Ebenezer Smith – Oldest Captain in the Massachusetts Line

By the end of the war, after more than eight years service, Ebenezer Smith was the longest serving captain in the Massachusetts Line. He was present in the 6th Massachusetts Infantry when the regiment was furloughed Jun 12 1783 at West Point, New York and disbanded on Nov 3 1783.

West Point

Ebenezer Smith served at West Point until the end of the war.   George Washington appointed him to guard Major Andre the night before the hanging

Matthew POLLEY’s grandson Ebenezer Smith was born 30 Dec 1745 in Lebanon, New London, CT.  He married 27 Nov 1766 to Sarah Deane (b.30 May 1745 in Taunton, Bristol, Mass. – d. 05 Aug 1819 in New Marlboro) Sarah’s parents were Seth Deane and Sarah Waterous. Ebenezer and Sarah had eight children born between 1767 and 1788.  Ebenezer died 08 Sep 1816 in New Marlborough, Mass.

Ebenezer Smith was living in New Marlborough, Mass when the Revolutionary War broke out. Hearing of the battle of Lexington, he at once started for Boston as a non-commissioned officer in a company of Minutemen and from that time April 1775 until the declaration of peace in 1783 he was continually a soldier and an officer in the Continental Army.

May 8 1775 – Enlisted

Aug 1 1775 Roll – Private Capt. Moses Soul’s company, Eighth Regiment of Foot commanded byCol.John Fellow. The 8th Massachusetts Regiment also known as 16th Continental Regiment was raised on April 23, 1775 under Colonel Sargent at Cambridge, Massachusetts. The regiment would see action at the Battle of Bunker Hill, New York Campaign, Battle of Trenton, Battle of Princeton and the Battle of Saratoga.

Jan 1 – Nov 27 1776 – Ensign

Nov 28 1776 – Commission a lieutenant

Dec 1777 – Lieutenant Ebenezer Smith, Capt. John Burnan’s Company, Learned’s 8th Massachusetts Regiment, 4th Brigade.

The 8th Massachusetts Regiment also known as 16th Continental Regiment was raised on April 23, 1775 under Colonel Sargent at Cambridge, Massachusetts. The regiment would see action at the Battle of Bunker HillNew York CampaignBattle of TrentonBattle of Princeton and the Battle of Saratoga. The regiment was furloughed June 12, 1783 atWest Point, New York and disbanded on November 3, 1783.

Winter 1777-78 Ebenezer wintered with the army and suffered at that terrible encampment of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

Winter 1777-78 Ebenezer wintered with the army and suffered at that terrible encampment of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

Winter 1777-78 Ebenezer wintered with the army and suffered at that terrible encampment of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

Mar 30 1779 – Commissioned Captain in Smith’s 13th Regiment

The 13th Massachusetts Regiment was first raised on July 11, 1776 as the 6th Continental Regiment under Colonel Edward Wigglesworth and was manned with troops raised primarily from Essex, York, and Cumberland Counties. It was first known as Wigglesworth’s State Regiment. An additional battalion was later raised from Middlesex, Suffolk, Plymouth and Barnstable Counties. The regiment would see action at the Battle of Bunker Hill, Battle of Valcour Island, Battle of Saratoga, Battle of Monmouth and the Battle of Rhode Island.

Battle of Monmouth

Ebenezer was at the hottest of the fight at the battle of Monmouth and also present at the battles of Bunker Hill, Siege of Boston, Capture of Burgoyne, Sullivan’s Rhode Island Campaign and Saratoga.

Marquis de La Fayette

Marquis de La Fayette  –   Ebenezer’s brother David had the honor of being presented by General Lafayette in person the sword David had taken from one of the officers he had captured

Ebenezer’s brother David was also a captain at Monmouth.  David captured and disarmed two English officers.  He had the honor of being presented the sword taken from one of the officers by General Lafayette in person.  The sword was still an heirloom in the family in 1910.

The Battle of Monmouth was fought on June 28, 1778 in Monmouth County, New Jersey. The Continental Army under General George Washington attacked the rear of the British Army column commanded by Lieutenant General Sir Henry Clinton as they left Monmouth Court House.

