Among the collections held by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania is an unpublished manuscript consisting of portions of a military journal kept by Sgt.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 pr. Stockings
1 Sergeant's Swash [sash]
1 pr. Knee Buckles
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.