Corporal Robert Carpenter 1722-1777
This synopsis of certain events related to Robert Carpenter has been prepared by his 4th Great Grandson exactly 230 years after his death while serving as a member of the Continental Army during the historic Battle of Saratoga, NY. This battle is historic for several reasons. Foremost among these was the timing of this clear cut American military victory over Britain, a recognized world military power. This victory allowed France to have confidence in the Continental United States as an emerging country independent of Britain, France's despised enemy. France's support was not only diplomatic but also financial and in the end a critical display of Naval power at Yorktown, VA.
Robert Carpenter was born 5 March 1722 in E. Greenwich, RI, and died 7 October 1777 in the Saratoga, NY second battle of Bemis Heights (Ref. MA01, SA02). He was the son of Christopher Carpenter and Mercy Roberts Taylor. He married Charity Allice Roberts 26 OCT 1755 in E. Greenwich, RI. She was born 1726/1733 in Warwick, Kent Co, RI. He married Mercy Roberts in 1762 in West Greenwich, RI. She was born about 1747 in West Greenwich, RI. At the time of his enlistment in the Continental Army Robert appears to have been a resident of Palmer, Massachusetts. Palmer is approximately 60 miles west of Boston, MA. He is referenced in the publication "History of the Town of Palmer, Massachusetts" as enlisting for town of Palmer. (Author: J.H. Temple Pages: 653 Pub. Date: 1889 ISBN: 1933828064).
His service records also mention Kingstown. This reference may be a reference to an earlier part of his life. Available records indicate Robert was born in E. Greenwich, RI E. Greenwich, RI is approximately 60 miles southwest of Boston. E. Greenwich, RI is also about 60 miles southeast of Palmer, MA. E. Greenwich, RI today is part of the bay area complex of Providence, RI and is within 5 miles of North Kingstown, RI. It is my speculation that the reference to Kingstown in his military service records may be a geographical distinction made by Robert about his birthplace or early childhood home.
To better understand the importance of this battle and perhaps connect some dots regarding Robert's participation I read two publications that I found readable and informative. The two publications are "Benedict Arnold's Navy" by James L. Nelson and "Saratoga" by Richard M. Ketchum. In preparation for a visit to the battlefield in September 2007 I contacted the staff at the Saratoga National Battlefield. Eric H. Schnitzer, Park Ranger/Historian, Saratoga National Historical Park was invaluable in providing officer specific information and was able to identify Robert Carpenter in his records as well. I think I have been able to connect some organizational dots in terms of unit commands. I certainly have a much better appreciation of this specific conflict and how it fits into the under appreciated northern campaigns of the American Revolution. On a visit to Montreal, Canada in 2003 I was surprised that as we toured fortifications in that city the United States was the aggressor they had prepared against; now I understand why.
Continental Army pay accounts exist for Robert Carpenter's service in the Continental Army from April 24, 1777, to Oct. 7, 1777. Robert may have been an active participant in the local militia prior to his enlistment in the Continental Army. It is important to indicate that there is a significant difference between serving in these two different capacities. In some respects not understanding the difference and under estimating the fighting capacity of a Continental Soldier contributed to the British defeat at Saratoga. A relative correlation can be made by contrasting the differences between a Volunteer Community Fire Department and a fully organized professional Fire Department. By the time 1777 arrived the Continental United States had it's version of a professional standing army. Our ancestor Robert Carpenter enlisted for 3 years as a professional soldier at the age of 55 years old. Upon enlistment he was provided the rank of corporal indicating he was a leader.
In the U.S. Army a Corporal (CPL) is the first non-commissioned officer rank. Corporals are found in many combat units. The typical criterion for promotion to Corporal is that the soldier must be serving in a leadership position that would typically be occupied by an NCO such as a Sergeant. It is common for a Corporal to lead a fireteam. The rank of Corporal is the only rank in the United States Army that has never been removed from the NCO Corps. Fireteams generally consist of four or fewer soldiers and are usually grouped by two teams into a squad or section.
The concept of the fireteam is based on the need for tactical flexibility in infantry operations. A fireteam is capable of autonomous operations as part of a larger unit. Successful fireteam employment relies on quality small unit training for soldiers, experience of fireteam members operating together, sufficient communications infrastructure, and a quality non-commissioned officer corps to provide tactical leadership for the team. The creation of effective fireteams is seen as essential for creating an effective professional military as they serve as a primary group.
For purposes of this synopsis it is useful to connect the names of various individuals during the buildup to and the actual Battle of Saratoga which was fought in two distinct military actions on September 19th and October 7th. In terms of day-to-day command structure and soldier life corporals relate to and serve under the orders of commissioned officers. 1st Lt Thomas Hartshorn, 2nd Lt Ebenezer Fisk, and Ensign William Redding are the men who Robert Carpenter would have directly served under and carried out operations during the Battle of Saratoga. These men in turn reported to and took their direction from Captain James Keith who was the Company Commanding Officer.
