A Revolutionary War Story

The reason I decided to share this story on my blog is twofold. The first reason is so I have this story saved in my personal files, and the second reason is to share an interesting story with my readers.  This is the story of Amasa Mitchell, American Revolution patriot and my 5th great-grandfather. He is consequently my ticket into the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) should I choose to join it…which I don’t.  His story was written down (thankfully!) by his grandson Dr. Francis Mitchell, the brother of my 3rd great-grandfather.  Luckily Grandfather Amasa shared many stories of his time in the Continental Army with his friends and relations. It gives a real-life account of the American Revolutionary War through the eyes of someone who lived it.  It makes it more personal than reading it from a history text.  This story appeared in some newspapers in several states back in the 1970s when one of my relatives shared it with the press.  It’s a little long, but if you like history you’ll enjoy it.


(This story was written by Francis Mitchell, M.D. and tells what he remembers about his grandfather, Amasa Mitchell.  Dr. Mitchell died in 1915 and this story has been preserved by his family ever since.)

My grandfather, Amasa Mitchell, was born in the state of Connecticut May 29, 1761. His parents were Scottish and Irish and came to this country from the north of Ireland around 1720.  I know but little about them, except that I heard grandfather say that his father lived to the age of 112 years. He frequently spoke of his father’s skill and endurance as a frontiersman, but that he was too old to take any part in the Revolution.

My grandfather had six brothers, the names of whom I do not know.  Some of the older ones were in the British Army and present at the time of Braddock’s defeat.  They all entered the American Army around the same time, 1776.  Grandfather being the youngest of the seven, entered that division under the direct command of General Washington, his brothers entered different divisions.  He never saw or heard from them after his enlistment.  He believed some of them passed safely through the war as he had, but was unable to get any trace of them after the war.

After the war ended, Grandfather made his home in Schoharie, New York, where he married Mary Freymeyer, March 25, 1788.  She was of German parentage and was born in that country November 10, 1770.  After his marriage, Grandfather moved to Charleston, Virginia, where he remained until 1832.  He then moved to Cincinnati and again to Scott County, Indiana, where he remained until his death on January 22, 1851 at the age of 90 years.  His funeral was the largest I have ever seen, there being 500 horsemen in line besides one company of state militia under the command of Major Joseph Keepens at New Frankfort, and a very large following of citizens on foot, in wagons, and other vehicles.  Major Keepens had a great deal of trouble drilling his men so that there would be no mistake at the grave.  He formed his men in father’s barnyard and put them through the drill for two or three hours until they understood every move he made with his sword.  When they came to the grave, everything moved like clockwork.  Major Keepens was a large, fine-looking man with the pride and lofty bearing of the old Southern Gentleman now passing away, and I think now after seeing many great military movements, that the funeral could not have been entrusted to more capable hands.

My grandfather was between 15 and 16 years of age when he entered the army, and though he was of tall frame, he was of slight build. The enlisting officer believing him not yet sufficiently developed to carry a gun, appointed him fifer, he being a fair musician for his age and time.  At the time I knew my grandfather, he was a large man being about six feet tall and weighing 18o or 190 pounds.  He walked erect with a military step and carriage.  His features were large, eyes grey, hair iron grey, mouth large and clean cut with kindly, firm lips.  He used neither tobacco nor whiskey, was a member of the local church, a Freemason, and an uncompromising abolitionist.

He was always proud to tell of the grand deeds and heroism of Washington.  He described Washington as a man of large frame, very active and the kindest man in the world, but of inflexible firmness–as being quick to decide and prompt to act, but never making a mistake.  When speaking of his General, his whole countenance seemed to light up and glow with a patriotic fire that to my young mind was divine.


His story of Valley Forge was, to me, the most interesting and pathetic of all the stories he told of the Revolution.  He said that the soldiers were almost naked and most of them were barefooted and that it was easy to track them by the blood from their feet on the frozen ground.  He said suffering from the insufficiency of clothing and lack of shoes, however, was nothing to that due to the lack of food.  He said that he himself was three days without the taste of food of any kind, and that during those nights of hunger and cold he frequently dreamed of the fireside of home and mother preparing good things to eat.  He said of all his sufferings, nothing compared to those three days and nights of cold and hunger.  During the darkest hours of that memorable winter, he said that Martha Washington visited the camp and passed through leaning on the arm of the General.  As she passed along, the half-frozen and emaciated soldiers would stagger to their feet and salute her with all the enthusiasm and lofty bearing of well fed and happy men.  She would bow to the men, encouraging them with kind words and smiling lips, when it was plain to be seen that it was only by the most painful effort on her part to restrain the tears from gushing from her eyes.

