Major Andrew McClary

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I occasionally encounter people who claim that freedom is an abstraction, and that they would never die for an abstraction.  That has never been the case in my family.  McClareys have fought in all the nation’s wars down to the present, and we have attempted to remember them beginning with the first, Andrew McClary, a man who has fascinated me since my father told me about him so long ago.

He is memorialized in the  above section of a painting  by John Trumbull and depicting, with artistic license, “The Death of General John Warren.”  The Major is shown raising his musket to brain a British soldier attempting to bayonet the dying Warren, a warlike action quite in character for him, and one which warms the cockles of my heart.  My wife has noted over the years how much I resemble Major Andrew, and it is intriguing how his facial features have been passed down through the generations of my family.

Born  in 1730 in Ireland, at an early age he emigrated to New Hampshire with his family.  He grew to six feet, a giant of a man for his time, jovial in disposition but always ready to fight if need be to defend his rights or the rights of those he loved.    The colonies were fortunate that quite a few men, like George Washington, who had served in the French and Indian War, were still in the prime of life and constituted a potential officer corps with, in many cases, combat experience, at the time when the Revolution began.  Major Andrew McClary was typical of these men.  After serving as an officer in Rogers’ Rangers during the French and Indian War, and singlehandedly throwing six British officers out of a tavern window during a loud “discussion” on a memorable evening, he had settled down as a farmer outside of Epsom, serving as a selectman of that town,  a member of the New Hampshire legislature, and, always, as an officer of the New Hampshire militia.  When news of Lexington and Concord reached him, he abandoned his plow, told his young family he was off to fight the British, and immediately marched off with a company of 80 militiamen to the siege lines around Boston. There he met up with his old friend from Rogers’ Rangers Colonel John Stark, who made McClary a major in his regiment of New Hampshire militia.

At the battle of Bunker Hill, Major McClary led the regiment onto Breed’s Hill, where the battle was fought on June 17, 1775.  The advance of the regiment was momentarily blocked by a gaggle of Massachusetts militia standing about on the road doing nothing.  That obstruction was removed when McClary yelled out that New Hampshire would like to borrow the road, if Massachusetts was not using it. (more…)

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Published in: on June 27, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Major Andrew McClary  
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John Trumbull and Bunker Hill

“These fellows say we won’t fight! By Heaven, I hope I shall die up to my knees in blood!”

Major General Joseph Warren to his men prior to the battle of Bunker’s Hill

A lecture by John Walsh, emeritus director of the J. Paul Getty Museum, on John Trumbull’s painting on the battle of Bunker Hill and its historical accuracy, or lack thereof.  The painting has always been a favorite in my household as it depicts my ancestor Major Andrew McClary of the New Hampshire militia.

Bunker Hill

Trumbull had witnessed the battle through field glasses, he was serving with the American army, although not with the portion fighting on Breed’s hill.  The painting shows the death of General Warren, and is entitled The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, June 17, 1775,  the painting having been commissioned by Warren’s family.  Trumbull squeezes into the painting almost everyone famous who fought in the battle, both Americans and British.  Major Andrew McClary is shown raising his musket to brain a British soldier attempting to bayonet the dying Warren, a warlike action quite in character for him, and one which warms the cockles of my heart.  My wife has noted over the years how much I resemble Major Andrew and it is intriguing how his facial features have been passed down through the generations of my family.

The scene depicted is not historical, but rather a tribute to General Warren by having his death the center of the action.  To us it seems a very romantic version of the grim reality, but Abigail Adams, who heard the battle from her farm and saw the aftermath of the wounded and dead American soldiers, found it so realistic when she saw it that she shivered with the memories of the fight it aroused in her.  To most of us moderns war is simple butchery and unless it is shown as such, we are almost offended.  To the men and women of Abigail Adams’ generation, at least the Patriots, they would have been offended by a painting that only remembered the death and carnage, they needed few reminders of that, but that ignored the heroism and sacrifice that ultimately prevailed against the odds and established a new nation. (more…)

Published in: on February 26, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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American Militia in the Revolution: Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill

Here once the embattled farmers stood,

And fired the shot heard round the world.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Part three of a series on militia in the American Revolution.  Go here and here to read the previous posts in the series.  On the eve of the Revolution the 13 colonies had no Army but they were not defenseless.  Their militias constituted a military force of uncertain power but they had a history as old as their colonies and they allowed the colonists to assume that as a last resort they would not be helpless against the British Army.  General Thomas Gage, the commander of the British garrison in Boston and the military governor of Massachusetts, viewed the militia as a constant threat to his forces, and it was his sending of a detachment of 700 troops to seize the militia arsenal at Concord that precipitated the American Revolution.

The battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775 demonstrated both the strengths and the weaknesses of the American militia system.  The initial clash at Lexington involved a standard militia unit of 77 men, not a picked minute man company.  The militia was under the command of Captain John Parker, a veteran of the French and Indian War.  Parker was in ill-health, suffering from tuberculosis, and some accounts indicate he was difficult to hear.  77 men of course stood no chance against 700 British regulars, and Parker seemed to regard his militia as making a political statement rather than actually attempting to stop the British.  Shots were exchange, who fired first is unknown.  The British swiftly brushed aside the fleeing militia and continued their march on Concord.  So far, so ineffective, as far as the American militia was concerned.

But the British did not simply have to deal with one company of militia at Lexington.  The entire country around Boston was up in arms, the word of the British foray spread by Paul Revere, William Dawes and other messengers, and the militia companies were assembling and marching to fight, convinced after the news of Lexington filtered out that the long-expected war had begun.

By the time the British reached Concord some 250 militia had assembled.  Realizing that he was outnumbered by the British, Colonel James Barret withdrew from Concord across the North Bridge and posted his men on a hill a mile north of the village where they could keep an eye on the Redcoats and were joined by reinforcing militia.

Smoke began rising from Concord as the British troops destroyed munitions.  The militia became restive asking their officers if they were to stand idle while Concord was burned to the ground by the “lobsterbacks”.  (Fire had spread to the Concord meetinghouse, but the British had joined in the bucket brigade that put out the fire.)  Seeing only approximately 95 British soldiers, Colonel Barret order his men to advance with muskets loaded, but not to fire unless fired upon.

As the militia advanced the British fired upon them and the militia fired back.  The heavily outnumbered British fled to a reinforcing column of Grenadiers coming from the center of two.  The Americans were astonished by all this, most of the men still surprised that an actual war had started.  Most of them withdrew back to the hill while others ran home, a real war being more than they had bargained for.

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Published in: on November 19, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Don’t Fire Until You See The Whites of Their Eyes!

The man behind the quotation that serves as the title of this post was William H. Prescott.  Born on February 20, 1726, Prescott served at the siege of Louisbourg in 1745.  In 1755 he participated in the taking of  Fort Beausejour on June 16 of that year.  As an experienced officer, Prescott was made a colonel of Massachusetts militia and placed in charge of the militia company in Pepperell, Massachusetts.  On June 17, 1775 he commanded the American forces at the battle of Bunker Hill.  One of the secrets of commanding relatively untrained men is to make your commands simple.  His statement about not firing until his men saw the whites of the eyes of the British troops was to make certain that they did not waste their ammunition, which was in short supply, and it worked.  During the three charges of the British the Americans held their fire until the British were close enough so that their vollies would have maximum effect.  General Thomas Gage who was observing the American position prior to the battle with a spyglass.  Noting that Prescott  seemed to be in command, he asked his aide who knew Prescott whether he thought the Americans would fight.  The aide replied:  “Prescott is an old soldier, he will fight for as long as a drop of blood is in his veins.”   Prescott and his men, although ultimately driven from the hill, and sustaining 450 American casualties, of which 140 were killed, inflicted 1,054 casualties, including 226 dead on the British.

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Published in: on May 17, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Don’t Fire Until You See The Whites of Their Eyes!  
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Battle of Bunker Hill

The Battle of Bunker Hill, June 17, 1775, was a very important battle.  It was a shot in the arm to American morale, and well it should have been.  Raw American militia had stood and faced two charges from the cream of the Royal Army and only retreated due to lack of ammunition.  In exchange for 450 American casualties, of which 140 were killed, the Americans inflicted 1,054 casualties, including 226 dead.  (more…)

Published in: on July 26, 2010 at 5:28 am  Comments (3)  
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