J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, September 08, 2007

Gen. Gage's Harmless Cattle

In the mail I recently received a new primary source to explore, the journal of Pvt. Thomas Sullivan of the 49th Regiment, as published by Joseph Lee Boyle in 1997. So I’ll put it to use.

Last month I mentioned the 15 Aug 1775 arrival of a fleet with provisions for the British army besieged inside Boston. Pvt. Sullivan could write and do math, so in his military career he was was often assigned to help keep track of stores. He could therefore offer this detailed accounting of the shopping expedition:

This time also 8 transports with 180 Soldiers, with a proportion of Officers and Non-commissioned Officers, went to Long-Island and about New-York, to buy Cattle and Sheep for the use of the Army. Upon their arrival there, the Captains and Crews from the different transports went on shore, and left the troops on board to guard the Vessels, for fear of being set on fire by the Rebels, which were encamped there. They brought 500 Oxen and 300 sheep, which was killed in Boston for the use of the Army & Navy there.
For the troops blocked up inside Boston, the arrival of fresh meat was probably one of the high points of August 1775. On the 20th, Gen. Thomas Gage wrote to the Secretary of State for the colonies that this fresh meat “will be some relief to the troops in general, and of great benefit to the hospitals.” The government had this letter published in the London newspapers.

However, buying livestock didn’t amount to meeting the benchmarks that people in London had expected of their army. At least some people seem to have thought the general and government were trying to hide a bleak, frustrating situation behind minor gains like this. A correspondent of the London Chronicle replied with this verse:
In days of yore the British troops
Have taken warlike kings in battle;
But now, alas! their valor droops,
For Gage takes naught but—harmless cattle.

Britons, with grief, your bosoms strike!
Your faded laurels loudly weep!
Behold your heroes, Quixote-like,
Driving a timid flock of—sheep.


Danny said...

Fascinating article, the poem at the end is very witty. Well done on such an informative blog.
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NJDave said...

The publisher's commentary on your "new primary source" identifies "Sullivan participated in events including....the battles at Trenton and Princeton." To my amateur knowledge, Trenton was solely a Hessian outpost, and Princeton was the British (possibly the 49th Regiment) encampment.
Is this a misprint by the publisher, possibly because the Battle of Trenton is more well known than Princeton, or was Sullivan actually in both places at once?

J. L. Bell said...

Pvt. Sullivan wrote four paragraphs on Trenton, and blamed Col. Rall for strategic mistakes. He wrote considerably more on Princeton, where he was stationed.

In neither case did Sullivan describe what he did in the battles. But in regard to Princeton his remarks were sometimes in the second person plural: we did this, the rebels attacked us, &c. That's much the same style as the other parts of the book; Sullivan was mostly recording the campaigns rather than his own personal experiences.

I suspect that Sullivan's role was behind the lines in supplies, so he probably didn't see the thick of the fighting. But that also gave him an overview of the whole Jersey campaign.

Anonymous said...

I've got "voices of 1776", an interesting book of personal letters about revolutionary battles. (I'm sure you must know it)
IIRC from it 1 battle was being commente on by a Continental Army Sullivan, also by a British Army Sullivan, also among American generals at it was J Sullivan. Quite a lot of Sullivans