Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Calamities of War: Part 4

Clermont Attacked: The Primary Sources

Unfortunately, this is the last known letter Gouverneur Morris sends to Robert R. Livingston until December of 1777. We do not have Morris’ eyewitness account of Kingston’s destruction or writings on Vaughn’s troops. Another primary source to consult is the journal of William Smith. Smith was a devout Loyalist, but through his marriage to a Manor Livingston, he was allowed to serve a form of house arrest during the War. William Smith does record an account in his journal on October 13, 1777:

One Zippoly, an intimate of Campbell, a Servant Lad to RRL, told McDonald that the family say there are 5,000 regulars on the West Side of the River marching to Esopus.

Smith’s information is fourth hand-from someone who knows a servant of Robert R. Livingston, who overheard the family discussing the situation, but it does contain some truth. Also relevant in the passage is the indication that the family was still at Clermont five days before the attack. Smith continues his matter-of-fact description later in his journal on October 16, 1777:

8 at Night. Martin Hoffman and his wife stop here in their flight from the River—much firing this Morning and then a Landing on both sides at Kingston & the Flatts—The Firing ceased at 1 o’clock—at 4 a column of Smoke rises at Kingston—conjectured to be burnt.

October 17, 1777:

Bob G. Livingston’s house burnt. Widow Livingston’s [Margaret Beekman Livingston] Mill at Sawyer’s Creek. Widow Ten Broeck’s Buildings.

October 18, 1777:

Nicholas Hoffman’s House & etc. Rob R. L. & his Mother’s burnt. Phil John Livingston’s & Anthony Hoffman’s untouched and one Monkler’s on the opposite side the several houses were burnt there.

Here William Smith tells us Clermont and Belvedere are burnt along with several other patriot home on both sides of the river. The next entry in Smith’s journal is also relevant to the story of Clermont’s destruction:

October 19, 1777:

The ships in the River have not moved this day tho’ the Wind blew fresh at South. General Putnam arrives here having lined the River from Peekskill up to the Manor House with some few Continental Troops and Militia collected in this Colony and Connecticut….General Putnam posted Guards this day at the Manor House and dined at Mr. Patterson’s.

In this entry, Smith showed the British Fleet staying at Clermont even though they had a favorable wind which could have taken them to Albany. Smith also reveals that Israel Putnam had begun to line the River with troops, and these troops were taking opportunistic shots at the British fleet and soldiers. This is confirmed later by British sources as well. General Vaughn was beginning to hear reports of Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga, and this news combined with the presence of American troops persuaded him not to chance any further up the river. Once he confirmed the reports of Saratoga, he quickly retreated to the Highland Forts and eventually to New York City. Days after the attack on his and his mother’s homes, Robert R. Livingston dined with the same Mr. Patterson mentioned above, and his mood was fiery according to Smith’s journal entry from October 21, 1777:

Robt. R. L. dined the day before Yesterday at Mr. Patterson’s—He has lost his Temper—I mean that he will exact Forfeitures from his Tenants towards building new houses for himself and Mother. Believes the King gave orders for this Devastation—That he is a Tyrant with whom he will never be reconciled – Putnam was there and said George Clinton has hanged a Messenger from Genrl. Clinton’s to Burgoyne on an Apple Tree. His name Van Kleek.

Considering Robert R. Livingston’s home had just been burned and the British Army still occupied the space, Livingston’s attitude is understandable. The execution of another of Clinton’s spies to Burgoyne illustrates the southern army is anxious to get official word of Burgoyne’s surrender. Smith goes on to describe further British troop movements:

October 23, 1777:
The [British] fleet fall down from Red Hook—Burell’s Reg[iment] of Militia posted at Colo[nel] L. [the manor house] discharged and the Rest drawn down to Red Hook. A great firing of Cannon below from 11 to 1 o’clock. The inhabitants pillaged.

The British fleet remained at Clermont for about five days and then began a steady retreat back down the river, once they had a true confirmation of Burgoyne’s defeat. During the attack, Chancellor Robert R. Livingston was with the American militia troops under Israel Putnam:

Excerpt of a letter written by Robert R. Livingston to the Council of Safety from Salisbury, Connecticut, October 28, 1777. (Quoted in EBL The Livingstons of Livingston Manor pg. 284).

I thought it improper when the enemy came up the river to leave this side of the water, which was unfortunate, in wanting both yours and the Governor’s direction. I therefore remained with the militia till the enemy left us. I am now just arrived at this place in order to inquire into the situation of my family, which hitherto been left to shift for themselves.

