Thursday, March 5, 2015

LaFayette on the Brandywine

Marquis de Lafayette
According to the Callin Family History (and yes, if you're interested in that book, you want to click that link), there were two brothers named James and John who emigrated from Ireland around the beginning of the Revolutionary War.

Our fathers tell us that these two brothers enlisted in the Continental Army and fought under Lafayette at the battle of Brandywine and remained in this army till the close of the war.

I have maintained a healthy skepticism for the early sections of George's book, because there are a number of small errors in it, and he included none of his sources. I have gone looking for proof - one way or the other - that this claim is either reliable or false, but when faced with a source with as many small errors as this one has, it's hard to tell which facts to count on as clues, and which errors are severe enough to cast doubt on the claims.

For years, I've kept an eye out for resources that would give me more information I could use to track these brothers down with no solid leads. I tried the National Archives, since I had such great luck with some of my Civil War folks, but came up empty - they need a state to search in, and the only one I knew for sure a) existed during the Revolutionary War and b) Callins lived in was Pennsylvania. When I subscribed to Fold3, I found some index records for Callin people, but without more detail, there was nothing to investigate.

Then cousin Joan told me she had seen records for brothers James and Edward Callin in a Virginia regiment - that had fought at the Battle of Brandywine. And lo, I found a tranch of them by digging deeply into Ancestry's military records - 39 exhaustive film strips with hits on the name James Callin.

It's important to stress that what I have found is not conclusive proof that I have the right James Callin, but I've looked for others that fit the points that George's statement implies: served throughout the war; served with a brother; fought at Brandywine, in particular, and under Lafayette. This James fits those parameters, assuming that the Edward Callin who spent six months in his unit was his brother.

The red circle is next to "Jas. Callin" - private in
Capt. Lucas's Company of the 4th VA Regt of Foot
I've attached a copy of the muster roll for 1 September through October 1777, and added a subtle red circle to show you where James's name appears. This unit is Captain James Lucas's Company of the 4th Virginia Regiment of Foot, under the command of Colonel Robert Lawson.  The Battle of Brandywine took place on September 11, 1777.

The famous General Lafayette's involvement is interesting. Brandywine was his first battle, so he wasn't yet commanding troops. He was sent with the Third Pennsylvania Brigade under Brigadier Thomas Conway and not even in the same Division as James Callin's 4th Virginia, but both units were under the command of Major General John Sullivan ("Sullivan's Wing").

Lafayette wounded at the battle of Brandywine
Lafayette was shot in the leg, and despite his injury, he helped organize an ordered retreat before allowing his wound to be treated, which saved many soldiers and impressed General Washington. Washington wrote to Congress and asked them to give him command of a division.

When Lafayette returned to the battlefield in November, after two months of recuperation from his injury, he took over the Division previously commanded by Major General Adam Stephen - which included two Virginia Brigades - by extension, the 4th Virginia Regiment.

The Battle of Brandywine was not an American victory. To borrow from Wikipedia on the subject: "Washington had committed a serious error in leaving his right flank wide open and nearly brought about his army's annihilation had it not been for Sullivan, Stirling and Stephen's divisions, which fought for time... In his report to the Continental Congress detailing the battle, Washington stated: 'despite the day's misfortune, I am pleased to announce that most of my men are in good spirits and still have the courage to fight the enemy another day'."

If this is our James 1st - and I'm willing to assert that he is, until we turn up evidence otherwise - then my 5th-great grandfather was one of Stephen's troops who made that possible. His (maybe) brother, Edward, shows up on the 4th Regiment's muster rolls with James from November 1777 through February 1778, and James remains in the same unit through at least November 1779.

James's unit would have been involved in the October 4, 1777, Battle of Germantown. Sadly, his unit was the one that veered off course and collided with another American brigade and mistook them for the redcoats, engaging in heavy friendly fire. That winter, he would have been at Valley Forge experiencing the horrible cold, disease, and starvation that we read about in school. After six months, though, the army's effectiveness greatly improved under constant drilling lead by Generals von Steuben and Lafayette, and they were more successful at the Battle of Monmouth in the summer of 1778.

I'll certainly keep digging - there are many mysteries left to solve here. But it's exciting to have some proof in hand that, to quote George again:

...drawing conclusions from what came under our own observation and we know to be true, we may assume that that part of the family history which our fathers told is true also.

1 comment:

  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.