Ordinary Courage: The Revolutionary War Adventures of Joseph Plumb Martin

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The ordinary and yet exceptional experiences of a young soldier in Washington s army are given a new life in this fourth edition, sensitively edited for a modern readership. Classic primary source on the Revolutionary War Edited by a leading US authority on the period Now with extra maps and a more extensive bibliography Includes a new Afterword by Karen Guenther on film portrayals of the continental soldier. Sign up to our newsletter today! Click here for more details Telegraph bookshop. Description This remarkable memoir is one of the most celebrated documents to emerge from the tumult of America s Revolutionary War.

Add to Basket. Ironically, the scholarly consensus has caught up with the old veteran in its view of the militia as a necessary but insufficient agent for Independence. In his battle narratives, Martin documents how Continental discipline was vital for ultimate victory. Immediately following his first enlistment, Martin's regimentth Connecticut--was ordered to the defense of New York City in the summer of This regiment was a short-term unit enrolled for six months.

Its officers were without experience, their troops green as grass. Prior to the British invasion of New York, the men received little drilling or training. After the American defeat on Long Island, these raw soldiers were tasked with defending the likely landing site on Manhattan at Kip's Bay.

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Martin describes the position as "nothing more than a ditch dug along on the bank of the [East] river, with the dirt thrown out toward the water" On the morning of 15 September, British warships began bombarding the American position, as 4, Hessian troops approached in rowboats toward Martin and his comrades. Expecting raw militia as the short-term troops were considered to withstand the fierce cannonade was too much; their officers ordered a retreat. The result was complete disorder and a rout. Martin blames the lack of leadership for this humiliation: "the men were confused, being without officers to command them.

His regiment did, however, fight with credit at Harlem Heights and White Plains later in the campaign.

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Martin mustered out of the 5th Connecticut in late December The following April, he signed up for the duration with the 8th Connecticut. The recruitment of long service regiments was the result of the manifest failures of the short-term units. Another problem with these semi-militia regiments was that they obliged Washington continually to rebuild the Continental Army while actively campaigning. Washington hoped to create a "respectable" army based on these long-term regiments, but had to use militia as auxiliaries throughout the war due to a chronic shortage of Continentals.

Martin's recounting of the Monmouth and Yorktown campaigns provides ample evidence of the value of Continental veterans. After fighting in the battle of Germantown and the siege of Fort Mifflin, Martin had the great fortune of not spending the winter at Valley Forge; instead, he foraged the countryside for desperately needed supplies. During early spring , he received his first serious training as a soldier: "I was kept constantly, when off other duty, engaged in learning the Baron de Steuben's new Prussian exercise; it was a continual drill" He observes that the militia could neither have endured the great hardships of Valley Forge, nor submitted to the discipline required to create troops capable of standing against British regulars.

Martin certainly needed his training during the Monmouth campaign.

Ordinary Courage: The Revolutionary War Adventures of Joseph Plumb Martin, 3rd Edition

He was transferred to the light infantry, charged with maintaining close contact with the British in order to reconnoiter and harass them. Soldiers recruited for the light infantry were generally the most quick-witted and fleet-footed in the army.

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In summer , British General Henry Clinton found it necessary to abandon Philadelphia and consolidate his forces in New York City, due to the French declaration of war after the American victory at Saratoga. The British government's concerns over its Caribbean possessions and the security of the home islands made suppressing the American rebellion a lower priority. This obliged Clinton to march his army across New Jersey in order to make forces available for duty in the Caribbean. Martin and his comrades shadowed them every foot of the way.

After General Charles Lee famously bollixed the attack upon the British flank, Washington took personal command of the field. With great dispatch, he organized the nearby Continental regiments including Martin's in an effective defense against the British counterattack.

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Martin vividly describes how the well-drilled Continentals held their ground despite repeated British assaults:. As soon as the troops had left this ground the British planted their cannon upon the place and began a violent attack upon the artillery and our detachment, but neither could be routed. The cannonade continued for some time without intermission, when the British pieces being mostly disabled, they reluctantly crawled back from the height which they had occupied and hid themselves from out sight While the battle was tactically a draw, the British slipped away and left the field to the Continental Army.

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  • Two years after the humiliating defeats in New York, and a year after the loss of the capital at Philadelphia, the Continentals had scored a moral victory at Monmouth by repelling the best that European regulars could throw at them. Monmouth would be the last general engagement of the war in the north. The British believed they could easily conquer the south due to the large numbers of Tories residing there.

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    A "southern strategy" would also allow a better coordination between the North American and Caribbean campaigns. Martin spent the next two years fighting the Tory "villains" who operated between the American and British lines around New York City. In , he was selected to serve in the Corps of Sappers and Miners.


    The purpose of this small, new unit was to supervise the erection of field works. As JKM states in a footnote, the choice of Martin for this post demonstrates the high regard of his superior officers. With General Cornwallis cornered at Yorktown and a French fleet available to keep him there, Martin and his comrades marched down to the head of the Chesapeake and boarded ship for Virginia.

    On the evenings of 5 and 6 October, the sappers laid out and supervised the building of the American siege works around Yorktown.

    The Revolutionary War Adventures of Joseph Plumb Martin

    On the 14th, they led an assault on the British Redoubt Their orders were to clear an avenue of approach through the British abatis with axes. As Martin relates, the sappers quickly cleared a route through the obstructions, and the assault troops took the fort while suffering nine killed and thirty-one wounded On the 17th, Cornwallis sent an officer through the lines under a flag of truce to negotiate terms for his doomed army.

    The hardships the Continentals suffered for an ungrateful nation do not need belaboring.

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    Suffice it to note that about a quarter of the approximately 11, soldiers who went into winter quarters at Valley Forge did not live to see the spring. On this score, Martin sounds bitter in defending the small pensions authorized in The truth was, none cared for them; the country was served, and faithfully served, and that was all that was deemed necessary. It was, soldiers, look to yourselves, we want no more of you. I hope I shall one day find land enough to lay my bones in.