The James McMichael Journal, November 1, 1776–June 3, 1777

The War Years (1775-1783)

February 12, 2018
by Joseph Lee Boyle Also by this Author


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Editor’s Note: This is part two of a five-part series. Part one. Part three.

The portion of James McMichael’s journal covering November 1, 1776 through June 3, 1777 begins after his participation in the Battles of Brooklyn and White Plains.[1] McMichael participated in the “Long Retreat” from New York, across New Jersey, and into Pennsylvania. Along the way, he lamented the disease of “Barrell Fever” which infected inebriated soldiers, and he considered the capture of Maj. Gen. Charles Lee to be “doleful news.”

His spirits were invigorated when he re-crossed the Delaware into New Jersey to participate in the victories at Trenton and Princeton. Although these victories were considered relatively minor actions by the enemy, they were a great boost to the American morale. After some time with the army in New Jersey, he left on February 10, not rejoining again until March 15.

Without a doubt the most momentous event of this time period was his marriage to Susanna Vannoy at Lancaster on March 4, whom he had just met on February 25. The reader of the journal will find “My Dear Susanna” is frequently on McMichael’s mind.

Novr. 1st. This day we had a heavy Cannonade near Liberty Pole our loss was not much we cannot Learn the Loss of the Enemy—We now encamp in the woods having no Tents the weather extraordinary cold with hard Frost—

4th. Two Hessian Grenadiers were taken last night by our Scouting party and brought to Head-Quarters they inform us that their regt. was chiefly Cut off by the Riflemen at White plains in the battle the 28th. Ult.—

Nov. 6th The Enemy have Evacuated the lines and burnt part of White plains and have marched towards Kings Bridge which had been the cause of us now receiving marching orders for New-Jersey—

7th. We marched from our encampment at Noon and proceed to North-Castle where we Encamped.—

8th. We marched from North Castle at 6 oClock A.M. and proceeded thro’ Philips’s Vancourtland’s and Livingstons manor, the Country mountanious, the inhabitants tories—and of Consequence to us Disagreeable—We arived at Picks-Kill after Phebus had Visited the Land of the Hottentots—this is a commodious harbour on the East Side of Hudson’s River 60 miles from New-York. here we Encamped in a very disagreeable place where we suffered much with the Cold.—

Novr. 9th, Boats having been previously prepared for our Embarkation we Embarked at 10 oClock A.M. and Sail’d 5 miles Down Hudsons River and went a Shore at Lamb’s Landing and after marching 5 miles we Encamped—

10th. We marched from our Encampment at 10 oClock A.M. proceeded through Haverstraw, and to Clarks Town and Encamp’d on the plains—

11th We Evacuated Clarks Town at the beating of Revellie through Tappawn and encamp’d in the Woods, here the inhabitants are not so comely as those about Princeton-Brunswick or P. Amboy, but Scarcely any Tories amongst them—

12th We this morning proceeded on our Journey from Tappawn, through Scranburgh, New-Bridge and Arived at Hackinsack at 5 oClock P.M.

14th. We marched from Hackinsack over the Bridge on Passiac thence to a pretty little Town called Sackin River Situate on the North Bank of the River Passiac 3 miles North of Newark near to which we Encamped—

Nov 15th. Just when Aurora had vailed her face to the more bright beams of Phebus we left New-Ark and Proceeded to Elizabeth Town where we got to Quarters at 3 oClock P.M—

16th. We marched from Elizabeth Town at Noon through Wood-Bridge and Encamped near Boanem Town previous to our departure from Elizabeth we heard a heavy Cannonade at Fort Washington which we are Since informed of that the Enemy besieged it with their grand army and now has it in possession from the number of our troops stationed there Consisted of 2500 which have fallen in to their hands.

17th. Marched from Boanem Town to Brunswick where we arived at 2 oClock P.M—The Country from Clarks Town to Brunswick considerably handsome the inhabitans chiefly of a German Extraction—

Here our Soldiers Drank freely at Spirituos Liquor they have chiefly got an indisposition which at Camp is called the Barrell Fever it differs in its effect from any other Fevers its Concommitents are black Eyes and Bloody Noses, for my part being destitute of an agreeable Companion I betook myself to a Recluse life the remaining part of the Day—

Novr. 21st. We have now been informed that our troops have Evacuated Fort Lee, that the Enemy had landed 16000 Men at Dobbs Ferry and are advancing with ajility towards Hackinsack this occasioned marching Orders to be issued.

