The following extract is taken from Boyton’s History of West Point1 and details General Washington’s use of a bower to shade a large celebration at West Point in May 1782.
One incident only, of interest, occurred from the date last mentioned until the close of hostilities, and this was the celebration of the birth of the unfortunate Louis the XVII. of France.
The army had passed the winter in the Highlands, and the following extracts explain the character of the rejoicing held over the event referred to:
Tuesday, May 28th, 1782
The Commander-in-Chief is happy in the opportunity of announcing to the Army, the birth of the Dauphin of France; and desirous of giving a general occasion of testifying the satisfaction which he is convinced, will pervade the breast of every American officer and soldier, on the communication of an event so highly interesting to a monarch and nation, who have given such distinguishing proofs of their attachment, is pleased to order a feu de joie on Thursday next ; and requests the company of all the General, Regimental, and Staff Officers of the Army, who are not necessarily detained by duty, at West Point on that day at four o'clock. Commanding Officers of Brigades and Corps will receive particular instructions for their government.
Wednesday, May 29th, 1782.
The Troops are to be supplied with an extra gill of Rum per man to-morrow.
The Commander-in-Chief desires his compliments may be presented to the Officers' Ladies, with and in the neighborhood of the Army, together with a request that they will favor him with their company at dinner on Thursday next, at West Point. The General will be happy to see any other Ladies of his own or his friends' acquaintance, on the occasion, without the formality of a particular invitation.
[WEST POINT,] May 30, 1782.
The Regimental Quarter-Masters will instantly apply to the Conductor of Military Stores for three blank cartridges for each man and Non-commissioned officer; they will be careful that all the other cartridges are taken out of the boxes, and delivered to the men as soon as the feu de joie is over. Colonel Crane will please to direct that the thirteen cannon which are to compose the Park are furnished with two hundred and eight blank cartridges; Fort Sherburne2 six; the South Redoubt with three; and the Garrison at Stoney Point3 with thirteen.
Colonel Crane's Regiment of Artillery will parade and receive his Excellency on his arrival; after which, one Captain, Captain-Lieutenant, and two Sub-Lieutenants, with sixty privates of the same Regiment, will form a Guard of Infantry, and receive the Inspector-General's particular orders ; the remainder of the Regiment will man the Batteries.
The discharge of thirteen cannon from the Park, after the first toast, will be followed by a similar discharge from the Garrison of Stoney Point.
The signal for the commencement of the feu de joie will be given by the cannon from Fort Sherburne, and, in each volley, as soon as the Regiment on the left of the Line has finished to fire, one cannon from the South Redoubt will be given, as a signal for the Park to renew the firing, which will be repeated three times.
After the fire-works are played off, the ceremony will be concluded by a discharge of three cannon from Fort Sherburne.
The Officers will pay the most minute attention to the arms of the Troops, that they may be in the best possible order.
Thursday, May 30, 1782.
The celebration of the birth of the Dauphin of France, which was to have taken place this day, is to be postponed until to-morrow, the 31st inst.
A PLAN FOR CONDUCTING THE REJOICING ON THURSDAY, THE 31st MAY 1782.4
The Troops, having previously cooked their provisions, will march from their Cantonments at such an hour as will admit of their being at the places severally assigned them by half after two o'clock, post meridian, where they will remain in columns under cover, until the discharge of three pieces of cannon at West Point, which will be a signal for the columns to advance and display in full view of the Point, and stack their arms. That done, all the Officers (except one Field Officer to each Brigade, and one Battalion Officer to each Regiment on the east side of the river, who are to remain with their Corps) are requested to repair to West Point, where the General expects the pleasure of their company at dinner.
Dinner will be on the table at four o'clock, at which time a proportion of liquor will be distributed to each Regiment and Corps by their respective Quarter-Masters.
After dinner thirteen Toasts will be drank, and each Toast announced by a discharge of Artillery.
As soon as the thirteenth is drank, the Officers will rise from the table, and join their respective Regiments.
At half after seven, the feu de joie will commence with the discharge of thirteen pieces of cannon from the Park, succeeded by a fire of musketry from the Infantry, in the following order, viz. :—
2d Massachusetts Brigade.
1st ditto ditto
1st Connecticut ditto
2d ditto ditto
10th Massachusetts Regiment.
3d ditto Brigade.
The firing being three times repeated in the same order, the Officers commanding Corps will, with an audible voice, pray to God to bless the Dauphin of France, and grant him long life and happiness, and the Troops give three cheers.
