Changing The Course of History (Part 3)

“Azor” An Italian Greyhound pencil pencil sketch by Wendy Harty February 2021

“I need a volunteer” requested Sergeant Isaac Gibbs of the 1st New Hampshire Regiment. His brother, Joshua, was quick to step forward. “What, Sergeant?” The Baron is busy today and needs Azor taken for his exercise. A grin creased the unshaven jaw of Joshua Gibbs. He’d known what the volunteer job of the day was and it was going to be a pleasure to take Azor for a run, away from the encampment of Valley Forge. Joshua for his mental health needed a break from marching and practicing war drills for the Continental Army under George Washington, that spring day of March, 1778. It would be nice break from digging new holes for the outhouses.

The Baron was Baron Von Steuben christened Friedrich Wilhelm Rudolph Gerhard August, who served as inspector general under George Washington. He had arrived at Valley Forge February 23, 1778; a Prussian military officer, who had commenced to training the soldiers in close and orderly drill.

Baron Von Steuben had brought his dog, Azor, with him. Azor was an Italian Greyhound who was mischievous, affectionate, intelligent, very agile and a great companion for Joshua. Joshua had grown up at Quabbin, where as a boy he’d been raised in the woods, hunting and fishing along the river. With a happy bark, Azor led off into the countryside. With a series of small yaps, he alerted Joshua to a stranger to be passed on the road. One of the Quaker farmers was moving a milk cow to a different pasture. Joshua nodded and continued on. Azor was energetic this day, but Joshua knew if he let him off leash, and Azor found any game to chase, Joshua might face disciplinary measures for losing the Baron’s dog. Joshua reached and stroked the pliant and delicate ears. Continuing on with pleasure under his touch the supple skinned dog, his short coat glossy under the warming spring sun lapped up the attention from Joshua. Then the diminutive dog, his eyesight keen, spotted a bush rabbit and dashed to the end of the leash trying to get at the small game he was born to hunt. With his sweet disposition, Azor, listened to the small whistle from Joshua’s lips, and obediently came back to continue walking by his side. It was soon time to turn back and return the dog to the Baron, but for this moment in time, Joshua was very pleased that his brother, Isaac, had given him the heads up to volunteer this day.

Von Steubon arrived on American shores February 5th and came to the Valley two weeks later. France recognized the US as an independent country with the Treaty of Alliance, February 1778. He only spoke French and needed translators. His large size, the trappings on horse and the enormous holsters that sheathed his pistols made him an impressive sight to the ragtag patriots. He was appalled at the slovenly camp conditions he had found at Valley Forge. . His first endeavor was reorganizing the camp kitchens and latrines. He moved the outhouses to the opposite side of camp, away from the kitchens, and placed them on a downhill slope. The patriots had been under their individual military colonels, each with different training methods, drills and maneuvers from the 13 colonies. Von Steubon used ego-crushing ideas of boot camp. He trained the soldiers until the practice of firing and reloading weapons became second nature. Von Steubon can be credited with changing the course of history for the American Revolution with his brilliant organization, training and preparation for the Continental Army to do battle in the ensuing last three years of the Revolutionary War.

Joshua was pleased when he came back into camp. Martha Washington had come bringing baskets of food and new knitted socks. The camp followers, the wives, sisters and children of some of the soldiers were also helping with washing, cooking and cleaning and had helped them all survive that winter at Valley Forge. The Spy Ring, formed when the Army had its own intelligence unit brought news of British troop movements and strategic plans. Messengers went swiftly back and forth, some disguised as peddlers or tavern owners. The Americans discovered a way to make invisible ink that only they knew the chemical to reveal it; secret codes were always being made but were deciphered and mask letters were written as a normal letter with a code within.

Von Steubon would see his handiwork. The British Sir Henry Clinton was the new British commander. The British had captured the American capital, at Philadelphia, the fall of 1777 and stayed there 20 miles from Valley Forge. The French Navy had defeated the British Navy and were coming to help the Americans and the British were retreating to New York. There weren’t enough boats and 20,000 British troops had to cross New Jersey to get to New York and left June 18. On June 27th they stopped to rest near the Monmouth Court House. Isaac and Joshua left Valley Forge June 18th, 1778. They had survived the brutal winter at Valley Forge; it was time to see if they had become a true fighting force.

