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Chapter XIV

Table of Contents




Map of Yorktown

In the year 1780 British armies under Lord Cornwallis overran the southern colonies and disposed of all armed resistance. At the surrender of Charleston the Continental Line of Virginia and the Carolinas was lost. After the battle of Camden in August, and some lesser combats later, there was left in the field from all the colonies south of Pennsylvania but one Continental regiment from Maryland and one company from Delaware. Outside of these there was a ragged militia and a few small partisan corps; nothing more to prevent British armies from marching about at will. In this dismal state of affairs General Nathaniel Greene was sent to command the southern armies, consisting of fragments of regiments, partisan corps and militia. With this unpromising material he conducted the most brilliant campaign of the war, with the help of Cornwallis' false movements in time regained control of the southern colonies, and saved that part of the country to the United States.

Lord Cornwallis, the most able of all the British generals in America, was lured as far north as Gilford Court House in North Carolina, where he won a dearly bought victory over Greene in March 1781. After the battle he retired to the coast at Wilmington to refit his army. About this time General Philipps and the renegade Arnold were conducting raiding expeditions in Virginia. No troops being left in that region for defense, Washington was obliged to detach from the main army Lafayette’s division of light infantry and send it to the southward. This was a body of twelve hundred picked men from the line regiments of New England and the middle colonies. Cornwallis now moved north into Virginia and on May 20 at Petersburg joined forces of Philips and Arnold, which gave him a strength of about 7500 men. With this army he overran the central por-


tion of the state, while the effective cavalry of Tarleton and Simcoe made wide raids in all directions. Lafayette was obliged to retreat. More help was needed. General Anthony Wayne with a brigade of eight hundred men of the Pennsylvania Line was next sent south, marching from York on May 26th, and joining Lafayette near Fredericksburg on June 14th.

On May 20th Cornwallis was at Petersburg, where General Philipps died. Tarleton and Simcoe were raiding towards Charlotte. On June 20th Cornwallis under the orders of Clinton again retired to the coast, this time to Williamsburg; and in August fortified a camp at York, now called Yorktown. Lafayette followed him to Williamsburg. Cornwallis’ move to the north had brought him within striking distance of the main army on the Hudson. This army then numbered some ten thousand Continentals and seven thousand excellent French troops. The opportunity to capture Cornwallis was seen, but Washington hesitated, and among the reasons given is the excessive losses by sickness in marches through the southern colonies. In addition to dysentery, smallpox and typhus, there was malaria everywhere. A small army assembled by General Lee for an expedition against St. Augustine had been annihilated by sickness. Everywhere the gathering of troops (generally new men) was attended by much disease. The British troops suffered severely in the Carolinas and Georgia.

But an attack on New York offered little prospect of success, and a blow against Cornwallis was decided on. That a French fleet was expected to blockade him by sea was probably a deciding factor. At any rate, the decision was made and the French troops, with a small force of Continentals, was moved secretly and swiftly to the southward.

Leaving the regiments of New England and part of those of the middle colonies at the key point on the Hudson, Washington took with him Clinton’s New ,York brigade, Dayton’s brigade from New Jersey and Rhode Island, Hazen’s brigade of light infantry and some smaller corps, in all less than four thousand men. Rochambeau had seven French regiments and a corps of cavalry. On August 21st the army crossed the Hudson at King’s Ferry, and on September 2nd passed through Philadelphia. In spite of the heat and fatigue of the march the men were in good


spirits and there was hardly a sick man in the army. Thatcher says the line of march extended two miles and that the army was accompanied by some women and children. On September 6th the Head of Elk was reached. Here the troops were embarked on boats, and landed at Jamestown and Williamsburg on September 22nd, a month from the crossing of the Hudson. Thatcher says they marched through Williamsburg on September 25th and camped before Yorktown on the 27th. Washington was joined by Lafayette and Wayne, bringing his little army up to a strength of 5500 men. Governor Nelson of Virginia had assembled some four thousand militia. The French troops numbered seven thousand; the British in Yorktown had about 7500 men. Most of these were in a small space at Yorktown, but Tarleton was with the cavalry at Gloucester point. The inner fortified space was but 1200 yards long and 500 yards deep.

