Notes on collections at the RIHS
Sometimes you find the best things in a random way: thanks to an emailed reference question, I discovered the diary of Albigence Waldo, surgeon with the 1st Connecticut Regiment, Continental Army, covering the period November 10, 1777-January 8, 1778. The “So what?” of this for Rhode Island is that the 1st Connecticut and the 2nd Rhode Island were both engaged in the Defense of the Delaware in 1777 and encamped at Valley Forge in 1777-1778, months recorded in the Diary of Jeremiah Greenman, sergeant with the 2nd Rhode Island. (Full disclosure: this writer’s family belongs to the reenacted 2ndRhode Island Regiment.) While the RIHS does not own the original of either of these diaries (Waldo’s is at Harvard, and Greenman’s remains in private hands), both have been published and can be compared.At 17, Greenman joined the army in 1775 and participated in Benedict Arnold’s expedition to Quebec; the privations of that starving march when soldiers ate squirrel head and candle wick soup, killed and ate their own dogs, and abandoned their sicker comrades, surely colored Greenman’s experience of Valley Forge. Waldo, well-educated, a scholar of Latin, left behind a flourishing practice, a comfortable home, wife, and children; his perspective and his language, are far different from Greenman’s.
But to compare them is to understand each man better, and to understand the war better—so hard to do now, when it is so long ago and far away in time, technology, and myth-making.
To begin with, some minor background: After the battle and retreat from Fort Mifflin in November, the Continental Army fell back to Whitemarsh, Pennsylvania, and engaged in minor skirmishes with British forces in early December 1777. The goal was to get to winter quarters at Valley Forge, and to build shelter for the coming winter.
Here is the action at Fort Mifflin, side by side:
After describing the turn of fortune experienced by Captain Nichols, caption of an English packet captured at New Castle, Waldo notes, “An incessant cannonading at or near Red Bank this day. No salt to eat dinner with.
November 11, 12, 13, & 14—Nothing material happened.
M 10. this day the Enemy set out a new, resolving if posable to reduce the fort, knowing if it was nor done they would be obliged to evacuate Philadelphia, [they] opened three more batteries upon it & keep up an incessant fire on the Fort, all the palisades where broken dow[n], the Diches filled up with Mud by the strong tides, Capn. Treet, who distinguished himself by his bravery, and his Lieut, was killed / the Garrison exhausted & almost reduced.
T 11. this morn cule / We burst an eighteen pounder which was got from the wreck of the agusta, and killed one Many & by the Scales & peaces of the Carriage Eighteen More where slightly wounded—
W. 12 Colo. Smith was wounded and went out of the [fort] with the old Garrison, being relieved by Major Thare [Thayer] with sum of our men, the Enemy now began to doubt the promises of their Engineer Montresor who had constructed the Fort & had bosted at the beginning that he would reduce it in a few days…
Greenman, uneducated, a sergeant, has a different set of responsibilities than Waldo, and a in every sense, a different position. He seems unlikely to have agreed with Waldo’s estimation that “Nothing material happened” those days in November, 1777.
~Kirsten Hammerstrom, Director of Collections
You can read Greenman’s published diary, Diary of a common soldier in the American Revolution, 1775-1783 : an annotated edition of the military journal of Jeremiah Greenman by Robert C. Bray and Paul E. Bushnell (DeKalb, IL: 1978) in the RIHS Library. Waldo’s diary was published in the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Volume 21 No. 3, 1897, now available free through JSTOR. The Map of the American Fortifications on the Delaware is one of the Revolutionary War Era Maps available through the West Jersey History Project.