Washington Rallying the Troops at Monmouthby Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze

Washington Rallying the Troops at Monmouth by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze

British forces had captured Philadelphia in 1777. In May 1778, the British commander-in-chief in North America, Sir Henry Clinton, was ordered to evacuate Philadelphia and concentrate his troops at the main British base in New York City as France had entered the war on the side of the Americans. Clinton was ordered to dispatch units to West Florida and the West Indies which left him too few troops to continue occupying Philadelphia. Clinton was also ordered to abandon New York and withdraw to Quebec if he felt his position there was untenable.   A French fleet under d’Estaing had sailed from Toulon in April 1778 and intended to make a rendezvous with rebel forces which could threaten Clinton’s army before it reached the safety of New York.

It was originally intended that the withdrawing British army would travel directly to New York via the sea, escorted by theRoyal Navy. A lack of transports forced Clinton to change his plans. While the stores, heavy equipment and Loyalist American civilians fleeing revenge attacks would be shipped by sea, the main army would march overland across New Jersey.

On June 18, the British began to evacuate Philadelphia, and began their approximately 100-mile  march to the northeast across New Jersey to New York City. The British force comprised 11,000 British and German regulars, a thousand Loyalists from Philadelphia, and a baggage train 12 miles  long. As the British advanced, the Americans slowed their advance by burning bridges, muddying wells and building abatis across the roads.

Monmouth Map

Monmouth Map

Unsteady handling of lead Continental elements by Major General Charles Lee had allowed British rearguard commander Lt Gen  Charles Cornwallis to seize the initiative but Washington’s timely arrival on the battlefield rallied the Americans along a hilltop hedgerow. Sensing the opportunity to smash the Continentals, Cornwallis pressed his attack and captured the hedgerow in stifling heat.

Washington consolidated his troops in a new line on heights behind marshy ground, used his artillery to fix the British in their positions, then brought up a four gun battery under Major General Nathanael Greene on nearby Combs Hill to enfilade the British line, requiring Cornwallis to withdraw. Finally, Washington tried to hit the exhausted British rear guard on both flanks, but darkness forced the end of the engagement. Both armies held the field, but the British commanding General Clinton withdrew undetected at midnight to resume his army’s march to New York City.

While Cornwallis protected the main British column from any further American attack, Washington had fought his opponent to a standstill after a pitched and prolonged engagement; the first time that Washington’s army had achieved such a result. The battle demonstrated the growing effectiveness of the Continental Army after its six month encampment at Valley Forge

The battle improved the military reputations of Washington, Lafayette and Anthony Wayne but ended the career of Charles Lee, who would face court martial at Englishtown for his failures on the day. According to some accounts, an American soldier’s wife, Mary Hays, brought water to thirsty soldiers in the June heat, and became one of several women associated with the legend of Molly Pitcher.

Lee  failed to give them proper orders, resulting in a piecemeal and disorganized attack on June 28 against the British rear guard under General Charles Cornwallis. After several hours of fighting in the hot weather, several American brigades executed a tactical retreat, which developed into a general withdrawal. The British rear guard counterattacked and Lee ordered a retreat, which rapidly became a rout.

Washington, advancing with the main force along the Monmouth road, encountered Lee’s fleeing troops and finally Lee himself, with the British in hot pursuit. After a heated exchange with Lee, Washington relieved him of command and sent him to the rear. He then rallied Lee’s troops, who delayed the British pursuit until the main force could take up positions further to the west.

The remnants of Lee’s forces then withdrew to the main American force, where the Continental Army troops were positioned behind the West Ravine on the Monmouth Courthouse – Freehold Meeting House Road. Washington drew up his army with Greene’s division on the right, Major General Stirling‘s division on the left, and most of Lee’s former force, now under Lafayette, in reserve. In front of his lines, Wayne commanded various elements of Lee’s force. Artillery was placed on both wings, with the right wing in position to enfilade the advancing British.

William Alexander, Lord Stirling

William Alexander, Lord Stirling commanded the left wing at  Monmouth (where Ebenezer and David Smith fought

The 2nd, 3rd and 4th Massachusetts Brigades were on the Left Wing under Major General William Alexander, Lord Stirling  (See Monmouth Order of Battle)

The British came on and attacked Stirling’s left wing with their light infantry and the 42nd (Black Watch) Regiment in the van. They were met by a storm of fire from Stirling’s Continentals. The battle raged back and forth for an hour until three American regiments were sent though woods to enfilade the attacking British right flank. The attack was successful and sent the British back to reform.

