Pvt. Philip Morse by Michael D. Perry

My 4th Great Grandfather, Philip Morse, was born May 24, 1757 in Hardistonville, New Jersey.
In the spring of 1777 he enlisted in a Continental Army regiment that was assembled at
Monmouth Court House, New Jersey by Colonel Oliver Spencer. Morse was assigned as a
private in Captain James Broderick’s company.

The unit was sometimes known as the 5th New Jersey Regiment, but in most historical records it
was called Spencer’s Regiment. On September 11, 1777 they fought under the command of
George Washington in the Battle of Brandywine and in the battle of Germantown on October
4th. The Continental Army lost both battles, which denied them control of Philadelphia and
allowed the British to quarter there over the winter of 1777-1778.

Washington then had to seek winter quarters elsewhere and marched his 12,000 man Army into
Valley Forge on December 19th
Accompanying Washington to Valley Forge were the Marquis de Lafayette, Lt. Col. Alexander
Hamilton, combat engineer Pierre L’Enfant, (the designer of Washington D.C. in 1791) and Lt.
Col. John Laurens, son of the then-President of the 2nd Continental Congress. And, Martha
Washington came to the camp on February 10. She visited soldiers at their campsites and in the
camp hospital and organized a sewing circle of women who crafted, and patched socks, shirts,
and trousers for the soldiers. I would like to think that Mr. Morse, although just a private, at
least laid eyes on these notable people from time to time throughout that winter.

The Army at Valley Forge suffered greatly from severe shortages of food, clothing, blankets,
shelter and adequate sanitation. Twenty five hundred soldiers died of exposure, starvation and
disease. Another 4,000 men were listed as unfit for duty. Spencer’s Regiment shared in this
suffering, having entered Valley Forge with 127 men fit for duty, and departing with only 69.
Against these terrible odds, Mr. Morse was among those 69 survivors.
In late February of 1778 when the Army was about to collapse as a result of the deprivations,
Friedrich von Steuben arrived at Valley Forge from Europe with a letter of introduction from
Benjamin Franklin. Washington saw great promise in the Prussian officer and immediately
appointed him as the Army’s Inspector General to replace General Thomas Conway, the
infamous perpetrator of the Conway Cabal.

Von Steuben began by creating standards of sanitation, and then worked to eliminate the
incompetence, graft, and war profiteering that contributed to the shortages at Valley Forge.
He also began a program of training and discipline to raise the morale, discipline and military
readiness of the troops. To do so, von Steuben picked 120 men from various regiments to form
what he called an honor guard for General Washington. Von Steuben trained them in such
things as military formations, marching and bayonet skills. He then deployed them to
demonstrate these military skills to the rest of the troops in the encampment. Mr. Morse was a
member of von Steuben’s honor guard.

The Army’s morale at Valley Forge was further transformed on May 6, 1778 when news of the
French alliance reached General Washington. He organized a great celebration in which
thousands of soldiers performed large drill formations and fired salutes from muskets and
cannons. Washington and the other military leaders observed these activities, and at the
conclusion of the celebration Washington awarded each soldier with one gill of rum.

Sometime thereafter the British left Philadelphia for New York and the Continental Army
departed Valley Forge on June 19, 1778 to pursue them. About 75 miles to the east they caught
up with them and fought the Battle of Monmouth on June 28. This battle was fought to a
stalemate, but gave hope to Congress and the rest of the country that Washington’s Army was
now able to withstand a strong, well-fed and well-trained British Army.

The Battle of Monmouth was notorious for having been fought in temperatures exceeding 100
degrees, and almost as many troops on both sides died from heat stroke as from enemy fire and
bayonets. The battle is also known for a combatant named Mary (nicknamed Molly) Ludwig
Hays. She not only fought the British, but also spent much of the day carrying water to soldiers
and artillerymen, often under heavy British fire. General Washington later asked about the
woman he saw loading a cannon on the battlefield. When told about Molly’s courage, he issued
a warrant making her a non commissioned officer. For the rest of her life she called herself
Sergeant Molly. Her feats that day also led to the legend of Revolutionary War heroine Molly

The battle of Monmouth was the last major battle in the northern theater, and Washington
afterward moved his army to White Plains, NY.

In the spring of 1779 the Continental Congress became increasingly concerned about the
Iroquois Confederacy of six Indian nations that occupied the territory between Pennsylvania,
New York and Canada. Egged on by loyalist commander Col. John Butler, Butler’s troops and
four of the Indian nations began savagely plundering rebel settlements. One of the worst of these
were in Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley, where 360 armed Patriot defenders were annihilated,
Another was the assault on Cherry Valley New York where Indians killed and scalped 16
soldiers and 32 civilians, mostly women and children, and took 80 captive, half of whom were
never seen again.

To address this worsening crisis, Washington organized the Sullivan Expedition and gave Major
General John Sullivan the following order:

“The Expedition is to be against the hostile tribes of the Six Nations of Indians, with their
associates and adherents. The object is the total destruction and devastation of their
settlements, and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible, ruin
their crops now in the ground and prevent their planting more. Their territory must not
be merely overrun, but destroyed. And, you will not listen to any overture of peace
before the total ruinment of their settlements is effected. Our future security will be in
their inability to injure us, and in the terror with which the severity of the chastisement
they receive will inspire them.”

Spencer’s Regiment, with Mr. Morse still serving in James Broderick’s company, participated in
Sullivan Expedition from June 8 through September 15th of 1779. Without going into the details
that would sound unnecessarily repugnant to 21st Century readers, I’ll just say that the expedition
accomplished its objective. The Iroquois Confederacy was completely destroyed and the
Iroquois culture was nearly so.