24. All Lord Stirlings Brigade (Except the Riflemen) have marched to meet the Enemy at New Ark.—

27th. We having recd. intelligence that the Enemy are comming towards Brunswick we are preparing to received them, but our Army now being reduced to a Small number gives us less hope of Victory.—

28th. In consequence of the Enemy being advancing an uncommon hurry now has took place in Brunswick the Tories now began to look upon us with a Disdainful Countenance Wishing the Enemy may Drive us Shortly Out of Town.—

30th. We now look hourly for the Enemy they being at Woodbridge—

Decr. 1st. The Enemy appeared in view at 1 oClock P.M. we were all under Arms on the Parade—Immediately a heavy Cannonade commenced on both Sides which continued an hour in which we had two killd we then recd. Orders to Evacuate the Town, and so proceeded towards Princeton and Encamped near Kingston.—

2nd. Just at Dawn of the morning the Genl. was beat when we all got ready and marched thro’ Kingston and at 8 oClock A.M. we arived at Princeton where we got to Quarters.—

This Town is Situate on the East side of a Small Hill it’s appearance somewhat beautiful: its adjacent inhabitants chiefly Tories—

4th. We now recd. undoubted intelligence that the Enemy is advancing which occasioned the inhabitants to remove their most valuable Effects to Penna. there to be Deposited.—

7th. We having paraded at 2 oClock P.M. we descryed the Enemy in Sight of Princeton when we recd. orders to Evacuate the Town and So proceeded to Trenton where we got to Quarters at 10 oClock P. M—This is a Small Town Situate on the Eastern bank of Delaware, 30 miles from Philada. 12 from Princeton & 10 from Bristol its appearance not handsom by reason of its irregular form—

Decr. 8th We paraded in Trenton at 4 oClock A.M. and at Dawn of the Day we crossed the ferry to Pennsylvania which was very agreeable to us Pennsylvanians to return to our native Country after so many difficulties as had formerly befallen us—at 4 oClock P.M. the Hessians appeared in view but were soon dispersed by Several messengers sent from an 18 Pounder of ours from the Pennsylvania Shore.—
here we remained in the Woods having neither Tents nor Blankets.—

9th. At 3 oClock P. M. we marched from our encampment near Trenton ferry proceeded to Thompson’s Mill, near Corrylls ferry where we Encamped our Quarters being the Woods the frost very hard—
Here we were Situate on the Bank of Delaware 33 miles from Philada. and 12 from Trenton—We thus remained for Several days without anything Occurring worthy of record The inhabitants are Quakers and means to maintain a Strict neutrality in the present unhappy Contest Subsisting between Great Britain and the United States of America—

Decr. 15th. We have this Day recd. the mournful intelligence that the Tories in New-Jersey have been the Cause of Major Genl. Lee being taken by the Enemy—this is doleful news at Camp tho’ we hope to repay their treachery at a future Period—

25th. We having recd. Glad news Viz marching orders we with undaunted fortitude paraded at Camp near Corrylls ferry Just when Phebus had discovered his Rays to the South of the Equator, vulgarly called Sun-down in N. Latd. and marched Down Delaware Crossed to New-Jersey at Mc.Conkey’s ferry at 9 oClock P.M—after a hesitation of some few hours at the ferry we proceeded to Trenton the Weather being uncommonly inclement

“The Battle of Trenton” from John Lossing, The Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution, 1851. (New York Public Library)

26th We arived at Trenton at 7 oClock A.M—when we began the Attack which continued till 9 oClock A.M. We drove then furiously, we killed and wounded upwards of 100 and took the remainder prisoners their number being 1014, our Loss was but trifling—We returned that day to the ferry at Mc.Conkey’s transported the prisoners to New-Town and after a Dreadful fatigue we arived at Camp, so having obtained a Comfortable Lodging I found Morpheus Got had possession of me and so, I betook my Self to my Silent rest—[2]

Decr. 29th. Having again recd. marching Orders we got ready at Dark and Marched from our Encampment we Crossed Yarley’s ferry at 10 oClock P. M. where we lodged, having neither house nor Tent the frost Excessive hard, and the Snow 6 inches Deep.