One morning Grandfather and some of his comrades were out in the woods gathering timber when they came upon Washington kneeling at the root of a tree engaged in prayer.  He did not seem to see or know of the presence of the wood hunters who stopped, took off their old caps and stood with bowed heads until the General had risen and started back to camp.  When relating this incident, my Grandfather frequently said that after that morning, he had no doubt as to the result of the War of Independence because he knew Washington had appealed to the Infinite Father for assistance.  Grandfather said there was one remarkable fact concerning the camp at Valley Forge and that was as to desertion.  He said that while some of the new recruits did desert, that with the old soldiers who had been with Washington from the start, such a thing was never thought of, or at least never mentioned.  It is hard for the present generation to understand the power of those underlying principles that held that little army together under such distressing circumstances.

While the army was dying of cold and hunger at Valley Forge, Congress seemed to be unable to agree upon a plan of relief until compelled to do so by Washington himself.  Thomas Paine at that time was Clerk of the Committee on Foreign Affairs.  It was reported and believed by the army that he had saved out of his salary five hundred dollars which he took to Benjamin Franklin and proposed to donated it to by food and clothing for the soldiers.  Franklin at once agreed to donate a like amount, and they began immediately to solicit donations for that purpose and by that night had collected $38,000 with which they procured supplies  and immediately started them to the army.

One incident which occurred during the winter the army was at Valley Forge my grandfather always delighted to relate.  He said that Washington was very solicitous about the health of his army and wished the soldiers to have exercise sufficient to keep them in good physical condition, as well as to keep their minds occupied.  Near the camp there was a very large rock or boulder on the top of a very high mountain and Washington proposed to the soldiers that they roll it from its resting place down the side of the mountain.  Nearly all the army set to work for that purpose expecting to accomplish the task in a few days, but three weeks of the hardest work was required before the boulder began to move.  They cut small trees for levers and and had to remove the broken stone and earth from the lower part of the boulder before they could fairly begin the task of moving it.  Everyone now became interested and the excitement ran high and the officers were as much interested as the men.  The great boulder finally began to move and with a crash started down the mountainside mowing trees to the ground and crushing everything that happened to be in its path of descent until it reached the valley below.  It was a clear, cold day and Washington and his officers were out to see the fun which they seemed to enjoy greatly.  If Valley Forge should be made a National Park and a large boulder be found at the foot of either of the mountains close by, he who looks upon it after reading this story will know how, when, and why it got there.


Grandfather regarded the Battle of Brandywine as the hardest fought battle of the War.  He said the day was intensely hot and both armies suffered greatly from the heat and thirst.  The Americans were driving the British back at many points of the line and success seemed to be assured when it became known that one of the divisions of the American Army was retreating, and soon order changed into confusion and a decisive victory became a disastrous defeat.  He said Washington rode about like an enraged lion trying to rally the men, but it was too late and he was compelled to order a retreat of the entire army.  He said a mad scene followed this defeat.  Different commands were thrown together in the greatest confusion.  Some laughed, some prayed, and some swore.  Confusion and dread of impending doom appeared to pervade the entire army.  He said that he felt that the Americans had been betrayed and that the cause of the Colonies was hopeless.  He said that it was believed by many of the common soldiers that men high in confidence of the people were desirous of the downfall of Washington and believed that the loss of the battle was brought about for that purpose, and he believed that if he had not been in the infinite hands of destiny, their object would have been accomplished.


My grandfather said the crossing of the Delaware River on such boats as they could find and on rafts of logs by night was one of the most daring and dangerous movements performed by Washington during the entire seven years of their struggle.  He said that the river was full of floating ice, some of which looked to him to be four feet thick.  The weather was bitter cold and the entire army suffered greatly from the exposure of that night.  The Americans had been driven to the river by the British who greatly outnumbered them and could have captured the entire American army had they made the attack that night.  Washington saw that flight across the river was the only hope of escape.  The British believed the Americans were safely captured and they could postpone the attack until morning and then, as they expressed it, “make a breakfast spell of it.”  But at dawn the next morning, Washington attacked the British at Trenton, and most of them being asleep and not apprehending any danger, the Americans gained a great victory capturing 1,000 or 1,200 of the hired Hessians and Hussars of the British Army.  (Right here I may be permitted to interject the probable solution of the origin of the word “Hoosier,” as applied to the citizens of Indiana.)  Grandfather always held to that the term was applied to them by Revolutionary soldiers who came to the territory a few years after the close of the war on account of the appearance of the settlers of the territory reminding them of the Hussars (which they pronounced “Hushies”) of the British Army.

