I remember when General Arnold was ﬁred after, that I (with other musicians) was engaged in swimming in the Hudson River. Hearing the Orderly at camp beating up the Drummer’s call, we hurried our clothes on, dressing indeed as we ran, and made all the haste we could until we reached the camp. Shortly after our arrival at camp, the alarm guns (cannon) were ﬁred and upon our hearing the third of which, we beat up To Arms. To Arms.
As soon as the news of Arnold’s treachery reached the Forts, alarm guns were ﬁred. The ﬁrst gun in cases of alarm is a token, and when the second gun is ﬁred, all are in readiness to hear the third ﬁred. The Fife and Drum Majors have their musicians in readiness, and the moment the third gun is fired, the musicians instantly strike or beat up the air or tune To Arms.
In this case (at West Point) the second gun very soon followed the first and the third sooner than the second. None in camp could imagine what it was; what such tremendous roaring of cannon could be indicative of. The largest cannon mounted in the fort was the one made choice of to vomit out execrations against Arnold and Tories. Also warnings to the three brigades lying at and near to West Point. as well also to others at a somewhat remote distance, but not so far as to be out of the hearing of it.
The ﬁring of three cannon so loud and so quick in succession caused a dreadful commotion in the whole line of extended camps. The musicians belonging to the whole army (myself included among the number) at the instant the third gun was ﬁred. played and beat up the tune To Arms, To Arms. In less than five minutes, the whole of the two or three brigades were in line and under arms, the field officers all mounted on horseback and at their posts awaiting the orders of the Commanding General, as also a knowledge of what had given rise to so nasty an alarm. We were not long, however, under anns before the much desired knowledge was bestowed in being officially announced unto us—that of the traitorism of General Benedict Arnold and the capture of Major John Andre. his spy. At this intelligence, the whole army was (as it were) convulsed. We stood almost day and night upon our arms. for I suppose three days and three nights at least.
Major Andre was tried, convicted and condemned to death as a spy. He desired a soldier’s death-to be shot, but this could not be granted to him. He was at length ordered out for execution. It was a solemn time.
I (with other fifers) was notified by my Fife Major (Alexander McKinley) to be in readiness to play the Dead March. On the day of his execution, the whole of the army at West Point were put in motion and marched arms in hand to the gallows where they were formed into a great circle at some distance around it. We musicians were then attached to the provo guard and marched off to the provo guard house. The guard received the prisoner Andre and conducted him within the circle and to the foot of the gallows while we playing the Dead March all the way from the provo guard house to the gallows.
After he arrived at the gallows. a considerable time elapsed before his execution took place. This time was spent in conversing with the American officers. The officers sympathized greatly with him and great sorrow pervaded the whole army. Officers and privates were to be seen shedding tears. One great regret was manifested by all, this that one
so brave, frank and honorable should have been sacrificed through the perfidy of Arnold.
At length the fatal moment arrived and he ascended the ladder. He was resigned to his fate but not to the mode, but intimated that it would be but a momentary pang. He was then asked by the officers if he had anything more to say. He answered, “Nothing, but to request that you will witness to the world that I die a brave man.“
He was at this moment standing up upon the ladder. All things being then in readiness, the signal was given, the ladder was turned over from under him and Andre was launched into an eternal world.
Sometime after the execution of Major Andre I was again ordered by Colonel Humpton to Van Zandt’s. Here was the last place and last time l recollect of seeing Miss Elizabeth, the Colonel’s niece. From Van Zandt’s I was transferred by the orders of the Colonel to Princeton where I remained until about the close of the year 1780.
When the mutiny took place in the Pennsylvania and Jersey lines, although (and as will shortly appear), I was not of the mutiny party, I claimed a discharge at the hands of Colonel Humpton. l thirsted for a more noble theatre of action than that of truckling at the heels of, and to the will and mandate of a woman. This I state with due deference to the sex and I think I will be considered as doing so in all sincerity when
my readers are informed (as I intend they shall be), that I have been many years blessed with the presence and companionship of the fourth woman with whom I have lived in the capacity of husband. for I have had four wives.
I had been disappointed in being in many enterprises, skirmishes and battles in which my whole soul was enlisted, and once patriotically tired thus, it was gall to me when I was not suffered to participate in the conquests and glories pertaining to them. When I claimed a discharge of Colonel Humpton it was not for the purpose of getting out of the army and abandoning that post that was glory to me to ﬁll. No! But it was in order that I might get properly into the army and follow its destinies. Not with- standing that l was left by the Colonel with his niece, l was at many military posts. With her I fared very well, I had enough to eat and was better provided for in this respect and for clothes than I was when in the camp, but a soldier’s glory was my delight, even with the pinching of hunger as its accompaniment.
When I claimed a discharge of Colonel Humpton at Princeton, he refused to grant me one, but gave me a furlough to go on to Philadelphia. He had drawn all my pay, a part of which he paid me when he gave me a furlough. This however he refused to do too, until I declared in a peremptory manner that I would leave him.
