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mander of the army resolved to fortify Bunker Hill, two hundred of the Connecticut men were draughted from several companies and placed under the command of Thomas Knowlton, of General Putnam's regiment, the second in the Connecticut line. Part of Captain Chester's company was included in the draught, and both he and Lieutenant Webb were present in the eventful struggle.
A letter written from camp by Captain Chester three days after gives one of the most reliable accounts of the battle, and of the part taken in it by the Connecticut troops. It describes, too, the uniform of the corps as “wholly blue, turned up with red;" but when marching or in their barracks,“ loath to expose themselves by their dress, they put their frocks and trousers on over their other clothes. Lieutenant Webb also describes his part in the action in a graphic and natural way. He speaks of his feeling of doubt as 'he descended into the valley from off Bunker Hill side by side of Captain Chester at the head of their company,' and his doubt as to whether he should ever rise the hill again, as Elijah did, body and soul together.' The balls flew pretty thick about his command, but he escaped with a wound in the head. All accounts concur in according high credit to the conduct of the Connecticut troops on this occasion. In the Connecticut Courant, a Hartford journal, a “Friend to Truth,” in a letter published on the 31st June, noticed the bravery of the officers of their locality, and particularly called attention to “Major John Chester, of Wethersfield, now Captain of a company in General Spencer's Regiment, and Lieut. Samuel Webb, who marched up to the line with their men, and re-inforced the troops (and), by their undaunted behavior, timely and vigorous assistance, it is universally agreed, are justly entitled to the grateful acknowledgments of their Country.”
On the 15th June, the day of the action at Bunker Hill, the Continental Congress completed the organization of the American army by the election of its general officers. Washington was chosen to the chief command. He was on the point of departure for the field of operations in Massachusetts Bay when the thrilling news of the fight at Bunker Hill reached Philadelphia in a very confused account. On the morning of Friday, the 23d, he set out from Philadelphia for the camp at Cambridge, accompanied by a troop of horse. On the afternoon of the 24th he landed at Col
onel Lispenard's seat in New Yor's. Leaving in the afternoon of the 26th, he passed the night at Kingsbridge (at Dyckman's tavern no doubt), and the next morning pushed on to Hartford, which he reached on the 29th, in company with General Lee. He was the bearer of a letter from Silas Deane, who was again a representative for Connecticut in the Second Continental Congress, which had convened in Philadelphia the May previous. In this letter Mr. Deane particularly commended his Excellency and his retinue to the care and attention of his wife, and instructed her, “should they lodge a night in Wethersfield, to accommodate their horses, servants, &c., in the best manner at the taverns, and their retinue will likely go on to Hartford.” This implies an understanding that the General would make his headquarters at the house of Mrs. Deane during his temporary residence at the capital of Connecticut. The building thus honored was a house of some consequence and the home of the Webb family. Mr. Joseph Webb, the elder brother of Lieut. Samuel, was then living in Wethersfield, and the head of the family, though apparently, from the fact of Mr. Deane sending his “respects to him and the whole of both families," not residing with his mother.
It is a matter of regret that the letter of Mrs. Deane of the 30 July, describing the visit of Washington, has not been preserved; at least it does not appear in the published Deane correspondence, to which reference bas been made, but there can be no doubt of the nature of her opinion of her guest, as Mr. Deane, on the 8th July, 1775, takes pains to express his gratitude that it agreed with his own. In the same letter occurs a phrase which shows that he had interested himself in behalf of his young kinsman. Mr. Joseph Webb appears to have accompanied Washington to camp, a fact, which Mr. Deane expresses the hope, “will enable him to procure a berth for Samuel Webb which he recommended him to, an honorable, though a dangerous one, but which he thinks must now be liis course of life for the future."
In June Mr. Deane wrote to young Webb that he had asked General Putnam for a position for him on his staff, and advised him to apply instantly in person. He informs his wife of this in July, and expresses his satisfaction, not because he was his friend, but because he merits it, and will, if it please God to preserve him, make an officer of the first rank and character. While on Putnam's staff Webb seems to have been occasionally employed on confidential service. There is a letter among the Webb manuscripts from Jos. Reed, Washington's secretary, charging him to receive and conduct prisoners to Hartford to be delivered over to the Committee of Safety, and report to Washington in person. The appointment of Putnam by Congress as one of the four Major-Generals of the army, made the post of Aid-de-Camp on his staff one of importance.
On the evacuation of Boston by the British troops, New York was the centre of observation, both the British and American commanders alike recognizing it as the key of the continent, and it soon became the pivotal point of military operations. Washington immediately moved his forces thither, and Putnam was entrusted with the command of the city and the erection of works for its defense. Putnam arrived on the evening of Wednesday, April 3, 1776, and on the 4th notified Congress of the proceedings he had taken. He made his headquarters in New York at the Kennedy House, No. 1 Broadway, which was also the army headquarters while he was in command. This house has been, and is still, known as Washington's Headquarters, but there is no evidence that the commander-in-chief ever resided there.
