Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Heroism of Simple Service: Caleb Ward, 1775

Caleb Ward signature, 1833[1]

Caleb Ward, a twenty-one-year-old unmarried Massachusetts farmer, seemed a prime candidate to respond to the Lexington Alarm on 19 April 1775.  His home, Ashfield, a farm community in the far northwest of Massachusetts, provided men for Capt. David Cowden’s company of Minute Men.  The recruits marched some one hundred twenty-five miles to Cambridge and joined the Regiment of Col. Benjamin Ruggles Woodbridge.[2]  But Caleb was not among them.

He felt compelled to explain, years later, that he had been unable to go “on the account of bodily infirmity.” A couple weeks later, in early May, healthy and sound, he enlisted for eight months with the Massachusetts militia.[3]  Or maybe he enlisted on 17 June, as his muster roll reports, responding to word that the British were moving out into the country after the Battle of Bunker Hill.[4]  Caleb arrived in Cambridge about 20 June and joined Lieut. Robert Hamilton and Capt. Cowden in the newly designated Continental Army commanded by General George Washington.[5]

Boston Harbor [“Haffn von Boston”], lower right; Prospect Hill, upper left with diamond redoubt; and barracks of the American Army to the southwest of Prospect Hill[6]

Like most of the militia, Caleb had no formal military training or experience.  He was a farmer accustomed to shooting game for food and to manual labor, chopping, digging, hauling, and carrying heavy loads.  At Cambridge he learned the soldier’s regimen, described by a contemporary writer:
New orders from [Gen. Washington] are read to the respective regiments every morning after prayers.  The strictest government is taking place, and great distinction is made between officers and soldiers.  Every one is made to know his place, and keep in it, or be tied up and receive thirty or forty lashes, according to his crime.  Thousands are at work every day from four till eleven o’clock in the morning.  It is surprising how much work has been done.  The lines are extended almost from Cambridge to Mystic River…[7]

The soldiers building fortifications for the siege of Boston certainly included Caleb Ward.  He was stationed with Col. Woodbridge’s regiment at the foot of Prospect Hill, where entrenchments had already begun the night of the Battle of Bunker Hill.[8]  Prospect Hill’s defense continued in earnest with the building of impregnable ramparts.  Caleb’s regiment was one of the eight that provided a daily crew of half a regiment to work on the fortifications.[9]  These young men did not know the business of being a soldier, but they did know manual labor.

Prospect Hill fortifications[10]

Caleb was a sixth-generation American subject of the British crown supporting his fellow Americans in protesting the wrongs of a tyrannical government.[11]  They fought for representation in Parliament and reduction of the colonies’ burden of paying for the empire’s wars.  Freedom from Great Britain and establishing a new sovereign nation were not the issues at the time, only righting perceived wrongs.  Caleb joined the Massachusetts militia to protest tyranny over his colony and its effects on his family and friends, all American colonists.

Ashfield, a town of six hundred, supplied one hundred soldiers over the course of the war.  In 1775, the town voted to make the coats the town was assigned to provide and sent to Albany to procure guns and ammunition for the war effort.[12]  Caleb’s response followed that of his townsmen.  It was his duty.

Caleb marched, and he waited; he built earthworks, and he waited.  Everyone waited for action, but no further battles took place in Boston.  When Caleb’s military commitment ended at the end of 1775, the British still held Boston, and the Americans still held it under siege, all waiting.

The next year America declared independence from Great Britain, transforming the war into one for national sovereignty.  The war ended, and Caleb and his compatriots became citizens of the United States of America.  His marching and digging and building may seem insignificant acts in an endeavor remembered for valor and heroism in battle and diplomacy.  Joined with the large and small roles of many thousands of others, his actions contributed to winning the war.  Nearly sixty years later, recollecting his Revolutionary War service, Caleb Ward claimed no heroism but said simply, “I served my Country.”[13] 

[1] Caleb Ward (Private, Capt. Cowden’s Co., Col. Woodbridge’s Reg., Mass. militia, Revolutionary War), pension no. 30,775; Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files; Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D. C.; from NARA microfilm publication no. M804, roll 2487; FHL microfilm 972,487.
[2] Frank A. Gardner, “Col. Ruggles Woodbridge’s Regiment,” The Massachusetts Magazine: Devoted to Massachusetts History, Genealogy, Biography, 4 (January 1911): 29-42, 82-95, on 29, 32; digital images, Internet Archive ( : accessed 2 July 2013).
[3] Caleb Ward, pension no. 30,775.
[4] Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, microfilm publication M881 (Washington, DC: NARA), roll 045, index card for Calab [sic] Ward, no. 37099776, Woodbridge’s Massachusetts Regiment, 1775; digital images, Fold3 ( : accessed 3 July 2013).  Also, Richard Frothingham, History of the Siege of Boston, and of the Battles of Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill, (1851; 6th ed., Boston: Little, Brown, 1903), 207; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 2 July 2013).
[5] Caleb Ward, pension no. 30,775.
[6] Chevalier de Beaurain, Carte von dem Hafen und der Stadt Boston mit den umliegenden Gegenden und der Lägern sowohl der Americaner als auch des Engländer [Map of the Harbor and City of Boston with the Neighboring Regions and the Encampments of the Americans as well as of the English] (Leipzig: Johann Carl Müllerischen Buch und Kunsthandlung, 1776?); digital image, Library of Congress, “The American Revolution and Its Era: Maps and Charts of North America and the West Indies, 1750-1789,” American Memory ( : accessed 29 June 2013).
[7] Gardner, “Col. Ruggles Woodbridge’s Regiment,” 221, citing Rev. William Emerson.
[8] Caleb Ward, pension no. 30,775; Gardner, “Col. Ruggles Woodbridge’s Regiment,” 33.  Also, Frothingham, History of the Siege of Boston, 210, 211.
[9] Frothingham, History of the Siege of Boston, 211.
[10] Plan of the Rebels Works on Prospect-Hill [bibliographic information unavailable at this writing]; digital image, Library of Congress, “The American Revolution and Its Era: Maps and Charts of North America and the West Indies, 1750-1789,” American Memory ( : accessed 4 July 2013).
[11] Charles Martyn, The William Ward Genealogy: The History of the Descendants of William Ward of Sudbury, Mass., 1638-1925 (New York: Artemas Ward, 1925), 3, 65, 77, 89, 112, 163; digital images, Harvard University Library, Page Delivery Service ( : accessed 28 June 2013).
[12] Frederick G. Howes, History of the Town of Ashfield, Franklin County, Massachusetts, from its Settlement in 1742 to 1910; also a Historical Sketch of the Town Written by Rev. Dr. Thomas Shepard in 1834 (Ashfield, Mass.: the town, ca. 1910), 227, 230; digital images, Internet Archive ( : accessed 26 June 2013).
[13] Caleb Ward, pension no. 30,775.

© 2013 Judy Kellar Fox, 9395 SW 190th Ave., Aloha, OR 97007-6733;

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