Friday, July 3, 2020

Once, twice, three times a Patriot - the service of Ezekiel Sanford in the Revolutionary War

Several years ago, I learned one of my ancestors, Ezekiel Sanford, had served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. I was ecstatic, because his service and my relationship to him enabled me to join the Sons of the American Revolution. I learned that he enlisted three times over the course of the war, and was at one point promoted to corporal, and had possibly served under Benedict Arnold (before his infamous defection). Every month at my SAR meetings, everyone introduced themselves and named the patriot (or one patriot, if they had more than one) that they were descended from and a little about them. I was proud to name Ezekiel and state that he enlisted three times from the state of Connecticut, but that's about all I knew about his service.

This year, in connection with the Fourth of July, I decided to finally learn more about Ezekiel's service, and go beyond the one or two sentences I already knew. I've had the documents for years, I've just never really tried to organize the info in them into a meaningful record of his service. Once I did, my view of his service was forever changed. Here's what I found.

Ezekiel had been married for about 10 years and was about 30 years old when the Revolutionary War began in 1774. The following year, 1775, he was one of thousands of men from Connecticut who enlisted to serve in the 5th Company of the 1st Regiment of Connecticut. The regiment was under the command of Col. David Wooster, and 5th Company was originally under Benedict Arnold. However, Arnold did not serve with 5th Company, as around the time the 5th Company was being organized, Benedict Arnold was issued a colonel's commission and sent to Canada to take Fort Ticonderoga. Instead, 5th Company was captained by Caleb Trowbridge, who was Ezekiel's commanding officer during his first enlistment. A few weeks after the unit was organized, they were sent to Boston to participate in the siege of that city by American troops under the command of George Washington. It amazes me to think that Ezekiel could have seen and heard George Washington while helping drive the British out of Boston. As far as I can tell, he saw no military action besides the siege, and almost his entire unit was discharged on 20 December 1775.

1775 map of the Siege of Boston, courtesy of Wikipedia. 

The following year, 1776, Ezekiel enlisted again on 15 April, and was assigned to Captain David Smith's Company in Colonel Samuel Elmore's Battalion. His company was stationed at Fort Stanwix (rebuilt and renamed Fort Schuyler that year), and as far as I know did not see any battles that year. The Declaration of Independence was signed that summer, and I think he might have heard it read while he was stationed at the Fort. I wonder what he thought when he heard they were no longer fighting for their rights as British citizens, but for freedom and independence as Americans. He must have believed in the cause, as he stuck with it. Towards the end of the year, Ezekiel was promoted to Corporal on 16 December, and was discharged a month later on 13 January 1777.

Fort Stanwix, courtesy of Wikipedia. 

Two months later, Ezekiel enlisted for the third time, this time for a period of three years! He began his service as a corporal on 31 March 1777, and was again assigned to Captain David Smith's Company, now part of Col. John Chandler's regiment. He remained with this unit for the remainder of his time in the army. I still need to find where they were for most of 1777, but I do know they participated in the battle of Germantown on 4 October 1777. This battle turned out to be very important, as it helped convince France to support the U.S. in the Revolution against Britain. It's awesome to think my ancestor played a part, however small, in something so signficant. In the map below, Ezekiel's company was part of the unit commanded by Gen. Nathaniel Greene.

Battle of Germantown, courtesy of Wikipedia. 

Shortly after surviving Germantown, Ezekiel's unit went with Washington's army to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. I don't know how much time Ezekiel spent there, as he was marked sick in hospital from December to March. I wonder what he was ill with, and what hospital conditions were like there. But he went back to active duty with his unit early in the spring of 1778. He would likely have been trained in the techniques introduced by General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben. This training helped Washington's army perform as well as it did in the Battle of Monmouth in New Jersey, in which Ezekiel participated as part of the forces commanded by Gen. Charles Lee. This battle was huge for a number of reasons - it solidified Washington's place as the father of this country, it ruined the politcal aspirations of Charles Lee, who had long sought to replace Washington as overall leader of the American forces, and it also saw the remarkable service of Molly Pitcher, who famously carried water to the troops and took up firing an artillery piece after her husband was wounded. It's incredible to think he was there, and saw some of these things happen in person, and lived through it.

From what I read in his service and pension records, that was the last time he saw combat. He remained with his unit through the rest of 1778, and got a few weeks' furlough in August and November that year, and again in February of 1779. He again fell sick in March 1779, and was out for at least part of March and April. He was back on active duty in May, and was discharged for the final time on 7 June 1779 due to health reasons as he had only completed two of the three years he had signed up for in 1777.

Forty years after his service in the Revolution, he was again in ill health and poor living conditions. He applied for and received a pension, which helped support him for the last 10 years of his life. His pension file contained many of the details of his service I've described above, and I'm so grateful he lived long enough to apply for and receive this pension. He apparently died in New York in the 1830s, somewhere around the age of 87 (his headstone says 1833, but it's a new stone, and some older records say 1831).

Ezekiel Sanford's headstone, courtesy of Findagrave. 

After learning all this about his service, I am more impressed than ever with the quality of men and women who helped found this country. The fact that he not only served, but he enlisted again and again, and only left the service because his health had deteriorated too much shows he really put his all into helping found and preserve this country. The Savior said "greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:12). I think that applies, at least to some degree, to the men and women of our armed forces who knowingly risk their lives, and in many cases sacrifice them, for their friends, neighbors, and countrymen. We owe it to them to remember those sacrifices and honor them. So thank you Ezekiel, for your service and sacrifice. Your service helped found and establish the greatest nation on earth.

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