"Sharp, quirky, and occasionally nettlesome", Walking the Berkshires is my personal blog, an eclectic weaving of human narrative, natural history, and other personal passions with the Berkshire and Litchfield Hills as both its backdrop and point of departure. I am interested in how land and people, past and present manifest in the broader landscape and social fabric of our communities. The opinions I express here are mine alone. Never had ads, never will.
This blog has now reached its 7th Anniversary. Thanks to Facebook, a regular newspaper column, and a much happier home life, I do not use this blog as I did in the early years as my primary creative and social outlet. Still, I am pleased by the connections it continues to make for me and for others, and from time to time find new reason to post things here. The long form post, in the end, still has a place in the blogosphere despire all the Tweets and Likes that predominate elsewhere. And like any archive, it still requires a curator.
Israel Litchfield of Scituate, MA
kept a diary between Nov 1774 and mid 1775 that survives today in the
collections of the New England Historic Genealogical Society. It is a trove of period details gives many insights into daily
life in his coastal Massachusetts town during the months leading up to the
onset of the armed struggle for American Independence.
years old, Litchfield was skilled in both leatherwork and clock making.
Sometimes he ground razors for family and friends, and sometimes he had someone
else draw a tooth. As a skilled laborer he collaborated with other artisans,
like Abednego Wade who worked in brass, but he also did his share of manual
work in the fields. He sang with the choir and enjoyed visiting friends,
and with all this activity he increasingly found time to train with the
Litchfield, Israel, Scituate. Sergeant, Capt. Samuel Stockbridge's co. of Minute-
men, Col. Bailey's regt., which marched on the alarm of April 19, 1775; service,
21 days ; also, Clerk, Capt. Hayward Peirce's co., Col. John Cushing's (2d Plym-
outh Co.) regt. ; service, 15 days ; company ordered to march to Bristol, R. I., on
an alarm in Dec, 1776.
diary offers a
wealth of information about the formation, drill and equipment of the local
militia, particularly the minute company to which Litchfield belonged.
Drill: Before Scituate established its two companies of
minutemen in January, 1775, Litchfield mentions two types of drill used to exercise
Nov 17' 
: In the forenoon I Work'd at the tanhouse put 19 sides into Lime In the
12 of us met at
Daniels and Exercised We used what they Call the Norfolk Excercise
the Weather Cool…
18 …we went to
M"" Gerfhoni Ewells from there to IncineTurners there was Cap*
Sergant Stockbridge: Sergeant Jenkins We Exercised Some in the New way Calid the
2 Dec ...in the
afternoon We Exercised at Daniels after the New form viz the 64**
From this it appears that preference was
subsequently given to the British 1764 manual of military
exercise over the older Norfolk militia
drill (1759) which still included instructions for using halberds
Organization: It was customary for the New England trained bands to
elect their officers, and Litchfield
describes this process several times in his diary. In January, 1775, Scituate formed its first
minutemen in an occasion solemnified by a church meeting but ultimately
resolved by others of the
Town and the votes of the men themselves.
January the 11, We went to the Training field by the rev. Barns's
meeting house the Lower,
Middle and upper Companeys of the millitia
of this town met there under arms in order to Enlist minute-men
after we were Embodied and marchd Some the three Companyes were Marchd
into the meeting house for to
hear a Lector. The Rev"" M"" Barnes went to pray[e]r then
Sang the two first Stanzas of
the 144*'' psalm after which the ReV M"" Grosvenor Preachd a
Sermon his text Second of
Chronicles 17^^: I''m Ready prepared for the war. It was generally
Concluded that he talk'd very well after the
Sermon m"" Grofvenor made a Short prayer after which they
Sang two Stanzas in the 101*' psalm Then we were marched out of the meeting
and Embodied again and then they
beat up for Men to Enlift as minute men there was aboute 66
men Enlified and I was one
amongst them that Enlisted we marchd into the meeting house and
adjurnd from there to Lan[d]lord
Fosters there we Chose three off[i]cers To wit M"" John Clapp for a
Cap* M"" Nathanel Winflow first
Lieutenant and M"^ Hayward Pierce Second Lieutenant and adjurnd
till next wednesday to the Same
place &c the weather very pleafant for the time of the year 1 got
home from training aboute
18'^ : In the after[noon] we went to Town meeting which was
to Come into Some meafures Relative to
the minute men they passed a Vote
not to Raise any mony at present but that they might
in Some future
time If they Saw Cause. they had the Association of the Continential Congress
prefented to the people to Sign
almost all them that were there Signed it young and old 1 for one.
