#Onthisday in 1737 Elihu Ely was born.
Elihu Ely was a common Connecticut soldier that participated in Battles of Saratoga. He is best known for writing a letter describing the army just prior to the surrender.
His family history described him as “a great reader, a man of uncommon intelligence and much humor, and is said to have been an unusually fine looking man.” Ely was an Ensign (junior officer) of the train band (militia) in the town of Lyme,
Connecticut before the American War of Independence.
Ely was drafted to serve as a Lieutenant in Captain Jonathan Calkin’s Company, of Colonel Jonathan Latimer’s Regiment of Connecticut militia in 1777. Latimer’s Regiment of Militia was called up at Windham, Connecticut and made up of men from Windham, Tolland and New London Counties on August 23, 1777 as reinforcements for the Continental Army during the Saratoga Campaign. The regiment marched quickly to join the gathering forces of American General Horatio Gates as he faced British General John Burgoyne in northern New York.
The regiment served in General Poor’s brigade. The brigade were closest to the center of the advancing British in the 2nd Battle of Saratoga (Battle of Bemis Heights). The brigade came under fire from the British grenadier battalion of the British center. The British musket fire was ineffective, so British Major John Dyke Acland led the grenadiers in a bayonet charge. American General Poor held fire until they came very close, then fire of his 1,400 men’s muskets. This was the first American shots in the battle. The British bayonet charge was completely broken, and British Major Acland fell wounded.
With this collapse of British center, the Americans captured the wounded Acland along with the British’s artillery. The American brigade with Latimer’s regiment then turned to left and gave support to American General Ebenezer Learned’s brigade and Colonel Morgan’s riflemen.
Ely served for a total of 2 months and 16 days where he participated in the Battle of Bemis Heights, the Siege of Saratoga and witnesses the first time a complete British army surrendered.
Ely was a participant, in what Governor Seymour described as the action in which “American Independence was made a great fact in the history of nations. Until the surrender of the British army under Burgoyne, the declaration of Independence was but a declaration. It was a patriotic purpose asserted in bold words by brave men, who pledged for its maintenance their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. But on this ground it was made a fact, by virtue of armed force. It had been regarded by the world merely as an act of defiance, but it was now seen that it contained the germs of a government, which the event we now celebrate made one of the powers of the earth. Here rebellion was made revolution. Upon this ground, that which had in the eye of the law been treason, became triumphant patriotism.”
In 1967 a letter he wrote was donated to the Saratoga Historical National Park. The letter was reported on in the Saratogian on 18 August 1967.
SCHUYLERVILLE – A letter written to his family by a soldier who participated in the Battles of Saratoga just prior to the Surrender of General Burgoyne to General Gates Oct. 17, 1777, is that of Elihu Ely to John Pratt Colchester, Conn, under date of Oct 16, 1777.
This letter was recently presented to the National Park Service to be exhibited at Saratoga National Historical Park by Mrs William G. Geary, Tulsa, Okla., and Mr and Mrs. Richard Cass, Sumner, Iowa. The letter has been in the Pratt Family through the years and as Mrs. Cass wrote “was carried to School when the students came to the Battles of Saratoga in American History.”
Mrs. Geary and Mrs.Cassi are sisters and they visited here in 1966. Mr. Ely, who participated in the second battle at Freeman’s Farm (2nd Battle of Saratoga) during the Revolution and assumed to be a member of the New England Militia wrote: “Loving Brother and Sister: These with my Love to you and ye Children may inform that through Divine goodness, I enjoy a Comfortable State of Health and hope that you Enjoy the Same Blessing. There has been a sessation of arms here. It took place the Day before yesterday and I understand that this Day Mr. Burgoin (Burgoyne) and his army are to resign themselves prisoners of war an be conducted through Albany and so on to Boston.”
“The Tuesday before Last there was a smart Engagement Between the troops of General Gates and General Burgoin (Burgoyne) when the former came to Victorious and the Latter retreated about 8 miles to this Place as fast as their surcumstances would admit of our troops followed them and so surrounded their Camp that they were obliged to comply as above mentioned as is reported and Depended on in Camp tho the Particulars of the Capitulation on has not yet made Publick. I have no time to write about Subscribe myself Yr. Loving Brother, Elihu Ely.”
The National Park has digitized this letter and has it on-line. http://ift.tt/2e8tF9w
To learn wish to learn more about the Battles of Saratoga, you can visit the Saratoga National Historical Park in the towns of Saratoga and Stillwater. The park website is at http://ift.tt/2cxkI82
The Schuylerville Public Library http://ift.tt/2dYYY7C and all the libraries in the region have a number of books on the Battles of Saratoga. One of the recent books that mention Ely’s letter is Saratoga Campaign: Uncovering an Embattled Landscape. Edited by William A. Griswold & Donald W. Linebaugh. (2016) New Hampshire: University Press of New England. ISBN 2015027048
Saratoga has been defined by the people who by choice or by chance make up this community. There are many individuals like Elihu Ely that help define this country and our community. It is the determination of our forefathers, in surmounting overwhelming odds that help define the American spirit – the will and ability to shape a better future. It is the people it is that define this community by choice or by chance have changed this country and even the world political development. That is why studying the people of Saratoga is integral to a good understanding of the condition of being human.