Title: Henry Burbeck papers
Creator: Burbeck, Henry, 1754-1848 Inclusive dates: 1735, 1775-1866 Bulk dates: 1802-1813 Extent: 3 linear feet Abstract:
The Henry Burbeck papers consist of military and personal correspondence of Brigadier General Henry Burbeck, a career artillery officer in the United States Army (1775-1784, 1786-1815). The papers include Burbeck's incoming correspondence; drafts of outgoing letters; and returns, muster rolls, and other items submitted to Burbeck by officers under his command. The collection is particularly strong in its documentation of the administration and development of the artillery branch of the United States Army in the decade leading up to the War of 1812.
Language: The material is in English and French Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave. The University of Michigan Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190 Phone: 734-764-2347 Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu
Henry Burbeck was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on June 8, 1754, the son of William Burbeck (1715-1785) and his second wife Jerusha Glover Burbeck (1722-1777). His father served in the Ordinance Department of the Royal Artillery at Old Castle William, Boston Harbor, in the years leading up the American Revolution. In 1775, at the age of twenty, Henry Burbeck joined Captain and Brevet-Major Amos Paddock’s Chartered Provincial Artillery Company. When news of the skirmish at Lexington reached Boston, he left the city for Cambridge and joined a volunteer company of artillerists commanded by Captain Jotham Horton. Burbeck received his first commission on May 19, 1775, as Lieutenant in the Massachusetts Artillery Regiment under the command of Colonel Richard Gridley.
Burbeck was promoted to First Lieutenant on January 1, 1776, and he served at the Siege of Boston until the British evacuated the area in March 1776. He marched to New York in April and served there until the Americans fled the city on September 15, 1776. He assisted in the defense of the Hudson Highlands while attached to Brigadier-General Samuel Holden Parson’s brigade. Burbeck became Captain-Lieutenant of the Massachusetts Artillery on January 1, 1777, but served only a short time before receiving orders to join the main Continental army under the command of General George Washington. He was promoted to Captain on September 12, 1777, and assumed the command of the Third Continental Artillery Regiment. Burbeck fought in the battles at Brandywine, Germantown, and Whitemarsh. He was present at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-1778.
Burbeck pursued Sir Henry Clinton through New Jersey in 1778, and fought at the Battle of Monmouth. He served in the New York and New Jersey campaigns of 1779 and 1780, and spent 1781 to 1783 in defense of the Hudson Highlands. On September 30, 1783, he earned a promotion to Major by brevet. He was present on November 25, 1783, when the city of New York was reclaimed by the Americans. Burbeck then served at West Point until his honorable discharge on January 1, 1784.
Burbeck was re-commissioned as Captain of Artillery on October 20, 1786, under Major John Doughty. He commanded at West Point from August 1787 to August 1789. He then marched with his company to Georgia to serve as a guard for commissioners appointed to treat with the Creek Nation. The treaty failed to materialize and Burbeck returned to West Point. Captain Burbeck returned to Georgia in April 1790, oversaw the construction of Fort St. Tammany, and served as commandant of the post until June 1792. On November 4, 1791, Burbeck was appointed Major Commandant of the Battalion of Artillery. Upon leaving Georgia in June 1792, Burbeck became Chief of Artillery, attached to Major-General Anthony Wayne’s Western Army.
On December 23, 1793, Wayne commanded Burbeck to proceed to the site of St. Clair’s defeat to erect a fort on the former battleground and to recover any remaining ordnance. Burbeck promptly built the fort, which was fittingly named Fort Recovery. He managed to recover artillery pieces that had been abandoned during the battle and buried approximately two hundred bodies of American soldiers that had been killed there in 1791. Burbeck participated in the American victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers on August 20, 1794.
Burbeck’s service in the Northwest continued: in response to the terms of Jay's Treaty, he sailed to Fort Mackinac to receive it from the British garrison in September 1796. Following the discharge of Colonel Rochefontaine in May 1798, Burbeck received an appointment as Lieutenant Colonel. Burbeck remained at Mackinac until he assumed command at Detroit, where he arrived on November 17, 1799. Around eight months later, he received orders to return to Washington and take command of the Eastern Division of the army.
Henry Burbeck helped to establish a separate Regiment of Artillerists during the dramatic reduction and restructuring of the Army in March 1802. Burbeck was promoted to Colonel on April 1, 1802, and he served as Chief of Artillery until his retirement in 1815. During the remainder of his career, Burbeck visited or established headquarters at many different military posts.
Burbeck assumed command of Detroit for the second time in June 1803, before moving to Fort McHenry at Baltimore in 1804. In 1805, Senior Officer of the Army James Wilkinson appointed Burbeck as commander of "the troops and garrisons east of the mountains, of those on the lakes and their waters, of South West Point and Fort Wilkinson." Burbeck does not appear to have ventured west with Wilkinson and he remained stationed in Washington until he received orders in August 1808 to return to Detroit. Burbeck was not pleased: "many must have been my sins or crimes and manifold has been my transgression, or I should never have been sent to this remote post" (Burbeck, November 26, 1808)
Before embarking on the Brig Adams , which would take him to Detroit, Henry Burbeck stayed over a month at Fort Niagara, writing that "it is in an intire [sic] state of ruin" but that "the police, discipline and dress of this Garrison is properly attended two [sic]" (Burbeck, September 29, 1808). Burbeck arrived in Detroit on October 27, 1808, and felt much the same: "the dirtiest place…I most ever saw" (Burbeck, December 4, 1808).
