Friday, September 18, 2009

Deserter: Daniel Broderick, 52nd Regiment of Foot

Researcher Stephen Gilbert has provided information from two sources that allows us to present the story of a deserter from the 52nd Regiment of Foot. We do not know when Daniel Broderick joined the 52nd, but we do know when he left it. It really was a dark and stormy night, in late November 1776. Over the previous two months, a powerful army under General Sir William how had methodically dispossessed the Continental Army of New York city and its environs, and now surrounded the last American garrison on Manhattan, Fort Washington. Broderick was part of an advanced piquet of twenty men seven miles north of the city on the road to King’s Bridge, the northern terminus of the island. Across a small valley from them was an outpost manned by Pennsylvania soldiers under the command of a young officer named Alexander Graydon. Graydon described the events of that November night in his memoir. Although published 35 years after the fact, Graydon’s description is vivid and remarkably detailed:

It was now November, and the nights becoming cold. It was the season too for north easterly storms, one of which is rendered memorable to me, from a circumstance of some interest which accompanied it. I was upon guard with lieutenant Davidson, of our battalion, at a place distinguished by the appellation of The point of rocks, which skirted the road leading to King’s-bridge. This was our most advanced piquet towards New-York, and only separated from that of the enemy by a valley a few hundred yards over. The night, as already mentioned, was extremely raw, rainy and tempestuous; and the only shelter the spot afforded was an old caboose, which had been placed there by way of guard house. A kind of chimney had been built at the mouth of it, and a fire here in calm weather, rendered it tolerably comfortable; but at this time, the smoke produced and driven in to the cabin by the storm, could not be endured; neither was the shelter from the driving rain by any means sufficient: we were dripping wet. In this miserable situation, Davidson proposed our going to a deserted house on the low ground directly across the road, where we could have a fire, and be dry and comfortable. But this I refused to do, since, though not more than thirty or forty yards from our post, and though rather an extension than a dereliction of it, yet it varied the station as to ourselves. The non-commissioned officers and the rest of the guard were, indeed, to remain there, but in case of disaster there would be blame, and the responsibility was upon us, and particularly upon myself. In this resolution, I for a long time persisted against the repeated importunities of my companion, who ingeniously obviated my objections, until at length, the storm rather encreasing than abating, I consented about midnight to go to the house, first taking the precaution to continue the line of sentinels from the point of rocks across the road and round the building at some distance from it, so that it was impossible it should be approached by the enemy unperceived, should he endeavor to grope his way into unknown hostile ground, in one of the darkest and most dismal nights that can be conceived. We had located ourselves in an outer room, where we had a good fire, and had already pretty well dried ourselves. Davidson was stretched along a bench fixed to the wall, half asleep, if not wholly so, and I was sitting before the fire, when a sudden noise of feet and voices reached the door. The latch was lifted, and as I rose up, not without considerable alarm, the first object that presented itself was a British soldier, with his musket and fixed bayonet in his hand. Who are you? said I, a deserter! “No deserter,” was the answer. My emotion did not prevent my preserving a pretty good countenance, though my first impression was, that we were surprised, and should be bayonetted out of hand. But this idea was scarcely formed, when the appearance of one of my own men behind the British soldier, changed it to a more pleasing one, and justified, if it did not induce, the addition of the term deserter, to the question of who are you? In fact, he was a deserter; but though in the very act of committing the crime he revolted against its opprobrium. I understood him, and softened down the ungraciousness of my salutation, by asking him if he had come over to us. He answered, yes. Our centinel had done his duty, but awkwardly, in not having disarmed the soldier, and introduced him in a less questionable shape.

The bustle of the incident having completely roused Davidson, and set him upon his legs, we sett to questioning our refugee. He called himself Broderick, was an intelligent fellow, and brought with him the last newspaper from New-York. He had for some time, he said, projected coming over to us, and had availed himself of this stormy night to put his design in execution. By means of the darkness, he had been enabled to separate himself from his comrades without their perceiving it, and had probably got to our sentries before they discovered him to be gone. He informed us that we might expect to be attacked in six or eight days at furthest, as some time had been employed in transporting heavy artillery to the other side of the Haerlem, and as the preparations for the assault were nearly completed. Among other things, he told us, that our situation at this house was a very unsafe one, as their patroles, still speaking as a Briton, passed very near it, and might easily sweep us off; and indeed he appeared uneasy at the idea while he staid with us. This was not long. I put him under the care of a trusty serjeant, with orders to guard him vigilantly, and to take him the head quarters, as soon as it should be light enough to find the way there. The hint we had received in regard to the enemy’s proximity, and still more our own knowledge of the comparative insecurity of our present station with the one we had left, induced us to return to the latter, maugre the comforts of a snug room and good fire. We accordingly drew in our sentinels, and repaired to the caboose, where we weathered out the remainder of the night, by this time pretty far advanced.

