The Forgotten Patriot
John watched as his father disappeared from view over a hill on his way to meet up with the continental army to begin his training. Many men in John’s village of Middlefield had left to help fight the British after they heard about what happened in Boston a few years ago. Even though he was already 19 years old, John decided not to enlist in the army so he could help his mother run their family business of making clothes while his father was away.
John Morgan was a slim but tall teenager raised in a middle class family. He was a hardworking and enthusiastic boy who also dearly loved his family which consisted of his busy and dedicated parents and his ambitious five year old sister Abigail. Not only was John well educated, but he was also quite selfless and enjoyed helping people. His father had settled in this village and started up his clothing business before John was even born. They had stayed there ever since.
But now things were changing. As the British entered and took over cities, people fled to the countryside and to villages like John’s to find jobs. As the war dragged on, more and more people came to Middlefield looking for jobs, so much that the population had almost doubled! Soon after he turned 20, John realized that his mother no longer needed help with the clothing production and decided to join the continental army and help a cause. He hated that his father and people all across America were fighting for his country’s freedom and risking their lives while he comfortably and safely stayed at home, but now he had a chance to contribute.
John got up, grabbed the things he had packed the day before and said goodbye to his mother and sister. “Be careful” his mother said, “and don’t forget to send us a letter or two about how things are going and what you have done.” John was doubtful that they would let him send letters while he was on duty in the army, as they could reveal secrets and future plans in the war, but he would see when he got to the training camp. His sister yelled “Come back soon!” from the doorway as John began his 12 mile walk to Waterville; which was the closest drafting station to Middlefield.
It was a surprisingly warm June morning, from which John could tell that it would be humid and hot for the rest of the day. He looked up in a slender oak tree and saw two black-capped chickadees hopping around, one with a small dark red berry in it’s beak.From it’s beak, to the top of it’s head and just below it’s black eyes ran a streak of jet-black feathers from which it received it’s name. He looked up at the birds with longing, remembering his childhood when he would run around the forests surrounding Middlefield and see the black-capped chickadees fly around and chatter to each other.
John stumbled over a root in the middle of the path that reached out to trip unobservant walkers like himself. He caught his balance and continued walking, keeping his gaze on the path to prevent future incidents. Things had changed for John, and he no longer had the luxury of running around through forests anymore.
John eventually arrived at Waterville and enlisted in the continental army. He was then transported to an even further away training camp where he was taught how to clean, load, aim and fire a musket, how to properly march, follow orders and various other things in just three months. He was given a mostly clean and slightly used uniform and assigned to General Anthony Wayne.
The training was supposed to be at least four months long, but it was cut short by the need for more soldiers in General Wayne’s division. John and the other men he had trained with began the march to reinforce Wayne and join his division. After two days, they arrived at their destination where they learned that they were ordered to harass and if possible, cut off the British baggage train on their way to Schuylkill Valley. This would give the main part of the continental army time to cut in front of them and stop them from going to the valley.
The next day, John was on the move again, this time surrounded by around 1500 other soldiers from what he could tell. He looked up in the sky and noticed huge, dark, threatening clouds moving in from the West. Or was that the North? His commanders in training went over cardinal directions very briefly. “Uh oh,” said the person to his left, noticing the clouds as well. “Looks like it’s going to rain”.
“Hi, my name is Tom,” he said, facing John. “I’m John”. Tom was well built with light, sandy hair and looked slightly older than him. “Nice to meet you,” he responded.
As Tom had predicted, it soon began to downpour. They marched on for five hours before the rain finally stopped. “How are our muskets going to work after they just got soaked?” John asked. Tom just shrugged. After another hour, the division stopped at a town. A sign at the entrance of it read Warwick Furnace. There, the division received new weapons and ammunition, and an hour later, they were back to marching.
After a few more hours of marching they passed a lone building standing in front of a little town by the side of the road. “Paoli Tavern,” read Tom. “I’d like to stop there for the rest of the day!” he joked. John stared at the tavern. He had been to one once in Waterville about 10 years ago. It was a bright and lively place that people all over the town went to to talk with others and relax. Paoli tavern seemed almost the opposite. It looked dark and gloomy with hardly anyone in it. “I guess that’s what happens when there’s a war,” he thought to himself.
Finally, only about a half mile after Paoli Tavern, they stopped and set up camp. “I heard that the British set up camp just a few miles away,” said Tom, looking relieved that they wouldn’t be marching anymore for the rest of the day. Just like the day before, officers handed out some bread, a small amount of beans and a small chunk of meat that looked like venison. John’s section of the camp was ordered to make a campfire, as were all the other parts of the camp. Within minutes, a series of bright fires burned throughout the camp.
John felt some comfort from the heat of the dancing flames as he sat around his section’s campfire, drying whatever parts of his uniform that were still wet and trying to cook his chunk of meat the best he could. He looked around him and realized that Tom must have seen someone he knew while the division was just starting to set up camp and must be in a different section of the camp. Upon realizing that his buddy who he hung out with during every marching break was gone, John felt isolated and alone and not as eager to be a soldier as he was before.
