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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Thursday, September 06, 2012

“Posterity will huzza for us!”

So where would a little boy in Hagerstown, Maryland, in 1838 have heard what Gen. George Washington supposedly told his troops at the surrender of Yorktown?

Continental Army veteran Alexander Garden (1757-1829) published his Anecdotes of the Revolutionary War in America in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1822. Among the stories Garden collected was:
Dr. M’Caula, sometime since Intendant of Charleston, who served with distinction during the war of the Revolution, has frequently declared, that after the surrender of York-Town, while the Continental Troops were preparing to receive the British, who were to march forth from the garrison, and deliver up their arms, that he heard the Commander in Chief say, (addressing himself to the division of the army to which he was attached) “My brave fellows, let no sensation of satisfaction for the triumphs you have gained, induce you to insult your fallen enemy—let no shouting, no clamourous huzzaing increase their mortification. It is sufficient satisfaction to us, that we witness their humiliation. Posterity will huzza for us!”
That was reprinted with slight changes in punctuation in William Bailey’s Records of Patriotism and Love of Country, issued in Washington, D.C., in 1826. It was also quoted nearly word for word, with no mention of Garden, in Robert W. Lincoln’s Lives of the Presidents of the United States (1833). Benson J. Lossing simplified the wording in 1848, as I quoted a couple of days ago, but other authors maintained Garden’s Latinate language.

Most subsequent versions of the story, however, silently omit the line “It is sufficient that we witness their humiliation.” That part does seem to rub it in a bit, in a way that undercuts the story’s overall moral.

This webpage from Charleston confirms that physician Thomas McCalla was elected intendant (equivalent of mayor) of the city in 1810 and 1811.

TOMORROW: But was Dr. Thomas McCalla at Yorktown?

(The photo above, which comes courtesy of the National Park Service, shows Charleston’s city hall, built in 1800-04. But Dr. McCalla didn’t presided over city council meetings there. The building was originally the state’s branch of the Bank of the United States, and became city property only in 1818. It has been somewhat altered inside and out since then.)


Bob said...

I was going to click the "huzzah!" button for this whole series of posts, but then I thought perhaps I should let posterity huzzah for me.

J. L. Bell said...

An additional appearance: On 22 Nov 1826 the Middlesex Gazette of Middletown, Connecticut, reprinted the story from Garden, though it miscredited the source as “Gurder.” That suggests the printer was hastily cribbing the paragraph from another newspaper, which I haven’t found yet.