Burbeck’s time in Detroit proved to be short; he was ordered back to the eastern seaboard in the spring of 1809. After his arrival in Boston in August of 1809, he began a tour of the forts in the northeast with the newly appointed Secretary of War William Eustis. Burbeck spent the next three years traveling between New York and Washington. He established the New York Arsenal and placed Lieutenant George Bomford of the Engineers in charge. He also oversaw improvements to the fortifications in New York harbor.
During the War of 1812 Burbeck held command at New York, Boston, Newport (R.I.), New London (Conn.), and Greenbush (N.Y.). He was brevetted Brigadier General on July 10, 1812, according to official records, though a letter within this collection from Thomas Cushing dated October 28, 1812, states, "I have the honor to enclose a Brevet Commission." Burbeck did not always have high opinions of the other officers in the Army; upon being removed from command of New York in the spring of 1813 in favor of Brigadier General George Izard, he remarked "I never professed to be a patriot in Old Times and I have always dispised [sic] it in modern days and of course I must set down in the moon shine and be hid from the waundering [sic] multitude whome [sic] I allways [sic] dispised [sic]--however I have one consolation they will make no improvement on the Island" (Burbeck, May 22, 1813).
Almost immediately upon his arrival at New London in July 1813, after a short stint in Boston and Newport, he was ordered by the Secretary of War John Armstrong to discharge the militia in that vicinity. The militia had only recently been ordered there by Governor John Cotton Smith because of rumors of a British attack on the town. This event caused great uproar, with one paper proclaiming, "Our readers must draw their own inferences--to us the conduct of the general government is inexplicable" (Boston Gazette, July 15, 1813). Seven letters in this collection from Governor Smith to Burbeck between July and October 1813 shed further light on this matter.
Henry Burbeck took command at Greenbush, New York sometime in July 1814. On December 28, 1814, he was visited by a British agent dispatched by Sir George Prevost, Governor General of Canada, to observe and report on the treatment of British prisoners at that place. The agent, Mr. Wybault, reported that the prisoners were held in unsatisfactory accommodations and given inadequate supplies.
On July 15, 1815, Burbeck was honorably discharged from the Army, ending almost thirty eight years of faithful military service. He spent the reminder of his life in New London, Connecticut. On one occasion, he dined with Lafayette when the General visited New London in August 1824. Burbeck died on October 2, 1848. He was an active member of the Massachusetts Society of Cincinnati, serving as president at the time of his death.
On February 25, 1790, Burbeck married Abigail Webb. The marriage lasted less than five months on account of Webb’s death on July 9, 1790. Burbeck then married Lucy Elizabeth Rudd Caldwell, 29 years his junior, on December 13, 1813, with whom he had six children: Susan Henrietta (1815-1840), Charlotte Augusta (1818-1897), Henry William (1819-1840), Mary Elizabeth (1821- ), William Henry (1823-1905), and John Cathcart (1826-1904). Burbeck’s widow, Lucy, before her death on February 23, 1880, was one the last people in the United States to receive a Revolutionary War pension.
The Henry Burbeck papers (approximately 2,300 items) consist of military and personal correspondence of Brigadier General Henry Burbeck, a career artillery officer in the United States army (1775-1784, 1786-1815). The papers include Burbeck's incoming correspondence (approx. 1,350 items), drafts of outgoing letters (approx. 360 items), returns and muster rolls submitted to Burbeck by officers under his command (approx. 190 items), an orderly book, manuscript maps (10 items), and other financial and military papers. The collection is particularly strong in documenting the administration and development of the artillery branch of the United States Army in the decade leading up to the outbreak of the War of 1812.
The Correspondence and Documents series (approximately 2,220 items) contains Burbeck’s incoming and outgoing correspondence with military officers, army contractors, politicians, and other officials. Frequent correspondents represented in the collection include Secretary of War Henry Dearborn; as well as artillery officers Amos Stoddard, Moses Porter, Richard Whiley, George Armistead, James House, Nehemiah Freeman; and many others. Over seventy incoming letters are addressed to Secretary of War Henry Dearborn, which were then forwarded to Burbeck. The series includes returns, muster rolls, inventories, receipts, General Orders, instructions, memorandums, courts-martial documents, contracts, oaths of allegiance, and other miscellaneous items.
