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 16, 2020

“Improper to sustain a commission”

On 16 Aug 1775, the Continental Army issued its internal response to the fiery British raid on the Penny Ferry landing in Malden, described back here.

As quoted in Col. William Henshaw’s orderly book:
Captain Eleazer Lindsey of Colonel Gerrish’s regiment, tried by a general court-martial for absenting himself from his post, which was attacked and abandoned to the enemy; the court, on consideration, are of opinion that Captain Lindsey be discharged the service, as a person improper to sustain a commission.
This was one of a series of court-martial proceedings in that week. On 13 August orders had gone out for some men to be confined, and the next day Gen. Nathanael Greene (shown here) assembled a panel of high-ranking officers in the Harvard College chapel.

On 18 August, Greene’s panel tried Col. Samuel Gerrish and unanimously found “That he behaved unworthy an Officer” during the British assault on Sewall’s Point. The court-martial cited “the 49th Article of the Rules and Regulations of the Massachusetts Army,” which was a grab-bag clause:
All Crimes not capital, and all Disorders and Neglects, which Officers and Soldiers may be guilty of, to the Prejudice of good Order and military Discipline, though not mentioned in the Articles of War, are to be taken cognizance of by a general or regimental Court-Martial, according to the Nature and Degree of the Offence, and be punished at their Discretion.
The court recommended that Gerrish “be cashiered, and render’d incapable of any employment in the American Army.” Gen. George Washington approved that sentence the next day.

On 25 August, the commander-in-chief transferred the company formerly under Capt. Lindsey out of the regiment formerly under Col. Gerrish and back into the regiment of Col. Ruggles Woodbridge.

I’ve already quoted what Washington wrote about these actions to his overseer on 20 August. Nine days later he wrote something similar to Richard Henry Lee:
I have made a pretty good Slam among such kind of officers as the Massachusets Government abound in since I came to this Camp, having Broke one Colo. and two Captains for Cowardly beh[aviour in] the action on Bunker’s Hill—Two captains for drawing more provisions and pay than they had men in their Company—and one for being absent from his Post when the Enemy appeared there, and burnt a House just by it.

Besides these, I have at this time one Colo., one Major, one Captn, & two Subalterns under arrest for tryal—

In short I spare none & yet fear it will not all do, as these Peeple seem to be too inattentive to every thing but their Interest.
Washington’s comments don’t line up exactly with the court-martial sentences. Gerrish was formally charged with poor behavior well after Bunker Hill, and both Lindsey and Capt. Christopher Gardner could be described as “being absent from his Post when the Enemy appeared there, and burnt a House just by it.” But the overall trend is clear.

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