Monday, 11 November 2013

Remembering Our Old Soldiers

Attending the 2013 Remembrance Day Ceremony this morning in West Vancouver, I was surprised by the large crowd of families who gathered to honor our veterans, but was also saddened by the dwindling number of aging veterans who marched to the cenotaph. I suppose it is inevitable as WWII ended over 68 years ago, which means the youngest veteran is now over 85 years old. Hopefully someone will take the time to record their stories for future generations. I know I regret not having taken more detailed notes of my father's experiences. 

On the way back to my office, I vowed to record the stories, as I know them of my father, my grandfather, and various great grandfathers experience's in the various wars they participated in since their arrival in North America and post them on my blog. First up is my fourth great grandfather, Thomas Mellen of Newbury, Vermont. He goes first for no other reason than his story is the most advanced of the various "works in progress" in my library.

Brian Hayes

Narrative of Thomas Mellen at the Battle of Bennington

 Thomas Mellen was a private whose description of the Battle of Bennington appeared in the book "The History of Newbury, Vermont," published in 1902.  Thomas was born in Londonderry, New Hampshire, but had moved with his family to Newbury soon after the war.  During the war he served in the Lexington Alarm, the Battle of Bunker Hill ("being stationed at a very dangerous part of the rail fence"), the Battle of Bennington, and other campaigns.

At age 92, Thomas was interviewed by a pastor who was preparing to give a speech for a special ceremony -- a cannon captured at the Battle of Bennington was to be placed in Vermont's General Assembly building.  At the time Thomas told the story, he was living in a one-room building behind his son's house on the farm, where he spent most of his time working and reading.  The pastor described it as "the plain tale of a soldier" and said, "When I visited him, though upward of 92 years of age, he was so far from being bald or bowed that you would think him in the Indian summer of life."

 Thomas was also described as "a hard working man, in person he was below the medium height, very erect and active, and when past 80, still sang well, with a fine tenor voice.  When he was 81, he made a sleigh with his own hands, in which, the next winter, he traveled to the battlefield of Bunker Hill and the unfinished monument."

Private Thomas Mellen died January 21, 1853 in his 97th year, and was buried at the Ox-bow Cemetery, in Newbury, Vermont. At the time of his death there were very few, if any Revolutionary soldiers still alive. Many residents of Vermont would remember him as the only Revolutionary soldier they ever saw.

 Excerpts from the narrative of Thomas Mellen regarding the Battle of Bennington:

 "I enlisted at Francestown, N.H., as soon as I learned that [General John] Stark would accept the command of the State troops; six or seven others from the same town joined the army at the same time.  I received a horn of powder and run two or three hundred bullets; I had brought my own gun.  Then my company went on to Manchester; soon after, I went, with a hundred others, down the valley of Otter Creek; on this excursion we lived like lords, on pigs and chickens, in the houses of the Tories who had fled.  When we returned to Manchester, bringing two hogsheads of West India rum, we heard that the Hessians were on their way to invade Vermont.  Late in the afternoon of rainy Friday, we were ordered off for Bennington in spite of rain, mud and darkness.

 "Between two and three o'clock the battle began.  The Germans fired by platoons, and we were soon hidden by the smoke.  Our men fired each on his own hook, aiming wherever he saw a flash; few on our side had either bayonets or cartridges.  At last I stole away from my post and ran down to the battle.  The first time I fired I put three balls in my gun; before I had time to fire many rounds our men rushed over the breast-works, but I and many others chased straggling Hessians in the woods; we pursued until we met [Lt. Col. Henrich von] Breyman with 800 fresh troops and larger cannon, which opened a fire of grape shot; some of the grape shot riddled a Virginia fence near me; one shot struck a small white oak behind which I stood; though it hit higher than my head I fled from the tree, thinking it might be aimed at me again.  We skirmishers ran back till we met a large body of Stark's men and then faced about.

 "I soon started for a brook I saw a few rods behind, for I had drank nothing all day, and should have died of thirst if I had not chewed a bullet all the time.  I had not gone a rod when I was stopped by an officer, sword in hand, ready to cut me down as a runaway, who, on my complaining of thirst, handed me his canteen, which was full of rum; I drank and forgot my thirst.  But the enemy outflanked us, and I said to a comrade, 'we must run or they will have us.'  In a few minutes we saw [Seth] Warner's men [a small Vermont militia] hurrying to help us; they opened right and left of us, and one-half of them attacked each flank of the enemy, and beat back those who were just closing round us.  Stark's men now took heart and stood their ground.  My gun barrel was at this time too hot to hold so I seized a musket of a dead Hessian, in which my bullets went down easier than my own.  Right in front were the cannon, and seeing an officer [Colonel Philip Skene] on horseback waving his sword to the artillery, I fired at him twice; his horse fell; he cut the traces of an artillery horse, mounted him and rode off.  Soon the Germans ran, and we followed; many of them threw down their guns on the ground, or offered them to us, or kneeled, some in puddles of water.  The enemy beat a parley, minded to give up, but our men did not understand it.  I came to one wounded man flat on the ground, crying water or quarter.  I snatched the sword out of the scabbard, and while I ran on and fired, carried it in my mouth, thinking I might need it.  The Germans fled by the road and in a wood each side of it; many of their scabbards caught in the brush and held the fugitives till we seized them.  We chased them till dark.  We might have mastered them all, as they stopped within three miles of the battlefields; but Stark, saying he would run no risk of spoiling a good day's work, ordered a halt and return to quarters.
 "My company lay down and slept in a corn field, near where we had fought -- each man having a hill of corn for a pillow.  When I waked the next morning, I was so beaten out that I could not get up till I had rolled about a good while.

 "After breakfast I went to see them bury the dead.  I saw thirteen Tories, mostly shot through the head, buried in one hole.  Not more than a rod from where I fought, we found Capt. McClary, dead and stripped naked.  We scraped a hole with sticks, and just covered him with earth.  We saw many of the wounded who had lain out all night.  Afterward we went to Bennington, and saw the prisoners paraded.  They were drawn up in one long line; the British foremost, then the Waldeckers, next the Indians, and hindmost the Tories."1


1 Waldeckers were the 3rd Waldeck Regiment, which consisted of soldiers from Waldeck (or later Waldeck  and Pyrmont), a sovereign principality in the Holy Roman Empire. These soldiers, more commonly known as Hessians, fought under the British flag.  Most were conscripted, with their pay going to the Landgrave of Waldeck.


A speech delivered before the Legislature of Vermont, in Montpelier, Vermont on October 20, 1948 by James Davie Butler.
Published by Order of the Legislature. Burlington. Free Press Office Print. 1849. 

The History of Newbury, Vermont, From the Discovery of the Coos Country to Present Time 
With Genealogical Records of Many Families. In behalf of the Town
By Frederic P. Wells, 
St. Johnsbury, Vt., The Caledonian Company, 1902.

A History of the Battle of Bennington, Vermont
2nd edition
Frank Warren Colburn
1912, The Livingston Press in Bennington Vermont
p. 44

 An error free scan of Thomas Mellen was obtained thanks to a transcription on the website of the Twin Falls Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution.

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