The bulk of the manuscripts in this series reveal practical day to day concerns of U.S. Army artillery officers, such as recruitment of men, desertions, provisions, payments, and exercises and drills. A frequent topic of concern was the recruitment and provisioning of musicians. Over 10 letters and documents, for example, relate to Francesco Masi, an Italian musician who served under Captain Nehemiah Freeman at Fort Independence in Boston harbor. Additional regular subjects include the planning and construction of artillery and shot, and the construction of coastal and internal fortifications. Henry Burbeck and other officers provided detailed reports on the forts occupied and constructed by American troops. Examples include: Fort Hale (October 24, 1811), Fort Trumbull (Oct 25, 1811), Fort Eustis (September 11, 1810), Castle Williams (October 1810), Fort Independence (October 5, 1811), Fort Niagara (September 29, 1808), Fort Detroit (November 5, 1808), Fort Mifflin (November 17, 1811), Newport, Rhode Island (October 25, 1811), Fort Norfolk and Fort Nelson (November 4, 1811), and Fort Powhatan (December 14, 1811).
Many letters are concerned with the design and testing of guns, shot, and gun-carriages. These subjects are especially prevalent in correspondence between Burbeck and contractors Jacob Eustis and Henry Foxall; and correspondence between Burbeck, Lieutenant Samuel Perkins, and Captain George Bomford, head of the United States Arsenal at New York. The collection's correspondence is focused almost exclusively on military affairs, with only a small number of letters related to Burbeck’s personal affairs. One example is twelve letters between Burbeck and Elisha Sigourney, an associate in Boston, concerning financial matters.
Selected items of note include:
Magret Dowland ALS dated March 2, 1803. An enlisted man’s wife asked for back pay owed to her for working as Matron of the Hospital.
A copy of instructions given by Burbeck to Captain John Whistler dated July 13, 1803, in which he gave Whistler instructions to establish Fort Dearborn.
Simon Levy ALS dated April 12, 1805. Levy, the first Jewish and second ever graduate of West Point, asked to be transferred for health reasons.
Draft from Henry Burbeck dated February 8-9, 1812. On the back of this draft, Burbeck wrote to an unnamed correspondent giving his feelings on how women should sit for their portrait.
Return J. Meigs, Sr. ALS dated January 1, 1807. Meigs wrote concerning settler and Native American relations in Tennessee.
Samuel Dyson ALS dated August 10, 1807. Dyson wrote that he had received news of an imminent Native American attack on Detroit.
Satterlee Clark ALS dated November 2, 1811. Clark gave a detailed description (5 pages) of a fight between a sergeant and an artificer on the wharf in Annapolis.
Draft from Henry Burbeck dated November 1808. Burbeck wrote to John Walbach complaining of being sent to Detroit.
The Revolutionary War Reminiscences series (11 items) contains draft copies of letters written by Burbeck in the later years of his life, in which he described his service in the American Revolution. He focused particularly on his memories of the evacuation of New York in September 1776. Of particular note is one draft (December 24, 1847) in which Burbeck wrote in detail about the changes in uniform and appearance of American officers after the arrival of Baron Von Steuben. At least one of the drafts was intended for Charles Davies of the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati.
The Orderly Book series (1 item) contains a 114-page bound volume dating from January 2, 1784, to May 16, 1784. This volume respects day to day activities of the First American Regiment, a unit of the Continental Army organized at West Point in the months following the ratification of the Treaty of Paris (1783). Most of the entries regard daily duty assignments, courts-martial proceedings, and promotions. The orderly book concludes weeks before the disbandment of the regiment.
The Maps series (10 items) is made up primarily of manuscript maps of fortifications dating from 1790 to 1811. One item of note is the 1790 map of Fort St. Tammany given to Burbeck by Surgeon's Mate Nathan Hayward. Burbeck personally oversaw the construction of Fort St. Tammany, and this item contains a detailed depiction of the garrison, complete with an American flag. Please see the "Separated Items" section of the finding aid below for a complete list of the maps present in the Henry Burbeck papers.
The Printed Materials series (58 items) is comprised of printed circulars issued by the United States Government and Army, blank enlistment forms, and personal materials collected by and about Henry Burbeck (including newspaper articles and other published items). A small number of bound items include a copy of Andre; a Tragedy in Five Acts (1798), and 19th century booklets on military and artillery tactics. Two copies of an engraved portrait of Henry Burbeck, by Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin are also present.
In addition to this finding aid, the Clements Library has created three other research aids:
The Christopher Van Deventer Papers do not have any correspondence to or from Henry Burbeck, but do contain two letters from Justus Post (December, 1811 and February 5, 1812) which relate to the Burbeck papers. Particularly notable is a letter of February 5, 1812, in the Van Deventer papers, which is copied in a March 25, 1812, letter present in the Henry Burbeck papers.
The Clements Library holds approximately 70% of the known Henry Burbeck papers. Other primary collections of Burbeck papers include those located at: Fraunces Tavern Museum, New London (Conn.) Historical Society, United States Military Academy at West Point, The Society of the Cincinnati Library, and The Newberry Library.
Gardner, Asa Bird. "Henry Burbeck." The Magazine of American History with Notes and Queries vol. IX (1883): 251-265.
Ptolemy, Jayne. "Henry Burbeck." Clements Library Occasional Bulletins: The Papers of Henry Burbeck, October 2014.