Tuesday, December 11, 2018

"Tired With Being There" Henry Beekman Livingston's Brief Time as a Guest of the British Navy

Granny Gates
As he took stock of his situation after the Battle of Saratoga General Horatio Gates felt the need to address the situation to his south. While Gates and the Northern Army had been drubbing General John Burgoyne, General Sir Henry Clinton had launched an attack up the Hudson River Valley, taking Forts Clinton and Montgomery, burning Kingston, burning Clermont and a number of other private homes. Gates found this offensive and let Clinton know it in a harshly worded letter.
A perfect choice for messenger boy
          To deliver the letter Gates sent Colonel Henry Beekman Livingston of the 4th New York Regiment who had a personal stake in the matter as the British had burned down his mother’s house in their attack. Gates ordered Henry to find the enemy at Fort Montgomery, assuming that they would have occupied the fort after they had taken it. They had not, choosing instead to return to New York City.
          Henry, of course, decided to exceed his orders and headed south. At King’s Bridge he was taken aboard the H.M.S. Mercury under the command of James Montagu. Montagu immediately passed Henry off on his first officer Lieutenant Logan.
James Montagu's statue in West Minster Abbey
          Lt. Logan took Gage’s message from Henry and sent it ashore. As for Henry he now found himself a sort of guest, sort of prisoner on the ship. While he was not put in chains he had very little in the way of freedom while he waited for an answer to his message. He could not set foot ashore. Henry described his treatment as “very Indifferent.”
Henry Clinton, not great at checking his messages
          After two days aboard the ship it appears that Montagu and Henry had begun to get on each other’s nerves. Henry was constantly bombarding Montagu and Logan with demands to send more messages to Clinton or for answers as to why he had not had an answer yet. Finally,Henry demanded to send another message to Clinton, from whom he was yet to receive a response and Montagu refused to offer him any more help. Henry was “Tired of being here.”
          It was time for Montagu to get rid of Henry. He could have simply turned him over to one of the prison hulks in New York Harbor, but for a pesky sense of honor. Henry had traveled under a flag of truce so Montagu put Henry ashore back at King’s Bridge.
HMS Jersey, the most famous prison hulk
How many ships did you sink?

This allowed Henry to return to his regiment in time to join them at Valley Forge and serve in the army for another year.(Read all about that here!) On Christmas Eve of 1777 Montagu ran the H.M.S. Mercury into a sunken obstacle in the Hudson River and lost her. The obstacle had been placed by the Americans, maybe by the Committee to Defend the River of which Henry's brother Robert R. Livingston was a member. He would have a rather unimpressive career after that until June 1, 1794 when he was killed at the Battle of Ushant, the Glorious First of June during the Napoleonic Wars.[i]
Not shown, James Montagu getting hit by a cannon ball early in the battle.

[i] Henry Beekman Livingston wrote a report on his journey south to George Clinton on November 13, 1777.  The letter is now in the New York State Archives Henry Livingston Papers collection.
Not that George Clinton

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Wholly Destitute; Henry Livingston's Christmas at Valley Forge

Yeah, its another one about this dude.
          It would be tough to decide which members of the Livingston family had the worse Christmas in 1777. Chancellor Robert R. Livingston had suffered the destruction of his house by the British Army and was forced to take Christmas dinner at his cousin Peter R. Livingston’s house. Margaret Beekman Livingston, who had also lost her home to the British was in Connecticut staying at a house that belonged to Robert Livingston, 3rd Lord of Livingston Manor. On the other hand, Henry Beekman Livingston was settling in to his winter quarters with the Continental Army at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.
After being briefly held by the British as a quasi-prisoner of war in November of 1777 Henry rejoined his regiment, the 4th New York, in time to join them in winter quarters. On December 24, 1777 Henry, had written to his brother Robert; “We are now building huts for our winter quarters without tools or nails so I suppose we may render ourselves very comfortable by the time winter is over.” He went on to explain that his men were "in general mostly naked and very often in a starving condition." He and his troops were lousy with bugs and only 18 men could muster fully clothed, the rest missing shoes, stockings, coats or breeches[i]
The huts may have looked something like this reproduction

Christmas Day did not show much improvement for the men in Valley Forge. George Washington’s general orders to the army begin with order 9 men from each brigade and three wagons to be assigned “for the purpose of collecting flour, grain, cattle and pork, for the army.” They end with a warning against plundering the local inhabitants and that anyone caught was to be “severely punished.”[ii] This would seem to indicate a shortage of food and possibly other supplies in the camp.
Not this George Clinton
This one
Henry wrote to Governor George Clinton of New York that day. He wrote; “Wholly destitute of clothing, the men and officers are now perishing in the field at this season of the year, and that at a time when troops of almost every other state are receiving supplies of everything necessary and comfortable.”[iii]
Harry and his men made it through Christmas though many of them would fall sick over the course of the winter. Henry himself fell so ill he had to be removed from the camp to a private house several miles away. He soon recovered though, boasting, in a letter to George Washington, that he had “never been sick before in My Life that I shall be enabled to return to my Duty in a few days.”[iv]
The "Prussian Lieutenant General" von Steuben
 It turned out that it would take Henry six weeks to recover. By the end of March 1778 he was back in camp with his regiment learning how to be a real soldier. Over the next few months Henry and his men trained extensively under the Baron von Steuben who Henry described as "an agreeable man". Henry found the training "more agreeable to the dictates of reason and common sense than any mode I have before seen,"[v] 
In June of 1778 Henry Beekman Livingston, the 4th New York and the entire Continental Army emerged from their winter quarters at Valley Forge transformed. They were an army that could stand in the field against the British Army (Click here to read all about that). Still though, Christmas 1777 was pretty bad.

A copy of this apocryphal image hangs in the study at Clermont supposedly showing George Washington praying for his troops at Valley Forge.

[i] Boyle, Joseph Lee Writings from the Valley Forge Encampment December 19,1777- June 19, 1778 Volume 2. Heritage Books, Maryland 2007 p 2.
[ii] “General Orders, 25 December 1777, ”Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 13, 2018, http://founders.archives .gov/documents/Washington/03-12-02-0647.
[iii] Public Papers of George Clinton Volume II Published by the State of New York, Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co, New York, 1900, p 605-606
[iv] “To George Washington from Colonel Henry Beekman Livingston, 10 February 1778,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 13,2018, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-13-02-0417
[v] ] Boyle, Joseph Lee Writings from the Valley Forge Encampment December 19,1777- June 19, 1778 Volume 2. Heritage Books, Maryland 2007 p 92-94