FISHKILL SUPPLY DEPOT HISTORIC SITE
Military Cemetery Monument
Major General Daniel Adams Butterfield, United States Army
ADDRESS AT THE FISHKILL MONUMENT DEDICATION, OCTOBER 14, 1897.
The occasion of our assemblage to-day associates so many matters of historical interest and patriotic pride, that one pauses to weigh the rich material against the allotted time for our purpose. The portion of the country around the old village of Fish- kill, and for many miles in its vicinity, was the scene of stirring events during the period of the Revolutionary War. The precise spot where we are assembled has its particular historic interest, since in 1776 the Council of Safety of Fishkill caused to be erected, at Washington's request, barracks, built by the militia of the town, and also a hospital. The barracks were in the fields, all along to the village, in front of the memorial we are here to dedicate; the hospital and cemetery behind it. The memorial carries the dates, 1776, the year of its foundation, and 1783, which latter was the year of removal. Houses in Fishkill yet standing, one on Main Street, near the Poughkeepsie Road, were built from the timbers taken down in the removal of the barracks. The purpose of these barracks, to care for the guard covering the depot of supplies and the invalid soldiers of Washing ton's army, and why it was so chosen, is best described by General the Marquis de Chastellux, a French officer and nobleman of distinction, in his book of travels. He was here in 1780. He says of Fishkill, that it had been long the principal depot where were placed the magazines, hospitals, workshops, etc., of the American army, all of which formed a town of themselves, composed of handsome, large barracks, built in the wood, at the foot of the mountains — this very spot. I quote his language, where he says: "As for the position of Fishkill, that it was a post of great importance is evident from the campaign of 1777. It is clear that the plan of the English was to render themselves masters of the whole course of the North River, and thus to separate the Eastern and West ern States. It was necessary, therefore, to secure a post on that river. West Point was made choice of as the most important to fortify, and Fishkill as the place best adapted to the establishment of the principal depot of provisions, ammunition, etc.; these two positions are connected together."
He speaks of the politeness shown him, describes the bar racks, speaks of the prisoners in English uniform whom he saw through the windows of the prison, and then speaks of the huts occupied by some hundreds of soldiers near Fishkill on his road to West Point. This description, written by a foreigner of distinction, and a soldier of high honor, gives the keynote of the character and sufferings of the men whose memory we are here to honor. The same character of testimony is found repeated in different language in the official reports of officers and the private letters and correspondence of hundreds who were of that army, who occupied the camps and barracks at West Point, Cold Spring, Constitution Island, and other points within an hour's ride of where we now are. In his description of the soldiers in these huts, he says: "These invalids are all in very good health, but it is necessary to observe that in the American army every soldier is called an invalid who is unfit for service. Now these had been sent here because their clothes were truly invalids. These honest fellows were not even covered with rags; but their steady countenances, and their arms in good order, seemed to supply the defect of clothes, and to display nothing but their courage and their patience." Speaking afterward of West Point and its fortifications, he says: "A Frenchman would be surprised that a nation just rising into notice should have expended in two years upward of twelve millions of francs in this desert. He would be still more so, on learning that these fortifications cost nothing to the State, being built by the soldiers, who received not the smallest compensation, and who did not even receive their stated pay." His translator, an English gentleman, who had also visited our armies at that time, adds to this statement of the marquis: "The zeal, perseverance and honor which shone forth in the American army, in the most arduous and extraordinary circumstances, almost surpasses credibility. They were in general most wretchedly clothed, seldom received any pay, were frequently in want of everything, from the public scarcity of money and the consequent indifference of the contractors, and had daily temptations thrown out to them of the most alluring nature. This army seemed to be pervaded but by one spirit and fought and acted with as much enthusiastic ardor as the most enlightened and determined leaders."
