Stephen Olney's description of the taking of redoubt #10 at Yorktown


The besiegers had got within 300 yards of them, and they had soon the mortification to find all their batteries upon the left flank dismounted. Washington now gave orders to storm the two advanced redoubts of the enemy. To excite emulation, he committed one to the Americans and one to the French. Lafayette commanded the American detachment, assisted by Colonel Hamilton, one of Washington's aids. In this detachment Captain Olney was included, and we give the remainder in his words.

"After forming our parallel within cannon shot, it was thought necessary to get possession of two of the enemy's redoubts, which projected from their main works, and were situated where it was thought proper to erect our second parallel, in order to level the way, cut off palisades, and beat down other obstructions. Our artillery were briskly served the 13th of October; on the 14th the Marquis had orders to storm the redoubt on our right, commanded by a British Major, while the French troops attacked that on our left, which was of greater force, and in their front. Our regiment of light infantry, commanded by Colonel Gimatt, a bold Frenchman, was selected for the assault, and was paraded just after daylight, in front of our works. General Washington made a short address or harangue, admonishing us to act the part of firm and brave soldiers, showing the necessity of accomplishing the object, as the attack on both redoubts depended on our success. I thought then, that his Excellency's knees rather shook, but I have since doubted whether it was not mine."

"The column marched in silence, with guns unloaded, and in good order. Many, no doubt, thinking, that less than one quarter of a mile would finish the journey of life with them. On the march, I had a chance to whisper to several of my men (whom I doubted,) and told them that I had full confidence that they would act the part of brave soldiers, let what would come; and if their guns should be shot away, not to retreat, but take the first man's gun that might be killed. When we had got about half way to the redoubt we were ordered to halt, and detach one man from each company for the forlorn hope. My men all seemed ready to go. The column then moved on; six or eight pioneers in front, as many of the forlorn hope next, then Colonel Gimatt with five or six volunteers by his side, then my platoon, being the front of the column. When we came near the front of the abatis, the enemy fired a full body of musketry. At this, our men broke silence and huzzaed; and as the order for silence seemed broken by every one, I huzzaed with all my power, saying, see how frightened they are, they fire right into the air. The pioneers began to cut off the abatis, which were the trunks of trees with the trunk part fixed in the ground, the limbs made sharp, and pointed towards us. This seemed tedious work, in the dark, within three rods of the enemy; and I ran to the right to look a place to crawl through, but returned in a hurry, without success, fearing the men would get through first; as it happened, I made out to get through first; as it happened, I made out to get through about the first, and entered the ditch; and when I found my men to the number of ten or twelve had arrived, I stepped through between two palisades, (one having been shot off to make room,) on to the parapet, and called out in a tone as if there was no danger, Captain Olney's company, form here! On this I had not less than six or eight bayonets pushed at me; I parried as well as I could with my espontoon, but they broke off the blade part, and their bayonets slid along the handle of my espontoon and scaled my fingers; one bayonet pierced my thigh, another stabbed me in the abdomen just above the hip-bone. One fellow fired at me, and I thought the ball took effect in my arm; by the light of his gun I made a thrust with the remains of my espontoon, in order to injure the sight of his eyes; but as it happened, I only made a hard stroke in his forehead. At this instant two of my men, John Strange and Benjamin Bennett, who had loaded their guns while they were in the ditch, came up and fired upon the enemy, who part ran away and some surrendered; so that we entered the redoubt without further opposition."

"My sergeant, Edward Butterick, to whom I was much indebted for his bravery, helped me nearly all this affray; and received a prick of the enemy's bayonet, in his stomach. Sergeant Brown was also in time, but attempting to load his gun, received a bayonet wound in his hand. Colonel Gimatt was wounded with a musket ball in the foot, about the first fire of the enemy; and I suppose it took all the volunteers to carry him off, as I never saw any of them afterwards. When most of the regiment had got into the redoubt, I directed them to form in order. Major Willis's post being in the rear; I supposed he got in about the time I was carried away with the wounded."

"My company, which consisted of about forty, suffered the most, (least, probably,) as they had only five or six wounded, all slightly, except Peter Barrows, who had a ball pass through the under jaw; I believe we had none killed."

"The French suffered much more than we did. I was informed they had eighteen killed, and was half an hour before they took the redoubt, waiting with the column exposed, until the pioneers completely cleared away the obstructions. We made out to crawl through, or get over, and from the enemy's first fire, until we got possession of the redoubt, I think did not exceed ten minutes."

"When my wounds came to be examined, next day, that on my left arm, which gave me most pain when inflicted, was turned black all round, three or four inches in length; neither skin nor coat broken. The stab in my thigh, was slight, that in front, near my hip, was judged to be mortal, by the surgeons, as a little part of the caul protruded. I was carried to the hospital at Williamsburgh, twelve miles, and in about three weeks my wounds healed, and I joined the regiment. ..."


Williams, Catherine R. Biography of Revolutionary Heroes; Containing the Life of Brigadier Gen. William Barton, and Also, of Captain Stephen Olney. New York: Wiley & Putnam, 1839. pg 275-278

Note A.

Many little minute circumstances in the life of Captain Olney, might be narrated, highly interesting, which modesty alone prevented his relating. Since writing his life, several have been mentioned; and one which still adds to the wounder that this brave man should have been overlooked in the promotions which followed the siege of Yorktown. The first time he met Lafayette after that siege, the General, apprised of the part he had acted, clasped him in his arms and shed tears of emotion.

The wound which Captain Olney received in the abdomen at that siege, was so severe that he had to hold his bowels in by pressing both his hands, while giving the last orders to those intrepid spirits who had followed him into the redoubt. He merely mentions that "the wound was judged to be mortal, as a small part of the caul protruded."

During the short time he was on the parapet a pistol was aimed at his head by one of the British close by; which, had it discharged, mush have caused his death, it being held close to his ear. A private soldier, named John Strange, whom he mentions in his journal, and who was the third that entered the redoubt, struck down the arm of the person who held the pistol. The blow was given with such force that the English soldier lost his arm. Strange was a drummer in Captain Olney's company.


Williams, Catherine R. Biography of Revolutionary Heroes; Containing the Life of Brigadier Gen. William Barton, and Also, of Captain Stephen Olney. New York: Wiley & Putnam, 1839. pg 299-300

To return to Tew's Company page.
last modified 7/31/03