The Battle of Monmouth

“Molly, we need another pitcher!” called her husband William Hays. Molly had been a camp follower at Valley Forge. The weather was so hot and humid that Sunday, June 28th, 1778 at Monmouth, New Jersey. Some say the temperatures reached 110 Fahrenheit . at the sun’s zenith and most of the day was in the 90’s. Molly would become a legend. Molly found a fresh spring and made trip after trip to fill her pitcher, and other camp followers gave the sweating, heat exhausted soldiers a drink. The cannons needed to be continuously cooled down with fresh water. After firing a shot, a sponge was soaked and attached to the end of a ramrod and pushed inside to clean out the inside of the barrel. She watched her husband, William, collapse whether from a wound or heat exhaustion, this writer does not know. Molly abandoned her water jugs. She’d been watching her husband load the cannon and knew what to do; Molly took over in his place the cannon for the rest of the day. Reaching for a new cartridge, her feet planted firmly apart, a cannon shot passed through her legs carrying away her petticoats. “Well, could have been worse, lucky it didn’t pass a little higher” was reportedly what she said. Brave, noble, strong, she was the first woman to earn a military pension of 40 pounds for her actions in battle.

At first Lee botched the attack on the British rear guard who were protecting the long line of the column of wagons and supplies. Lee was in retreat when he met up with George Washington whose fresh troops stopped the British advance by noon. A long midday cannonade ensued while both sides sparred and late into the afternoon no one had an advantage. In late afternoon the British pulled back trying to reach New York. The British said they won because they repelled Lee and the Americans said they won because they had the battlefield.

Sergeant Isaac Gibbs and his brother Joshua were encouraged with the new drills and discipline. Von Steubon’s teaching had enabled them to hold their own against veteran British troops in open battle. This Battle of Monmouth would be the biggest and longest one day battle of the war. The statistics from that day in June: Americans 69 died, 161 wounded, 132 missing = 362. The British gave approximations, 67 killed, 59 fatigued, 170 wounded, 65 missing +361.

Brigadier General Enock Poor led his soldiers of the 1st New Hampshire Regiment into the Battle of Monmouth in New Jersey during which both sides lost as many to heatstroke as to the enemy. The two brothers Isaac and Joshua Gibbs fought under him in the battles of Trois-Rivieres, Trenton, Princeton, Hubbardton, Saratoga, and Monmouth. The war switched into the southern colonies and my relatives stayed in the north. My 4th great grandfather was honorably discharged with his brother Joshua and (another named David Gibbs) on March 20, 1780 by Colonel Cilley at Reading Connecticut. They would not see the white flag of the British at Yorkton; however they may have participated in building huge brick bread ovens where Clinton could see them to create the illusion that the Continental Army was preparing for a long stay. Washington also prepared false papers discussing an attack on Clinton, and let the letters fall into British hands. Instead Washington went secretly south to Virginia and attacked Cornwallis. Enock Poor the Gibbs’ Brigadier, died in New Jersey September 8, 1780 from a bilious fever, probably typhus. At the siege of Yorkton, the British were surrounded and outnumbered by French and American troops who bombarded them for eleven days. Finally, on October 19, 1781, Cornwallis waved the white flag of surrender. On October 19, 1781 the Treaty of Paris was offered using the words perpetual peace and harmony. It was the start of a new nation’s independence and would eventually lead to an election of George Washington as the first president of the United States.

I hope Isaac, Joshua and David went home to visit their mother Keziah. I find no records of the boys for the next twelve years until they are on a passenger list to Canada in 1792, where they settle along Missisquoi Bay amongst the loyalists. Isaac’s pension and Oath of Allegiance claims he is a farmer on the Seignory of St. Armand, and came into the Province of Lower Canada by water by way of Lake Champlain, on the 9th day of October, 1792. Signed Isaac Gibbs 14th day of October, 1794. His mother Keziah Atwood Gibbs would die the next month November 3, 1794. Isaac Gibbs and wife Lydia are named on their two boys marriage certificates. My third grandfather, Abraham Gibbs was born at Missisquoi, Quebec in 1806 and married Anna Saxe. The Quebec, Canada, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection) show the hand written record of their marriage at Stanbridge, Quebec, Anglican religion, 1833. Another son, Hiram born in 1812, married Jane Scott. My 2nd great grandfather, named after his uncle Hiram, Hiram Garner Gibbs was born May 10, 1846 at Farnham, Quebec. And this family would migrate back to the United States to Huron, Michigan.

“My, my,” I say to grandfather Isaac, from Greenwich, Massachusetts, where you were born March 14, 1756 along the Quabbin River, with five siblings born to Keziah and Abraham Gibbs, to being captured at “The Cedars”, (Pieces of the Puzzle blog), eating firecake and freezing at Valley Forge, enjoying the sight of Azor, the Italian Greyhound. receiving a welcome drink of water from one of the camp followers, the miles you marched and the battles you fought in the Revolutionary War, I thank you for the stories my imagination have concocted from the research into your life. I think you also had a small part in changing history forever! In deepest gratitude, Wendy.

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