30th. We marched from Yarleys ferry at 8 oClock A. M. and proceeded to Trenton where we arived at 10—here we had the pleasure of Seeing 7 prisoners brought to Trenton with our Light horse which gave us to know that the the Enemy at Princeton consisted of 7.000 and that they intended to attack us in a few Days at Trenton—here we remained for 2 Days without any thing worthy of Record.—

Jany. 2nd 1777 We recd. acct. at 10 oClock that the Enemy were advancing; the Drums immediately beat to Arms—we were all paraded in the South Side of the Bridge—1000 Men under the Command of Major Genl. Sullivan were Detached in Front to bring on the attack which they Did and reached Town at 5 oClock P.M. but our Artillery plaid so furiously followed with our Rifles that the Enemy Retreated out of Town and Encamped on an adjacent Hill—
We continued firing Bombs till 7 oClock P.M.—when we were order’d to rest, which we very commodiously did upon a number of Rails for a Bed thus my fraend Captn. Marshal and I passed the night till 2 after 12 oClock.—

James Peale, The Battle of Princeton, ca. 1782. (Princeton University Art Museum)

Jany. 3rd. at 1 oClock we all paraded and marched for Princeton we arived at Stoney Brook at 9 oClock A. M. where we Descryed the Enemy Genl. Mercer with 100 Penna. Rifle men and 20 Virginians were detached in Front to bring on the attack—the Enemy then consisting of 600 paraded in an open field in Battle Array—we boldly marched within 25 Yards of them and then commenced the attack which was very hot—we kept up an incessant fire till it came to pushing of Bayonets, when we were ordered to retreat—here Genl. Mercer was mortally Wounded Col. Hazlet & Major Fleming both killed with 19 Rank and file and 60 Wounded—having retreated a Small distance we were reinforced when we immediately rallied and with the utmost precipitation we put them to the retreat—we killed 60 on the field, wounded 75 and took 215 prisoners—I cannot Omit reflecting on the kindness of providence with regard to me for in my right hand Sub division was 4 killed and 2 in that to my left and many wounde[d.] Thus having come off Victorious we immediately Evacuated Princeton proceeding thro’ Kingston we then Steered right for Somerset Corthouse where arived at 8 oClock P.M—[3]

Jany 4th We marched from the Courthouse at the time When those in the Latd. of 50º N. first discovers the beams of Phebus and Steered our Course for Pluckemin where we arived 3 oClock P.M—This Town is Situate on a Valley bounded on the North & East by a Chain of hills and on the South and West by a large Plain which Extends to Delaware—here we had the pleasure of Encamping on the North Side of a hill very well Supplied with large Stones which served us in stead of Pillows and thus we passed two Nights.—

6th. We marched from Pluckemin at 9 oClock A.M. and Steering for Morris Town we marched through Veal Town and arived at Morris Town at 5 oClock P.M—here we Encamped in the Woods with Snow on the Ground, and as Cold weather as I ever felt.

7th. I this morning got to good Quarters where I lived happily while we remained at Morris Town with very agreeable inhabitants—

Jany 8th Morris Town is Devoid of all beauty both in its form and Situation—the inhabitants very hospitable all professors of the Presbyterian Religion which rendered them to me very agreeable—

12th. We marched from Morris Town at 3 oClock P.M. and arived at Chatham at Dark—in the Suburbs of which we got to very agreeable Lodging where we found some beautiful Young Ladies very Amourous in their dispositions all Extremely fond of Soldiers but much more so of Officers—
Chatham is Situate on the Western bank of the River Passiack. the County Level the inhabitants true Whigs, chiefly Calvinists Here we remained enjoying every thing calculated to contribute happiness without any Occurrences worth of record for some days.

