During the American Revolution children were no strangers to the realities of war, but some would find themselves in the very center of the action. One such case was that of Daniel Granger who began his service in the Continental Army at the age of thirteen. While sending sons and apprentices as substitutes upon receiving a draft notice was not unheard of, Granger’s substitution was different. He was intended only as a temporary substitute for his enlisted brother, Jacob Granger, who was serving on Winter Hill in Somerville, Massachusetts, but had become seriously ill during the winter of 1775. In December Daniel’s parents sent him to bring Jacob home but suggested that if the officers approved, and his brother could manage to ride on his own, the younger Granger should offer to serve in his brother’s stead.
It would take the elder Granger roughly two months to sufficiently recover and in that time Daniel would participate in the daily routines of the encampment as a member of his brother’s mess—the group of soldiers that camped and dined together. He would fulfill the duties and responsibilities of an enlisted soldier, experience the hardships of military life, and see first hand the humor and camaraderie that helped get the men and boys through those hardships. Winter Hill lived up to its name; on top of fulfilling their duties in extreme cold the soldiers had to make their own shelters while barracks were still being built. Fortunately for him, his brother’s mess had carved out for themselves a comfortable place to stay, having dug into the side of the hill and built up a covering of timber and boards. They had even provided themselves with straw bedding, a fireplace complete with chimney, and a door. This little “Den” earned them the name “Mess of Cubs.” Their den was apparently so well made that Granger’s memoir conveys a sense of disappointment recalling the completion of the official barracks; they were “obliged to quit the den” and move into the barracks which were never so warm as their den had been.
Though Daniel Granger was more than likely among the youngest soldiers on Winter Hill he was still welcomed among them, making a place for himself as a friend and one of the “cubs” as well as a commendable soldier. One evening the thirteen year old was posted as a sentry at night and proved himself a level headed soldier despite his youth. Another guard fired his gun at what turned out to just be shifting ice, and fled his post. When other soldiers heard the shot and came to investigate, Granger explained what happened based on the sounds he heard. The soldiers commended Granger as “a brave fellow” and were astonished that he “should be there so young.” While his age was a surprise to other soldiers he was not the only youth to be brought into the war. Granger would in fact cross paths with others boys serving and would even develop a camaraderie that transcended sides of the war.
After his brother returned to take his place again, Daniel Granger remained at home until September 1777 when recruiters sought out volunteers to help confront a British army in what would be the battle of Saratoga. Granger along with a “goodly number of young and spirited fellows” joined to serve the cause. After getting settled in his troop’s barracks Granger was walking the grounds in the evening and came upon a guardhouse holding a number of British prisoners. Among them “was a Son of one of the Officers, about 14 years of age” with a lieutenant’s commission. At this time Granger was about fifteen, making the two only a year apart. Perhaps this closeness of age and shared experience of entering the war so young were factors in why Granger came to talk with him “a good deal.” He found the other boy to be “much grieved,” and polite, quite a contrast from the other prisoners who Granger described as irritable and gruff. To say they became friends may be a bit of a stretch. The lieutenant and other prisoners were soon brought elsewhere, his fate unknown to Granger. However he clearly did feel sympathy for the other’s circumstances, taking note of the desperation for provisions that had brought the opposing soldiers out to forage, leading to their capture. Granger even recalled feeling pity for him, specifically stating that he “could not release him” despite that pity. Though he would not betray his own cause and fellow soldiers by releasing an enemy, the inclusion of that thought in his memoirs suggests it at least crossed his mind.
Though their interaction was brief it clearly made an impression on Granger. His account gives no reason for this feeling but the nearness of their ages; that both had entered the war through family connections may have provided a common ground for them. If Granger ever asked the young officer’s name he never mentioned it in his memoir. There was a British officer on the campaign who fit Granger’s description fairly well: George Williams was the nephew of a British officer and was promoted to a commissioned rank despite his youth, underscoring the dire need for officers on a desperate campaign. Williams, like Granger, began his career at a surprisingly young age, joining the Northern Campaign in America in 1777 at the age of twelve.