During Saratoga it appears that Captain Keith's superior officer was Major William Hull, Colonel Michael Jackson's 8th MA Regiment, Brigadier General Ebenezer Learned's Brigade from 1 January 1777 to 31 December 1779. Major Hull commanded a company from Derby at the siege of Boston, the battles at Long Island and White Plains. After the battle of Trenton, he was promoted to major. He served 31 months 12 days as Major, 4 months 18 days as Lieutenant Colonel from 1 January 1777 to 31 December 1779; also, Lieutenant Colonel, Colonel John Greaton's Regiment; from 1 January 1780 to 31 December 1780; also, Lieutenant Colonel, 6th MA Regiment commanded by Colonel Benjamin Tupper. He also served at Princeton, Monmouth and Stony Point, and in 1779, was inspector of the army under Baron Steuben. He was born 1753 at Derby, CT, and died 1825 at Newton, MA His wife was Sarah Fuller. They had at least one daughter, Julia. Ref. DA01(#13243), MA01, SN01
Major Hull was supervised by Colonel Michael Jackson, 8th MA Regiment, Brigadier General Ebenezer Learned's Brigade. At Bunker Hill he killed a British officer in a hand-to-hand combat. He was made Lieutenant Colonel of Colonel Bond's regiment, and was wounded at Montressor's Island, NY. He was subsequently promoted to the command of the 8th regiment but his wound prevented his further active participation in battle. Major; Colonel Thomas Gardner's Regiment, commissioned 2 Jun 1775; also, Major, Colonel Bond's Regiment, Maj. General Green's division; in 1776; chosen Lieutenant Colonel, Colonel John Robertson's Regiment, 23 January 1776; also, Colonel, 8th MA Regiment; 1 January 1777 to 31 December 1780; also, 3rd MA Regiment commanded by Jackson; 31 Oct 1783. He was born in Newton, MA, December. 18, 1734; son of Michael and Phoebe (Patten) Jackson; grandson of Edward and Mary Jackson. He resigned at the close of the war and retired to his farm in Newton. He had five brothers and five sons in the patriot army during the Revolution. He was married to Ruth, daughter of Ebenezer Parker. He died at Newton, MA, 10 April 1801. Ref. MA01, SA01, SN01, TW01, US01.
Ebenezer Learned, Brigadier General, commanding a brigade under Major General Horatio Gates. Colonel of a Massachusetts Regiment, 19 April to December 1775; Colonel 3d Continental Infantry, 1 January 1776; Brigadier General Continental Army, 2 April 1777; resigned 24 March 1778. He was born 18 April 1728, Oxford MA, died 1 April 1801, Oxford MA. His father was Colonel Ebenezer Learned, born 31 August 1690; his mother was Deborah Haynes, born 30 July 1690. Ref. AN01, MA01, SN01
Horatio Gates was The Commanding General of the American forces at the Saratoga battles. He first came to America to fight in the British army in the French and Indian Wars. In 1772 he retired from the British army and came to America where he settled in West Virginia. He joined the American forces as a General at the start of the Revolutionary War. After his victory in the Saratoga Campaign he fell into disgrace and resigned as the result of an attempt to have him replace George Washington as Commander-in-Chief. He rejoined again in 1780 and suffered a defeat as the head of the North Carolina troops. He resigned again but was reinstated after the surrender of Cornwallis. He was born 1727 in Maldon, Eng. After the war lived the remainder of his life in New York City, where he died, 10 April 1806. Ref. SA01, EN01
Benedict Arnold, as a Major General, assisted General Gates in the victory of the Saratoga Campaign. Prior to the Saratoga Campaign he performed brilliantly in his various engagements: the capture of Fort Ticonderoga (with Ethan Allen), the march to Quebec City and the stubborn retreat on Lake Champlain that prevented a British invasion, and his march to Fort Stanwix, forcing General St. Leger to retreat just prior to the Saratoga Campaign. His actions at the Saratoga battles were decisive in winning that campaign. If he had died at the Battle of Saratoga he would be celebrated today as one of America's best fighting Generals.
His subsequent actions were reprehensible: falling in with a Loyalist group and marrying into a Loyalist family while military governor of Philadelphia, his providing military intelligence to Sir Henry Clinton, and then, his offer as commandant of West Point to surrender the fort to the British. After his escape to New York to join Clinton, he fought on the side of the British until he sailed to England with Cornwallis after his surrender. He was generally treated poorly there. He and his second wife are buried in St. Mary's Church, Battersea, Eng. Born 14 January 1741 in Norwich, CT, he first married Margaret Mansfield on 22 Feb 1767. They had three sons. She died Jun 1775. He married Margaret Shippen, an 18 year old daughter of a Loyalist family in Philadelphia. She went to England with her husband and died there in 1804. He died 14 June 1801. Ref. SA01, EN01
Several other soldiers of the name Carpenter also served in the Battle of Saratoga. We have no clear reason to connect Robert Carpenter to these other Carpenters other than to speculate that since the Northern Campaign had a high degree of New England state citizens in service and considering the total population of these states it is not unlikely that some of these other Carpenter Soldiers could be relatives. In the absence of such proof I will list these patriots to enable others to perhaps make family connections:
CARPENTER, David; (CT) Private, Capt. Stone's Company, Colonel Latimer's Regiment, from 23 August to 9 November 1777. Ref. CT01
CARPENTER, Jesse; (NH) Private, Capt. Hayward's co, Colonel Jonathan Chase's Regiment, from 2 October to 26 October 1777. Ref. NH02
CARPENTER, John; Private, Capt. Samuel Cabell's Company, Colonel Morgan's Corp; from July to November 1777. Ref. NA03, SA05
CARPENTER, Nehemiah; (MA Suffolk Co.) Private, Capt. John Bradley's Company, Colonel Benjamin Gill's Regiment; from 14 August 1777; for 3 mos. 28 days.
