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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Sunday, August 04, 2013

Sgt. Fargo and Gen. Washington’s “Indignation and Shame”

Musket Firing 1As I introduced back here, in 1775 Moses Fargo was a sergeant in Col. Samuel Holden Parsons’s Connecticut regiment during the siege of Boston. He was ordered to keep an orderly book, copying down the orders for each day as they were dictated to him—which allowed for idiosyncratic spelling. Here’s Sgt. Fargo’s entry for 4 Aug 1775:

it with Indignation and Shame the Genll observes that notwithstanding the Repeated orders which have Ben Given to pervent the Firing of guns in and about the Camp that it is Daily and hourly Pratised

That Contrary to all orders Stragling Soldiers Do steal past the Guards and Fire at a distance Where there is not the Least posabilty of hurting the Enamy and Where there is no other End answerd but to waist there amunition and Expose themselfs to the Redicule of the Enamy and keep there own Camp harised by Frecquent & Continuel alarms to the hurt and Deterement of Every Good Soldier who is thereby Disturbed of his Natural Rest and at Length will Never be able to Distingush Between the Real and the Fals alarmes

for that Reson the Gen’l Forbids in the most perremtory maner any Person or Persons whatsoever under any Pertence to Pass the out Guards unless autherised by the Commanding officer of that part of the Lines Signafyed in Riting which must be Shewed to the officers of the Guard in there Posts any Person Offending in this Perticuler will be Considered in no other Light then a Common Enamy and the guards will have orders To fire on them as Such the Commanding officer of Every Regmt. is to Derict that Every man in his Regmt. is Made accquanted with these orders to the End that no one may plead Ignorance and that all may be aprisd with the Consiquences of Disobediance the Colo. of Regmts and the Commanding officers of Cores to order the Role of Each Company to be Called twice a Day and Every mans Amunition to Examined at Evening Role Calling and Such as are Found Difficant are to be Confined the Guards are to Aprehend all Persons Near there Posts whether towns people or Soldiers
Of course, Gen. George Washington’s “indignation and shame” was just a cover story. Or rather, he probably felt indignant and ashamed, but not because the men were firing at the enemy.

Rather, as Gen. John Sullivan’s letter reveals, the day before headquarters issued the orders above, Washington had learned that the army had significantly less gunpowder than he had been told. All that talk about “the ridicule of the enemy” and a “good soldier…disturbed of his natural rest” was meant to stop the men from using up powder while keeping the supply crisis secret from the British.

The Connecticut Historical Society published Fargo’s orderly book in 1899. It transcribed the countersign password as “Iceland,” but other sources say it was “Ireland.” For the sake of Sgt. Fargo and his company, I hope he actually wrote that right.

(Photograph above by Erin and Lance Willett via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.)

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