Interviews With Veterans of the Revolution in 1864

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Hattip to commenter RL for finding this American Heritage article.

In 1864 the Reverend Elias Brewster Hilliard, a minister from Connecticut, at the request of a Hartford publisher, set out on the task of interviewing the seven surviving veterans of the American Revolution in the North, writing down their memories of the American Revolution and obtaining their views of the Civil War.  In 1958 American Heritage published a fascinating story on the results of these interviews, and the story may be read here.

The American Revolution is not normally associated with photography, but some elderly veterans of that conflict lived long enough to have their pictures taken by the then cutting edge technology of photography.  Some of the photographs were taken for the 1864 interviews.  Among the veterans pictured above is John Gray, the last surviving veteran of the Revolution.  He was born fittingly enough near Mount Vernon.  His father was killed at the battle of White Plains in 1776.  John joined up at 16 in 1780 and was present at Yorktown when Cornwallis’ army marched by in surrender.  He died on March 29, 1868, age 104.  He was not among the veterans interviewed in 1864, and I assume he was overlooked.

How brief our history as an independent nation truly is!  Men who fought to give this nation birth lived to see the Civil War and the ultimate preservation of the nation.  The last surviving veteran of the Civil War, Albert Woolson, died in 1956 just six months before I was born in 1957.  We are still a very young nation.

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit, that made those spirits dare,
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.

Ralph Waldo Emerson



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  1. Dear sir,I read american Catholic and I thank you for your hard work.I was very interested in the revolutionary war article and was wondering if you could provide me and the rest of our readers with the % of fighters and if possible some of the names of the men that were catholic in the american army.,thank you for your valuble time and God bless,Mr.Jesse Fremont Bateman….

  2. Thank you for your kind words. American Catholics, a very small percentage of the population of the 13 colonies, 1.6 percent, were overwhelmingly patriots and played a role in the American Revolution out of all proportion to the small fragment of the American people they represented.

    General Stephen Moylan was a noted cavalry commander and the first Muster-General of the Continental Army.

    Captains Joshua Barney and John Barry were two of the most successful naval commanders in the American Revolution.

    Colonel John Fitzgerald was a trusted aide and private secretary to General George Washington.

    Thomas Fitzimons served as a Pennsylvania militia company commander during the Trenton campaign. Later in the War he helped found the Pennsylvania state navy. After the War he was one of the two Catholic signers of the U.S. Constitution in 1787

    Colonel Thomas Moore led a Philadelphia regiment in the War.

    Major John Doyle led a group of elite riflemen during the War.

    The list could go on at considerable length. Figures on how many Catholics served in the Continental Army or the American militias is speculative as records of religious affiliations were not normally kept. From anecdotal evidence my guess would be at least five percent, far in exess of the Catholic percentage of the population.

    The foreign volunteers who came to fight for our freedom were overwhelmingly Catholic, including LaFayette, de Kalb and Pulaski. Of course the French troops were almost all Catholic, and there were tens of thousands of them who saw service in the US. The first mass in Boston was a funeral mass for a French soldier with members of the Continental Congress in attendance. Washington on occasion attended mass during the War along with other Founding Fathers.

    Here is a quote from Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence in regard to Catholic participation in the Revolution:

    “Their blood flowed as freely, in proportion to their numbers, to cement the fabric of independence as that of their fellow citizens. They concurred with perhaps greater unanimity than any other body of men in recommending and promoting from whose influence America anticipates all the blessings of justice, peace, plenty, good orders, and civil and religious liberty.”

  3. What is fascinating to me about this post is how a single human lifespan can encompass so much history. Only a century separates the birth of Mozart and the death of Schumann, yet what a musical revolution was there in between! Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) recalled that as a young boy he remembered an old friend of the family, Mme de Mongolfier (related to the famous balloonists) recalling how as a young girl she had witnessed the mob surging down the rue St-Antoine in 1789. Towards the end of his life he mused ‘There will be someone living well into the 21st century who can say “I was told of the fall of the Bastille by someone who heard it from an eye-witness.” ‘.

  4. In the first law firm I worked for John, the senior partner’s mother lived from 1865-1965. (She died from a fall while cleaning a chandelier in her house at the age of 100!) When she was born the Civil War had just ended and she lived to see the beginning of the Space Age. She saw covered wagons, the first cars, the first planes, the first phones, the first radios, the first televisions the first computers. World War I and World War II were part and parcel of her life, with a grandson dying at Omaha Beach on D-Day. She saw the reunited Union grow from 31 states to 50. What a wonderful panorama as the background of one’s life!

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