This letter proves the Chancellor was not at the burning of Clermont with his family, he did even see his family until almost two weeks after the attack. After the destruction of Clermont, another of Margaret Beekman’s sons, Colonel Henry Livingston, wrote an angry letter to Sir Henry Clinton. Letter of Colonel Henry Beekman Livingston to General Henry Clinton (commander of forces which burned Clermont). October 31, 1777. Written aboard ship Mercury.
Destroying defenseless Houses and Villages cannot in the least Contribute to the Conquest of a Country nor to increase the Revenue of your King. You have reduced to ashes the beautiful Village of Kingston and many Buildings the Proprietors of which could never had injured you. Helpless Widows and Children are left Exposed to all the Inclemencies [sic] of an approaching Winter. This conduct sufficiently evinces your despair of ever conquering the Country. The Fortune of War has placed in our Power an Office of Equal Rank to that you hold and whose prospects of success were greater than any you now can latter yourself with. You Sir may not always be exempted from the Calamities of War. Accident or injuries may one Day subject you to the same fate. When should your further Conduct be delineated by such Horrid Barbarity. Our utmost Efforts may prove ineffectual to preserve you from the resentment of a justly incensed people.

Archaeological evidence lends support to this letter as well. According to Anne Wentworth’s Women of Business or Lady of the Manor: Archaeological Examination of Changes in Gender Roles among the Hudson Valley Elite during the Eighteenth Century (1995):

The great numbers of domestic artifacts, including Chinese porcelain plates, buttons, straight pins, furniture parts, table and kitchen items, indicate that although the Livingstons had some advance warning of the raid they lost many personal possessions as well. Burned nuts, seeds, fruit pits and animal bones suggested the fire interrupted the preparation of winter food supplies. (pg. 116)

As Henry Beekman Livingston’s mother, Margaret Beekman Livingston, would have been a widow, she could very well have been one of the helpless widows and children left exposed to all the “inclemencies” of an approaching winter, although helpless is not a word ever used to describe Margaret Beekman Livingston. More likely, Henry was describing the many, many other women and children left homeless by the attacks on the Hudson Valley. Eighteenth century warfare was considered a genteel affair which took place honorably on the field of battle. Attacking civilians and carrying on a war of attrition are common in more modern warfare, but were considered especially distasteful during the period of the American Revolution. A copy of the original Henry Livingston letter received by Clinton is in the Sir Henry Clinton Papers, located at the Clements Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan. On the back of this letter, are notes which Sir Henry Clinton apparently wrote upon receiving the letter:

Sir H.C.’s orders were to proceed d[i]rect for Burgoyne cooperate with him nay join him if necessary. He stopt [sic] at Kingston burned it & Esopus fr [sic] what reason I am yet to learn this letter is the only information I have.
(Quoted in Dangerfield’s Chancellor Robert R. Livingston of New York pg. 105)

It appears from these notes, that Sir Henry Clinton may not have approved of the burning of Kingston and the other Patriot houses. Vaughn was sent forward on a fact-finding mission to learn the status of Burgoyne’s army and assist him if possible. Instead, Vaughn spends the time firing houses, destroying property and terrorizing inhabitants. Two weeks after the attack on Kingston, William Smith gathered a version of the attack:

November 3, 1777:

I could not obtain until now any particular Account of the Destruction of the 16[th] at Kingston. Every House burnt except Alderman Leffert’s, Johanns Stecht’s Mill & Brewery and one Steenberger’s. They did not save above half their moveables.

Besides Kingston and Clermont, an indication of the extent of the destruction of the lower Hudson Valley can be seen in a letter by the Chancellor.

Letter from Robert R. Livingston to Viscount Ranelagh, November 2, 1777 (excerpts).
Written from Salisbury, Connecticut.

I was honored by about two months ago with a letter from your Lordship of a very old date tho I do not at present recollect it exactly owing to its being burned with many other of my papers about a month since in a little excursion made by Genl. Vaughn up Hudson at the head of a considerable body of troops. In which being secured by his shipping __ from opposition he had ____ acquired Laurels of a very modern growth by burning about 200 farm houses and barns, hay and a few Country seats among them my Mother’s and mine which were close to water’s edge and under the cover of British shipping

Of note in the Chancellor’s letter are two important points. Firstly, the Chancellor referred to the destruction of about 200 barns and houses, the Livingston’s did not bear the destruction alone (General Vaughn’s own tally would put the number of buildings destroyed at 300). Several other families and residents were burned out of their homes by the troops, and most could probably not afford to quickly rebuild their houses like the Livingstons. The Chancellor referred to his house and Clermont as country seats, and as refined gentry they were wealthy enough to pack some possessions, flee to safety and rebuild when the smoke cleared. For the lower class tenant farmer, freeholder, or shop-owner in Kingston, their entire world would have been lost in a few hours. The Chancellor also intentionally crossed out the phrase “under the cover of British shipping”. This phrase would have meant that the British Navy fired on Clermont-i.e. provided cover. As there was no one at the estate to resist the raiders, it would have been unnecessary for the Navy to spend ammunition by using the house for target practice, but this topic will be covered more extensively later. For now it only important to note that the Chancellor was not present for the destruction of Clermont, and he may have crossed the line out once he realized the ships did not actually fire at the house. This, however, is purely 20th century speculation and the true story may never be known.

