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.

Follow by Email


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Ketchum’s Mystery at 4:25

Two years after Thomas J. Fleming wrote Now We Are Enemies in 1960, another magazine journalist, Richard M. Ketchum, penned his own popular history of the Battle of Bunker Hill. It was published first as The Battle for Bunker Hill and then as Decisive Day: The Battle for Bunker Hill.

In his essay on sources at the back of the book, Ketchum quoted a document that puzzled him. It was a note sent to Gen. Thomas Gage by Lt. Col. Robert Carr from the “lines, [at] 25 minutes past 4 o’clock”:

Sir— The Rebels have advanced some Field Pieces on the rising ground to the left of Brownes House, I have given Capt. Farrington orders to endeavor to make them remove—I am Sir

Your Excelly. Most Obedt

Humble Sevt

Robert Carr

Lt Colo 35 Foot
Ketchum observed a couple of odd things about this missive:
  • Lt. Col. Carr signed the note so genteelly that his signature is half as long as the note itself.
  • Carr describes the New England artillery as advancing its cannons at 4:25. By that time, other sources agree, all the artillerists at Bunker Hill but Capt. Samuel Trevett and his Marblehead company had run away, or never went on the battlefield at all. Ketchum concluded, “it must be assumed these were guns abandoned by [Capts. Samuel] Gridley and [John] Callender, which were still being served by volunteers.”
  • Carr’s 35th Regiment was badly mauled in the fight along the beach, losing three captains and two lieutenants, but where on the Charlestown peninsula was “Brownes House”?
Ketchum didn’t use this source in his recreation of the battle because he couldn’t fit it in with the rest geographically. But in the spirit of completeness he shared it with his readers anyway.

TOMORROW: My theory—Carr was never in the battle.


AD said...

A minor point: Brendan Morrissey's Boston 1775: The Shot Heard Around the World shows the grenadier company of the 35th to have been deployed (unsurprisingly) against the rail fence, and the light company of the 35th to have been deployed against the redoubt (not on the beach). The 35th LI was part of a small formation Morrissey termed "Pigott's flank battalion."

I will assume that Morrissey is correct, not having examined the primary sources for myself. If so, then perhaps the LTC tagged along with the light company and was reporting on something he saw (or thought he saw) between the redoubt and Charlestown.

pilgrimchick said...

That's interesting--I find those few, shorter documents very intriguing because they point to all kinds of possibilities like that. I came across a letter from a Sarah Flood of somewhere in New Hampshire in 1679 to her husband about how terrible the Indian raids were and how the people in the town were feeling. However, there is no record of these raids, and I am not sure anyone has identified the area she indicated she wrote from.