Monmouth Reenactment

Monmouth Reenactment

Foiled on the left, Cornwallis personally led a heavy attack against Greene’s right wing,  The attack was met by enfilading fire from Thomas-Antoine de Mauduit du Plessis‘s four 6-pound cannons on Combs Hill, as well as accurate volleys from Greene’s Continental regiments. The British persisted up the ravine slope but within minutes five high-ranking officers and many men were down from heavy fire. The attackers recoiled down the slope.

The battle was a tactical British victory, as the rearguard successfully covered the British withdrawal. However, strategically it was a draw, as the Americans were ultimately left in possession of the field, and had, for the first time, demonstrated that the Continental Army regiments could stand against British regulars.

The Trial and Execution of Major André

Ebenezer was at West Point at the time of Benedict Arnold’s treason and the capture of Major Andre. He was captain of the guard in charge of Major André from the time of his trial to his execution and passed the night prior to his execution with him, having been specially detailed to that duty by General Washington.

John Andre (1750-1780)

John Andre (1750-1780)

General George Washington convened a board of senior officers to investigate the matter. The trial contrasted with Sir William Howe‘s treatment of Nathan Hale some four years earlier. The board consisted of Major Generals Nathanael Greene(the presiding officer), Lord StirlingArthur St. ClairLafayetteRobert HoweFriedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, Brigadier Generals Samuel H. ParsonsJames ClintonHenry KnoxJohn GloverJohn PatersonEdward HandJedediah HuntingtonJohn Stark, and Judge-Advocate-General John Laurance.

On Sep 29 1780, the board found André guilty of being behind American lines “under a feigned name and in a disguised habit” and ordered that “Major André, Adjutant-General to the British Army, ought to be considered as a Spy from the enemy, and that agreeable to the law and usage of nations, it is their opinion, he ought to suffer death.” Later, Glover was officer of the day at André’s execution. Sir Henry Clinton, the British commander in New York, did all he could to save André, his favourite aide, but refused to surrender Arnold in exchange for André even though he despised Arnold. André appealed to George Washington to be executed by firing squad, but by the rules of war he was hanged as a spy at Tappan on 2 October 1780.

The Unfortunate Death of Major John André

The Unfortunate Death of Major John André

A religious poem, written two days before his execution, was found in his pocket after his execution.

While a prisoner he endeared himself to American officers, who lamented his death as much as the British. Alexander Hamilton wrote of him: “Never perhaps did any man suffer death with more justice, or deserve it less.” The day before André’s hanging he drew, with pen and ink, a likeness of himself, which is now owned by Yale College. In fact André, according to witnesses, refused the blindfold and placed the noose around his own neck.

Self-portrait on the eve of André's execution

Self-portrait on the eve of André’s execution,

An eyewitness account of the last day of Major André can be found in the book The American Revolution: From the Commencement to the Disbanding of the American Army Given in the Form of a Daily Journal, with the Exact Dates of all the Important Events; Also, a Biographical Sketch of the Most Prominent Generals by James Thacher, M.D., a surgeon in the American Revolutionary Army:

“October 2d.– Major Andre is no more among the living. I have just witnessed his exit. It was a tragical scene of the deepest interest. During his confinement and trial, he exhibited those proud and elevated sensibilities which designate greatness and dignity of mind. Not a murmur or a sigh ever escaped him, and the civilities and attentions bestowed on him were politely acknowledged.

Having left a mother and two sisters in England, he was heard to mention them in terms of the tenderest affection, and in his letter to Sir Henry Clinton, he recommended them to his particular attention. The principal guard officer [Ebenezer Smith], who was constantly in the room with the prisoner, relates that when the hour of execution was announced to him in the morning, he received it without emotion, and while all present were affected with silent gloom, he retained a firm countenance, with calmness and composure of mind. Observing his servant enter the room in tears, he exclaimed, “Leave me till you can show yourself more manly!”

His breakfast being sent to him from the table of General Washington, which had been done every day of his confinement, he partook of it as usual, and having shaved and dressed himself, he placed his hat upon the table, and cheerfully said to the guard officers, “I am ready at any moment, gentlemen, to wait on you.”