The Colonel (I may state) had always treated me very well- But in this instance, I believed that I had cause to complain for he had promised me my discharge. This promise he had made to me before the soldiers had gone. But after they had
departed he refused it, saying that I was better in the army than out of it. Had I obtained my discharge, I could and in all probability would have done as thousands did—enlist again.
At the instance of Major Greer, after my arrival at Philadelphia I joined (I believe) the 10th Regiment, Major Greer having tendered me an invitation to come and live with him in the capacity of a waiter. I, being destitute of friends and having but a small sum of money in my possession, I readily accepted it and commenced at once the labours incident to my new department. In a few days after attaching myself to him, we rode up to Carlisle, Pa., where the Major was in attendance at all balls given in Carlisle, Shippensburg, Chambersburg and at other places. I was favored with (as l and others considered) the best horse and enjoyed myself very well. The Major would attend a ball in Chambersburg on one evening, ride back to Carlisle on the next day, and be in attendance at another on that evening in Carlisle.
I was always in the habit of carrying different kinds of liquor at his instance to the room on these occasions, and always had an opportunity of taking my toll, interest or freight-pay before starting with my loads. Apple toddy was a great drink in those days and I was no way backward in tasting as much as I considered necessary or pleased me to drink, my will in this matter was my only sovereign.
From Carlisle we were ordered on to Lebanon to join our Regiment. Here I was regularly attached to the regiment in the capacity of fifer. Major Greer complimented and commended me highly upon my performing so well that when we drew our clothing, he carried out his preference for me in his action, for whilst the rest of the young musicians drew their coats of coarse, red cloth, he drew for me a fifer’s scarlet couloured fine cloth coat.
I was not in the capacity of waiter to Major Greer whilst in Lebanon except when he went upon fishing excursions, then he was sure to call for me and press me into his service.
Whilst we lay at Lebanon, a circumstance transpired worthy of notice. A Sergeant who was known by the appellation of Macaroni Jack, a very intelligent, active, neat and clever fellow had committed some trivial offense. He had his wife with him in camp who always kept him very clean and neat in his appearance, she was washerwoman to a number of soldiers; myself among the number. She was a very well behaved good conditioned woman.
The officers for the purpose of making an impression upon him and to better his conduct, ordered him to be brought from the guard house, which done, he was tied up and the drummers ordered to give him a certain number of lashes upon his bare back. The intention of the officers was not to chastise him.
When he was tied up, he looked around and addressed the soldiers, exclaiming at the same time, “Dear brother soldiers, won’t you help me?” This in the eyes of the officers savored
of mutiny and they called out, “Take him down,” “Take him down.” The order was instantly obeyed and he was taken
back to the guard house again and handcuffed. At this time there were two deserters conﬁned with him.
On the next or second day after this we were ordered on to York, Pa., where upon our arrival we encamped upon the common below the town. Upon our arrival, our three
prisoners were conﬁned in York jail. In a few days after we arrived at York, a soldier of the name of Jack Smith and another soldier whose name l do not now remember, were engaged in playing “long bullets. ” Whilst thus engaged some‘ of the officers were walking along the road where they were throwing the bullets. The bullets passing near to the officers, they used very harsh language to Smith and his comrade who immediately retorted by using the same kind of indecorous language. A file of men was immediately dispatched with orders to take Smith and his comrade under guard and march them off to York jail.
In three or four days after these arrests were made, a Sergeant of the name of Lilly was arrested. He was also a very ﬁne fellow and an excellent scholar, so much so, that much of the regimental writing fell to his lot to do. and for which he received a remuneration in some way. This Sergeant having become intoxicated had quarreled with one or more of his messmates and upon some of the officers coming around to enquire what the matter was, found him out of his tent. The officers scolded him and bade him to go into his quarters.
Lilly having been much in favor and knowing his own abilities and the services rendered. was (although intoxicated) very much wounded and could not bear to be thus harshly dealt with and used language of an unbecoming kind to his superior officers. The officers immediately ordered him to be taken to York jail.
On the next day in the morning we beat up The Troop. After roll call we were ordered to beat up The Troop again. The whole line was again formed and I think the orders were for every soldier to appear in line with his knapsack on his back. I suppose that at this time there were parts of three regiments, in all 800 or 1000 men laying at York, the whole of which was commanded by Colonel Butler. The whole body (sentinels, invalids, etc., excepted) when formed were marched to the distance of about half a mile from the camp and there made to stand under arms. Twenty men were then ordered out of the line and formed into marching order and all the musicians placed at their head. After remaining a short time in a marching posture, the order of Forward was given. We were then marched direct to the jail door. The prisoners six in number were then brought out and their sentence (which was death) was read to them.
