Mention 9/11 and we are instantly catapulted into the past with keen memories of where we were and what we were doing. It is a monumental day in American history, both for its infamy and for the honor on display in the response. So too, was another September 11, 1777.
Captain Patrick Ferguson is a name unfamiliar to most Americans and it shouldn’t be. It can be argued that Ferguson’s gallantry at Brandywine Creek was the turning point of the Revolutionary War — and he was a British soldier. The 33-year old Scotsman, attached to Royal North British Dragoons, was the reputed “finest shot in the British Army.” On this 9/11, Ferguson was with a band of snipers covering the advance of the 12,500 man British force marching toward Philadelphia to take the City and split the American forces. In opposition was a rag-tag, throw-together gang of American soldiers held together by the sheer will of General George Washington.
Son of a judge and child of the Enlightenment, Ferguson was anything but your ordinary British officer. Oh, he was tough enough, having been continually tested during the Seven Years’ War which had left him lame and his military career on-hold for six years. He was also bored with his non-combat post, and yearned to see action in America. Historian Lyman C. Draper writes of him, “No man, perhaps, of his rank and years, ever attained more military distinction in his day than Patrick Ferguson.”
Sporting a repeating rifle of his own design, Ferguson lay in wait for any threat to the advancing Redcoats. Seeing a group of American officers on a trail ahead, Ferguson ordered three of his company to advance with him to a ledge to pick off the unsuspecting revolutionaries. On that fall day, Ferguson had a job to do, and was uniquely positioned by technology and happenstance to do it well. The rifle he designed was a quantum leap over the venerable British “Brown Bess” musket with its long muzzle-loading barrel that exposed its operator to return fire. Ferguson’s rifle was a breech-loader operated by simply turning the trigger guard. As he would later say of the unsuspecting colonial officer in his sights, “I could have lodged half a dozen balls in or about him, before he was out of my reach….”
Camouflaged by their green uniforms in the dense forest of eastern Pennsylvania, the snipers were a perfect blend of stealth and surprise. Ferguson and his men saw the bright tunic of the Hussar cavalryman followed by a tall senior American officer in a high cocked hat riding a bay horse. Distasteful of an ambush, Ferguson called to the men to give them a sporting chance before the inevitable result. The American stopped, looked at Ferguson, and then turned to ride on. Ferguson called again, and this time the officer turned to look directly at the Scotsman, who, by now, had leveled his rifle just below the cocked hat. The officer paused, turned again, and slowly cantered off.
Ferguson did not fire. He would later explain, ” … it was not pleasant to fire at the back of an unoffending individual, who was acquitting himself very coolly of his duty—so I let him alone.” The recipient of Ferguson’s gallantry and largesse was, of course, General Washington, who would lose that day at Brandywine Creek, but who would ultimately win the War learning from the mistakes made there.
9/11, it seems, is a recurring day of honor.
Source: AmericanHistory.net (excerpted from, “The Marksman Who Refused to Shoot George Washington,” By Ernest B. Furgurson)
–Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger