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COLONEL BEDFORD’S ORDERLY BOOK by Louise Harlow

Dates;

May 11,1776 – November 6, 1776

Particular to the Delaware Battalion, this book covers a series of battles and their participation, often joining other companies to assist where needed.  This battalion were active in both the New York and New Jersey campaigns.

Under the command of George Washington, Colonel John Haslet and Lt. Colonel Gunning Bradford,

the 1st Delaware Regiment of more than 800 men, began the trek from Wilmington DE (July 26) to Philadelphia PA (August 4) to New York (August 17).  It was here they engaged in the Battle of Brooklyn, also known as the Battle of Long Island.  During the ensuing battle, the Delaware regiment fought alongside the Maryland regiment under the command of Brigadier General William Alexander (Lord Sterling.) They were given various tasks, that included creating a diversion to allow the Continental Army sufficient time to retreat and avoid destruction by a much larger British army.  During the battle and the bloody retreat that followed, Maryland lost up to 400 men; Delaware fared much better with the loss of only 31.

General Orders; Headquarters   August 23, 1776

Parole: Charleston     Countersigned: Lee

…The enemy have now landed on Long Island, the hour is fast approaching on which the honor and success of this army, and the safety of our bleeding country depends, remember officers and soldiers, that you are free men fighting for the blessing of liberty, that slavery will be your position and that of your poverty if you do not [equip] yourselves like men, remember how your courage and spirit has been despised and trodden by your cruel invaders, though they found by dear experience at Boston, Charlestown and other places what a few brave men contending in their own land, and in the best of causes can do, against hirelings and mercenaries, be cool and determined, don’t fire at a distance, but wait for orders from your officers.  It is the General Washington’s express orders that if any man attempts to skulk, lie down or retreat without orders, he instantly be shot down as an example, he hopes no such scandal will be found in the army but on the contrary everyone for himself resolve to conquer or dye[sic], and trust the smiles of heaven upon so just a cause.”

(excerpt from book)

After the defeat in Brooklyn, the Continentals moved north through Manhattan engaging in numerous skirmishes and battles with the British including encounters at Kips Bay, Harlem Heights, New Rochelle, White Plains and Fort Washington in upper Manhattan.  Haslet and his men, who were engaged in all of these battles, took heavy losses and by the time they reached Pennsylvania the regiment was reduced to 100 men.

The records in the book end with the final entry on November 6, just prior to the infamous “Crossing of the Delaware” during the night of December 25th.

After fleeing across New Jersey during the month of November, the Continentals, including what was left of Haslet’s regiment, crossed the Delaware into Pennsylvania to escape the pursuing British army.  At that point the British returned to Manhattan to wait out the Winter months.  Washington, anticipating the British would assume that the Continentals were lodged in Pennsylvania for the Winter months, decided to attack the British garrison in Trenton, New Jersey.  He crossed the Delaware River during the night of December 25 and attacked the garrison on the morning of December 26, 1776. The ensuing Continental victory was a turning point in the war. Haslet and his remaining men were in the forefront of that battle.

At the top of each day’s page of orders, the “Parole” and “Countersign” of the day are usually specified.  Through most of the war the passwords selected progressed alphabetically from day to day.

“General Orders” or “Headquarters” refer to those orders originating at the headquarters of George Washington. To confuse things, often the orders were not from General

Washington, but instead from a department commander.  The content of the orderly book covers a broad range of topics, including orders relating to the command structure for the day, including seniority levels.  Thoroughly detailed accounts of all general court’s martial cases, as to charges, case dispositions, and sentences are excessive. This particular orderly book shows an overabundance of them.  The treatment of officers and their punishments are very different than those of privates.  In one case a private is given the sentence of being shot in the head for running from battle, he is given a reprieve after much consideration, in deducting a month of pay in lieu of his death. 

            It is particular in understanding this regiment showing the army’s behavior standards, especially as related to local inhabitant property.