There weren’t enough tents to go around, but John was able to get a blanket. He chose a flat piece of ground without any rocks to sleep on. It was the middle of September and his uniform which he slept in didn’t have very good insulation. The blanket he was given was as thin as a couple pieces of paper and had quite a few holes in it. John shivered and looked down towards his feet to see that the blanket only reached to his knees. Even though it was cold, John was exhausted from marching all day and immediately fell asleep.
Two days later, the continental soldiers were still waiting at the same camp, and the British still hadn’t moved.
“I heard that General Wayne was told by people from the town by Paoli Tavern that General Howe and the British will continue their march to Schuylkill Valley this evening,” said a wide-eyed teenager.
“I doubt it,” responded a man who looked at least 50 years old. “I’ve heard that rumor everyday since we’ve been here.”
John had had a lot of free time since the division stopped here to camp. They were no longer being given anymore beans and the amount of meat was now half of what it had been before, so he spent most of his time in the woods next to the camp searching for edible roots and nuts to eat. He even found a small cluster of wild strawberries! They were a little unripe, but still ten times better than anything he had eaten for the past week. John once again fell asleep on an empty stomach, trying to remember the taste of those slightly sweet and juicy strawberries.
“Up, men! The British are upon you!” John woke with a start. Was that General Wayne who was yelling? “Uh oh,” John thought. “This must be important.”He looked around, but it was pitch black. He checked his uniform and grabbed his supplies while his eyes adjusted to the darkness. He saw people scrambling out of their tents and falling in line to their commanding officer and joined them. They had run drills for this kind of situation during training and once the day before, but it felt completely different when there was actually the threat of danger. Everyone was panicking, and in the panic, people forgot their training and what to do.
John heard screams behind him. The British were closing in. Once most of the people were in formation, Colonel Humpton shouted out commands to get the sub divisions away from the enemy and the campfires, as they would cast light on and reveal their positions. But the commands the Colonel gave made no sense. “We’re heading towards the fires and not getting any further away from the enemy!” John exclaimed to anyone who could hear him. Orders to fix this got confused and the movement of the sub divisions became a mess.
The soldiers could now see thousands of British soldiers charging toward them, only a little more than 100 yard away. John realized that there was no way this was going to work, and that the only way to get out of this alive was to start running. He joined the people who had already ditched their sub division, and soon everyone was running for their lives, including the commanders.
John ran as fast as he could and jumped the first fence of the fenced-in strip of land between their camp and a road to the White Horse Tavern. He hoped to regroup with his sub division there. “By then the British will probably stop chasing us,” He thought. But as he ran down the road and reached the Tavern with most of the division around him, the British continued to give chase! John was exhausted, but he didn’t dare slow down and kept running as fast as he could. He saw a few soldiers fall behind and were bayoneted when the enemy caught up with them. He ran for what seemed like miles until the British finally ceased their attack.
When they regrouped at the White Horse Tavern, John guessed that around 200 people of the division were missing. He searched the crowd for Tom, but it was huge and the division was being called into marching position. John realized that the British hadn’t fired at all during the skirmish that morning. “Or more like massacre,” thought John as he got into position. General Wayne’s division began their march to find a new campsite much further away to stay at and await orders from General Washington. John looked to his left, only to find an empty space. As they marched on, John’s eyes began to water.
After eight days of waiting at their new camp and healing the rest of the injured, General Wayne got orders to head East. From there, they would meet up with a couple other divisions to prepare to take back a town called Germantown which was located right next to Philadelphia. John didn’t like it when he heard the news. He was tired both physically and emotionally of fighting. He just wanted to go home to his family. He wondered how his father was doing. There was a good chance that he would get killed or injured, that is, if he hadn’t already.
They met up with the other divisions of the continental army after a day of marching. The plan was that the army would be divided up into four parts, together attacking the British from all sides. This plan was to go into effect on the fourth of October.
John and his division was briefed about the plan of the attack, but John was only half listening, instead wishing he could be back with his family at home; wishing to be safe and comforted, instead of what his future held, which would be the exact opposite. On the day of the attack, a thick fog rolled in.
Two days after the battle of Germantown, Philadelphia-
“That was a miserable failure,” said General Wayne to another younger officer as they sat in the streets of Philadelphia, watching wounded soldiers get tended to. “Washington’s plan was way too complicated for it to work. One of the four sections got lost and didn’t even make it to the battlefield!” He exclaimed.
“Well, I blame the fog for the loss. Victory was almost in hand and would have been if only our troops didn’t fire upon one another!” offered the young officer.
“Yes, but if our soldiers were better trained that wouldn’t have happened,” Wayne countered.
“Anyway, what are we going to do with the dead, and where are we going to bury all of them?” asked the young officer. “We don’t have the time or resources to bury each of them individually or even get a grave marker stating their names”. They walked over to the pile of dead soldiers waiting to be buried. “Like this soldier right here,” the officer continued, pointing to a boy around the age of 20 who was lying on top of the pile of bodies. “No one will know his name or anything about who he was.”
“Actually, I think I know him,” said Wayne. “I think his name was something like Jim or John.”
“Yeah, but no one else will know what he sacrificed or even his name.”
“I don’t think we really have a choice,” the general concluded. “Burying them all in a single grave in Philadelphia Square is the best option.” The young officer looked sadly at the pile of lifeless bodies covered in blood. “I just hope that our nation’s freedom is worth all of the lives lost to gain it.”
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