The prisoners were marched across the country and great numbers of people came out to see what kind of animals the were.  They discovered that they were ordinary men and had no further fear of them as the invincible warriors they had been accustomed to regard them. The army then went into winter quarters at Morristown, where the suffering was almost as great as that of Valley Forge.


My grandfather said that he was never sick, wounded, or captured during the war.  He came near being captured, however, at one time.  He was in a scouting party Washington sent out to locate the British Army, and when eight or ten miles they met a British scouting party much larger than their own and the only safe course open to them was to get back to camp with all possible speed.  The British had fresher and better horses and gained steadily on the Americans when Grandfather’s horse broke down and was scarcely able to go outside of a walk.

The others saw the condition of his horse and realizing that if they clung to him they would all be captured or killed, then only they reluctantly left him to his face.  However he urged his horse along as fast as possible, and had gotten only about halfway up the hill with the British close upon him when he saw coming over the summit of the hill with a whoop, a party of American cavalry which greatly outnumbered the British party.  The tables were at once turned, the pursuers became the pursued, and the entire British party was soon captured by the Americans.  He said he thought that body of American cavalry men was the greatest body of men he had ever seen and believed that with their assistance he could whip the entire British army.


Grandfather never liked to talk of the treason of Benedict Arnold, nor of the capture and execution of Major Andre.  He regarded General Arnold as one of the greatest Generals of the American army, and a true American, and of course his treason was a great shock to Washington and the entire army.  He said that the night after Arnold’s treason had become known, he saw a rocket ascend outside the American camp, but he never knew from whence nor for what purpose, but he believed it was a signal from Arnold to the British to inform them that Major Andre had been captured and that his (Arnold’s) treason had become known.  He said that the trial and execution of Andre was the saddest event of the war.  Washington, he said, did all he could to save Andre, and used every means possible to exchange him for Arnold with that end in view.  But the British refused to give Arnold up and the only possible thing left him was the execution of Andre.  He said that Major Andre was kept in a prison built of logs and a strong guard was kept around it to prevent the possibility of his escape or rescue.  The morning of the execution, Washington came to the prison after the troops were drawn up, and taking Andre by the hand said to him: “My friend, I cannot save you.  Goodbye.”  Washington then walked away crying like a child.  That feeling that Washington had for Andre under the distressing circumstances which Andre was placed can be better understood that they were both freemasons, and the ties that bound them together were as strong as those of natural brothers.

As soon as Washington had disappeared from view, the commanding officer ordered Andre be brought out and be placed on his coffin which was in a cart, and to proceed to the place of execution which was about 100 yards from the prison.  Grandfather played the death march as the procession moved from the prison to the place of execution, a necessity of which he never ceased to regret.  When the cart stopped under the tree on which Andre was to be hanged, his hands and feet were quickly bound, a rope was made fast to a limb and a noose placed around his neck while he was standing on his coffin.  The driver was made to drive the cart from under him.  Andre held to his coffin with his feet as long as he could and then fell to his death, and thus the most deplorable tragedy of the American Revolution had been enacted.  Grandfather said there were but few dry eyes.


The story of the Battle of Yorktown and the surrender of Cornwallis was the most pleasing and exciting of all of Grandfather’s stories about the Revolution.  He said the Americans were expecting a decisive battle a long time before the meeting with Cornwallis, but had no idea when or where it would take place.  But with the help of Lafayette and his men, they had no doubt of a victory for the Americans.  When they came up with the British he said it appeared to him that Washington used more precaution in bringing on that battle than he had ever known Washington to use before.  He personally inspected every point and directed every move.  His face was aglow with expectant success, and his whole bearing was active and enthusiastic, imparting a feeling to the entire army they had never known before, and when the clash of arms finally came, every American was anxious to be in the front rank and the thickest of the battle.  The British, he said, fought like enraged lions, for they too felt that this was the final struggle of the war, but the Americans were invincible and the British seeing further resistance useless displayed their insignia of defeat.

Then came the surrender of the British Army and all felt that the war was at an end.  The American Army was drawn up and witnessed the stacking of the British arms, and when Cornwallis delivered up his sword, Grandfather said he felt that the war was over and the object for which he had fought so long and suffered so much had been attained, and his heart was so full of gratitude that his eyes were blinded for a time by tears.  He said after drying his eyes he looked as far as he could over the landscape and said aloud “My country! My home! I thank God for permitting me to be here this day and see the dawn of American Liberty!”


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