23rd We marched from Chatham at 4 oClock P. M and arived at Springfield at 6 oClock P.M where we got to Quarters. this Town is Situate in a pleasant Valley 5 miles from Chatham and 6 from Westfield—

24th. We marched from Springfield at 2 oClock A. M proceeded thro’ Westfield, Scotts plains and near to Quibletown were attacked by the Enem[y] their number being 600 with 3 field pieces Our number consisted of 350 Commanded by Colo. Buckner—but at the Commencement of the attack Colo. Buckner road off with precipitation which was to us a very great disadvantage however the ground was advantageous insomuch that we killed and wounded 70 of the Enemy with the loss of only 4 men slightly wounded after which we made Safe retreat and came to Quarters here we remained for some Days—[4]

29th. Marched to Elizabeth Town where we arived at 4 oClock P. M—where we got to Quarters here we remained two Days without any thing worthy of record

31st. We marched from Elizabeth Town at 10 oClock A.M. and proceeded through a Small Town called Connecticut farms, thence to Springfield and arived at Chatham at 3 oClock P.M—Here I got to my former Lodging where I was recd. with open Arms, and in great pleasure remained for Some days—

Feby. 10th Having now obtained a furlough I marched from Chatham at 7 oClock A. M. proceeding thro’ Baskin Ridge, and thro’ Pluckemin I took Lodging in The forks of Rariton in Bridge Water Township Somerset County but through the inclemency of the Weather was necessitated to remain at my lodging next day—

12th. Fired with anxious thoughts and impatient to see my old friends in York & Lancaster Counties, I marched from Quarters Just when Phebus had Guilded our Horrizon and by the time he had Clime to the meridian I was near Delaware—at 2 oClock P. M. Cross’d Corrylls ferry, then proceeding 7 miles right for Philada. I betook me Lodging.—here I lived comfortable in Company with some Officers from Maryland—

13th I departed for Philada. at 6 oClock A. M—and proceeding over Shammeny Bridge I reached the City at 4 oClock P. M. where I got into Compy. with my worth friend Captn. Jno. Clark.

Feby. 14th. This day I spent enjoying the Sweets of confabulation with Captn. Clark Lt. Boyd & Lieut. Hanna—Our Conversation dwelt chiefly upon the Fair sex how we should act at our return to Susquehanna—

15th: Having Provided a Vessal to transport us to Christiana Bridge Mr. Hanna & I Embarked at 6 oClock P.M. and so Sailed down Delaware—

16 Finding our Voyage wou’d be Tedious we put to Shore at Marcus Hook where we steered from—Making our Course for Little Britain and without any thing worthy On our Journey we reached Little-Britain the 18th at Dark where we took Quarters—

19th. I took my Departure for Peach bottom and thence to My Dear friend Mr. Mitchel where I arived with reciprocal Joy Just when Phebus had Visited the Southern Hemisphere

Feby. 20th. Having now arived Safe at my desired Haven I for many days lived very happy; but my progress here shall not be inserted in my Journal as it wou’d not contribute to the Embellishment thereof tho’ it was to me that happiest time I ever enjoy’d

Slate Ridge the 25th Feby. AD 1777 was the Day when first I behald the face of My Dear Susanna. In the evening I performed that Maneuver which [       ] the army call [       ] which went Antecedent to a sincere Courtship and afterwards ended in Matrimony.

March 4th. I Went to Lancaster and entered Bonds with Susanna Vetnoy formerly an inhabitant Near Prince Town West New Jersey and after remaining a few days I had to return to Slateridge Where I remained for Some days making preparation for returning to Camp with Captn. Clark

Mar. 14 I this morning took my Departure from Slate-Ridge and took leave of my friends which caused a reciprocal uneasiness and Directing my Course for Capn. Clark’s I with much Difficulty Crossed Peachbottom and Arived at the desired place at 8 oClock P.M—

15th. In Compy. with Captn. Clark I departed from Drumore at 1 oClock P. M—and Steering our Course for Philada. we arived there the 17th. at 9 oClock A. M. Nothing happened on the road worthy of Record—
Here we remained in Philada. making preparations for a march our Regt. being under marching Orders—

18th. At Noon we Embarked at Chesnut Street Wharf and having a favourable Voyage we came to Anchor at Billingsport at 9 oClock P. M—
Here I enjoyed every thing productive of time happiness: yet cou’d not be Comfortable by reason of being separated from the Compy. of the Dear Susanna in Consequence of which I Obtained a furlough in order to visit My own Susanna—

Aprl. 1st. I returned to Philada. and Directing my Course for Princeton proceeded thro’ frankford; Bristol, and Cross Delaware at Trenton ferry and ariving at Trenton at 5 oClock P. M. I betook me to Quarters—
here my anxiety was so much for a sight of My Dear Susanna, that Sleep departed from me—

2nd. I departed from Trenton when Phoebus had visited the inhabitants in 50º N. Latd. and steering my Course for the desired Haven I was blessed with a Sight of the desired object Viz My Susanna at 2 oClock P.M—where I remained for some days Enjoying the sweets of [Conjugal Affection]. ed. note crossed out.

