On October 19th, 1781, a British army under Lord Cornwallis surrendered to a combined Continental and French force at Yorktown, Virginia. A number of my ancestors were there with the Americans. The revolutionary Ogdens and Daytons of New Jersey, who by now will be familiar to readers of Walking the Berkshires for their exploits on Sullivan's Expedition against the Iroquois and associations with patriot turned traitor Benedict Arnold and fallen founder Aaron Burr, were in the thick of things at Yorktown. This experience solidified their connections with their brother officers, offered a last chance for military glory, and for most of them helped to launch their post-war careers. But there was also a young artilleryman and drummer in the family tree whose life took a very different turn in the trenches, and this is his story, too.
When the Marquis de Lafayette returned to America from France in 1780, Washington gave him command of a picked Corps d'elite of 2,000 light infantry and light horse. Lt. Colonel Francis Barber served as his aide-de-camp, and Captain Aaron Ogden with a company of light infantry. About 1,200 of these troops were sent to Virginia in the Spring of 1781 to counter British moves in the South while Washington remained with the bulk of the Northern Army to keep the British occupied in New York. Major McPherson commanded Lafayette's combined continental horse and foot on this expedition and Captain Ogden as senior captain commanded 3 companies of light infantry.
Lafayette's Virginia Campaign was a series of fox and hounds maneuvers over territory that would see massive armies go at it hammer and tongs 8 decades later during the American Civil War. He was reinforced by General Wayne with 900 men and some militia but still was greatly outnumbered by the British under Cornwallis and Phillips as well as loyalist forces commanded by Arnold and Simcoe. Along the James River Cornwallis very nearly "caught the boy" at the Battle of Green Spring on July 6th, 1781, as Ogden's postwar memoir describes:
"General La Fayette discovered this feint but just in time to save himself, after marching to attack the rear of the enemy as he supposed. He however ordered an attack on the left of the front of the enemy, and Captain Ogden was ordered with the infantry of this legendary corps and a body of militia, to march to the left and cover the retreat of the main body, which retreat was at the same time ordered by the General. After marching some distance as directed Captain Ogden discovered the right wing of the British Army advancing rapidly to turn the left of our army, when in order to conceal the comparative weakness of his force, he threw his men into a neighboring wood and posted them behind a surrounding fence. This caused the enemy to halt & reconnoitre, and form their line of attack, which marched up to charge into the woods, in this however they were checked by a galling fire from our men behind the fence, by which the right wing of the enemy was retarded until the firing on the left had entirely ceased, when captain Ogden drew off his men, and fell into the rear of our main body and so covered its retreat."
Washington and the French were able to converge by land and sea and bottle up Cornwallis at Yorktown. Colonel Matthias Ogden was there with the 1st New Jersey Continentals, and Captain Jonathan Dayton with the reorganized 2nd New Jersey. The New Jersey Brigade was under command of Colonel Elias Dayton, father of the Captain.
The continental artillery at Yorktown was commanded by Colonel John Lamb, and among its number was Thaddeus Thompson, a 19 year old from Woodbridge, Connecticut (my 5th great grandfather). He had enlisted as a mattross (an infantryman who assisted the artillery) and been at Valley Forge. He was also a drummer, and family tradition has it that he beat the long roll at the execution of Major Andre. This is possible, as Lamb's gunners were based around West Point at the time of Arnold's treason. Thompson put to work at Yorktown helping to entrench the guns, and while carrying a bundle of sticks called a fascine to construct the siege works, it was struck by round shot from the British lines which crippled him for life. He was one of the first to receive a revolutionary veteran's pension, amounting to $8 per month. His youngest daughter Rhoda Augusta Thompson erected a tablet in the Washington Memorial Chapel at Valley Forge to his memory. She also holds the distinction as the only unmarried daughter of a revolutionary war veteran to receive a pension because of her father's service.
Lafayette's light troops were engaged in one of the few direct assaults during the siege: a night attack on British Redoubt #10. Lt. Colonel Alexander Hamilton commanded the attack, with Captain Ogden leading the van. The redoubt was taken, with the light troops outpacing the pioneers with their axes who had been sent ahead to clear obstacles, and Ogden received a contusion from a cannonball during the fight but was not badly injured. Lt. Colonel Barber received his third wound of the war carrying dispatches for Lafayette, who after the surrender exchanged swords with Barber. Ogden received a special citation by Washington for bravery at Yorktown.
The Revolutionary war did not end in Virginia with the surrender of the British, and while diplomatic events played out in Europe, Washington's forces returned to the North and encamped at New Windsor on the Hudson. There, just as reports of a preliminary treaty of peace were received, Lt. Colonel Barber was tragically killed by a tree that was felled across the road he was riding with a dispatch for Washington. President Jefferson would later grant his heirs 450 acres of land in Tuscarawas County, Ohio in recognition of his military service, and Matthias Ogden would name his eldest son after his fallen friend. He was given leave to go to Paris and Lafayette arranged for him to receive Le droit du Tabouret from Louis XVI: the much coveted honor of sitting before the queen on a stool. He was there as well for the Treaty of Versailles and returned with the first news of the Peace in October, 1783. He died of Yellow Fever in 1791 at the age of 36.
Aaron Ogden and Jonathan Dayton were still living when Lafayette made his triumphal tour of the United States in 1824. The Ogden and Barber children were lined up in Aaron Ogden's house for the old General's inspection. Lafayette stayed one night with Jonathan Dayton, who worked himself to exhaustion to make Lafayette's visit a memorable one. It proved too much for his poor health, and he died a week after the Marquis had departed.
And Thaddeus Thompson, despite his injuries, returned to his home in Connecticut, sired 15 children and outlived his two wives. One of these offspring would move to Ohio, and eventually the Thompson branch would join the Barker line in my family tree.