CARPENTER, Zebulon; (MA Becket) Private, Capt. Moses Ashley's Company, Colonel Joseph Vose's Regiment; from 1 May 1777, died 19 Sep 1777. Ref. MA01
In the first phase of the Battle of Saratoga, the Battle of Freeman's Farm on September 19th, Ebenezer Learned's brigade was not very effective. Working forward in the center of the line, they mainly got lost in the woods, and exchanged light fire near the end of the battle. However, at the Battle of Bemis Heights on October 7th, Ebenezer Learned's brigade was in the center of the left division, commanded by General Benjamin Lincoln. Learned's own brigade (the 2nd, 8th, and 9th Massachusetts line), was expanded by James Livingston's 1st New York Regiment and 2 regiments of New Hampshire Militia the 2nd and 4th. The attack on the American far left was turned by Daniel Morgan's men, but the enemy's center was held by Hessian troops. Benedict Arnold came onto the field and encouraged the men.
Generals Arnold and Learned (this should have included Robert Carpenter's 8th Massachusetts line) led a joint charge on the Hessian positions, and, even though Arnold fell wounded, Learned and his men carried through and broke the enemy lines. British General John Burgoyne's forces had to retreat to their starting fortifications around Freeman's Farm. When their charge carried the first bunker, Burgoyne's forces withdrew to the positions they had held before the Freeman's Farm battle. This skirmish has been named the assault on the Breymann Redoubt. Breymann is the Hessian officer in charge of the redoubt which is a type of barrier constructed to give cover to soldiers firing their weapons. Breymann himself did not survive this assault.
The British Commanding General John Burgoyne already outnumbered 3 to 1, had lost 1,000 men total including the casualties sustained during the Battle of Freeman's Farm, while American losses came to about 500 killed and wounded. He had lost several of his most effective leaders. The maneuver had failed, and his forward line was now breached. On the evening of October 7th he lit fires at his remaining forward positions and withdrew under the cover of darkness. So on the morning of October 8, he was back in the fortified positions he had held on September 16. Burgoyne's Army was weaker than before and had fewer supplies. The American forces were still growing stronger. The following day, he withdrew another 8 miles to Saratoga, New York. The stage was set for the final act of the Battle of Saratoga and his later surrender.
It would appear that Corporal Robert Carpenter was serving in the proper unit participating in this famous Breymann Redoubt assault co-lead by Generals Benedict Arnold and Ebenezer Learned. It would appear that Robert and his unit was moved into placed in the general buildup of Massachusetts Continental Line soldiers and participated in the combined actions of the Battle of Saratoga. Robert Carpenter is reported as having been killed in the action of October 7th. This action was primarily an afternoon of action which was broken off at sunset. It is noted that post battle accounts seem to indicate that approximately 70 soldiers died during the night of October 7, 1777. Robert could have been killed outright in the assault and/or died of his wounds during the evening hours. We do not have a known record of his burial location. He may be buried in a mass grave at the battlefield. Other unrelated accounts of cemetery development in the area indicate that wagons full of dead soldiers stacked like cordwood were transported to a local cemetery for burial.
The battle of Saratoga was not won or lost solely by the events occurring in the days at the battle ground September 19th through October 7th. As the time for this battle neared many elements of luck, greed, personal ambition, stupidity, jealousy, poor decision making, poor intelligence, bad logistical support and military tenacity shifted in the favor of the Continental Forces. I was impressed and pleased by the concept that my 4th Great Grandfather and the remainder of the Continental Forces were able to approach this battle with an optimistic sense of prevailing in a good fight. Way to go guys!!
Other than my personal speculations and correlations of information I have relied on references and prior work of others more qualified individuals. To the degree that errors have occurred they would be solely my responsibility. Please feel free to help correct or update any of this information.
Additional Visit Photos
Saratoga National Battlefield
General George Washington, his Generals, and his Aides de Camp
Jackson Family Papers
Prepared by Ron Yates
(Son of Luella Mae Carpenter, Grandson of LeRoy Fremont Carpenter, G Grandson of John McNair Carpenter, GG Grandson Abner McNair Carpenter, GGG Robert Carpenter b.1775, GGGG Grandson Robert Carpenter b.1722)