Aprl. 7th But time having revolved to my thoughts very quick I now come to the Period of parting with My Dear Susanna, therefore at 11 oClock A. M. I had to depart taking leave of my friends—and accompanied by My Dear Susanna & Brother John we steered for Trenton where we Passed Some time in a Sorrowful manner being about to part. so advancing to the ferry we had the parting Salutation at 5 oClock P. M—when I crossed Delaware to Penna. whilst my Compy. returned Diametrically opposite so wishing them a pleasant ride I marched that night to Bristol where I betook myself to Lodging but passed the night in a Restless manner.—

8th. Just when Phoebus had brightned the day I departed from Bristol, and Steering my Course for Philada. I reached the City at Noon where I remained a few Days.—

Aprl. 11th Having now finished my Business in Philada. I Embarked at Chesnut Street Wharf at 8 oClock A. M. and being favoured with Wind and Tide I Landed at Billingsport at 10—where I again Joined my worthy friends at that place.—

16th. In Consequence of Genl. Orders Issued by Major Genl. Schuyler we were ordered to Evacuate Billingsport and go to Liberty Island and at Noon we Embarked and Came to an Anchor at the desired Haven Just when the Caffrerians Enjoy’s the beams of Phoebus—

17th We were this morning ordered to sail for Red-Bank and We Embarked at 10 oClock A. M—and arived at Red-Bank at Noon—We are now Situate on the Bank of Delaware on the Jersey Shore, 5 miles from Philada. Opposite Liberty Island, the inhabitants chiefly Quakers—Here we remained for Some days without any thing remarkable

Aprl. 22 A Detachment 1 Major 2 Captns 7 Subalterns (one of which I was) & 116 R. & F. were Ordered to Embark for Liberty Island—we reached our desired place at 2 oClock P. M.—This Island is about a mile in Circumference & Nearly in the form of an Elipsis its [Inverse] Diameter about 1/2 mile and the Conjugate 1/4 it is Situate in the River Delaware 5 miles below Philada here we remained for Some time without any thing Occurring worthy of Record, our habitation somewhat disagreeable by reason of bad Water, we having none but as we took out of the River—

Aprl 30 Having now recd New Commissions we proceeded to the Arangement of the officers when I was nominated a Subaltern to Captn. Clark—this was Transacted at Red-Bank after which we returned to Liberty Island in order to Arange the men next Day—

May 1 Just when the inhabitants of that part of the Temperate Zone in 40º No. Latd. participates of the Rays of Phoebus we Embarked at Liberty Island and after a passage of 30 minutes we arived at Red-Bank where we Aranged all our Regt. with Alacrity, after which 3 Companies (one of Which ours was) were Detached to Liberty Island—where we returned at 2 oClock P.M—Here we were entertained with a Harmonious Band of Music, and so passed the remainder of the Day in Civil Jolitry—

May 3rd. Having impatiently waited for intelligence from My Dear Susanna I was this morning favoured with an Amorous Epistle which exhillerates my Animal Spirits But at the same time my anxiety was much Enlarged for a sight of the Original hand that wrote it—
Every sentence thereof were so pleasing and so Calculated to render me happy that Language fails to express the Dictates of my mind upon that subject

15th. At Noon the allarm Guns Down the River were fired and Flags all Hoisted when after acting in the same manner we all paraded on the Platform where we waited ready for an attack untill all expectation thereof was gone we then passed the rest of the Day in Civil Jolitry (as Soldiers usually do) by expressing how bravely we shou’d have behaved had the Enemy attacked us

May 16th Having for some days been all in a fluctuating manner with regard to the Disagreeable appointment of Colo. Jno. Bull to the particular Command of the State Regt. we had a few officers Detached to the Board of War in Order that the Command might Devolve upon Lt. Colo. Lewis Farmer but upon their return their intelligence seemed to us to be disagreeable because it seemed the determinate opinion of the Board to Continue Colo. Bull to the Command which occasioned a rupture among the Officers—[5]
For my own part being passionately fond of my Dear Susanna, a Resignation was very agreeable shou’d it have the results of our procedure and hoping shortly to have my Desires accomplished I wrote the following verse.

