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Unsung, Unarmed Heroes of Ticonderoga in 1775

4th NY soldier
Despite plans for regimental uniforms, the 4th NY  had blue facings on many colors of coat.

Henry Knox’s Noble Train of Artillery from Ticonderoga to Boston was made possible by the labor of many soldiers, as well as the famous drivers and teams of horses. Rather than bringing his own artillerymen to Ticonderoga, Knox relied on soldiers already serving in the Northern Army under General Philip Schuyler to help gather and move the guns to south of the Hudson River.  Knox’s personal journal and correspondence, as well as the papers of General Philip Schuyler, have revealed who was at Ticonderoga to heft the guns for the Noble Train. The commanding officer at Ticonderoga in December of 1775 was Colonel James Holmes, commander of the 4th New York Regiment. Unlike the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd New York Regiments who were fighting in Canada, Holmes’ regiment garrisoned rear supply posts like Ticonderoga.  And so the men of the 4th New York Regiment were at Ticonderoga to help Colonel Knox, as Holmes recorded on December 12, 1775:

The Garrison hath been imploy’d Allmost Ever Since You left this, in Conjunction with Capt. Johnson Party in Transporting Cannon Morters &c to the N: Landing Lake George Their Exertions on this Occation hath been Much to the Satisfaction of Colo Knox, the number of Cannon &c I am not at Present able to Give you tho Very Considerable.

Colonel Holmes’ 4th New York Regiment was not alone, one company of the 1st New York Regiment, commanded by Captain John Johnson. Indeed, Knox himself recorded this company’s work alongside the 4th New York in his journal on December 9th and again on the 16th:

Paid Lieut Brown for Capt Johnson which he paid the Carters for the use of their Cattle in dragging Cannon from Ticonderoga to the Norther Landing of Lake George.

Yet, with the exception of this Captain Johnson’s company, Knox repeatedly noted, “Holmes men,” as paid for their labor loading the noble train.  In the midst of a major campaign in Canada, why was the 4th New York Regiment at Ticonderoga in December of 1775?  Colonel James Holmes effort to clothe and equip his men never came to full fruition; by virtue of this men of 4th New York were available to aid Henry Knox at Ticonderoga.

4th NT soldier leather breeches
Leather Breeches were very common and likely brought by many New Yorkers from home.

The New York Provincial Congress appointed captains to command the companies of the 4th New York Regiment. These captains spent a large majority of the summer of 1775 recruiting men from Dutchess, Westchester, Kings, Queens, and Richmond counties.  Once mustered, they were to march to Albany to receive their clothing and equipment.  The New York Provincial Congress ordered in June of 1775:

Peter T Curtenius as Commissary of this Congress be desired to purchase on the public Credit the following quantities of Coarse Broad Cloths vizt. Coarse blue broad cloth sufficient to make 712 Short Coats & Crimson cloth for cuffs & facings for the said Coats & that if blue cloth cannot be had, that in such Case he purchase blue Coating for that purpose—Light Brown coarse broad cloth sufficient to make 712 Short coats, with blue cloth sufficient for Cuffs & facings.—Grey coarse broad Cloth sufficient to make 712 Short Coats with green Cloth sufficient to Cuffs & facings.—Dark brown coarse broad Cloth sufficient to make 712 Short Coats with Scarlet cloth sufficient for Cuffs & facings for the same.

Cloth became harder to obtain and by July, the New York Provincial Congress slimmed down their grand plans of color combinations, ordering Commissary Peter Curtenius to procure, “Uniform coats made for all the Non-commissioned Officers & Men to be raised in this Colony; that the Coats of each regiment be made with different Cuffs & facings.” Regardless of the body of the coat, the only regimental distinction was to be the cuff and facing color and the 4th New York Regiment received blue facings for their clothing.  A mate of the vessel from Lake Champlain made comment on the status of the area around Ticonderoga in September of 1775.  He pointed out this distinction stating, “at Lake George a company, Capt Woodward, 25th of grey with blue…”

Nathan Woodward’s company of the 4th New York r

eceived at least part of their complement of regimental coats, enough for the writer to indicate the uniformity amongst them. This same color combination was described in a pension record of Nathan Lockwood. In November of 1819 he described his service:

A private in the Company commanded by Captain Jonathan Platt in the 4th New York Regiment commanded by Colonel James Holmes…Deponent was in service at Ticonderoga…the uniform worn by the Deponent & other privates in said Regiment was gray cloth turned up with blue.

Although the New York Provincial Congress described “light brown” coats turned up with blue, grey is actually true to form.  In practice, grey, drab, and light brown were used interchangeably for the body cloth of the coats of the 4th New York Regiment.

4th NY soldier cartridge boxes
Unlike muskets themselves, New York successful procured cartridge boxes for men of the 4th New York Regiment in 1775.

