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GEN. SAMUEL B. WEBB.
NEW YORK, 6 West 38th Street,
JULY 4th, 1876. To my dear wife LAURA VIRGINIA ; and to my dear children, Rob
ERT STEWART WEBB, HELEN MATILDA MORGAN, CATHARINE
I am now in my seventy-fifth year; and after suffering from hereditary gout more than half a century, the wonder is, not that I am exceedingly feeble, but that I should still be here—with all my mental faculties unimpaired either by time or disease. I do not conceal from myself, however, that my departure is necessarily near at hand; and I am admonished by the recent deaths in our family to be ready for the summons. When my mother died, in 1805, we were seven in number; and the first death among us, was in 1868; when my oldest sister, Maria, died in the seventy-sixth year of her age. Since then, my brothers Henry, Stephen and Walter, and my sister Jane, have all been taken away; and it has occurred to me, that on this, the first Centennial Anniversary of the Independence of the United States, I cannot tender you a more appropriate offering, than a collection of some of the letters and correspondence of my father, Gen. Samuel B. Webb, and of my step-grandfather, Silas Deane ; who, more than any one individual in the then American Colonies, fostered, consolidated and gave direction to that public sentiment, which ultimately led to the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and our final triumph as a free and Independent Nation.
It was Silas Dzane, who, as Chairman of the Committee of
Public Safety for the Colony of Connecticut, insisted upon and caused the assembling of the Congress of 1774 ; in which he exercised a controlling influence, and by which he was sent as sole Representative of the Colonies, to negotiate the recognition by France, of our separation from Great Britain, as early as March, 1776—four months previous to our Declaration of Independence. Franklin and Lee, were sent subsequently.
In preparing for my family, this little Centennial offering, my first duty is, to recognize the fact, that, under Providence, we
our independence as a People, and our existence as a Nation, to him who was—"first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” The civilized world recognizes his great ability, bis exalted character, and the absolute purity of his private life ; but in nothing did he so greatly astonish mankind, as in the invariable justice which constituted the basis of all his public and private acts. The testimony, in this regard, is ample, and admits of no question; and yet I desire to commence this little family sketch with an anecdote unknown, and of little interest to the public; but which will constitute another contribution to that mighty monument, which a grateful people have in their hearts, consecrated to his memory-based upon the public and private acts of a life dedicated to justice and to his country.
My father, born on the 15th December, 1753, was only twentyone when he was wounded in the head and won his first laurels at the Battle of Bunker Hill; and only a little over twenty-two, when promoted from the staff of Gen. Putnam to be Aid-de-Camp to Gen. Washington, on the 21st April, 1776. He raised his regiment, the Third Connecticut, in 1777; and was taken prisoner as second in command to Gen. Parsons in his unfortunate expedition to Long Island, when crossing the Sound, on the morning of the 10th December, 1777.
Washington, with whom my father was a favorite, was in the habit of saying, that his Aid-de-Camp, Col. Cary, was “the handsomest, and his Aid-de-Camp and private secretary, Col. Webb, was the most accomplished gentleman in the army.” My father having inherited a fortune, was furloughed by his chief, in 1777, after the successes in New Jersey, in order that he might raise the Third Connecticut Regiment,—which he did chiefly with his
That is, he made all the necessary advances, and
took his chance of repayment from his country. His regiment was clothed in British uniforms, captured from the enemy at sea; and in all the operations on the Hudson, in the Summer and Autumn of 1777 and '78, it was known as the “ Decoy Regiment; ” and it was to this “ Decoy Regiment" that Burgoyne's spy surrendered himself, at Fishkill, and declared his mission—having swallowed the musket ball, or what appeared such, which contained the despatch from Burgoyne to Sir Henry Clinton, announcing his intended march Southward from Tieonderoga.
In correcting Gen. James Talmadge's history of this affair, my friend, the venerable Gen. Van ('ortlandt, in 1845, addressed me the following letter:
PEEKSKILL, Feb'y 28th, 1845. J. W. WEBB, Esq.,
Dear Colonel : * * * * * * When I see you, I will relate to you the particuars of Gov. George Clinton detecting the spy from Sir Henry Clinton to Gen. Burgoyne in 1777, at New Windsor; of which Jas. Talmadge, made such a great display in presenting the silver bullet to the American Institute.
Your father was an efficient agent in detecting the Spy, the particulars of which I have very frequently hearil Gov. Clinton repeat. However, let this rest till I see you, when I will relate to you the particulars.
Yours, with much respect,
PIERRE VAN ('ORTLANDT.
The following is a copy of the original order, which enabled my father to procure the captured British uniforms for his newly raised regiment-the Third Connecticut; and which caused it to be known as the “ Decoy Regiment":
IIEADQUARTERS, June 28, 1979. Col. Webb has his Excellency's, General Washington's Oriers, to appropriate so much of the Scarlet Clothing, taken from the Enemy at Sea, as will be suficient to cloath one Regiment. The said Cloathing, to be set apart for his Regt.
Thos. MIFFLEN, Q. M. C.
The close and very friendly personal relations which always existed between Gen. Washington and my father, from the time he became a member of his staff in April, 1776—a mere boy—until the General's death, is demonstrated by the fact, that every unofficial letter he ever wrote his young friend, was invariably signed—“Your obedient and effectionate servant.” This. from one who so rarely was demonstrative, speaks volumes.
At the time of my father's capture, he was not quite twentyfour years of age, although he had won his spurs at Bunker Hill; and as A. D. C. of the Commander-in-Chief, had participated in the battles of Long Island, Harlem, White Plains, and all the affairs of the army in New Jersey; finally crossing the Delaware to Trenton in the same boat with his Chief, and winning fresh laurels in that very gallant affair. He it was, who bore the order to General Sul-. livan's troops, to commence the assault; and when told by Sullivan, that their muskets were wet and could not be used, added—“in that case you will use your bayonets!”
After the battle of Trenton, Gen. Washington begged him to go to Connecticut and superintend the recruiting of his regiment. But he said, “No; not until you get safely into Winter quarters, which will be only after much hard fighting. I would sooner give up my regiment than abandon you now.”
You will find allusion to this, in the letters congratulating him upon the laurels won at Trenton.
It was in the December following, he was taken prisoner; and during the two and a half years preceding, he had been wounded at Bunker Hill and at White Plains; had been the Aid of Gen. Putman and then of Gen. Washington; and had been actively engaged with his Chief, in every affair of the army; and was known to be a favorite at headquarters. Not yet twenty-four, it is not a matter of surprise, that he ventured to address to his old Chief the following letter.
Col. Sam'l B. Webb to Gen. Washington.
December 29th, 1777. Before this, I suppose, your Excellency must have heard of our late descent to Long Island, and the objects General Parsons had in view, by ordering on the Troops. The detachment under my command, left Norwalk in four Transports, on the evening of the 9th instant. The weather proved very blustering; in consequence of