Revolutionary War Historical Article
An Eyewitness Account of the Attack on Redoubt Number 10
by Sergeant Joseph Plum Martin, Continental Corps of Sappers and Miners
Editor's Note: This article was reprinted from the September 2002 Edition of the Liberty Tree Newsletter
"The siege was carried on warmly for several days, when most of the guns in the enemy's works were silenced. We now began our second parallel, about halfway between our works and theirs. There were two strong redoubts held by the British, on their left (1). It was necessary for us to process those redoubts before we could complete our trenches. One afternoon, I, with the rest of our corps that had been on duty in the trenches the night but one before, were ordered to the lines. I mistrusted something extraordinary, serious or comical, was going forward, but what I could not easily conjecture.
We arrived at the trenches a little before sunset. I saw several officers fixing bayonets on long staves. I then concluded we were about to make a general assault upon the enemy's works, but before dark I was informed of the whole plan, which was to storm the redoubts, the one by the Americans and the other by the French (1). The Sappers and Miners were furnished with axes and were to proceed in front and cut a passage for the troops through the abatis, which are composed of the tops of trees, the small branches cut off with a slanting stroke which renders them as sharp as spikes. These trees are then laid at a small distance from the trench or ditch, pointing outwards, and the butts fastened to the ground in such a manner that they cannot be removed by those on the outside of them. It is almost impossible to get through them. Through these we were to cut a passage before we or the other assailants could enter.
At dark the detachment was formed and advanced beyond the trenches and lay down on the ground to await the signal for advancing to the attack, which was to be three shells from a certain battery near where we were lying. All the batteries in our line were silent, and we lay anxiously waiting for the signal. The two brilliant planets, Jupiter and Venus, were in close contact in the western hemisphere, the same direction that the signal was to be made in. When I happened to cast my eyes to that quarter, which was often, and I caught a glance of them, I was ready to spring on my feet, thinking they were the signal for starting, Our watchword was 'Rochambeau'' the commander of the French forces name, a good watchword, for being pronounced 'Ra-sham-bow', it sounded when pronounced quick, like' rush-an-boys'.
We had not lain here long before the expected signal was given, for us and the French, who were to storm the other Redoubt, by three shells with their fiery trains mounting the air in quick succession. The word up, up, was then reiterated through the detachment. We immediately moved silently on toward the redoubt we were to attack, with unloaded muskets. Just as we arrived at the abatis, the enemy discovered us and directly opened a sharp fire upon us. We were now at a place where many of our large shells had burst the ground, making holes sufficient to bury an ox in. The men, having their eyes fixed upon what was transacting before them, were every now and then falling into I these holes. I thought the British were killing us off 1 at a great rate. At length, one of the holes happening to pick me up, I found out the mystery of the huge slaughter.
As soon as the firing began, our people began to cry, 'The fort's our own.' and it was 'Rush on boys.' The Sappers and Miners soon. cleared a passage for the infantry, who entered it rapidly. Our Miners were ordered not to enter the fort, but there was no stopping them. 'We will go,' they said. 'Then go to the d___l,' said the commanding officer (2) of our corps 'if you will'. I could not pass at the entrance we had made, it was so crowded. I therefore forced a passage at a place where I saw our shot had cut away some of the abatis; several others entered at the same place. While passing a man at my side received a ball in his head and fell under my feet, crying out bitterly. While crossing the trench (3), the enemy threw hand grenades (small shells) into it. They were so thick that I at first thought them cartridge papers on fire, but was soon undeceived by their cracking. As I mounted the breastwork, I met and old associate hitching himself down the trench. I knew by the light of the enemy's musketry, it was vivid. The fort was taken and all quiet in a very short time. Immediately after the firing ceased, I went out to see what had become of my wounded friend and the other that fell in the passage. There were both dead. In the heat of the action I saw a British soldier jump over the walls of the fort next to the river and go down the bank, which was almost perpendicular and twenty to thirty feet high. When he came to the beach he made off for the town, and if he did not make good the use of his legs I never saw a man that did. All that were in the action of storming the Redoubt were exempted from further duty that night.
We laid down upon the ground and rested the remainder of the night as well as a constant discharge of grape and canister (4) shot would permit us to do, while those who were on duty for the day completed the second parallel by including the captured redoubts within it. We returned to camp early in the morning, all safe and sound, except one of our lieutenants, who had received a slight wound on the top of the shoulder by a musket shot. Seven or eight men belonging to the infantry were killed and a number wounded."
(1) These were Redoubts Number 9 and 10.
(2) This officer was probably Alexander Hamilton.
(3) The trench around a redoubt is created by removing the dirt to make the earthen wall of said redoubt.
(4) This statement of Joseph Martin's confirms the use of grape shot that wounded of Major Gibbs.