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 24, 2020

“Major Scarborough Gridley guilty of a breach of orders”

On 24 Sept 1775, Maj. Scarborough Gridley’s career in the Continental Army came to an end.

Gridley was the fourth-ranking officer in the artillery regiment. More important, he was the son of the regimental commander, Col. Richard Gridley.

When the Massachusetts Provincial Congress summoned Richard Gridley in April 1775 and asked him to come out of retirement to lead its artillery and engineering force, one of his conditions was a high rank for his youngest son.

On 17 June, Maj. Gridley was ordered to take his artillery company onto the Charlestown peninsula and help defend the provincials’ new redoubt on Breed’s Hill. He found something else to do.

Three months later, that led to a court-martial. And on 24 September Gen. George Washington’s orders stated:
Major Scarborough Gridley, try’d at a late Genl Court Martial, whereof Brigd. Genl [Nathanael] Green was president, for “being deficient in his duty upon the 17th June last, the day of the Action upon Bunkers-hill”—

The Court find Major Scarborough Gridley guilty of a breach of orders; They do therefore dismiss him from the Massachusetts service; But on Account of his inexperience and Youth, and the great confusion which attended that days transaction in general, they do not consider him incapable of a Continental Commission, should the General Officers recommend him to his Excellency—

The General confirms the dismission of Major Scarborough Gridley, and orders it to take place accordingly.
Scar Gridley was born on 9 Oct 1739, so “inexperience and Youth” referred to his age of…thirty-five. Clearly that line was a sop to his father, as was the idea that he might become an officer in the army Washington was organizing for the new year. The commander pointedly took no notice of anything but this “young” man being dismissed.

Other Americans noticed the dismissal as well. The artist Bernard Romans produced a print titled “An Exact View of the late Battle at Charlestown, June 17, 1775.” The Philadelphia printer Robert Aitken copied that to make “A Correct View of The Late Battle at Charlestown: June 17th, 1775.”

Romans’s image included a detail, shown above, of Maj. Scar Gridley staying in the foreground, out of the battle, trading cannon shot with a Royal Navy ship in the Charles River. He helpfully labeled that figure “Broken Officer.” (Aitken appears to have left out Romans’s labels, which would have been of most interest to New Englanders.)

Thus, Maj. Gridley’s contemporaries viewed his deficiency as crucial to the American defeat at Bunker Hill and were willing to pay to see why he was thrown out of the army. His five months of military service were not a success.

TOMORROW: Whatever happened to Maj. Gridley?

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