These were the words of foreigners, not Americans. We may well be proud of these tributes to the men we honor today. But we must cease to quote and repeat what others said of these men, else we should occupy time for hours. Of these you can read for yourselves: from Lossing, in his "Field Book of the War of the Revolution"; from Bailey, the local historian, who has published a most valuable collection of historical data of Fishkill's early history ; from Blake, in his "History of Putnam County"; from Philip H. Smith's "History of Dutchess County," and another by James H. Smith ; from the valuable historical sketch of Fishkill, by T. Van Wyck Brinckerhoff ; from Barnum's "Spy Unmasked," republished with illustrations and an appendix; all these are full of interesting information apropos of the work done by the patriots of '76 here and in the locality around us. We have no clash of arms and roar of battle to describe here; but we are to honor that sturdy manhood and patriotism which caused brave men to bear their sufferings heroically and with patience for the sake of their country and for liberty. Let us choose, rather, to treat this occasion, then, in the spirit of the sentiment which prompted the ladies of the Melzingah Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in the erection of this memorial — graceful recognition of the patriot ism and sacrifices of the noble men who served as soldiers in the War of the Revolution, and local pride and patriotism in preserving the memory of such noble work as a reminder and object lesson to those now in ignorance, and who may follow us in the future. Twice have I caused to be introduced in Congress a bill looking to the carrying on of this work by the Government, the same as we are engaged in; twice failed but shall try again. It might, perhaps, be deemed an extravagant sentiment to say that every inch of ground made sacred by the footprints of a soldier of the American Revolution should be identified for the benefit of succeeding generations. But it is not too much to hope that every place where there occurred any important incident of that historic struggle should be deemed worthy, at least, of some monumental tablet or memorial. (Applause.)
The number of people who, by reading this inscription, will have their attention for the first time directed to the story of which it may give a fragment cannot be foretold. How few persons among those of our fellow citizens, even of the men and women, boys and girls, who may pass this tablet, have caught the spirit of the seven years' struggle from 1776, the troubles that led up to it, and the problems that followed it; the armies of Washington in camp, on the march, and in actual battle; how they were raised, how they were maintained, and how they suffered, exemplified in a military sphere ; the bur dens and sacrifices of the homes ; the anxieties of the fireside ; the problems of social order in the States ; and the many embarrassments of our different States. There was seldom unity, not always success; usually poverty, and not always hope; but, somehow, there was progress. It now lay here, a battle won there, and now and them a fresh incentive from a patriotic home, an awakened State Legislature, a fresh trust in the genius and the capacity of a general or a statesman — and many of our best statesmen were officers in the field ; an American determination to strive on and on until armed resistance to our new government should disappear from our shores : all contributed to keep the young republic on its feet until the Old World began to receive the new nation into the family of nations, and then to enter into treaties with it of commerce and of amity. Every incident connected with the birth of the new nation is ripe with inspiration and instruction for succeeding generations. Every monumental tablet is a seed of patriotism fraught with silent and continuous instruction. It tells the casual stranger something to interest him as he passes by ; it reminds the youth that there is something to learn about events of which he will be ashamed to remain in ignorance; and it admonishes the indifferent or the careless that the questions of to-day, which are idly tossed from his mind as belonging to, what he may style, the intrigues of politics, or the craft of politicians, are as fraught with great possibilities of national retrogression or national advancement as were in their day the questions so happily solved by the wise fathers of the republic in the stormy days attending the American Revolution. And these students, if so incited to study and know the history of our beloved land, and heaven grant they may, cannot but feel, as they read the fertile pages of the history of those days, the most profound astonishment that that partially developed young colony, in the audacious onslaught for liberty and the rights of man against unjust tyranny, displayed such an aggregate of almost superhuman effort and accomplished such results.
