Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series retelling first-hand accounts of the Revolutionary War from the journals of Pvt. Elijah Fisher, an Attleboro resident who was part of a unit that guarded Gen. George Washington.
The second part of Elijah Fisher’s story begins as winter loosens its grip on the Valley Forge encampment in March of 1778.
The young man, who now is just shy of 20 years old, found himself in line to become one of Washington’s bodyguards, known as the Life Guards.
He wasn’t chosen first, but was called on to replace a man who didn’t like the duty.
Here’s how he was chosen.
March 19th. There was orders that there should be three Men sent from each Reg’t to jine His Excelences Gen. Washington’s Life gard and Seth Lovil was sent out of our Company but after being there a fue Days and Did not like to be there..and I was sent in the room of him.
He was a member of the unit by March 30, 1778, and it suited him.
The 30th. I jined the Life guard and liked being there much better than being in the Ridgment …
We don’t know what Fisher looked like, but the requirement Washington had for his Life Guards gives us a general understanding of his physique and character.
An order written for Washington read as follows:
“His Excellency depends upon the Colonels for good men, such as they can recommend for their sobriety, honesty and good behavior. He wishes them to be from five feet eight inches to five feet ten inches, handsomely and well made, and as there is nothing in his eyes more desirable than cleanliness in a soldier, he desires that particular attention be made in the choice of such men as are clean and spruce… They should be drilled men.”
Fisher apparently met those standards.
Months later he records the joy that erupted when it was announced on May 6, 1778 that France had come into the war on the side of America.
May 6th. We had Rejoicing on the account of the French declaring for us Independent and the howle of the Continental army was ordered to three larm posts in thesenter and the army was all around us at there several stations (and there was a grand barber bilt and all the Commissioners were Envited to dine with His Exelen-cy) our guard gave the first flre then thu’teen Cannon then the flre began at the rite of the army and went through the howl line and fired three rouns apeace the Artillery Discharged fortyfour Cannon and it was followed with three Chears for the King of France and three for the Friendly Powers of Europe and three Chears for the Thirteen United States of Amarica and His Exelency gave orders that every Prisoner should have his Freedom that belonged to the Continental army that they might taste the Pleasur of the Day.
Two weeks later ...
Fisher describes a perilous retreat when the army took up a position 16 miles from Valley Forge and the British, under Gen. William Howe, tried to surround it.
The 20. This Moi-ning at Nine of the Clocli there Come Express to the General Quarters and brought Entelegence that the howl of Gen. How’s Army was Advansing upon us in three Colloms one Collom Coming in the senter to meet us one Collom Coming Round on our Left -wing Marching up by Delwar river and through the Crooked hills and so Crossing the Country towards Schooildlls River to Cute oflf our Retreat, the other striving to flank us on our right wing. The Nuse alarmed us Enstently and we took a road that lead to Jones’ Forde at Schoolkill river (for we were obliged to retreat Enstently) and the Enemy was so Nigh on our right flank that we Could see them Plain and our howl Party Crossed the river and the warter was up to our middle and run very swift so that we were obliged to hold to each other to keep the Corrent from sweeping us away and all in a fluster expecting the Enemy to fire in upon us for we could see them Plain but the reason was they Could not git thare Cannon to bare on us but we got all Safe across without the loss of any save fore or five of our party that the Enemy’s Lite horse Cut to pieces and our flanks killed three of there Lite Draghoons and four of there Granadears. After we had Crossed the river we Retirrod to the Gulf mills where we Remained tUl two in the afternoon and then we marched to Sweed’s ford and there stayed all Night after a March of twelve miles.
Back at Valley Forge, Fisher recorded that spies and traitors got no mercy.
June 4th. There was a spye Hung on the grand parade from the Enemy he formerly belonged to our Army and was an Ensign in the Seound Pencelvania Ridgt. His name was Thomas Church.