The fireworks will then be displayed from Fort Webb, and the ceremony concluded by a discharge of three pieces of cannon from the Park, which will also serve as a signal for the Troops to return to their cantonment.5
The expectations which these preparations gave rise to were amply realized, and are thus fully described:
The 31st of May being the day appointed for the celebration, between 12 and 1 o'clock p. m., His Excellency General Washington and Lady, and Suite, His Excellency Governor Clinton, with his Lady, Major-General Knox and Brigadier-General Hand, with their Ladies, Mr. Benson, the Attorney-General, Mrs. Livingston [of the lower Manor], Mrs. Montgomery [widow of the Hero who fell at Quebec], and a great number of ladies and gentlemen from the States of New York and New Jersey, arrived in their barges at West Point, and were conducted through the grand colonnade which had been erected for the entertainment, situated on the gently rising ground in the rear of Fort Clinton, commanding the level of the Plain with a variegated view of all the barracks, encampments, and fortifications of the garrison.
(Fac Similie) A Colonade built at West Point During the American War To Celebrate the birth of the Dauphin of France our great and good Ally as then styled May 31, 1782 By Major Villefranche [Eng.]
The situation was romantic, and the occasion novel and interesting. Major Villefranche,6 an ingenious French Engineer, had been employed with one thousand men about ten days, in constructing the curious edifice. It was composed of the simple materials which the common trees in the vicinity afforded, being about two hundred and twenty feet in length, and eighty feet wide, supported by a grand colonnade of one hundred and eighteen pillars, made of the trunks of trees. The covering of the roof consisted of boughs, or branches of trees curiously interwoven, and the same materials formed the walls, leaving the ends entirely open. On the inside, every pillar was encircled with muskets and bayonets, bound round in a fanciful and handsome manner, and the whole interior was decorated with evergreens, festoons of flowers, garlands, emblematical devices, Fleur-de-lis, and other ornaments significant of the existing alliance.
This superb structure in symmetry of proportion, neatness of workmanship and elegance of arrangement, has seldom perhaps been surpassed on any temporary occasion; it affected the spectators with admiration and pleasure, and reflects much credit on the taste and ability of Major Villefranche. Several appropriate mottoes decorated the grand edifice, pronouncing benedictions on the Dauphin and happiness to the two allied nations. The whole army was paraded on the contiguous hills on both sides of the river, forming a circle of several miles in open view of the public edifice, and in the following order. The 2d Brigade of Massachusetts on the ridge of the hills beneath Fort Putnam, with its right extending towards the river; the 1st Brigade continuing the line on the left, stretched its flank to the Red House in the valley, and enveloped the point. On the eastern shore, the 1st and 2d Connecticut Brigades were drawn up on the high grounds in the rear of Constitution Island; the 10th Massachusetts regiment, on the cleared fields above Nelson's Ferry; and the 3d Massachusetts Brigade on the heights, between the North and Middle Redoubts.
At the signal designated, by firing three cannon, the regimental officers all left their commands, and repaired to the building to partake of the entertainment which had been prepared by order of the Commander-in-Chief. At five o'clock, dinner being on the table, his Excellency General Washington, and his Lady and suite, with the invited guests, moved from Major-General McDougall's quarters through the line formed by Colonel Crane's regiment of Artillery, to the Arbor which was guarded by the Commander-in-Chief's Guard, where more than five hundred gentlemen and ladies partook of a magnificent festival. A martial band charmed the senses with music; and while the appetite feasted, all gazed with admiration on the illustrious guests, and the novel spectacle presented to the view. The cloth being removed, thirteen appropriate toasts were drank, each one being announced by the discharge of thirteen cannon and accompanied by music. The guests retired from the table at seven o'clock, and the regimental officers repaired to their respective commands.
The Arbor, in the evening, was illuminated by a vast number of lights, which, being arranged in regular and tasteful order, exhibited a scene vying in brilliancy with the starry firmament. The Officers having rejoined their regiments, thirteen cannon were again fired as a prelude to a general feu de joie, which immediately succeeded throughout the whole line of the army on the surrounding hills, and being three times repeated, the mountains resounded and echoed like tremendous peals of thunder, and the flashing from thousands of fire-arms in the darkness of evening, could be compared only to the most vivid flashes of lightning from the clouds. The feu de joie was immediately followed by three shouts of acclamation and benediction for the Dauphin, by the united voices of the whole army on all sides. The celebration was concluded by the exhibition of fireworks, consisting of rockets, wheels, fountains, trees, bee-hives, balloons, stars and fleur-de-lis, admirably constructed and played off at twenty minutes past 11 o'clock.
His Excellency General Washington was unusually cheerful. He attended the ball in the evening, and with a dignified and graceful air, having Mrs. Knox for his partner, carried down a dance of twenty couple in the Arbor on the green grass.7
1. Edward C. Boynton, History of West Point and its Military Importance During the American Revolution: and the Origin and Progress of the United States Military Academy, New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1863.