from the meeting houfe the minute
men and Cap' Clapp and others Went Down to Landlord Fosters
Agreable to an ajournment Voted Last
Wednessday to Chuse the officers there wer[e] So Many
inlisted As to inhance the number to
88 we passed a Vote to Divide into two Companies 44 men
in Each the upper Company Chose all
their olficiers but we Got a little Divide'^ after we had made
Some Choices and adjournd till next
monda}' at one oclock to the Same place Viz Landlord Fosters
23*5 : In the forenoon, I wrought a little in Clock-work: In
the afternoon, Daniel and I, went up to
Fosters; to a meeting upon an adjournment from last Wednefsday ; in order to
choice of officiers, for the Lower companey of
minute men : We made choice of M'' Samuel
Stockbridge Jun"" for Captain, M""
Hayward Peirce for first Lieutenant : and M'' Pickle[s] Cushing
for Second Lieutenant, M^ Israel Nichols first
Sergant : they Chose me for the Second Sergant
Turner for the third Sergeant and M*" William Loring fourth Sergant the
following men for
Corperals Viz Mefs^ : Ira Briant, Benj^ Wade, Eleazer
Peaks, & David Turner.
Israel Litchfield was now the 2nd
Sergeant under Captain Stockbridge in the 'Lower' Minute Company
of Scituate, which was part of Col. Anthony Thomas's (later Bailey's) Massachusetts Militia
Regiment. It was his duty to train the men under his charge, as well as to provide himself
with the required equipment as well as assist in equipping the company. In this, his skills in leatherworking proved
a key asset, but he also seems to have taken his role as drill instructor very
seriously, exercising small groups of men at his kinsmen Daniel Litchfield's several
times a week.
January the 24': In the Afternoon We Excersised at Daniels
Viz of the M[inu]te M[e]n Sergant
I[srae]l L[itchfiel]d Z[adoc]k D[amo]n,
D[anie]l L[itchriel]d, E[lish]a L[itchfiel]d.
Januayr 26th … In the
afternoon we Excersised at Daniels of the m[inu]te m[e]n there was my Self
L[itchfiel]d & Z[adoc]k D[amo]n and Benj-^ Wade Benj' & I wrestled together.
31' we viz: myfelf D[aniel], A[mos], Z[adock],
E[lisha], and 2 or three more met and
Excersised at D[aniels]
February the first in the forenoon Father Daniel & Lot
cut Bushes before the Door pasture Daniel and Lot
and I went to training with the rest of Cap'
Stockbridges Company of minute men we met at m'
Clapps in the Evening Lieutenant Pierce
and Benjamin Wade and I went to m"" Abial
there was a fine parcel of ladies there to wit : Mrs Rachel Barnes Mrs fofler
mr^ Randal &:c.
3^, I wrought in the Clock-makeing business Father
Daniel lx)t and Francis Cut-bushes
In the pasture before the Door In
the afternoon I went to Daniels to Excersys the M[inut]e
m[e]n but none of them Came.
6'^: In the forenoon I Curried In the
afternoon we excersised at Daniels of the minute men
there was D[anie]l & Z[adock]
& A[mos] & E[lisha] tSi my S[el]f
February : the . 9*'' In the forenoon I wrought in the Clock
making buismess In the afternoon the
minute men (viz thofe of them that
are under my tuifhon) Excersised at Daniels to wit Z[adock]. Daniel. E[lisha], Amos Etce.
13...In the afternoon We went to training we met at M"" James
Jenkins's the Weather
prety Cold there was but aboute
one third of the Comp''» after training Cap', Stockbridge &
Lieu' Cushing and others Went to
15"': We went to training we met at M"" James Jenkinss again there was allmost the whole Company of minute men that met this Day But the weather was So inclement that We Could not Excersise much Except marching and whealing there is but Little Snow
21-' In the forenoon I went up to Cap' Stockbridges to get Some oyl: in the afternoon Cap' Stockbridges Company traind by J[ames] J[enkins's]
Weapons and Accoutrements: It was customary for members of the trained bands and alarm companies of Massachusetts towns to be required to muster with their own firelocks, a supply of ammunition, as well as other equipment as specified by their communities. Litchfield notes in his diary on January 31st, 1775 that some men in his company "went to hingham and bought powder at 16 Shillings old ten[der] per pound."
He took particular care of his own musket, especially after seeing his Captain display some especially fine marksmenship at training.
