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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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Generational Tension within the Artillery Regiment

The change at the top of the Continental artillery regiment that Gershom Foster’s early-1776 orderly book documents may have brought up some generational friction.

In his first regimental orders on 28 Jan 1776, the new colonel, Henry Knox, made a point to say:
The Colnl. is fully persuaded the officers of the Artillary Regt. will not loose the present opportunity. He wishes harmony to prevail in Every Company that the officers of Experience would Chearfully communicate their Knnowledg to the Younger and unexperienced Breathen that all the officers in their Respective spheres would inculcate to the noncommisioned officers & Soldiers the duty of their Stations & the advantage & necessity of a proper Subordination.
This message to “officers of Experience” came from a man in his mid-twenties who had just replaced a sixtysomething veteran of two wars, Col. Richard Gridley.

Furthermore, Knox now commanded Lt. Col. William Burbeck, who would turn sixty in 1776, and Lt. Col. David Mason, who would turn forty. Both those men had fought in wars against the French. Knox’s only military experience before 1775 was as a junior lieutenant in Boston’s militia grenadier company. Of course, he had won Gen. George Washington’s favor by helping to design fortifications in Roxbury and then cemented it by bringing more heavy artillery from Lake Champlain.

On 29 January, Knox’s regimental orders said, “the posts at prospect and Winter hills...are to be fired and directed by Colonel Mason.” Two days later Knox designated told all the artillery officers on the northern wing of the siege to report on their ordnance to Mason. The officers elsewhere in Cambridge were to report directly to Knox, and those at Roxbury to Maj. John Crane.

So where was Lt. Col. Burbeck in that arrangement? The Foster orderly book doesn’t mention the regiment’s second-highest ranking officer after the one regimental order he issued on 3 January. (It does mention “Capt. Burbeck at the Laboratory” on Cambridge common; that must have been one of the lieutenant colonel’s sons.)

Burbeck left the Continental Army when it moved south in April 1776, insisting that his contract was with Massachusetts. But perhaps he was already withdrawn from the regiment, or at least stopped behaving “Chearfully” around the new commander.

That’s another question scholars can investigate with the Gershom Foster orderly book, part of the archive at the Society of the Cincinnati’s Anderson House in Washington, D.C.

TOMORROW: Artillery officers versus infantry officers.

[The thumbnail above is Sharon Zingery’s photograph of William Burbeck’s gravestone in the Copp’s Hill Burying-ground, courtesy of Find-a-Grave.]

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