When Washington marched to the south he left a larger force in the Highlands than that which he took with him. Medical Director Cochran appears to have remained with the main army, while the second in rank, Dr. James Craik, accompanied the marching command as Director of the Hospitals. Dr. James Thatcher says: “Dr. James Craik was the director of the hospital at Yorktown,” and that he received from his hands “the necessary surgical implements when a battle was expected on our approach to the British lines.” He also received instructions “to keep near the view of the Marquis De Lafayette, and to pay the first attention to him, in case he should be wounded.” At this time the chief medical officer had not gotten over the idea that his most important duty was personal attention to the General.

As has been stated previously, the Old Palace, the residence of the Governor in Williamsburg (since destroyed) was an army hospital. Thatcher remarked on the college, a stone building 40 by 130 feet, with two wings, each 30 by 50 feet in size. He says the Palace was a splendid building, but the water was brackish and disagreeable. Mosquitoes were no doubt plentiful, though he does not mention them. A field hospital was also established at the camp before Yorktown, as is shown on old plans of the siege.

William and Mary College, 1781

In the first skirmish, on September 30th, Colonel Alexander Scammell was captured and mortally wounded; wounded after


his capture, the Americans said. He was given crude medical attention and paroled to the American lines, where he died on October 6th. Dr. Thatcher was surgeon of Scammell's Regiment of Light Infantry.

On October 3rd and 4th the British sent out a large number of negroes that they had collected, many of them sick with smallpox. Provisions were already scare in Yorktown, and it was reported that horses were being killed. On October 7th a large detachment of militia arrived and began opening new trenches. A force of militia, under General Weeden, was also outside Gloucester Point, where Tarleton and Simcoe were with the cavalry.

Thatcher says of his duties: “My station on this occasion was, with Dr. Munson (Dr. Aneas Munson) my mate, in the rear of the troops, and, as the music was not to be employed, about twenty drummers and fifers were out under my charge to assist me in case of having wounded men to attend to.” He had no great number of wounds to attend to. The daily casualties were few. In the assault on the redoubts the principal contest of the siege, on September 14th, the Americans had nine killed and twenty-three wounded.

The camps were two miles from the enemy's works. On September 6th the first parallel was opened, seven hundred yards from the enemy; and on September 11th the second parallel was opened, but three hundred yards from him. By the 13th the British fire was almost silenced, and the capture of the redoubts on the 14th decided the contest. The British made a sortie to save their honor, on the 16th, and asked for terms on the 17th. The surrender took place on the 19th.

The siege ended providentially for the Americans, as the army was fast growing sickly in this malarial region. On October 16th Thatcher wrote:

“Our New England troops have now become very sickly; the prevailing diseases are remittent fevers, which are very prevalent in this climate during the autumnal months.”

The British army was also sickly, having more than twelve hundred sick at the time of surrender:- sixteen per cent of its strength. On the day of surrender there were over fourteen hundred sick in the American and French camps.


The casualties among the British, encircled in a small area, had been more considerable than those of the allies. They amounted to one hundred and forty-six killed, and three hundred and twenty-six wounded. The American loss was twenty-six killed and fifty-six wounded; the French, fifty-two killed and one hundred and thirty-four wounded. The prisoners numbered 7247; of which about 4500 were British, 2000 Germans, and the remainder American royalists.

The medical department of the British Army surrendered at Yorktown consisted of:-

        One Surgeon and Field Inspector.
        Three Surgeons                
        Four Stewards.
        Ten Mates.                
        Two Wardmasters.
        Two Chaplains.            
        Nineteen assistants.
        Two Purveyors.            
        Two Carpenters.

There were also German surgeons as Tilton relates. The above was, no doubt, the establishment of the general hospital, which was additional to the regimental surgeons and mates. The Chief Surgeon was Dr. Robert Smyth, and the Chief Purveyor John Storey.

