Adams Papers

From William Stephens Smith to Abigail Amelia Adams Smith, 27 December 1799

Union Brigade, New-Jersey, December 27th, 1799.

We attended yesterday the funeral honours, paid to the great, the illustrious General, George Washington, at the military station of the Union Brigade, consisting of the 11th, 12th, and 13th regiments of infantry, under the command of William S. Smith, Lieutenant Colonel of the 12th.

The solemnities of the day were introduced at the réveillé drum, by the discharge of sixteen rounds, from the brigade artillery, which continued the fire of single guns every half hour, until the sun had gained the zenith, when a bier, preceded by five of the reverend clergy of the adjacent congregations, carried by four non-commissioned officers, covered with a pall, supported by Major General Dayton, Major General Frederick Freelinghuysen, Brigadier General John Noble Cummings, Brigadier General Jonathan Ford Morris, Brigadier General John Doughty, Brigadier General John Herd, Brigadier General Anthony Walton White, and Colonel John Neilson, presented itself, from a marquée, in front of the centre of the cantonment. Upon the appearance of the bier, it was received by the line in full parade with presented arms, and the line of officers saluted, with expressive reverence, this emblem of the corse of the departed hero—their beloved General and Chief Commander.

By signal of unmuffled drum, the line shouldered, reversed their arms, the rear ranks closed the front, and officers took post in battalion, by signal, the line broke to the right in open column, with the right in front, faced to the right about, and in inverted order, commenced an affecting procession, with countenances indicative of the very deep impression, which the loss of their General, and the remembrance of his virtues, had made on their minds; no noise was heard, except the minute-guns of the artillery, and the solemn tread of the slowly moving battalions, keeping perfect time with the measures of a solemn dirge, performed on muffled drums, with the accompanyment of the “ear-piercing fifes,” by the musicians of the brigade, marching in centre of the open column.

The column preceded the bier, which was attended by four or five thousand mourning citizens, who, added to the solemnities of the day, by apparently having their hearts duly affected by gratitude to the father of their country, whose death they were deploring.

The procession passed through a part of the cantonment, and seemed to have hid itself from the eager eye of curiosity, until it majestically unmasked on the left of the cantonment, and extending along the plain in full front, arrived at another marquée, pitched on the spot where a monument is erecting in front of the centre of the cantonment, by the road side. Upon the arrival of the head of the column at this hallowed spot, it halted by drum signal, (for this brigade appears not to require any words of command) faced to the right about, plattoons wheeling to the left, the line was formed with precision at right angles from the centre of the cantonment, by signal the front rank advanced, faced to the right about, and resting with regular motion upon reversed arms, formed a complete and beautiful solemn avenue, for the bier to proceed through. When it advanced in great solemnity to the monument, the procession issued into the open space at the head of the avenue. The front rank came to the right about, was closed by the rear, and thus reassumed their former position by signal drum; the line then broke into open column to the left, the left in front, closed, and displayed on their centre to the right and left, with great precision, throwing their centre in full front of the monument. The line thus formed by signal rested, on reversed arms, the music played a solemn air, after which, orders issued by the President were read, and the Reverend Mr. Austin delivered a very pathetic address to a numerous and attentive audience, suitable to the occasion. The urn was now uncovered and deposited in the monument with solemn music. The monument was closed—the music ceased, and animated nature seemed disposed to pause, one melancholy period—the mournful silence was interrupted by the signal drum calling on the battalions to shoulder, which being done, the whole line fired three vollies by signal tap of the drum. The following is the inscription for the marble monument to be erected on this sacred spot:

Sacred to the Memory



General of the Armies of the United States of America,


The 14th of December, 1799, on Mount Vernon,

Aged 68 Years.

“Sol occubuit, nox nulla sequitur.”

To commemorate his virtues, to hand down to posterity the great, the dignified character of their exalted Chief, the Commandant and Officers of the Union Brigade, with solemn minds, with mourning souls, and hearts deeply impressed by the remembrance of his virtues, erect this monument at high noon, a point of time emblematic of the full meridian of his exalted glory, this 26th of December, 1799, in the 24th year of the Independence of their country.

When at mount Vernon’s gently rising hill

The fates declared their great Creator’s will,

That Washington should leave this threaten’d shore,

And for his country, toil and war no more.

His country sigh’d, her armies mournful stood,

The sad winds groan’d, Potomac gushed a flood

Of saline tears, which swell the Atlantic wave,

And nature mourned around his hallowed grave,

On drooping boughs, heroes their armour hung,

Their hearts depress’d, their war-worn nerves unstrung,

Columbia’s genius, bending o’er his bier,

Breathes the sad sigh and drops the melting tear.

“Quis temperet a’Lacrymis.”

The ceremonies being finished, the line broke to the right in open column and in direct order wheeling to the left, passed the monument with carried arms, and officers saluting uncovered, with music unmuffled, paying the passing honours with the President’s march. The column skirting the plain, marched to their proper ground and formed the line on the Brigade Parade, from whence the procession had moved. They were then dismissed, having received the thanks of the commanding officer, who said, he took particular pleasure in communicating to the troops, the very great satisfaction he derived from their steady soldier-like conduct, in the discharge of the solemn duties of the day; that the precision with which they performed the different evolutions of the funeral ceremonies, did honour to them as soldiers; and the solemnity of their conduct, complimented their feelings as men; that they were entitled to his thanks, that he presented it fully and freely to them, and nourished a high ground expectation that in future, military scenes, whatever those scenes might be, the soldiers of the Union Brigade would, by a steady and correct conduct, be entitled to the applause of their country and the affections of their officers. That they collectively had lost, in General George Washington, a father and a friend; they had with dignity paid the last tribute to his memory in a manner highly gratifying to his, the commanding officer’s feelings, and to the numerous body of their fellow-citizens, who had joined in the ceremony; and that it was a circumstance worthy of note that no people could, with more propriety, have paid the tribute due on the occasion than the inhabitants of New-Jersey; for on this very day, viz. the 26th day of December, 1776, the hero whose loss they now deplored, saved this State by his gallant and successful attack on the Hessian troops at Trenton,* who surrendered themselves prisoners to his military prowess, and relieved this very people from the galling yoke of oppression, and the rigour of martial law; opened the path for the subsequent daring attack of Princeton, and placed the American standard triumphant on the hills of Morris, extending protection to the country of the present cantonment, and finally forced the enemy to abandon the invaded shore. The tribute was paid, and the heart of every American acknowledged it was justly due; that they had looked with a solemn eye upon his setting sun, but that as soldiers they must rejoice for their country, that though he had sunk beneath the horizon of their notice, still they must recollect it was with superior dignity, and as it related to this country, no night would follow.

Thus ended the only sad tribute which was in the power of the Union Brigade to pay, to the memory of this greatest ornament of human nature: and, “take him for all in all, they ne’er shall look upon his like again.”

* See the engraving.

Printed Source--Journal and correspondence of Miss Adams. Edited by Caroline A. S. De Windt (New York, 1841-1842)..

Index Entries