At this time it was thought that none in the line save the officers knew for what the provo guard was detached. But it appeared afterwards that previous to the ﬁring which was the means of launching four out of the six into eternity, the matter of rescuing them was whispered among the soldiers. But they did not concert measures in time to prevent the awful catastrophe which they meditated, by an act of insubordination upon their part.
After the sentence of death was read to the condemned soldiers at the jail door, we then marched them out and down below town, playing the Dead March in front of them. We continued our march full half a mile and halted on a piece of ground (common) adjoining a ﬁeld of rye which was then in blossom. This was sometime in the early part of June 1781.
After a halt was made, the prisoners were ordered to kneel down with their backs to the rye ﬁeld fence. Their eyes were then bandaged or covered over with silk handkerchiefs. The officer in command then divided his force of 20 men into two platoons. The whole was then ordered to load their pieces. This done, 10 were ordered to advance and at the signal given by the officer (which was the wave of his pocket handkerchief), the first platoon of 10 ﬁred at one of the six. “Macaroni” Jack was the first shot at and was instantly killed.
The first platoon was then ordered to retire and reload and the second platoon of 10 ordered to advance. When the signal was again given, Smith shared the same fate but with an awfulness that would have made even devils to have shrunk back and stood appalled. His head was literally blown in fragments from off his body.
The second platoon was then ordered to retire and reload whilst the first was ordered to advance. At the same signal they ﬁred at the third man. The second platoon then advanced and ﬁred to order at Sergeant Lilly whose noble soul was instantly on the wing.
The arms of each had been tied above their elbows with the cords passing behind their backs. Being tied thus, enabled them to have the use of their hands. I ventured near and noticed that “Macaroni” Jack had his hands clasped together in front of his breast and had both of his thumbs shot off.
The distance that the platoons stood from them at the time they ﬁred could not have been more than ten feet. So near did they stand that the handkerchiefs covering the eyes of some of them that were shot were set on ﬁre. The fence and even the heads of rye for some distance within the ﬁeld were covered over with blood and brains.
After four were shot, we musicians with a portion of the
twenty men were ordered to march and were then conducted up to the main line of the army. After our arrival there. the whole line was thrown into marching order and led to his horrid scene of bloody death. When the troops advanced near to the spot they displayed off into double file and were then marched very near to the dead bodies, as also to those still on their knees waiting the awful death that they had every reason to believe still awaited them. The order was for every man to look upon the bodies as he passed and in order that the soldiers in the line might behold them more distinctly in passing, they were ordered to counter march after they had passed and then marched as close to them upon their return.
The two deserters that were still in a kneeling posture were reprieved, the bandages taken from their eyes. then untied and restored to their respective companies.
A number of men were ordered out to dig a large grave. The bodies of the four dead soldiers were then wrapped up in their blankets and buried together therein. This last sad duty
performed, the soldiers were all marched back to their quarters in camp.
My readers may imagine to what a pitch this sad scene was heightened in sorrow when I state that on our way from the jail to the place of execution, those sentenced were crying, pleading and praying aloud. Women were weeping and sobbing over the unhappy fate of those doomed to death. and the wife of “Macaroni” Jack was screaming and almost distracted. On the way she attempted to run into the line or provo guard, to where her husband was walking, but was hindered by an officer who felled her to the ground with his sword, he having struck her with the side of it.
The execution of these men by Colonel Butler and his officers was undoubtedly brought about by a love of liberty-—the good of country and the necessity of keeping a proper subordination in the army in order to ensure that good
ultimately. Mutiny had shown itself at many of the military posts within the United States. The conduct of Pennsylvania and Jersey lines in the revolt at Morristown in Jersey had occurred but the year before and fresh in the memory of all having knowledge of the operations of the army.
Still, the destruction of these men seemed like a wanton destruction of human life. The soldiers at York were afraid to say or to do anything, for so trivial appeared the offenses of these men that were shot. that they knew not what in the future was to be made to constitute a crime.
I recollect for myself that for some considerable time after this, if I found myself meeting an officer when out of camp, I would avoid coming in contact with him if I possibly could do so by slipping a short distance to one side. Not that I was
afraid of an officer more than of a private whilst I done my duty, but fearing lest they might construe my conduct in some way or other into an offense.
All disposition of mutiny was entirely put down by these steps of cruelty. There were (no doubt) many times during the Revolution that such executions were called for and highly necessary. And perhaps there was an evidence as well as a conviction before the minds of the officers composing the
Court Martial in their case that we know not of that demanded the punishment of death. But to state in a word, it was a mournful day among the soldiers and hard and stony indeed were the hearts that were not deeply affected in witnessing this distressing execution of their fellow soldiers.
In the course of a few days after this melancholy occurrence, Colonel Butler received orders to join General Washington somewhere towards the south, but I think it was in the vicinity of Yorktown, Virginia. When the main body moved on, I with five or six drummers and fifers with some invalids and raw recruits were left at York. CONTINUED NEXT MONTH…..