British authors were also writing about the campaign. A review of British primary sources reveals the nature of the military action as seen by the enemy.

The journals of Colonel Stephen Kemble, from June 9th, 1773, to October 23, 1779, while Deputy Adjunct General of the British Army in North America. Kemble served under Generals Thomas Gage, Sir William Howe and Sir Henry Clinton. In 1777, he served under Sir Henry Clinton, and the burning of Clermont is related as follows:

Sunday, Oct. 19th to Saturday, 25th. Nothing Extraordinary. Informed this evening by an Officer from General Vaughn that he had been as far as Livingston’s Manor; that he had burn’t [sic] Livingston’s House and some others. His Intelligence from General Burgoyne not the most favorable, and that he has surrendered; but we don’t believe it. Putnam on the River, watching Vaughn’s motions, with about 5000 men, firing at our shipping as they come down, but with very little damage to us, only Wounding five or six men…..
Sunday, Oct. 26th. General Vaughn with the Troops under his Command, arrived from Livingston’s Manor; those for the Grand Army arrived at New York; the whole to Land (those intended for King’s Bridge) as soon as come down.
Our unfavorable accounts of General Burgoyne being Prisoner with his army, confirmed. He capitulated on the 16th and 17th; the Brunswickers and Hannau and British to be sent to Boston, to be exchanged or sent to Europe; said (troops) not to serve during the War.
Reported that he was attacked as formerly said, on the 7th; the Rebels most of them Drunk; they themselves say he Killed and Wounded 5,000 (cannot believe it)….

A reading of this passage illustrates several points. First, it again shows how slowly information traveled in the 18th century. Even by the 25th of October, 1777, Sir Henry Clinton’s army did not have true confirmation of Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga a full week earlier (although Vaughn knew on October 23rd). British messengers had to travel through over a hundred miles of hostile territory to relay this message, and, as noted before, spies were hung on the spot. Kemble obviously did not believe the reports he was getting from the Americans, he was waiting for an official confirmation.

One can also glimpse the attitude of the British officers towards the Americans. He did not believe the accounts of Saratoga, and the only way (in his eyes) for the Americans to have defeated Burgoyne is if they were “drunk.” The burning of Livingston’s house is related as matter-of-factly as if he were giving the weather conditions. It is important to keep in mind that what was a major event to the Livingston family was nothing more than a military footnote to the British. Burning the “Rebel” houses was being used a wartime technique to destroy supply sources and terrorize an enemy population into submission, although there is the indication that Sir Henry Clinton did not approve of Vaughn’s actions as noted previously.

Clinton, Sir Henry. The American Rebellion: Sir Henry Clinton’s narratives of his campaigns: 1775-1782. William Wilcox ed. 1954. New Haven and London.

Sir Henry Clinton was the commanding officer of the British military campaign up the Hudson River. After the war, he spent the last 12 years of his life compiling his narrative.

The little armament got up to Esopus [Kingston] on the 15th; and General Vaughn informed me he judged it proper to stop and destroy the place, lest the works and troops there might interrupt his communication with Fort Clinton or harass him on his return. He afterward proceeded to Livingston’s Manor, about 45 miles from Albany, where the vessels were obliged to come to anchor by the pilots’ absolutely refusing to take charge of them further. From hence the General sent me information that he had not been able to communicate with Burgoyne, as Putnam with 5000 men had taken posts on his right and Parsons with 1500 on his left; but that all accounts agreed in representing his situation as desperate.

Once again, one can readily see the difficulty of relaying information in the eighteenth century. Vaughn was operating in enemy territory and, although he could not directly communicate with Burgoyne, the reports were not favorable. Also apparent in Clinton’s account is the lack of significance of the burning of Clermont and Kingston. Clinton’s book has a heavy apologetic tone throughout, he tries to explain why the British lost the American Revolution. When this passage is read in full context, Clinton explains how his Commander and Chief (William Howe) did not supply him with enough troops, and Burgoyne never made it clear that he wished Clinton’s force to meet his in Albany. The "what" details are not as important as the "why" details and why he never relieved Burgoyne’s force at Saratoga.

In addition to the published journals, Clermont is fortunate to have the extant military records from the campaign. The British Army was meticulous at keeping records, and these records survived in the British Public Records Office. In order to find out more information about Burgoyne on October 14th Clinton sent a mixed force of naval vessels and 1,700 troops north on the river. In the mean time, he had to return to New York due to the illness of the ranking British officer left in charge of that garrison.

