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Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Court-Martial of Paul Revere - Chapter 5: The Citizen and Soldier

One of my favorite chapters about Paul Revere is the account of his desertion of his duty in Maine. Seeing Redcoats threatening, he "beat feet" back to Boston. He was court-martialed. His duties to defend against the Redcoats in Maine were re-assigned to my ancestor, Col. Joseph Frye (of F&I War) , upon being promoted to general by Washington. [As a corollary, this promotion sent Benedict Arnold into an infuriated rage]

Fryeburg Academy, ca. 1777
Item 17406 enlarge zoom 
Drawing of the original Fryeburg Academy building, located in Fryeburg, Maine. Originally, school was taught in private homes, until 1777 when money was appropriated to build a schoolhouse. Citizens were interested in subjects such as Latin, Greek and English being taught to their children. In 1791 residents from Fryeburg, Brownfield and Conway agreed to support a new school, Fryeburg Academy. The school was incorporated in 1792.
Chapter 5: The Court-Martial of Paul Revere
by Charles Gettemy

British commerce suffered greatly during the Revolution from the depredations of Yankee privateers which, in considerable numbers, were fitted out in Boston, Salem, Newburyport, and Marblehead, and which when pursued, or after having taken a prize, found convenient and safe asylums in the rock-bound harbors of the Maine coast.

In these shelters they could also secure equipments of crews and provisions, and from them they could dart out quickly upon unsuspecting prey. So destructive had these tactics be come in 1779, that the British decided to take steps to meet them.

Accordingly, in June of that year, General Francis McLean, with four hundred and fifty of the rank hundred of the 82d, took possession of the peninsula of Bagaduce ( now Castine), on the east side of Penobscot Bay. Here, upon a bluff two hundred or more feet above the water, about twenty miles from the mouth of the bay and six below the mouth of the river, McLean began the erection of a fort, which he proposed to christen, after the King, Fort George.

The news of the occupation of Bagaduce by the British created a great stir throughout the eastern colonies, and the General Court of Massachusetts at once issued orders to fit out an expedition to dispossess the enemy.

Brigadier-General Solomon Lovell was ordered to atake command of twelve hundred militia, with Adjutant-General Peleg Wadsworth second in command, and Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Revere in command of the artillery train. The board of war was directed to secure from the Continental authorities a loan of the frigate warren, a fine new ship of thirty-two guns, and the sloop Providence, with twelve guns.

The fleet had been placed in charge of Commodore Dudley Saltonstall, then in command of the borrowed Warren. It consisted of nineteen vessels, mounting in all three hundred and twenty four guns and manned by over two thousand sailors, besides twenty transports. It was probably, taken altogether, the strongest and finest naval force furnished by New England during the Revolution.

Fifteen hundred troops were expected to join the main contingent, from York, Cumberland, and Lincoln in Maine; but of this quota only five hundred put in a appearance, and a large portion of these were wholly unfit for service, consisting chiefly of small boys, old men, and even invalids.
Their equipment was of the most indifferent character, their arms being out of repair, and they lacked ammunition. On the 24th of July the fleet arrived at the mouth of the Penobscot. Due warning of its approach had been given the British, who, in spite of the fact that they had hastened in the work of constructing their fortifications, were greatly disheartened, realizing that the American force was much stronger, and ought to be able to quickly overcome the feeble resistance which was all, under the circumstances, they believed they could offer. All but four of the British fleet had returned to Halifax.

One account states that "the walls of the fort at that time were not more than five feet high, with two guns mounted, one towards the water and the other towards the woods, with only enough to man three sides of the fort, placing the men a yard apart." Without doubt the British had kept fully informed of the movements of the Americans, and, after a show of resistance, would have readily surrendered.

It is not necessary nor profitable to tell here in detail the story of this disastrous expedition, so discreditable to the Americans, who largely outnumbered in land forces the British, and who had an overwhelming fleet.

Suffice it to say that on the 26th of June the Yankee marines made a successful landing, capturing some cannon and ammunition, mounted a battery, and caused a precipitate retreat of the enemy, while the naval forces under Commodore Saltonstall exhibited a remarkable indisposition to assume the offensive and supplement the work of the soldiers on land. The commodore, indeed, seemed deliberately bent on keeping the fleet as far as possible out of danger,--- a course which filled both the land forces and Saltonstall's own men with supreme disgust.

A council of war was held on board the brig Hazard August 7, at which the question was discussed as to whether the siege should be continued. It was voted to continue, Revere being one of eight and Commodore Saltonstall another who voted in the negative. Revere decided to file a record of his reasons for this vote, and he was allowed to do so in connection with the official report made of the proceedings. He offered this defence of his course:

"1. Gen. Lovell says that he is not able to reduce the Enemy with what Troops and Stores he has got.
"2. That under present circumstances it is best to take post to the westward to hinder the Enemy going any further.
"3. That six Captains of ships give as their opinion that they cannot keep their men but a few days longer.

Four days later another council of war was held, at which, as a result of that day's experience, it was unanimously voted that with the force then on hand it would be impossible to hold a post in the rear of the enemy's fort, and, at the same time, the lines as then drawn up.

Three reasons were given for this decision: that "our Force is not sufficient to take Possession of the ground; our Numbers are not able to do Duty after taken for one week; the great want of Discipline, and Subordination." "Many of the Officers," it was said, " being so exceedingly slack and ignorant of their Duty,--- the Soldiers averse to service --- And the wood in which we are Incamped so very thick, that on an alarm on any special occasion, nearly one-fourth part of the Army are Skulked out of the way, and concealed.: Truly a spectacle of disgraceful incompetence and temerity if not downright cowardice!

But fortunately for the reputation of Yankee valor and self-respect the dark picture has its bright spots. Not all of the subordinate officers were dead to shame; and thirty-one of Saltonstall's staff drew up a round-robin, in which, after commenting on the importance of the expedition and their own desire to render all the service in their power, they said: " We think Delays in the present case are extremely dangerous: as our Enemies are daily fortifying and strengthening themselves, & are stimulated so to do being in daily Expectation of a Reinforcement. We don't mean to advise, or censure your past conduct, But intend only to express our desire of improving the present opportunity to go Immediately into the Harbour & attack the Enemy's ships." READ MORE of CHAPTER 5à

Read The True Story of Paul Revere
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