His dispositions were marked by extreme good sense, and his general orders were expressed in clear, soldierly style. As Old Put. was never distinguished for any literary merit, it is not unfair to attribute these qualities of the orders to the scholarship and good taste of his chief of staff. Moreover, there is direct evidence that Webb’s opinions were asked and followed. In May he submitted a “plan for General Putnam's consideration to employ the armed vessels under his command, and which will prevent the King's ships from being supplied with fresh Provisions by the enemies of America,” etc. (Force Archives.) This scheme included a patrol by whale-boats of the western shore, from Amboy to Sandy Hook, of Rockaway and the adjacent islands and inlet by Sound schooners, attended by whale boats, and Fire Island Inlet and the entire western shore, “even down to Egg Harbor, one hundred and forty miles range from Sandy Hook, in a similar manner.” The plan received the commendation of the Committee of Safety, and was adopted by General Putnam.
Honorable as was his post, the young officer was not content. He had long had an inclination to make one of the military family
of Washington. This desire he expressed to Reed, who was in need of an assistant, and Reed wrote to Washington from Philadelphia on the 3d March, 1776, that if the post be agreeable to Webb, and he agreeable to General Washington, he should prefer him to any other. To this Washington replied on the 25th from Cambridge, that Mr. Webb would be “agreeable enough” to him if Col. Reed thought him “ qualified for the business." His powerful friend, Mr. Deane, was already in France on the famous embassy, concerning which there is still an open controversy, but his influence remained, and Reed secured the appointment of young Webb.
On the 21st June, 1776, the general orders, dated New York, announced that "the General ” (Washington had arrived in the city on the 8th June, and assumed the command) “ had been pleased to appoint Richard Cary and Samuel Webb, Esquires, to be his Aidsde-Camp, and Alexander Contee Harrison, Esqr., Assistant Secretary, who are to be obeyed and regarded as such.” The general orders added : “ The honorable Congress have been pleased to give the rank of Lieutenant Colonel to the Aids-de-Camp of the Commander-in-Chief, and to his principal Secretary; and the rank of Major to the Aids-de-Camp of the Majors- General.” The military secretary of Washington at this period was Robert Hanson Ilarrison, Esquire, appointed on the 16th May of the same year (1776) in the room of Joseph Reed who had resigned the position and taken the appointment of Adjutant-General of the Army. This was the military family of General Washington, as the staff were called in the parlance of the day.
The journal and general order book, or rather a general order book, with occasional notes under the title of Remarks and Occur. rences, entirely in the handwriting of Lieutenant-Colonel Webb, remains to attest his method, his accuracy and his neatness. His first note informs us that, agreeable to the orders of the day (June 21), Col. Cary and himself removed to the headquarters as Aids-deCamp to his Excellency. These headquarters were then at the Mortier House, an elegant residence without the lines of the city, built by the Paymaster-General of the Royal forces. It was in a delightful situation, celebrated for its natural beauty. It was later known as Richmond Hill, the home of Aaron Burr. This charming site was selected no doubt because of the presence of Lady Washington, as the newspapers of the day styled the wife of the
Commander-in-Chief. The city was overrun with troops, and there was great fear of the small-pox, which had decimated the army in Canada, and was dreaded to an extent bardly to be estimated now.
With Mrs. Washington came Mr. and Mrs. Custis, members of the family. It was in this intimacy that the manners and accomplishments of young Webb endeared him to General Washington, who from this time forward always addressed him in terms of affectionate attachment, and lost no opportunity to advance his fortunes and show him marks of his esteem for his character and his capacity.
Events now hurried rapidly along, and were as rapidly recorded in the Aid-de-Camp's diary. The arrival of the British fleet on the 29th of June, the false alarm of an attack on the 20 July, the efforts to defend the posts against the formidable and daily increasing armaments, the enthusiastic reception of the Declaration of Independence, and the overthrow of the gilded statue of George III., are all noticed. The following entries are of peculiar value as from a participant in the scenes they relate.
“ New York, July 14, 1776.-A Flag of Truce from the fleet appeared, on which Colo Reed and myself went down to meet it, about half way between Governors & Staten Island; Lieut Brown of the Eagle offered a Letter from Lord Howe, directed George Washington Esqr, which on acct of its direction we refused to Receive, and parted with the usual compliments.
“ New York, July 16, 1776.-A Flag this day to send to General Howe some spirited Resolves of Congress, respecting the Cruelty and Barbarity of the King's Troops and Savages to the Northward, and acquainting him Retaliation shall immediately take place, unless a final stop is put to such inhuman and Barbarous conduct.
“ New York, July 17, 1776.—A flag from the Enemy with an answer from General Howe abt the Resolves sent yesterday-Directed George Washington, &c., &c., &c., which was refused.
“ New York, 19th July, 1776.—A flag appeared this morning when Colo Reed and myself went down-General Howe met usand said as there appeared an insurmountable obstacle between the two Generals by way of corresponding-General Howe desired his Adjutant General might be admitted to an interview with his Excellency General Washington,-on which Colo Reed, in the name