Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

During the American Revolutionary War,
From 1775 to 1783.
Describing Interesting Events and Transactions of this period;
with numerous Historical Facts and Anecdotes
From the Original Manuscript
By James Thacher, M. D.
Second Edition, Revised and Corrected.
Boston, Published by Cottons & Barnard, 1827.



General Sullivan has a claim to honorable distinction among the general officers of the American army. Before the revolution he had attained to eminence in the profession of the law, in New Hampshire. But indulging a laudable ambition for military glory, he relinquished the fairest prospects of fortune and fame, and on the commencement of hostilities, appeared among the most ardent patriots and intrepid warriors. He was a member of the first Congress, in 1774 ; but preferring a military commission, he was in 1775, appointed a brigadier general of the American army then at Cambridge, and soon obtained the command on Winter Hill. The next year he was ordered to Canada, and on the death of General Thomas, the command of the army devolved on him. The situation of our army in that quarter, was inexpressibly distressing, destitute of clothing, dispirited by defeat and constant fatigue, and a large proportion of the troops sick with the smallpox, which was attended by an unprecedented mortality. By his great exertions and judicious management he meliorated the condition of the army, and obtained general applause. On his retiring from that command, July 12, 1776, the field officers thus addressed him. " It is to you, Sir, the public are indebted for the preservation of their property in Canada. It is to you we owe our safety thus far. Your humanity will call forth the silent tear, and the grateful ejaculation of the sick. Your universal impartiality, will force the applause of the wearied soldier." In August, 1776, he was promoted to the rank of major general, and soon after was, with major general Lord Sterling, captured by the British in the battle on Long Island. General Sullivan being paroled, was sent by General Howe with a message to Congress, after which he returned to New York. In September he was exchanged for Major General Prescott. We next day find him in command of the right division of our troops, in the famous battle at Trenton, and he acquitted himself honorably on that ever memorable day.

In August 1777, without the authority of Congress, or the Commander in Chief, he planned and executed an expedition against the enemy on Staten Island. Though the enterprize was conducted with prudence and success in part, it was said by some to be less brilliant than might have been expected, under his favorable circumstances ; and as that act was deemed a bold assumption of responsibility, and reports to his prejudice being in circulation, a court of inquiry was ordered to investigate his conduct. The result was an honorable acquittal, and Congress resolved that the result so honorable to General Sullivan is highly pleasing to Congress, and that the opinion of the court be published, in justification of that injured officer. In the battles at Brandywine and at Germantown, in the autumn of 1777, General Sullivan commanded a division, and in the latter conflict his two aids were killed, and his own conduct was so conspicuously brave, that General Washington in his letter to Congress concludes with encomiums on the gallantry of General Sullivan, and the whole right wing of the army, who acted immediately under the eye of his Excellency. In August, 1778, General Sullivan, was sole commander of an expedition to the island of Newport, in cooperation with the French fleet under the Count D'Estaing. The Marquis de la Fayette and General Greene volunteered their services on the occasion. The object of the expedition was defeated, in consequence of the French fleet being driven off by a violent storm. By this unfortunate event the enemy were encouraged to engage our army in battle, in which they suffered a repulse, and General Sullivan finally effected a safe retreat to the main. This retreat, so ably executed without confusion, or the loss of baggage, or stores, increased the military reputation of General Sullivan, and redounds to his honor as a skillful commander.

The bloody tragedy, acted at Wyoming, in 1778, had determined the Commander in Chief, in 1779, to employ a large detachment from the continental army to penetrate into the heart of the Indian country, to chastise the hostile tribes and their white associates and adherents, for their cruel aggressions on the defenceless inhabitants. The command of this expedition, was committed to Major General Sullivan, with express orders to destroy their settlements, to ruin their crops, and make such thorough devastations, as to render the country entirely uninhabitable for the present, and thus to compel the savages to remove to a greater distance from our frontiers. General Sullivan had under his command several brigadiers and a well chosen army, to which were attached a number of friendly Indian warriors. With this force he penetrated about ninety miles through a horrid swampy wilderness and barren mountainous deserts, to Wyoming, on the Susquehanna river, thence by water to Tioga, and possessed himself of numerous towns and villages of the savages. During this hazardous expedition, General Sullivan and his army encountered the most complicated obstacles, requiring the greatest fortitude and perseverance to surmount. He explored an extensive tract of country and strictly executed the severe, but necessary orders he had received. A considerable number of Indians were slain, some were captured, their liabitations were burnt, their plantations of corn and vegetables laid waste in the most effectual manner. " Eighteen villages, a number of detached buildings, one hundred and sixty thousand bushels of corn, and those fruits and vegetables, which conduce to the comfort and subsistence of man, were utterly destroyed. Five weeks were unremittingly employed in this work of devastation." On his return from the expedition, he and his army received the approbation of Congress. It is remarked on this expedition, by the translator of M. Chastelleux's travels, an Englishman then resident in the United States, that the instructions given by General Sullivan to his officers, the order of march he prescribed to his troops, and the discipline he had the ability to maintain, would have done honor to the most experienced ancient or modern generals. At the close of the campaign of 1779, General Sullivan, in consequence of impaired health, resigned his commission in the army. Congress in accepting of his resignation passed a resolve, thanking him for his past services. His military talents and bold spirit of enterprize were universally acknowledged. He was fond of display, and his personal appearance and dignified deportment commanded respect. After his resignation, he resumed his professional pursuits at the bar, and was much distinguished as a statesman, politician and patriot. He acquired very considerable proficiency in general literature, and an extensive knowledge of men and the world. He received from Harvard University, a degree of Master of Arts, and from the University of Dartmouth, a degree of Doctor of Laws. He was one of the convention who formed the state constitution for New Hampshire, was chosen into the first council, and was afterwards elected chief magistrate in that state, and held the office for three years. In September, 1789, he was appointed Judge of the District Court, for the District of New Hampshire, and continued in the office till his death, in 1795.

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