades later.

February 18

From Washington’s general orders:
“The Arrangement of the Lines of New-Hampshire, Rhode Island, and New Jersey is to take place on the 1st day of March, upon the principals pointed out in the resolutions of Congress of the 7th of August & 19th of Novr; and which have been made public in the orders of the 30th of October and 26th of November 1782…
The Regiment of Rhode Island to be reduced to one Battalion and to be composed of as many Companys as there are men sufficient to complete, with such Commissd and Noncommissioned staff as may be necessary; to be commanded by two field officers.”

February 27

Letter to Gen. George Washington from Major Coggeshall Olney

“Inclosed I transmit to your Excelency the answers of Capt Macomber on oath, to the interogations of the Honbe Jonathan Arnold in his letter of the 11th inst.– The scattered situation of the Regiment and suffering of the frozen troops returned from the western expedition, has rendered it impracticable to forward the same at an earlier period—Having nearly forty men who must loose their limbs.”

March

Muster Rolls of the month show that the Regiment, after losses at Oswego remained undermanned by about 140 rank and file. With news circulating of an impending peace treaty, The Rhode Island General Assembly refused to take any action for recruitment. Even as a number of the 1782 levie enlistees resigned for additional service, the State withdrew the promised $100 bounty and most of these who had enlisted were discharged the first of the month.

April

April 18

From General Washington’s General orders:

“The Commander in Chief orders the Cessation of Hostilities between the United States of America and the King of Great Britain to be publickly proclaimed tomorrow at 12 o’clock at the New building, and that the Proclamation which will be communicated herewith, be read tomorrow evening at the head of every regiment & corps of the army—After which the Chaplains with the several Brigades will render thanks to almighty God for all his mercies, particularly for his over ruling the wrath of man to his own glory, and causing the rage of war to cease amongst the nations…”

The cessation of hostilities then, came on the anniversary of the Battle of Lexington in 1775.

Treaty of Paris, 1783
Treaty of Paris, 1783

April 25

A celebration of the cessation of hostilities was held in Providence with a parade led by Colonel Daniel Tillinghast and the Providence Train of Artillery with the Governor, Deputy Governor, and members of the General Assembly marching from the Deputy Governor’s house to the First Baptist Church for a sermon from Rev. Enos Hitchcock. At noon the procession reassembled and marched to the State House where General Washingtons orders were read to the public, followed by a thirteen cannon salute. An elaborate banquet was held for the dignitaries, and toasts offered to the Officers. A large fireworks display was held that night before the State House.

Members of the Rhode Island Regiment continued in Saratoga. For the time being, the army was to remain on duty.

June

June 4

Letter from Gen. George Washington to Lieutenant Colonel Jeremiah Olney

“You will receive by this conveyance blanck Discharges for the Non Commissd Officers & Privates of the Rhode Island Regt enlisted for the War, which, under the Restriction of the Endorsment are only to be considered as furloughs until farther Orders—you will be pleased to have them filled up & the men permitted, under the direction of a proportionable number of Officers, to retire to the State immediately—Orders will soon be transmitted to the remainder of the Corps for the regulation of their conduct.

The furloughed Men of the Rhode Island Regt will draw Provisions at Litchfild, & Hartford in their way to the State The Genl Orders on this subject were sent by the Post.

Should there be more furloughs than you have occasion for, you will be cautious to have such care taken of the residue as will absolutely prevent their being made use of for improper purposes.”

June 13

Adjutant Jeremiah Greenman issued his last orders for the Regiment at Saratoga and signed the discharge certificates for their release. Per orders of Lt. Colonel Olney, The Regiment removed from Saratoga in stages, beginning on the 13th with a. company departing under Captain Hughes. On successive days, Captains Holden and Humphries began the return march to Rhode Island.

These soldiers arrived in Rhode Island by late June, as historian Popek would write:

“There were no parades or celebrations for these experienced troops…There was no notice of their arrival in the local newspapers…”

So too were the remaining men of the Regiment neglected. The General Assembly did not act to send any further clothing of provisions. The first fall of snow occurred in October, and within weeks the men who remained in Saratoga were in a desperate condition.

December

From the Diary of Adjunct Jeremiah Greenman:

“continuing in Garrison waiting anxiously for Order to leave this post, our men in a Miserable Condition / Some of them not a Shoe or a Stocking to their feet and the climate at this place much sevearer than in the Estern States…”

December 5

The Regiment received their orders to leave. The next two weeks were spent in preparing to leave the Garrison, including the procurement of shoes for the men.

December 25

The remaining men and Officers of the Rhode Island Regiment marched from Saratoga on Christmas Day. The return to Rhode Island was a severe march through difficult weather. The men first arrived near Providence after a march from Worcester, Massachusetts on January 3rd, but had to turn back because of high snow drifts on the Providence Road.

It rained the next few days and the troops slogged on, Greenman recording on the 6th that
“This morning it wrain’d and the roads excessive bad / …and in many places the water over the tops of my boots / came to Attlebourrough where breakfasted, from where came 18 miles to Providence.”

Again, the Rhode Island Regiment returned without fanfare and little recognition. It would take years for many of those not severely wounded to receive pay and pensions. Despite these hardships each and every of these men who applied for pensions reflect the pride taken in their service and the recognition by the public in later parades and ceremonies for these “soldiers of the Revolution.”

(1) These recruits mustered in Providence and there went through the drill…about two weeks as neare as I can tell from thence was ordered to go on the Island of Rhode Island. We landed on the north end of the Island near Butts Hill fort and pitched our tents on a height of land…our duty was to go through the manual exercise, keep up quarter guard, and work on the fort.”(Crandall, Peter pension file NARA)

Reviewed by Peter Fay, Don Hagist, and Joe Studlick.
Pleae use the complete Timelines for all sources of primary documents
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