March 10*^ I Scoured up my gun in the Evening I went up to Cap* Stockbridges &c Amos and I went over to Ilezekiah Hutfon to git our guns takled up he put in a
New main-spring into my Lock…
Sabbath 19'''…in the afternoon I went to training We met at Lieut Pickle Cushings we fired three Volleys Cap^ Stockbridge Shot at a mark aboute 12 or 14 Rods and hit it Exactly within an Inch …
March the 21^' I Wrought upon my gun I Spent the whole day a Scowering her & Cleaning the Lock and fixing her after 1 had Clean^ and oyl'd the Lock I Put in a good flint and try'd her to Burn three Corns of powder I Cock'd her and Snapd and She burnd them I told out Juft three Corns and try'd her again and She burnd it So I tiy'd her Eleven times Successively and She burnt three Corns of powder Every time and Did not miss the 12*'' time She missed them But I overhauld and Cockd her and She burnt them the next time then I try'd her to burn a Single Corn of powder and She Catchd a Single Corn four times Successively after that : the fifth time She missid a Single Corn, but I over hauld her again and She burnt it the next time...
I found this section of Litchfield's diary quite fascinating, especially given the challenges I have encountered getting my own reproduction musket to reliably spark and fire. I have often wondered how it was possible for Revolutionary era soldier to keep their weapons clean and reliable, especiallty in the field when they had such poor supplies and were inadequately fed and clothed. In these months prior to the outbreak of armed hostilities with the Crown, Litchfield's attention to his weapon shows how seriously he took these preparations.
He also became a valuable asset to his commander as a skilled artisan who could help provide other necessary equipment for the company. Litchfield started making cartridge boxes for himself and for others in the unit in mid February, 1775
11*[Feb]' In the forenoon I went over to ISI'' Willcuts Shop and he & I made a Centre bitt to bore a Cartridge box. I Bored off one Box
14 I made me a Cartridge-box, I Covered it with a Coltskin it will Carry 19 Rounds.
25th I wrought with Cap' Sam'' Stockhridge a makeing cartridge boxes
Marcli 1*' I wrought with Cap* Stockbridge a Stamping Covers for Catoos boxes Iray Bryand [Biyant]was at work Leathering them
Litchfield went with Captain Stockbridge to Boston on February 27th, noting in his diary:
I bought me a Back Sword or Cutlefs [cutlass] it Coft me ten Shillings Lawfull money Cap' Stockbridge bought a hide and an half of Moose skin for Catoos box Straps it Cost him ^16.10.0'' old tennor
From this it appears that the straps were intended for the the cartridge boxes Litchfield was making for Stockbridge's Company. Ltchfield made himself "a Sword Belt and Bayonet belt" on March 13th. The cutlass he bought in Boston was both a badge of rank as a non commissioned officer and a standard item that pre-war militiamen were often required to provide for themselves when they mustered.
There was another effort to provide uniformity in Captain Stockbridge's company in which Litchfield had a hand. He notes on March 30th that he went down to Nathaniel Wades and saw Abednego Wade "make Brases for caps, this Day I got my Leather Cap M* Benj Clapps Daughter made it it cost three Pistareens." Soon he was spending time at Wades aiding in the effort to make brass facing plates for the leather caps of his company:
April the 11* I Wrought with M"" : Abednego Wade a make-ing Brafses for Capps he and I Engraved 17 or 18 and tlie rest of them Pollifhd them of[f] I Did Not Come home this night
I would dearly love to know what was engraved on the brass fronted caps. It cannot have been too elaborate, for they were turning them out at a good rate: nearly enough at this point for half the company. Abednego Wade was eventually dispatched to Cambridge to assist the gunsmiths.
There was no uniform for the militia aside from these caps, though later in June, 1775, Litchfield records that he and another man each got a coat and breeches cut out of blue cloth and it cost them 20 Shillings old tender.
At the time of the Lexington Alarm, the armed forces of Scituate were as well prepared as they could be. On April 23, Litchfield noted how different the times had become when he observed "I never Saw Such a Sight in the meeting upon a Sabbath Day I suppose that there was near 150 men under arms."
Among the collections held by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania is an unpublished manuscript consisting of portions of a military journal kept by Sgt. John H. Hawkins of Moses Hazen's 2nd Canadian regiment for periods between 1777 and 1782 during his service in the Revolutionary War. Hawkins' account is regularly exerpted in modern histories of the conflict, but there is nothing like going directly to the primary source. I have a photocopy made from the microfilm of this valuable record of enlisted service, and recently had occasion to sit down and sort through the pages, some of which are out of sequence, and put them in some sort of chronological order.