Well might the astonished commander of the English forces, with superior numbers in his favor, exclaim in his wrath at defeat: "What are these men made of?" If it be true that a nation, like the human body, is healthy in proportion to the purity and strength of its blood, then the blood that nerved the arms and developed that army of patriots, and now speaks to us with trumpet tongues from this sacred soil which to-day we dedicate, was the healthy, pure outcome of God-given strength. Oh, could a shade of the spirits once here arise from yonder field now, this day, and look upon us as we stand in reverent discharge of what we feel sacred, American, patriotic duty, what would he see, and what, think you, would he say? Let us, for the moment, invoke this shade and spirit of the soldier of the Revolution. Let him come forth from the soil sacred by sufferings and the bloodshed of his comrades, hallowed by patriotism and sterling worth. Lo! he comes, ascends to the hills and redoubts where burned his camp fires and the beacons on the Hudson; where patriot fires, lit by Washington's orders, made American hearts pulsate with thrilling emotion, their glowing light telling victories won for American arms, and the evacuation of our great City of New York. We see him now. What a spectacle! What a memory! What a reverie! What does he look like? Is he well fed? Look at his gaunt figure, his half-famished body! Is he well clothed? Look at his poor bruised and frozen feet swathed in tow cloth tied with strings of tow! Look! How pitiful to see the poor frost-bitten fingers, the clothing of rags and coffee bagging. It caused the huts and barracks here, that were thrown up to protect him from the relentless elements. But we pause as we gaze on this sight. His countenance beam with the glories of his patriot's duty well done. It is beautiful and sheds a halo that takes from our vision the marks and emblems of his suffering. Lo! he is glorified! Like our Divine Master, he has conquered. He has long since overcome human frailties and soared above human necessities.
From the beacon heights, as he looks down, he finds all nature stands in its outline, much as it did four centuries ago, when Columbus stood knocking at the convent door for food and shelter, arguing, imploring for three poor vessels with which to sail from the port of Palos to find that New World St. Brendin's tales had told of and taught him he would find. He finds all nature just as they did a century and more ago, when, with the chain across the Hudson, and the troops posted on both its banks, as L'Enfant pictured them in 1780, our army stood like Vikings to guard the coveted pass through the High lands. He sees there no camps, the forts on Constitution Island and Fort Putnam in ruins. Fort Webb surmounted by an observatory, and Fort Clinton gone. But there are beautiful barracks and edifices; a towering granite shaft, with its golden figure of Fame, glistens in the sun, and tells, as a battle monument, of heroes slain in the war to preserve and defend what he fought for and created — the war that our veteran comrades here before me fought in. We know nothing, by comparison, of what the Revolutionary patriots suffered. Dimly he descries the north and south redoubts at Garrisons. The Robinson house, the home of the traitor Arnold, and from whence he fled, has gone; yet its site is preserved, marked by the foundation walls. The path by which Arnold fled down to the Hudson to join the British "Vulture" is still there, and the memory and dishonor of his treason yet fill every heart. There are houses with the portraits of the woman Washing ton was said to love, and whom he scorned when seeking Andre's pardon. Others with Washington's portrait as the young colonel, when he visited Beverley House. All these homes, and other, are filled with hearts now beating and pulsating with patriotic blood, and have been homes of statesmen, cabinet ministers, ambassadors and representative men.