2. Boynton's note says "Where the Mexican Trophy Guns now rest." His History was published in 1863. It is the fortification labelled Sherburne redoubt on the map below.
3. Boynton's note says "Gee's Point." Gee's Point, also known locally as Stoney Point is not labelled on the map above, but it is the point just to the right of the southern anchoarge for the boom. It is the 'West Point' in the turn of the river.
4. Boynton: It appears, by several orders issued at "Highlands," [the Head-Quarters of General Heath were at the "Robinson House"] between the dates, May 28 and the above date, that large fatigue parties had been constantly at work in procuring "small timber and some other materials," from the neighborhood of West Point. On the 24th it was ordered that "the 30 fatigue men now with the Engineer at West Point, having some particular knowledge of a particular piece of business which the Engineer has on hand, are not to be relieved until the 31st inst."— On the 25th it was stated in orders, that "All the Carpenters and Joiners in the Army are wanted for a few days at West Point, to assist in erecting and completing an arbor; they are to be immediately draughted and sent for that purpose." On the 26th it was ordered, that "the Connecticut Line, and 3d Massachusetts Brigade, are to cover the arbor building at West Point. The Commanding Officers of the Brigades will appoint an officer from each to attend Major Villefranche this evening, who will designate the part they are severally to perform, and when it is to be completed. The Superintending Officers are to be furnished with such numbers of men from their respective Brigades, as they think necessary to finish the Bower in the time limited, for which they are responsible." On the 27th it was ordered, that "2 captains, 4 subalterns, 6 sergeants, and 150 rank and file, be for fatigue to-morrow; a Captain, Subaltern, and 50 men of which are to parade at reveille beating, and work until 8 o'clock in the morning, at which time the remainder are to turn out, and work until 6 o'clock in the evening; then the others are to work again until dark. This is to be done until the Bower is completed." "They are to be under the direction of Major Villefranche."
5. Boynton's note says "Revolutionary Orders.-Colonel Whiting, U. S. A." The complete citation is: Revolutionary Orders of General Washington Issued During the Years 1778, '80, '81, '82, Selected from the Mss. of John Whiting Lieut. and Adjutant of the Second Massachusetts Line and edited by his Son Henry Whiting, New York: Wiley & Putnam, 1844.
6. Boynton: Major Villefranche was one of the many French Officers who came to America early in the autumn of 1777, after the news of Burgoyne's overthrow reached Europe, to seek employment in the army. On the 4th of October of that year, Congress "Ordered," That there be paid to Mons. Villefranche, who has tendered his services to the United States, $100, for which he was to be accountable.* In the following winter, Mons. Villefranche laid a memorial before Congress, setting forth that though he had received a "gratification" and money, to return to France, he would prefer to remain, if he could be employed as an Engineer, under General Du Portail. Whereupon, on January 1st, 1778, Congress "Resolved, That the Chevalier de Villefranche be appointed a Major of Engineers under Brigadier Du Portail."** [The Corps of Engineers was organized as a distinct branch of the army, March 11, 1779.*** He built the stone magazine on the west end of Constitution Island in 1782. [Heath, 351.] On the 2d of May, 1783, Congress "Resolved, That Major Villefranche be a Lieutenant-Colonel by Brevet in the Corps of Engineers." It is probable that he returned to France on the close of the war. The numerous drawings he left, show him to have been an officer of great value as an Engineer and Draughtsman.
Major Peter Charles L'Enfant, Engineer, was horn in France, in 1755. He was appointed a lieutenant in the French provincial forces, which position he vacated, and tendered his services to the United States in the autumn of 1777, as an Engineer. He was appointed Captain of Engineers on 18th February, 1778, and was at the siege of Savannah, where he was wounded and left on the field of battle. He afterwards served in the army under the immediate command of Washington, and was promoted Major of Engineers, May 2, 1783. He was employed as the Engineer at Fort Mifflin in 1794, and appointed Professor of Engineering at the United States Military Academy in July, 1812 (declined). He died in Prince George's County, Md, June, 1825. He was an accomplished draughtsman and made himself greatly respected. It is worthy of remark, that both he and Major Villefranche expended their fortunes in the service of the United States.
* Journals of Congress, II.. 274
** Journals of Congress, II., 890.
**** Journals of Congress, III., 224.
Journals of Congress, IV., 219.
Army Dict., Journals Congress, III., 243; IV., 219.
7. Boynton: Thacher's Military Journal; New Jersey Gazette, June 12th, 1782. The complete citation for Thacher is: James Thacher, Miltary Journal, during the American Revolutionary War from 1776 to 1783; describing The Events and Transactions of this Period With Numerous Historical Facts and Anecdotes. to which is added, An Appendix, Containing Biographical Sketches of Several General Officers. Hartford: Hurlbut, Williams & Co., 1862.