Gerald Carbone: RI’s Revolution War Heroes Started It All

Saturday, November 09, 2013


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In honor of our Veteran's and Veteran's Day, Gerald Carbone reminds us of the brave service members who have helped earn and defend our freedom.

On Bunker Hill a cannon fired. The report of its blast traveled at the speed of sound over to Ploughed Hill, where 500 Rhode Island troops labored with picks and shovels to fortify against a British attack. The Rhode Islanders on Ploughed Hill must have heard the boom of that cannon; and it is likely that they ignored it.

The British guns on Bunker Hill had played on their position throughout the night of August 26, 1775, and the balls and bombs thudding around the Rhode Islanders had brought no harm. The slim silhouette of a man makes a small target for a grapefruit-sized projectile fired from more than a mile away.

As this cannon ball flew toward them, the Rhode Islanders on Ploughed Hill kept about their business of digging the earth and piling it high to form a breastworks. Among the working Rhode Islanders stood Augustus Mumford, an adjutant in one of the three Rhode Island regiments recently raised to lay siege to British-occupied Boston.

That cannon ball fired from Bunker Hill struck Augustus Mumford in the head. The impact of iron on bone left a headless corpse bleeding into the earth of Ploughed Hill. In that moment, Augustus Mumford entered history as the first Rhode Islander to die in service to the United States of America.

The sight of Mumford’s blood draining into the churned soil of Ploughed Hill turned this conflict from an abstract idea into a poignant reminder that the soldiers of the American Revolution were investing this idea with their flesh and bone and blood.

Mumford’s commander, and friend, General Nathanael Greene, was so moved by this, his first combat death, that he wrote home to his own wife: “My heart melts with pity, but dumb silence must speak my grief until I am in a situation to give scope to the natural sentiment of the human heart.”

Today, in a time of relative peace, we are in a situation where we can take time to give scope to the natural sentiment the human heart feels upon hearing of a good man’s grisly death.

On this Veteran’s Day it seems only right that we take time to give sentiment and thanks to a few of the many Rhode Islanders who risked their lives and suffered the bodily consequences so that a new republic could be born to supplant the rule of kings.

It is right, as Abraham Lincoln said at Gettysburg, that we take the time to remember Rhode Islanders such as:

Stephen Olney twice wounded in key battles of the Revolution.

“Monmouth Tom” Arnold, who limped around East Greenwich on a wooden leg after losing his leg of flesh-and-bone on the battlefield at Monmouth.

Bristol Rhodes of Providence, an enslaved African-American who won his freedom but lost his left arm and leg by enlisting in the war.

It is right, too, that we remember and thank some who were even less fortunate, men who lost their lives while in service such as Daniel Hitchcock, his lungs clogged with tuberculosis, took his last breath at Morristown, far from his Rhode Island home; and Christopher Greene, “Hero of Red Bank,” bayoneted as he stood with saber in hand, fighting off an ambush by Delancy’s Rangers at Croton on Hudson, New York on May 14, 1781.

It is only right that today, on the cusp of Veteran’s Day, that we take time to “give scope to the natural sentiment of the human heart” and remember their service and their sacrifice. It is right that we stop – to take a minute to give these men remembrance.

Gerald M. Carbone is the author of Nathanael Greene, and was a journalist for twenty-five years, mostly for the Providence Journal. He holds a Master's in Public Humanities from Brown University and has won two of American journalism's most prestigious prizes--the American Society of Newspaper Editors Distinguished Writing Award and a John S. Knight Fellowship at Stanford University. He lives in Warwick, Rhode Island.


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