Revolutionary War Historical Article

Rufus Landon, Rev. War Drummer

By the Sons of Liberty Chapter of the SAR

Editor's Note: This article was reprinted from the November 1993 Edition of the
Valley Compatriot Newsletter

 

Rufus Landon was born in Salisbury, Litchfield County, Connecticut on February 4th, 1759. Excited by the events taking place in Massachusetts, and like so many young men, he was anxious to get into the fight. He enlisted in February 1776, shortly after his 17th birthday. He was old enough to have served as a regular soldier, however, he was made the Company drummer. We can only assume that he was small in stature as most drummers were younger than he.

Often dismissed as a minor function, the Regimental or Company drummer was a key and critical member of his unit. During the American Revolution, the drum served the same purpose as does the bugle today. It was the regimental drummer that transmitted the orders by means of his drum. Numerous drum calls existed. An officer could summon his officers, sergeants, or the entire Regiment just by having his drummer sound the appropriate drum beat.

During battle, the sound of the drums actually communicated between different units engaged. A drum beat could order a withdrawal or an attack, it could speed the men up, or slow them down. It was most important.

Owing to the need to have a drummer at hand, they generally stayed in "Officer's Country" and in the British Army, and probably in ours as well, a drummer could receive ten lashes with a 'cat-o-nine-tails' for not having his drum with him at all times. Another assignment of the Regimental drummer was to carry the dreaded cat-o-nine-tails. Generally, it was carried in a small knapsack, and usually the butt of the older soldier's teasing. In fact it is believed that the express "don't let the cat out of the bag" originated as a taunt to keep the young drummer from disclosing to the officers something they had seen, such as the men gambling, or other minor offenses.

When minor punishments were to be administered, the Officers would have the young drummers yield the 'cat'. Being small, the punishment would be painful, but would not be disabling, as it would have been if the blows were delivered by a full grown man. Additionally, the men took care of the drummers, so it was unlikely that a soldier so punished would seek revenge.

Drummers and fifers were considered non-combatants, hence carried no weapons. Because of this special status they were able to stand in the open and signal the enemy for a parley or a cease fire.

Rufus Landon first served as Captain John Biglow's drummer, in a Company of Artillery. He was assigned to Fort Ticonderoga, New York. It was there that he met the retreating American army returning for its ill-fated attempt to capture Canada.

The terms of enlistment for the Connecticut troops expired in November of 1776. Many returned home, however, Major General Anthony Wayne offered a bounty of a great coat, coat, jacket and breeches, stockings shoes, caps, mittens and one English Crown if they stayed. Rufus Landon, in his May 1818 application for pension, stated that he was stationed at Fort Independence until he re­enlisted in April of 1777, therefore he was one of the 100 Connecticut men that volunteered to stay.

Immediately after his reenlistment, Rufus joined Captain Pellitop's Company and marched to the relief of General Alexander McDougall, Commander of the small garrison stationed at Peekskill, New York. British General Sir William Howe had dispatched a force of five hundred troops, some light artillery, and raided the American military supply depot at Peekskill. General McDougall's forces were too small in number to resist. They burned as much as they could, then retreated. When word of the raid reached the American forces, troops were dispatched from all nearby posts, including Rufus's unit.

Before Rufus reached Peekskill, his unit received word that "Billy" Howe was up to his usual tricks, and on April 23rd, 1777 his troops landed near Fairfield, Connecticut. This force included Montefort Browne's Provincial Regiment and 250 men from the following infantry regiments: 4th (The King's Own); 5th, 23rd (Royal Welsh Fusiliers); 27th (Inniskilling Regiment); the 44th and elements of the Queen's Light Dragoons (16th). Rufus and his unit rushed to defend their native state. Enroute word had reached them that the British had burned the town of Danbury. The effect of that news encouraged them to speed up their march. Regulars of the Continental Line and militia alike rushed headlong to repel the invading army. Only quick action by the British officers saved their forces. Connecticut troops were closing in from all sides. Surely, had the British not reacted as they did another bloody " Battle Road" retreat would have taken place.

Arriving too late to participate in the numerous skirmishes in Connecticut, Rufus's unit reversed their route of march and returned to Peekskill. Upon his arrival there he was assigned to the smallpox hospital. According to his pension application, Rufus had had smallpox, hence was immune.

Smallpox could ravage an army faster than any enemy. General Washington had ordered that a special hospital be established for inoculating his troops. Unlike today, when a person was vaccinated in 1777, the doctors introduced the disease, but had no way to control the dosage, hence you could receive enough to make you immune (after a slight case) or you received too large a dose and died. Most of our men survived, hence were immune, giving them an advantage over the British. Rufus then mentioned that he substituted for his brother, James Landon and that he served on guard duty in the Hudson highlands. It is unclear as to whether this assignment was on behalf of his brother, or merely mentioned in the same sentence. In any case, guard duty along the eastern bank of the Hudson was no picnic. The control of the Hudson, the north-south water route, meant the difference between victory and defeat. The British could, with their massive Navy, launch another raid, or even invade in force. Furthermore, there was operating in the area bands of outlaws known as 'cowboys'. They claimed to be either "loyalists" or "Patriots" depending upon who they were talking to. In reality, they were only out for personal gain. Many a soldier, both British and American, were ambushed and murdered at their posts by these outlaws.

Rufus concluded his pension application stating that after 1779 he was called up several times in response to various alarms, each for a few days duration.

Following the war, Rufus married Sally Hunt, raised a large family, and died in the town of his birth, Salisbury, on April 10th, 1849, one of the last veterans.

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