The sick and wounded of the British Army, at the time of surrender, numbered about fifteen hundred men. These were mostly moved across the river to Gloucester Point, where they were attended by their own medical officers and assistants. No complaints were made at that time, although the facilities must have been poor. Later, as these men recovered, they were moved to Fredericksburg and points near by. In so far as the Americans had charge, their management was very poor. Those of the sick who were able to do so wandered about the country at will; while the sick would have been without care and in wretched state but for their own officers. No supplies were furnished then, and, in fact, as they said, they received nothing but promises—never fulfilled.

With three thousand sick and wounded men thus thrown into this poor and out-of-the-way place; with no proper organization or means of supply; with the armies quickly marching away, the lot of those left behind was indeed hard. The State of Virginia had a sort of military department with Col. William Dav-


ies at the head of it. He seems to have attempted to do something, but met inaction, indolence, disorder, and even misuse of supplies on every hand. A reading of the State records of that year discloses an all but incredible state of disorder, profligacy and general all-around incompetence and laziness.

General Washington quickly marched the army back to the Hudson, escaping from this sickly locality. Dr. Craik appears to have returned, leaving in charge of the American hospitals Dr. James Tilton, who, it will be remembered, had been sent to Virginia by Dr. Shippen some time before, on account of the disorder in the hospitals there. He gives an interesting account of the French hospitals, but says little of his own.

Dr. Tilton's Hospital

“After the siege and capture of Yorktown in Virginia, Gen. Washington returned northward and all the French troops were cantoned in Williamsburg. I was left in charge of the sick and wounded Americans, who could not be moved. Being thus in a French garrison, I had some opportunity of observing the French practice and management of the sick. In passing the wards of their hospital their patients appear very neat and clean, above all examples I have ever seen. Each patient was Accommodated with everything necessary, even a nightcap.

“Nevertheless they were not more successful than we were. Even their wounded, with all the boasted dexterity of the French to aid them, were no more fortunate than ours. I was led to attribute their failure principally to two causes. For ease and convenience they had contrived a common necessary for their whole hospital, the college, a large building, three stories high; by erecting a half hexagon, of common boards, reaching from the roof down to a pit in the earth. From this perpendicular conduit doors opened upon each floor of the hospital; and all manner of filth and excrementitious matters were dropped and thrown down this common sewer, into the pit below. This sink of nastiness perfumed the whole house very sensibly, and, without doubt, vitiated all the air within the wards.

“In the next place, their practice appeared to me to be very inert. When passing their wards with the prescribing physician, I observed a great number of their patients in a languid and putrid condition, and asked occasionally if the bark would not be proper in such cases? The uniform answer was, no, too much inflammation. And when they attended my round of prescriptions and saw me frequently prescribe the bark, in febrile cases, and even for the wounded, they lifted up their hands in astonishment. Few or no chemical remedies were employed by them.”


In a letter he gives some impressions of the French soldiers. He noted their excellent clothing and also the absence of whipping, both in strong contrast to what obtained in the Continental armies at that time.

“It must be mortifying to our poor fellows to observe the comfortable and happy life of French soldiers. They appear on parade every day like fine gentlemen, as neat as their officers, and hardly to be distinguished from them. They are paid once a week, and by their happy countenances appear to want nothing. A sentinel is not allowed to stand upon duty without a warm watch coat (overcoat) in addition to his other clothing. The officers treat the soldiers with attention, humanity, and respect, and appear to employ all the means necessary, to inspire them with the sentiments of honor. Except some horse jockeying, and plundering at the reduction of York, I have heard of no stealing among them. Theft is said to be a crime in universal abhorrence among them. I have not seen or heard of any instance yet of a French soldier being whipped. Their desertions, I believe, have been rare, and their sickness but little.”

Dr. Tilton does not appear to have remained long at Yorktown. He was replaced, probably, at the last of October, by Dr. Malachi Treat. The weather was then growing cold, the hospitals were without fires, and the sick generally neglected; so much so that Quartermaster General Pickering wrote a letter to Governor Nelson of Virginia concerning them.-

                                        November 8, 1781.