On July 12, 1775 the New York Committee of Safety defined the preferred set of clothing to be worn in addition to the regimental coats, yet the numbers of waistcoats, breeches, hats, and shoes only account for two regiments of the four to be raised.  The 4th New York Regiment does not seem to have been one of those regiments, and short coats appear to be the only uniform item worn by the regiment. Philip Van Cortlandt wrote to the New York Provincial Congress from Albany on August 28, 1775 describing the 4th New York Regiment:

Agreeable to verbal orders received from Colonel Holmes, when last in New York, made all the dispatch in my power to this place, where I arrived with the 26th instant…The day I arrived came up the following Captains, with their Companies; Captain Herrick, Captain Palmer, Captain Benedict, and Captain Mills…many of the men wanting shirts, shoes, stockings, underclothes, and, in short, without anything fit for a soldier except a uniform coats.

Holmes’ 4th New York Regiment only received bits and pieces of other clothing through the summer of 1775.  Nathan Woodard requested at Albany on August 28, 1775 his company be supplied with “Ten Coats four shirts & 26 pair of shows & 20 weast-Coats & 20 Pair of Breeches 20 Hats.”  This certainly was not the full complement of his company.  Similarly, Colonel Holmes requested Peter Curtenius in an undated letter sets of clothing for Captain Mill’s Company which included:

Becker Holmes            one pair of Drilling Breeches
Henry Rich                  one pair of shoes
Thomas Golden          one pair woolen stockings
Shubal Cunningham   one pair of wolling stockings
Joshua Baker               one shirt
Lewis Miller                one Shirt Checkt
Samuel Baker              a Jacket & pr of Breeches Brown Cloth
One pair of Shoe
One pr of Cotton Stockings
One shirt white
One stock
A jacket and pr Breeches
Charles Parsons           one pr Drilling Breeches two Chekt Shirts one Jacket

Additionally, Colonel Holmes wrote to Commissary Curtenius again requesting on August 4, 1775, “Please to Deliver to the Bearer herof Mr. Robert Benson one hundred and forty four Coats including Six Sergeants Coats- also as many Shirts, Hatts, shoes, stockings, Wescoats & Breeches as is in proportion for 2 companys.” Likewise, Captain Joseph Benedict’s Company was provided with the following clothing on August 9, 1775:

 15 vests
15 pairs of breeches
25 shirts
30 pairs of stockings
18 pairs of shoes
12 black silk handkerchiefs
3 hats
30 knapsacks
52 coats
52 blankets

4th NY Fife & Drum Corps
Just like private soldiers, fifers and drummers of the 4th New York Regiment received coats too.

While some men did receive waistcoats, breeches, shirts, shoes, and hats out of military stores, this was not the case for all the men within the companies. Those men with serviceable waistcoats, breeches, shoes, shirts, and hats brought from home were never issued anything out of military stores for lack of enough to outfit everyone.

Unlike clothing, Colonel Holmes had better success procuring accoutrements for his regiment from the colony of New York. Saddlers through New York were busy at work producing the bayonet belts, cartouche pouches, and musket slings.  This facet of military material seems to have come fairly easily.  An anonymous letter in the New York Provincial Congress proceedings from October 4, 1775 noted the state of accouterments:

All our troops are furnished with belts and pouches for nineteen cartridges, bayonet belts, musket slings, blankets, coats, canteens, haversacks, &c.

Arming the 4th New York Regiment proved to be Holmes’ hardest task.  The New York Provincial Congress contracted on June 23, 1775 Robert Boyd to “set on foot a manufactory of Guns Barrells, Bayonets and Steel Ramrods,” Henry Watkeys to “furnish locks for the muskets and to mount stock & finish them in compleat workmanlike manner as the sample shown to him,” and an unknown “Sadler” in “making scabbards for Bayonets and straps and buckles for the Musquets.”  By the end of August, little to none of these weapons are toted in the hands of the 4th New York Regiment. An officer at Albany mentioned on August 29, 1775 “Col Van Cortlandt is also arrived here with five Companies of Holmes’ Battalion, who have not arms sufficient to supply one Company.”  This fact is confirmed by Philip Van Cortlandt when he wrote to New York Congress from Albany on August 28, 1775:

Dear Sir: Agreeable to verbal orders received from Colonel Holmes, when last in New  York, made all the dispatch in my powere to this place, where I arrived the 26th             instant…not more than thirty guns, with four companies, fit for service.

New York Provincial Congress proceedings from October 4, 1775 mentions that most arms were issued to the 1st and 2nd New York Regiments, leaving the 4th deficient.

 The First and Second regiment and some part of the other Regiments are armed with the   best of musket and bayonets and other with firelocks of the widest bore, which could be   found, repaired where it was necessary, and fitted … The fourth or Colonel   Holmes’ Regiment is now at the outpost; part of the Regiment was obliged to be detained at Albany, until arms could be procured for them.

The New York Provincial Congress’ plan to assist the American war effort quickly hit the challenges clothing and arming thousands of soldiers.  The 4th New York Regiment exemplified the struggle to equip men for war. Ironically, it was the lack of clothing and arms for Holmes’ men which left them relegated to the rear, in the right place and time to play a crucial role in the service of Henry Knox. Without deliveries of small arms, men of the 4th New York Regiment at Ticonderoga helped deliver the big guns, which ultimately delivered Boston into freedom from British occupation.

On Saturday, December 7, Fort Ticonderoga will present The Noble Train Begins living history event. To learn more about this event and other events, programs and seminars taking place throughout Winter Quarters, visit the Fort Ticonderoga events calendar or call 518-585-2821.