Having just returned from a reenactment of the Battle of Brandywine, I was struck by Hawkins' narrative of that engagement, which begins with a brief description of his regiment's prominence in the heart of the fighting during that action. Although Hawkins writes in a firm, clear hand, the photocopies are dark and sometimes difficult to read. Any errors in transcription are my own:
"1777 Sept. 11. About one o'clock the Enemy appeared in Motion advancing towards us. Our Regiment was posted on the Right of the army; they were the first that were attacked and among the last off the field. As heavy a fire of Artillery and Musketry was carried on, on both sides, the whole Afternoon, without any Intermission, as ever happened in America before. The Enemy were much superior to us in Numbers, as but a small Part of our Army were engaged, the greatest part being away some Distance at the left. In Justice to the brave Officers and Men of our Regiment, Col. Hazen thought himself obliged to affirm, that no Troops behaved better on that Day, nor any that came off the Field in greater Order. Four Officers and Seventy-three Non-Commissioned Officers and Rank and File of the Regiment were killed, wounded and taken Prisoners in that General Engagement..."
Sgt. Hawkins' regiment was in DeBorre's Brigade of Sullivan's Division, and was initially assigned the task of defending Wister's and Buffington's Fords at the extreme right of the Continental position east of the Brandywine, where they were nearly cut off by Howe's flanking attack that afternoon. They were later used to screen the artillery and other troops of Sullivan's division as they manovered to get into position to meet the fast moving attacking force.
At some point during the battle, Hawkins lost his knapsack. His journal includes a full page where he first discusses and then crosses out his description of how this happened. After a false start he describes in great detail what his knapsack contained:
"In the Engagement I lost this Day I was so closely pursued by the Enemy (and the Weather being exceptionally warm) that I was induced to heave my Knapsack away, in order to lighten me have the more [use?] with my arms.. My Knapsack contained the following articles, viz.
1 Uniform Coat - brown faced with white. 1 Shirt 1 pr. Stockings 1 Ribbon 1 Sergeant's Swash [sash] 1 pr. Knee Buckles 1/2 Soap 1 Orderly Book 1 Memo Jo. containing 5 or 6 Days Journal at one End, and a State of the Company I belonged to at the other End. 1 Quire [one 20th of a ream] of Writing Paper 2 Vials of Ink 1 brass Ink Horn About 40 Blank Morning Returns, printed 1 Tin Gill Cup A letter from me to a friend of mine in Philadelphia A printed book entitled Rutherford's Letters
I likewise lost my Hat but I recovered it again."
Hard loses indeed. Sgt. Hawkins lists a number of items directly related to his duties as Sergeant of his company (he would later be promoted to regimental Sgt.Maj.), but he was also a literate man whose journal entries elsewhere indicate a familiarity with printing. I find it interesting that he kept his rather small tin cup in his knapsack, but evidently not a bowl or other utensils; nor does he mention a blanket. He had soap in his pack, but did not mention losing a razor.
The journal page where he started to recount how he lost the knapsack and then thought better of it reads as follows:
My Knapsack tho' quite light was very cumbersome; and as it swinged about when briskly walking or running, and more especially upon one's back when climbing a fence as there were several in the way, and had I not cast it from me the Moment I did I should certainly been gripped by one of the ill looking Highlanders as a Number of them were firing and advancing very brisk towards the rear of our Regiment as they were getting over a fence, which was handy, was very [restricting of] our Military operations..."
There may be a clue in this section as to the style of knapsack he was issued. This does not sound like a two strap knapsack based on how it hampered Sgt. Hawkins as he was evading the enemy. A single strap knapsack such as the New Invented Haversack described in documents from 1776 held in the Maryland State Archives, would have swung back and forth in the manner described as so cumbersome for Hawkins while running. While there is no surviving example of such a knapsack or firm evidence that any of this design were issued, Hawkins' account lends support to the idea that one strap knapsacks of some sort may have been used by him and others in his unit, which at this period in the war recruited heavily in the Middle Colonies.
Hawkins lost his possessions but lived to fight another day. His journal is the primary source for casualty figures suffered by the 2nd Canadian Regiment during late summer and early Fall of 1777 and one of only two known soldier accounts that describe the winter encampment of 1778-1779 at Redding CT. We are lucky that so much of his journal still survives and is available to researchers.
The following pictures of the reenactment of the Battle of Brandywine held on Sept 15-16 at Brandywine Creek State park in Wilmington Delaware were mostly taken by me, by Talya Leodari, by Conrad Quinn aka Matthias Ogden,or by other Facebook friends who made them publically available. It was a great time.