September 7th, 1776

Parole; Armstrong    Countersign; Brooklane

Complaints are daily made by the inhabitants of the wantonness of money, troops in plundering their gardens, orchards, and effects which calls aloud for immediate redress and the major General flatters himself, that the officers in every rank in his division will exert themselves to put a stop to practices so dishonorable to an army. His Excellency the commander and Chief has been pleased on Yesterday to express his abhomance[sic] and detestation of such vices in a letter to the Maj. Gen. in the words following;

It is with infuriate amazement and concern the Gen. finds that men almost of every regiment are suffered to ramble and straggle from their respective quarters, and encampments so that encase[sic] of an alarm, which we have great reason hourly to expect it will be impossible for them to be so effectually collected, as to be able to repeal the crafty and enterprising enemies as it is of the last importance that so dangerous a practice should speedily corrected he begs of you to lend your attention to this subject particularly and recommends that henceforth the rolls in each regiment be called three times a day and the delinquents instantly punished, that no soldier be permitted on any account to quit his quarters without leave, at any rate only a few at a time, the daily complaints of the most unbounded lasciviousness of the troops in plundering and destroying everything they can lay their hands upon, it gives his Excellency the utmost uneasiness and will () speedily put an end to prove the disgrace and destruction of the army.  The Gen. is surprised that freemen engaged in the glorious cause of liberty and fighting in defense of everything that is dear to them, should conscientiously plunge into such infamous and atrocious crimes, while our mercenary enemy, the fools of tyranny and oppressions exhibited almost a perfect pattern of regularity, you will not only therefore take care to convince the soldiers how truly abominable such behavior is, but by the most steady and regular discipline prevents irregularities in the future, upon your attention to this matters the good of the cause depends, and the general rests assured that you will embrace every opportunity of removing the present causes of complaint it is his Excellencies orders that a copy of this letter be given to each brigade Major who is to see that the contents of it are communicated to his brigade and at the same time inform the men from the General that every offender will be certainly and surely punished by the before received order the Major General is engaged to pay the closest attention to this matter he therefore directs that the foregoing orders be careful read to every regiment in his division and that a strict obedience be paid there to, and that if any person or persons, shall hereafter offend in any of the before mentioned particulars, that they be confined in order to their being tried and if guilty, published according to the demerit of the crime.”

Some of the orders are by word of mouth and often get somewhat garbled or slightly changed in the translation to the orderly book.  This example shows some of the reiteration and repetition as well as a few words that are not discernable, some may occur in spelling or

Minute details of camp life are often documented in orderly books.  Given, in fact, the relative rarity of detailed soldiers’ diaries and the often-mundane nature of their content, as well as the virtual absence of post war “regimental histories”, the details of army life to be found in orderly books certainly make them the primary source for understanding the “real” Continental army.  Notably, when a topic appears within an order as a prohibition, such as the one above, it is nearly indisputable evidence that the prohibited practice was surely a widespread problem.  Given George Washington’s tendency to be involved with the most minute issues, orderly books can be found to comment on topics as focused as the prices to be charged by sutlers, “tippling houses” or civilians selling produce to the army.

            With the inclusion of division, brigade and particularly regimental level orders, orderly books very clearly become the best source for the study of the “micro history’ of the Continental Army.  Given the absence of finely detailed “official records” and the scarcity of highly focused detail within diaries and correspondence, orderly books provide a great many of the “missing pieces” of the army’s history, its operations, and life within the officer corps and among the common soldiers. Based on the datelines of regimental entries and on internal content evidence, a given regiment can literally be tracked on a day by day basis.

            Occasionally, an orderly book will be found to contain extraneous content such as personal notes, poems, song lyrics, cartoons and inane gibberish.  This book does not contain any of these details.  In 1780 Highlands commander Major General Robert Howe ordered an examination of orderly books and responded with an acerbic evaluation for what he had found, describing many of the departments books as “an incoherent, incomprehensible parcel of stuff.”

            This orderly book is an excellent piece of undocumented history in its own right.  The battles, facts and figures can be found in endless supply.  This book is unique to those very moments it was penned by hand in some of the most unpleasant of situations.  The scribes of this volume, and there appears to be at least two, have done an excellent job recording information with concise and clear penmanship.  Through the horrors of battle, exposure to the elements, long distance travel and hundreds of years gone by this orderly book stands.  Somehow of the 20,000 orderly books compiled over 4 ½ years, roughly 1,000 are known to be in existence.  Here in this auction sits a piece of history, a one of a kind treasure.

To see the full listing, follow the link https://nebookauctions.com/shop/american-revolution/1-american-revolution/

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Comments
  • Mary Fernandez-Sierra
    Reply

    Fascinating!! What a wonderful overview of a unique document. Bravo!

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