A Soldier’s Story

Extract from a memoir written by Jonathan Rathbun, who served at Fort Stamford (pp 13-15)

“The next year, 1782, I was led by the spirit which the scenes I had witnessed in New London had fanned into a flame, to leave my father’s house and the peaceful pursuits of agriculture, and to enlist as a private in the Connecticut State troops. Never shall I forget the impressive circumstances under which I took the soldier’s oath. With five others of my townsmen, who enlisted with me, I was marched into the meeting house on the first Monday in April, it being freeman’s day, and there in the presence of a large concourse of people, we swore to discharge our duty faithfully. We were ordered to fort Stanwich, in Stamford Ct, where I remained during all but the last month of my term of service. Here I was subjected to the usual hardships of a military life. Many a time have I been out for several days on scouting parties, sometimes to the distance of twenty-five miles. These were not only attended with fatigue, cold and hunger, but with no peril of life. On one occasion, a rifle ball passed through my hat and cut away the hair of my head, but a kind Providence protected me.


A party of fourteen men, under Lewis Smith were surprised by a body of mounted troops to the number of sixty, by whom they were ordered to surrender. Lewis Smith perceiving the hopelessness of resistance against such an overwhelming force, inquired of the British officer in command, whether they would be treated as prisoners of war. The answer was, yes; but no sooner had they lowered their muskets, than the enemy shot them down.


As a specimen of the hardships to which a private soldier in time of war is constantly liable, I may mention the following. One evening the orderly sergeants passed around among the men and with a whisper commanded us to equip ourselves without noise; and then we were marched out of the fort to a woods two miles distant, and ordered to lie down on the frozen ground, where we passed a bitterly cold night with only a single blanket and our coats to protect us. We afterwards learned that this step was taken to avoid the enemy, who it was reported were that night to attack the fort with an overwhelming force.  From such exposures and hardships as these my constitution received a shock, from which I have never recovered. The sickness of my father was considered a sufficient reason for giving me a discharge; and after eleven months service I left Stamford for Colchester. On reaching home I was immediately taken sick, and for six months was unable to do any business. From that time mingled mercies and misfortunes have attended me. The infirmities thus contracted in the service of my country, disabled me from arduous manual labor, and much of my life has therefore been spent in trade and other light employments.”


Source: Stamford History Center.