After the Sullivan Expedition Spencer’s regiment was reorganized and was later disbanded, with
its troops being reassigned to other units. Sometime in 1780 Mr. Morse joined Captain Jonathan
Holmes’ company in the 2nd New Jersey Regiment of Maxwell’s New Jersey Brigade.

In 1780 the 2nd New Jersey Regiment was involved in two notable skirmishes as the British
probed into New Jersey hoping to attack Washington’s army in Morristown. In the first, known
as the Battle of Connecticut Farms, British and German troops crossed over Staten Island Sound
to the mainland at Elizabethtown. On June 7th, the day after their crossing, the enemy advanced
towards Connecticut Farms where they were successfully opposed by the New Jersey Brigade
and the New Jersey Militia. At the end of that day’s battle the British withdrew to Elizabethtown
and constructed fortifications.

From June 8th through the 22nd the New Jersey troops kept watch on British forces encamped
behind their Elizabethtown fortifications. On June 23 the Battle of Springfield began when
British left their fortifications and again tried to break through to Morristown. Although some
units were initially overrun, the New Jersey Regiments successfully fought back, causing the
British army to retreat back to Elizabethtown. At midnight on the 23rd the enemy troops crossed
back to Staten Island. This marked one of the last major engagements of the Revolutionary War
in the north and effectively put an end to British ambitions in New Jersey.

Mr. Morse and his compatriots were not yet done, however.

During the remainder of 1780 and continuing into 1781, the northern Continental Army was
gaining strength with the arrival of French ground and naval forces. In the South, however,
Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis was having some success against Continental troops,
particularly at the second siege of Charleston and in Camden, South Carolina. Because of the
difficulty of supplying his army that far to the South, and because of stiffer than expected
resistance in North Carolina, Lord Cornwallis decided to relocate to the Williamsburg neck of
the Virginia Peninsula and proceeded to set up his headquarters in Yorktown, VA. There he also
hoped to assist the British navy in gaining control of the Chesapeake Bay and began constructing
a deep-water port. Washington reacted by sending troops to Virginia, including Mr. Morse’s 2nd
New Jersey Regiment. At around the same time the French fleet arrived at the mouth of the
Chesapeake, denied British access to the Bay, which left Cornwallis’ army without fresh
supplies, reinforcements or a viable means of escape.

Mr. Morse arrived in Virginia either in June of 1781 with a vanguard of New Jersey troops led
by the Marquis de Lafayette, or on September 23rd with the remainder of New Jersey troops
under Washington’s command.

The siege of Yorktown began on September 29th. First, the Continental troops dug trenches in
which to advance toward the town’s fortifications. Then cannons were set up, an intense
bombardment was touched off and the British returned fire. However, the Continental troops
were better protected in their trenches and watched as the town was being destroyed. The war of
attrition continued until the night of October 14th, when one of the pivotal events of the
Revolutionary War occurred.1 That night, the New Jersey Light Infantry under the command of
Colonel Alexander Hamilton led a bayonet-to-bayonet assault, which capturing Redoubt Number 10.

This was one of two key British strongpoints that controlled access to the town. The plan
also called for French Troops under the command of Lafayette to capture the other one, Redoubt
Number 9, once Number 10 had been secured, which he did shortly thereafter.

In Thomas Fleming’s definitive book, Beat the Last Drum: The Siege of Yorktown he says:
“The moment Lafayette, waiting in the first parallel trench, knew the redoubt was
captured, he sent his division inspector, Major William Barber, to Baron de Vioménil to
let him know that redoubt number ten was in American hands.“

Major Barber was the direct superior to Jonathan Combs, Mr. Morse’s company commander.
So, I believe that Mr. Morse was either involved in this momentous event, or was at least close
enough to witness it.

On the morning of October 17th, a British drummer appeared followed by an officer waving a
white handkerchief, and he articles of capitulation were signed on October 19, 1781. Thus was
concluded the last battle of the Revolutionary war. Washington marched his troops to New
Winsor, New York, the town directly adjacent to his headquarters in Newburgh. They remained
stationed there until the Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3, 1783, which formally ended
the war.

Mr. Morse, along with all members of his 2nd New Jersey Regiment, was furloughed on June 6,
1783 at Newburgh.

After the war, Mr. Morse married, and moved with his family and other members of his
community to Himrod in Steuben (now Yates) County New York. Interestingly, he was
probably not a stranger to that land just West of Seneca Lake, as prior to the 1779 Sullivan
Expedition the Iroquois occupied it.

Years later when Congress authorized compensation for Revolutionary War veterans, Mr. Morse
applied for and received a pension of $8 per month. He was also awarded 100 acres of bounty
land, but there is no indication that he ever actually claimed it. He undoubtedly needed that $8,
as we know from the list of assets in the notarized letter in his pension file shows that he had
very little.

He is buried at the Old Himrod Cemetery and a marker honoring his Revolutionary War service was placed on his grave in 1957. Mr. Morse’s daughter Elizabeth married James Perry, my 3rd Great Grandfather. Their Grandson William Perry served in the New York Volunteer infantry in the Union Army during the Civil War, and his grandson, my father Maurice Perry served in the South Pacific during World War II.

Finally, I was privileged to serve in the Army as a drill instructor, where I learned and taught many of the drills and formations that were originally established by General von Steuben so many years earlier at Valley Forge.


Michael D. Perry

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