I soon hope for to see my Dear Susanna,
All for to ease my troubled mind
Because to me she is more pleasing
Than all those of the Female kind—

May 25th At Noon the Alarm Gun was fired When the Drums beat to Arms the Liberty Flags all Hoisted and we in great spirits expecting a view of the Enemy which we were agreed to attack with Fortitude—
But after being under Arms till evening the alarm was buried in Oblivion whilst we returned to our Quarters and having seated myself I wrote the following Verse.—

Amidst alarms my Love is placed
On My Susanna, Dear
Whilst her sweet charms is by me traced
As well remote as Near—
But when the War is at and End
To visit her I do intend—
And with her spend the rest of life
For I hope she’ll prove a good Wife
I will to her a Loving husband prove
So that we remain in mutual Love

May 30th. Having some prospect of visiting my Susanna, Next Week I betook myself to Solitude which was to me very natural at that time but when Anticipating the pleasure which I promised myself with the Enjoyment of her allective Company I felt nearly restored to my Wonted health tho I had been for sometime considerably Indisposed—

I now thought I was in her Arms
And drown’d in bliss amidst her charms
And tho not Well yet I seem’d all alive
For pleasing thoughts did me revive
Then I thought were I but at Stonybrook
That on my Dear Susanna, I might look
Her smiles to me wou’d a Physician prove
We do each other admire with ardent Love
I will with speed a visit pay to she
Who of all others most pleasing is to me
That when her charms I do behold
Which are is if formed in a moald
I May be happy whilst I do Enjoy
Her truest love without the least annoy

May 31st At 5 oClock P.M. I embarked at Fort Mercer with an intent not to return Until made happy with a sight of the Dear Susanna And standing up Delaware, I reached Philada. Just when the inhabitants in 40º Latd. Enjoys the beams of Phoebus which with us in N. america is Sun Down Here I remained two Days waiting impatiently for a passage to Trenton.

June 2nd. At 7 oClock P.M. we weighed anchor at Chesnut Street Wharf and Sailing 5 miles up Delaware we came to An Anchor—

June 3rd. At 9 oClock A.M. we Hoisted Sail and Stood for Bristol where we came to An Anchor at 11 oClock—when after taking a refreshment with the officers of the 5th. P. R. I marched for Stony Brook and proceeding over Delaware I reached Trenton at 3 oClock P.M. and taking a refreshment I proceeded for the Desired Haven where I Arived Just when My Antipodes enjoys the Dawn of Aurora—where I had the Happiness of meeting with the Dear Susanna, Which filled my mind with all the Delights possibly able to flow from the transitory Enjoyments—Here I remain[ed] for Some Days—in a Continual Series of Pleasures Reciprcally enjoyd By Susanna and Me Whilst both coud have wished for a continuation of Such happiness—


[1] See Joseph Lee Boyle, ed., “The James McMichael Journal, May 27, 1776 October 29, 1776,” Journal of the American Revolution, February 5, 2018.

[2] McMichael’s casualty figures for the Hessians are slightly higher than the generally accepted figures.

[3] McMichael’s casualty figures are similar, but not the same as either Washington or Howe reported.

[4] This action actually occurred on January 23, it is was one of the many engagements fought in what David Hacket Fischer terms “The Forage War.” General orders on February 9, reporting results of a court marital the previous day, show that Col. Mordecai Buckner of the 6th Virginia Regiment, was accused of “Shamefully Misbehaving before the Enemy, in the Action of the 23rd of Jany last,” And of “Quitting his post and party in time of engagement”—have after mature consideration, sentenced the said Col. Mordecai Buckner, to be cashiered, and declared incapable of any military office, in the service of the United States. The General & Commander in Chief, approves the sentence, and orders the said Col. Mordecai Buckner, forthwith to depart the American Army.”

[5] On June 16, McMichael refers to a Memorial that was sent to the Pennsylvania Board of War. This does not seem to have survived.

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