by Elaine Marie Cooper
As we pause this week to remember the sacrifices and bravery of our veterans of war, it seems fitting to recall those veterans who were there at the beginning of our country. They are the men (and women) who helped birth this nation. They are the heroes of both yesterday—and today.
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It all began at the Lexington green on April 19th, 1775. It was a beautiful spring morning but it quickly turned into a day of terror in that small Massachusetts town. Eight Minutemen were shot and killed there, "the first victims to the sword of British tyranny and oppression."
A short distance away in the town of Concord, the British troops marched onward, looking for hidden gunpowder and arms. Instead of finding these, the King's army discovered a well-armed band of Minutemen, mere farmers by trade, fighting back.
Startled by the resistance, the British troops retreated back toward Boston. But on the way, they encountered more resistance as the troops were picked off one-by-one. The Minutemen, armed with the skills developed through years of fighting native Americans, hid behind stone walls and trees, attacking the weary British troops. Reinforcements from Boston helped the King's Army re-group. Outraged by the colonist's attacks, the war broke into the worst battle of the day in Menotomy Village, six miles west of Boston. More Americans and British were killed in that community than any other that first day of the war. Here is the monument to Jason Russell and ten other Minutemen killed in Menotomy Village.
The war was just beginning and soon spread throughout New England and New York. One battle occurred in Oriskany, New York on August 6, 1777. General Nicholas Herkimer led a brave group of American soldiers into an intense battle which resulted in great loss of life. The general himself died a few days later. An incredible monument on his estate in Little Falls, New York, gives honor to his memory.
Some soldiers survived battles and lived to tell their children about the tales of war. Solomon Peirce was one. He was wounded at the Battle of Lexington and fought at Bunker Hill. His gravestone is engraved with the words, "Patriot sires teach civic virtue to their sons."
Then the great turning point of the war occurred in 1777: The Battle of Saratoga. Under British General John Burgoyne, a plan was attempted to divide the colonies and defeat the Americans once and for all. That was the plan. But once again, by God's grace, the King's Army was thwarted in their efforts. And on the fields of colonial farmers in eastern New York Colony, heroes were born.
One of them, Thaddeus Kosciuszko, came all the way from Poland in 1776 to help with the American cause. His military training in his homeland helped prepare him to mastermind the key British defeat in Saratoga.
Timothy Murphy was the son of Irish immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania. As an adult, he became an expert marksmen, which qualified him to join Daniel Morgan's riflemen. His monument on the fields of Saratoga was dedicated by the Ancient order of Hibernians of Saratoga County. The granite memorial reads: "A celebrated marksmen of Colonel Morgan's rifle corps whose unerring aim turned the tide of battle by the death of the British General Fraser on October 7, 1777."
A beautiful memorial in Saratoga commemorates the numerous unknown American soldiers who perished in the battles of Saratoga. They were honored by this monument provided by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1931, in celebration of the bicentennial of George Washington's birth.
In 2009, I was escorted to a very special veteran's memorial by a local historian in western Massachusetts. When this historian was a young boy, he had followed a man deep into the woods of Williamsburg, Massachusetts and watched the man chisel words onto a large, triangular stone. The inscriber was the great grandson of a British soldier who had fought under General Burgoyne at the Battle of Saratoga.
Years before, this great grandson had been escorted to the site by the son of the soldier, who returned to visit his birthplace.
The inscription on the memorial, still easily visible when highlighted by chalk, reads this: "Site of log cabin built by Daniel Prince, a Burgoyne vet." At the very top, was the Union Jack.
And as I visited this memorial to a veteran, I was overwhelmed with the deep family connection to the man who left the King's Army in 1777 and decided to become an American. Daniel Prince. My fourth great grandfather. It was an unforgettable moment, difficult to put into words—even for an author.
He may not have been a hero to America. But he will always be a hero to me.
Elaine Marie Cooper is the author of Fields of the Fatherless, as well as the soon-to-be-released, Bethany's Calendar.