The fatal hour having arrived, a large detachment of troops was paraded, and an immense concourse of people assembled; almost all our general and field officers, excepting his excellency and staff, were present on horseback; melancholy and gloom pervaded all ranks, and the scene was affectingly awful. I was so near during the solemn march to the fatal spot, as to observe every movement, and participate in every emotion which the melancholy scene was calculated to produce.

Major Andre walked from the stone house, in which he had been confined, between two of our subaltern officers, arm in arm; the eyes of the immense multitude were fixed on him, who, rising superior to the fears of death, appeared as if conscious of the dignified deportment which he displayed. He betrayed no want of fortitude, but retained a complacent smile on his countenance, and politely bowed to several gentlemen whom he knew, which was respectfully returned.

It was his earnest desire to be shot, as being the mode of death most conformable to the feelings of a military man, and he had indulged the hope that his request would be granted. At the moment, therefore, when suddenly he came in view of the gallows, he involuntarily started backward, and made a pause. “Why this emotion, sir?” said an officer by his side. Instantly recovering his composure, he said, “I am reconciled to my death, but I detest the mode.”

While waiting and standing near the gallows, I observed some degree of trepidation; placing his foot on a stone, and rolling it over and choking in his throat, as if attempting to swallow. So soon, however, as he perceived that things were in readiness, he stepped quickly into the wagon, and at this moment he appeared to shrink, but instantly elevating his head with firmness he said, “It will be but a momentary pang,” and taking from his pocket two white handkerchiefs, the provost-marshal, with one, loosely pinioned his arms, and with the other, the victim, after taking off his hat and stock, bandaged his own eyes with perfect firmness, which melted the hearts and moistened the cheeks, not only of his servant, but of the throng of spectators.

The rope being appended to the gallows, he slipped the noose over his head and adjusted it to his neck, without the assistance of the awkward executioner. Colonel Scammel now informed him that he had an opportunity to speak, if he desired it; he raised the handkerchief from his eyes, and said, “I pray you to bear me witness that I meet my fate like a brave man.” The wagon being now removed from under him, he was suspended, and instantly expired; it proved indeed “but a momentary pang.” He was dressed in his royal regimentals and boots, and his remains, in the same dress, were placed in an ordinary coffin, and interred at the foot of the gallows; and the spot was consecrated by the tears of thousands …”

Postcript

André’s executioner, who was confined at the camp in Tappan as a dangerous Tory during André’s trial, was granted liberty for accepting the duty of hangman and returned to his home in the Ramapo Valley or Smith’s Clove, and nothing further of him is known.

The captors of Andre–the three young militiamen–were rewarded by the Congress with a vote of thanks; and to each was awarded a commemorative medal of silver and two hundred dollars a year for life.

By the end of the war, after more than eight years service, Ebenezer was the longest serving captain in the Massachusetts Line. He was present in the 6th Massachusetts Infantry when the regiment was furloughed Jun 12 1783 at West Point, New York and disbanded on Nov 3 1783.

Ebenezer’s eldest son David Smith D.D. entered the Continental Army at an early age and served during the last year of the war under his father.

Ebenezer was a founder of the Society of the Cincinnati in Connecticut,  an historical, hereditary lineage organization with branches in the United States and France, founded in 1783 to preserve the ideals and fellowship of the  Revolutionary War officers. The city of Cincinnati, Ohio, then a small village, was named after the Society.

André was exhumed in 1821 at the Duke of York’s request- killing a peach-tree in the process, as its roots had twined around his skull – and sent home to London, where he has a memorial in Westminster Abbey.   He was buried with the funeral service in front of his monument in Westminster Abbey on 28 November. A small lozenge stone marks the grave.

Monument to Major John Andre in the nave of Westminster Abbey.

Monument to Major John Andre in the nave of Westminster Abbey.

 

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5 Responses to Ebenezer Smith – Oldest Captain in the Massachusetts Line

  1. Pingback: Matthew Polley | Miner Descent

  2. Laurie Orr says:

    Wow! This is beautifully done. Thank you for sharing all your hard work. My husband is related to Ebenezer through the Worden, Rockwell, MacIntyre line.

  3. Lenny P. says:

    This is pretty cool. I found a book at an estate sale here in Michigan that was owned by this very Ebenezer Smith. He wrote his name in several places in the book as “Ebenezer Smith Esq. New Marlborough”. The book is “A grammatical Introduction to the English Tongue”

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