On my arrival here I found the American sick in a suffering condition, and I fear it will not be in my power to yield them adequate relief. Wood and straw are most wanted at present, and the means of procuring them are hardly attainable. * * * (This in a wooded region). Unfortunately too the subalterns command of Continental troops which I requested might be stationed here for the service of the hospital, were withdrawn when the camp broke up, and the sick are left to shift for themselves. Dr. Treat informs me that there are three large rooms at the Palace destitute of fireplaces. * * * I know not where to procure any. * * * I am going to the Northward * * * but the prospects in regard to the sick were so desperate that I could not consent to proceed & &.“

The British prisoners were marched to Winchester shortly after the surrender. The sick and wounded were left at Glou-


cester Point in care of their own surgeons and attendants. On November 9th and 10th 350 of these sick or convalescents were marched to Ladd's Bridge, on the way to Fredericksburg, and 250 were sent up the river in boats. There were left at Gloucester 500, who were unfit to be moved. These were guarded by French troops. On November 17th 200 more were sent up, but many of these appear to have been left stranded in the country, where no-one wanted them or cared what became of them. Many complaints were made to the Governor that the prisoners at York were without a guard; that those able to walk did as they pleased, while the sick suffered. On November 22nd there was a large party of sick at Aylett’s, as wagons could not be procured to take them further. Two hundred were at New Castle, near Hanover. On December 8th there were still 189 at Aylett’s and 80 at Hanover Court House. Smallpox and dysentery were the principal diseases. There were then less than 300 left at Gloucester.

Dr. Matthew Pope was the principal medical officer of the Virginia State forces, located at Richmond. His department, like the remainder, was one of woeful inefficiency. In a letter dated November 26, 1781, he reveals the status of the Richmond hospital:-

                                Richmond, November 26th. (1781)


The wretched situation of the sick and wounded in this State, for want of a proper hospital to receive them, compels me to represent their suffering to you, in hope some mode will be fallen upon for their relief. * * * A temporary Log House has been attempted to be built for an Hospital, it remains unfinished, and would be insufficient, provided it were completed. At present there are ten men confined in a small room, the roof of which leaks like a Riddle, so that when it rains the sick might as well be out of doors. The Country is sustaining a heavy daily expense for a few wounded militia in the Hospital at Williamsburg, all which might be saved, had we a proper place to receive them in. * * * their present place of confinement must speedily destroy them—no clothes, no blankets to cover them at this inclement season of the year—Felons in most countries are more comfortably provided for.

                                    I am &c. &c.

                                        Dr. Matthew Pope.


To Lt. Colonel Wm. Davies.”

That the sick soldier received no better treatment than a felon is borne out by a letter of about the same date written to the Governor by Lieutenant James Cullin. General Gist had left him in charge of some sick soldiers of the Maryland Line, who he said “are in want of everything necessary for their comfort and convenience; and without a surgeon and necessaries are furnished they undoubtedly will die.” He went on to state that he had applied to every surgeon in the place, and to the Quartermaster for wine, tea, sugar, &c. in vain and that he “could not get a person in town to credit the Country.” As a last resort he applied to the Governor.

On January 7th Dr. Pope wrote to Col. Davies proposing to bring all the hospital stores at Williamsburg to Richmond. He said there was then but one wounded man left in the hospital. This appears to have been an error, for on January 20th Dr. J. Monroe was again writing complaints to Col. Davies:

                                    Hospital, Williamsburg, Jan. 20.

“My situation is rendered disagreeable by the improper direction of public affairs; nothing to be done, and hardly provisions enough to keep the Hospital from starving — Procuring wood for 60 to 70 sick persons so difficult that they are often without.”

The British troops taken at Yorktown had been marched to Winchester. Later, on account of supposed raids that were threatened, they were ordered marched northward; the Germans to Frederick, Maryland, and the British to York and Lancaster, Pennsylvania. On learning of the proposed change the inhabitants of Winchester petitioned to have the prisoners retained there. The secret of this was that these prisoners were paid in gold by the British Government; and this rare and greatly desired currency found its way into the community. The sick who accumulated in these regiments were soon in need of medicines. The Medical Director (British) at Yorktown offered to send them the needed supplies, asking only for transportation.