The swift-flying railway trains and steamers are new and un known to him. He looks along the road hither, and finds the Huestis house, where Washington met Luzerne, the French Minister, and, turning back to Fishkill, without knowledge of the treason, gave Arnold time to escape his just fate. He sees the redoubts still guarding the gorge on the road near the old Haight house, the dividing line between Dutchess and Putnam Counties. Huts and barracks are gone. He sees here his old camp ground and the Wharton house, where headquarters were, where often Washington came, and where Enoch Crosby was brought for his mock trial. Yonder he sees the old Dutch Church, not now a prison, but well preserved, devoted to its original uses, like the Episcopal Church, its neighbor, which was once a hospital, and where the Provincial Congress of the State assembled. The piles of dead comrades that filled the streets there are only a memory. He sees the Matthew Brinckerhoff house, east of the village, where the gallant Lafayette was so long ill and suffering. He looks along the road to Glenham for the shop of Bailey, where patriotism forged the sword of victory for Washington. The house has gone, but the sword is treasured by the country. Yet beyond, he sees the Verplanck house, where the Society of the Cincinnati was formed. He sees the old stone house on the south side of the road, the Scofield house, where Baron Steuben, whom all the soldiers knew, had his headquarters. He sees the old Osborn house on the hill, beyond which was the outpost of the encampment. He sees the old Ackley house, where the Committee of Safety met. His head droops. He seems to think. He sees again a moving column. His eyes are aglow. He straightens up his manly but gaunt figure with pride. Tis the Hessians and others of the army of Burgoyne, captured at Saratoga by Gates, who were paroled to go to Boston and be shipped to England; but Congress has set this aside, and they are being marched back from Hartford, through Fishkill, and across the ferry to Newburg, to be sent south. He starts at sight of us here on his old camp ground. His strong and manly face is stirred with the memories of the scenes of his time.
There is determined power in his features, every one of which seem charged with the memories of a keen and varied life passed with the army of which he was a part. As the declining sun throws its long shadows across the meadows, his quick ear catches the sound of the evening gun from Washington's Headquarters, at Newburg, midst the homes of the gallant "Orange Blossoms"; and from further down the river, at West Point, the harmonious strains of the music of parade, the beat of drum and sound of trumpet are echoed by Cro' Nest and the old gray hills as they re-echoed the martial music of Washington's army. Soldiers march forth, bearing the flag he fought for. Its stars are increased, indicative of growth and strength of almost imperial States. It is not the old Continental uniform of blue and buff he sees, but he finds splendid soldiers in training to lead the hosts who will ever defend and fight for that flag and uphold the Union his comrades in arms established and achieved. They honor and salute the flag, and again the evening gun of West Point causes the national standard to be furled and guarded for the night, while all heads are uncovered, and with the strains to its glory all thus honor the flag. He sees we have not forgotten the lays that cheered his comrades' hearts in those dreary days of privation and suffering of a hundred or more years ago. What are his feelings as all these scenes pass before his memory and his vision and he looks down upon us here to-day? He sees in those beaming faces everywhere visible our tributes of gratitude, and that this spot is sacred because of the valorous dead, who achieved so much, who achieved everything for us. He recalls the invocation and prayer of the pastor of the old Prison Church, that the spirit of our forefathers be with us and upon us, and he sees your Dr. Huizingah's eloquent prayer is answered.
As we unveil the memorial he reads there, beneath the arc of the thirteen stars, carved in granite, commemorative of the thirteen original States, these graceful words of patriotism and gratitude, penned by the estimable lady, Mrs. Verplanck, Re gent of the Melzingah Chapter, so prominent and efficient in the work and the effort that has caused this assemblage and this ceremony. Remember these words. They tell him, and they tell you and all, the story of the days and events we commemorate. Listen to them: "In grateful remembrance of the brave men who gave their lives for their country during the American Revolution, and whose remains repose in the adjoining Held, this stone is erected by Melzingah Chapter, Daughters American Revolution, October 14, 1897." Our shade has vanished. He has recognized the spirit and the work here. Heaven bless Melzingah Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Blessings upon every Chapter or Association of devoted and patriotic women who institute or aid such work. May their example spread over the land until no spot or incident of that grand struggle remains without some mark to perpetuate the memory of its good and its glory for mankind. Let us join together and erect a monument to the Continental soldier as he was in the days we commemorate and place it on the bank of the Hudson. Let us mark the noble Lafayette's home in his hours of sickness and suffering for us. May the study of those historic days be constant and pervading, and the solutions of the problems of our own day and generation be facilitated, the national necessities better appreciated, the people become better qualified as Americans, and learn how, in the language of the Preamble to the United States Constitution, "to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."