Williams would not be the last British opponent Daniel Granger found himself on good terms with. After Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga, Granger was among those assigned to guard the British prisoners. While he described the surrendered soldiers in general as “cross and impudent,” when he went into their guarded camp he became “acquainted with several young Lads of about my Age.” He was as pleased with this group—who were probably children of British soldiers rather than soldiers themselves—as they were with him, so much so that they all agreed that “we were no longer Enemies.” Granger talked and even traded with them, clearly having no objections to at least be amicable with his former enemies turned prisoners.
Daniel Granger is just a single example of the various young people who entered into the Revolutionary War but his experiences do provide insight to what the warfront may have been like for boy soldiers. His reflections on his experience in the Revolution highlight the human aspects of the soldiers. In addition to the sympathy and even casting aside of animosity with the British forces, Granger also shared anecdotes that remind us that he, and many of the other soldiers fighting for the Revolution, were ordinary men and boys. He recalls himself and other boys finding ways to enjoy themselves and break from the set military routines and difficult conditions. The son of a major in the regiment, serving as his father’s waiter, was always welcome in their room “for the sake of his fun & wit” and often entertained the other soldiers with his “roguery.” In fact Granger himself enjoyed some mischief making. His memoirs mention a particular fellow soldier “on whom I loved to play roughish tricks.” He described one such prank: when the regiment was ordered to ground arms—each man laying his musket on the ground in front of him—Granger snuck around, took the other soldier’s gun, and moved it to the back of the company, leaving the other soldier in confusion when he went to retrieve his weapon, after which “all that saw it to bust into a broad Laugh.”
Finding amusement during drills and duties was not an unusual occurrence. Even officers were not immune to moments of humor from the young men serving under them. Granger recounted a running joke around his regiment’s sergeant-major named Bell. Knowing that they were expected to respond and be ready promptly when the sergeant-major summoned them for guard duty, the men would comment “there is the Bell, don’t you hear the Bell?” whenever he started rapping on doors and calling out a “halloo.” Even disciplinary moments could be sprinkled with humor, such as the time an officer called on Granger to help apprehend a “cleverly drunk” soldier for fighting and causing a disturbance. While being led to the guardhouse the prisoner slipped in a puddle and the irritated officer questioned why he fell there. The prisoner’s response that he “hadn’t a chance to chuse a better” earned a great deal of laughter from the others.
Granger also understood the significance of the events he was living through. After his 1777 tour was over, he enlisted once again, this time as a musician, and was stationed in Fort Arnold, the main fortification at West Point on the Hudson River. This was right when Benedict Arnold was preparing to hand West Point over to the British. When Major Andre was captured and Arnold’s treachery revealed, the potential threat to Granger and his fellow soldiers was very real. With Arnold successfully escaping to the British lines, most of the Continental Army expected an attack on the ill-prepared West Point at any moment. As a precaution the men standing guard were increased, calling on even those who were not regularly men-at-arms. Granger was given a pike and stood among those in the lines all through the night. Afterwards, no one stopped him from taking the pike with him upon being relieved; he cut off the handle and polished the pike “smooth & sharp, at the Edges and Point,” keeping this piece as a “Memorial” of what happened at West Point and Arnold’s treason.
The memoir of Daniel Granger provides an impressive look at the variety of ways that individuals could serve in the Revolutionary War as well as the day-to-day experiences and conditions for soldiers. Though some memories may be skewed by the passage of decades and hindsight, Granger’s account does reveal what encounters and experiences stuck with him through the years. His camaraderie with his fellow soldiers that he fought alongside and joked with in camp, and the human vulnerabilities and shared experiences he saw among his British counterparts, stood out in his memory even decades later. His reflections serve as a reminder that the Revolutionary soldiers were real, often youthful, men and boys. They showed courage and dedication but they also sought release from monotonous and often harsh conditions by the same means young people always have, joking, making friends, claiming souvenirs, and finding those who could relate to the same experiences.
M.M. Quaife, “A Boy Soldier Under Washington: The Memoir of Daniel Granger,” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 16, no. 4 (1930): 539, www.jstor.org/stable/1896544. Granger composed his recollections late in life, completing them in 1848 at the age of 86. According to the editor, “Notwithstanding this lapse of time between the occurrence and the recording of the events described, the author has imparted to his story a degree of vividness seldom encountered in an old man’s relations; and the reader will search long for a more intimate picture of the homely details of the life of a common soldier in the American Revolution.”
“George Williams,” www.62ndregiment.org/George_Williams.htm.