In a letter to Governor Harrison, dated February 2nd, 1782 Dr. Robert Smyth, Surgeon and Director of British Hospitals in Virginia, wrote in behalf of the sick among British prisoners of


war. He asked that medicines be sent to the regiments in cantonments, and enclosed a letter of the purveyor, John Storey:-

Notwithstanding repeated and pressing applications have been made to the American Commissioners for a regular supply of provisions for the sick in the British Hospitals at this Place, yet it has produced nothing but promises—For the last month they have not furnished us with anything, and I have reason to believe it will be a long time before our necessities are attended to.”

He goes on to say that he has been obliged to purchase the supplies needed. On March 2nd the British sick at Gloucester, now reduced to 60, had ample stores. Surgeon Smyth was again asking to have stores sent to the cantonments.

On January 17th Dr. Pope asked leave to resign and desired that someone be appointed to take over the stores; and on January 22nd declined the position of chief physician at a salary of twenty shillings per day. His efforts to get out of the service seem to have been successful, and on July 20th Dr. Wm. Foushee, who was then mayor of Richmond, was appointed director of the hospital, with a salary of thirty pounds per month. An estimate of supplies for the hospital, submitted on October 8th, carried 411 pounds.

It is not too much to say that after Yorktown the army marched away and the sick and wounded were practically abandoned to their own devices.




Artillery. General Knox
    2nd Regiment, N. Y. arid Connecticut            225
    Detachments Virginia and Pennsylvania            85
    Maryland Dragoons        |
                                           }    100
    Armand's Corps              |                             410
LaFayette’s Division, Light Infantry.
    Gen. Muhlenberg’s Brigade.
        1st Battalion, Col. Vose, Mass.                                          250
        2nd Battalion, Col. Gimat, Conn., Mass. and R. I.              250
        3rd Battalion, Lt. Col. Barker, N. J. and N. H.                   250
    Gen. Hazen’s Brigade.
        1st Battalion, Lt. Col. Huntington, Mass. and Conn.            200
        2nd Battalion, Lt. Col. A. Hamilton, N. Y. and Conn.         200
        3rd Battalion, Lt. Col. Laurens, N. H., N. Y. and Conn.     200
        Hazen’s old regiment                                                          200

General Lincoln’s Division.
    Gen. James Clinton’s Brigade.
        1st New York                                     250
        2nd New York                                    350
    Col. Dayton’s Brigade.
        1st and 3rd New Jersey, united            600
        1st R. I.                                               450

General Steuben’s Division.
    Gen. Wayne’s Brigade.
          4th Pa. Battalion                                    275
          3rd Pa. Battalion                                   275
          New Va. Battalion, Lt. Col. Gaskins      350
    Gen. Gist’s Brigade.
        3rd Maryland Battalion                            530
        4th Maryland Battalion                            450
Lt. Col. Scammell's Regiment                                  
Sappers and Miners                                        110
Virginia Militia.
    Gen. Weedon’s Brigade, about                 1500
    Lawson’s Brigade, about                            750
    Stevens’ Brigade, about                              750
    State Regiment, about                                 200
    North Carolina Militia



Artillery                                          600
Cavalry, Lauzun’s Legion                600
1st Brigade
    Regiment Bourbonnais                900
    Regiment Royal Deux Ponts        900
2nd Brigade.
    Regiment Soissonais                   900
    Regiment Saintogne                    900
3rd Brigade.
    Regiment Agenois                     1000
    Regiment Gatenois                    1000
Not brigaded,
    Regiment Touraine                    1000

    Total                                        7800
    American                                  5425
    Grand Total                            13225

Artillery                                    233
    British Legion, Tarleton        241
    Queen’s Rangers, Simcoe    320
Brigade of Guards                    527
Brigade of Light Infantry           671
1st Brigade:
    17th Foot                            245
    23rd Foot                            233
    33rd Foot                            260
    71st Foot                            300
2nd Brigade:
    3rd Foot                             359
    76th Foot                            715
    80th Foot                            689
Pioneers                                    67
North Carolina Volunteers       142


German Contingent:

2 Anspach Battalions                 1027
Prince Hereditary Regt.                484
De Bose Regt                              349
Yagers                                          74

Total of Army                            7247
Navy                                           840
Grand total prisoners                 8087