On June 9, 1778, at the end of the Valley Forge encampment, Fisher reported that “Lady Washington Left Head Quarter to Return to Virgiiiey.”
On June 28, 1778 Fisher was involved in the Battle of Monmouth. It was a blistering hot day in which Washington had to personally rally the troops who were retreating pell-mell in near defeat because of inept leadership by Gen. Charles Lee.
The 28th. On Sunday our army had the Engagement with the British at Monmouth Court-holise where Gen. Lee went Contrary to orders but our army Drove them and if that he had managed acording to his orders it was likely in all probability we should have taken the howl or the bigar Part of there army. It was a vary hot Day and a grate many died a drinking water.
Disaster was averted that day and a week later the Fourth of July was celebrated for the third time.
July 4th. We Selebrated the Independence of Amarica the howl army parraded and at the Eight of Every Brigade there was a field peace placed, then was the signal given for the howl army to fire and they fired one round apiece and the artilery Discharged tliirteen Cannon we gave three Chears &c. At Night his Exelency and the gentlemen and Ladys had a Bawl at Head Quarters with grate Pompe.
On Aug. 17, 1778, Fisher recorded that some “soldiers” weren’t soldiers at all. They were in it for the money they got every time they signed up (after deserting).
Some paid the ultimate price for that game.
Aug. 17th. There was a man shot Near Head Quarters for Enlisting seven times and taken bountys.
On Aug. 21, 1778 he reported that sometimes mercy was granted if there was evidence of prior good behavior.
The 21st. There was sixteen men to be Executed some for Desarsion and some for Enlesting Nombers of times but for there former good Conduct and the Enterseding of there offlcers his Exelency was pleased to pardon them.
Oct.17, 1778 was the one year anniversary of the army’s victory at Saratoga and it was celebrated.
The 17th. In Rememberance of Gen. Burgoiu’s Defeet the Day was selebrated with the firing of Canon and in throing of skilokets in the are thirteen Canon was fired then they begun to through the skilokets and a merry Day they had too at the Park of artilery.
On April 22 Fisher record the arrival of honored guests.
Apr. 22d. The French and Spanish Embasondor arived at Head Quarters and they was received with the selute of arms and Drumes and fifes and band of Musicli and wellcomed by his Exelency.
The 30th. The aimy was revewed by the two Embasendors on the grand parrade.
May 2d. Both the French and Spanish Embasendors left Head Quarters at five in the morning for Philedelphia and as they past our army (they being on the grand parrade) they was seluted by the firing ofthirteen Canon and a Desent selute of arms by our army and his Exelency accompanied
On Sept. 25, 1780, Fisher records the day the army learned that Gen. Benedict Arnold was a traitor.
Arnold escaped, but his British co-conspirator, Major John Andre, wasn’t so lucky.
The twenty-third Day the trechery Plan of Gen. Arnel was Descovered. Maj. Andre, Adjt. Gen. of the British was taken up a maken his askape by three of the military they lying in ambush wating for some of the Refugees that had taken some of the Cattle from them when Maj. Andre Come along amaking his askape to the British ajmy.
A week later Andre was hanged and Fisher recorded who was there.
Oct. 2d. Maj. Andre was Executed at twelve of the Clock, there was a gard consisting of sixteen Commishened offlsers, twenty-six saijts. and one hundred and Eighty Rank and file and twelve Drums and flfes.
In April Fisher heads home from the army for the last time.
The 11th. I Leaves West Point and Crosses the River for attlebrough.
At home in Massachusetts he is apparently staying in Boston and got a delivery from his mother. He sent her oranges in return.
It was the Fourth of July and it was celebrated then, much as it is today.
July 4th. I Eeceved by the hand of Mr. E. Poster severil things from Mother Fisher and on his return I send her a Duzzen of oringes and the Day was selebrated oh the Count of the Independeoy of amerioa and there was fireworks and skelockets throd in the are and the Guvener made a supper and had wine and punch for all that would Come at Jemakah Plains.