Daniel Broderick, apparently a literate man inasmuch as he carried a newspaper with him, made a clean break from British service, but 18 months later the fortunes of war caught up with him. He had joined the Continental army, and was serving with a detachment that was surprised and captured by British light infantry near Philadelphia on 24 April 1778. He was identified as a deserter and put on trial five days later. The proceedings of the trial tell the story:

Daniel Broderick, private Soldier, in the 52d Regt. of Foot, was brought Prisoner before the Court and accused of Deserting from the said Regt. when posted as a sentry, and bearing Arms in the Rebel Army, and the following Witnesses were examined, in support of the accusation vizt.:

Lieut. Francis Grose of the 52d Regt. of Foot being duly sworn, deposed that he knew the Prisoner to be a Soldier in the said 52d. Regt. and that he Deserted a day or two before Fort Washington was taken.

William Jewett private Soldier in the 52d. Regt. being duly sworn deposed that a few days before Fort Washington was taken a party of Twenty Men where Advanced near the 7th. Mile Stone, on the road to New York; that he and the Prisoner belonged to that Party; and he (the Witness) was posted as sentry at ten o'clock at night and relieved at 11 by the Prisoner; that upon serjeant going round to visit the sentries, he observed that one of them had quitted his Post, who upon Examination was found to be the Prisoner.

John Short, private Soldier in the 52d Regt. of Foot, being duly sworn, deposed that on the night before Fort Washington was taken, he and the prisoner was posted as senties at 11 o'clock at night, within about Twenty yards of each other, and about half an hour afterwards the serjeant upon going round to visit the sentries, found that the Prisoner had quitted his post; and that he (the Witness) was removed from the place he had before been posted, to occupy that which the Prisoner had left, and which was on the left flank.
Q. Did the Prisoner carry off his Arms and Accoutrements?
A. Yes.

Serjeant SamI Small of the Light Company of the 45th Regt. being duly sworn deposed that he was on a Party of Light Infantry that went out on the 24th instant, who took several Rebel prisoners in arms, and the prisoner was among them.
Q. (by desire of the Prisoner) Where did he see the Prisoner in Arms?
A. He can't say that he particularly saw the Prisoner with a Firelock, but he had on both Side Arms and Pouch, and all those who were taken that day had been in Arms.

William Wrangham, private Soldier in the Light Company of the 45th. Regt. being duly sworn, deposed that on the 24th inst. he went with a Party of Light Infantry and Dragoons, and fell in with some Rebels, whom the Dragoons Charged, and the Prisoner together with another were delivered up to him by a Dragoon, who had taken them, and at same time threw down two Firelocks which he said belonged to them; that the Prisoner had on his Side Arms & Pouch, which the Witness himself took off.

The prisoner being then put on his Defence said that he did not desert but that there was a field near where he was posted; which he went in order to get some turnips & fell in with five or six men, who took him Prisoner; that he told them that he had deserted in hopes of getting off again, but he was sent to Trenton and put in Goal, because he would not inlist, but afterwards inlisted in one of the Jersey Regts. in hopes of making his escape; that having heard of the proclamation, he came in upon seeing the two Dragoons, and laid down his Arms in the Church, and that he persuaded several others to do the same.

Francis Thompson, private Soldier in the 17th Regt. (Light) Dragoons, being duly sworn, was examined by desire of the Prisoner.
Q. Did not the Prisoner lay down his Arms in the Church upon his and another Dragoons coming up?
A. Upon seeing a party of Rebels go into the Church, he and the other Dragoon rode up to the Door, where one of the Party snapt his Firelock at the Witness, but the Serjeant who Commanded them said that if they (the Dragoons) would not hurt them, they would lay down their Arms, which they accordingly did, but whether the prisoner was of this party he cannot tell.
Q. by the Court. Does he recollect giving two Prisoners into the Charge of a Soldier of the Light Infantry, and throwing down their firelocks at the same time?
A. He gave the two Men into his Charge, but not the firelocks.
Q. Was the prisoner one of those?
A. He cannot say.
Q. How were those taken, or did they surrender?
A. He pursued them out of a wood and overtook them in a small Garden where upon his firing at them, they threw down their arms.
William Jewett, already sworn, was again examined, by desire of the Prisoner.
Q. Was the Prisoner posted on the left Flank when he relieved him (the Witness) at 11 oClock at night?
A. No, Short was on his Left.

The Court having Considered the Evidence for and against the prisoner, Daniel Broderick, together with what he had to offer in his Defence, is of opinion that he is Guilty of me Crimes laid to his Charge, in breach of the 1st. Article of War of the 6th. Section & of the 6th & nineteenth Articles of the 14th. Section and doth therefore Adjudge him the said Daniel Broderick to suffer Death.

The court was clearly unimpressed with Broderick’s argument that he had not intended to desert but only to forage. The simple fact was that he had left is post and therefore sealed his own fate regardless of his intentions. Graydon’s account indicates to us that Broderick crafted an excuse that he thought the court might accept; it is unlikely that he chose to dig for a few roots in the terrible weather that Graydon described.

Broderick was ordered to be executed on the common in Philadelphia on Saturday 16 May “between the Hours of Ten and Twelve.” To the best of our knowledge the sentence was carried out as ordered.

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