(photo at left courtesy of Brandywine Creek State Park. Other photos by Tim Abbott or Talya Leodari)
Last weekend was the 235th Anniversary of the Battle of Brandywine, a key engagement in the American Revolution that took place in 1777 during the Philadelphia Campaign. Talya and I along several hundred reenactors gathered at Brandywine Creek State Park in Wilmington, Delaware to commemorate it with a living history encampment.
The host unit for this event was the 2nd Virginia Regiment, known in our hobby as valuing serious research and for setting the bar very high for authenticity. In coordination with the site, they arranged for both the Crown and Continental forces to have access to wood for constructing brush shelters, and excavated field kitchens for those who wished to prepare their meals as the soldiers we depict often did.
Reenacting culture varies from unit to unit in our hobby, and not everyone wishes to sleep rough and do a minimal, "campaigner" impression. This was an opportunity to demonstrate both to the public and to our fellow reenactors the techniques used to create and utilize these 18th century amenities. I had determined months ago that I would take full advantage of these options, and encouraged any in our regiment who wanted to help set up a brush arbor or dig a firebox and maintain an authentic camp kitchen to join me in that effort.
A brush arbor is a temporary structure designed to provide shade to a small group of soldiers who historically would not have had the benefit of the large, canvas awning flies that are prevalent in Revolutionary War reenacting but which belong to a later era. It consists of a number of pole saplings cut and trimmed and set in holes int he ground as uprights. To these are added additional poles as roof beams and supports, upon which are piled cut branches and vegetation to provide the shade.
I had prior experience erecting a small, emergency arbor at an August reenactment where temperatures
reached the high 90s, but looked forward to making something more substantial at this event. To aid me I had my fascine knife and the assistance of fellow 1st NJ members Jeff Cox and Bob Boer. Jeff brought along a modern ax but we largely used the fascine knife to cut and trim the poles and branches we needed. There was a post hole digger available as well which proved a Godsend, because we soon learned we needed to sink the uprights at least 18 inches into the ground for them to be stable and secure. I suppose the 18th century way would have been to dig out a much larger post hole with a mattock ir pick which we did not have. We also learned that using dead wood for a long, diagonal rafter without a central support would place too much stress on the weight bearing wood, and our arbor came down inside its frame later on Friday night. Saturday morning, though, we had the kinks worked out of the design, and the result became a focal point for many reenactors and the public as they entered our encampment.
Next to the brush arbor was our field kitchen, which consisted of a 2' deep circular trench about 16' in diameter with the excavated earth piled in the center. We were to dig our own fireboxes into the side of the trench, about 1' square and 1.5' deep about 4" below grade. Above this, we cleared a flat shelf and dug a 4" shaft about 11" back from the inner wall of the trench connecting to the firebox. It was over this hole that we were to cook our food.
Jeff and I dug out the firebox, taking our queue from one that had already be placed around the circle. The idea was that up to 12 6-man messes could cook at this location, using less fuel than an open cooking fire and more easily supervised by their officers. We should have started our firebox higher up from the floor of the trench than we did, and closer to grade level, becasue we found that we needed a hotter fire to cook our food. We also found that
smaller diameter twigs and pieces of wood worked best in the fire box, which was rather smokey. Noentheless, both we and our comrade John Funk cooked several meals in this manner, including a brisket and two large dutch ovens filled with chicken cordon bleu, which if not strictly an authentic soldier recipe was damned fine eating.
In addition to these two creations, there were other aspects of this event that provided added opportunities to demonstrate field fortification techniques, such as the construction of fascines, which were 6' bundles of wood used to reinforce the top of gun emplacements and to provide a degree of cover to exposed troops. There was also an authentic regimental sutler impression near the Continental field kitchen, and a presentation on the roles of black soldiers int he Continental army.
The upshot of all this effort was an event that it created more opportunities to inform the public, engage their curiosity and inspire impromptu living history demonstrations than are customary at reenactments. People were drawn to the unfamiliar fires and the shade of the arbor, and a number of the distaff and camp followers with period skills sat before their kitchen areas weaving baskets and providing additional teaching moments.
Some of this activity was spontaneous, and allowed participants to be even more creative with their impressions than is customary. I found it invigorating and am grateful to Todd Post of the 2nd VA, Thaddeus Weaver of the German Regiment, ours hosts the 2nd VA and the management and staff of Brandywine Creek State Park for making it possible for us to do this.