On October 14th the log book of the HMS Preston (a 50 gun Frigate) notes that “…P.M. several Transports sail’d up the River with the Galleys.”

The log of the Galley Dependence notes for the 15th of October that “…made sail in compy 13 Transports…anch’d…Compy his majesties Brig Diligent Spitfire (Galley) and Crane (Galley).”

Contrary to many accounts of Vaughn’s raid by later historians, the only mention of major naval units is in Hotham’s letter of the 15th. Admiral Hotham gave the ships dispositions as being along the river, not with Vaughn and Wallace:

…They sailed yesterday [Wallace on the 14th ] and are now above the chevaux de frize [a defensive work in the river made of timber cribs filled with stone and sharpened logs put in-place facing down stream] off Pollepus Island, where I have placed the Mercury [20 guns] to secure the passage against their return, and the Cerubus [28 guns] being reported to me as only fit for river service takes her station off Stoney Point to scour that neck and to give her assistance at the same time to the camp an Verplanks; the Tarter [28 guns] flanks the approaches to Fort Clinton, and the Preston [50 guns] lies between the two, within signals of either.

Pointing further towards the lack of large men-of-war on the expedition was Wallace’s letter of the 17th of October, where he wrote from what he described as “Gallies & Armed Vessels off Ezopus Creek.” It appears from primary sources that Wallace’s “Flying Squadron” consisted of 3 armed Gallies, one brig and various other small craft while Vaghn’s men were located on 13 transports and flatboats.

Vaughn and Wallace arrived in the river off Kingston on October 15th : “We proceeded up the River destroying a Number of Vessels as we sailed along, without stopping till we arrived at Ezopus Creek…” (Wallace, 17th October 1777, Gallies & Armed Vessels off Ezopus). General Vaughn described his arrival off of Esopus (Kingston) in a letter dated October 17th:

I arrived off Esopus, finding that the Rebels had thrown up Works, and had made every Disposition to annoy us, and cut off our Communication. I judged it necessary to attack them the Wind being at that Time so much against us that we could make no way, I accordingly landed Troops, attacked their Batteries, drove them from their Works, spiked & destroyed their Guns. Esopus being a Nursery for almost every Villain in the Country, I judged necessary to proceed to that Town. On our approach they were drawn up, with Cannon which we took & drove them out of the Place. On our entering the Town they fired from their Houses which induced me to reduce the Place to Ashes, which I accordingly did, not leaving a House. We found a considerable quantity of stores of all kinds, which shared the same fate.

In a latter undated report he gave further reason for burning Kingston:

…I had a much greater inducement as the Congress and Mr. Clinton had taken refuge there that morning and its being a town notorious for harboring the rebellious people in that part of the Country.

While in Esopus, Vaughn received news that Burgoyne had surrendered, but he did not trust his source. He quickly moved as far as Clermont. Wallace in his report on October 17th stated,"By all our Information I am afraid General Burgoyne is retreated---if not worse."

Vaughn and Wallace continued raiding along the river until they reached Clermont, there the log book of the galley Dependence reported for October 18th that:

SSE 2 miles [wind condition] D[itt]o weather these 24 hours…at 4PM sent the Boats Mann’d and Arm’d to Destroy some Reble Store on Livingstons Manner. A.M. Lower’d Down the Main Yard to mend the Main Sail…

Clermont was burnt by Vaughn and his men. The burning of Clermont was reported simply by the Loyalist newspaper The New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury of November 3, 1777, “Oct. 18 Another House belonging to Robert Livingston, Esq; on to Mr. John Livingston, with three others, destroyed in like Manner (burnt).”

The Dependence logbook shows that Vaughn and Wallace lingered in the vicinity of Clermont for five days awaiting news of Burgoyne. In his undated report, Vaughn detailed why he turned around the 23rd of October:

From the accounts I had received of his situation, I found it impracticable to give him (Burgoyne) any further Assistance; And as Mr. Putnam had taken post with 5,000 men on my Right, and Clinton or Parsons with 1500 on my Left, I determined to return to Fort Vaughn…

While Vaughn could not save Burgoyne’s army, he had wreaked havoc on the Hudson River Valley, destroying the town of Kingston and hundreds of other homes and crops and supplies destined for the American Army.

His final tally as reported to General Clinton:

14 Pieces of Cannon
150 Stands of Arms
12 Barrels of Flints
6 Sloops loaded with Provisions of all Kind &ca: &ca: &ca:

1150 Stands of Arms
44 Barrels of Gunpowder
80 Small Vessels
400 Houses, Barns, Mills &ca:

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